Give ATO metadata powers: committee

The tax office should be given phone interception powers under controversial data retention laws, a parliamentary committee has recommended.

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In a report into financial-related crime released on Monday, the law enforcement committee argued the ATO must be able to access information from intercepted phone calls to protect the public purse from major tax fraud.

It wants the ATO listed as a criminal law-enforcement agency under the metadata retention laws passed earlier this year.

The report looked into the growing threat of technology-based financial crime, such as money transfers and identity theft.

More than one million Australians and New Zealanders have their identities stolen each year, but less than six per cent of thieves are arrested or prosecuted.

The committee said it was difficult for victims to prove they’ve had their identity stolen for the purpose of getting a proof certificate to back up their claims.

It has called for a review into proof criteria after hearing evidence that not one person had succeeded in getting a certificate because of the onerous process.

The committee also wants banks to give customers the option of opting-in or out from “pay-wave” or contactless technology to buy goods under $100.

Victoria Police has blamed the technology for 100 extra credit card deceptions it’s receiving each week.

The committee also noted inefficiencies on multi-agency work – especially the central bank and federal police tackling counterfeit bank notes.

It’s called for the Reserve Bank to focus on the paper work, and for the federal police to catch the counterfeiters.

Unemployment rate tipped to ease

The unemployment rate is expected to ease from its 13-year high, mainly because of a fall in the number of people looking for work.

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The number of Australians with a job is forecast to have risen by 6,000 in August, according to an AAP survey of 13 economists, after a gain of 38,500 in July.

The unemployment rate in August is tipped to fall to 6.2 per cent from 6.3 per cent the month before.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its employment report on Thursday.

JP Morgan Australia chief economist Stephen Walters said it was inevitable the unemployment rate would fall after July’s surprising spike.

“The NAB business survey, and consumer surveys of the labour market outcomes have suggested a stable to perhaps falling unemployment rate,” he said.

The key reason why the unemployment rate rose in July was that employment growth could not keep up with population growth and the surge in the number of people looking for work.

“The employment-to-population ratio went up in July, and has been averaging higher this year, while the lift in the participation rate was very large,” Mr Walters said.

The participation rate is expected to fall to 65 per cent in August, from July’s two-year high of 65.1 per cent.

The latest ANZ job advertisements survey, a key indicator of the growth, showed that the number of jobs advertised on the internet and in newspapers rose one per cent in August, after a 0.5 per cent fall in July.

Job ads in the 12 months to August were up 8.7 per cent, seasonally adjusted, figures from ANZ show, but the rate of growth has been slowing since late last year.

ANZ chief economist Warren Hogan said the bounce in employment ads was encouraging but added that jobs growth in the second half of the year is not expected to be as strong as it was in the first.

“The recent strength in employment growth has been concentrated in a range of labour-intensive services industries. However, job losses in mining, mining-related construction and manufacturing are likely to weigh on employment growth over the next year,” he said.

Economic growth slowed to a two-year low in the June quarter and Mr Hogan doesn’t think it will get much stronger this year.

“This suggests that employment growth is unlikely to pick up meaningfully in the near term,” he said.

UNEMPLOYMENT TO FALL in AUGUST

* Unemployment rate to fall to 6.2pct from 6.3pct in July

* Employment growth is tipped to be 6,000

* Employment change forecasts ranged from a fall of 10,000 to a gain of 10,000

* Participation rate forecast to fall to 65.0pct, from 65.1pct

(Source: AAP survey of 13 economists)

Hawks unsure of line-up to tackle Eagles

With only one injury concern, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson has some tough decisions to make ahead of the AFL qualifying final against West Coast.

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Wingman Isaac Smith is the only Hawk in serious doubt for their Friday night clash at Domain Stadium after injuring his knee in their last round win over Carlton.

Diagnosed with medial ligament damage, he hasn’t been ruled out but is highly unlikely to make the trip west with the two-time defending champions.

With captain Luke Hodge, playmaker Cyril Rioli and sharpshooter Luke Breust all now available, Clarkson said the depth at the Hawks meant some players would be unlucky.

“Squads win premierships and our players have been well educated on that but hopefully over the journey all of them get a lick of the ice-cream in that regard,” Clarkson said on Monday.

Speedster Billy Hartung shapes as an obvious like-for-like replacement for Smith, but Clarkson said it depended on how the coaching staff planned to match up against the Eagles.

They last met in round 19 when the Hawks ran out 14-point winners at the same venue.

The Eagles were missing star ruck duo Nic Naitanui and Callum Sinclair from that match, although Scott Lycett shone in their absence.

“He was nearly West Coast’s best player; he played a fantastic game that night,” Clarkson said.

“We know that the ruck area of the ground for West Coast is a really pivotal part of the ground.

“That supply to their mids is one of the strengths of their game so we need to compete ferociously in that part of the ground.”

The flexible Hawks have the option of returning James Frawley to defence to help Brian Lake and Josh Gibson counter the Eagles’ dangerous tall forwards.

“There’s a chance that could happen but we just have to work out the balance of our side and the availability of it,” said Clarkson.

“What we’ve explored over the last two weeks is Frawley being able to play front and back gives us that flexibility and options and we need that because (Josh) Kennedy and (Jack) Darling are the best duo as a key front half in the competition.”

Meanwhile, Clarkson defended the penalty of a club fine handed down to Hodge, who was caught drink-driving last Thursday night.

Hodge, who was already suspended for two games for an on-field incident, escaped a ban from the club.

Clarkson said Hodge had been “publicly shamed” for his drink-driving.

“I can’t think of anyone for blowing 0.068 has been publicly shamed as much as this bloke,” Clarkson said.

“There will be some who disagree with the way we’ve handled.

“But we’re the ones in the best position to make judgments on what’s the most appropriate way of handling it and we’ve done that.”

Political animals meet threatened animals

A wallaby, a wallaroo and two dingo pups walk into Parliament House.

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No, it’s not the beginning of an elaborate joke, but the bringing together of political animals of all stripes to highlight the plight of threatened species.

The abundance of fluffiness brought out coalition, Labor, Greens and independent MPs to note Threatened Species Day, marking the date the Tasmanian tiger was declared extinct 79 years ago.

“These beautiful but vulnerable Australian creatures bring everybody together,” Environment Minister Greg Hunt told reporters after getting kisses from 10-week-old dingos Kora and Ponto.

Proving Greens and rednecks mix after all, the minor party’s environment spokeswoman Larissa Waters cuddled red-necked wallaby Curious George before declaring she hoped Threatened Species Day wouldn’t be necessary in the future.

“We sadly have a terrible track record and we urgently need some funding investment to turn that around,” she said.

The federal government has a plan to turn around the future for 20 mammals and 20 bird species now under threat by 2020, with $110 million and a threatened species commissioner to follow.

It’s also close to announcing the location of five “islands”, covering 10 million hectares, where native animals would be protected from feral cats, Mr Hunt revealed.

That move was especially applauded by veterinarian-turned-senator David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats.

“I’m always a little cynical about furry animals and empty statements. I’m much more interested in practical measures that will save their lives,” he said.

His grand plan to boost the lot of threatened native animals is to allow Australians to keep those suitable as pets.

From the reaction of politicians meeting the animals on Monday, the chance to keep one as a fur baby would be eagerly accepted.

Abbott says plan is working, despite polls

Tony Abbott insists his government’s plan is working, as a new poll shows Labor retaining an election-winning lead.

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The prime minister marked two years in office on Monday delivering a speech at a small business forum in Canberra setting out his achievements.

“The plan is working and we are sticking to it,” he said.

“I am very confident that people will be choosing between a government which has delivered on its commitments and an opposition which hasn’t learned and can’t change.”

However the latest Newspoll continued a trend set 19 months ago, with Labor leading 54-46 per cent on a two-party basis.

Mr Abbott’s net personal popularity has dropped from minus 6 at the September 2013 election to minus 33.

While Bill Shorten is preferred prime minister among 41 per cent of voters to Mr Abbott’s 37 per cent, the Labor leader’s net satisfaction rating sits at minus 28.

The coalition is banking on the prospect of business and income tax cuts to reward “hard-working middle Australians” to win back support ahead of an election due within 12 months.

“This is a government which wants our people to be as prosperous as possible,” Mr Abbott told reporters.

The coalition has released a 28-page document outlining its work in building a “strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia”.

“Much has been achieved in the past two years, but it’s just the start,” the booklet says.

Labor says the government has been all talk and no action, with the unemployment rate at a 13-year high and more than 800,000 people out of work for the first time in 20 years.

Pensions and pensioner concessions were also under attack, while university students were being asked to pay more for their degrees.

“No glossy brochure full of lies can convince pensioners that Tony Abbott can be trusted,” opposition families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said.

Facing media reports that cabinet colleagues want to wrest his hands off the economic levers, Treasurer Joe Hockey said it was “just gossip”.

“I’m focused on doing the job that a treasurer should do, which is laying down the foundations for more growth in the Australian economy and greater opportunities for Australians to get ahead and get a job,” Mr Hockey told ABC radio.

Anthony Cummings farewells his father

Anthony Cummings is fond of saying his father taught him everything he knows, but not everything the legendary trainer knew.

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He wasn’t alone.

Among the crowd which packed Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral on Monday to farewell a man known to millions of Australians as the `Cups King’, were many trainers who honed their craft under Bart Cummings.

Racing is an insular and time consuming business but Bart’s success infected the public and added to the excitement around the Melbourne Cup.

His feat to win the trophy 12 times has been likened to Don Bradman’s Test average of 99.94 – something that won’t be repeated.

That set him apart from other trainers and sometimes his own family.

Anthony is the only one of his five children to follow him into racing and struggled with his emotions as he paid homage to his father and mentor.

“I was always in awe of my father,” Cummings said.

“He could talk on any subject and had a view on everything.

“People came to him for advice. They didn’t always like what they were told but they got what they asked for, his view unequivocal, unabashed, uncensored.

“The place I really got to know him was in New Zealand where we would go each year to look at yearlings.

“He would talk about his own father and his relationship with him.”

It was in New Zealand Bart spotted the small, gangly filly that would become his first Melbourne Cup winner, Light Fingers in 1965.

That eye for the future champion is something his son and every other racehorse trainer tries to emulate – not always with great success.

When Anthony struck out on his own, he and his father became competitors, adding another dynamic to their relationship.

But in the last few years, Bart mellowed as he spent more and more time at his beloved Princes Farm on the banks of the Nepean River.

“It was his life’s dream to have his own property,” Anthony said.

“Horses were his lifelong passion and he bred horses on the farm.

“Three of my Group One winners came from there.

“He reached a level of contentment and I didn’t have a blue with him over the last few years.

“At one stage he told me I’d come good. Rare praise indeed.”

Families lash out at Roger Dean’s appeal

Each time the murder of her mother at Quaker’s Hill nursing home resurfaces in a court room, so do Elly Valkay’s nightmares, stress and tension.

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Ms Valkay’s mother Neeltje Valkay was one of 11 nursing home patients who died after their carer Roger Dean lit two fires on November 18, 2011 at the facility in Sydney’s west.

Dean, a registered nurse of 15 years, set the place alight after he discovered police were investigating his theft of 200 prescription pills from the home.

The 39-year-old is now appealing the 11 life sentences meted out to him in 2013 over the murders.

Ms Valkay labelled the appeal as “ridiculous” and said it was yet another hurdle for her to cross.

“We were hoping that after the inquest, that we would get back to a bit of a stable routine but I heard about the appeal about a month ago and out comes the sedatives, out comes the sleeping pills.

“The tension, the stress is so great just because he wants what he wants, and there is no consideration for the victims and the families and that is what hurts,” she told reporters outside court on Monday.

Dean, the Court of Criminal Appeal heard, is appealing his sentences on a number of grounds.

They include that they were manifestly excessive and that Justice Megan Latham – now the ICAC commissioner – erred in concluding it was not possible to reflect Dean’s culpability with any penalty less than life imprisonment.

His barrister Tim Game SC argued Dean had pleaded guilty and that the “whole structure” of the sentence was incorrect.

“You can’t say, `X is for this, X is for this and it has got so large it now has to be a life sentence’,” he submitted.

But crown prosecutor Maria Cinque said 11 vulnerable people were murdered “with the person responsible for their care, responsible for their deaths”.

Comparisons to other crimes where offenders were given life sentences “don’t exist”, she added.

Dean, she reminded the court, had lit a fire in a room where he knew two immobile and helpless residents – Dorothy Sterling and Dorothy Wu – were sleeping.

When another resident saw the fire and begged him “Please help them get out”, Dean replied: “Don’t worry darling you come with me, someone else will come and get them.”

But Dean failed to tell firefighters battling his first blaze about this second one, and by the time it was discovered, the “catastrophic” blaze in Ms Sterling and Ms Wu’s room was 10 metres high.

Paul Cachia, whose mother Emmanuela Cachia was seriously injured in the blaze and died two and a half months later, said “what gives him the right to appeal after what he did to our loved ones?”

“He should be lit up 11 times for what he done to those people,” he told reporters.

The decision on the appeal will be handed down at a later date.

Dogs unfazed by AFL finals ground switch

The Western Bulldogs say they are unfazed by the AFL’s decision to fixture their home elimination final against Adelaide at the MCG and not Etihad Stadium.

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The Dogs easily accounted for the Crows in round four on the fast deck at Etihad Stadium – their home ground where they recorded 11 of their 14 wins this season.

Despite the league’s decision to move the game to the larger MCG, the Dogs are backing their lightning-quick style to stand up in a hotly-contested final.

“If you want to go deep into finals you have to play well at the MCG – it’s the home of footy so we’re happy to play there,” Bulldogs onballer Jack Macrae said.

“It doesn’t really concern us.”

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan defended the move when he launched the finals series in Melbourne on Monday.

“We scheduled that game there because we didn’t want to be in a position where we were seeing (fans miss) out on a final when we had a venue which could carry more than the expected capacity,” McLachlan said.

“That’s why the decision was made.

“We haven’t played a final at Etihad since ’07 and we contemplate access first.”

Luke Beveridge’s side played at the MCG just twice this season – for one win and a loss – while Adelaide recorded a hard-fought win over Carlton in their only visit back in round 10.

The Bulldogs’ meteoric rise from 14th last year to sixth on the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season has been one of the stories of the year given their off-season of turmoil.

Just making the finals after losing veterans Ryan Griffen and Adam Cooney to other clubs, not to mention star onballer Tom Liberatore to injury, in Beveridge’s first year in charge is a huge achievement but the Dogs say they’re not content simply to make up the numbers.

“If we play our best footy I believe really strongly that we can beat anyone in the competition and Adelaide’s no different,” midfielder Mitch Wallis said.

“They’re a good strong opposition but I think we can get the job done.”

The Dogs aren’t without injury concerns leading up to their first final since 2010, chief amongst them Stewart Crameri who was subbed out of the weekend’s shock loss to Brisbane with a knee injury.

Bob Murphy, Dale Morris and Matthew Boyd were rested for that game, with some doubt lingering over Murphy who experienced groin soreness late in the season.

Crows fly along Walsh’s path: Walker

The Adelaide Crows have pledged to continue along the path deceased coach Phil Walsh set for them, says captain Taylor Walker.

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Walker says the Crows, who meet the Western Bulldogs in an MCG elimination final on Saturday night, remain driven by the messages of former head coach Walsh, who was allegedly murdered by his son Cy on July 3.

“We have been able to continue what we spoke about day one when Phil came on and that was buying into team-first and continuing elite standards,” Walker told reporters on Monday.

“We have been able to do that throughout the season and we have got to stick to that throughout the finals.”

Walker said Adelaide’s interim coach Scott Camporeale, who remains coy on whether he wants to pitch for the full-time job next season, had stuck with Walsh’s philosophy.

“When you lose your head coach, everyone else around you has to step up whether it is coaches or players, and Campo has been able to do that,” Walker said.

“Walshy put in philosophies and a game plan that Campo has had to just come in and continue that on, and he has brought a bit of energy along the way.”

Camporeale, who has led the Crows to six wins and three losses since taking over, said he is excited by the prospect of finals.

“Why wouldn’t you (be),” Camporeale told reporters on Monday.

“It has been an unbelievable year, really, on and off the field.

“After what has happened, to be able to get to the point where we are at … I’m really proud of them, that they have been able to galvanise themselves.”

Camporeale said All Australian defender Brodie Smith was expected to overcome an ankle injury and play against the Bulldogs.

Smith, Thurston no-show Captain’s Call

Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston were notable no-shows at the NRL finals series launch on Monday.

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The skippers of all eight finals sides were expected at the launch at the SCG, however Smith and Thurston were late withdrawals.

Melbourne skipper Smith has a virus and North Queensland captain Thurston is battling a leg strain ahead of their respective qualifying final clashes against Sydney Roosters and Brisbane.

Both Smith and Thurston are expected to be fit for those games. But they are not without concern. Both the Storm and the Cowboys provided the NRL with doctor’s certificates noting their players injuries ahead of the media opportunity at the SCG.

Smith’s teammates are said to have noticed he was struggling late in the Storm’s 15-8 win over Brisbane on Thursday, as Melbourne played their third game in 12 days.

Meanwhile Cowboys medical staff were concerned as to how the travel from Townsville may affect Thurston’s injury, given North Queensland have to fly to Brisbane on Friday for their match at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.

The Roosters host Melbourne at Allianz Stadium on Friday.

Ryan Hinchliffe, who the Storm pointed out is the only player to captain the club apart from Smith over the last two seasons, stepped in.

Gavin Cooper stepped in for Thurston.

Despite the absence of two of the game’s superstars NRL boss Dave Smith was in a buoyant mood in launching the finals series.

“It is great to have all these captains here,” Smith said.

“This will be one of the most exciting finals series in history.”

Sydney Roosters’ Jake Friend, Brisbane’s Justin Hodges, South Sydney superstar Greg Inglis, Canterbury prop James Graham, St George Illawarra veteran Ben Creagh and Cronulla captain Paul Gallen were all in attendance.