Nauru fears detention exit economic hit

The federal government has promised Nauru it won’t cut and run, amid speculation the immigration detention centre may close and as progress inches towards sending refugees on the island to the US.

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Nauru President Baron Waqa met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney on Thursday as part of a four-day visit to Australia.

Nauru hosts an Australian government-funded asylum seeker immigration detention centre opened in 2012, which in late January was housing 286 men, 49 women and 45 children.

The poverty-stricken Pacific island’s economy and employment rates have become heavily dependent on the centre.

The United States has agreed to take an unspecified number of processed and security-checked refugees in limbo on the island.

“The Australian government has made commitments to make sure that we do not suffer a quick change in situation with the (detention centre) because that is definitely going to affect us economically,” Mr Waqa told Sky News.

He flagged the detention centre may be repurposed once it’s closed or other countries might be interested in sending asylum seekers for processing on Nauru in the future.

“The way we look after asylum seekers and refugees is best practice in the world,” Mr Waqa said.

He confirmed US Homeland Security officials were on Nauru and in Australia working on arrangements to resettle refugees in America.

Mr Waqa said he had not sought assurances from the Trump administration that the deal will go ahead.

“If the United States were serious about it, they would have pulled the plug a long time ago,” he said.

He could not provide a date on when refugees will leave the island.

Mr Waqa hinted he thought that those left behind might pose a risk to locals on the island.

But he played down allegations refugees and asylum seekers had been raped or physically assaulted on the island, saying the stories are often made up.

“I do not concern myself with police matters,” he said.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Turnbull said Nauru’s efforts were greatly appreciated.

“I want to thank you for the great co-operation that Nauru shows in working together with us to combat this scourge of people smuggling,” he told the president.

The two leaders also discussed Nauru’s economic development and environmental challenges.

Mr Waqa and his wife Louisa will visit Brisbane and Canberra after Sydney.

He will also meet with officials from the Asian Development Bank, opposition MPs and Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey.

In Canberra on Friday, he’ll tour the Mount Majura Solar Farm and lay a wreath at the War Memorial.

Germany holds social media companies to account for hate speech

Germany has approved plans that could see Facebook and Twitter fined for failing to remove illegal content.

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The legislation is yet to pass German parliament, but it’s expected that step will be a formality.

Under the proposed legislation, social media companies could be fined up to 50 million euros ($70 million) if they don’t remove obviously criminal content within 24 hours of it being reported.

“With the laws which we present, we protect freedom of expression,” German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.

“Namely, the freedom of those who are to be silenced by threats, disgrace, hate and incitement, which we cannot accept.”

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Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all ban hate speech, intimidation, and bullying.

But Mr Maas is keen for the outlets to be held accountable for any material which is published on their websites.

“The providers of social platforms are responsible if their platforms are being abused to spread hate crimes and fake news,” Mr Maas said.

“There should be as little room for criminal rabble-rousing on social networks as there is out on the street.”

Mr Maas cited a year-long study by the ministry which says Twitter only deletes one per cent of offending material within 24 hours of it appearing.

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Facebook’s stats are better: they remove 39 per cent of material, but YouTube’s figures stacked up the best – 90 per cent of content flagged by users is deleted.

Some in Australia would like to see Germany’s hard-line stance replicated.

“We need to start taking fake news and hate speech and social media seriously,” CEO of Online Hate Prevention Institute Dr Andre Oboler said.

“That sort of content should be illegal, it should be criminal, and we should stop it,” Dr Oboler said.

Twitter and Facebook are yet to comment on the German parliament’s decision.

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Indigenous designers want bigger part in urban landscape

A group of Indigenous Australian designers has called for an end to what they say is an under-representation of Aboriginal people in design industries.

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The comments have come at a panel discussion for the Koorie Heritage Trust, an organisation representing Indigenous communities in Victoria.

Award-winning interior designer and artist Nicole Monks says Aboriginal people need to be included through the entire design process to ensure culturally appropriate content is created.

“You have to engage with Aboriginal people. It’s just that simple. You have to employ Aboriginal architects, Aboriginal urban planners, Aboriginal landscape designers, interior designers, furniture makers. You have to employ Aboriginal people to make those things.”

Award-winning Indigenous architect Jefa Greenaway says that contribution needs to start at an education level.

Mr Greenaway, a teacher at the Melbourne School of Design, says Aboriginal students are often under-represented in design fields like architecture and urban planning.

He says Indigenous students need to be given flexible entry levels and extra support to break into industries dominated by non-Indigenous people.

“Architecture is a long degree, five or six years. So you’ve got to be determined, and you’ve got to have a passion. But there’s also high bars to get over to entry. So, really, it’s about developing lateral pathways to encourage Indigenous kids in and finding stepping stones to get to that point. But, also, facilitating the sort of scaffolding and support around a student as they go through that period, because there will be those ebbs and flows. And if you’re a student from another state, then you are disconnected from country and connection to your own kinship and family groups, and so that can be alienating. So it’s also understanding some of those dynamics as well.”

Mr Greenaway has been working in the design industry since 1998 and was the first Indigenous architect registered in Victoria.

He says it is still important to teach the Indigenous design principles of sustainability and connection to country in classes with students of non-Indigenous backgrounds.

“Everyone is actually crying out to find a meaningful way to engage with this place. And the best way we can really do that is start to reference and connect to some of the stories, the narratives, the histories, the memories that reside here. And so embedding Indigenous design thinking into design disciplines, to me, kind of makes sense.”

But Indigenous urban planner Timmah Ball warns there should be caution around Indigenous design created by non-Indigenous people.

Ms Ball works as a policy and project officer at the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

She says there have been situations where Aboriginal culture has only been used to create hype, rather than to respectfully acknowledge Indigenous communities.

“Occasionally, it can be tokenistic and a little bit hijacked by white agendas. And I think, although it’s very exciting to see everyone getting really interested in this, it can sometimes lose authenticity. So it’s just this complex balance of making sure that you get design that celebrates Aboriginal culture but ensuring that it’s led by Aboriginal people.”

When planning for new development and growth in cities, Ms Ball says it is important to consider Aboriginal people dealing with social issues like homelessness and job insecurity.

She says strong legislative regulations are needed to protect Aboriginal people’s connection to country and to support projects creating more Indigenous jobs.

“I think, when you’re in a city and you see Aboriginal people in places that are so important to them, like Fitzroy, who are struggling with job insecurity and homelessness, well, for me, as an urban planner, I just want to make sure that we can address that issue. There’s the exciting stuff, like creating a really beautiful and culturally rich environment, but also just supporting Aboriginal people who, I guess, aren’t as lucky and don’t have the privilege that I have.”

While Indigenous design is tied to Aboriginal culture, Ms Monks says its values are important for every Australian.

“Blak Design matters for everybody, everybody that lives, works and plays on this country. For you to have a better sense of yourself, you need to understand the place that you inhabit. And Blak Design has the ability to do that.”

 

 

WA budgets cops $1.2 billion hit

The WA Labor government is set for a fight with unions in 2017 after Treasurer Ben Wyatt said he was considering imposing a wage freeze for public servants to deal with a budget hit by a new $1.

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2 billion black hole.

Under-treasurer Michael Barnes revealed the already beleaguered budget would be $1.2 billion worse off than predicted a month ago before Labor’s election win because of falls in its share of the national GST pool by nearly $1 billion and more than $200 million in falling land taxes.

Mr Barnes painted a bleak picture of the state’s finances, with net debt now forecast to peak at a massive and record $42.3 billion by 2019-20, up from $41.1 billion.

Premier Mark McGowan described the state’s finances as “the worst since the Great Depression” and Mr Wyatt warned WA’s public servants – the best paid in Australia – that he would look at their wages because it represented 40 per cent of government spending.

A wage freeze by a Labor government would follow the Liberal National government last year capping public sector annual pay rises at 1.5 per cent.

“I am looking at the cost of salaries and wages … I can’t quarantine the biggest spend of government from consideration,” Mr Wyatt said.

“(A pay rise of) 1.5 per cent is generous, the under-treasurer highlighted that we have in Perth very low inflation so 1.5 per cent is certainly a real wage rise. It is not dramatic, I accept that, but we are at the end of what has been over the last decade very strong wage rises in Western Australia.”

Teachers and police officers are among public sector employees due to negotiate new enterprise agreements this year.

Community & Public Sector secretary Toni Walkington said 1.5 per cent was an extremely modest increase and “any wage freeze needs to be completely taken off the table”.

Servicing the interest on the state’s debt was costing more than the annual funding for entire departments such as Corrections and was forecast to peak at $1.2 billion a year by 2019-20 and WA government bonds are considered riskier than those of the other states.

Mr Barnes described the state’s finances as “pretty grim” and delivered a presentation showing record falls in payroll tax revenue for the government, weak economic growth, inflation, high unemployment and underemployment.

One of Mr Wyatt’s first jobs when parliament resumes next month will be to pass a new Loan Bill and borrow more money to pay public servants.

Opposition Leader Mike Nahan accused the government of exaggerating the state’s financial problems and hiding the fact that improved iron ore prices were helping because it was “softening up” people to break its election promise not to introduce new taxes.

“The public of Western Australian should get ready for massive increases in electricity, water, public transport and other taxes, and public servants get ready for real wage cuts under a McGowan government,” he said.

Heated scenes as UN Security Council meets on Syria

Heartbreaking vision has emerged from Syria’s Idlib province, showing a father cradling the bodies of his nine-month-old twins.

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Abdel Hameed al-Youssef describes how he and his young family tried desperately to escape as toxic gases were released during airstrikes in the area.

“I was right beside them. I took them outside with their mother. They were conscious, but 10 minutes later we could smell it and my children couldn’t handle it any more. I left them to the medics and went to find my family.”

Mr al-Youssef’s wife and his children, Aya and Ahmed, were reportedly among 20 members of his family killed.

“I left Ahmed and Aya in good health. Why did this happen? I went to help other people and thought my children were OK. Now they’re gone.”

Rescue workers continue to find more terrified survivors hiding in shelters in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Dozens were killed during the attack that left residents gasping for breath and convulsing in the streets.

The World Health Organisation’s Dr Peter Salama says if the attacks are confirmed as chemical, it marks “a level of barbarism not seen in recent times”.

“We’re working to help the doctors and nurses with the clinical management of these patients they’re seeing, we’re working to ensure they have adequate personal protective equipment to protect themselves as they treat the patients, and we’re working to ensure they have the drugs and medical equipment to do so. The symptoms they’re exhibiting are indeed consistent with the use of toxic chemicals. The symptoms might start with a runny nose or irritation of the eyes, it then quickly progresses to breathing difficulties, to muscular spasms and ultimately to convulsions and to coma, and of course to death.”

The attacks have received worldwide condemnation and during an emergency debate at the UN Security Council there was little doubt over who was thought responsible.

Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, pointed the finger squarely at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“This doesn’t look like the work of terrorists. This doesn’t look like the work of the opposition. This bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regime and the use of chemical weapons is a war crime.”

One of Syria’s chief allies was also caught in the cross hairs.

The United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, held up pictures of children killed in the attack, and criticised Russia for backing President Assad’s government.

“If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have we need to see them use it. We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts. How many more children have to die before Russia cares?”

But the Syrian government and Russia have been equally vehement in their denials.

In a statement broadcast on Syrian state television, government forces “categorically” denied using chemical weapons.

“The Syrian national army is incapable of carrying out these heinous criminal acts and hold the terrorist groups and those who stand behind them responsible for the use of chemical and poisonous substances, with no regard for the lives of innocent civilians, all with the aim of achieving their despicable goals and objectives.”

Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, told the Security Council the poisonous gas came from a rebel chemical weapons depot hit by Syrian government air strikes.

“The Syrian air force conducted an air strike on the eastern end of Khan Sheikhoun on a large warehouse of ammunition and military equipment. On the territory of that warehouse, there was a facility to produce ammunition with the use of toxic weapons.”

Rebel forces deny the claim.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has strongly condemned the Syrian government in the wake of the attack.

Speaking at the White House during a visit by Jordan’s King Abdullah, Mr Trump labelled the attack “a terrible affront to humanity”

“It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies with a chemical gas that is so lethal – people were shocked to hear what gas it was – that crosses many, many lines beyond a red line – many, many lines.”

Mr Trump repeated criticism of his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to act after threatening military action against the Syrian government in 2012.

But Mr Trump is yet to say what he will do to try and bring the now six-year conflict to an end.

 

 

Former NSW police minister Gallacher quits

Former NSW Liberal police minister Mike Gallacher has resigned from the legislative council after 21 years in parliament.

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Mr Gallacher went to the crossbench in 2014 when the Independent Commission Against Corruption accused him of “hatching a corrupt scheme” to funnel money from banned donors to Liberal Party campaigns during the 2011 state election.

“I have always given my utmost to fulfil the roles and duties entrusted to me to serve our community with the highest distinction and determination, no matter how challenging,” Mr Gallacher said in a statement announcing his resignation on Thursday night.

“My objective has always been to do the best and make a positive impact to the lives of others and it has been a privilege and an honour to serve.”

Mr Gallacher, who last year accused ICAC of trying to “kill his career”, came to parliament after spending 16 years as a police officer.

He escaped serious findings of corruption in ICAC’s Operation Spicer report but was found to have made an attempt to evade electoral laws.

In his statement, Mr Gallacher indicated he already had another job lined up.

“I am looking forward to a truly exciting opportunity to use my skills and experience to lead an organisation advocating on behalf of its members and the sector,” he said.

“I leave parliament today proud of what I have achieved, confident that many of the tough decisions I led in government will continue to serve this state and its people into the future.”

Mr Gallacher, who was born in Scotland and moved to NSW as a young child, led the the Liberals and Nationals in the Upper House for a “record” 15 years.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said he was a key member of the Coalition when it returned to power in 2011.

“I would like to acknowledge Mike Gallacher’s many years of service to the Liberal Party and the NSW Parliament,” she said.

“I wish him and his family all the best in the future.”

RBA Governor warns of ‘debt bomb’

The Reserve Bank of Australia governor has issued a sobering warning about the state of Australia’s housing markets.

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At an RBA board dinner Philip Lowe said home loans are continuing to outstrip household income growth.

He partly blamed the banks, saying they are too liberal in their lending practices.

“Too many loans are still being made where the borrower has the skinniest of income buffers after interest payments. In some cases lenders are assuming that people can live more frugally than in practice they can.”

Mr Lowe welcomed new measures by regulators to restrict investor lending.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission, or ASIC, says it will step up its monitoring of lending practices.

And the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, APRA, plans to limit interest only loans to 30 per cent.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has welcomed the restraints but says they’re only a minor part of the solution.

He says the real issue is the lack of housing.

“For too long supply of new dwellings had been constrained so demand had overtaken supply and you got, as a consequence, a big increase in prices.”

Mr Lowe had made a similar point in his speech, saying the underlying driver of the housing market is the balance between supply and demand.

In the last year, Australia’s housing market has skyrocketed, mostly in the major cities.

According to property consultant Core Logic, Sydney’s prices surged almost 20 per cent compared with this time last year.

And it’s a similar story in Melbourne, where growth in the last 12 months is almost 16 per cent.

The government says it will make housing affordability a key component of the upcoming May budget.

But Treasurer Scott Morrison says borrowers should use their common sense when deciding whether to take a home loan.

“Just because a bank says you can borrow it doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes when people look at what the banks say they will loan to them, they seem to think that is somehow a green light and they’ve been given assurance they will be able to repay this. Individuals always have to make the ultimate choice about these things.”

Since last year’s federal election, Labor’s policy has been to limit negative gearing and reduce the capital gains tax discount.

Labor’s Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen says such tax concessions are a significant part of the problem.

“Supply is a very important part of the equation but while you’ve got these tax distortions and the most generous property tax concessions in the world, you’re going to find investors taking up more and more of that supply and that’s been borne out in every release of data that we’ve seen.”

But Scott Morrison warns against abolishing negative gearing, telling the ABC it would be too broad a measure.

“The idea that you should be focusing solely on these broad tax policies that will impact every market and will impact it differently, you’ve got to be very careful about this. Labor wants a chainsaw: we think you should use a scalpel.”

But the government has not ruled out changes to the capital gains tax.

However it has refused to rule out allowing first home buyers to access their superannuation before retirement to pay for a deposit.

But independent Senator Jacqui Lambie has told Channel Nine she believes that could be a solution to get younger buyers into the market.

“I think it’s certainly worth putting on the table and discussing and see whether we give our young kids the opportunity to start investing in their own home.”

 

 

Weight swings risky for heart patients

Losing and regaining weight repeatedly may be dangerous for overweight heart patients, a study suggests.

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Heart attacks, strokes and death were more common in patients whose weight changed the most over four years.

For some, weight changes might have reflected yo-yo dieting, which some previous studies have suggested may be unhealthy for people without heart problems. That means a hefty but stable weight might be healthier than losing but repeatedly regaining extra pounds.

But big weight fluctuations in heart patients studied could also have been unintentional and a possible sign of serious illness that would explain the results, the researchers and outside experts said.

Doctors not involved in the study called it interesting but not proof that “yo-yo” weight changes are risky for overweight heart patients.

Regardless, the recommendation from New York University cardiologist and lead author, Dr Sripal Bangalore, echoes standard advice for anyone who’s overweight: “Lose weight but try to keep that weight off.”

The study was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. It’s an analysis of about 9500 patients involved in a different study that didn’t examine reasons for weight changes. Weight was measured an average of 12 times over four years and some patients lost and regained several pounds in between each measurement.

Among the 1900 patients with the biggest weight changes, 37 per cent had fatal or non-fatal heart attacks, strokes or other heart trouble during the study. That compared with 22 per cent of the 1900 patients whose weight changed the least.

Dr Clyde Yancy, cardiology chief at Northwestern University’s medical school in Chicago, said there’s no clear biological explanation for how yo-yoing weight might cause harm and that the study results could be merely due to chance.

“The takeaway? Simple messages still prevail,” Yancy said.

“A heart-healthy lifestyle both prevents and treats cardiovascular disease.”

Malaysian MP defends child marriage and rapists marrying their victims

Malaysian MP Shabudin Yahaya has drawn condemnation after appearing to suggest it was okay for rapists to marry their victims, and that those aged 12 were old enough to get married.

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Mr Shabudin made the comments during a debate in parliament over a law criminalising child ‘grooming’ and establishing a special court to deal with child sexual abuse.

Despite a push from the opposition, the law does not ban child marriages. Mr Shabudin said banning child marriages was contrary to Sharia law.

“Some children who are aged between 12 and 15 years have bodies like 18-year-old women,” the former Sharia court judge said.

Mr Shabudin, from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, also said there was nothing wrong with a rapist marrying their victim.

“Perhaps through marriage they [the rape victim and rapist] can lead a healthier, better life. And the person who was raped will not necessarily have a bleak future,” he said.

“She will have a husband at least, and this could serve as a remedy to growing social problems.”

Malaysia has a dual legal system where civil matters for its Muslim citizens are heard in a Sharia court.

All criminal matters, such as rape, are heard in a civil court.

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Mr Shabudin and his supporters have since said his comments were taken out of context, that child marriage is properly regulated by authorities, and that marriage should not be seen as a back door to legalised rape.

“Media reports said that I supported marriage between the rapist and the victim. It was taken out of context,” Mr Shabudin claimed, according to local media.

“What I wanted to stress on was that there is no provision that stops them [victims] from getting married.”

Under the Malaysian penal code, a man can only be charged with raping his wife if he is violent or makes physical threats. Under certain circumstances, children under 16 can be married.

But despite attempted clarifications, Mr Shabudin’s comments have been condemned by Malaysian politicians, commentators and the public.

“It is disturbing to note that a leader, a father and probably a grandfather would resort to making such a remark,” Opposition MP Teo Nie Ching said, according to local media.

“Would he consent to marrying off his loved ones to their rapists?” she asked.

“What if a girl is a victim of gang-rape? What then? Should she also marry them all? And what if it is a boy who was raped? Would Shabudin Yahya also advocate for the boy to marry his rapists?

“It is dangerously misogynistic and perverse to still make a rapist seem like a hero, painting a picture as if he had ‘manned up’ to his act and the punishment is actually on him.”

Human rights organisations both internationally and domestically continute to campign for changes to maritial rape and child marriage laws in Indonesia.

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Big business, and Malcolm Turnbull, get warnings

Treasurer Scott Morrison says the so-called big end of town – big business – has a reputation problem.

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The Treasurer accuses Labor of exploiting public disdain for big business to campaign against the federal government’s enterprise tax plan.

He says, while the Coalition has made its case for corporate tax cuts, companies themselves need to prove they will spend the extra money wisely.

“This task cannot be pursued by the government in isolation. Business, particularly large business, has a critical role to play in demonstrating to the Australian people that, as their business grows, their employees will benefit.”

But the Treasurer’s frontbench colleague, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, says the government has reputation issues of its own.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took over the Liberal leadership from Tony Abbott in 2015.

His reasoning was the Abbott government had lost 30 Newspoll opinion polls in a row.

But under Mr Turnbull’s leadership, the Coalition has now trailed Labor in 10 consecutive Newspolls.

Peter Dutton has told Radio 2GB that losing streak needs to end.

“What we need to do is to turn polls around, if that’s the measure. We have to make tough decisions, as the Howard Government did, as the Abbott Government did. They’re not always popular. It’s hard when you’ve got a Budget that’s going close to half-a-trillion dollars’ worth of debt that Labor racked up.”

The government is depending on an Australian Taxation Office task force of 1,000 people to help recover lost revenue.

The tax office has billed seven large multinational companies for almost $3 billion in unpaid tax.

Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer says those companies have made a lot of money in Australia.

“We’re talking about very well known companies, companies that are household names, companies that operate not only in Australia but right around the world, and companies that make very significant profits here in Australia and who otherwise might have been looking to shift those profits offshore.”

The pursuit of those seven firms may just be the start of something much bigger, with the Minister reporting the tax office is auditing another 59 multinationals.

Ms O’Dwyer says the crackdown on tax avoidance is only possible because the Turnbull Government gave the tax office new enforcement powers.

But Labor has accused the government of hypocrisy.

While the Senate only passed tax cuts for small and medium businesses, the government’s original plan would have reduced the tax rate for all companies.

That included the large multinationals now under scrutiny.

Opposition finance spokesman Jim Chalmers suggests it is a contradiction.

“Never forget that these companies which are being pursued by the tax office are exactly the same companies that the Government wants to give a $50 billion tax cut to.”