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European far right jubilant as Austria’s new government is sworn in

Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Sprache, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander Van der B..

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Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Sprache, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander Van der Bellen at Monday's swearing-in ceremony. Photo: AFP

With a heavy police presence keeping protestors away, Austria's far right was sworn in Monday as part of the Alpine country's new government, rounding off a triumphant year for Europe's nationalists.

The new coalition was agreed on Friday by the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ), pledging to stop illegal immigration, cut taxes and resist EU centralisation.

It will be led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who took over the ÖVP in May and yanked it to the right, securing his party first place in October elections. At 31, Kurz will be the world's youngest leader.

At his side for the investiture by Austria's president in the Hapsburg dynasty's imperial palace in Vienna was FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache, 48, now vice-chancellor, and FPÖ general secretary Herbert Kickl, the new interior minister.

Strache has said Islam "has no place in Europe" and last year called German Chancellor Angela Merkel "the most dangerous woman in Europe" for her open-door refugee policy.

On Sunday, Strache trumpeted to his 750,000 followers on Facebook that the new government would slash social benefits for asylum-seekers.

"It will no longer happen that migrants who have never worked here a single day or paid anything into the social system will get thousands of euros in welfare!" he said in a post that has gained 9,000 "likes".

Kickl is a former speechwriter for Strache's predecessor Jörg Haider, whose 2000 entry into government prompted an outcry and soul-searching in Europe that appear largely absent this time.

More than 2,000 people took part in demonstrations on Monday, AFP reporters said, brandishing placards such as "refugees welcome" and "Nazis out" and "No Nazi pigs".

A heavy police presence of about 1,500 officers, with helicopters overhead and water-cannon trucks at the ready, blocked off the area around the Hofburg palace.

At one point police fired a smoke grenade when some protestors tried to break through a barricade, an AFP photographer said.

In 2000, several hundred thousand people took to the streets.

The FPÖ also obtained the defence and foreign ministries, while the ÖVP got finance, economy and justice amongst other portfolios, and will continue to handle EU affairs.

Bumper year

Both Kurz and Strache won over voters two months ago by stoking concerns about immigration after the record influx in 2015, mirroring elections elsewhere in Europe this year.

Geert Wilders' Freedom Party became the second-largest in The Netherlands, Marine Le Pen of France's National Front was in a runoff for the presidency and the Alternative for Germany entered the Bundestag.

But the FPÖ is rare in western Europe in having translated success at the ballot box into real power.

Speaking at a far-right congress in Prague on Saturday, Wilders said the FPÖ's entry into government was "an excellent result", while Le Pen called it "very good news for Europe".

"Every election demonstrates a form of rejection of the European Union," Le Pen said, echoing the euro-scepticism shown by the FPÖ in the past.

Pro-EU

Both Kurz and Strache emphasised however on Saturday that Vienna would stay staunchly pro-EU and that their plans for more Swiss-style "direct democracy" excluded a referendum on EU membership.

But Kurz said that during Austria's presidency of the EU, set for the second half of 2018, Vienna would press for Brussels to have less say in areas that he believes should be up to member states.

Kurz said he envisions an EU which should be "stronger in big questions and which should step back on smaller issues".

Kurz also said that Austria would not change its line on supporting EU sanctions on Russia imposed over Ukraine, even though the FPÖ, like other far-right groups, wants them lifted.

But according to their joint programme, Austria will "actively work" towards easing the sanctions "in unison" with the rest of the EU.

In addition the new government's programme says that Austria will seek support to "definitively" end Turkey's bid to join the EU, sparking anger on Sunday from Ankara.

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Australia

Australia resists calls for tougher climate targets

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Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted pressure to set more ambitious carbon emission targets while other major nations vowed deeper reductions to tackle climate change.

Addressing a global climate summit, Mr Morrison said Australia was on a path to net zero emissions.

But he stopped short of setting a timeline, saying the country would get there “as soon as possible”.

It came as the US, Canada and Japan set new commitments for steeper cuts.

US President Joe Biden, who chaired the virtual summit, pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. This new target essentially doubles the previous US promise.

By contrast, Australia will stick with its existing pledge of cutting carbon emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels, by 2030. That’s in line with the Paris climate agreement, though Mr Morrison said Australia was on a pathway to net zero emissions.

“Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create,” he told the summit.

“Future generations… will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver.”

Australia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis. Mr Morrison, who has faced sustained criticism over climate policy, said action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would focus on technology.

The prime minister said Australia is deploying renewable energy 10 times faster than the global average per person, and has the highest uptake of rooftop solar panels in the world.

Mr Morrison added Australia would invest $20bn ($15.4bn; 11.1bn) “to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity”.

“You can always be sure that the commitments Australia makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are bankable.”

Australia has seen growing international pressure to step up its efforts to cut emissions and tackle global warming. The country has warmed on average by 1.4 degrees C since national records began in 1910, according to its science and weather agencies. That’s led to an increase in the number of extreme heat events, as well as increased fire danger days.

Ahead of the summit, President Biden’s team urged countries that have been slow to embrace action on climate change to raise their ambition. While many nations heeded the call, big emitters China and India also made no new commitments.

“Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” President Biden said at the summit’s opening address.

Referring to America’s new carbon-cutting pledge, President Biden added: “The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting.”

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56854558

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Australia

Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms

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The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.

The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.

All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.

It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.

British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.

The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.

The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.

It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.

“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.

“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”

The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.

It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128

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Australia

Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official

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Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.

The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.

Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.

Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.

Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”

However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.

Australia’s tight restrictions

The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.

Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.

A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.

Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.

Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.

Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.

Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.

The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.

While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.

Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.

In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581

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