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Live. Belgium mourns. 22

schoolchildren among the dead

in a tunnel bus crash. You

could imagine how it would look

inside the tunnelch We don't

have an expectation how it

could happen. The Prime

Minister takes aim at a billionaire's carbon tax

challenge. Clive Palmer says

something one day and Tony

Abbott parrots it the next.

Cameron and Obama in step on

world trouble spots. They even

speak the same lingo. We are

chuffed to bits that you are

here. And a pointer to the

winner or kiss of death. What's

the Packing Room think of this

year's Archibald field? Hello

and welcome to ABC News across

Australia, I'm Nicole Chettle.

The local share market's in the

red. Miners are on had slide today. The All Ordinaries is

off 9 points. Japan and the US are up and the Australian

Dollar's buying 104.25 US

cents. Belgium is in mourning

for lives cut short in a

terrible bus crash in

Switzerland. 22 Belgian schoolchildren are among the

dead. They'd been part of a

school party returning from a

ski trip in Switzerlands when

their coach slammed into a motorway tunnel wall near the

town of Sierre. An autopsy's

being carried out on the driver

to check if a medical condition

caused the crash. After a fun

week skiing, the schoolchildren

were heading home to Belgium

but for some reason the bus

veer under to an emergency lane

and slammed head on into the

tunnel wall. Rescuers were face

would a terrible task, recovering the dead and injured

from the twisted wreckage. The

fact so many were children

added to the distress. When we

saw the first patients coming

out, this was the first

horrific moment also for us.

Then you could imagine how it

would look inside the tunnel.

Hours later in their home

villages in Belgium, many

parent simply didn't know if

their loved ones had survived

or not. At this moment, 18 children there's no information. We expect it will

be a very, very hard news we

are going to get in a few

hours. The now desperate

parents were quickly flown to Switzerland, hoping their

children were among the

survivors, but for so many it

was the worst of all possible

outcomes and with many more

hospitalised, some with serious

injuries, it could get worse.

We have 24 children here of our

school, 8 children we don't

know what is happening with

them. The older children have

broken legs and arms and our

teacher and our monitor, they

are dead. What happened is all

too clear. The why remains a

mystery. A modern coach, good

weather, the journey had just

begun. The accident was caught

on CCTV. There may eventually

be answers but it will be

little comfort for the families

who'd been preparing for

welcome their loved ones home

from a fun holiday. Soon

they'll be preparing their

funerals. Fair Work Australia's

being pressured to release a

report on allegations a Federal

Labor MP misused union funds. The workplace tribunal found

three former officials from the health services union's

Victorian branch could face

fines for breaking laws and

union rules. It's understood a

Senate committee's formally

requested a copy of the report

so it could be made publicly

available but Fair Work is yet

to release its investigation

into the union's former

national secretary, now Labor

MP, Craig Thomson. The is now

no excuse for Fair Work

Australia to use delaying

tactics in relation to the

Thomson inquiry. All their

resources and efforts should be

devoted to completing the

Thomson inquiry. Mr Thomson's

always denied any wrongdoing.

Well, it's passed into law and

it sarts in just three months

but the Government's carbon tax

could now face a challenge in

the High Court. Mining magnate

Clive Palmer believes that the

laws are unconstitutional and

he's threatening to test them

but the Government scoffs at

the idea. It says it's got

plenty of advice that the

carbon pricing regime is on

very safe legal ground. He's

been accused by the Government

of using his wealth to

influence public opinion but

Clive Palmer's not

intimidated. Our advice the

carbon tax in its current form

is un constitutional. The tax

is due to come into effect from

the middle of this year. Clive

Palmer's companies are working

on a came case to take to the

High Court. I think it's been

an open secret for some time

that various interests in the

country were looking at the

possibility of a kunsitutional

challenge to the carbon tax. I

hope he succeeds. The

Opposition thinks the states

could also challenge. Here's a

Government imposing a tax on

State-owned property. I think

it is wrong. But the Government is confident in its legislation and 68ing of Mr

Palmer. We've taken careful legal advice throughout. If

Clive Palmer's going to take a

court case and Tony Abbott's

going to back him in, well,

sobeit. It will be part of

their hysterical campaign

against putting a price on

carbon. Clive Palmer lists one

of his hobbies as litigation.

The carbon tax is copping more

criticism today. The Opposition

has seized on a clause in

Westfield rent agreements

stating that electricity price

rises related to the tax will

be passed on to shops. In

every shopping centre, in every

shop all around Australia, it's

had small businesses that will

pay and it's the mums and dads and the pensioners who will

pay. The Government says such

clauses have been around for

years but there are protections

in place for businesses. If

there is any unjustified effort

to pass through costs that

don't exist, the ACCC will

certainly have a good look at

those issues. It's not just

the carbon tax in the

Opposition's sights today. It's

accused the Government of

political bias by ignoring

advice from the board of the

Future Fund to appoint former

Treasurer Peter Costello as

chair. The Government says he

wasn't the best candidate. We

wanted someone who had a deep

standing in the business

community, had a proven track

record as a leader. The

Government selected the best

person for the job and that is

David Gonski. And she says

Peter Costello will continue to

play his role as a general

board member. The World

Wildlife Fund has identified

the Great Barrier Reef as the

key environmental issue in the

Queensland election. The group

has rated the mage parties on

their reef credentials and the

Greens take top place with the

Labor Party coming in second.

The fund says the Liberal

National Party has a long way

to go when it come to

protecting the future of the

World Heritage area. The

answers to saving the reef

aren't about someone suffering.

We can actually farm smarter,

fish smarter, make more money,

save the reef. The Queensland

poll will be held on 24 March.

Fire has caused an estimated $1

million worth of damage at a

primary school in Melbourne's

north. It's thought that a kiln

could be to blame for the blaze

that destroyed the art and

music facilities at Olympic

Village primary in Heidelberg

West. Because of the fire, the

school's 94 students will be

bussed to a nearby school until

temporary facilities can be set

up. It's devastating at first.

You've just got to wait for it

to sink in and take it all in

and let time go by. I hope

they might come in tomorrow and

we'll be back to normal on

Monday. It's just reassuring the community that school is

still on and that the children

will be safe and they will be

continuing with their

learning. Investigators say it

will take several days to know

for certain what caused the

fire because of concerns about

asbestos. SA's environment

protection authority says oil

run-off from a huge industrial

fire in Adelaide's north on

Tuesday has polluted nearby

wetlands. A series of barriers

set up to stop the oil from entering the Barker Inlet

wetlands was breached last

night after heavy storms dumped

about 25mm on the city. The EPA

says torrential rain caused

stormwater drain to overflow

and the amount of oil in the

wetlands won't be known until

later today. Local wildlife

volunteers say the area's a

breeding ground for fish and

bird life, including pelicans.

They're surveying the area to

see how many birds and fish may

have been affected. It's one of

Australia's oldest and most prestigious art prizes and

today the finalists in the

Archibald have been announced

at the Art Gallery of NSW.

While the artists are vying for

the $75,000 title, today it's

the Packing Room that's having

its say on whose portrait has

the winning edge. Melbourne

artist Raylene Sharp has won the Packing Room Prize for a portrait of the actor John

Wood. Joining me now is arts reporter Anne Maria Nicholson

in Sydney. What more can you

tell us about today's winner?

The winner is from Melbourne

and she has tried to get into

the Archibald Prize in the past

but this is the first time she

made the cut. The last 41. She

did this painting of actor John

Wood, who'd been known to

people through his role in

'Blue Heelers' and lot of other

programs, and John Wood was

saying how he had to squirm

around, stop himself squirming

really to pose for this

painting. Well, usually when you're working on television

you've got a script and you're

saying lines. She would have

preferred it if I'd kept still.

I'm not very good at sitting

still but it's different. The

difference is you don't move

really. The other entrants

probably aren't too worried

because history suggests the

Packing Room winner rarely

taking the top gong? Some say

it is the kiss of death.

There's No Doubt it's always a

realist painting that beens the

Packing Room Prize which is

chosen by the people who unpack

the paintings as they come into

the gallery and this year there

were 839 portraits from around

Australia and the prize winning

for that one is $1,000, a long way short of the big

prize. What's the overall field

like this year? It's very

diverse, as it always is. One

of the interesting ones that

people are looking at of course

is Ben Quilty's entry because

he won last year with his

portrait of the late artist

Margaret Ollie. This year he

has chosen to do quite a

disturbing work of an

Australian army captain who's

been wounded, who he's called simply Captain S because he's not allowed to identify that

person at this moment, and as I

understand it, Ben was over in

Afghanistan as the war artist

for Australia and he was

painting there and this captain

was wounded after he was doing

the portraits so that's very

moving. There's also Adam Chang

who is well known to Archibald

lovers. He was a finalist last

year with one of John Ceotzee,

the writerer and he's chosen

Emile Sheman, who was involved

with the King's Speech and the

movie Shame. There is a great

blend of accomplished Australian artists and

new-comers as well. Anne Maria

Nicholson, thank you.

Australia needs to bring in

more seasonal workers from

overseas to combat a chronic

labour shortage. In a submission to the Federal Government, the Australian

champion champion and industry

says the current partnership

with Pacific nations should be

widened to include Asia and

India, tapping into a huge

supply of willing workers. It

says that outside the mining

sector there are critical

shortages in areas like farming

andicate scpring some sectors

may have no future at all.

Jenny Lambert is director of employment, education and training at the Chamber of

Commerce and industry. We

think it should be one of the

option that needs to be

explored further. There has

been some success in putting in seasonal workers schemes to date and there is an

opportunity as part of our

overall Asian engagement to

broaden the types of schemes

that provide seasonal workers

or short-term workers to

various industries. The areas

that they're needred in the

semi-skilled, unskilled areas

where in remote and rural

regions it's very hard to staff

childcare centres, aged care

centres, communities are still

communities in reenling xns and

with the mining industry taking

more and more of the skilled

workforce, we need to make sure

those communities operate as

complete communities. But the

report you're putting to

Government is blunt in places.

It says without immigration,

labour force growth could

almost cease within a decade.

You only have to look at the

intergenerational reports and

the various looks at the aging

population. We don't see of

course immigration as the whole

solution in fact we don't even

see it as the majority

solution. The main game for

Australia is to increase its

level of training and promotion

of its own workforce including

increasing the participation

rate of the disadvantaged

groups and in rural areas that

includes Indigenous Australians

which are particularly good to

work in those regional and

rural and remote locations but

we also see that that won't be sufficient. There will need to

be major increases in that area

in order to fulfil all of the

skills and unskilled needs of

Australia moving forward so we just say that all options

should be on the table. Your

submission says that we need to

face the harsh reality that for

some sectors their $may be no

future at all. What areas are

most at risk? Certainly some

sectors in those rural areas

that are really desperately

short of unskilled and semi skilled labour. For example,

some of the hospitality areas,

aged care areas, childcare

areas, things that are needed

to service whole communities,

it is very difficult for them

to continue to operate if they

can't attract Australians to

come and work in those areas

and as I say, the main game is

to try and get as many

Australians engaged in those

jobs as possible but we're

talking about the Asian century, we're talk about the

next few decades and we need to

make sure we're really thinking

about what options should be on

the table. Jenny Lambert, thank

you. New car sales are holding

steady despite forecast of

falling demand. More than

85,000 cars rolled out of show rooms last month. Four-wheel

drive sales fell 2%. More

figures from Canberra have just

been released. Housing finance

was flat in January while

personal borrowing increased.

Commercial financing was down,

leasing commitments were up.

Well, the rental property

market in Perth has tightened

even further. According to the

latest figures, the city's just

about the most difficult

capital in the country to find

somewhere to live. The vacancy

rate's almost halved since last

year andther shortage is

expected to continue. This 4x2

in Bedford is hot property.

It's one of the comparatively

few rental vacancies in Perth

right now. The number of

properties on the market has

fallen by almost a quarter in

the last two months. We've

seen a drop so substantial in

one month it's astounding. The

real estate institute believes Perth's surging population is

behind the fall. The number of

renchtles on the market has

gone from almost 3,000 at the

start of the year to just 2,200

in February. At one point, 6% vacancy factor puts extreme

pressure on rental housing and

also on people trying to rent a

property. For people living on

low incomes the situation is

even worse because less than a third of those properties that

are available are actually

affordable for people living on

low incomes. REIWA says it's

only going to get tougher.

Over the next few mnings there

will be a continuing demand

which will pressure the housing

market and I think that will

filtner to the sales market.

People will read the news as

gaopportunity to invest in real

estate. That's what the

Premier' hoping for. I appeal

to the housing industry to

respond and add to supply of rental accommodation because

this is a golden opportunity to

do so. A golden opportunity

prospective tenants hope is

coming soon. Lets go now to

some of the other stories makes

news in business. There's more

evidence of the tough retail

climate with Australia's

biggest department store

posting an 18% fall in

first-half profit. Myer's net

income sank to $87 million, the

chain says sales remain under

pressure and are likely to fall

this year. The lowest prices in

five years are forcing many

pear growers to let their crop

drop to the ground. Some producers are being offered

around a dollar a kilo. That's

below the cost of production

and about half of what was

hoped for this season. Growers

are also competing with a large

number of pears place under to

cold storage last year. And an

executive director at Goldman

Sachs has published his

resignation letter in the 'New

York Times', accusing the

investment giant of ripping off

its customers. He described the

culture of morally bankrupt

people where clients are

routinely referred to as

muppets and sold products that

are wrong for them. Goldman

Sachs denies it's a toxic

workplace. Simon, how's the

weak profit result from Myer

affecting shares? Not too

badly. It seems investors may

have been expecting an even

weaker result from Myer. The

retailer spent most of the morning in positive territory

but have some back in the last

hour or so. Myer shares are

just down under 2% and that is

to - that fall is in line with

falls on the broader market.

More generally, there does

appear to be some broad

strength across the retail

sector today so David Jones has

put on 1% and Harvey Norman is

up a touch to $1.92. How is

the rest of the market looking? Not great. The All

Ordinaries index is off 10

points to 4,364. Most of the

influencing factors today are

cominging from off shore. In

the US, markets were about

subdued. The other influencing

factor is from China where

Premier Wen Jiabao said China

needs to embrace a slower rate

of economic growth. Of course

China is a key consumer of

Australian metals and the

Chinese Premier's comments are

evident on our local index

today. BHP Billiton is off 1.5%

and goldminer Newcrest is off

3% to $30.33. Oil prices are

also under pressure? Yes, that

also comess in the wake of Wen

Jiabao's comments but also

because of a stronger US

dollar. Oil miner Oil Search is

off 1% and Santos is off

slightly to $14 point 55. Let's

have a check now of the

domestic market's other big

movers in the ASX 100. Leighton holdings is up.

To a mixed session on Wall

Street and optimist took a

breather after a week of gains.

Three stocks fell for every one

that rose on the New York

exchange.

A notorious Congolese warlord

has become the first person to be judged by the International Court of Justice. At a sitting

in the Hague, the court found

Thomas Lubanga guilty of war

crimes. He's involved the

recruitment of children as soldiers, body guards and sex slaves in the Democratic

Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003 during tribal fighting

that claimed tens of thousands

of lives. It's a significantly important decision. It's important for the court, it's

importanter for the victims who

have participated and it's also

further condemnation of a crime that has been committed

throughout the region. The

51-year-old former militia

leader face as possible life

sentence. He's denied all

wrongdoing. It's the court's

first ruling in its 10-year

existence, focused on Africa

because the Middle East and

Asia have been beyond its

reach. The Pentagon's playing

down a major security scare in

Afghanistan involving US

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

There was a security breach at

the airport as his plane was

landing. The incident came as

the US President Barack Obama

was hosting a visit to

Washington by Britain's Prime

Minister David Cameron with

Afghanistan high on the agenda.

As Leon Panetta's plane was

landing in a British air base

in southern Afghanistan, a

civilian worker stole a truck

from a soldier, crashed through

a security fence, making for

the runway. We were diverted

to a different runway. Officials say the US Defence

Secretary didn't see the

incident. The truck crashed

into a ditch. The driver was on

fire as he was captured. Under

scoring tensions on the ground,

the US and British leaders sat down in Washington to discuss

the war, calling it a hard

slog. In the aftermath of the

shooting rampage by a US

soldier, who's now been

spirited out of Afghanistan,

Barack Obama's playing down speculation about American

troops coming home sooner. I

don't anticipate at this stage

that we're going to be making

any sudden addition al

changes. Both say their forces

will step back from the combat

lead next year. The transition

details to be discussed at a

NATO summit in Chicago in May.

Prime Minister Cameron says the

military mission is in its

final phases. We won't build a

perfect Afghanistan, although

let's be clear we making some

tangible progress. Syria and

the nuclear stand-off with Iran

were also on their agenda. The

US President warning Tehran

that time's running out for a

diplomatic solution. The

window for solving this issue

dep lumatically is shrinking.

The two dwur at pains to highlight their special

relationship, even joking about

another conflict, an attempt to burn the White House down. It's

now been 200 years since the

British came here to the White

House under somewhat different

circumstances. They really lit

up the place. You've got the

place a little better defended

today. Tomorrow the British

leader heads to Ground Zero in

New York. Let's have a quick

look at other stories making

news - a magnitude 6.1

earthquake has rattled an area

east of Tokyo. It followed a

slightly higher magnitude quake

felt in northern Japan that

disrupted train services and

briefly closed airport runways.

In China, a bridge under

construction in Hunan province

has collapsed a few months

before it was due to open.

Authorities said a construction

team had removed supporting steel bars underneath the

bridge ahead of schedule. And

the mayor of a small town in

southern Italy has forbidden

residents to die because

there's no cemetery for them to

be buried in. The problem began

almost 50 years ago when the

towns were created from one but

no allowance had been made for

a second cemetery. Day one of

the Australian Formula One

Grand Prix is under way in

Melbourne. The main race isn't

until Sunday but fans lined up

under early grey skies to watch

warm-ups and meet the drivers.

Organisers say the field of

drivers which includes

Australians Mark Webber and

Daniel Ricardo is one of the

strongest ever. We've never

had a race with two Aussies in

it in Australia and for the

first time in Formula One we've

got 6 world champions with 14

titles between them. The

event's already caught up in

fresh controversy. Two State

Government-funded road safety

organisations have pulled

sponsorship after criticism

they were sending mixed messages. The Australian

national swimming titles have

commenced in Adelaide. The

event is also serving as a

selection trial for for the

London Olympics which are now

19 weeks away. The women's 100m

butterfly was one of the heats

to watch this morning. In it,

Libby Trickett qualified for

tonight's semis. Trickett was

got second. I'm 27 now so a

little over the hill in

swimming terms but I am feeling

fit and strong. Just need to

make sure I get my recovery and

keep going faster. Alicia

Coutts was the winner of the

heat with Jessicah Schipper

also expected to be a contender

in the event. Reform or risk turmoil. That's the message about China's leadership system

from the country's Premier Wen

Jiabao who's due to step down

next year. He's warned that

change is needed to avert the

kind of chaos last experienced

during the Cultural Revolution.

They are the men who wield

enormous power over more than a

billion people. China's

communist leaders. They divvy

up positions among themselves

in secret and this year they

must elevate a new younger crop

so behind the scenes battles

are being fought, factions

vying for positions and

influence. Today, we saw a hint

of that struggle. Someone to

entrench the party's grip.

Premier Wen Jiabao at his last

major press conference after 10

years at the top made a case

for political reform.

TRANSLATION: Reform of our

leadership system is urgent. He

warned without it, China's

economic gains may be lost and

a turmoil of the cultural

revolution could happen again.

He said he might invite people

critical of his Government for

face-to-face talks. So this

evening in a poor neighbourhood

of Beijing, we've found some of

his critics. On an old fuzzy

TV, they were watching Premier

Wen on the evening news. They

gather here from all over China

in the capital to press their

complaints about corruption and

abuses by communist officials.

Mr Tan's family had their land seized.

TRANSLATION: Premier Wen talked

about reform but he gave no

timetable, he says. Peep want

democracy and the rule of

law. And this person adds,

"Only elected leaders will do

what's best for ordinary

people." So we asked who

elsemented to be able to elect

their leaders. - who else

wanted to be able to elect

their leaders. Everyone. But

their Premier, asked when China

would be given the vote, said

change must be gradual. So this

was his swansong , a call for

others to bring reforms that he

did not push through in his own

decade in power. Now for a look

at the national weather and the

satellite shows thick monsoon

cloud across the tropics,

particularly near a low over

the western Top End and

Kimberley. Cloud forming over

the nation's southeast with a

trough and most showery cloud

is clearing from SA. Tropical

cyclone should bring heavy rain and galeforce twiends

north-west WA as it approaches

the coast. The monsoon should

generate rain and storms

elsewhere over the tropics.

Locally heavy and a low pressure trough should trigger

showers and storms over Queensland, NSW, SA and

Victoria.

Let's go back to the stock

exchange for a final check of

the markets.

That's the news for now.

There's continuous news on ABC

News 24 and also news online.

Our next full bulletin on ABC 1

is at 7:00 this evening. I'm

Nicole Chettle. Have a good

afternoon.

THEME MUSIC ARGUING IN STREET