Quintana starts quest for Giro-Tour double in Italy

The Colombian is looking to become the first man since the late Marco Pantani in 1998 to win both three-week races – a feat even Alberto Contador, the greatest grand tour rider of his generation, has found beyond him.

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While Contador had already won both races when he last attempted the double in 2015, Quintana has yet to prevail on the Tour, where he has been bested by Britain’s Chris Froome.

The 27-year-old Quintana, who rides for Movistar, is full of confidence however as he prepares to battle it out with defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, France’s Thibaut Pinot, Dutchmen Bauke Mollema and Tom Dumoulin and Briton Geraint Thomas.

“The idea is to go for the Giro title – for both titles. I don’t know if it’s going to come off or not, but we’ll try,” said Quintana, who won the Italian race in 2014.

“We’re on the right track,” he added, referring to his overall victory in the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico race in March.

The 100th edition of the Giro starts from Sardinia and features a stage-four finish on the slopes of Mount Etna as well as two ascents of the Stelvio pass on stage 16, where the race could be decided.

Two individual time trials are also on the menu, which could provide Team Sky’s Thomas, a former track rider, with chances to gain time on Quintana.

Thomas geared up for the Giro by winning the Tour of the Alps last month ahead of Pinot, who has made the Giro his priority this season ahead of the Tour, where he placed third overall in 2014.

“We’ve placed a lot of importance on performing well at this race. We have prepared properly for it to give the riders the best chance of making an impact,” said Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford.

Sky have two cards to play as they also field Spain’s Mikel Landa, who finished third overall in 2015.

Bahrain Merida’s Nibali is also among the top favourites even if his only notable performance this season came when he won the low-key Tour of Croatia last month,

The first stage will take the peloton over 206km (128 miles) from Alghero to Olbia.

It is expected to end with a bunch sprint, where Colombian Fernando Gaviria, German Andre Greipel and Caleb Ewan will be favourites to claim the first ‘maglia rosa’ (pink jersey) of the race.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by John Stonestreet)

Use budget to open GST debate: accountants

Chartered accountants believe Treasurer Scott Morrison should use next Tuesday’s budget to open a new debate on increasing the GST.

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Mr Morrison last week ordered the Productivity Commission to undertake a review of how the GST should be carved up between the states and territories.

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand believe it is an opportunity to talk about growing the revenue the GST raises rather than just the method of its distribution.

The government did look at raising the GST last year but decided it did not do enough to lift economic growth.

The GST rate has been at 10 per cent since it was introduced in 2000 with exemptions in health, education and fresh food remaining intact during that time.

“Australia will not solve long-term economic and budgetary problems with an ostrich-like attitude, hoping the issues facing the nation will simply go away,” head of tax at Chartered Accounts Michael Croker says.

He wants the government to expand the scope of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry so that its outcomes can “actually be meaningful”.

As a first step, Mr Croker is urging the government to use the budget as a platform to discuss with Australians the need to increase the rate of the GST to 15 per cent and broaden the GST base.

The increased revenue could be directed to both compensation, to ensure it’s fair and affordable, and to fund personal tax cuts and increases in pensions, family payments and benefits.

It could also be used to eliminate inefficient state taxes.

“This is an opportunity to grow the pie, not just argue over the share of it,” he said.

PM should be ready for Trump ‘landmines’

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is playing down his infamous phone call with US President Donald Trump and is predicting “we’ll get on very well” when they meet face-to-face in New York.

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A Washington DC-based expert in Australian and US affairs, however, says the prime minister will need to tread carefully in case the president delivers some of his trademark “rhetorical landmines”.

Mr Turnbull is scheduled to touch down in New York on Thursday AEST and will spend less than 48 hours in the city before jetting back to Canberra ahead of next week’s budget.

The prime minister will embark on a full day and evening of events on Friday, including the meeting with Mr Trump where rising tensions with North Korea are expected to be one of the top discussion points.

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The asylum-seeker deal which, according to the Washington Post, outraged Mr Trump during his January 28 phone call with Mr Turnbull might be a topic the leaders avoid.

Mr Trump described the deal, struck last year by Mr Turnbull and then president Barack Obama, as a “dumb deal” in a February Twitter post but has since reluctantly agreed to accept refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island if they pass what he describes as extreme vetting.

Mr Turnbull described the Washington Post story as “inaccurate in many respects”.

“The reports were pretty exaggerated,” Mr Turnbull said in an interview on Sunrise on Wednesday.

“It was a very frank, courteous and forthright call and I’m sure we’ll get on very well.”

The highlight of the trip will likely be a black tie event on the decommissioned USS Intrepid aircraft carrier on the Hudson River attended by Mr Turnbull, Mr Trump and veterans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the US-Australian Battle of the Coral Sea victory over Japan.

“It was a critical battle and a great example of the alliance and the first occasion Australian and American war ships operated together,” Mr Turnbull said.

Alan Tidwell, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies in Washington DC, described the January 28 phone call as a “hiccup” and said the Turnbull-Trump relationship was back on solid ground.

Dr Tidwell, however, did note Mr Trump could be unpredictable.

“They will focus on North Korea and China,” Dr Tidwell told AAP.

Watch: Turnbull ‘speaks his mind’ to SBS

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“The big test for Turnbull is balancing his support for American efforts to bring about a change of behaviour in North Korea, while at the same time not appearing to give in on Trump’s more outrageous positions, for example Trump’s recent invitation to Philippine president (Rodrigo) Duterte.

“Equally, Turnbull will have to be watchful for any of Trump’s rhetorical landmines.”

In recent days Mr Trump has shifted views on the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and raised eyebrows when he suggested South Korea should pay $US1 billion for a US missile defence system.

Australia has a free trade agreement with the US, but Australian officials do not believe Mr Trump will attempt to re-work it as it favours the US with a significant trade surplus.

“On the trade side Turnbull will be hoping that Trump will continue to ignore the AUSFTA,” Dr Tidwell said.

“He doesn’t want Australia lumped in Trump’s trade tirade that’s targeted South Korea, Mexico and Canada.”

Mr Turnbull’s whirlwind New York trip will also include a meeting with Admiral Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, where North Korea and other Asia-Pacific security issues will be discussed.

The prime minister will also receive a briefing on the NYPD-FBI joint terrorism task force, hold an energy policy working lunch and a breakfast with chief executives of major companies.

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Foreign aid expected to be spared further budget cuts

An increase, however modest, to foreign aid spending in this month’s Budget would be a sigh of relief for a sector that’s long felt like it is seen as low-hanging fruit.

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“No sector has been cut anything like as much as foreign aid,” Stephen Howes, from the Australian National University Policy Centre, told SBS News.

For the 2016-17 financial year, foreign aid spending was cut by $244m from $4.05bn to $3.83bn.

In 2015-16, it was cut by $1bn from $5.03bn down to $4.05bn.

“In the last four years we’ve seen cuts, major cuts to the aid budget, one third in real terms,” Mr Howes said.

“This is a time of crisis so this is not a time when we can really afford to cut we’re facing the worst global humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War.”

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Australia currently spends 23 cents in every $100 of national income on aid, proportionately less than smaller countries like Belgium and Ireland.

The United Kingdom spends 70 cents in every $100.

The Australian government has committed to achieving a similar sustainable development goal by 2030.

Eighteen of Australia’s twenty closest neighbours are developing countries.

Mr Howes says a large portion of Australia’s aid spending goes to neighbouring countries in the Asia Pacific to help remedy issues that could impact people here.

One of those is multi drug resistant tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea.

“There is a flow of people two ways between PNG and Australia and we’ll increasingly face that problem here in Australia as well.”

OPINION

With more than 767 million people still living on less than US$1.90 a day, Oxfam Australia says the need for aid funding is clear.

“There’s a human face to the impact of these cuts and we should never lose sight of that,” Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke told SBS News.

“Aid is at its lowest level ever in terms of a proportion of our gross national income.

“It’s incomprehensible that we would cut it anymore.”

Australia recently dropped in the global aid rankings from 16 to 17 out of the 28 wealthy OECD nations that give aid.

Private donations however are growing faster than the rate of inflation.

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Iraqi officials call for humanitarian aid

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Hoaxes shut down Gold Coast high school

A prankster’s use of smartphone technology to send a hoax bomb threat that forced a Gold Coast high school into lockdown may prove their undoing.

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Queensland police are questioning several students from Palm Beach Currumbin State High School after separate bomb hoaxes twice forced the school into lockdown on Wednesday morning.

One, a 13-year-old boy, was cautioned after being dealt with under the Youth Justices Act on Wednesday afternoon, but police say he was not the main offender.

A day of drama was sparked when a cleaner discovered an envelope at the school’s gate around 6am containing a white powder and a handwritten bomb threat on the back.

It’s believed the message contained the words “enjoy the bomb”.

Police and emergency services searched the school while parents were sent a text message advising them to keep students away until further notice.

Just before 9am the school was re-opened and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crews confirmed the powder was simply flour.

An hour or so later another threat was received by several students and staff on iPhones via the AirDrop messaging service.

That threat sparked another lockdown with police again searching the property before an all-clear was given just before midday.

Police however say the AirDrop message has given them a good chance of identifying the perpetrator.

“AirDrop can only be successfully sent to other users within a very limited distance,” Senior Sergeant Bill Lythgo told reporters.

“That allowed us to determine it was highly likely the threat was coming from within the school grounds.”

Snr Sgt Lythgo said if the culprit was caught they would be prosecuted for their “extremely serious” conduct.

Police believe the same person who sent the AirDrop threat was responsible for delivering the envelope to the school around 5.20am.

The school is one of the largest on the Gold Coast with approximately 2500 students.

Parent Vicki Kelly, whose teenage daughters attend the school, said Wednesday’s events had been stressful.

“It’s a bit of a worry,” Ms Kelly told News Corp Australia. “You wonder why someone would do something like this.”

The school used its Facebook page to reassure parents that all was well.

“Please be reassured we are running classes as normal for the remainder of the school day and encourage students to stay at school,” the statement read.

“Support will be offered to all students who may have experienced anxiety from this morning’s incidents.”