Trio charged over planned drug flight

An elderly pilot is among three men charged after allegedly plotting to make an island-hopping drug run from California to Australia carrying ice worth more than $250 million.

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The Australian Federal Police allege the trio intended to use a six-seater plane to ferry the massive haul of ice across the Pacific Ocean, but the scheme never got off the ground.

Plans to fly the small plane from the west coast of the United States to a regional Victorian air field was “unique”, AFP Superintendent Krissy Barrett said.

“Now I’m not a good flyer at the best of times but that’s certainly not a plane I would have wanted to be on,” she added.

The 255kg quantity of ice, worth an estimated $255 million, was discovered by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in a northern California storage facility on June 15.

The drugs were to be hidden in the plane, Supt Barrett said.

“We’ll allege there was a sophisticated concealment plan for the drugs …. which involved the removal of passenger seats on board the aircraft.”

A 72-year-old Melbourne man who is a qualified pilot was arrested at Melbourne Airport on July 5.

Police allege he planned to fly to the US, before piloting the light aircraft back to Australia.

A 52-year-old NSW man was stopped at Sydney International Airport on Friday after $2.4 million in cash was seized at Mildura, in regional Victoria, in a discovery police have linked to the alleged trafficking plans.

A 58-year-old Maribyrnong man connected to the haul was arrested in Melbourne’s west on Wednesday.

The trio were charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of methamphetamine.

The NSW man is due to face court on Friday, while the others have already appeared before a magistrate.

Welfare hikes won’t fix poverty: minister

Boosting welfare payments and rolling out more services isn’t the answer to fighting poverty, the federal government has warned, as it urges Australians to take a different tack in fixing the problem.

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Human Services Minister Alan Tudge instead has mapped out a five-pronged approach to help more than three million Australians – including 731,000 children – who are living in poverty.

Three decades after former prime minister Bob Hawke declared no child would live in poverty by 1990, Mr Tudge described entrenched disadvantage and impoverishment as arguably the most important challenge facing Australia.

“We cannot solve it by doubling the number of services again. We cannot solve it by having another step-increase in welfare payments,” he said during a speech in Sydney on Thursday.

“We need collectively to put our minds to the underlying factors which have changed since Hawke’s day and be clear-eyed about how we tackle them.”

Couples on unemployment benefits with two children receive up to 38 per cent more today in real terms than they would’ve 30 years ago, while a single parent on Newstart with two kids gets up to 67 per cent more.

A single person on unemployment benefits without kids receives about 10 per cent more.

“Today, an unemployed couple with three children would receive about $48,000 in welfare payments each year. This is the equivalent to a $60,000 salary,” Mr Tudge said.

“On top of that, they may be eligible for a public house and many other free services.”

The figures quoted were not a lot of money, but nor were they complete deprivation.

“It is a good safety net to ensure that no one need go hungry or without clothing, shelter and the basics,” the minister said.

Hikes to welfare payments had been complemented by a significant boost to social services during the past 30 years.

A complete lack of income was not always the problem but rather a “general dysfunction” which meant children’s potential was unable to be maximised.

More than 225,000 children suffered abuse or neglect or were at risk of suffering in the past year, about 29,000 were homeless at some stage, and one in eight kids lived in a jobless household.

“This is the real impoverishment today and comes about despite the increases in welfare payments, increases in social services and an economy which has grown for 25 years straight.”

Mr Tudge argued the need to tackle family breakdown, financial capability, educational failure and “worklessness”, repeating his well-trodden catchcry that the best form of welfare was a job.

He also pleaded the case for controversial substance abuse measures aimed at welfare recipients, including drug tests, cashless welfare cards and cracking down on using addiction as an excuse for failing job-seeking obligations.

“If more money was the answer, we would have solved many of the problems years ago,” the minister said.

Mr Tudge would like to see business groups, welfare lobby ACOSS, and other groups examine the underlying issues of modern impoverishment as much as they argue for higher payments.

McIlroy keeps a keen eye on Open forecasts

Former champion Rory McIlroy has an anxious eye on the weather as the 146th Open Championship gets under way at Royal Birkdale on Thursday.

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McIlroy, who has missed the cut in three of his last four starts, will have to wait until 2:48pm to begin his campaign for a fifth major title and was wary of being caught on the “wrong” side of the draw.

The 28-year-old had that problem at St Andrews in 2010, where he carded a record-equalling 63 in the first round, only to struggle to a second round of 80 in terrible conditions on Friday.

A year later, the Northern Irishman made his feelings known on the subject when he finished 25th at Royal St George’s, a month after winning his first major title in the US Open.

”I’m not a fan of tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather; it’s not my sort of golf,” McIlroy said.

”I’m looking forward to getting back to America and getting back into some nice conditions.”

Asked in his pre-tournament press conference at Birkdale whether he knew players who would “give up” after getting the bad end of the draw, McIlroy joked: “Yeah, I have.

“I’ve been on the wrong side and I’ve been on the right side.

“I was on the wrong side of it at St Georges in ’11 and wasn’t very happy about it. Made some comments that I probably shouldn’t have made.

“But I think with the Open Championship you’re playing in them enough that you’re going to get your good draws and bad draws.

“It’s a part of it that you have to accept and I’ve learned to accept it over the years.”

” … you have to realise in a 25 or 30-year career you’re going to get some years that you’re on the good side of the draw, and you have to make the best of those. Thankfully I did at Hoylake in 2014.

“Padraig (Harrington) won the thing from the bad side of the draw (at Birkdale in 2008). So it can be done.”

Former champion Mark O’Meara was due to hit the first shot at 6:35am.

The 60-year-old, who won the second major of his career when the Open was staged at Birkdale in 1998, is in the first group alongside fellow American Ryan Moore and England’s Chris Wood.

Turnbull makes fresh case for tax cut

Malcolm Turnbull says it’s “absurd” to call business tax cuts a handout, as he steps up the case for parliament to pass the rest of the government’s plan.

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In April, the parliament agreed to a corporate tax rate of 27.5 per cent for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million, to be phased in over the next three years.

However the government is aiming for a 25 per cent rate to apply to all sized businesses over 10 years.

The prime minister says he is committed to delivering the remainder of the plan, which would come to parliament “shortly”, and he expected would be debated in the Senate before the end of the year.

“We’ve already cut taxes for more than three million businesses that employ more than half of Australia’s workforce, and we will go back to the Senate to seek support for the rest of our tax plan,” Mr Turnbull told a business forum in Melbourne on Thursday.

Leaders at the G20 summit in Hamburg – “right across the political spectrum” – agreed on the need to reduce company taxes to boost investment and create jobs.

However, the opposition Labor Party continued to label the tax cut a “handout”, he said.

“What that means is that they believe that every dollar a business makes in profit belongs to the government and that anything that is left after tax, graciously, by the government, is a handout,” he said.

“Now, that is absurd. That is denying enterprise. It is discouraging investment. It is discouraging employment.”

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, who addressed the same forum, said the government’s corporate tax cut plan was a “very significant, long term, structural drag on the budget” costing $65 billion over the medium term and $14 billion a year in 10 years’ time.

In comparison, Mr Bowen said Labor’s reforms to negative gearing and capital gains would deliver an $8 billion boost to the budget bottom line every year by the end of the decade.

Trump says he regrets hiring AG Sessions after Russia probe recusal

On the eve of the six-month mark of Trump’s inauguration, it also emerged that senators will next week grill three of the pivotal players in the Trump campaign — including his eldest son — over swirling allegations of the presidential campaign’s collusion with Russia.

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The announcements came as the Trump administration and the Kremlin tried to quell an uproar about a previously undisclosed meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during this month’s G20 summit.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was one of the first senior Republican politicians to endorse Trump before last November’s election and was rewarded by being appointed America’s top law enforcement officer.

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But he stood aside in March from overseeing an FBI-led probe into whether members of the Trump team colluded with Moscow during the election campaign after it emerged that Sessions had not disclosed during his Senate confirmation hearing that he met twice with the Russian ambassador to Washington.  

In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said Sessions had acted unfairly in taking the job in the first place if he had felt in any way compromised. 

“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you,'” Trump said.

“It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Trump also criticized Sessions’ performance at the Senate confirmation hearing in January, in which he denied meeting with any Russians when he had in fact met with the Russian ambassador.

‘Bad answers’

“Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” the president said in his interview with the Times.

“He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee is now due to grill the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is one of the most powerful figures in the Trump White House, in a closed-door session next Monday, his lawyer told CNN.

And two days later, the Senate Judiciary Committee will question Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort about Russia’s role, congressional officials announced on Wednsday.

All three men attended a controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer last year, in which they were expecting to receive dirt from Moscow on Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr sent shockwaves through Washington last week by releasing a series of emails that detailed how he had attended the meeting after being promised “very high level and sensitive information” that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Both Trump Jr and Manafort were told in letters from the panel’s senior members to “preserve all relevant documents in your possession… related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, including documents related to your or the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian government officials, associates or representatives.”

The senators said they would issue subpoenas if the witnesses did not produce the required documents.

With Washington reeling from the stream of revelations, Trump has rushed to his son’s defense, and lambasted what he calls a political “witch hunt”.

But on Wednesday night a senior official made clear that the administration was cooperating with the investigation being conducted by a special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, who is probing the Russia connection independently of the Senate panels.

“I’m part of the Trump administration, and the special counsel is reporting to me, and the answer to that is certainly yes,” deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein told Fox News.

“We are providing appropriate cooperation to make sure the investigation is done properly.”

‘Russia fever’

Some critics have seized on the additional, previously undisclosed meeting between the US president and his Russian counterpart as more evidence that the Trump team are reluctant to come clean on anything involving Russia.

The White House confirmed the politically sensitive sit-down over dinner on the final night of the G20 summit in Germany only after it was leaked, but has denied that it amounted to anything untoward.

“Once again, the Russia fever has caught up with the media and everybody ran out and tried to create a story that simply didn’t exist,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Wednesday.

That message was echoed by her Kremlin counterpart Dmitry Peskov.

“The use of the terms ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ for this meeting provokes absolute surprise and incomprehension.” 

The meeting had been “officially accepted” by diplomatic channels, he added in comments reported by the Russia’s TASS news agency.