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  • Reform MP expense entitlements: Bowen

    Federal Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen says the opposition will look sympathetically at sensible changes to the system governing the expense entitlements of parliamentarians.

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    West Australian Liberal backbencher Don Randall is the latest MP under scrutiny after claiming $5000 in travel expenses for a trip to Cairns for "electorate business," when he was taking possession of an investment property in Queensland.

    The entitlements row has engulfed both sides of politics with six members of the government front bench, including the prime minister, repaying travel allowance claims for attending weddings.

    "We're seeing a pattern of behaviour here," Mr Bowen told ABC radio on Thursday.

    The current situation did not pass the "common sense test" and Labor would support an independent inquiry into the system.

    "If the government wants to put forward sensible changes, guidelines for less grey areas, we would look at that sympathetically."

    Changes to the rules will not eliminate the "grey areas", Liberal MP Kelly O'Dwyer says.

    "There are always matters of judgment around the edges and it will always be thus, no matter what rules you put into place," she told Sky News.

    Ms O'Dwyer described as "successful" the current system of entitlements provided parliamentarians acted within the rules and consulted with the finance department when uncertain about eligibility.

    Labor backbencher Ed Husic said the Australian people would find it difficult to balance the government's system of cuts to grants and funding while "not making the right choices" when it came to travel entitlements.

    Independent senator Nick Xenophon says Mr Randall should provide a statement justifying his travel to Cairns.

    If the MP visited an investment property during the trip there was a "compelling argument" for repaying the claim.

    But Mr Randall's claim could be legitimate, Senator Xenophon said.

    "I've gone interstate to speak at conferences," he said, adding the term "electorate business" was defined broadly.

    When parliament returns in November Senator Xenophon plans to move for a joint houses inquiry into entitlements.

    He rejected a Greens plan for an integrity commissioner, saying it would probably cost millions of dollars to save a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

  • Comment: Stop killer robots before it’s too late

    The use of armed drones over the past decade has dramatically changed warfare and brought new humanitarian and legal challenges.

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    But unmanned aerial vehicles still have a human pilot—backed up by a team of people—who decides what to target and when to fire.

    That human role in deciding when and what – or whom – to attack could be taken “out-of-the-loop” and handed over to machines. Rapid advances in technology are resulting in efforts to develop weapons – so-called fully autonomous weapons or “killer robots” – that would be able to operate on their own without any human supervision. And that would change the process of fighting wars, as we know it.

    Nongovernmental organizations have formed a global coalition to campaign for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. In its first public statement, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots said that, “giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield is an unacceptable application of technology.”

    In the six months since the campaign began, there has been a flurry of activity to address this threat and to fend off development of these weapons before it’s too late. The campaign’s membership has doubled, with 44 nongovernmental organisations in 21 countries signing on. There have been parliamentary questions and briefings on the topic in Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, and elsewhere. Campaigners have written letters to their political leaders, talked to their parliamentarians and policymakers, held seminars and events, briefed media, and undertaken an array of other activities aimed at raising the need to address the issue of fully autonomous weapons right now. 

    Most countries, including Australia, are still in the process of figuring out their policy position on fully autonomous weapons and have not spoken publicly.

    But in recent months, a number of nations have expressed their views for the first time.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva met in May to consider a report by the UN expert on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions that listed a range of concerns over fully autonomous weapons. The report called for a moratorium on development of the weapons until an international framework is agreed upon. More than two dozen nations spoke during the debate, expressing support for an international process to examine this topic.

    At a meeting of the UN disarmament committee last week, France urged countries to “look to the future” by addressing the challenges posed by fully autonomous weapons and “the fundamental question of the place of man in the decision to use lethal force.” France said that military, legal and technical experts should consider the issue in “an appropriate disarmament forum.”

    The statement was part of France’s pitch as chair of the next meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons to add fully autonomous weapons to the convention’s agenda of work. Another option is to create a high-level panel of experts to consider the issue, as the UN report recommended.

    There seem to be no shortage of suggestions on where to take this issue and so many concerns that multiple discussions may be necessary. But governments should carve out time to consider what lies ahead.

    While fighting rages in Syria and humanitarian crises sprout around the globe, it can be hard for governments to get long-term issues on their agenda.  However, the technology of autonomous warfare is fast advancing. That’s why our campaign is pushing for governments to pick up and tackle the threat of fully autonomous weapons right now.

    Mary Wareham is the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and global coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

  • Blog: Let’s hear it for women in sport

    A desire to be the best gives elite sportspeople the hunger to push themselves in pursuit of glory.

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    At the moment the attitude and achievements of our female sports administrators and athletes is amongst the best in the world. In this blooming era of women's sport too few Australian's would be aware of their success. The "I Support Women in Sport Awards" is hoping to illuminate the achievements of amazing Australian sports-women.

    This year both our women's rugby league team the Jillaroos and our female cricket team the Southern Stars triumphed at the World Cup.

    The Hockeyroos are ranked number two in the world, while our netball team the Diamonds are also number two - both sides have world supremacy in our sites. Australia's Opals are just one off the top ranking and players like Liz Cambage are in demand from basketball teams all over the globe.

    Our continent is also turning heads in individual sports. Australian females occupy three of the top five rankings in world surfing. We have more world champions on the water with rowing's Kim Crow and in the canoe with Jessica Fox.

    We are also sizzling on dry land. Karie Webb is ranked inside the top ten in the golfing world and 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur is ranked amongst the top 20 best tennis players on the planet. Seventeen-year-old sensation Ashleigh Barty and countrywoman Casey Dellacqua aren't far behind after making it to the Grand Slam Doubles finals at Wimbledon, the Australian and US Open.

    Quickly skimming through the above list of sensational sporting achievements it is clear there is no lack of attitude, no shortage of desire on the part of our female sports stars. While many proudly support female sporting achievement more can and should be done.

    Enter the "I Support Women in Sport Awards," now in its third year of formally celebrating female sporting prowess.

    Women's Health Australia Editor, Felicity Harley, believes it is essential to acknowledge the hard-work of female athletes.

    "The awards play an important role in celebrating the successes of women in sport and is a key platform for bringing the achievements of the country’s female sporting greats into the public eye,” she says.

    The awards also aim to encourage the next generation of sporting talent. The winner of the Sportswoman of the Year mantle, Sally Fitzgibbons was encouraged by the achievements of a former winner.

    "Last year Anna Meares won and to follow in her footsteps inspires me to get out and work hard to chase this dream."

    Hopefully the next generation of female sporting superstars will be watching on, confident of a future where their hard work will be recognised.

    Tweet your support of female sporting stars by using the #Isupportwomeninsport

     

     

  • Anderson expecting hostile reception

    James Anderson is expecting plenty of hostility from the Australian public when England travel Down Under for the forthcoming Ashes series but insists the players can deal with it.

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    Following the 3-0 success this summer, England will be looking to win their fourth successive Ashes series for the first time in 123 years.

    The rivalry between the two sides is likely to be intensified this time around following calls from Australia coach Darren Lehmann to the home fans to send Stuart Broad home crying after he refused to walk in the opening Test of the summer.

    But Anderson, who now sits second only to Sir Ian Botham in England's all-time Test wicket-takers, is confident the tourists can silence any raucous home crowds.

    "It can't really get any more hostile than when we have played there before," he said.

    "Australia in general can be quite an intimidating place to play, they are very passionate and very vocal as well.

    "Thankfully we have got a lot of experience in the team of people who have played there before in good times and bad times, we have experience of both the media and the public over there.

    "The best way to shut them up is to perform well and certain players cope with it in their own ways.

    "It is important, first and foremost, that we play well and if we do that then hopefully we can silence the crowds.

    "I don't think that whatever has happened will make that any worse. It will be a very partisan crowd but it always has been and always will be."

    The 31-year-old Lancastrian has also backed teammate Broad to take any extra attention on the chin and believes learning to deal with jibes from Australia, both on and off the field, can allow England to maintain their focus on a famous victory.

    "He [Broad] got quite a lot in 2010/11 and dealt with it brilliantly until he got injured," said Anderson.

    "We all get stick when we go there, some more than others, and if you can accept that and prepare yourself for it and have a plan with how to deal with it then it goes a long way to dealing with it once you're actually out there.

    "Certainly in 2006 I definitely felt that and I know a number of the wives and girlfriends felt that as well when we were walking around at Christmas time and walking down the street getting abuse.

    "We dealt with it better in 2010 and tried to interact more with the public and embrace their culture rather than be guarded and stay in our little bubble.

    "One thing we found as well was that when we started playing well a lot of the people over there actually started appreciating how well we were playing.

    "It is just a passion for the sport and we understand that and hopefully we will enjoy that again."

    England won 3-1 on their last Ashes tour of Australia in 2010/11 as the home crowd's focus turned from sledging England's players to turning on their own team, something Anderson does not expect this time around.

    "I don't see them doing that this time," he added.

    "At the start of that series they weren't sure of the their strongest team but now they are a bit more settled so I imagine their focus now will be more on Pommie-bashing so we will have to prepare ourselves for that."

  • Indigenous team in Ireland to win:Kennelly

    On the eve of the first international rules Test, All Stars assistant coach Tadhg Kennelly has hit back at suggestions the AFL hasn't taken the series seriously by sending an all-indigenous team to Ireland.

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    Some critics have argued the AFL should have selected the best players from across the league rather than the Aboriginal All Stars.

    But former Gaelic footballer turned premiership player Kennelly dismisses such talk.

    "We are here to win the series," the code-hopper told AAP en route to Cavan ahead of Saturday night's first Test.

    "I think it's a great initiative that the AFL have done and it's got nothing to do with them not taking the series seriously.

    "If the AFL didn't want to be part of the series they wouldn't be played - simple as that. You wouldn't send a team."

    The AFL's head of diversity, Jason Mifsud, is much more blunt.

    "In part it's offensive to be suggesting we are not taking it seriously by sending an all-indigenous team," he told AAP on Wednesday.

    "On a number of measures this team would stack up against previous international teams."

    Mifsud said the format celebrated the outstanding contribution of indigenous players.

    Twenty years ago there were 30 Aboriginal footballers in the competition and now there are 80.

    Writing in the Irish Examiner this week John Fogarty stated: "Don't think for a second that the team Ireland are facing ... are Australia."

    "Professionals they may be but just three of the 21-man squad have previous international rules experience," the journalist wrote.

    The All Stars will be the first all-indigenous team to represent an Australian sporting code at senior level overseas since the first cricket team toured England more than 150 years ago.

    Vice-captain Aaron Davey says that fact makes the series "very special".

    "This is the highlight of my career," the Melbourne small forward who retired at the end of the 2013 season told AAP.

    "A lot of people might look at it negatively but I think it's great for the game itself. All the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players bring so much to the game."

    Davey said Saturday night would see two great cultures going head-to-head.

    But he stressed: "We are here to win. We are not here just to come over and compete. Come Saturday we'll put it all aside and hopefully come away with the win."

    Before both the Cavan match and the second Test in Dublin the following Saturday, Australia will perform a war cry that was first developed by young indigenous players in 2009.

    Davey says it's about intimidating the opposition but also sharing culture.

    "It's all about pride," he said.

    "But it's also going to be great for the Irish people and the spectators to really experience our culture and see the war cry."