Ukraine’s new president has told his Russian counterpart the reported crossing of three tanks into his country’s separatist east was “unacceptable”, as the pair held what Kiev called “substantive and extended” telephone talks.

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President Petro Poroshenko also discussed his plans to defuse the crisis in the east of the country as he held what are thought to be his first telephone talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin since he was sworn in at the weekend.

“Poroshenko called the situation unacceptable,” the president’s spokesman said on his Facebook page on Thursday, referring to reports that three Soviet-era tanks had moved into Ukrainian territory from Russia.

Moscow has denied the allegation, earlier raised by Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who stopped short of accusing Russia of being behind the reported incursion.

Russia for its part accused Poroshenko of failing to follow through on his presidential election promise to end the violence, and demanded an investigation into claims that his forces had used banned firebombs against civilians.

Putin and Poroshenko shook hands on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in France on June 6, but relations between their two countries remain tense.

On Wednesday, the two sides failed to calm a furious row over gas prices that could see Ukraine and parts of Europe cut off from Russian supplies next week.

And on Thursday, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, promised to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding an immediate end to Ukraine’s military campaign in the east and fulfilment of a settlement “road map” approved by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Poroshenko faces a vast challenge as he tries to use the momentum of his convincing May 25 election victory to overcome Ukraine’s gravest crisis since its independence from Moscow in 1991.

The 48-year-old chocolate baron is trying to keep the future of his splintered and nearly bankrupt country tied to Europe while at the same time not provoking the Kremlin – already in control of the Crimean peninsula – into any more aggressive moves.

Poroshenko made a surprise promise on Sunday to end by the weekend two months of fighting that has now claimed 270 lives and threatened his country’s very survival by the end of the week.

His aides and a top Kremlin envoy have since had daily consultations in Kiev that on Thursday produced what Ukraine said was an initial “peace plan” now requiring Putin’s formal support.

The Ukrainian leader’s office said he laid out the details of that proposal to Putin and later also consulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone.

The Kremlin’s brief account of the talks provided no clue into what Putin may have said in response.

“Ukraine’s president notified Vladimir Putin of his plan to settle the situation in Ukraine’s southeast,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

There was, however, little sign of the violence abating.

A minibus belonging to rebel leader Denis Pushilin in the separatist eastern city of Donetsk was blown up killing two of his entourage and wounding two other people, the government of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” said. Pushilin was not in the vehicle.

Poroshenko has hinted that he is ready to meet separatist leaders who have laid down their arms.

But the militants have shown no sign of abandoning their drive to have the economically vital industrial belt – home to nearly seven million mostly Russian speakers – come under Kremlin control.

And Russia indicated that its patience with Poroshenko’s promises was wearing thin.

“The lack of any progress whatsoever in efforts to stop the violence and halt military operations … is causing increasing concern,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

He pointed to Russian media claims of Ukrainian forces using incendiary bombs – designed to set off fires and used widely during the Vietnam War before being banned by the United Nations – charges Ukraine’s military dismissed as “absurd”.


The race is on for West Coast’s captaincy and a battered Josh Kennedy will be given first crack at auditioning for the top job.

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Kennedy will skipper the side in Saturday’s AFL clash with Gold Coast at Patersons Stadium after Thursday’s announcement by Darren Glass of his immediate retirement.

Coach Adam Simpson will rotate the captaincy for the rest of the year before deciding on a full-time replacement, with Kennedy, Scott Selwood, Matt Priddis, Shannon Hurn and Eric Mackenzie all in the mix.

“They’re all pretty close in terms of where they’re at in their careers and I think they’re all looking forward to the challenge of spreading the load,” Simpson said on Friday.

“The pressures of leading and performing are what we need to put our players through.

“So we’ll find out a bit about our leadership and how they handle tossing the coin and doing the pre-match talk and speaking in front of the media.

“It’s something some aren’t all that comfortable with, but they’ll learn and grow and we’ll find out more by the end of the year.”

Kennedy underwent surgery on a fractured cheekbone last week, but has been cleared to take on the Suns.

Glass hung up his boots after failing to overcome nagging hip and ankle injuries.

West Coast are keen to avoid a similar situation with champion ruckman Dean Cox, whose run of 104 consecutive games will end this week after being given a rest.

Cox is yet to decide whether to play on next year, but the Eagles are keen to manage his workloads better to get the best out of him.

“We just think he has been a little bit off with his performance and he looks physically tired,” Simpson said.

“But the week off may do him wonders.”

The Eagles dropped Sharrod Wellingham for the second time this year, Simpson not satisfied with the output of the former Collingwood midfielder.

“We have a few players at the moment who aren’t playing at their full capacity, so he is one of them,” Simpson said.

“The week before, he was poor and it has been a build-up over a few weeks.

“I am not writing him off; it is just a part of his learning.”

The Eagles (4-7) face an uphill battle to make the finals after losing seven of their past eight games.

Eighth-placed Gold Coast (7-4) are looking a tad shaky following two straight losses, but have been given a major boost with star midfielder Harley Bennell re-signing for a further three years.


The lure of future success has convinced Gold Coast Suns rising star Harley Bennell to re-sign with the AFL club for another three years.

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Bennell, 22, gave the Suns a shot in the arm ahead of Saturday’s Perth clash with West Coast by extending his contract until the end of 2017.

Bennell said he was so encouraged by the Suns’ progress this year that he did not think twice about putting pen to paper.

“We are a really tight group, we have been through the hard times together, our journey has been unique and we are as determined as ever to share that success that every player wants,” he said.

“We think we have made up significant ground over the last couple of years but we know that if we are to achieve the success that we all want in the future, that the hard work has only just begun.”

Bennell joins fellow West Australians David Swallow and Brandon Matera as well as Steven May, Sam Day, Kade Kolodjashnij and Sean Lemmens in re-signing with the club recently.

“We believe Harley has the ability to be one of the competition’s elite players and we take great confidence out of his commitment and belief in the club’s future direction,” Suns list and strategy manager Scott Clayton said.

Bennell has played 55 games for the Suns since making his debut as an 18-year-old in the club’s inaugural match against Carlton in 2011.

It is believed Bennell’s three year deal is worth more than $1.5 million.

The coup finally ends speculation the WA sensation may by lured home by West Coast or Fremantle.

It is understood Bennell travelled to Perth on Wednesday, a day earlier than the team, to ink the deal with his WA-based agent and tell his parents the news.


Nexus Energy’s administrators say they are urgently assessing the company’s finances but intend to ensure its oil and gas projects continue operating.

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The embattled company went into voluntary administration on Thursday when shareholders rejected billionaire Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group’s takeover bid.

Nearly 58 per cent of shareholders voted against Mr Stokes’ two cents per share cash offer, well above the 25 per cent need to scuttle the deal.

It was a mass snub from angry shareholders towards a board that had unanimously recommended the deal.

Nexus’ shares were 5.9 cents when the $26.6 million bid lobbed on March 31.

Shareholders have risked receiving nothing now that the company is in the hands of administrators, which puts creditors rather than shareholders front and centre, with Seven also Nexus’ biggest creditor.

The administrators, McGrathNicol, said its immediate priority was to take control of Nexus’ assets and urgently assess its financial position.

“The administrators will be working with all key stakeholders, including employees and regulatory agencies to ensure the trading operations continue,” said Tony McGrath, one of the firm’s three partners.

A company in administration has not collapsed or is not bankrupt, but is considered in financial difficulty and insolvent.

Nexus chief executive Lucio Della Martina told shareholders that $400 million was needed to get out of trouble and avoid administration, which included funding commitments to its Victorian and Western Australian gas assets and litigation.

Seven would have met those costs if the takeover had occurred but what happens now is unknown, as it tries to recover money lent to Nexus and acquire its assets.

Mr McGrath said administrators were working with Nexus and Seven to assess recapitalisation, restructuring and sale opportunities ahead of a creditors meeting on June 24.

Despite its position of strength as creditor, Seven still risks missing out on buying Nexus’s prized offshore Crux field in WA, because partners Shell and Osaka Gas have pre-emptive rights.

Seven, which wants to add a third energy sector arm to its media and industrial services businesses, released a statement on Friday, saying it was disappointed on behalf of shareholders who supported the acquisition.

The Nexus board released a joint statement saying “it was extremely disappointed that despite running a comprehensive process we were not able to secure a more favourable outcome for shareholders”.

Nexus shares have been suspended from trading at 1.3 cents, with the company’s market value shrinking to $17 million.

Nexus was worth more than $1 billion six years ago.


Fewer men join weight-loss programs than women but are more likely to stick with them, analysis of international obesity studies has found.

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The report found that middle-aged men are motivated to lose weight once they perceive they have a health problem they want to tackle.

They welcome the moral support of other men in weight-loss programs and also prefer the use of simple “business-like” language and humour used sensitively.

Researchers from the universities of Aberdeen, Bournemouth and Stirling analysed evidence from around the world involving more than 15,000 men gathered from weight loss trials and studies.

They have suggested that if weight-loss programs were specifically designed for men they might be more effective at helping them lose weight, which could reduce the risk of health problems like type 2 diabetes.

Chief investigator Professor Alison Avenell, a clinician from the Health Services Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Men are less likely to see their weight as a problem and engage with weight-loss services, even though obesity increases the risk of many serious illnesses such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.

“This could be because dieting and weight-loss programs are perceived as being feminine activities.

“We looked at the outcomes of many previous studies which included men, as well as interviews with men, in order to find out more about how to design services and inform health policy,” Prof Avenell said.

“While more research is needed into the effectiveness of new approaches to engage men with weight loss, our findings suggest that men should be offered the opportunity to attend weight-loss programs that are different to programs which are mainly attended by women.”

With seven in 10 men too fat, according to the 188-country report, the team investigated what would make services more appealing for men.

They found that obesity interventions in sports clubs, such as football clubs, have been very effective, with low dropout rates and very positive responses.

As well as considering health, men were motivated to lose weight to improve their personal appearance without looking too thin.

The researchers found that cutting calories together with exercise and following advice on changing behaviour are the best way for obese men to shed pounds.

The study also suggests that obese men who eat less lose more weight than those who take more exercise but do not eat less.

Dr Flora Douglas, from the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, said: “Men prefer more factual information on how to lose weight and more emphasis on physical activity in weight-loss programs.

“Group-based programs showed benefits by facilitating support for men with similar health problems and some individual tailoring of advice helped men.

“Programs which were situated in a sporting venue, where participants had a strong sense of affiliation, showed low drop-out rates and high satisfaction.”

Australia and New Zealand are ranked the 30th and 23rd most overweight countries in the world, not far behind the US, which is ranked 20th.


Patty Mills and Aron Baynes are just one win away from an NBA Championship.

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The Australian duo’s San Antonio Spurs crushed the Miami Heat for the second consecutive game, giving the Spurs a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven finals series.

San Antonio, helped by 14 points from Mills including four three-pointers, won Thursday’s game four in Miami 107-86.

They can secure the championship Sunday on their home court, although last year’s finals collapse where they led 3-2 before falling to the Heat is fresh in their minds.

“The Heat are a great team and aren’t going to back down,” Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who led with 20 points and 14 rebounds, said.

“We just have to stick with it.”

Even after one of Mills’ rare misses, Leonard flew to the basket, grabbed the ball and performed a spectacular dunk.

The Spurs have shot phenomenally the last two games.

In game three on Sunday they hit a record 76 per cent from the floor in the first half before racing away to a 111-92 win and the Spurs continued that form on Thursday.

Canberra-born point guard Mills sank five of his eight shots, including four from six three-pointers, for his 14 points from 16 minutes on the floor.

Starting point guard Tony Parker had 19 points while Tim Duncan had just 10 points, but dominated the boards alongside Leonard with 11.

“If you shoot 54 per cent, you’re in pretty good shape,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said of team’s hot shooting performance.

The Heat were expecting the Spurs to cool off on Thursday, but with San Antonio building up a big early lead the Miami crowd showered their team with boos.

Miami’s LeBron James had 28 points and eight rebounds, but Dwyane Wade, with 10 points, and Chris Bosh, 12 points and four rebounds, did not provide the support needed.

“They played great,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Spurs.

“I can honestly say none of us expected this type of performance.

“We just couldn’t get into a rhythm on any side of the ball.”

If the Spurs do extinguish the Heat, it would be the club’s fifth championship, but the first for Mills and Baynes.

Baynes had two points and one rebound.


Clive Palmer is suing Queensland’s deputy premier for defamation, only a month after he did the same thing to Premier Campbell Newman.

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But the mining magnate-turned-federal MP, who once listed litigation as a hobby in his Who’s Who entry, says the action is about personal integrity and denies he is a serial litigant.

Mr Palmer is launching defamation proceedings against Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, a week after the senior Liberal National Party minister told ABC TV that Mr Palmer had sought special treatment for Waratah Coal in early 2012.

Mr Seeney alleged Mr Palmer handed him a draft bill that would have benefited his Galilee Basin coal interests, and vowed to report it to the state’s anti-corruption body.

For that, Mr Palmer, a former LNP life member, is launching defamation proceedings in the Supreme Court on Monday, arguing the Crime and Misconduct Commission is too compromised to examine the issue.

“He’s questioned my integrity as a person,” Mr Palmer told reporters on Friday.

“If people want to say that I’ve done something which I haven’t and question my integrity, we need to have a fair hearing on those matters and if they’re lying the public needs to know about that.”

Mr Palmer denied litigation had become his hobby.

“We only litigate when there’s a good reason to do it,” he said.

The latest action comes a month after Mr Palmer sued Mr Newman for saying the mining magnate had tried to “buy” his government.

Mr Palmer has said his proposal would not have favoured Waratah Coal and would have ensured open access to infrastructure for every company operating in the basin in western Queensland.

In March 2013, the government announced Indian mining giant GVK and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal would work with freight rail company Aurizon to build rail infrastructure from the basin to the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen.

Mr Palmer on Friday produced four letters to him, from Mr Newman and Mr Seeney in 2012, showing they were pleased with Waratah Coal’s proposals to build the rail line.

“I congratulate you for your efforts to date, which are contributing to the long-held vision of the Galilee Basin becoming a major new resource region,” Mr Seeney said in April 2012, a month after the LNP won power.

Waratah went to the Supreme Court to challenge the government’s rejection of its rail proposal in October 2013.

“Today’s claims are what we’ve come to expect from Mr Palmer,” Mr Seeney said in a statement to AAP.

Earlier, Mr Palmer said the deputy premier had lied on television.

“We’re still waiting for the analysis to come back from our lie detector of his voice,” Mr Palmer said.


US President Barack Obama says he’s a “good, fun dad” who at times might cause his two teenage daughters to cringe.

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In an interview aired on Thursday, America’s first father also joked that he sought a second term so the Secret Service could keep a close eye on 13-year-old Sasha and 15-year-old Malia.

“I think they would say that I am a good, fun dad who teeters on the edge of being embarrassing sometimes,” Obama told NBC’s Today show when asked how his girls would describe him.

Obama commented ahead of Father’s Day on Sunday in the United States, in an exclusive with Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of Obama’s Republican predecessor in the White House, George W. Bush, who also grew up in the glare of the public eye.

Obama said he and First Lady Michelle are “really proud” of their daughters, adding they don’t have to check on their homework or “nag them too much about stuff”.

“They’ve got their acts together,” he said.

As for their budding social lives? The president says he doesn’t worry too much about that.

“They’ve got their heads on straight. They’re strong, confident young ladies.”

Still, the Secret Service detail shadowing the two sisters likely means a better night’s sleep for the commander-in-chief.

“Well as you know, from experience, shaped under this a little bit, they do have a secret service detail,” he told Bush Hager.

“Which I joke, the main reason I ran for re-election was to sustain that all the way through their high school years.”

In other comments, Obama, who grew up without a father, said he promised himself early on he would be a present dad once he had a family of his own and is known for regularly having dinner with his family and attending school sports games.

“The one thing the girls know about me is I love them to death,” he said.


The federal Government’s Green Paper on Developing Northern Australia, released this week, is a mixture of grandiose plans for a new foodbowl unsupported by scientific evidence, some useful policy drivers for building a more resilient economy in the north, and some glaring blind spots.

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Usefully, the green paper acknowledges up front that northern Australia’s unique environmental assets are found no-where else on earth and support a multi-billion dollar tourism industry. In fact recent Tourism Australia research on international visitors reinforces this point finding that Australia is ranked the world’s number one destination for world class beauty and natural environment. So what are we talking about?

“The big blind spot in the Green Paper is a lack of attention to valuing and investing in environmental services and building an economy up north that keeps these stunning landscapes and rivers in good health.”

Stretching over 2,500 kilometres from the Kimberley in the west, through Kakadu in the Northern Territory and the Gulf of Carpentaria, to Cape York Peninsula in the east, northern Australia is home to some of the most ecologically intact natural landscapes left on the planet fringed by World Heritage listed reefs. These landscapes form a sweep of forests, savannah woodlands and spinifex clad ranges, threaded by a mosaic of wetlands with meandering pristine rivers. They are world renowned for their natural and cultural values and support thousands of livelihoods in land and sea management, particularly in rural and remote Indigenous communities.

The big blind spot in the Green Paper is a lack of attention to valuing and investing in environmental services and building an economy up north that keeps these stunning landscapes and rivers in good health. These regions are worth our strongest efforts to protect and conserve it in line with the aspirations of Indigenous peoples who have been its custodians for tens of thousands of years.

Another blind spot is the focus on expanding fossil fuel energy development, mainly coal and gas, while playing lip service to a resource that the north has in abundance – sunshine! Australia could become a world leader in the deployment of renewable energy to power rural and remote communities, increasing their self reliance.

With an even bigger vision we could also export electricity generated by solar energy into Asia as researchers Andrew Campbell, Andrew Blakers and Stuart Blanch havedemonstrated in their proposal for an electricity interconnector from northern Australia to Indonesia using the same technology as currently deployed under Bass Strait.

The grandiose plans that linger on the Green Paper around the notion of new food bowl carry the huge risk of repeating the mistakes in the south, particularly in the case of the Murray Darling Basin, which is now costing taxpayers $13 billion to fix over the next decade. The 2009 Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce report, based on extensive CSIRO water and soil science found that “contrary to popular belief, water resources in the north are neither unlimited, nor wasted. Equally, the potential for northern Australia to become a ‘food bowl’ is not supported by evidence.”

This report spells out the reasons as to why big irrigated agriculture is not viable in the north – a long dry season, poor soils, massive evaporation rates, flat topography near the coast and long distances to markets. We don’t need another study to tell us what we already know about large scale irrigated agriculture, but we do need investment in more water science and better water management in the north.

“Any vision for a better future for northern Australia needs to be founded on the principle that Indigenous communities have a key role to play and need to be in control.”

Northern Australia’s fishing industries should be nervous about the implications of moves toward development of river systems which disrupt the seasonal flows – the life blood of our northern landscapes – as the long term downstream ecological impacts could be devastating. There is opportunity for the limited expansion of high value agriculture in the north where soils and reliable groundwater allow, along with better access to markets, but this needs to be guided by strong investment in water science and the economics of markets and supply chains.

The Green Paper usefully downplays expensive notions of special economic zones and instead identifies opportunities to expand the knowledge economy in education, training and tropical medicine. There is scope to increase flexibility of land tenure and improve consistency, particularly for Indigenous communities. And there is a lot that can be done to improve coordination and governance across the north. If the Green Paper process helps to deliver better infrastructure and improved land use planning these will be worthwhile outcomes.

Any vision for a better future for northern Australia needs to be founded on the principle that Indigenous communities have a key role to play and need to be in control. In the last ten years there has been a massive change in land tenure and land management in the north on the back of Native Title determinations and the declaration of huge new Indigenous Protected Area’s (IPA’s) managed by a new generation of Indigenous rangers. This is where a big opportunity lies – bringing the aspirations of Indigenous communities and others together.

Last month over 90 people gathered in Darwin from different sectors across the north – Indigenous organisations, tourism operators, farmers, ecologists, land managers, miners and regional development planners. We discovered we had a lot in common in terms of long term vision for the future of northern Australia.

A guest of the roundtable was Harvey Locke, a recognised leader in the field of large scale conservation from Canada. Locke explained that a key part of real progress in conservation and compatible development is to bring multiple stake holders together to focus on shared vision and values. The “we not me” approach.

Having just been in Kakadu he observed that “this part of the world is exceptional by any measure. We know that efforts to do large scale conservation require multi stakeholder engagement involving people from a wide range of points of view and perspectives from Indigenous people through to cattle ranchers, through to people with industrial interests, through to conservationists”.

The test of the Green Paper process, and of the federal government, is whether or not it is willing to listen a range of different stakeholders to address the blind spots, dismiss the grandiose and destructive development ideas, and focus on advancing the policy drivers and the need to keep the country healthy, which underpin a shared vision for the future of the north.

Graham Tupper is Northern Australia Project Manager for the Australian Conservation Foundation

 

 

 


NASA is preparing a July 1 launch for its first satellite dedicated to measuring atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that plays a key role in climate change.

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CO2 levels have reached their highest point in at least 800,000 years, according to the US space agency.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite is very similar to its predecessor, OCO-1, which was destroyed during its launch in February 2009.

The satellite will help provide a more complete and global picture of man-made and naturally occurring CO2 emissions as well as the effects of carbon “sinks,” like oceans and forests, which absorb and trap the gas.

“Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere plays a critical role in our planet’s energy balance and is a key factor in understanding how our climate is changing,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.

“With the OCO-2 mission, NASA will be contributing an important new source of global observations to the scientific challenge of better understanding our Earth and its future,” he added in a statement.

The OCO-2 satellite will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, aiming for an orbit at 438 miles (705 kilometres) above the Earth’s surface.

NASA envisions it becoming the lead satellite for a six-strong fleet that will circle the Earth every 99 minutes, allowing nearly simultaneous observations across the globe.

OCO-2, designed to operate for at least two years, will take measurements of carbon emissions and carbon sinks around the world to help scientists analyse how they change over time.

In April, monthly concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed 400 particles per million in the northern hemisphere, which NASA said was the highest level in at least the past 800,000 years.

Human activities – including the burning of fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal – are blamed for emitting nearly 40 billion tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere each year, leading to an unprecedented accumulation of the greenhouse gas.

Climate scientists have concluded that the increase of CO2 emissions from human activities, especially from fossil fuels and deforestation, have upset the planet’s natural carbon cycle, prompting rising temperatures and planet-wide climate change.

Currently, less than half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, scientists say.

Measurements of CO2 levels taken by the new satellite will be combined with data obtained by land-based observatories, aeroplanes and other satellites.