Coalition stumbles on high moral ground

Australian politics: full coverageThe Pulse Live with Judith IrelandG4S guards linked to Manus violence

Stephen Conroy over-reached when he accused Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell of a ”political cover-up” during his ill-judged intervention at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that should have been focused on what led to the chaos and carnage on Manus Island last week.

But the Abbott government’s over-reaction on Wednesday exposed the hypocrisy of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, and may have provided a turning point for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

When Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie moved a motion admonishing Conroy, the government saw its chance to claim the moral high ground in the asylum seeker debate. It seized it, having already devoted three Dorothy Dixers to attacking Conroy.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop seconded the motion, accusing Shorten of ”unleashing the bovver boy”, and thus being complicit in his ”outrageous, appalling, despicable conduct”. Labor, she said, was so disorganised ”they cannot even find a line to run in question time”.

But Shorten, who has been struggling to cut through, delivered one in a speech that might prove the making of him. Conroy had withdrawn his remark, Shorten said, but his concern was valid: the government was using General Campbell ”to pursue your grubby culture of secrecy”.

”We in this Parliament, and the Australians that put us here, deserve a bit better than the kindergarten, flag waving, faux patriotism which you guys want to wrap yourselves around!” he said.

It was left to Morrison to respond, and pose the rhetorical question: ”Why didn’t the previous government ask for someone like General Campbell to go and fix their mess?” What he forgot was that the previous government did ask someone like General Campbell to do precisely that.

The former head of defence, Angus Houston, was a member of the panel appointed by Julia Gillard to propose how to stop the boats – and attempts to implement the panel’s recommendations were frustrated from the start by Morrison and the Coalition.

It was left to the Greens’ Adam Bandt to lament what the debate lacked. So much was said in defence of a man more than capable of defending himself, he observed, yet so little was known about the dead asylum seeker, Reza Barati.

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Murder accused Paul Mulvihill says stabbing of Rachelle Yeo an accident

Re-enactment: Murder accused Paul Mulvihill. Photo: Edwina PicklesPaul Darren Mulvihill stood before the jury in a smart grey suit and a bright pink tie and used a wooden ruler to demonstrate on his solicitor how his ex-lover came to be accidentally stabbed in the side with a stainless-steel kitchen knife. The former rugby player told the Supreme Court he grabbed hold of Rachelle Yeo’s right hand, which held the knife, and that during a brief struggle she fell backwards and pulled him down on top of her.

He said that as they hit the floor the knife went into her right side.

”I could feel it hit something hard,” he said.

”When I looked at the knife again it had blood on it.”

It was an important moment in the trial of Mr Mulvihill, who is charged with Ms Yeo’s murder.

The 46-year-old told the NSW Supreme Court that he and Ms Yeo, 31, began struggling when she came at him with the knife after an argument at her northern beaches home on July 16, 2012.

Mr Mulvihill said that during this argument, Ms Yeo, his former work colleague and lover, had slapped him hard in the face. He had responded by pushing her hard into the unit’s kitchen.

”As I pushed her she turned,” he said. ”I couldn’t see what her hand was doing … but when she turned around she confronted me with a very large stainless-steel knife. She said, ‘Get the f— out of here’.

”She lashed out at me, towards my right chest area [with the

knife]. I brought my right hand up to defend myself and the knife cut me at the bottom of my palm.

”When she slashed me I thought, ‘I’m in massive trouble here’.”

He said that after the initial stabbing there was another struggle during which he punched Ms Yeo in the face and managed to wrest the knife from her grasp.

Mr Mulvihill said he put the weapon down nearby, got up and started to move away when he saw that Ms Yeo was reaching for it once more.

He said that during the ensuing struggle he managed to get on top of the bleeding woman, telling her repeatedly, ”let it go, let it go”.

It was as he was trying to stand that the second stab wound, this time to Ms Yeo’s neck, occurred, Mr Mulvihill said.

”I was pushing down on her to use her as leverage to get up and the knife is [horizontal] between us,” he said.

”Then suddenly the pressure was gone … she turned her head to the right and the knife went into her neck.

”The blood was pouring out … I looked at her and I knew that it was bad. I’ve grabbed her right hand and said, ‘f—, put your hand on it, put your hand on it’.

”I would never ever dream of hurting anyone … I just panicked. I knew I shouldn’t be there … I saw the balcony and I just walked over, put my hand on the rail and swung myself over.”

During cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Maria Cinque put it to Mr Mulvihill that he had lain in wait for Ms Yeo that night to ”effect the final closure”.

He denied this.

Tony Abbott’s plan to unshackle Qantas may send jobs overseas


LIVE BLOG: 5000 jobs cut from Qantas

The Qantas announcement

Federal government plans to unshackle Qantas from foreign ownership restrictions could clear the way for it to shift jobs overseas and outsource maintenance.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott signalled his determination to remove the government-imposed ”ball and chain” from Qantas, analysts from brokerage firm CLSA said the main benefit to the airline in altering the Qantas Sale Act was that it would allow it to slash costs by sending more work overseas.

Qantas will unveil on Thursday its biggest loss since it was privatised almost two decades ago. In an attempt to slash $2 billion in costs over the next three years, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce will detail measures expected to include the axing of as many as 5000 jobs from its 33,000-strong workforce.

Coalition sources said on Wednesday night the government would not immediately unveil assistance measures in response to Qantas. They said a debt guarantee, which will allow the airline access to cheaper finance, was still the most likely short-term measure.

The Abbott government will struggle to steer change to the Sale Act through either the current senate dominated by Labor and the Greens, or the next one which will sit from July 1. Mr Abbott brushed aside suggestions of a ”secret deal” between the government and Qantas that could see a guarantee in exchange for assurances about maintenance workers’ jobs remaining in Australia.

”We want to ensure that Qantas management, as far as is humanly possible, doesn’t have any government-imposed ball and chain around their ankles and that’s the problem with the Sale Act,” he said. ”It is a significant restriction on Qantas’ freedom of manoeuvre and that’s why the government is considering legislation to establish a level playing field in this area.”

Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese called on Mr Abbott and Transport Minister Warren Truss to clarify what help would be given to the airline and to protections for Australian jobs.

Mr Albanese said Labor supported maintaining the provisions of the Sale Act because it ensured maintenance and other jobs stayed in Australia and ensured regional areas were serviced by the national carrier. ”It’s about time that Tony Abbott and Warren Truss said what their plan is for Qantas instead of sitting back while threats are being made to the job security of these people who work at Qantas,” he said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott

CLSA analysts said they were sympathetic to the airline about the foreign ownership restrictions imposed on it.

”[But] government help would be palliative not panacea and clearly needs improvements driven by Qantas itself,” they said.

Regional Express, Australia’s largest independent regional airline, launched a scathing attack on Qantas’ attempts to have the Abbott government guarantee its debt. ”There is a lot of things Qantas could do for itself to solve some of its problems, rather than just going to the government and saying please guarantee our debt,” its deputy chairman John Sharp said.

No computers, thanks, this is architecture: Glenn Murcutt’s top of the class

Dream team: Architects Ken Maher, Richard Johnson and Glenn Murcutt. Photo: Anthony Johnson If nothing else, Glenn Murcutt wants his architecture students to have passion. ”You can’t teach passion – you draw it out, [but] they have to get that fire in the belly,” Mr Murcutt said.

And he is a tough master. Mr Murcutt, known as one of Australia’s finest architects, bans the use of computers in his studio class and insists his undergraduate students hand-draw their designs.

His students are allowed near a screen only at the end of the semester. ”I say to my students that every compromise they make represents the quality of their next client,” Mr Murcutt said.

”Students in my studio cannot use the computer for the thinking process. Drawing is a critical aspect of thinking.”

For the first time this year, Mr Murcutt’s architecture students at the University of NSW also have the opportunity to be taught by two more of the country’s most respected and accomplished architects.

Richard Johnson has designed some of Australia’s standout public buildings, such as the Museum of Sydney and the Natural Portrait Gallery, while Ken Maher’s high-profile projects include the restoration of Luna Park, the Olympic Park Railway Station at Homebush and the National Institute of Dramatic Arts at Kensington.

Mr Johnson and Mr Maher will teach a component of the masters program, which all architecture students must do. Mr Murcutt chose to teach third-year students because they ”know a little about architecture but not too much”, while Mr Johnson said teaching made good architects better.

”We all have time pressures but we teach because it is important, [and] we teach because we really enjoy it,” Mr Johnson said.

Yvonne Chan, a masters student, said she chose to study at the university purely because she had the opportunity to be taught by Mr Murcutt, while another student, Jessica Gottlieb, changed degrees to be in his studio class.

”He is just amazing and it is just a huge value to be taught by people of his calibre,” Ms Gottlieb said.

”I started doing interior architecture but when I found out that Glenn was doing a studio, I changed [degrees].”

Markets pencil in a Qantas deal on line of credit from the government

While the airline industry and politicians debate whether Qantas should get a helping hand from the government, financial markets are already treating it as a done deal.

Credit traders expect news that Qantas has secured a line of credit from the government when it announces its half-year results on Thursday.

The cost of insuring against a Qantas default within five years fell sharply on Wednesday morning on increased speculation that the airline, which lost its investment grade credit rating late last year, will secure a government guarantee.

The airline is expected to announce a range of measures to support its debt position as it releases its first-half earnings – such as job cuts, and terminal sales and lease backs. Qantas is also considering a float of its Frequent Flyer business.

Qantas’ credit default swap contracts are among the most actively traded in the Australian credit markets as they offer one of the few ways to get exposure to the airline industry.

On Wednesday, credit traders said the cost of insuring Qantas five-year debt contracts was quoted at 228 to 238 basis points, that is lower from Tuesday’s closing level of 256 basis points – a near 8 per cent fall, indicating a lower perceived risk in lending to the airline.

The change means the cost of insuring against a default of $10,000 of Qantas debt has fallen from $256 to about $235.

Last year, Qantas five-year spreads had traded at 200 basis points. But as the airline revealed it would post a first-half loss of $300 million, that spread surged to 270.

Despite reports the government would reluctantly support the airline through a debt guarantee, markets failed to respond as credit spreads traded in a range between 256 and 276 basis points.

But headlines that a debt guarantee was likely led to the sharp fall in debt spread on Wednesday morning.

Qantas Australian dollar bonds also performed strongly on Wednesday, with the spread on the airline’s $250 million 6.50 per cent bonds maturing in 2020 trading 15 basis points lower at 2.6 percentage points over the swap rate – or about 6.4 per cent.