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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Police shooting puts Paris in alert before election

A boulevard normally teeming with tourists, the Champs-Elysees has now become the site of an attack targeting police officers.


The shooting happened just a few hundred metres from the Arc de Triomphe.

Counterterrorism police have evacuated the area after a man using a semiautomatic weapon shot one police officer dead and injured two other people.

He tried to run from the scene but was shot dead himself.

A manhunt has been launched for a second attacker, believed to have entered the country from Belgium.

French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henri Brandet says the officers were deliberately targeted.

“Just before 9pm in front of number 102, Avenue de Champs-Elysees, a vehicle stopped next to a police vehicle. A man jumped out of this vehicle and opened fire on the police vehicle, fatally wounding one officer. The man then tried to run onto the pavement, targeting the police officers there. He managed to wound two of them. They sustained serious injuries. The two police officers who were wounded and other nearby officers returned fire, and the attacker was killed.”

This witness, giving his name as Chelloug, says he feels lucky to have escaped with his life.

He was two metres from the targeted police van when he saw the gunman park his car nearby.

He says he heard six shots fired and saw a police officer hit the ground.

“He (the gunman) parked just behind the van, and he got out with a Kalashnikov, and I heard six gunshots. I thought they were firecrackers, because we all looked around the road and there was no-one. In fact, he was hidden behind the van and shooting at the police. I think he hit a policeman. As soon as the policeman opened the door of the van, he fell, I think. As soon as we saw that, we all ran back inside Alain Affelou. We hid, and I went up to the first floor, and we saw (the policemen) shoot him.”

Prosecutors are looking at terrorism as a possible motive in the attack.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

A statement released by the group’s media wing, Amaq, claims the attacker was a Belgian national named Abu Yousuf al-Belgiki.

Authorities have identified him as a 39 year-old from suburban Paris.

French president Francois Hollande says he is certain the attack was a terrorist act.

“The assailant was himself neutralised by other police officers. Our entire district has been cordoned off. Those present were evacuated. And we are convinced that the trails which can lead us in the inquiry will identify terrorists.”

Mr Hollande says a passer-by has been wounded in the shooting, but he provided no details.

Speaking before French officials, United States president Donald Trump has offered condolences and says people must remain strong.

“Well, first of all, our condolences from our country to the people of France. Again, it’s happening, it seems. I just saw it as I was walking in, so, it’s a terrible thing. And it’s a very, very terrible thing that’s going on in the world today. But it looks like another terrorist attack. And what can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong, and we have to be vigilant, and I’ve been saying it for a long time.”

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned Australians to be wary of their surroundings overseas.

“Our prayers are with the family of the police officer that’s been killed, and we pray for a quick recovery for the police officer that’s been wounded. It has all of the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, but, at this stage, I’m advised that the French prosecutor is on the scene.”

Expressing solidarity with police, presidential candidates François Fillon and Marine Le Pen cancelled their final campaign events.

It is unclear how the shootings might influence the voting.

For weeks, former banker Emmanuel Macron and Ms Le Pen have been out in front in opinion polls.

But polls now show there is a chance any of four leading candidates could reach the second-round run-off on May the 7th.

SBS Europe correspondent Brett Mason is in Paris and says the shooting has heightened fears in a city already on edge.

“This comes just a day after what police described as an imminent terror attack was foiled in Marseille, the south-east of France, the port city where Marie Le Pen held her final campaign rally. In that attack that police believed was imminent, explosives, ammunition and weapons were uncovered by counterterrorism officers during a raid of a rented apartment. So this city was already on high alert. A state of emergency has been in place here for some time. Fifty-thousand police and military will be on the streets for the first round of that election on Sunday.”

France is at its highest possible level of alert since a string of attacks began in 2015, killing over 230 people up to now.



World economy looks hopeful – but warnings abound

It has been a lean few years for the world economy.


But International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde says that looks set to change.

“We are forecasting growth in 2017 at 3.5 per cent and 2018 at 3.6 per cent, and that’s a significant uptick from 2016, which was only at 3.1 per cent, which is all good news. But we need to make sure that this momentum is sustained and that we continue to have that growth and more, and, importantly, that that growth is shared more equitably.”

On the question of trade, Ms Lagarde says more work needs to be done but the IMF will be part of it.

“Is trade going to continue to increase and grow? We do think so. Is trade operating in a perfect environment with the perfect setting? No. Is there room to improve that? Of course. Should it be done in a cooperative forum, such as on the occasion of a week like this, with all finance ministers around and talking to each other in a cooperative setting and forum such as the IMF? Yes, we think so.”

The International Monetary Fund’s outlook comes in advance of meetings in the United States with the World Bank and the Group of 20 major economies.

The international picture is gradually strengthening, especially in many major economies, despite resistance to free trade and despite political unrest in some countries.

But the IMF’s optimistic forecast does come with a distinct warning from World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim.

“There are still many downside risks, however, and countries that have the fiscal space need to continue with structural reforms. This is vital to accelerating the sustainable and inclusive economic growth needed to end extreme poverty by 2030. We’re meeting in a time when we face several overlapping crises, both natural and man-made, all of which add urgency to our mission.”

The World Bank Group undertook a study to gauge how satisfied people are and found access to the internet is increasing short-term satisfaction.

But even that picture is not all rosy.

The World Bank Group president says the expansion of technology will have a huge impact on today’s jobs.

“We estimate that two-thirds of all jobs that currently exist in developing countries will be wiped out by automation. At the same time, the internet, smart phones and social media allow everyone to see exactly how everyone else lives, which is causing aspirations to rise all over the world. I see this everywhere I go.”

The study suggests the sense of what is possible expands with technology.

It says rising aspirations, and the chance to connect them with opportunities, can lead to great dynamism in society.

But that, too, comes with a warning from the World Bank Group president.

“If those rising aspirations then meet frustration, we are very worried about more and more countries going down the path of fragility, conflict, violence, extremism and, of course, eventually migration, because the other thing that access to the internet does is it increases people’s desire to migrate.”



US VP Pence visits Australia

Seen by some as a more measured voice in US President Donald Trump’s inner circle, just three months after the Trump Administration took office, Australia is playing host to Vice President Mike Pence.


He’s landing in the country to shore up the US-Australia alliance amid international fears about the unpredictability of his boss.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will play host and has told the ABC he’s looking forward to the meeting.

“It is very noteworthy that this is a very early visit; I believe the earliest visit by a Vice President to Australia in a new administration. It shows … ah, you know … many people, including wise people in the media, were sceptical about the Administration’s commitment to the region.”

Australia is the final stop on the vice-president’s ten-day tour of the Asia Pacific.

Given North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

However, while speaking in Japan, Vice President Pence seemed to echo the calls of President Trump that a diplomatic approach to North Korea is no longer possible.

“North Korea is the most dangerous and urgent threat to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific. As President Trump has made clear to the world, the era of strategic patience is over.”

For Australia, this visit will give an insight into what the Trump Administration has planned for trade negotations too.

The US claims it’s open to boosting trade in the region despite abandoning the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But it’s already signalled it won’t continue doing deals when it’s not in its national interest; in other words, deals in which the US gives more than it gets in return.

Dougal Robinson, a research fellow with the United States Studies Centre, says this visit will need to go some way towards repairing the US Australia relationship.

“It’s an important visit because Pence will be trying to reassure Australia that the US is fully committed to the US-Australia alliance after the phone call with President Trump.”

That hostile call three months ago saw Donald Trump reportedly describe the refugee resettlement arrangement with Australia – signed under the Obama Administration – as the worst deal ever.

The Administration has since committed to honouring it, which will see asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru resettled in the United States.

Prime Minister Turnbull welcomes the day when President Trump makes his first visit.

“Our alliance with the United States is vital, the commitment is so deep on both sides, it will survive many Prime Ministers and many Presidents. That commitment is rock solid.”



Security agencies reassure Australians ahead of ANZAC Day events

Across the eastern seaboard, police are adamant there is no specific threat to celebrations on the day, however New South Wales Counter-Terror Minister David Elliott has admitted individual attackers pose the greatest risk.


“Well because our agencies are working so well and because the intelligence organisations are working so well it is harder for organisations to come together and express a threat, so the individual threat is probably the largest one and that’s why we have contingencies. That is why the police will be out in force.”

Counter-terrorism officers would not be drawn on the specific details of security operations or staffing numbers across the states, but Mr Elliott admits all public events are a risk.

“Any mass gathering is a risk to the community. Any mass gathering of course makes us more vulnerable, but as Australians we don’t accept terrorism as a reason to change our lifestyle. Our plans and contingencies for a safe day are well prepared. I am comfortable that the police are ready and able to respond to anything that occurs, but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t accept responsibility for own actions.”

In Victoria, police have undertaken extensive preparations for Anzac Day events and ceremonies.

Acting Commander Peter O’Neill, of Victoria Police, says police will maintain a strong presence at the Shrine of Remembrance and throughout the CBD as part of Anzac Day services and ceremonies.

Victoria Police say a wide variety of units will be in attendance, including general duties police, transit police, operational response units, highway patrol units and Protective Service Officers.

Queensland police Detective Acting Superintendent Mick O’Dowd outlined a joint security effort for commemorative events in Brisbane.

“Our measures will be in response to the security environment that most of our major events are organised with now, the exact details of what goes into staffing numbers is an operational matter I won’t disclose, however to say that the threat level hasn’t changed. We have no specific threats for any of the events in Queensland and any of the ANZAC Day marches and events, we have no specific threats.”

This year, the New South Wales Government has also called on the public to assist them in keeping events safe.

Minister Elliott says it’s a community responsibility.

“If you see something that is suspicious, report it. If you meet somebody that doesn’t seem quite right – report it. Because the best way to fight terrorism, the best way to promote a safe and secure environment is to make sure we all talk and we all promote the success and safe future of our community.”

Former Australian Army officer and Victoria Cross medal recipient, Ben Roberts-Smith, highlights the importance of honouring fallen soldiers, now more than ever.

“The tightening up of security is obviously just a precautionary measure and we have the best police and emergency services in the world looking after us. And I think people just need to focus on going about their everyday business and remembering that ANZAC Day is an incredibly important part of what we do in Australia in commemorating the freedom we have. We need to pay our respects and I would urge everyone to go about that in a normal way. By letting terrorism or threats of violence stop us from doing what we want to do in our day to day lives would mean that they have won – and that isn’t acceptable.”



Melbourne boy killed holding dad’s hand

A four-year-old boy killed by an out-of-control 4WD was holding his father’s hand as they left a Melbourne medical clinic when the horror smash occurred.


A Toyota LandCruiser went flying into the Epworth Specialist Centre car park in Berwick about midday on Friday.

The driver, a 56-year-old Pakenham man, told a witness he had just left the nearby Casey Hospital after receiving dialysis.

He is in a stable condition in Dandenong Hospital while paramedics took a woman in her 60s who was clipped by the car to Casey Hospital with minor injuries.

Detective Sergeant Mark Amos told reporters at the scene the father and son from Narre Warren South were walking out of the clinic when the boy was hit.

“The father’s gone out with his son, holding his hand, doing what good dads do,” he said.

“And this outcome’s come up on them very, very suddenly.

“There’s just no way you could’ve predicted this could happen.”

Cameron and Sarah Smith were driving behind the LandCruiser when the crash happened and rushed to assist.

“He was in front of us and he started to veer off into oncoming traffic and he’s gone airborne,” Mr Smith told the Nine Network.

“He stated that he had dialysis, he just had blood taken out and he just literally pulled (out) from the hospital.”

Photos from the scene show the Toyota LandCruiser on its side with a smashed windscreen, next to a number of smashed-up parked cars.

Several witnesses told reporters they saw the LandCruiser become airborne before crashing.

“It was off the ground, travelling at a huge speed and, of course, then I hear the slamming into the other vehicles,” Michael Fleming told Nine.

“I ran around and I saw the little boy being held by someone. Couldn’t even imagine the shock. Walking in a car park of a medical centre and this happens. Very sad.”

An Epworth HealthCare statement said staff at the medical centre had helped where they could and are assisting police with their investigation.

“Epworth staff are shocked and saddened that a four-year-old child has died at the scene and that a number of people are injured,” the statement said.