Chris Hartcher chief of staff Andrew Humpherson heads to mining job

Just say no: MPs Chris Holstein, Darren Webber, Chris Spence and Chris Hartcher with then opposition leader Barry O’Farrell and Alan Hayes of Australian Coal Alliance protesting against the Wallarah 2 coal mine in 2009. Photo: SuppliedThe chief of staff to former resources minister Chris Hartcher, Andrew Humpherson, has begun ”consulting” to the mining industry two months after his boss resigned from cabinet following a raid by corruption authorities.
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Fairfax Media has confirmed Mr Humpherson has been working for the NSW Minerals Council.

On Wednesday a spokesman for the council said Mr Humpherson was working as a consultant ”on a short-term contract”.

Mr Humpherson has not registered as a lobbyist with the NSW Parliament, suggesting he is not presently seeking to lobby the NSW government directly.

But the move so soon after leaving Mr Hartcher’s office has highlighted Premier Barry O’Farrell’s lack of action on advice by the Independent Commission Against Corruption to tighten the rules for former political staff.

In a November 2010 report on corruption risks associated with lobbying, ICAC recommended former staff of ministers and parliamentary secretaries be banned for a year from lobbying activity ”relating to any matter that they had official dealings with in their last 12 months in office”.

In a report delivered last November following inquiries into former Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, ICAC urged the O’Farrell government to reconsider the recommendations.

At the time Mr O’Farrell said the government would ”consider what additional recommendations should be adopted”.

Mr Humpherson did not respond to a request for comment. His LinkedIn profile describes him as ”consulting to the resources industry” and working in the area of ”government relations”.

The move by Mr Humpherson comes after Stephen Galilee, the former chief of staff to NSW Treasurer Mike Baird, quit nine months after the March 2011 election to become chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council.

Mr Hartcher resigned from cabinet in December following a raid on his electorate office by ICAC. Last week ICAC named Mr Hartcher and MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber as part of a corruption inquiry due to start next month.

Promising interim reports and bank gains give market a push

A series of well-received half-year results and growing optimism that domestic business conditions are improving helped the sharemarket edge higher despite disappointing local construction data and looming concerns about volatility in China.
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The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index eked out a gain of 3.2 points, or less than 0.1 per cent, on Wednesday to 5437, while the broader All Ordinaries Index added three points to 5447. Rises in a number of major stocks in response to interim financial reports, coupled with gains in the big four banks, buoyed the market.

”Overall, reporting season has been better than expected and outlook statements [are] encouraging, leading many strategists to lift their target for where the market will end 2014,” Patersons Securities strategist Tony Farnham said.

WorleyParsons jumped 10.6 per cent to $17.13 after outlining a plan to restructure the company with 500 jobs to be cut. The struggling oil producer and engineering contractor reported a 27 per cent fall in interim profit.

Sydney Airport lifted 2.8 per cent to a four-month high of $4.05 after showing a 7.3 per cent rise in full-year profits and lifting its final dividend.

Travel broker Flight Centre rose 3.2 per cent to $51.39 after delivering a stronger than expected 13 per cent rise in interim profit but disappointed analysts by not lifting full-year guidance.

Fertility clinic operator Virtus Health was the worst-performing stock, losing 8.4 per cent to $7.74 despite beating its forecasts to show a 10.5 per cent rise in interim net profit.

Embattled uranium miner Paladin Energy was the best-performing stock in the ASX 200, climbing 21.4 per cent to 54¢. The biggest miners weighed on the bourse as the spot price for iron ore, landed in China, fell to its lowest price since July at $US119.10 ($132) a tonne.

Moves by the People’s Bank of China this week to depreciate the yuan have led to a fall in Chinese equities and softer commodity prices making investors cautious.

BHP Billiton fell 1.3 per cent to $38.58, while main rival Rio Tinto lost 2.4 per cent to $66.97.

The big four banks ended higher. Commonwealth Bank added 0.3 per cent to $75.49, while Westpac rose 0.4 per cent to $33.56. ANZ lifted 0.2 per cent to $32.08 and National Australia Bank gained 1 per cent to $34.87.

Leapai has two countries in his corner

Alex Leapai (L) trades blows with Russian Denis Boytsov during their November WBO Asia Pacific Heavyweight Championship fight in Germany. Photo: Martin RoseWorld heavyweight contender Alex Leapai returned to his native Samoa to be greeted by tribal chiefs excitedly shooting shotguns into the air to herald his arrival.
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His doubters would be quick to suggest he borrow one for his title fight against Wladimir Klitschko on April 27 in Germany, such is the task he faces in unseating a man who has crushed all in his path in a decade of ring domination.

Leapai may still have to convince the world he can not only compete against Klitschko but knock him out. But deep down, the unheralded 34-year-old from Logan has never been more assured of his destiny.

A trip to New Zealand for the Auckland Nines earned Leapai some new and financially powerful friends. Then a stop in his island home of Samoa convinced him he cannot be stopped when the bell sounds in Oberhausen.

Leapai was greeted like a rock star on the Pacific island. He was mobbed everywhere he went and blessed by tribal chiefs, who also treated themselves by unloading a few rounds towards the sky to mark the occasion.

“It was the first time I’ve experienced anything like that. I was walking up the street and some of the chiefs were out shooting shotguns in the air. The whole village came out, I was given some blessings. It was amazing,” Leapai said.

“It was more than a rock star. I didn’t know what to expect until I got there. To see the whole of Samoa, it shows how much this fight means to them as well. I’m bringing it home for Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.”

The man known as ‘The Lionheart’ went face-to-face with Klitschko in Germany earlier in the month. Far from being overwhelmed by the 198cm giant who has lost just three of his 64 bouts, Leapai said he wanted to start the show early.

“When I saw Klitschko, I realised I’m actually fighting for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world,” Leapai said.

“The funny thing is, I kind of switched over and turned into The Hulk. I wanted to get it on, why wait, let’s get it on tonight.

“Noel Thornberry (Leapai’s trainer) told me to settle down. He (Klitschko) came across as a gentleman and I’ll show him the same respect.”

The gravity of Leapai’s fight – billed by some as the most important in the history of Australian boxing – is starting to sink in with the public.

The interview requests are flooding in and new friends, some with hefty bank accounts, are beginning to appear from the woodwork.

Thornberry will likely handle that situation with extreme care and ensure Leapai continues to knuckle down amid the increasing number of potential distractions.

Leapai spent the day at Dreamworld on Wednesday with his wife Theresa, mother Leitu and six children. It was the first time he’d ever been there, despite living less than an hour’s drive from the Gold Coast theme park.

He will undergo training camps in Sydney, New Zealand and back in Queensland before flying out for the biggest fight of his life, which will be shown on Main Event in the early hours of Sunday, April 27.

Fiona Nash has been poor, the PM must be worried

Australian politics: full coverageThe Pulse Live with Judith IrelandAbbott and axed man at Cadbury photo op
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Labor’s pursuit of conflict of interest allegations against Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash has been a patchy, faltering affair, at times brilliant, and at others, limp.

Senator Nash’s performance as the minister in the gun, has been consistently dismal, and yet strangely resolute.

Her approach, from what is an extremely weak position, has been orthodox tuck-and-roll politics, no doubt urged on her by a nervous prime ministerial office eager to keep its man out of it.

Protect, deflect, minimise. That’s the three-stage process for ministers who stuff up and threaten the wider show – and particularly the Prime Minister himself.

Protect the PM, deflect any attempt to get at the detail, and minimise the governmental target at all times.

In question time, Mr Abbott kept up his part of the bargain, backing his minister’s decision to cut her chief of staff Alastair Furnival adrift – and pledging his loyalty. For now anyway.

Abbott, a dab hand at conflict-politics, showed how to minimise all right, describing the controversy as less than a storm in a tea-cup and even less than a ”zephyr in a thimble”.

He must be really worried, quipped one onlooker.

And why not? There are Nash’s multiple contradictions, and there’s the still unexplained role played by Furnival in securing a whopping $16 million for his client Cadbury.

That threatens to bring Abbott right back into the fray if it turns out Furnival stitched up the Cadbury/Coalition deal.

And there’s the subsequent, but perhaps related, decision to appoint Furnival to a plum post in control of critical elements of health policy and food policy, in particular.

Nash is in a mess. She admits to knowing full well about the commercial and personal interests of the man she appointed as her chief of staff, but she has no answer to why she told the Senate on February 11 that he had no such links.

While she later corrected the record partially, she has no convincing explanation for her initial deception. Her reasoning was incomprehensible and would not last five seconds in any other court.

The government has still not explained how Furnival was employed and at whose behest. Now it is in a massive muddle as to why he was dismissed.

Abbott told Parliament he was dilatory in divesting himself of the lobbying firm and thus had to go. End of story.

Nash, who denied any conflict of interest at all, cannot explain why he was let go, but she says his performance was perfect.

Labor veteran John Faulkner was incredulous. He did nothing wrong but you accepted his resignation, he asked, his tone revealing the sheer ridiculousness of the claim.

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Senators easy meat for battle-hardened General Angus Campbell

Michael Gordon: Coalition stumbles on high moral ground
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Everyone, from the Chief of the Australian Defence Force down, has sprung to the ramparts to pour boiling oil upon the head of Senator Stephen Conroy for having had the impertinence to offend Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, the lion of Operation Sovereign Borders.

General Campbell, you might have imagined, was amply equipped to defend himself, even from Senator Conroy’s overenthusiastic charge that he was involved in a cover-up concerning Manus Island.

He is, indisputably, a courageous man. Apart from working alongside the zealous crusader of the high seas, Scott Morrison, he was a member of the Special Air Service Regiment, commanded the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in East Timor and was Commander of Australian Forces in Afghanistan, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

His credentials for bravery, however, were altogether confirmed when he travelled recently to Papua New Guinea and Manus Island.

We need only study the Australian government’s own alarming warnings about such a perilous journey to understand the level of boldness required. ”We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Papua New Guinea because of the high levels of serious crime,” begins the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s official advice.

”Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

”Large crowds and public gatherings should be avoided as they may turn violent.

”Ethnic disputes continue to flare up … Disputes can quickly escalate into violent clashes. Such clashes not only create danger within the immediate area but promote a general atmosphere of lawlessness.”

There’s quite a bit more about carjackings and gang rape and the need to travel in convoy at night, all of which suggests that General Campbell is adept at surviving peril.

It remains unclear, however, whether he will be reporting these horrors when it comes to his part in reviewing the suitability of Manus Island, an outpost of apparently lawless PNG, as Australia’s chosen detention centre for asylum seekers.

He wasn’t entirely forthcoming about his investigations into recent violence and death on Manus when he spent Tuesday afternoon being browbeaten by senators keen on extracting information.

Perhaps, having read the government’s own warnings about regular violence at large PNG gatherings and having inspected the place himself, he was surprised at the senators’ apparent naivety.

No cover-up here, despite Senator Conroy’s accusation. PNG, clearly was chosen by both Labor and the Coalition to frighten hell out of anyone but a battle-hardened general.

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