Sending lots of love on Valentine’s DayTrending

This Valentine’s Day, give your loved one a simple gift that’s an unashamed nod to this romantic event.
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Ideas range from the fun, to the creative, and even (shock, horror), the clichéd – after all, if there’s one day you can be corny it’s February 14.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money either, with some of this selection costing just small change. However if you want to splash out, we have ideas for you too.

Be it your partner, spouse, orsecret someone, there’s something here guaranteed to get a heart racing.

Love script foil balloon, $14.95. Imagine walking into the door to this surprise – guaranteed to raise a smile. lombard南京夜网419论坛

Big heart necklace, $495. Jewellery that features a heart motif is an easy way to acknowledge Valentine’s Day, while fashionable enough to wear all year round. melissaharrisjewellery南京夜网

20 Reasons I Love You jar, $14.95. A novel idea that allows you to make multiple heartfelt sentiments. kikki-k南京夜网

Valentines Day card, $4.99. Considered cliché by many, however that fun range that are available nowadays means it no longer has to be cheesy. cottonon南京夜网/AU/typo

Manflower Co. gift box, $119. Marketed as the male equivalent to a flower delivery, this bouquet alternative pairs craft beer with complementary products (such as the wallet pictured). manflowerco南京夜网419论坛

The Damselfly Collective candle, $52.95. Hand poured in Australia, the aroma captures light, airy gardens of fresh roses and violets warmed by sandalwood, bergamot and musk. thestore南京夜网419论坛

Heart pyjama set, $89.95. The perfect pair of pjs for those warm February nights. peteralexander南京夜网419论坛

Be Mine pouch, $21.95. A sweet little gift for younger people who’ve been swept away by Valentines Day. mrandmrsjones南京夜网419论坛

Love Birds Bindle Gift, $120. Complete with a bottle of Brut, sea salt chocolate, a candle and coffee body scrub, this is the gift box for those who enjoy romantic moments.bindle南京夜网419论坛

W7 Butter Kiss lipstick in Red Rose $4.99. Ideal for delivering the perfect pout. Available at Chemist Warehouse.

The Little Book Of Love, $23.99. From inspirational quotes by some of the world’s greatest thinkers to chuckle-worthy anecdotes of love, this book is sure to warm their heart. yellowoctopus南京夜网419论坛

Cotton On Foundation water, $2. An affordable and lighthearted gift, with 100 per cent of proceeds going towards the organisation’s education project. Buy litres of the stuff.


Kim Dotcom’s extradition appeal begins

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom’s extradition appeal has reached NZ’s second highest court (file).Six years after his dramatic arrest, internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom’s battle against extradition to the United States has reached New Zealand’s second-highest court.
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The German-born tech mogul’s appeal against a decision clearing his extradition began at the Court of Appeal in Wellington on Monday morning.

The Megaupload founder and his three co-accused – Mathias Ortmann, Bran van der Kolk and Finn Botato – were arrested in 2012 in a police raid and charged with a series of copyright-related offences on behalf of authorities in the US over their roles in running the file-sharing website.

Last year, the High Court at Auckland upheld an earlier ruling the group were eligible for extradition on charges of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering – although it found they couldn’t be sent to the US on copyright infringement charges alone.

Starting their appeal against the ruling, Van der Kolk and Ortmann’s lawyer, Grant Illingworth, on Monday told the appeals court the case had “gone off the rails” during the initial 10-week extradition hearing in 2015.

He argued New Zealand’s extradition laws made it clear deciding whether someone could be extradited was not just a rubber-stamping exercise, but required “meaningful” consideration by a judge – which had not been given.

“It all went wrong. It went absolutely, totally wrong,” Mr Illingworth said.

“We were not heard.”

Under New Zealand law someone could only be extradited for conduct that would have merited a criminal trial domestically, he argued.

Dotcom was not in attendance on Monday.

The hearing has been set down for two weeks.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has led the investigation and claims Megaupload was a criminal conspiracy that earned the men $175 million. If extradited and found guilty in the US, the quartet could face decades in jail.

Australian Associated Press


Tax cuts deliver little for households:ALP

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh says business tax cuts will deliver little for households.A senior Labor frontbencher says cutting the company tax rate is not a great use of public money when the budget is half a trillion dollars in debt.
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Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh says the Turnbull government’s own modelling shows Australian household income would grow by 0.1 per cent in the 2030s if the company tax rate is reduced to 25 per cent for all businesses.

“That it is delivering an extra month of household income growth in the 2030s at a time when debt is just past the half a trillion dollar mark. Doesn’t seem like a great use of taxpayers money to me,” Dr Leigh told Sky News on Monday.

His comments come as the head of one of the nation’s biggest companies says the reduction could deliver the Australian economy dividends “within months” of being passed and these would lead to more jobs and higher wages.

BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie has joined a chorus of other bosses urging the Senate to pass the government’s 10-year tax plan, telling The Australian newspaper there is now an “urgency” for Australia to keep up with the rest of the world.

But the cuts appear likely to be blocked in the upper house, with One Nation and Nick Xenophon Team senators already indicating they will join Labor and the Greens in opposing the legislation.

Government minister Angus Taylor describes Labor’s attitude to the tax cuts as “extraordinary”.

“The question for Labor is why don’t they want to see Australians get a wage increase? That’s what happens when you have company tax rate cuts,” Mr Taylor told Sky News.

He says significant cuts in the company tax rate occurred during the Hawke, Keating and Howard eras which produced wage increases.

But Dr Leigh argues good tax reform involves broadening the base and lowering the rate.

“This is simply rate lowering at the expense of middle-income Australians,” he said.

Australian Associated Press


Inside the incredible secrecy surrounding the finances of Catholic Inc

Catholic church Photo: Mark StehleAfter a lifetime contributing to the Catholic Church, Neil Ormerod could give no more.
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Following a Sunday mass in 2014, the Australian Catholic University theology professor told his parish priest he no longer trusted the church to use its resources in a way Jesus Christ would approve.

The trigger for his rebellion was the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2014 – in particular, Cardinal George Pell’s testimony about the church’s brutal legal assault on John Ellis, a former altar boy abused by a priest in the 1970s.

When Ellis finally confronted the Sydney archdiocese in 2002, then led by Pell, it offered him $25,000 in compensation, which he rejected.

The church then dismissed Ellis’s proposal for a $100,000 settlement, instead spending $800,000 fighting him in court, successfully arguing it could not be sued because it did not exist as an entity.

The church threatened to pursue Ellis for its legal costs.

“That money was the accumulated wealth of generations of good faithful Catholics who gave with the best will in the world,” says Ormerod. “It was used in an immoral attack on an abuse survivor and church member.”

Ormerod’s faith in God remained strong, but his belief in the institutional church was severely shaken. The church leadership had forfeited its right to his support.

Neil Ormerod no longer trusts the church to spend its wealth morally. Photo: Wolter Peeters

What about the wider community’s assessment of the church and its finances?

While the Catholic Church may not exist legally, it has nonetheless accumulated staggering wealth through a huge property portfolio, insurance and investment arms, and its own internal banks.

And while it’s facing a crisis of trust, governments continue to exempt it from almost all rates and taxes, and tip billions of dollars annually into its vast network of schools, hospitals, health, employment and welfare agencies.

In return, the church allows minimal insight into its finances, and has fought government attempts to prise open its accounts.

What exactly is the Catholic Church in Australia? And what should we now make of the privileges afforded to one of the richest and most powerful, but most secretive and troubled, institutions in the country?

READ MORE:Catholic Inc: What the Church is really worth in VictoriaA parallel stateThe church is everywhere, its Gothic cathedrals prominent on city skylines, its parish churches dotted through suburbs and towns.

In its humble early days – Australia’s first Irish Catholics arrived in chains and were a persecuted minority – the church was the champion of the underdog, an integral part of the labour movement.

Now it’s entrenched in the establishment, even in the once Protestant bastion of the Liberal Party.

And it’s rich. As Fairfax Media reveals today, the church in Victoria holds assets worth more than $9 billion. Nationally, the figure is more than $30 billion.

It’s the largest non-government property owner, by value, in Victoria, and close to the largest in Australia, rivalling Westfield with its vast network of shopping centres.

But the church’s presence in Australia is far more than bluestone, bricks and mortar.

One in five Australian students – nearly one in four in Victoria – is educated in the Catholic system, including some of our most prestigious schools such as St Kevin’s College in Melbourne and saint Ignatius’ College Riverview in Sydney.

The ill are often treated at St Vincent’s, St John of God, Mercy or Cabrini hospitals; the elderly at one of hundreds of nursing homes, all controlled by Catholic religious orders.

And when in need, or when we donate, we often turn to St Vincent de Paul or Sacred Heart Mission, just two of many Catholic-run charities and welfare agencies.

Arguably, the church is more present in our lives than ever before.

It is a massive decentralised network of 3000 organisations, from the Jesuits to the Sisters of Mercy.

Its elaborate, labyrinthine structure has been built up over centuries. Hundreds of religious orders have their own traditions and structure, drawing authority often directly from Rome.

It has its own banks, superannuation fund, insurance company, university, news service and telecommunications provider. It’s like a parallel state with its own vertically integrated economy.

The church itself says it has a 220,000-strong workforce, as big as the country’s largest private sector employer (Wesfarmers), and almost the size of the Commonwealth.

The secret stateYet, in a 2007 judgment, the NSW Court of Appeal found the Catholic Church did not exist in a legal sense. Its vast property portfolio was held by a trust which, the court found, is immune from legal action.

This was the outcome of John Ellis’s long attempt to sue the church for compensation. It became known as “the Ellis defence”.

To Ellis himself, the court’s decision is nonsense. “I don’t think it’s unfair for people to see the church asthechurch,” he says.

“It’s like any other group of companies – you may be dealing with one particular entity or one particular part of the group, but if they’re all under one umbrella the ultimateresponsibility needs to stop with the head or director of the parent company, so to speak.”

The Ellis defence puts Australia alone among common law nations, including the US, Canada, Britain and Ireland, in allowing religious institutions such immunity.

It graphically highlighted the church’s tendencies in Australia towards meanness and unaccountability.

The consequence has been abuse survivors left with little option but to accept the church’s much-criticised in-house “redress” schemes.

Under the national Towards Healing compensation program, payments to survivors have averaged $49,000 since 1996; under the Melbourne Response, the average is $35,000.

Total payments have been $57.4 million in Sydney and $11.3 million in Melbourne during nearly two decades to 2015.

Melbourne archdiocese media director Shane Healy says that since the Royal Commission report the archdiocese has paid an extra $17.2 million to survivors.

To put those figures in perspective, in 2005 the Sydney archdiocese spent $33 million to buy the Sydney office tower where it now has its headquarters, and in 2015 the Melbourne archdiocese outlaid $39 million on a new headquarters for itself – a premium, heritage-listed East Melbourne office block opposite St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Yet, when quizzed by the royal commission about its capacity to pay more in compensation, senior church officials from Sydney and Melbourne cautioned that bigger payments could force cuts to its social work.

True or not?Until today’s revelations by Fairfax about the church’s wealth, it would have been impossible to say. Such has been the secrecy around the finances of Catholic Inc.

Through its considerable legal powers, the royal commission did manage to flush out some financial details; among them, the accounts of the church’s internal bank, commonly known across the various dioceses as the Catholic Development Fund.

The fund in Melbourne alone has more than $1 billion in assets. It takes deposits and lends money to parishes, schools and other church-related activities, at interest, and last year made a profit of $26.5 million. The Sydney equivalent is similar with just shy of $1 billion in assets.

Yet the bank is exempted from oversight by the national financial industry regulator, and it pays no tax – just one of many church agencies and businesses beyond the purview of government watchdogs and the tax office.

Where it has come under official pressure to open its books, the church has resisted.

Catholic church Photo: Darrian Traynor

In 2013, during the closing days of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, the committee requested – on notice to Archbishop Denis Hart and his executive officer, Francis Moore – details about church assets.

The church’s response has never been made public, but Fairfax Media can reveal that, even though the committee later wrote to Hart and Moore reminding them of their obligations to the Parliament, the information was never provided.

Members of the committee from across the political spectrum have told Fairfax Mediahow they were taken aback by the church’s imperious response to the inquiry. “At times there was a sense of real frustration,” says Liberal MP Crozier, who chaired the parliamentary committee.

The royal commission also asked the Melbourne archdiocese about its money. But as Fairfax Media reveals today, the information supplied was scant at best.

The Melbourne church tabled a financial report for its Roman Catholic Trusts Corporation for 2012-2013. It valued the church’s properties at just $109.2 million.

However, the report’s fine print shows the properties were valued at “historical cost” – the amount paid when the properties were first acquired, often in the 1800s or early 1900s. Many were land grants from state governments. The figure is a gross underestimate of the real, current value of the assets. Who would insure their house for its historical cost after all?

The church doesn’t. The Melbourne and Sydney archdioceses have confirmed they insure their properties at “replacement cost”.

In fact, as Fairfax Media has discovered in its investigation of church assets, the archdiocese owns about $115 million of property in Melbourne’s south-eastern municipality of Greater Dandenong alone.

When asked by Fairfax Media to provide a figure for the value of assets held by the church and associated entities, both the Sydney and Melbourne archdioecese responded that ”this information is not available”.

In the 2000s, many in the charity world had hoped accountability of all churches would improve under Labor’s proposed new regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) which was eventually established in 2012.

But a 2013 Fairfax Mediainvestigation revealed how a lobbying campaign by churches – the office of then Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell was a key player – had been instrumental in restricting the new regulator.

The churches had demanded of the then Labor government that the ACNC bill exempt “basic religious charities” – the large, unincorporated churches, including the Catholics and Anglicans – from annual financial reporting requirements and from the ACNC governance standards.

They argued that such reporting was an unreasonable burden on overworked local parishes, an argument that never washed with the experts. “Of course they know how much money they’ve got,” says Professor Ann O’Connell from the Melbourne Law School, a specialist in charities and taxation and an adviser to the Australian Taxation Office.

Fairfax Media has obtained annual financial reporting forms that Melbourne’s parish priests are required to complete for the church’s head office. They ask for at least as much financial detail as the statements the regulator requires from non-exempt charities.

But the Catholic church was not just worried about the reporting burden on parish priests. In 2013, parts of the church – the Sydney archdiocese in particular – wanted the ACNC abolished entirely, a promise the Coalition was happy to give ahead of the federal election that year.

World Vision chief advocate and Baptist minister Tim Costello recalls a meeting with then opposition leader Tony Abbott in which Pell drove the church’s argument to a sympathetic, budding prime minister.

Only a hostile senate prevented the Abbott government from acting on its promise to do away with the commission.

Managing upwards”After God, the priest is everything,” French Saint John Vianney declared hundreds of years ago.

This is clericalism – the belief that clergy are mystical beings, accountable to the Pope and God, not to civil society nor their own “flock”. In the modern church this is reflected in the tight knit, all male, impenetrable club that is the clergy.

Church business – and especially church wealth and its use – is nobody else’s.

“They all go through the same training,” says Neil Ormerod, a one-time teacher of priests. “There’s a real camaraderie. You rarely see a priest break ranks and display anger at abuser priests.”

This culture is reinforced by the fact that the church has its own law – canon law – and as the royal commission found, when canon and civil law come into conflict within the church, canon law prevails.

Among the many orders made by the Vatican under canon law isSecreta Continere, issued under Pope Paul VI in 1974. Otherwise known as the Pontifical Secret, it imposes a permanent silence on clergy on a range of matters, including child sexual abuse by priests.

Belatedly in 2010, 14 years after the church established its Toward Healing and Melbourne Response redress schemes, Pope Benedict XVI permitted that, in states where civil law specifically required the reporting of abuse, the church would abide by it. In Australia, only NSW and Victoria specifically require such reporting.

Peter Johnstone is a life-long church goer,former CEO and senior government manager at federal, state and local levels. He is now a consultant specialising in governance.

He says the clericalist culture and Pontifical Secret contributed to the “most dysfunctional governance’’ he has ever seen.

And it leaves big questions over financial priorities.

It’s a culture evident in the church’s own internal records. Especially when it comes to assets.

Fairfax Media has pored through hundreds of pages of formerly secret church minutes made available through the royal commission.

They show the church responding to the emerging abuse scandal in the late-1980s and early-1990s – code-named Special Issues – by focusing on the protection of clerical reputations and church assets. Victims rarely rated a mention.

Then, as public scandal escalated, the minutes themselves became a problem: “Too many people are keeping too many records,”warns a minute from a 1992 meeting of the Australian Catholics Bishops Conference.

Written comments about “special issues” should be “kept to a minimum”, noted the minutes from a Melbourne archdiocese meeting.

“Special issues” were often discussed, internally, in conjunction with asset protection strategies.

In its findings, the royal commission slammed such secrecy: “It is clear to us from those minutes that the purpose of not recording information was to protect the assets of the archdiocese in the event of a claim being made against it.”

A moral crisisThe royal commission found that 4444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse at Catholic institutions.

It calculated that 7 per cent of Catholic priests had been accused of abusing children in the six decades from 1950 to 2010. In some Catholic religious orders the figures were much higher: 40 per cent for the St John of God Brothers and 22 per cent for the Christian Brothers.

Even the church acknowledges these figures are an understatement because many victims have never come forward and never will.

Francis Sullivan, the head of the church’s own Truth, Justice and Healing Council, has described the figures as evidence of a “massive failure” by the church. “As Catholics we hang our heads in shame,” he says.

This crisis of moral authority has reinforced the long-term drift from organised religion in Australia.

The National Church Life Survey shows Sunday mass attendance numbers starting to dwindle amid the social revolution of the 1960s, from 53 per cent regularly attending in 1961 to 12.2 per cent in 2011. More than half regular churchgoers are now aged over 60.

“The decline is at one level, in public participation – in going to Mass on Sunday,”says former priest and prominent Catholic liberal Eric Hodgens. “The next level is the decline in the acceptance of the [church] line.”

That includes touchstone moral questions such as same-sex marriage.

It’s a decline that’s been masked to a degree by the expansion in the church’s welfare and other services, a by-product in part of the trend to privatisation and outsourcing since the 1980s.

But while the church’s hospitals, retirement villages, employment and social welfare agencies probably care for more Australians than ever before, there is often little distinguishing them from their public or private-for-profit equivalents.

The days of nuns treating patients at St Vincent’s hospitals are long gone. Catholic schools, once run by devoted brothers and sister are now largely staffed by lay workers – many not even Catholic. Ditto the students.

Out of a deep, historic trust in the church’s good works, governments continue to fund its schools, health and welfare agencies – $7.9 billion went on school funding alone in 2015.

We demand transparency from government, business, unions and other not-for-profits, yet we continue to make major exceptions for a handful of religious organisations, both in accountability and tax. Even life-long Catholics say it no longer makes sense.

“It is extraordinary how little we Catholics know about our church finances and decision-making,” says Johnstone. “It’s time we knew much more.”

In a written statement to Fairfax Media, Mr Healy says the church meets “its legal and reporting obligations” to the regulatory authorities to which it is subject.

Coming to accountJohn Ellis is no longer a practising Catholic.

The end came when the Sydney archdiocese threatened to pursue him for legal costs over his failed bid for justice through the courts.

“I realised there is nothing special or different about the church … They act like any other ruthless wealthy organisation,” says Ellis. “The more money they’ve got, the more ruthless they will be with it.”

John Ellis was abused by a priest when he was an altar boy in the 1970s. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Despite a seismic, five-year royal commission, the latest in a slew of such inquiries around the world, the church is still to give ground in key areas deemed crucial for reform by its army of critics.

Many of the church’s more structural problems – its top-down autocracy, male domination, obsession with secrecy – are ancient and can only be finally dealt with in Rome. But the local church does have power to reform in key areas such as financial accountability to abuse survivors, regulators and taxpayers.

There are hints of progress. In Adelaide, the church in 2016 released a brief financial report disclosing key assets. Elsewhere, where the organisation is much larger – Sydney and Melbourne, in particular – finances remain as opaque as ever.

Governments have been reluctant to impose change. The church’s lobbying power is formidable, its campaigning fierce – as shown recently in its fight with the Turnbull government over needs-based school funding.

Among the initiatives the federal government has taken is the proposal for a national redress scheme for abuse survivors covering all government and non-government institutions.

But survivors groups and lawyers who work with them insist the scheme is unacceptable in its current form. Few are likely to be granted the scheme’s maximum $150,000 cap, already $50,000 lower than recommended by the royal commission. Those who seek redress through it are required to sign away their right to sue.

For survivors who try their luck in the courts, the church has promised to establish special entities that can be sued and pledged not to invoke the Ellis defence. But details are sketchy and survivors and their lawyers are wary.

Notably, neither element of the proposed redress scheme would expose the church’s billions of dollars in assets.

Ellis proposes the repealing of the historic acts that have allowed the church to immunise its assets from legal action – the key stumbling block in his own case. That way, as in the US and elsewhere, the churches would have to incorporate under general law, making them sueable.

Pressure is also growing for church accountability to the wider community.

The federal government is currently reviewing the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, five years after its creation. Tax expert professor Ann O’Connell says the review is an opportunity to scrap the exemption for churches from financial reporting to the regulator.

“We expect the 50,000 other charities to complete a very simple annual information statement, why do we exclude the religious charities?” O’Connell says. “If the local tennis club has to account for it then why shouldn’t a parish church?”

Both the Melbourne and the Sydney archdiocese say they support the retention of the charities commission but oppose changes that would require them to lodge annual financial statements.

Peter Johnstone says government departments should now demand that the church properly accounts for its own wealth and how it uses public funds.

“If I was running the Education Department I would be advising the government to say ‘If you’re going to get his money, here are the details we need from you to ensure our own public accountability’.”

Then there is the vexed question of tax.

Victorian upper house MP and Reason Party leader Fiona Patten is finalising a bill seeking to ensure tax exemptions for charities only apply to organisations engaged in “objectively charitable works”.

Such legislation would overturn centuries of tax exemptions for the churches. The bill is unlikely to have the numbers to pass, but it reflects the crisis of legitimacy facing the church. It should ring alarm bells.

Mr Healy did not respond to a question about whether any of the church’s activities should be taxed.

Four years after he put a stop on his direct debit contributions, Neil Ormerod has started donating again.

He’s still not sure, though, that he’s doing the right thing.

“The church has to do much more to win back my trust.”


Justice official quits amid Trump attacks

US Justice Department No.3 Rachel Brand plans to quit at a time of turmoil at the agency (File).The US Justice Department’s third-ranking official plans to step down to work in the private sector, sources say, at a time when President Donald Trump has taken aim at senior law enforcement officials.
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Rachel Brand was next in line to Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein for oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia and whether the Republican president has sought to obstruct the ongoing probe.

Rosenstein oversees Mueller’s investigation because Attorney-General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the matter last year.

After just nine months in her role, Brand had grown increasingly uncomfortable with Trump’s escalating attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI, which she and other law enforcement professionals feared was beginning to undermine the rule of law, according to sources.

The attacks have escalated as Republicans in Congress criticised the handling by the Justice Department, FBI and Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court of warrants for surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, who had ties to Russia.

Brand’s resignation was first reported by the New York Times. A source said she was going to work as an executive at retailer Walmart.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

The news comes a week after Trump approved the release of a classified memo by congressional Republicans that portrays the Russia investigation as a product of political bias against Trump at the FBI and Justice Department.

Trump has also criticised Sessions for recusing himself.

On February 2, just hours before Trump approved the memo’s release, Sessions praised Rosenstein and Brand, saying they “represent the kind of quality and leadership that we want in the department”.

The FBI’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, stepped down in January after Trump repeatedly criticised him on Twitter.

Australian Associated Press


Meet the face of a family estate

BUSY: Jessica McLeish is business operations manager at McLeish Estate, founded by her parents Bob and Maryanne. Picture: Simone De Peak Meet the face of a family estate Jessica McLeish, Bob McLeish and Maryanne McLeish toast their award winning McLeish Estate 2007 Semillon. 21st FEBRUARY 2012. Picture by SIMONE DE PEAK.
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Mother and Daughter at family owned McLeish Estate in Pokolbin. From left Maryanne McLeish with daughter Jessica McLeish. Pic for story about the Hunter being voted number 9 best wine region to visit by USA Today Magazine. 9th SEPTEMBER 2014.

Bob and Maryanne McLeish on their tiny Polkolbin vineyard McLeish Estate. Pictured with one of their award winning Semillions. October 3rd 2009 NCH FEATURES, PIC KITTY HILL

Food & Wine at Scratchleys. Pic of Seared Sea Scallops with Pepperonata, Carrot Puree, Chirozo Crumble & Herb Oil and Daintree Barramundi Fillet pan fried with Crushed Chat Potatoes, Cauliflower Puree, Baby Beetroots, Carrots and Roasted Eschallot with a glass of McLeish Estate 2009 Semillion. 25th FEBRUARY 2016. Picture by SIMONE DE PEAK.

TweetFacebook McLeish Estate, Pokolbin | PHOTOSFor close to 30 years the McLeish family haslet the success of their award-winning Hunter Valley wines do the talking.That is all about to change.

The quality vintages will remain, carefully crafted by winemaker Andrew Thomas, but McLeish Estate hopes to this year secure its spot on the tourist map andbecome more of a “personality” in the Valley.

Leading the charge is Jessica McLeish who runs the business with her parents, Maryanne and Bob.

“It’s an exciting year for us,” Jessica McLeish told Food & Wine. “We have come torealise that there are so many offerings around the Hunter Valley these days that we need to focus on a few key events and consolidate what we are doing at the cellar door.”

McLeish Estate doesn’t have an on-site cafe or restaurant. As McLeish says: “There are so many good ones around.We want people to leave McLeish Estatehappy that they have had an experience –and Ithink we’ve come up with anoffering which will impress a lot of people.”

Guests can nowtake part in a Wines of Distinction Tasting and select a wine to enjoy with a Regional Tasting Plate.They are given a picnic rug, too, to set up where they please on the estate’s stunning hill-top vantage point.

The McLeish family called on chef Matt Dillow to design the uniquely Hunter Valley tasting plate. He has worked with them for the past 15 years, catering for their annual Celtic wine feasts.

“He is using local produce and his own hummus and relishes.He makes a beautiful zucchini and pine nut frittata and we’ve got somelovely cheeses from Hunter Valley Cheese Company, too,” McLeish said. “Everything is fresh and paired with high-end wines.”

Another highlight is an annual dinner which showcasesthe boutique winery’saward-winning semillon and shiraz. Head to Scratchley’s on the Wharf on March 22 for canapésand champagne followed by a four-course menu with sixmatching wines.Tickets are on sale now.

“The dinner celebrates the current vintage as well as the ongoing local relationships that we have built over the years,” McLeish said.“Sinceday dot my parents have been at every food and wine festival. There are so many companies now that just sell on the phone but I think the wine industry is better off witha family voice on the other end of the phone or in the cellar door.”


White House grapples with aide resignation

Trump aid Rob Porter has resigned after two former wives said he abused them.Reeling from the downfall of a senior aide, the White House is on the defensive, attempting to soften President Donald Trump’s comments about the mistreatment of women while rallying around the embattled chief of staff.
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Several senior aides fanned out on morning talk shows to explain how the White House handled the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter, a rising West Wing star who exited after two ex-wives came forward with allegations of spousal abuse. And they tried to clarify the reaction from Trump, who has yet to offer a sympathetic word to the women who said they had been abused.

“The president believes, as he said the other day, you have to consider all sides,” said senior counselor Kellyanne Conway. “He has said this in the past about incidents that relate to him as well. At the same time, you have to look at the results. The result is that Rob Porter is no longer the staff secretary.”

On Saturday, Trump tweeted that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false.” And the day before, he pointed to Porter’s assertions of innocence and wished him a great future.

Conway also delivered what she said was a vote of confidence from Trump for chief of staff John Kelly, who has come under fire for his handling of the Porter matter.

Trump has grown frustrated with Kelly, once commended for bringing discipline to the West Wing, and has begun floating possible names for a future chief of staff in conversations with outside advisers, according to three people with knowledge of the conversations.

As the aftershocks of the accusations against Porter reverberated for a sixth day, Trump stayed out of sight on a rainy Sunday in Washington. Showing little regard for the #MeToo movement, he has followed a pattern of giving the benefit of the doubt to powerful men and insisting upon his own innocence in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women.

Australian Associated Press


Labor promises indigenous parliament voice

Malcolm Turnbull will hand down the 10th annual report on the Close the Gap strategy on Monday. Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged four of the seven targets of Closing the Gap are not on track.
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An indigenous voice will be added to parliament if Labor wins the next election but Malcolm Turnbull is holding fire until he hears from Aboriginal Australians.

Handing down the 10th annual Closing the Gap report on Monday, the prime minister said four of its seven targets to improve indigenous health and welfare were not on track.

But he also announced the extension of a successful policy that has allowed indigenous businesses to win more than $1 billion in government contracts since 2015.

“The government must be the enabler of this success,” Mr Turnbull told parliament on Monday.

“Too often we are quick to highlight the despondency which does nothing to help those who aspire to be like people that work hard and succeed all the time, all while being proud First Australians, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander Australians.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pledged to add an indigenous voice to parliament if there wasn’t a bipartisan commitment to hold a referendum.

“I say to the prime minister and the government – we will work with you, but we will not wait for you,” Mr Shorten told parliament.

Federal cabinet last year rejected the Referendum Council’s proposal for a constitutionally enshrined indigenous voice in parliament.

But Mr Turnbull said he was waiting for an Indigenous Advisory Council to report back in April before making a decision.

“The important thing is that we do things with indigenous Australians, not do things to them,” he said.

Mr Shorten also promised to compensate survivors of the Stolen Generation in the nation’s two territories, while Mr Turnbull was waiting for advice from an indigenous body on how to support victims.

The prime minister said the latest Closing the Gap report showed the target to halve the gap in Year 12 attainment by 2020 remained on track.

Two more targets – halving the gap in child mortality by 2018 and having 95 per cent of all indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025 – were also both now on track.

But the remaining four targets were lagging, including a key goal to close the 10-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians by 2031.

Work was under way to update the targets, with the deadline extended until October.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who introduced the strategy after his apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, said he isn’t against a refresh.

“What I do oppose is if these targets are watered down to let governments, federal or state, off the hook,” he told the National Press Club.

Indigenous Labor senator Pat Dodson said any news of progress, “microscopic as it might be”, was refreshing.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson on Monday revived her 1990s-era attacks on taxpayer money being spent on indigenous Australians, drawing sharp criticism from Labor.

Australian Associated Press


Consistency key in China relations: Rudd

Kevin Rudd says the Australian government must be consistent in its approach to China.Kevin Rudd has accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of inconsistency in his approach to Australia’s relationship with China, saying it’s the opposite of what’s needed.
Nanjing Night Net

The former prime minister pointed out that as opposition leader Mr Turnbull would regularly attack him for apparently being too hostile towards China.

At the same time, he took what Mr Rudd believed was a “deeply accommodationist view” on matters such as political donations and the involvement of Chinese telco Huawei in the national broadband network.

“Now it seems, for a range of domestic political factors concerning (former Labor senator Sam) Dastyari and others, (Mr Turnbull has) lurched considerably in the reverse direction,” Mr Rudd told ABC radio on Monday.

“It’s consistency which is required over time, not simply a massive chop and change depending on the political circumstances.”

But Trade Minister Steven Ciobo took an economic perspective in rebutting the former prime minister’s assessment of an “incoherent and inconsistent” approach to China.

“Irrespective of the fact that from time to time we have trade irritants, both the Chinese government and the Australian government have a broad, deep and excellent relationship,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“The relationship lay at the very core of why we were able to do such a high-quality China-Australia free trade agreement and why we were able to resolve issues like that around the export of Australian beef in a record amount of time.”

Opposition frontbencher Amanda Rishworth joined Mr Rudd in saying the government needed to ensure Australia strengthened its relationship with China.

“I would encourage the government to make sure that they are constantly making sure they are looking after our country, our national interest right across the globe,” she said.

Mr Rudd welcomed the appointment of US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris as the new American ambassador to Australia, saying he was someone who knew the wider region well.

But he cautioned that the Turnbull government faced difficulty in fully engaging with the US on security challenges in the region, particularly those involving China and North Korea, while always reflecting an Australian view.

Australian Associated Press


‘Shameful’ ex-RSL boss referred to police

Gladys Berejiklian says the NSW government will act on recommendations from a report into NSW RSL. Former RSL NSW President Don Rowe (R) is facing a police investigation into his expenses.
Nanjing Night Net

The president of the embattled RSL NSW says the past leadership of the charity was “rotten to the core” after a former judge who conducted a public inquiry recommended his predecessor be probed by police.

Former NSW RSL president Don Rowe admitted to using the charity’s money for his own purposes during last year’s public inquiry led by former NSW Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin SC.

James Brown, the current RSL NSW president who also happens to be the prime minister’s son-in-law, says the charity had a lot of shortcomings that had to be fixed.

“We have lost our way in the last decade and our leadership at times has been rotten to the core,” Mr Brown told reporters on Monday.

“The critical thing for us is to rebuild trust with the public and I think we’ve gone a long way towards doing that.”

In her final report, released Monday, Ms Bergin recommended the state government “refer this report and all evidence relating to Mr Rowe’s expenses, his resignation and its aftermath gathered in the inquiry to NSW Police”.

The inquiry revealed Mr Rowe spent $465,376 on his RSL credit card between 2009 and 2014 for his mortgage, family phone bills, flights and meals.

He also paid for his daughter to stay at an RSL-owned hotel in Sydney’s CBD for three nights and allowed his son to stay there rent-free for seven years.

Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean immediately confirmed Mr Rowe’s “disgraceful behaviour” had already been referred to police.

“Justice Bergin has made the recommendation that with all the evidence she’s collected throughout the process it will support police in their efforts to throw the book at Mr Rowe,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“The report details the shameful and disgraceful behaviour of the former president Don Rowe and the culture which allowed him to get away with it.”

Ms Bergin also recommended 13 others be referred to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission for their role in covering up Mr Rowe’s misconduct.

Eight former directors of RSL’s aged-care branch LifeCare, including Mr Rowe, and its current chief executive officer, were also recommended to be referred to ASIC and the ACNC for their conduct as directors of RSL LifeCare.

The referrals had already been sent to ASIC and the ACNC, a spokeswoman for Mr Kean told AAP.

Ahead of the inquiry’s hearings last year, Mr Brown announced all sub-branches of the charity would stop fundraising. He confirmed on Monday the fundraising suspension would continue until November at least.

The report also found RSL LifeCare made political donations to the federal and NSW Liberal Party and until February 2017 failed to comply with political donation declarations and policies.

Australian Associated Press