Lowndes unhurt from Phillip Island crash

Craig Lowndes has walked away from a spectacular flying crash at Phillip Island, missing half of Friday’s Supercars practice but vowing to return for the weekend’s races.

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Lowndes left the track at 240km/h in Friday’s warm-up session, hurtling through the gravel and into the tyre wall which threw his Commodore into the air.

Seconds earlier, title-chasing DJR Team Penske driver Fabian Coulthard had a lower-impact run-off into the wall in a dramatic day at the circuit.

Both men were unhurt from their impacts but left their teams with plenty of thinking to do ahead of an expected wet race meet.

Chaz Mostert led the pack, setting a new practice lap record of 1:29.5747.

He was one of five Falcons in the top seven, with Shane van Gisbergen the fastest Holden in second place.

Lowndes said his right front tyre blew.

“You don’t want a right front tyre going on a left-hand corner,” he said.

“I became a passenger and the car sailed through like it was an ice rink.”

Lowndes was a spectator for the second practice session as his Commodore was repaired, and he was impressed by Mostert’s pace.

“By the looks of those times, we need to do something,” he said.

Team Vortex engineers said car No.888 would “100 per cent” be right to go for the 250km races on Saturday and Sunday.

Coulthard, second in the championship standings behind leader van Gisbergen, hit the fence at low speed after sailing through a gravel trap earlier on the same lap.

He looked confused by the incident but his Falcon was in better shape than Lowndes’ Commodore.

Simona De Silvestro also brought a red flag after running wide and getting bogged in her attempt to re-enter the field.

A forecast of intermittent rain across the weekend raises the possibility of more incidents.

Van Gisbergen said he was looking forward to the lengthened Saturday race, which was just 120km last year.

“250 kilometres – it’s going to be pretty physical … I’m pretty confident,” he said.

There was further bad news on Friday for Lowndes, who was docked 15 points for an incident with Cameron Waters at the Symmons Plains round in Tasmania.

US accuses UN Security Council of ‘Israel-bashing’

The United States says it wants to shift the focus of the UN’s monthly meeting on the Middle East.

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The US holds the rotating presidency of the Council for the month of April.

Its Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, says she wants to shift the focus.

“Regrettably, these monthly meetings routinely turn into Israel-bashing sessions. That’s the way this Security Council has operated for years. It’s a formula that is absurdly biased against one country.”

She says the meetings do little to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The truth is these Security Council meetings don’t do anyone in the region any favors, least of all the Israelis and the Palestinians. These meetings do nothing to bring the parties closer together. They actually work to push the two sides apart.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, echoed her comments.

“I ask a simple question to those who insist on keeping the focus on Israel here in the Security Council. Is Israel at fault for the spread of ISIS? Is Israel to blame for the dire situation in Yemen? Is Israel responsible for the daily massacre in Syria? The answer is a resounding no.”

Mr Danon has welcomed efforts to widen the scope of the Security Council meetings and focus on what he says is the real danger in the Middle East: Syria.

“The time has come to finally put an end to the obsessive focus on Israel. The time has come to stop the scapegoating of the Jewish state for every war and conflict in our region. This council should remain focused on stopping the countries that support sadistic dictators who gas their own people.”

Russia last week blocked a Western-led effort at the UN Security Council to condemn the deadly gas attack in Idlib.

Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Petr Iliichev, disapproved of the US effort to change the focus of the Middle East meeting.

“We would like to express categorical disagreement with the attempts to tailor this meeting to the domestic context and exclusively to an American foreign policy focus. For example, in the concept note of this meeting, the name of which has traditionally been ‘the situation on the Middle East including the Palestinian question,’ our American colleagues have remained silent on this very Palestinian question. Furthermore, in the document prepared by the US delegation, we do not find any reflection in the danger from the threats posed by ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra, other extremist and terrorist groups of all kinds and those groups’ violence that causes suffering to civilians in Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

 

 

French presidential candidates unite behind police after attack

France’s 11 presidential candidates were engaged in a live televised debate when the deadly police shooting happened on the Champs Elysees in central Paris.

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Analysts had long feared such an attack ahead of the election, following a string of incidents since 2015 that have left over 230 people dead.

The leader of France’s nationalist National Front party, Marie Le Pen, says what she calls the “nightmare” is starting again.

Expressing sadness at the loss of life, she has attacked the government and her rivals for not doing more to prevent such attacks.

“I don’t want us to get used to Islamic terrorism. I don’t want us to say to our young people that they will live daily or long-term with this danger. I want us to put an attack plan in place against this Islamic terrorism, with a series of measures — borders, but also attacking the root of the evil … in other words, the ideology itself, which has been festering on our territory for years.”

Before the shootings, polls showed voters more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security.

But in the aftermath, analysts have warned that is likely to be different.

In the final days of campaigning, Marine Le Pen hardened her stand against Muslim immigration, linking it to the security fears.

She says she wants to end what she calls “mass immigration” and reassert French cultural identity through a number of measures.

They include a ban on dual nationality for non-Europeans.

Ms Le Pen says she is frustrated to see her worst fears of an attack realised, and she has promised counterterrorism will be a key priority if she is elected president.

“Lenience is over. Naivety is over. We can’t leave a weak country to our children. To defend them, we need clarity, we need courage, we need determination, and it’s that which you, the French people, must demand and choose.”

During the campaign, presidential hopeful Francois Fillon also pledged to eradicate such attacks.

He has called for an alliance with Russia to fight what he calls “Islamic totalitarianism,” and he wants to strip French militants returning from the Middle East of their citizenship.

He says fighting terrorism has to be the priority of the next president.

“We are faced with an act that we can’t yet totally make sense of, but, sadly, it seems to resemble an act of terror. There seem to have been other acts of violence elsewhere in Paris, and, given the circumstances, I am cancelling my campaign events. And I’d like to say that the fight against terrorism will have to be the absolute priority of the next French president.”

Earlier this week, police said two men arrested in Marseille had been planning an attack ahead of the election.

The Paris prosecutor said a machine gun, two handguns and three kilograms of explosives were found at a flat in the southern city, along with militant propaganda.

Candidates in the election said they had been warned about the Marseille attackers.

Another leading candidate, Emmanuel Macron, says the first duty of the president is, and must be, to protect the country.

“We all aspire to become president of the republic, and the first duty of the president is to protect …This threat is incalculable, and it’s going to be a part of our daily lives for years to come.”

The former economy minister in Francois Hollande’s government has declared himself the ideological opposite of Marie Le Pen.

He says he hopes to convince voters a more progressive government is needed to adapt to the challenges of the future.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, formerly with the Socialist party, joins those three candidates as the frontrunners in Sunday’s first round of voting.

The 65 year-old quit the party after 30 years in 2008 and has now started his own, France Unbowed, which has won large support from the French Communist Party.

He has promised to renegotiate France’s arrangement with the European Union or leave the bloc altogether.

If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of the vote on Sunday, the top two advance to a run-off vote on May 7.

 

 

Labor gazumps Coalition with housing affordability plan

The Turnbull Government has indicated housing affordability will be a focus of the Budget next month.

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But Labor is on the front foot, with Bill Shorten revealing how he would tackle the problem if he wins the next election.

“We have taxation and superannuation laws which favour property speculators over first-home buyers. There is a crisis in housing affordability in Australia. Now we are 45 kilometres from the centre of Sydney, and these well-made houses behind us – house and land packages – are going for $700,000 and $800,000 each. The great Australian dream of owning your first home is rapidly becoming the great Australian nightmare.”

Labor is sticking to its original plan to reduce negative gearing tax concessions and increase tax on capital gains.

But it’s also announced a suite of extra measures, including more fees for overseas investors.

It also wants to ban self-managed super funds from borrowing money to discourage them from investing in property, which they say is over-heating the market.

But the Coalition’s Michael Sukkar says discouraging investment would slow down the construction of new houses.

“Anybody who has a job that is in any way related to the residental construction industry will be hurt, because again we know that if you increase the taxes on investment into residential property, there will be less investment. If there’s less investment, there’s less housing. And if there’s less housing, it’s worse for the entire market.”

The Coalition has remained tight-lipped about the details of its housing plan.

The idea of letting young home-buyers dip into their superannuation funds to pay for a deposit has been floated by some in the government, including Tony Abbott, but rejected by the prime minister.

The government has all but ruled out any change to negative gearing.

But Labor’s Chris Bowen says any serious housing affordability solution must include changes to tax.

“Any plan which doesn’t involve reform to negative gearing is a sham. Any reform that doesn’t involve reform to capital gains tax is a joke.”

Labor would also put pressure on the other states to follow Victoria in implementing a tax on empty properties.

It would also create a so-called bond aggregator, which would make low-interest government loans available to those building cheap housing.

 

 

Le Pen fires up Marseille ahead of weekend elections

Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are barely hanging on to their status as favourites to advance to the run-off vote, set down for next month.

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Conservative Francois Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are gaining momentum, and with a large number of voters still said to be undecided, few are sure exactly what might happen.

Barely a day after police foiled an imminent terror attack there, 10,000 supporters of Marine Le Pen’s National Front have streamed into the southern French city of Marseille.

It’s where the 48 year-old Ms Le Pen has been campaigning, and there’s no lack of enthusiasm amongst her supporters.

“Here in Marseille, it’s not a French town. It’s a big melting pot. So I think Marine Le Pen is our last hope for the future of Europe.”

“She’s the first woman for politics in France. She will be winning. I am sure of that.”

There was similar adulation inside Ms Le Pen’s rally.

She’s thanked supporters for coming out despite the terror arrests in the city.

“Well done for coming here in such great numbers, despite the legitimate fears that came from yesterday’s event in Marseille!”

The crowd stomped their feet in glee for the woman they say is helping reclaim their French identity.

Ms Le Pen repreated her four key campaign pledges: to seal France’s borders, to abandon the euro, to tax employers who hire foreign workers, and to negotiate a better deal with the European Union.

Ms Le Pen claims if she can’t get a better deal with the European Union, France will do as Britain is doing, and leave the bloc – a so-called “Frexit”.

She says she is the only candidate who can deliver real change.

“No one is fooled! The only candidate who has a chance to overthrow the elite and dismiss the oligarchy is I!”

She says the nation needs a president who wants to continue living in France like the French.

That remark so stirred her supporters, they delivered a spontaneous rendition of the National Anthem.

Ms Le Pen is the first right-wing contender within realistic reach of the French presidency since the end of the Second World War.

She’s riding a wave of new populism.

But there are some amongst her support who dismiss any comparison between her and the successful populist candidate who won the presidency on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

“There is a very, very big difference between (US president Donald) Trump and Marine Le Pen. I don’t like Trump because he’s a fool. But Marine Le Pen is not a fool.”

Ms Le Pen’s controversial views enjoy far from universal support, though.

Around 500 anti-Le Pen protesters clashed with police in Marseille and tear gas was used, although they were kept well back from the venue of her rally.

Whether her views are popular enough, however, will ultimately be decided at the ballot box.