AFLW leaders Crows march on

Adelaide emerged triumphant from an arm-wrestle with Carlton on Sunday to join Brisbane on top of the AFLW ladder.

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In a tense, tight and low scoring match, Erin Phillips’ late long bomb earned the Crows a three-point win.

In front of 9,006 people at Thebarton Oval, Phillips roosted a 55-metre goal in the final term to ensure a comeback 2.5 (17) to 2.2 (14) success, their third victory of the season.

The Adelaide captain was mobbed by her teammates after the match-winning moment.

But it was the Crows defence which should be most pleased, restricting the free-scoring Blues to just one scoring shot in almost three quarters.

“Carlton got their numbers behind the ball a lot better and we didn’t adapt. The second half we were able to turn it around,” Crows coach Bec Goddard said.

Angela Foley deserves her share of credit, sent to dangerous Blue Darcy Vescio at quarter-time and shutting the forward down.

The Crows, tipped by many to struggle through the competition, are on track to host Brisbane in a battle of the league’s unbeaten sides in round five.

The Lions delivered Collingwood’s third-straight loss, keeping their noses in front for a 4.3 (27) to 3.5 (23) win.

Former sprinter Kate McCarthy delivered a show-stopping second term goal, picking the ball up in the centre square and taking five bounces on her way to the goal square.

In a season of firsts, a maiden AFLW draw was recorded in Sydney on Saturday.

GWS Giants forward Aimee Schmidt scored the last goal in their 7.1 (43) to 6.7 (43) result with Fremantle that denied both sides a first win.

In a battle of the well-established women’s teams, Melbourne proved too good for Western Bulldogs after quarter-time.

The Demons improved to fourth on the ladder with a 6.7 (43) to 4.5 (29) win that had Bulldogs coach Paul Groves praising the victors.

“Credit to them, their older stars played bloody good footy,” he said.

“We were able to quell them early and then Daisy (Pearce) goes into the middle and starts tearing us apart.”

Tax should be in housing mix: Berejiklian

NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian believes taxes should be looked at when trying to tackle housing affordability, although she says supply remains the key issue.

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“I am very open to looking at potential tax changes to improve housing affordability,” Ms Berejiklian told Sky News on Sunday.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have both repeatedly dismissed the idea of curbing housing tax concessions, like negative gearing and capital gains tax.

Making it easier to buy a home will be a key concern for this May’s federal budget, an issue Mr Turnbull has admitted is complex.

But he says the key is ensuring there are enough homes available.

“It is essentially a supply and demand problem,” he told reporters in Darwin.

Mr Morrison has raised the threat of increasing taxes more generally in the face of the Senate continually blocking spending cuts, especially the government’s latest omnibus bill which proposes welfare cuts to help pay for child care reforms and funding for the national disability insurance scheme.

Failure to curb spending and get the budget back into balance puts the nation’s triple-A rating at risk.

However, Ms Berejiklian is “absolutely confident” the federal government won’t hit health and education funding in efforts to save the rating.

“The federal government will find a way which manages their needs in terms of the triple-A rating, which strengthens their budget position but doesn’t necessarily hurt those core services,” she said.

The premier believes there is room for the states to have more autonomy in raising revenue, saying the present system, which hasn’t changed for decades, leaves them having to rely on more volatile taxes.

She thought it was “regrettable” last year’s GST debate had been and gone with no reform.

The federal government may be making some modest progress in trying to gain support for its 10-year business tax reduction plan.

Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon now says he may consider a reduction for firms with more than a $10 million turnover, having previously only supported giving tax cuts to small businesses below that level.

“We’ll talk to government about maybe going a step further on that,” he told ABC television.

“But to give multi-billion-dollar companies tax cuts at this stage, given the alternative appears to be hitting low income earners, that doesn’t seem fair.”

It was his objection to the omnibus bill which drew a hostile response from the government and the threat of higher taxes.

Senator Xenophon hopes he can reach some common ground with Social Services Minister Christian Porter once the “the dust and the acrimony” has settled.

He said the childcare package is unambiguously a good thing.

But he hit back at Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, who accused the senator for wanting to impoverish the rest of Australia.

Senator Xenophon said the remarks were “ignorant”, “stupid”, ” ill-informed”, and not very helpful.

Iraq forces launch operation to retake west Mosul: PM

Iraqi forces launched an offensive on jihadists defending Mosul’s west bank Sunday, in what could be the most brutal fighting yet in a four-month-old operation on the city.

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“Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a short televised speech, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

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“We announce the start of a new phase in the operation. We are coming, Nineveh, to liberate the western side of Mosul,” he said, referring to the province of which Mosul is the capital.

Federal police and interior ministry forces were expected to start the new phase in the offensive by moving on Mosul airport, which is on the southern edge of the city, west of the Tigris River.

The jihadists have put up stiff resistance to defend Mosul, their last major stronghold in Iraq and the place where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in 2014.

After shaping operations around Mosul, it took Iraq’s most seasoned forces – the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) – more than two months to clear the eastern side of Mosul.

After a pause in the operation launched on October 17, federal forces now face what was always billed as the toughest nut to crack: Mosul’s west bank, home to the narrow streets of the Old City.

“West Mosul had the potential certainly of being more difficult, with house-to-house fighting on a larger and more bloody scale,” said Patrick Skinner, from the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.

The streets around the historical centre, which includes the mosque in which Baghdadi made his only public appearance in June 2014, will be impassable for many military vehicles and force government fighters to take on IS in perilous dismounted warfare.

Prior to the offensive that saw IS seize Mosul and much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland nearly three years ago, the east bank was more ethnically diverse than the west, where analysts believe the jihadists could enjoy more support.

Tougher resistance

“IS resistance could be greater in this area and it will be harder, but all the more important, to completely clear the networks from Mosul after its recapture,” said Emily Anagnostos, Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

While the federal forces’ attrition is said to be high, IS’s had been undoubtedly higher and commanders have said the jihadists may no longer have the resources to defend east Mosul effectively. 

Recent incidents in liberated east point to the difficulty of ensuring remnants of IS have not blended in with the civilian population in a huge city which most residents did not flee ahead of the government offensive.

Aid organisations had feared an exodus of unprecedented proportions before the start of the Mosul operation but half a million – a significant majority- of residents stayed home.

Their continued presence prevented both sides from resorting to deadlier weaponry, which may have slowed down the battle but averted a potentially much more serious humanitarian emergency in the middle of winter as well as more extensive material damage to the city.

“Mosul is going better than we expected, but there are serious dangers ahead,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, told AFP.

Residents of west Mosul have reported very difficult living conditions and warned that they were already low on food, with weeks of fighting expected to lie ahead.

IS fighters and Mosul residents remained able to move across both sides of the city during much of the fighting in the east but all bridges across the Tigris have now been dropped and the jihadists in the west are all but besieged.

IS has used civilians as human shields as part of its defence tactics and killed residents attempting to flee, making it both difficult and dangerous for the population to escape.

While specialised units may attempt to throw pontoon bridges across the river to attack from the east, the main initial assault of the upcoming phase in the Mosul is expected to come from the south on the city’s airport.

Army, police, interior ministry and special forces have been gearing up for the push on Mosul’s southern front, with a large concentration of fighters based out of Hammam al-Alil

 

Power costs a survival matter for business

Businesses are pleading with the federal government to deal with the energy sector as rising power prices hit their bottom lines.

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The Turnbull government in turn has kept its sight on state policies that lock up the gas reserves it says are vital to ensuring affordable and stable electricity.

“If the Labor Party wants to go around chasing Green votes and preventing the access to gas resources, then that has one obvious consequence: it makes gas more expensive and less available,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Darwin on Sunday.

“It undermines business because they don’t have the energy they need.”

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg met representatives from steel manufacturer BlueScope last week, who delivered a blunt message.

“They said to me that the issue of energy security and affordability was a matter of survival for their company,” the minister told ABC TV.

Key senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon also called for more gas power to be brought into Australia’s energy mix.

But he said the government should look seriously at an emissions intensity scheme to make Australia’s electricity supply more stable.

The government ruled out such a scheme, which would make generators pay for excess emissions, a day after suggesting a review of its climate change policies may consider one.

“More and more experts are saying that that is the best way to reduce power prices and ensure security of energy supply,” Senator Xenophon told ABC TV.

“There’s a toxic culture of politics in Canberra that seems to prevent people sitting down together in a room from all sides of politics and thrashing this out and working it out.”

The government has been promoting high efficiency, low emissions coal-fired generation as a way forward but there is no appetite in the energy sector to build new coal plants.

Taxpayers could help pay for coal-fired power plants through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation but at the moment its rules say it can only fund new generators that have half the emissions of existing ones.

Even with the latest technology, coal power can’t meet that requirement without using carbon capture and storage.

Mr Frydenberg confirmed the government is considering changing the corporation’s rules to relax that 50 per cent emissions reduction requirement – a move that would require parliamentary support.

Senator Xenophon said coal was still quite dirty and it seemed to him clear the way to meet international emissions reduction obligations was to have more gas-fired generators in the short term.

“Once we get battery storage perfected, then you can let it rip in terms of intermittent forms of energy supply,” he said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called for a balanced approach to energy security through a strong national framework and a mixture of power sources.

Ecuador in vote that could alter Assange’s fate

Socialist presidential candidate Lenin Moreno, who leads in opinion polls, favors continuing to grant the Australian whistleblower asylum, which was granted to him under outgoing leader Rafael Correa.

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But two conservative contenders, Guillermo Lasso and Cynthia Viteri, each told AFP they would end Assange’s asylum if they win the election.

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Under Correa, Ecuador grabbed world headlines when it defied the United States by granting Assange refuge as he fights against Swedish rape charges.

The move has also shielded him from arrest over possible extradition to the United States for leaking diplomatic cables that embarrassed Washington.

WikiLeaks has said Assange could travel to the United States to face investigation if his rights were “guaranteed”.

Boom, bust

The Ecuadoran elections could see a pillar of the Latin American left swing to the right in a country at an economic and political crossroads.

After a decade of leftist rule, voters must decide whether to follow Argentina, Brazil and Peru in switching to a conservative government.

Over his decade in power, leftist economist Correa, 53, oversaw an economic boom in the country of 16 million. But he is not up for re-election.

The economy shrank by 1.7 percent last year, suffering notably from falling oil prices.

Correa is accused of failing to save any petrodollars for a rainy day, and of hampering businesses with high taxes and duties.

“When Correa came to power he promised to diversify the production model,” Alberto Acosta-Burneo, an economist at the Spurrier Group consultancy, told AFP.

“But he is leaving behind a country in which it is very difficult to produce things.”

The future of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hangs in the balance after two conservative candidates said they will withdraw Ecuador’s support if elected.AAP

Corruption

Correa’s ally and would-be successor Moreno, 63, promises to continue the outgoing president’s tax-and-spend social policies.

“The Ecuadoran people have affection (for us) and are determined to continue with this process,” Moreno told AFP on Wednesday at a campaign event.

But in an uncertain contest, Moreno faces a challenge from ex-banker Lasso, 61, second in the opinion polls.

Lasso has vowed to cut spending and taxes, lure foreign investment and create a million jobs.

He has slammed Correa’s allies over alleged links to a corruption scandal.

“We have to vote for change to fight against corruption,” Lasso said at a campaign rally on Wednesday.

The third-placed candidate is conservative former lawmaker Viteri, 51.

Trump

Correa says Latin America needs a strong leftist movement to resist US President Donald Trump’s hard line on immigration and trade.

But Lasso and Viteri have given positive signs towards Washington since Trump’s election victory in November.

Uncertainty

Opinion polls indicate Moreno will likely win Sunday’s first-round vote.

But if his lead is not big enough, he will face a runoff on April 2 against a conservative rival, most likely Lasso.

Polls show a high ratio of undecided voters.

“Any party could beat the governing one in the second round, because there is major resistance to and rejection of the government,” said political scientist Paolo Moncagatta of Quito’s San Francisco University.

But Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington cautioned: “It is a mistake to underestimate the strength of support for Correa’s side.”

Voters will also elect a new parliament.

Polling stations will open from 1200 GMT to 2200 GMT. Results are expected from about 0100 GMT Monday.

Ecuadorian Presidential candidate Cynthia Viteri will withdraw asylum for Julian Assange if elected.AAP

Bulldogs down but not out in AFLW: coach

The Western Bulldogs have a mountain to climb after Saturday’s loss to Melbourne, but coach Paul Groves says it is too early to rule the Dogs out of AFL Women’s premiership contention.

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Demons skipper Daisy Pearce starred in the 6.7 (43) to 4.5 (29) win at Whitten Oval that saw the Bulldogs slump to a 1-2 record.

With the top two teams after seven rounds to contest the AFLW grand final, the Bulldogs – one of the top pre-competition fancies – are back in fifth.

“In all honesty I do think we can still make it,” Groves said.

“But if we get beaten in facets of the game like we did (against Melbourne) it’s going to be hard work.

“But the talent is in my squad so we can certainly have a crack at it.

“Potentially with two losses you can still make it.

“It just sets the scene for a huge game against Collingwood.

“Two losses isn’t ideal, I’d certainly rather be 2-1 or 3-0, but we’ll look to bounce back.”

The Dogs were without star skipper Katie Brennan against the Demons, but Groves is hopeful she will be fit for next week’s clash against the winless Pies.

The Demons got their season back on track with two wins in the past fortnight moving them to fourth with a 2-1 record.

“We’re pleased because we know our game is continuing to improve,” coach Michael Stinear said.

“We’re pleased we’ve been able to get a couple of wins in a row now, but we certainly understand there’s plenty of work to be done.

“We just want to see this group improve every day.”

The Demons will attempt to keep their winning momentum going when they host Carlton at Casey Fields on Saturday.

FFA condemn homophobic WSW fan banner

Football Federation Australia has roundly condemned a homophobic banner brandished by Western Sydney fans during Saturday night’s A-League Sydney derby, and foreshadowed punishment for those involved.

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The banner, depicting a blue-faced man giving oral sex, was put up in the Wanderers’ support area at ANZ Stadium during the second half of the game, won 1-0 by the Wanderers.

It remained aloft in front of the 44,843-strong family-friendly crowd for a number of minutes while security appeared to watch on before it was eventually taken down.

The FFA on Sunday made clear their disgust at the “discriminatory” image depicted and leaving open the possibility for sanctions against the club or its fans.

“FFA is aware of the unauthorised and totally unacceptable banner that was displayed in the Western Sydney Wanderers area during Saturday night’s Sydney derby at ANZ Stadium,” A-League chief Greg O’Rourke said.

“The discriminatory nature of the tifo has no place in society and will not be tolerated in the A-League.

“We are working with the club and currently gathering as much information as possible and will deal with the matter when we have all available facts including CCTV footage.”

The Wanderers’ active supporter group, the Red and Black Bloc, publicly saluted the banner on Sunday, posting it to its Twitter account alongside a quote from Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

The club itself declined to comment after the game on Saturday night, but confirmed on Sunday it was working with FFA to investigate.

“Due to the inappropriate nature of the item it was swiftly removed by our supporter management team and disposed of,” chief executive John Tsatsimas said in a statement.

“As a club made up of the most diverse and inclusive cross-section of members and fans in Australian sport, we do not condone the imagery depicted in the banner.

“The club remains committed to working with FFA and our stadiums to ensure our matches remain a positive, family-friendly environment.”

The Wanderers are sweating on a suspended points deduction, in place until the end of this season as punishment for fan trouble associated with lighting flares.

FFA is also helping NSW Police investigate a reported brawl between Sydney and Wanderers fans, along with other violent and anti-social behaviour that led to a total 15 arrests during the game.

Bank inquiry bringing results: Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says his inquiry into the nation’s four big banks has brought real results after the ANZ said it was cutting interest rates on two of its credit cards.

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ANZ will from Thursday cut its low rate platinum card by two per cent to 11.49 per cent and its low rate classic card by one per cent to 12.49 per cent, which it says are the lowest rates since 2003.

“I’m bringing the banks regularly before the House economics committee and they are being held to account for their actions and you are seeing real results,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Darwin on Sunday.

Last October’s review by the House of Representatives committee was the government’s response to repeated calls from Labor, the Greens and others for a royal commission.

The committee is due to review the banks again early next month.

Liberal MP Scott Buchholz, who is a committee member, said a royal commission had no capacity to instruct the banks about dropping their interest rates, whereas the inquiry had brought results and he welcomed ANZ’s decision.

“They’ve shown commercial courage and leading the charge on dropping the rates first,” he told ABC television.

But consumer advocate Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said none of the big banks had credit cards with competitive interest rates.

“It’s an attempt by ANZ to try and take the heat off themselves and the other banks to show they’re responding to community concerns,” he told AAP.

“The big four banks are just not competitive. The best interest rates in the market are under 10 per cent and offered by the credit unions.”

The majority of customers with ANZ’s low rate platinum or low rate classic cards were middle class people using them for everyday purchases such as groceries, the bank said.

“We’ve listened to customer feedback about credit card rates and decided our low rate customers would benefit most from a rate reduction as they are more likely to have ongoing debt from month to month,” executive Fred Ohlsson said.

“These changes mean they will have the best rate available from any of the major banks or any of the regional banks owned by the majors.”

But Mr Godfrey said the majority of credit cards advertised as low rate were up around 14 per cent, making them cold comfort for many families.

“A lot of people are on credit cards with toxic interest rates around 18 or 19 per cent or higher,” he said.

Crossbench senator Nick Xenophon said the banks needed to do more to bring down credit card costs.

“The gap between the official cash rate and credit card rates has never been higher and I think that we really need to look at some form of either greater market competition, or the banks need to really explain themselves in gouging consumers in this way,” he said.

The 30 Aussies in the IPL auction

AUSTRALIANS IN MONDAY’S IPL AUCTION

Reserve of 20,000,000 Indian rupees (approximately $A389,000): Mitchell Johnson, Pat Cummins

Reserve of 15,000,000 INR (approximately $A292,000): Brad Haddin, Nathan Lyon

Reserve of 10,000,000 INR (approximately $A195,000): Nathan Coulter-Nile, Dan Christian

Reserve of 5,000,000 INR (approximately $A97,000): Brad Hogg, Nic Maddinson, Callum Ferguson

Reserve of 3,000,000 INR (approximately $A58,000): Sean Abbott, Ben Dunk, Michael Klinger, Mitchell Swepson, Ben Laughlin, Billy Stanlake, Fawad Ahmed, Michael Beer, Ben Dwarshuis, Joe Burns, Sam Heazlett, Johan Botha, Ben Hilfenhaus, Alex Ross, Tom Cooper, Jack Wildermuth

Reserve of 2,000,000 INR (approximately $A39,000): Chris Green, Ashton Turner

Reserve of 1,000,000 INR (approximately $A19,000): Ben McDermott, Nick Buchanan, D’Arcy Short.

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WHERE ARE AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST STARS LIKE DAVID WARNER AND STEVE SMITH? Warner and Smith are among the many Australians already contracted to franchises, meaning they don’t need to be auctioned. Warner captained Hyderabad to the IPL title last year, while Smith plays for Rising Pune Supergiants. HOW MUCH MONEY IS ON OFFER? Approximately $A27.9 million.

APPROXIMATELY HOW MUCH WILL CUMMINS AND JOHNSON GO FOR? That’s the million-dollar question. The auction always throws up surprises. Some players are sold for clearly inflated prices, others are bizarrely overlooked altogether, like Usman Khawaja last year. WHAT IS THE RECORD PRICE FOR AN AUSTRALIAN PLAYER? Shane Watson was sold to Royal Challengers Bangalore for $A1.98 million last year, falling just short of the $A2.01 million that Rajasthan Royals paid to retain Shane Warne in 2011. WHAT ABOUT OVERALL? Yuvraj Singh holds the record, having signed a $A3.31 million contract with Delhi Daredevils in 2015.

WHEN IS THE AUCTION?

It begins at 3pm (AEDT).

RTS steers Warriors to NRL trial win

New captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has played a key role in the Warriors’ five-try 26-6 NRL trial win over Gold Coast in Palmerston North.

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The 23-year-old ex-Sydney Rooster played a strong hand in the first three tries, and also featured in a solid game-long defensive effort.

Tuivasa-Sheck was playing his second game back since a serious knee injury ended his 2016 season after just seven games.

Awarded the captaincy two weeks ago, Tuivasa-Sheck is finding his feet in the unfamiliar role.

“I’m feeling comfortable, especially with the boys around me – they’re helping me, they’re supporting me,” he said.

“I haven’t done so much stuff as a captain, I’ve just been one of the boys yelling out the calls and reminding them of their jobs.”

While the win was a satisfying result, fullback Tuivasa-Sheck said there was still plenty of work to do.

“We ran OK today – happy to see that some of our stuff worked. There was definitely a lot of stuff that didn’t, and we need to improve.”

The signs were encouraging with slick handling and strong running from Tuivasa-Sheck and playmaker Shaun Johnson keeping the Titans on the back foot.

The pressure finally told after 20 minutes, with 18-year-old Isaiah Papalii dotting down on a repeat set of six off a late Tuivasa-Sheck popped pass.

Winger Tuimoala Lolohea crossed for the Warriors’ second after 33 minutes, finishing off a sweeping move which featured the quick hands of Issac Luke, Johnson and the ever-present Tuivasa-Sheck.

Johnson nailed a tricky conversion, and the Warriors looked set to take a 10-0 lead into the break until a clever Ashley Taylor grubber in behind the line popped up perfectly for centre John Olive.

The Warriors’ 10-6 halftime lead opened out to 14-6 when David Fusitu’a ran onto another perfectly timed Tuivasa-Sheck short ball, then James Gavett bulldozed over for a fourth with 15 minutes remaining.

Ex-captain Simon Mannering pounced on a loose ball from a Johnson grubber with less than five minutes to go, completing a promising showing two weeks out from the Warriors’ season-opener against Newcastle.

The Titans, resting Jarryd Hayne, finished the match with a worrying injury toll which included a rib cartilage injury to Ryan Simpkins and a shoulder problem for Nathan Peats.

Tyler Cornish and Morgan Boyle both took head knocks in the second half and left the field, before Pat Politoni was forced off late with an arm injury.

The Warriors escaped more lightly. A minor foot strain forced Ryan Hoffman from the field in the first half and Gubb will have a precautionary X-ray on a sore neck following a tackle.