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Swan gears up to unveil first Rudd Govt budget

Swan gears up to unveil first Rudd Govt budget

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:10:00

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

ELEANOR HALL: In Canberra, and tomorrow the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, will deliver the first
Labor budget in 13 years.

Already the Government has confirmed that it will contain tax changes that will slug higher income
earners and also an easing of the thresholds at which people have to take out private health
insurance or face a higher Medicare surcharge.

And as the Rudd ministry holds its final meeting before budget day, the Opposition is dismissing
the budget as a whole lot of spin. The Greens are calling for even tougher spending cuts.

Chief political correspondent, Lyndal Curtis, reports from Canberra.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The numbers are locked in, the budget's been printed and the Treasurer is putting
the final touches to his budget night speech.

Wayne Swan will be the first Labor Treasurer to bring down a federal budget since Ralph Willis in

And while he probably wouldn't want to be known as the housekeeper, that's what he says the
Government will be doing.

WAYNE SWAN: I'm confident that Australians will understand the need for tough decisions, because
sometimes good housekeeping does require tough decisions, tough decisions to protect against
international uncertainty and tough decisions so we can plan for the future and invest for the

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government does want to be seen as Robin Hood, and already some of the decisions
it's announced fall into that category: upping the tax on luxury cars and means testing the baby

But it's also making it easier for people to avoid taking out private health insurance, by raising
the threshold at which the Medicare surcharge for those without private health cover kicks in.

The Government says it's removing people caught in a tax trap where rising incomes push them into
the surcharge net. And the Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has told Radio National he doesn't
believe it will mean the public system will shoulder a bigger burden as people shed their private

LINDSAY TANNER: We don't believe that the changes will trigger any kind of rush to the public
sector, but we've already injected very substantial additional funding into the public health

LYNDAL CURTIS: But the Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull has told Radio 2GB, the move on health
insurance is a mistake.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: As people stop taking, stop renewing their private health insurance, courtesy of
Mr Swan, health insurance costs for everybody else will go up, demands on the public hospital
sector will go up. It is a very misguided decision.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Opposition is warning the budget will be full of spin and driven by ideology.
And rather than Robin Hood, Malcolm Turnbull is painting Wayne Swan as an inexperienced and
indecisive treasurer.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I really wonder whether he knows what he's doing, I mean, one minute he talks
about the budget as though he's Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, the next
minute he says he's going to make huge swingeing cuts to spending, to drive down inflation. What's
it going to be?

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Greens leader Bob Brown doesn't think Wayne Swan is being as much like Robin
Hood as he could be. And Senator Brown is calling for means testing on the tax cuts.

BOB BROWN: It's still going to be a budget that's going to give much more to the big end of town
than to the average battler. And you've only got to look at the seven billion plus in tax cuts
which are going to be favouring those people who are on high incomes to see how that works.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Treasurer is adamant his way is right. He doesn't agree with economists who say
the economic risks from the us downturn and credit crunch will be more than outweighed by the
buckets of money rolling in from the continuing commodities boom.

WAYNE SWAN: We're not going to be as lucky as the previous government when it came to revenue
upgrades, so we can't be as lazy in terms of our response. That's why we have had to make
significant savings. The previous government just relied upon endless increases in taxation revenue
to fund increase in spending.

We haven't got that luxury. We've got to go out and work hard to find our savings, to put downward
pressures, pressure on prices and downward pressure on interest rates.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And what does the Treasurer think the headlines will say on Wednesday?

WAYNE SWAN: A responsible budget, to build a strong economy, which delivers for working families.

LYNDAL CURTIS: He doesn't have too long to wait.

ELEANOR HALL: Lyndal Curtis reporting.

Health insurer slams Govt for broken election promise

Health insurer slams Govt for broken election promise

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:14:00

Reporter: Emma Alberici

ELEANOR HALL: The health insurance industry is today accusing the Federal Government of breaking a
key election promise with its first budget.

As we've been hearing, tomorrow's budget is set to remove the Medicare surcharge from single people
earning between 50 and $100,000 and from families with an income of between 100 and 150,000.

The surcharge was introduced by the previous government to encourage more Australians to take out
private health insurance.

Now the Health Insurance Association is warning that premiums for those people who remain in the
private system will have to rise, as Emma Alberici reports.

EMMA ALBERICI: The Medicare surcharge is essentially a penalty on those who choose not to have
health insurance.

It currently kicks in for singles earning more than $50,000 and for families bringing in more than

It's been hugely successful in encouraging young healthy customers, the industry's most profitable,
to sign up to private insurance.

The Government says lifting those thresholds to 100 and 150,000 respectively will save some
families up to $1,500 a year.

But the Australian Health Insurance Association executive director Michael Armitage, says that
saving will come at a hefty price.

MICHAEL ARMITAGE: It will penalise Australians who are at present on public hospital waiting lists
because it will mean that about another 400,000 people who'll become reliant on public sector. And
it will penalise those people who choose to remain privately insured, many of whom have got incomes
less than $24,000.

A million of those people are like that, because their private health insurance premiums are going
up. So it seems to me to be a most unfortunate decision which disadvantages people trying to get
health care, whether they're in the public or the private sector.

EMMA ALBERICI: How did you calculate the 400,000 extra who will fall into the public health system?

MICHAEL ARMITAGE: Yes, we did some research on this question last year because there were always
rumours, I guess, about Medicare levy surcharge changes. So we're confident that our figures are
about the mark.

EMMA ALBERICI: Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon defended the Government's budget initiative on
the AM program this morning.

NICOLA ROXON: We support the private health insurance industry and we believe as a government that
you need both a strong public health system and a strong private health system. But we're not
prepared to give working families a whack in the process and that's what the previous government

They didn't adjust the rates and it now means that people who are earning less than average incomes
were stuck with this choice of either paying a tax or taking out private health insurance.

EMMA ALBERICI: The surcharge has not been changed since it was introduced in 1997. The Minister
says the budget move simply assumes that, like bracket creep in the tax system, people's salaries
have gone up with inflation and that that should be reflected in the surcharge.

MICHAEL ARMITAGE: Well, I think there are two really important points about that. The first is that
it hasn't been CPI'd, it's been greatly more that CPI'd. The CPI figure of $50,000 when this was
brought in is now something like $73,300. That might not be exact. But it's certainly under
$75,000, and they've moved it up to a $100,000.

So, they've gone way above CPI. This whole argument of the Treasurer's falls down. He's actually
not acknowledging that there will be increased pressure on the public sector and our survey by
asking the very people in this bracket, indicates that there will be people. What is the Treasurer
going to do about that? He can't just shrug his shoulders and say, "Well, we think it won't

EMMA ALBERICI: It's estimated up to 2 million people have been caught in what the Government calls
this "tax trap" which was supposed to be a surcharge on high income earners.

The Minister has committed $1 billion to the country's public hospitals, is in the process of
swelling staff numbers and has already announced $600 million in measures to improve waiting lists
for elective surgery.

The Health Insurance Association represents 23 health funds throughout Australia. Its executive
director Michael Armitage says the Government is fooling itself if it thinks it will be that simple
to fix the country's ailing public health system.

MICHAEL ARMITAGE: Does any Australian think that there's going to be no waiting lists with another
$600 million into the public sector for that(phonetic)? That's clearly not the case. All people
with private health insurance will pay more. I mean I think this is the philosophy of a socialist
government, which belies all of the fiscal conservatism and so on which has previously been touted
by the Government.

It's also, may I say, completely in contradistinction to a letter which the then leader of the
Opposition and now prime minister wrote to the industry four days before the election. So, it's
clearly a breaking of an election promise. We would have to regard then, other commitments in his
letter as being somewhat on shaky grounds.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Michael Armitage, the executive director of the Health Insurance Association.
That report by Emma Alberici.

Westpac takes landmark move to merge with St.George

Westpac takes landmark move to merge with St.George

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:18:00

Reporter: Peter Ryan

ELEANOR HALL: To what could be the biggest banking deal in this country in decades.

Westpac has announced a proposal to merge with its smaller competitor, St.George Bank.

The offer comes barely three months after Gail Kelly jumped ship from St.George to become the chief
executive at Australia's fourth biggest bank.

And while the deal is in its early stages, it skirts closely to Australia's Four Pillars policy
which bans the big four banks from merging.

Business editor Peter Ryan has the story.

PETER RYAN: If the merger deal goes through, Westpac would become Australia's leading bank, with a
25 per cent share of home lending and $108 billion under wealth management.

In an audacious bid to become the biggest and most powerful bank, Westpac is exploiting the
realities exposed by the credit crisis.

It's been the best sharemarket performer of the big four banks over the past 12 months, down just
4.7 per cent, while St.George has taken the biggest and most painful slide.

MARCUS PADLEY: It's an opportunistic time, I think, for Westpac. If you look at the relative share
price performances over the last five years, they've basically been running together for the last
four years. And then in the last year, St.George has underperformed Westpac by almost 30 per cent.

PETER RYAN: Stockbroker Marcus Padley, who edits the "Marcus Today" newsletter, says while this is
far from a victor and vanquished story, there are a few twists working in Westpac's favour.

MARCUS PADLEY: There's perhaps some sort of credit market pressure which would be bigger on the
smaller banks i.e. St.George. Those would perhaps be timing issues. The other one of course which
is of immense interest, if not amusement, is of course that Gail Kelly is in, I think, her first
month of being managing director of Westpac, having moved from St.George. So she hasn't hung around
at all.

PETER RYAN: The Gail Kelly factor is the talk of what's become the biggest market story around.

But the Westpac chief executive, and first woman to head a big four bank, wasn't talking today,
apart from a carefully crafted statement in today's announcement.

GAIL KELLY (voiceover): It would create Australia's leading financial institution, with regard to
meeting customer needs, distribution, strong brands, scale, financial strength and the best

PETER RYAN: A merged Westpac and St.George Bank would provide a customer base of 10 million, that's
around one in every two Australians.

And while today's statement said the merged branches and ATMs would be retained, customers remain

VOX POPS 1: I will get out at Westpac. Yes.

VOX POPS 2: I'm old enough to remember the run on St.George.

VOX POPS 3: One less bank is one less choice. Not that there is very much difference between the
two facilities as it stands, but it means there will be less on the street facilities and
presumably, less and fewer facilities in country towns.

VOX POPS 4: Too many of these large corporations combine and therefore it makes it very unfair on
the consumer because they start then hiking up rates on things, just like Coles did with the fuel,
and it's just less competition basically, is what they're trying to do. Drag people into having to
consume with them and pay whatever you have to pay in fees.

PETER RYAN: Those concerns are shared by consumer advocates including Choice spokesman Christopher

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: We have concerns about competition. We don't believe that there's enough
competition in the banking sector it is, and any contraction in the number of banks, especially in
terms of the big five banks, is not necessarily going to lead to anymore competitions. So we were
hoping very much that before regulators give a green light to this deal, that their competition
would really be the issue that was top of mind.

PETER RYAN: So you're concerned that consolidation doesn't necessarily mean more competition?

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Definitely. Look, the best way to ensure competition in any market, but
particularly with banks, is that you have more players, not less. And in fact, seeing in the
biggest five banks, the move to four banks, that's not going to necessarily bring competition
unless there are definite safeguards built into any merger that goes ahead.

PETER RYAN: Stockbroker Marcus Padley doesn't see any regulatory hurdles even given the Four
Pillars policy which bans mergers between the big four banks.

But he does see an opportunity for Westpac to cut costs.

MARCUS PADLEY: One of the main issues is clearly whether there'll be any regulatory
catches(phonetic), and the general feeling is that they won't. As far as the fate of the two
companies that are concerned, then they do have a big overlap in New South Wales, both have deep
penetration in NSW. There will clearly be a lot of synergies in closing branches and selling off
possibly some assets.

PETER RYAN: The Shadow Treasurer, and former investment banker Malcolm Turnbull, doubts the Federal
Government would change the Four Pillars policy.

But he told Macquarie Radio, there could be some action ahead as second tier banks test the market.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: I think you will see all of the smaller banks, and there are number of lot banks,
a number of banks, much smaller than St.George of course, coming under increasing pressure because
they are, they are basically, look they're in a business, they're lending money to people, and they
are having to pay more to borrow the money they on-lend than the big guys do. And so they are at a
competitive disadvantage.

PETER RYAN: The merger deal is still in its early days with both Westpac and St.George remaining in
a trading halt.

But regulatory concerns aside the proposal is ultimately subject to shareholder approval.

ELEANOR HALL: Business editor Peter Ryan.

NSW Opposition energy spokesman retreats to backbench

NSW Opposition energy spokesman retreats to backbench

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:22:00

Reporter: Karen Barlow

ELEANOR HALL: With the New South Wales Labor Party still divided over the Government's plans to
privatise the electricity sector, you'd think the Opposition would be in the box seat.

Today the Premier Morris Iemma was still attempting to soften up an electorate widely distrustful
of privatisation.

But the NSW Liberal Party is now reeling from the news that it has lost its energy spokesman, Peter
Debnam, because of the Coalition's decision to support the Government's reform proposal.

Karen Barlow has our report.

KAREN BARLOW: The man who led the Coalition to a crushing defeat in last year's state election has
never supported electricity privatisation.

So Peter Debnam says he can't go back on his word now.

PETER DEBNAM: Look, the electricity privatisation debate actually started before the election. We
went to the election reassuring the community that we would not privatise electricity. Morris Iemma
did exactly the same thing.

My view is that we should strongly oppose the privatisation, even though we don't have the numbers
to stop it in Parliament, we should make the community's feelings known, and we should also do
whatever we can to change the industry towards clean, renewable energy.

KAREN BARLOW: The trouble is that is not the position the Liberal-National Coalition announced last

The Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner announced a Cabinet decision
to support the Labor Government's privatisation plans with community safeguards.

Today, Mr O'Farrell was announcing a Cabinet reshuffle as Peter Debnam went to the backbench.

BARRY O'FARRELL: Peter Debnam is entitled to his view. At the party rooms, both the Liberal and
National party rooms made their view clear last Thursday. That was a decision announced by Andrew
Stoner and I in this room last Thursday afternoon.

KAREN BARLOW: Barry O'Farrell says he doesn't believe there are others in the Coalition that feel
the same as Mr Debnam, but he is still calling for unity regardless.

BARRY O'FARRELL: The party acknowledges and appreciates the effort Peter put in, particularly as
leader, in the lead up to the last year election campaign. It's obviously been hard for him. One
minute he's leader, another minute he's a member of the team.

At the end of day, when you are part of the team, you abide by the team decision, and last
Thursday, shadow Cabinet in the Liberal-National Parties took a decision, Peter's now made his
decision, that's allowed within our party, it's not allowed within the Labor Party, that's one of
the big differences between the two.

REPORTER: So you think he's still harbouring sort of unhappiness over being ejected as...

BARRY O'FARRELL: Look, I'll leave that to the commentators. Our point is, the decision was made
last Thursday, a decision endorsed by shadow Cabinet, the decision endorsed by both party rooms,
and a decision that for the first time seeks to put the public interest first in Morris Iemma's
proposal to sell the state's electricity assets.

KAREN BARLOW: Peter Debnam stands by his decision to quit the frontbench.

PETER DEBNAM: When you are the shadow Minister for a portfolio and you disagree with a decision,
well it's simply untenable to continue as the spokesman for that portfolio. So what I aid to Barry
last week was that he'd be better off putting someone else into the position that can argue his
case. I feel very strongly on it and obviously you shouldn't continue in a portfolio when you
disagree with the policy position.

KAREN BARLOW: With the Labor Party eating itself alive over the privatisation of the electricity
sector, shouldn't the Opposition appear combined and be in the box seat?

PETER DEBNAM: I think it's more important than sort of focusing on the politics of it within a
party or between the parties, to actually talk about the issues, and that's what's been lacking in
the last year is a real debate on privatisation. That's what I think is important.

KAREN BARLOW: Is there any element of you being disgruntled about losing the leadership in this?

PETER DEBNAM: As I've said, what I've done is step down from a portfolio position where I disagree
with the position taken. It's as simple as that. Barry can now put someone else into that role who
can actually argue his case.

KAREN BARLOW: No matter how voluntary, it is the first political scalp of the contentious
electricity sale issue.

The Premier Morris Iemma has told a Future Summit in Sydney that he expects to pay a price for his

MORRIS IEMMA: Put simply, reform is hard, real reform stirs emotions, it discomforts and disrupts,
it breaks old habits, it provokes old fears, it spurs selfishness among lobby groups and vested
interests. And it comes at a price, a price exacted in the short and medium-term, long before the
fruits of reform become evident.

KAREN BARLOW: Peter Debnam says he will probably stay as a backbencher until the next state
election which he intends to contest.

ELEANOR HALL: Karen Barlow reporting.

Vic Liberals in crisis over rogue website

Vic Liberals in crisis over rogue website

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:26:00

Reporter: Samantha Donovan

ELEANOR HALL: The Victorian Liberal Party is in crisis today over revelations that two staffers
have been running a website that undermines their own party leader, Ted Baillieu.

The staffers have been sacked, but Mr Baillieu says they're part of a cell that's also attacking
other Liberal MPs at both a state and federal level.

In Melbourne, Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The last two Victorian elections have been landslide losses for the Liberal
Party. And rumours of a lack of support have dogged leader Ted Baillieu since the last election
defeat in November 2006.

Nonetheless the revelation that a website called "Ted Baillieu must go" was actually being run by
two Liberal staffers has shocked him.

TED BAILLIEU: I am appalled at what's been going on in the administrative wing of the Liberal

Now there is a cell of people in the Liberal Party who've been seeking to undermine me; they've
been seeking to undermine other state MPs; federal MPs; and other members of the party.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The website has been closed down.

But The Age newspaper reports today that it allegedly included posts describing Victorian Senator
Judith Troeth as "stupid"; Federal Liberal MP Fran Bailey a "stupid fat bitch"; and Federal member
for Kooyong Petro Georgiou a "waste of space".

And perhaps rather ironically given the website's activities, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser
was called "that epitome of treachery".

Fran Bailey declined to comment but Senator Troeth released a statement saying she was "very
disappointed that such an act of betrayal could be carried out from within the administration wing
of the party."

Petro Georgiou is less concerned about the alleged criticism of him than the effect on the party

PETRO GEORGIOU: I think that those comments about me are to the point. I mean, what has been shown
is quite appalling. What is clear that members of staff are paid for by the Liberal Party had been
working to undermine the party's efforts to win against Labor. This is a cancer on the body of the
party. It needs to be fully investigated, it needs to be dealt with and we need to get on with job.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Ted Baillieu is promising a full investigation into who's behind the white-anting

That'll be overseen by John Howard's former chief of staff, Tony Nutt, who takes over as Victorian
Liberal director next week.

Ted Baillieu told Fairfax Radio's Neil Mitchell this morning he's convinced the two sacked over the
website are just the tip of the iceberg.

TED BAILLIEU: I believe there are other people involved, I'm not going to speculate on who's on
involved, that will be a matter that the party will have to investigate. That investigation will
take place. There will no doubt be recommendations as a consequence of that, and they will be

NEIL MITCHELL: It's well known that you are regularly in collision with a faction involving Michael
Kroger and Peter Costello, are they involved in this do you believe?

TED BAILLIEU: I'm not going to speculate, Neil, on who is involved. I've said previously, it's well
known, to use your phrase, that there's one group that's been dominating the Liberal Party for some
time in Victoria, but I'm not going to speculate.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Politics lecturer at Monash University Dr Nick Economou isn't surprised by the
latest scandal.

He says there's been long-standing tension between the parliamentary and administrative divisions
of the Victorian Liberal Party. And the party's factions are difficult to follow.

Dr Economou says the so-called Kroger-Costello faction is often referred to as opponents of Mr
Baillieu in the press.

But he's sure neither Peter Costello nor former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett have anything to do
with the underhand web attacks on Mr Baillieu.

NICK ECONOMOU: The people who are called the Kroger-Costelloites, it's a reference to the time
which these people are coming into Liberal Party. They have been trying to, people associated with
that group of being in control of the party's organisation, they've been trying to win an
increasing number of pre-selections. But they've actually failed.

So what's happened is that the so-called Kroger-Costello group, which is really just a group of
people who have joined the Liberal Party at the tail-end of the Kennett years and into the
opposition years, and they're very frustrated 'cause they want to seize control of the party and
challenge Labor. They are actually concentrated in the party's organisation.

Whereas the so-called Kroger people who are really Liberals who've come into the parliamentary wing
during Jeff Kennett's time as premier, they are hanging on to their seats and that's where the big
tension lies in the Victorian Liberals.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr Nick Economou from Monash University ending Samantha Donovan's report.

Aid beginning to trickle through to Burma cyclone victims

Aid beginning to trickle through to Burma cyclone victims

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:30:00

Reporter: Brigid Glanville

ELEANOR HALL: After being left without food or water for more than a week, more of the victims of
Cyclone Nargis are now receiving some help, with Burma's military government finally easing
restrictions on the entry of foreign aid.

Today more than half a dozen flights carrying emergency supplies are expected to land in the
capital Rangoon.

And despite the sinking of one of its boats, the Red Cross says it is able to send water, food and
medical supplies straight to the areas which need it most.

Brigid Glanville has our report.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: It seems hard to believe that it's taken so long for aid to start arriving in
Burma. But finally it's beginning to trickle though to the survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

Power has been restored to many parts of the capital Rangoon, and aid is on its way to the worst
hit area, the Irrawaddy Delta.

Joe Lowry is an aid worker with the Red Cross in Rangoon.

JOE LOWRY: I'll just give you one snapshot in the area where our boat was going. Population of
350,000, almost about 80 per cent of them thought to have been badly affected and 10,000 people out
of that population of 350,000, dead on this thing. So, it's really hitting the country very, very

BRIGID GLANVILLE: The Red Cross says disease is now the biggest threat to the survivors,
particularly children.

The World Today spoke with Joe Lowry early this morning from his hotel in Rangoon.

JOE LOWRY: Well in the main city of Rangoon where I am, things are getting back to somewhat
approaching normality, and there's still a lot of damage, and a lot of trees down, a lot of
buildings with roofs off, and so on. So businesses have reopened, electricity's back in most of the
city, there's water back in a lot of the city as well.

But outside the city, even 30 kilometres outside, I was there couple of days ago, saw people living
in very, very overcrowded conditions in public buildings like schools and hospitals with no real
proper shelter, no clean water, no food it seemed, no medicine, no where to.

I mean I was sleeping on the bare ground or people had built little huts for themselves, really
tiny, little huts from bamboo and palm which are right next to large areas of stagnate water and
kids playing in the water and so on, which is, this water's been standing around for a long time,
it's presumably full of germs and there's lots of mosquitoes in the area.

So the worry now is for an outbreak of, about an outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases or mosquito-borne

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Since the referendum, is the aid starting to come in? Are you seeing outside of
Rangoon and hearing from other workers that there is aid getting to the people?

JOE LOWRY: From the get go, really, the Myanmar Red Cross has been organising aid locally. They've
been receiving aid at their headquarters, they've got a team of volunteers outside the doors day
and night, loading off, loading things like water and clothing they have been receiving locally.

Also, we had flights in last Thursday, Friday and again Saturday and yesterday and more flights
expected, I think a total of about 10 flights by the end of today. So we have had a fairly regular
build up of aid over the last few days.

Also, our head of delegation, Bridget Gardner, an Australian lady, is in the most affected area
right now with the authorisation of the Ministry of Health, and she's on a zephant (phonetic)
mission with the head of Myanmar Red Cross. So when she come back, she'll tell us a lot more about
what's going on, or what she saw.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: There has been worldwide criticism of the handling of the disaster by Burmese

The military junta was heavily criticised for holding a referendum on a new constitution on the
weekend, as the death toll from the cyclone continues to rise.

A spokesman from the National Council of the Union of Burma.

SPOKESMAN: It is outrageous and absurd act that the regime has ever done where more then 100,000
people died and there are many more could died because of the aftermath, the affect of the cyclone.
But there are still trying to push ahead with this referendum. So, it is not acceptable.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: A number of countries including France and the United States have asked to
distribute aid to the areas that need it, but the Burmese Government has said "no".

While it won't allow foreign logistics teams in the country, many aid workers say though it's a
relief that the military government is finally starting to respond and allowing supplies to filter

ELEANOR HALL: Brigid Glanville with our report.

Arab League pledges emergency delegation to Beirut

Arab League pledges emergency delegation to Beirut

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:34:00

Reporter: Lindy Kerin

ELEANOR HALL: To the Middle East now and the Arab League has announced it will send an emergency
delegation to Beirut, to try to bring an end to the worst sectarian fighting in Lebanon since the
civil war ended 18 years ago.

Heavy fighting has continued in the capital between opposition and government loyalists, and 49
people have been killed in five days and many more have been wounded, as Lindy Kerin reports.

LINDY KERIN: Tensions eased in Beirut over the weekend, but heavy fighting broke out between
pro-and anti-government supporters in the hills east of the capital.

Shi'ites loyal to the Lebanese opposition group Hezbollah battled Druze supporters of the ruling

The head of the Progressive Socialist Party and Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt called for an end to
the fighting. He urged his opponents, to mediate a ceasefire and hand over the mountain region to
Lebanese troops.

WALID JUMBLATT (translated): I have decided after consulting with speaker of the Parliament, to
delegate to Talal Erslan the matter of negotiating a ceasefire, so as to stop the bloodshed and
destruction which has affected everyone. Peace for civilians, a peaceful coexistence and putting an
end to war and destruction, is above all else.

LINDY KERIN: In a televised address to the nation, Talal Erslan, a former minister, announced he
would take over negotiating a ceasefire.

TALAL ERSLAN (translated): All weapons, weapon storage facilities and security checkpoints, are to
be handed over to the Lebanese army. That is the agreement, and it is on the basis of this
agreement, that I have agreed to mediate in this matter.

LINDY KERIN: Fighting between the Hezbollah movement and pro-government forces erupted in Beirut
last week after the Government moved to shut down Hezbollah's communication network.

The Prime Minister has since backed down from that decision, and the Cabinet is likely to revoke it

But the fighting continues. And it's emerged today that a Melbourne man has been killed in the

The Australian Lebanese Youth Association says 41-year-old Fadi Sheikh was killed over the weekend
in clashes in the country's north.

The association's Antoun Issa says Mr Sheikh's family have been notified.

ANTOUN ISSA: Obviously, very distraught he's left behind here a wife and five very young children.
And so, bit of a shock, he was only in Lebanon for a few weeks visiting parents and relatives and
obviously was in the wrong place in the wrong time.

LINDY KERIN: The Arab League has called for an immediate ceasefire. It's held an emergency session
in Cairo and has announced it will to send a high profile delegation to Beirut to help bring an end
to the crisis.

But analysts are doubtful the Arab mission can help solve the conflict in a country they see as a
battleground for a confrontation between the United States and its Arab allies.

Rhami Kouri is the editor at large for the Beirut Star newspaper. He spoke to Radio National this

RHAMI KOURI: There has essentially been a political process now that has started that will replace
the fighting on the ground. So, the military phase of this was very short, very limited, very
local, but also very intense, and the political message is more important than the military one,
which is that Hezbollah and his allies are actually stronger than the Government and its allies,
and therefore they have to come up with a new modus vivendi, a new political power-sharing system
that will now be negotiated.

LINDY KERIN: Rhami Kouri says the Government's position has weakened. He believes the army could
play a role in solving the political crisis.

RHAMI KOURI: I and many others in Lebanon are quite impressed by the way the army has maintained
its uniprality(phonetic) as well as played a role in preserving security and calm, wherever it
could and not allowing itself to be provoked into joining the fighting.

So the army has emerged as a very important new player in this political process and may provide
the mechanism around which everybody can rally to shift into the political negotiations that will
now be required to come up with a new power-sharing and consensus-based political government

ELEANOR HALL: That's the editor at large for the Beirut Star newspaper, Rhami Kouri, ending Lindy
Kerin's report.

British PM under fire within own party

British PM under fire within own party

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:38:00

Reporter: Stephanie Kennedy

ELEANOR HALL: The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is facing an unprecedented attack on his

He has been described by several Labour insiders as "annoying and prickly", and a man with "a
temper that can go off like a volcano". Mr Brown has also been labelled "unelectable" by those who
were once closest to him.

The unflattering descriptions come from a former deputy prime minister, a former Labour fundraiser,
and the wife of the former prime minister Tony Blair.

In London, Stephanie Kennedy reports.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: Ghosts from the political past are coming back to haunt Britain's Prime Minister
with a trio of memoirs released making grim reading for the embattled leader Gordon Brown.

John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, is the first member of Cabinet to lift the lid on
the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

He describes Mr Brown as "frustrating, annoying, bewildering and prickly," he says he often sulked
during meetings and he could "go off like a bloody volcano".

David Miliband, a Blairite is a contender for Gordon Brown's job, although he's so far rejected
moves to draft him.

DAVID MILIBAND: I work with Gordon Brown most days of the week. He's someone who is absolutely
passionate about the values that he believes in, he's clear about the goals that we're pursuing,
and yes, as he said last week, he does get into detail, but that's important. You need a prime
minister who's able to have command of the detail as well as the bigger picture.

And so I don't recognise portrait that John Prescott has set out and that's why I think the
Government has to get on with the job. Because what's faithful in politics, is if you forget what
you're actually meant to be doing, which is working on behalf of the people who elected you.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: Another character assassination comes from Cherie Blair. There was no love lost
between the former first lady and Gordon Brown. The two had a tense relationship that occasionally
spilled over into the public domain.

Her autobiography was due out in September but it's been rushed into print, some suggest to stir
the pot at a time when Gordon Brown is at his most vulnerable.

Cherie Blair accuses Mr Brown of "rattling the keys" of Downing Street over Mr Blair's head to try
to force him out.

And she says her husband is now advising the Prime Minister on how to win the next election,
leaving the impression Gordon Brown can't win without the help of his former leader.

In Lord Levy's memoirs, the former Labour Party fundraiser says that Mr Blair has told him Gordon
Brown can't beat the Tory's David Cameron at the next election.

BARON LEVY: He just felt that Cameron was able, at that moment, he felt able to beat, to beat
Gordon. And that Gordon yet, wasn't the rounded figure that was able to win an election.

STEPHANIE KENNEDY: And that's a view that many in the Labour Party hold.

There was more bad news for Gordon Brown as he tries to turn around his flagging prime
ministership. A new opinion poll suggests his personal rating, which is already at record lows,
continues to slide.

In London, this is Stephanie Kennedy reporting for The World Today.

ADF clears troops of mistreatment allegations

ADF clears troops of mistreatment allegations

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:42:00

Reporter: Samantha Hawley

ELEANOR HALL: The Australian Defence Force has ruled that there was no inappropriate behaviour by
Australian troops during a battle in Afghanistan last year, in which one Australian soldier was

The inquiry was hearing allegations that Australian soldiers killed two women and a baby and
mistreated others during a search and clearance operation in late November 2007.

However it has found that the soldiers did not breach any rules of engagement.

In Canberra, Samantha Hawley reports.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: On the night of the 23rd of November, 26-year-old Private Luke Worsley was killed
by a single gunshot wound to the head.

The Defence Inquiry has found his death occurred in straightforward circumstances of combat.

KEN GILLESPIE: Private Worsley's actions in identifying a significant threat, informing his
teammates and engaging in the threat are assessed as playing a major role in preventing further
Australian casualties during the incident.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: It was a dire day for the Defence Force and a bloody battle after which
Australians soldier were accused of killing two women and a baby.

Vice-Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie says an inquiry into the serious
allegations of mistreatment has cleared the Australian soldiers involved of any wrong doing.

KEN GILLESPIE: Three civilians, two females and an infant child, were killed during the operation.
It has since been revealed that one of the deceased females were positively identified firing an
AK-47 assault rifle at our forces during the engagement and was therefore re-categorised as an
enemy combatant.

Defence public released this fact on the 7th of November during a follow up media inquiry into
Private Worsley's death.

It's also been determined that the deceased child was in one of the rooms from which two male and
one female combatant were engaging Australian forces with AK-47 fire. That said, the death of
civilians and non-combatants during any conflict is highly regrettable.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Lieutenant General Gillespie says more and more allegations are being made against
Australian troops in Afghanistan.

KEN GILLESPIE: We see a growing trend of Taliban activity here of whenever detainees are taken to
make allegations that they have mistreated. The net affect of that is that all law abiding nations
and particularly the ISF (International Stabilisation Force) countries that you see over there,
always take that seriously and always go into an investigation.

And so in some regards, by making these allegations, they're causing us considerable administrative
burden. In our case, it's worth going through that burden because our reputation is hard fought.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Separate inquiries were also conducted into the deaths of Trooper David Pearce and
Sergeant Matthew Locke who were both killed in October last year.

KEN GILLESPIE: Trooper Pearce was killed on the 8th of October 2007 when the Australian light
armoured vehicle, or ASLAV he was driving, struck an improvised explosive device which was placed
by Taliban extremists.

But the investigating officer found that Trooper Pearce was suitably trained, prepared, and
equipped to operate his ASLAV in a high threat environment.

Sergeant Locke was killed on the 25th of October 2007 by a single gunshot wound during a combat
engagement with a prepared enemy. Sergeant Locke's combat awareness, leadership and battle-cunning
are assessed as playing a major role in preventing further casualties on the day of the incident.

SAMANTHA HAWLEY: An inquiry into the death of Lance Corporal Jason Marks, who was killed in
Afghanistan last month, is still underway.

ELEANOR HALL: Samantha Hawley reporting.

Aust researchers discover epilespy mutant gene

Aust researchers discover epilespy mutant gene

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:48:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

ELEANOR HALL: Researchers in Adelaide have discovered the mutant gene responsible for epilepsy in

It's a groundbreaking discovery and the team from the University of Adelaide and the Adelaide
Women's and Children's Hospital has had its findings published today in the journal, Nature

One of the lead researchers, Dr Leanne Dibbens, has been speaking to Nance Haxton.

LEANNE DIBBENS: We came across a number of families in which only the females in the family
suffered from epilepsy and intellectual disability, and it showed a very unusual inheritance
pattern in these families, and that led us to look at what the genetic defect in these families

NANCE HAXTON: And what did you find?

LEANNE DIBBENS: We found that these families carry different mutations in the one gene,
protocadherin 19, and that when females who carry one good copy and one bad copy of the gene, they
are actually affected, whereas males, even when they carry only a bad copy of the gene, they are
not affected.

NANCE HAXTON: Is the research now looking at why men don't seem to be affected by this condition,
even though they carry the gene that's responsible?

LEANNE DIBBENS: Exactly. We're looking at why males aren't affected with this condition, and we
have a lead in that we know that there's a related gene on the Y chromosome, and only males carry a
Y chromosome, and so we think that this gene is perhaps protecting or rescuing the males in these
families from this condition.

NANCE HAXTON: What sort of ramifications would that have once you actually confirm those reasons?
Could it be a possible treatment or a prevention for this disorder, and also for epilepsy in a
wider range of people?

LEANNE DIBBENS: The most immediate ramification is that we can now offer genetic counselling to
these families that suffer ESMR and people can choose to have pre-natal testing if that's what they
desire and make decisions on whether they have daughters with this condition.

And the wider implications are that we now know that this gene family is involved in epilepsy and
intellectual disability, and so we'll be looking to see whether this gene or other related genes
also play a role in these more common disorders.

NANCE HAXTON: So it's really opened up a whole new realm of research into other related disorders,
even such as autism or obsessive disorders as well?

LEANNE DIBBENS: That's right. We'll now be looking at larger groups of patients with epilepsy,
intellectual disability, and a number of the females affected in these families have autistic
features and obsessive features, and so we'll also be looking at patient cohorts with those

NANCE HAXTON: The cause of many of these disorders has ultimately been a mystery for a while hasn't

LEANNE DIBBENS: That's right. Very little is known about the genetic causes of epilepsy, even the
common epilepsies, intellectual disability. We have come a way in understanding causes of that, but
in particular, autism and obsessive traits really, very little is known about the genetic causes of
those disorders.

NANCE HAXTON: And particularly given that there's a rise in the occurrence of these conditions,
that this has certainly come at a very pivotal or interesting time?

LEANNE DIBBENS: That's right. It gives us a chance now to dive in and look at the roles of the
types of genes and what roles are playing in the brain and what happens when these processes go
wrong, and why it leads to autism and obsessive traits.

NANCE HAXTON: So it could lead to a treatment and a prevention, or would it be really concentrating
on one of those two options?

LEANNE DIBBENS: It's always difficult to predict where the research will go and what it would lead
to, but we hope that it will enable more genetic counselling and possibly treatments and ultimately
prevention. But that's a few years off yet.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Leanne Dibbens speaking to Nance Haxton in Adelaide.

Swimmers' attitudes concern Qld lifesavers

Swimmers' attitudes concern Qld lifesavers

The World Today - Monday, 12 May , 2008 13:54:00

Reporter: Annie Guest

ELEANOR HALL: In Queensland this month, 8,000 volunteer lifeguards will take off their red and
yellow caps after a season of unusually treacherous weather.

But while the dangerous surf has claimed several lives, it is the attitude of swimmers that has the
Gold and Sunshine Coast lifeguards most concerned, as Annie Guest reports from Mooloolaba.

(Sounds of surf)

ANNIE GUEST: Here at Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, this month many of the state's 8,000
volunteer lifeguards will knock off for the winter.

It has been a big season, with a lot of wild weather and treacherous surf.

But here lifesavers face an additional challenge, linked to the high migration to the coast and its
increasing popularity with tourists.

(Sound of lifesavers doing call check)

ANNIE GUEST: The problem is that as the beach gets more crowded, people are moving further from the

They want to lay their towel and pitch their umbrella on their own patch of beach.

AARON PURCHASE: Probably just seeking their own comfort and space and not being aware of the
hazards that are around.

ANNIE GUEST: Aaron Purchase is with Surf Lifesaving Queensland.

AARON PURCHASE: With a lot of new people coming to the beach they're probably not as adept in
identifying hazards in the water as more seasoned beach-goers are, which is probably more of an
inexperience thing rather than being negligent of their own safety.

ANNIE GUEST: Aaron Purchase says while many beach-goers behave safely, there has been a survey
showing that disregard for swimming between the flags is on the rise.

He says there are some who continue not to hear safety messages.

AARON PURCHASE: Men are a higher risk than women.

ANNIE GUEST: Why's that?

AARON PURCHASE: Probably that men have more of a gung-ho attitude than women and feel a bit
invincible. Eighteen to 24 years age group have proven to be our highest risk, with the majority of
drownings occurring in that age group.

ANNIE GUEST: But while it was a particularly bad season for beach weather in south-east Queenland
this year, it didn't equate to more drownings.

Surf Lifesaving Queensland's services manager is George Hill.

GEORGE HILL: It's been a really unusual season because the current statistics say our drownings are
at the same level as last year which is eight coastal drownings in Queensland. We've experienced
some very adverse surf conditions.

ANNIE GUEST: He says lifeguards are performing more warnings and patrols to prevent problems. In
fact, they're doing about twice as many such tasks as they were eight years ago.

On the Gold Coast, lifesavers will perhaps give extra thought to one particular death this year
that they couldn't prevent.

George Hill says a 28-year-old chef mixed a lethal combination of alcohol, surf and darkness.

GEORGE HILL: Sadly the gentleman was in a nightclub at Surfers Paradise and left the nightclub and
decided to go for a swim in the early morning, and look that just doesn't mix.

ANNIE GUEST: So, what, if anything, can be done to stop such deaths?

GEORGE HILL: I know one thing that won't be happening and we won't be seeing surf lifesavers on the
beaches at night, that's just putting other people at risk.

ANNIE GUEST: Queensland's volunteer lifeguards will go back to their day jobs, reclaim weekends off
and perhaps don a wetsuit to surf through the winter months.

(Excerpt from song "Boys of Summer")

SINGER: After the boys of summer have gone...

(End of excerpt)

ELEANOR HALL: That report from Annie Guest on the Sunshine Coast.