MP pushes for federal terms of four years

In theory voters are only meant to go to the polls every three years, but the average time between federal elections is just two and a half.

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Liberal MP David Coleman has told the ABC he is pushing for that three year federal parliamentary term to be extended to a fixed four years.

And these people on the streets of Canberra agree.

“There’s just not enough time for a government to get its plans in place.”

“Everything takes time, so, you know, three years maybe isn’t enough.”

Mr Coleman says he will put a private member’s bill to parliament later in the year.

“There is a widespread view that having a fixed term of government would lead to a better system of governance in Australia and more getting done.”

He says it would bring the federal government in line with most of the states, allow for fewer elections and help lead the way to long-term policymaking.

Opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen says he backs the plan.

“Well, I’m going to do something perhaps a bit unusual and say, ‘I agree with David Coleman.’ The Labor Party supports four year, fixed terms. Now, this is not a front of centre issue just at the moment – our focus is on Medicare, housing affordability and other things – but when a politician says something that is a good contribution, we acknowledge that good contribution.”

Australian prime ministers have one of the shortest political terms of leaders around the world.

While they are joined by New Zealand, prime ministers in Canada get up to four years per term, much like the president of the United States.

In Britain, India and China, leaders get up to five years.

The debate dates back as far as the late 1920s.

Any change would mean updating the constitution, but David Coleman has told the ABC it would be well worthwhile.

“It’s a very difficult thing to change the constitution. It requires political support from both, essentially, the government and the opposition of the day, and it would require widespread public support. I certainly think there’s a strong case for this. I think a system of certainty is better for the community, a system of four years is better for the community than a system of just over two-and-a-half years. And certainly in the business community and many other parts of the community, there is strong support for this concept.”

Another hurdle, though, is the Senate.

Senate terms are six years, with half of the senators up for election every three years.

The only way to avoid making voters go to the polls more often is to have simultaneous elections for both houses every four years or increase a Senate term to eight years.

 

Ross River ‘could become global epidemic’

The Ross River virus risks becoming a global epidemic on the same scale as the Zika virus, Australian researchers say.

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An Australian National University and University of Adelaide study has found that Ross River transmitted by mosquitoes could be carried by all mammals and not just kangaroos and wallabies as previously thought.

“The traditionally accepted thinking and all evidence points to the fact that the virus needs a marsupials reservoir – so when kangaroos and wallabies are around – and it then gets picked up by a mosquito which then transmits it to humans,” University of Adelaide professor Philip Weinstein told AAP.

“What the new research shows is that it can do this without the marsupials … you could have dogs, cats and rats playing the role that we thought only marsupials could do.”

While the virus is currently confined largely to Australian and Papua New Guinea, Prof Weinstein says it’s “probably a question of when, not if” Ross River virus spreads further afield, in the same way the Zika virus was transmitted.

Zika, spread by infected mosquitoes, can infect a foetus and cause birth defects.

The findings on Ross River come after blood tests from American Samoans who had never left home revealed exposure to the virus.

This pointed to the transmission of the virus after the 1979-80 epidemic, which was thought to have died out.

As there aren’t any marsupials in American Samoa, Prof Weinstein said it was only reasonable to conclude that the virus could circulate in local mammals.

“If RRV can circulate in non-marsupials in the South Pacific, then it can find a home anywhere in the world,” he said.

“There are tourists travelling all the time from Australia, some of whom will carry the (Ross River) virus. If that can start an epidemic in another country, that can take off and become a global epidemic.”

The condition isn’t deadly but causes fever, joint pain, rashes, lethargy and can be debilitating.

Pilot behind Essendon crash may have had previous ‘near miss’

Air safety experts are set to reveal their initial findings into the cause of a fatal plane crash into a Melbourne shopping centre.

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Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators will on Wednesday discuss their preliminary findings at Essendon airport following the light plane crash which killed all five onboard on Tuesday.

They will also outline the next steps their investigation.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Tuesday he would wait on the outcome of investigations into the crash before commenting on Essendon’s future.

It’s been reported pilot Max Quartermain was subject to an ongoing investigation by the ATSB in relation to a “near collision” with another plane in Mount Hotham in September 2015.

The ATSB website lists information about an a three times delayed investigation into a near-miss in Mount Hotham in September 2015, but does not name Mr Quartermain as the responsible pilot.

Fellow pilot and aero engineer Bob MacGillivray said he hadn’t heard a bad word about Mr Quartermain, who had a long-established and solid reputation.

Mr Quartermain and US citizens Greg Reynolds De Haven, Russell Munsch, Glenn Garland were among those who died in the fiery crash into Essendon DFO on Tuesday. The fourth US citizen has been identified by US media as John Washburn.

American media reports a Texas law firm has confirmed Mr Munsch was a founding partner of Munsch Hardt and was involved in some of the most prominent bankruptcy cases in the US, including the Enron proceedings.

Munsch Hardt said in a statement that he had retired but was “one of the best of all time”.

On Facebook, the sister of Mr De Haven, Denelle Wicht, said her “handsome athletic big brother” had died in the crash while on his “one in a lifetime” trip to Australia.

The plane was heading to King Island to play golf when the the Beechcraft Super King Air twin-engine plane appeared to suffer catastrophic engine failure moments after take-off.

The tragedy is Victoria’s worst aviation accident in 30 years.

ATSB investigators examined the crash site and wreckage on Tuesday.

They are expected to further examine the sites in addition to the plane’s maintenance records, as well as pilot training, meteorological conditions and recorded radio and radar data.

They will also interview witnesses.

The fiery crash has reignited speculation over whether the airport, surrounded by homes, a retail outlet and freeway, should remain open.

Calls to close it started after a plane crashed into a house killing six members of one family in 1978.

Essendon DFO is being assessed for structural flaws and will not reopen until Thursday at the earliest.

Crash witnesses have been urged to contact the ATSB on 1800 020 616.

Plane crashes into Melbourne CBD

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Victorian govt faces $2 ride levy battle

The Victorian government could be facing a battle on its plans to include a $2 levy on taxi and rideshare trips in the state.

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A bill to legalise ridesharing services such as Uber was introduced in state parliament on Wednesday and will be debated on Thursday.

The bill offers a $494 million assistance package that includes a taxi licence buy-back scheme offer $100,000 for the first licence and $50,000 per licence for up to three more.

The $2 per trip levy will help fund the support package and replace the $23,000 annual licence fee per taxi.

It would then be up to transport providers to decide how the levy is collected and if it was passed onto passengers.

The state opposition is likely to try and block the levy.

“We have concerns that the $2 levy will hit some of the most vulnerable in our society,” opposition spokesman for public transport David Hodgett told reporters on Wednesday.

“I’ve talked to pensioners in the city and in the country that might get a taxi short ride down to a doctors appointment or to the supermarkets to do their shopping and these are $6, $8 taxi fares that are going to be slugged with a $4 tax on a round trip, so that gives us some concern.”

Mr Hodgett said deregulation models in Queensland, where there was no levy, and in NSW, where the levy was $1, needed to be examined.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said “unpicking” the legislation would prevent the industry from getting “significant” transition support.

Ms Allan said she would be willing to negotiate to get the legislation passed, but “with the package largely intact like it is now because it is all linked, because it’s about providing industry support.”

“If they block the levy, they block the compensation package,” she told reporters.

There is no end date for the levy, which will be administered through the State Revenue Office.

All commercial passenger vehicle providers will have to provide quarterly information on trip numbers as part of the levy collection.

Should providers not comply with regulations, they risk not being able to operate in Victoria, Ms Allan said.

Israeli soldier gets 18 month for killing injured Palestinian

Elor Azaria entered the Israeli court with a wide smile and, flanked by his friends and family, continued to grin as his sentence was read out.

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Throughout Azaria’s trial and sentencing, judges pointed out he showed no remorse for killing Abdul Fatah al-Sharif.

They said the 19-year-old acted as both judge and executioner, but they found it was his first offence and he was acting within hostile territory.

The 18-month sentence is half of the minimum the prosecution had asked for.

But military prosecutor Nadav Weisman says justice has been done.

“The sentencing today sends an important message to all the soldiers and commanders in the army. As for the values of the military and the importance of protecting the purity of arms, it is clear to us that it is not an easy day for the defendent and his family, but justice had to be done, and justice was done. And this process had to happen, given the circumstances of the incident, and we are finishing the sentence today with a feeling that an important message was conveyed.”

Abdul Fatah al-Sharif, a 21-year-old Palestinian, was lying unarmed and wounded in a street in Hebron last March after he tried to stab an Israeli soldier.

For 10 minutes, he lay motionless on the ground with his knife well out of reach.

Elor Azaria then, without explanation, walked over to Sharif and shot him in the head.

He later told his commander, “The terrorist is alive and needs to die.”

Israel’s military high command initially charged Azaria with murder before reducing it to manslaughter.

He was also demoted to the rank of soldier.

The attacker’s father, Yousri al-Sharif, has called the 18-month sentence a joke.

“It’s theatrical. It’s unjust. It’s a plea to shut us up. What’s a year and a half? That time almost passed while he was in the military base.”

But some Israelis say they believe the sentence was too harsh and have called Azaria a hero.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously called for the soldier to be pardoned.

And outside the courthouse, parliamentarian Oren Hazan joined Azaria’s supporters.

“By my point of view, every terrorist needs to finish every event with a bullet in his head. And when I say a thing like this, how can I not come out and support Elor Azaria? I hope that, today, (yes,) the court decided that he will go to jail, but I hope us, as politicians, as leaders, will do the right things and we will find a way to set him free.”

Azaria’s lawyer says he will appeal the sentence.

His supporters have welcomed that news.

“I’m the mother of soldiers, or fighters, just like him. How can I send my kids to the army now? I am going to send them. I am going to tell them to ‘shoot to kill. You’re a soldier, you have a gun, you are a fighter, that’s your job.’ He only did his job. That’s what he does. That’s what he did.”

Issa Amro is a human rights activist in Hebron whose organisation the Camera Project was instrumental in documenting Sharif’s death.

He says he believes the sentence for what Azaria did is not enough.

“Netanyahu himself invited his father for dinner, so I think Azaria will get a pardon. And the 18 months are not proportional to what he did. We are talking about a war criminal, according to the international law, who’s getting only 18 months in jail and will get a pardon from his government.”

In the past 17 years, Israel’s military police have opened up more than 260 investigations into incidents where Palestinians were killed.

Only 17 have led to indictment, with Elor Azaria the only one convicted.