PM vows a budget to fulfil people’s dreams

Malcolm Turnbull has promised his government’s second budget will help Australians “realise their dreams”.

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And he has a three-word slogan to go with it: fairness, opportunity and security.

The prime minister wants to ensure Australians have the opportunity to get ahead through economic growth that provides a better-paying job, or helps them start and grow a business.

“To realise their dreams,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

New economic figures suggest people may already be on the brink of achieving those goals with business confidence striking its highest point since 2010 and job ads pointing to a sustained period of employment growth.

“In time this should be reflected in a pick-up in wage growth,” ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank says.

Mr Turnbull toured a forensics complex in Canberra to announce a $321 million boost for the Australian Federal Police’s domestic operations, the biggest increase in a decade in a further attempt to beef up national security.

The government will reportedly divert money from its aid pool to deliver this extra funding to the AFP and other security agencies.

“Once again it is a government robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Canberra.

A day before the budget Treasurer Scott Morrison asked the Productivity Commission to hold a year-long inquiry aimed at ensuring Australia’s financial system is competitive and innovative.

The commission will consider how to improve consumer outcomes, the productivity and international competitiveness of the financial system and economy more broadly.

It will look at the level of concentration in key segments of the financial system while examining competition in the provision of personal deposit accounts and mortgages, as well as services and finance to small and medium businesses.

“It is important … that we understand what are the barriers and what are the things preventing customers getting a better deal,” Mr Morrison said.

The government announced a $100 million funding package for manufacturing, aimed at Victoria and South Australia which have suffered the brunt of the demise of car-making.

“We are absolutely committed to supporting the Australian manufacturing sector,” Mr Turnbull said.

The prime minister, who has just returned from the US after his first face-to-face meeting with President Donald Trump, said increased investment in US manufacturing was down to the prospect of lower taxes and affordable energy there.

That’s why he was taking decisive action to ensure Australia had affordable and adequate gas supplies, and why the government was sticking with 10-year plan to cut company taxes.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison received some blunt advice from Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart – cut spending.

The multi-billionaire mining magnate wants reductions in red tape regulations, compliance burdens and tax rates.

“It’s very frustrating that there’s wastage going on and that so little attention, real attention, is given to making ourselves attractive for investment,” she told News Corp.

Court unable to determine whether Whiteley art is forged

Brett Whiteley’s former wife says three paintings that were part of Australia’s biggest art fraud case are fakes while the judges who acquitted two men of forging them say they have no idea if they’re real or not.

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Art restorer Mohamed Aman Siddique, 68, and dealer Peter Stanley Gant, 61, were acquitted on April 27 after prosecutors conceded their convictions were unsafe.

They had been convicted of obtaining and attempting to obtain financial advantage by deception over three contested Whiteley paintings.

The Court of Appeal on Monday said its reasons for quashing their convictions do not rely on “any affirmative finding” that Whiteley created the paintings.

“To be clear, we make no such finding. Nor are we equipped to do so,” Justices Mark Weinberg, Phillip Priest and Stephen McLeish said.

Mr Gant and Mr Siddique were acquitted after prosecutors conceded their grounds of appeal against conviction and admitted there was a good chance the pair might be innocent.

It’s unclear what will happen to the three paintings.

Blue Lavender Bay was purchased in late 2007 by Sydney Swans chairman Andrew Pridham for $2.5 million, while Orange Lavender Bay went for $1.1 million.

A third painting, Through The Window, was listed for sale for $950,000.

Wendy Whiteley maintains her view that the paintings are fakes.

“I feel sorry for the people who bought the artworks in good faith and I feel sorry for the whole Australian art world,” she told AAP on April 27.

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A Victorian Supreme Court jury found Mr Gant and Mr Siddique guilty in May 2016 of faking and selling Blue Lavender Bay and Orange Lavender Bay following a four-week trial.

The pair were also found guilty of trying to sell Through The Window.

During the trial, Guy Morel gave evidence that in 2007 he took photos of what appeared to be several Brett Whiteley paintings in mid-production at Mr Siddique’s Collingwood studio.

The prosecution alleged the paintings shown in Morel’s photos were passed off as genuine Whiteleys produced between 1988 and 1989 and sold as such by Mr Gant.

But the Court of Appeal said once the defence was able to show the reasonable possibility the paintings existed before 2007, they effectively ended the prosecution’s “narrow” and “quite specific” case.

“The Crown nailed its colours to the mast in that particular respect,” the justices said.

In her closing address to the jury, prosecutor Susan Borg also suggested gallery assistant Rosemary Milburn and Jeremy James were honest witnesses who were somehow mistaken when they said they had seen Blue Lavender Bay and Orange Lavender Bay in 1988 and 1989 respectively.

“Such speculation, which the prosecutor effectively invited by the manner in which she couched her closing address to the jury, may well have contributed to the error in the jury’s verdict,” the appeal judges said.

Hodge and Hawks all about development

It’s a topsy-turvy AFL season when anything is possible, but Hawthorn appear not to be thinking about finals football.

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The decade’s dominant side recorded a second win of the season on Sunday, edging Melbourne by three points at the MCG.

In doing so, the Hawks played their part in a remarkable round where every winning side were ranked lower than their opponents.

Hawthorn (2-5) sit two wins outside the eight and have a golden chance to improve their record against wooden spoon favourites Brisbane (1-6) on Saturday.

But given the scale of their defeats this season, club legend Luke Hodge was loath to suggest the Hawks would starting a winning streak.

“Considering last week was a 75-point loss, it’s a bit hard (to say we’ve turned the corner),” Hodge told reporters on Monday.

“We’re at this stage where it’s about developing.

“It’s good that we’re able to blood a few younger guys (and) we’re still (blooding in) blokes in from other sides.

“There’s a lot of work to do.”

Hodge said it would be folly to lock in a win over Brisbane despite their winless run dating back to the opening weekend of the season.

“If you look at the ladder we’re not too much higher than them,” he said.

“The AFL will be rapt with how the footy is going at the moment.

“If a team’s a little bit off, they can get beaten. I wouldn’t have had too many tips (right) on the weekend.”

Key recruit Jaeger O’Meara wasn’t able to play against the Demons, with the club confirming he needs an extending training run to treat his knee.

Hodge said the 23-year-old – who has suffered debilitating knee injuries in the past – could take his time away from the side.

“From what we’re hearing from (fitness boss) Andrew Russell and Jaeger it’s not his old issues,” he said.

“It was a knock that he copped (in) the Suns game.

“We’re in no rush with Jaeger.

“It’s not about getting him on the park, it’s about getting his body right and getting his mind right.”

ADHD prescription rates under spotlight

Where a child lives in Australia seems to determine if they’re medicated for ADHD or not, raising concerns children from socially disadvantage areas are missing out on effective treatment.

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Prescription rates for ADHD vary widely both within and across states, with the highest rate of prescriptions 75 times more than the lowest rate, according to data presented at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) annual Congress in Melbourne on Monday.

The first Australian Variation in Healthcare Atlas shows NSW had the highest rate of prescription at 13,588 per 100,000 children aged 17 or under.

South Australia had the lowest usage with 5,541 per 100,000 children.

Professor Harriet Hiscock from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne says the prescription of ADHD medication is a complex issue and doctors aren’t just to blame for the variations.

“Often prescribing doctors – in this case paediatricians and child and adolescent psychiatrists – are called out as the key factor as to why variations exist. My research suggests that there are multiple reasons as to why this is happening.”

One of those factors is inequitable access to psychologists, Prof Hiscock suggests.

“If we just look within Victoria, for example, we know that children in low socio-economic areas are more likely to meet criteria for ADHD but we are not necessarily seeing more prescribing in those areas, so there is a mismatch between prescribing and where we think kids with ADHD live,” she told AAP.

While Medicare does partly reimburse families for up to 10 visits to a psychologist every year, it doesn’t always cover the costs.

“Anecdotally we are hearing that those families will therefore space out those appointments with a psychologist to be able to afford to see them and we know for some kids they’re not getting enough therapy and time, it becomes too diluted,” she said.

ADHD is estimated to affect seven per cent of all Australian school children and the decision to medicate a child has attracted much debate.

At this stage, it’s too early to say if the variation in medication use is a good or bad thing, says Prof Hiscock.

“That’s a big elephant in the room,” she acknowledged.

“What we lack in Australia is good outcome data for these kids, so we can’t actually say at the moment if some kids are being under-treated or over-treated,” Prof Hiscock said.

However there is some evidence, she says, that shows medication can be beneficial.

“The international data would suggest that certainly for kids with moderate to severe ADHD if you don’t treat them then they are more likely to drop out of school and end up in drug and crime related activity. They are also more likely to end up in emergency departments with injuries and accidents if they are not on medication,” said Prof Hiscock.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists says deciding to prescribe kids with antipsychotic drugs is always taken with great care and after thorough discussions with parents.

New Adelaide hospital to open in September

The new $2 billion Royal Adelaide Hospital will finally open in September, about 18 months behind its original schedule.

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Premier Jay Weatherill and Health Minister Jack Snelling say the new hospital’s emergency department will start taking patients from September 5.

Ambulances will begin transporting about 300 patients from the existing hospital to the new facility over three days from September 4.

Mr Weatherill says the move is one of the most significant events in the state’s history.

But opposition health spokesman Stephen Wade said the government can’t be trusted and expects the opening date to be pushed back further.

Mr Snelling says he’s “very confident” the government can stick to the timetable, but admits it could be changed if needed.

“This is something that only happens once every 200 years and it’s important that we get it right,” Mr Snelling told reporters in Adelaide on Monday.

In the six weeks prior to the shift roughly 300 patients will have been transported from the old RAH to other hospitals in Adelaide.

Some services that do not require an overnight stay, like radiation oncology and various outpatient clinics, will be offered at the new RAH from mid-August.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation SA said it’s significant that 2000 nursing staff affected by the move had “a solid date to work towards”, while the Australian Medical Association SA said doctors and nurses needed to be involved in the planning process.

Mr Wade said the new opening date for the hospital, which was originally meant to open early in 2016, was “just not credible”.

“Jack Snelling has never met a predicted opening date and this is the one he is least likely to meet,” Mr Wade said in a statement.

Last year the SA government launched legal action against the hospital’s building consortium after delays in the facility’s technical completion.

Two deaths on the hospital’s building site, in November 2014 and February 2016, have also added to the controversy.

Pressure on banks despite $15.6b HY profit

The balancing act that allowed Australia’s big four banks to lift their combined first-half cash profit to $15.

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6 billion is getting more precarious, analysts say.

The quartet lifted cash profit about six per cent from a year ago but high levels of property-related household debt combined with a regulator-engineered slowdown in the housing market mean margins are likely to come under increased pressure.

Westpac, which on Monday became the last of the majors to report its first-half earnings, said recent mortgage rate increases would help lift its net interest margin after a contraction of 0.4 percentage points in the first half.

However, Ernst and Young’s Tim Dring said that won’t mean much if affordability suffers.

“While rate increases benefit the banks’ earnings and margins, they also have the potential to put additional pressure on an already highly indebted household sector,” said Mr Dring, EY Oceania’s banking and capital markets leader.

“The banks’ ability to extract additional margin through differential rate repricing on residential property lending will become even more of a balancing act.”

Announcing a three per cent rise in first-half profit to $4.02 billion, Westpac said mortgage lending was up six per cent on a year earlier – but that growth of five per cent is expected in 2018

Making mortgages too costly to consumers already contending with sluggish wage growth could depress demand.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott – whose bank lifted first-half profit 23 per cent to $3.4 billion – said he was specifically gearing his bank for a period of low credit growth, with further regulatory moves to rein in riskier interest-only and investor lending in the pipeline.

“We are seeing mounting regulatory, government and public pressure to curtail housing price growth, particularly in the Sydney and Melbourne markets, and this is likely to continue to build,” Mr Dring said.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority is expected to outline its definition of “unquestionably strong” before the end of the year.

The majors’ returns on equity increased by 0.28 percentage points to an average 13.9 per cent, according to KPMG, but that will come under pressure should APRA’s definition require the banks to hold more capital to support mortgage lending.

“The majors’ management teams have done a commendable job of building their capital buffers over the past few years, which will need to continue,” Mr Yates said.

“This is putting further pressure on the their ability to grow and will ultimately inform their strategic decision-making around what businesses they wish to remain in over the medium-to-longer term.”

Housing also figured highly on National Australia Bank’s list of concerns.

NAB lifted first-half profit 2.3 per cent to an above-expectation $3.29 billion, but put more money aside for soured loans amid an impending oversupply of east coast apartments.

Commonwealth Bank, which in February lifted its first-half cash profit 2.1 per cent to $4.9 billion, will issue a third-quarter trading update on Tuesday.

TPG proposal adds to Fairfax uncertainty

Fairfax Media’s board has given no indication of whether if will make a recommendation on a $2.

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2 billion proposal to split up the company, but has warned that it may not be good value for shareholders.

A consortium led by US-based private equity giant TPG Capital and Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board wants to buy Fairfax Media’s Domain real estate classified business, the unit controlling flagship newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and its events and digital ventures businesses.

Under the proposal, the remaining businesses – including regional newspapers, New Zealand Publishing, Macquarie Media and the Stan streaming service – would be grouped under a new ASX-listed company called New Media Co, which would also take on 100 per cent of Fairfax’s current net debt.

Investors seemed to be interested in the TPG proposal, driving Fairfax shares up by 3.0 cents, or 2.83 per cent, to $1.08 at 1520 AEST on Monday.

That’s their highest level since March 29.

However, the Fairfax board said a demerger would require the approval of shareholders and regulators including the Foreign Investment Review Board – and may be too complex to carry out anyway.

“This proposed split of businesses may not optimise shareholder value,” the Fairfax board said in a statement to the ASX.

“Fairfax shareholders do not need to take any action in response to the indicative proposal and the Fairfax board will update shareholders when it has been fully assessed.

“There is no certainty the indicative proposal will result in an offer for Fairfax, what the terms of any offer would be, or whether there will be a recommendation by the Fairfax board.”

The media company is going through a trying period with many journalists on a week-long strike following last week’s announcement that 125 jobs would be cut at The Age, The Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and WA Today to save the company $30 million.

Fairfax Media last week reported that total group revenue was down six per cent in the 17 weeks to April 23, from the prior corresponding period.

The proposal also complicates the situation involving Domain business, the most profitable arm of the Fairfax, which it preparing to list on the ASX at the end of 2017.

Fusion Strategy media analyst Steve Allen said TPG’s valuation on Domain under the $2.2 billion bid could create difficulty for Fairfax’s board.

The “fairly full” valuation of Domain – estimated by some analysts to be worth about $2 billion on its own – made any float “a much tougher ask”, he said.

Qld govt plays down Com Games train fears

The Queensland government insists it will have enough trains to cope with demand from next year’s Commonwealth Games despite lingering issues with new trains meant to replenish Queensland Rail’s ageing fleet.

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The new generation rollingstock (NGR) were ordered under the Newman government in 2014 and were due to be rolled out by 2016.

But the new trains, worth $4.4 billion dollars in total, have been plagued with problems including with braking, line-of-sight issues and disability access.

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said they hoped to have at least 15 of the new trains operational in time for the Gold Coast Games, held next April.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure we get these trains on our network as soon as it is safely possible to do so,” Ms Trad said on Monday.

“Everybody thinks that is absolutely possible, and we are working hard to resolve the outstanding issues.”

But opposition transport spokesman Andrew Powell said the issues were of the government’s making.

“Through Labor meddling on behalf of their union mates, we have major design overhauls which have meant that costs and time have blown out,” he said.

Mr Powell was referring to Labor’s adding guards compartments to the trains so guards could take breaks while on duty, even though the NGR problems appear to be inherent design flaws in the new trains.

The government also announced more than 250 applicants had been selected for trainee guard positions at Queensland Rail.

The 255 candidates are 25 per cent more than recommended by the Strachan Report into a series of rostering blunders brought on by insufficient staff.

The updates came on a day which saw another round of long delays for morning rail commuters.

The time of the commute on the Cleveland line was doubled for many.

Charlie Stevens boarded a city-bound train at Manly, a trip that usually takes about 45 minutes.

But he was still on the train after 90 minutes due to a broken down train further up the line.

“The trains frequently break down or are delayed. And I’m still baffled about their decision to use three-car trains during peak hour,” he said.

Just a fortnight ago, Mr Stevens endured another long commute on the same line, when a train was inexplicably held up at a station platform.

New Caledonians take shelter from Donna

A cyclone bearing down on New Caledonia in the South Pacific has been upgraded to a category five storm, the most destructive wind-speed level, prompting local authorities to order people to stay indoors and take shelter.

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Gusts close to the centre of Cyclone Donna were estimated to be as strong as 300 km per hour, according to the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards department, with the storm projected to make landfall late on Tuesday.

“There is enormous uncertainty about the speed and trajectory of Donna at the moment, we are unable to tell people how long they will have to stay at home for,” said Olivier Ciry, a spokesman at the Civil Defence and Risk Management agency.

The storm has whipped up huge swells in the Coral Sea, with the centre roughly 200 km north of New Caledonia, and 350 km west of the Vanuatu capital, Port Vila. It was moving southeast at about 12 km per hour.

Schools in New Caledonia were closed for a public holiday on Monday and would stay shut on Tuesday. Domestic flights in New Caledonia and further north in Vanuatu have been cancelled.

Over the weekend the storm skirted to the west of Vanuatu, sparing the most heavily populated islands from any significant damage.

A Reuters journalist in Port Vila said there was torrential rain and hotel staff had given guests candles and matches in case there was a blackout and as well as a sheet to cover windows that might shater in the gales.

Donna is the third late-season cyclone to sweep through the Pacific, after storms called Debbie and Cook pounded Australia and New Zealand.

Stephen Meke, a senior forecaster at the Fiji Meteorological Service said it was “very unusual” to see such a powerful storm well after the summer months have passed, but there was not enough information to determine if climate change was a reason.

New Caledonia is one of the world’s largest sources of nickel, and mining and metals processing plays a major role in the economy. Its main nickel producers, Societe Le Nickel, a subsidiary of French conglomerate Eramet, Glencore Plc and Vale, were not immediately available for comment.

Vic plumber yells ‘run’ as semi hits ambos

A Melbourne plumber screamed “run”, sending people diving for safety as a semi-trailer ploughed into an ambulance and a police car on a Melbourne freeway.

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The truck collected the parked ambulance, a police car and a car that had already crashed into a guard rail on a freeway interchange ramp in Dandenong North on Monday morning, police say.

Plumber Arthur Tsiligiannis, who’d stopped to help the car that hit the guard rail, screamed out as the truck approached.

“It was just one of those out-of-the-ordinary experiences that was just like watching a movie, and came out of nowhere,” Mr Tsiligiannis told AAP on Monday.

“Everyone took a bit of a tumble to be honest. We all scattered and jumped in every direction trying to avoid contact with the truck.”

He said there was no time to think and everyone at the scene just ran where they could to avoid the truck, most of them jumping a barricade and rolling down an embankment.

The truck driver, the car driver and Mr Tsiligiannis were all taken to a local hospital with minor injuries, Ambulance Victoria says.

“I’m a bit battered and bruised but I’m okay,” Mr Tsiligiannis said.

Ambulance union assistant secretary Danny Hill said he understood it could have been much worse if Mr Tsiligiannis hadn’t alerted everyone to the approaching truck.

The ambulance was towed from the scene with significant damage to its rear.

Mr Hill said the crash was a “perfect example” of why it’s important that drivers go slow around crash scenes.

His union, the Ambulance Employees Australia Victoria, and others have campaigned for 40km/h speed limits around emergency services vehicles.

“There is a major risk to emergency services, bystanders and injured patients when other vehicles are approaching so fast … and they’re very dynamic scenes,” he said.