Qld govt investigates Adani’s Abbot Point

An investigation into Adani’s Abbot Point Terminal in north Queensland has been launched to determine if it made unauthorised water releases into nearby wetlands.

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A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection says it has started an inquiry after satellite images appeared to show “sediment-laden water” flowing into Caley Valley.

She said the Indian mining and energy company had applied for and been granted a temporary emissions licence (TEL) during Cyclone Debbie, which relaxed or modified its operating conditions.

“A TEL does not authorise environmental harm,” she said in a statement on Monday.

She said Adani was granted the licence to assist it with its water management at the Abbot Point facility during the cyclone.

“The TEL permitted a temporary increase to the release limits for total suspended solids from 30mg/L to 100mg/L,” she said.

“By comparison, the total suspended solids in central Queensland waterways following rainfall events typically exceed 1000mg/L.”

Construction on Adani’s $21.7 billion project, to build Australia’s largest coal mine in the Galilee Basin and connect it to Abbot Point via a 31.5-kilometre rail line, is expected to start next year.

The departmental spokeswoman said “initial monitoring results” showed the water releases into the wetlands were in accordance with the temporary licence.

“EHP’s investigation is continuing, including accessing historical satellite imagery to compare wetland colour and depth fluctuations,” she said.

Adani has been contacted for comment.

‘It hits close to home’: Australian Coptic Christians reel from Egypt terror attacks

The attacks in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria killed 44 people and left 123 wounded.

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They came at the beginning of Holy Week leading up to Easter, and just weeks before Pope Francis is due to visit.

It’s unclear whether any Australians have been caught up in the Islamic State group’s suicide bombing of two Coptic Christian churches in northern Egypt.

However Bishop Anba Suriel, of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese Church of Melbourne, told SBS News people in his community in Egypt were killed in the attacks.  

The cousin of his colleague’s wife lost her husband, and her other cousin lost her father-in-law in the attack in Tanta, where they are originally from, Bishop Suriel explained.

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“They were very emotional last night when I spoke to them on the phone, and very distraught at this vicious attack on the Copts in Egypt, and particularly, obviously losing people that are very close to them,” he said.

“So it really hits close to home, it’s not just something that affected people in Egypt, it affected my community as well and people around the world.”

John Nour, head of the Public Affairs Council for the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney, told SBS News the timing of the attacks were “terrible and shocking”. 

“Those terrorists knew Palm Sunday was a big day in the Egyptian calendar, thousands of people attend the church, even if you don’t attend throughout the year, thousands attend on Palm Sunday,” he said.

“I think they knew when to hit and when to achieve their evil goal.” 

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Mr Nour called on the world to unite in the effort to weaken groups conducting such attacks.

“We ask the Copts of Egypt in Australia and worldwide to stand shoulder to shoulder with the President of Egypt and the Egyptian government to crack down,” he said.

“We will stand strong, nothing will scare us, nothing will shake us.”

In Egypt, the pain of the targeted attacks are still being felt. Kerolos Nessim of Tanta told SBS how he was forced to break the news of his uncle’s passing to his mother.

“I was able to get through to one of my cousins, and he gave me the news, and then the hardest thing for me was then to pass on the news to my mum,” he said.

“He’s been going to that specific church, St Georges Cathedral, since he was little, and that was the church where my mum grew up going to as well, and it was the church that I grew up going to.”

Kerolos Nessim (who appears centre in the grey suit), pictured with friends outside the Tanta church that was bombed.Supplied

Both sides of politics condemn the attacks

The Turnbull Government has joined the international condemnation of the Palm Sunday attacks.

“We condemn the barbaric attacks on Coptic congregations in Egypt this Palm Sunday. Our prayers are with the victims & their families,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted early on Monday.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Islamic State was a barbaric organisation with no regard for religion and humanity.

The comments came a push within the Coalition for the Australian government to recognise violence against Christians in the Middle East as genocide gained momentum.

“I know there’s a lot of support in the parliament, on both sides of parliament,” Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar told Sky News.

“This unfortunately, what we saw on Palm Sunday in Egypt against the Copts, is not an isolated incident.”

“It is yet another incident targeting Christians for their faith, and it is something that is particularly troubling to Australians who value religious freedom,” he said.

The Australian Embassy in Cairo is monitoring the situation closely.

She said diplomats have been in contact with Egyptian authorities to determine if any Australians have been affected.

“These brutal and appalling attacks took the lives of many innocent people during a day of religious worship,” Ms Bishop said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten and his foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong described the attacks as barbaric.

“An attack on any place of religion is an attack on freedom of religion everywhere,” they said in a statement.

“Labor expresses our support and deepest sympathy to the families of those affected and for the 100,000 Australians of the Coptic faith who are part of our community.”

Australians concerned about the safety of family or friends who may have been affected should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 1300 555 135 (within Australia) or +612 6261 3305 (outside Australia).

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Demons hit early strife in big AFL season

Melbourne’s AFL season of great expectations has struck early turbulence, emphasised by the hamstring surgery that will sideline Max Gawn for three months.

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The Demons have legitimate finals claims this year, but losing their All-Australian ruckman until the second half of the season is a massive blow.

After opening the season with two wins, they lost to Geelong on the weekend and now host Fremantle on Saturday.

The Dockers bounced back last weekend with an upset win over the Western Bulldogs.

Melbourne will also remain without star duo Jesse Hogan and Jordan Lewis, who are serving suspensions.

And Hogan was caught smoking at a music festival in Perth over the weekend.

While that is hardly a hanging offence, Gawn said it left Hogan open to criticism.

Gawn also found himself in hot water a few years ago when he was caught having a smoke when arriving for Melbourne training.

“Jesse is going through a bit of a tough time himself with his family and we’ve just been supportive as we can,” he said.

“Obviously it’s not a good look. I found that out the hard way as well.

“He knows that, he’s well aware.

“Hopefully we can get him back emotionally better, so he can play some good footy for us.”

While Hogan’s smoke is not major, former Melbourne star David Schwarz is worried about how the Demons will cope given Gawn is out for three months.

“This will have a massive effect on Melbourne,” Schwarz said on SEN.

“He is the most important player for Melbourne and you lose him for 12 weeks, what you lose is favouritism to make the eight … that’s the impact that he has.”

Tillerson vows to defend ‘innocents’

The US is rededicating itself to hold to account “any and all” who commit crimes against innocent people, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says, days after the US military unexpectedly attacked Syria.

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Tillerson is in Italy for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialised nations, with his counterparts from Europe and Japan eager for clarity from Washington on numerous diplomatic issues, especially Syria.

Before the April 7 missile strikes on a Syrian air base, US President Donald Trump had indicated he would be less interventionist than his predecessors and willing to overlook human rights abuses if it was in US interests.

But Tillerson said the US would not let such crimes go unchallenged.

“We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” he told reporters while commemorating a 1944 German Nazi massacre in Sant’Anna di Stazzema.

Trump ordered his military to strike Syria in retaliation for what the US said was a chemical weapons attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which killed scores of civilians, including many children.

European ministers are eager to hear whether Washington is now committed to overthrowing Assad, who is backed by Russia.

Tillerson, who travels to Russia after the two-day G7 gathering, said at the weekend the defeat of Islamic State remained the US priority, while the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said “regime change” in Syria was also a priority for Trump.

The mixed messages have confused and frustrated European allies, who are eager for full US support for a political solution based on a transfer of power in Damascus.

Tillerson plans to meet on Monday with foreign ministers from the UK and France.

Green says Thurston injury not serious

North Queensland coach Paul Green is hopeful Johnathan Thurston’s calf injury isn’t as bad as first thought, suggesting he is a chance of turning out for Australia next month.

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Green said the club was still in the process of identifying the extent of Thurston’s injury but was jovial when discussing the health of his captain on Monday night.

“When they told me that he’d done his calf, I didn’t believe them because if you’ve seen JT with his socks off, there’s not much there to hold him up,” Green said on Fox Sports’ NRL 360.

“He’s got a slight muscle strain there. It’s not too bad – hopefully we’ll see him back on the paddock sooner rather than later.”

Thurston’s setback adds to a mounting injury toll that already includes Matt Scott (ACL), Jake Granville (leg), Antonio Winterstein (arm), and Lachlan Coote (calf).

Shaun Fensom (leg) and Kane Linnett (leg) also failed to finish their last-start defeat to Wests Tigers, however Green said Justin O’Neill is set to come back from a hamstring strain.

Utility Ben Hampton or uncapped rookie Kyle Laybutt will wear the No.7.

“Ben Hampton’s played there in the halves, we’ve also got Kyle Laybutt, another young guy coming through who’s been out injured,” Green said.

“We’ll just assess those guys and work how we want to play in the next couple of weeks.”

The fourth-year Cowboys coach urged the remaining members of his team to step up as they attempt to overturn a 29 per cent winning rate without their star halfback.

North Queensland have won just three of their past 13 games without Thurston on the field.

“We don’t need any one player who thinks he’s all of a sudden got to become JT. We just need everyone to contribute that little bit more,” Green said.

“(Michael Morgan) has got a taste of rep footy the last couple of years, so he’s got that experience under his belt. We’ll need him to contribute a little bit more, and guys around him.”

The Cowboys visit ladder-leading St George Illawarra on Saturday.

State of emergency declared in Egypt after deadly Palm Sunday bombings

The attacks in the Nile Delta cities of Tanta and Alexandria followed a Cairo church bombing in December and came weeks before a planned visit by Catholic Pope Francis intended to show support for Egypt’s Christian minority.

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Sisi declared the “three-month” state of emergency, which he must present to parliament within a week, during a defiant speech warning that the war against the jihadists “will be long and painful”.

After being approved by cabinet, the sate of emergency was to take effect from 1pm local time on Monday.

The first bombing at the Mar Girgis church in Tanta city north of Cairo killed 27 people, the health ministry said.

Emergency services had scrambled to the scene when another blast rocked Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria where Coptic Pope Tawadros II had been leading a Palm Sunday service.

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Seventeen people including at least four police officers were killed in that attack, which the interior ministry said was caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up when prevented from entering the church.

The ministry said Tawadros was unharmed, and a church official said he left before the explosion.

The private CBC Extra channel aired footage of the Alexandria blast, with CCTV showing what appeared to be the church entrance engulfed in flame and flying concrete moments after a guard turned a man away.

Eyewitnesses said a police officer detected the bomber before he blew himself up.

People gather to view the damages at the scene of a bomb explosion inside Mar Girgis church in Tanta, 90km north of Cairo, Egypt, 09 April 2017 (AAP)AAP

At least 78 people were wounded in Tanta and 40 in Alexandria, the health ministry said.

Egyptian officials denounced the violence as an attempt to sow divisions, and Francis sent his “deep condolences” to Tawadros.

IS claimed two Egyptian suicide bombers carried out both attacks and threatened further attacks in a statement published on social media.

After the bombings, Sisi ordered military deployments to guard “vital and important infrastructure”, his office said.

State television reported that the interior minister sacked the provincial head of security and replaced him after the attack.

Mourners gather at the funeral for the victims of a bomb explosion at Mar Girgis Coptic church (SBS)AAP

On March 29, the Mar Girgis church’s Facebook page said a “suspicious” device had been found outside the building that security services removed.

“I heard the blast and came running. I found people torn up… some people, only half of their bodies remained,” Nabil Nader, who lives in front of the Tanta church, said Sunday.

Worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marking Jesus’s triumphant entrance to Jerusalem.

Egypt had been ruled under emergency law, which allows police expanded powers of arrest and surveillance, for decades before 2012.

Watch: Pope Francis condemns Egypt church attacks

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Turnbull condemns ‘barbaric’ Egypt terror attacks

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has joined international condemnation of the Palm Sunday attacks on two Coptic churches in Egypt.

“We condemn the barbaric attacks on Coptic congregations in Egypt this Palm Sunday. Our prayers are with the victims & their families,” he tweeted early on Monday.

We condemn the barbaric attacks on Coptic congregations in Egypt this Palm Sunday. Our prayers are with the victims & their families.

— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) April 9, 2017

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Islamic State was a barbaric organisation with no regard for religion and humanity.

She was aware they were targeting Coptic Christians in Egypt and elsewhere.

“We are concerned about Easter but also any other places of mass gatherings, even tourist sites are being subjected to attacks by ISIS and similar terrorist organisations,” Ms Bishop told Network Seven.

Labor leader Bill Shorten and his foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong described the attacks as barbaric.

“An attack on any place of religion is an attack on freedom of religion everywhere,” they said in a statement.

“Labor expresses our support and deepest sympathy to the families of those affected and for the 100,000 Australians of the Coptic faith who are part of our community.”

Pope prays for victims 

Pope Francis, who is due in Cairo on April 28-29, offered prayers for the victims.

“Let us pray for the victims of the attack unfortunately carried out today,” he said.

“May the Lord convert the heart of those who sow terror, violence and death and also the heart of those who make weapons and trade in them.”

Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, have been targeted by several attacks in recent months.

Jihadists and Islamists accuse Copts of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.

In December, a suicide bombing claimed by IS killed 29 worshippers in a Cairo church.

The group later released a video threatening Egypt’s Christians with more attacks.

A spate of jihadist-linked attacks in the restive Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish, led some Coptic families to flee.

About 250 Christians took refuge in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya after IS in February called for attacks on the minority.

US President Donald Trump led international condemnation of Sunday’s attacks.

“So sad to hear of the terrorist attack in Egypt. US strongly condemns. I have great confidence that President Al Sisi will handle situation properly,” he tweeted.

UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed the hope that the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice after a Security Council statement condemned the bombings as “heinous” and “cowardly”.

The exterior of St. George’s Church as people gather (AAP)AAP

String of attacks 

The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, an influential Sunni Muslim authority, said the attacks aimed to “destabilise security and… the unity of Egyptians”.

Egypt’s Copts have endured successive attacks since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013.

More than 40 churches were targeted nationwide in the two weeks after the deadly dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo on August 14 that year, Human Rights Watch said. 

Sisi, who as then army chief helped remove Morsi, has defended his security forces and accused jihadists of attacking Copts in order to divide the country.

In October 2011, almost 30 people — mostly Coptic Christians — were killed outside the state television building in Cairo after the army charged at protesters denouncing the torching of a church in southern Egypt.

A few months earlier, the unclaimed New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church killed more than 20 people in second city Alexandria.

China, S.Korea talk more N.Korea sanctions

China and South Korea have agreed to slap tougher sanctions on North Korea if it carries out nuclear or long-range missile tests, a senior official in Seoul says, as a US Navy strike group headed to the region in a show of force.

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North Korea marks several major anniversaries in April and often marks the occasions with major tests of military hardware.

The possibility of US military action against North Korea in response to such tests gained traction following last week’s strikes against Syria.

Previously, Washington has leaned toward sanctions and pressure to deter North Korea but comments from US President Donald Trump’s top aides at the weekend suggest that position might be hardening.

However, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Kim Hong-kyun, said there was no mention of any military option in his talks with China’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs, Wu Dawei.

The two also did not discuss any possible strike against the North by the Trump administration, he said.

“Both sides agreed that despite the international community’s warnings, if North Korea makes strategic provocations such as a nuclear test or an ICBM launch, there should be strong additional measures in accordance with UN security council resolutions,” Kim told reporters.

Kim said the two sides agreed “an even stronger UN resolution” would have to be adopted in the event of additional weapons test by North Korea.

Wu did not speak to reporters.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the US military strike against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons was a warning to other countries including North Korea that “a response is likely” if they pose a danger.

“(Chinese) President Xi (Jinping) clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” Tillerson said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

The US Navy strike group Carl Vinson cancelled a planned trip to Australia and was moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean Peninsula as a show of force, a US official told Reuters at the weekend.

North Korea has sounded a note of defiance against the US, calling the strikes against Syria on Friday “an unforgivable act of aggression” that showed Pyongyang’s decision to develop nuclear weapons was “the right choice”.

Let’s get Adani up and running: Joyce

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says a rail line connecting the Adani Carmichael mine could turn Queensland’s Galilee Basin into a “cash cow” for Australia.

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The Indian company has applied for a $900 million concessional loan from the government’s Northern Australia infrastructure fund to help build a line connecting the central Queensland mine and the Abbot Point port.

“It’s a great idea isn’t it,” Mr Joyce told ABC radio on Tuesday, after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sat down with the company’s founder and chairman Gautam Adani during a visit to India.

The mine would help directly employ about 3000 people – with a further 10,000 indirect jobs, he said.

“It’s a great investment in getting people out of poverty,” Mr Joyce said.

Mr Joyce said the rail line could also help other Australian miners, opening up the Galilee Basin and turning it into a “cash cow”.

“As well as turning on the power for other people in the world,” he said.

The $16.5 billion investment from Adani would also be great for the region following the devastation of Cyclone Debbie, he said.

The company’s Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland was approved in December but has faced serious opposition from environmental and indigenous groups.

“(People) sit down in the inner suburbs and say ‘Well we’re happy with our life we want you up in central Queensland to stay poorer than us’, and that’s not a view that I condone,” Mr Joyce said.

Ahead of the meeting with Mr Adani, Mr Turnbull insisted a decision on the potential rail loan was going through an independent process.

It’s understood Adani representatives mentioned the infrastructure fund during the meeting, but made it clear they understood any decision was independent of the government.

‘Assad is toxic’: Boris Johnson at G7 urges Putin to end his support

G7 foreign ministers were on Monday to send a “clear and coordinated message” to Russia over its stance on Syria as Washington ratcheted up the pressure following a suspected chemical attack in the war-torn country.

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as “toxic” and saying it was “time for (Russian President) Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up”.

Top diplomats from the seven major advanced economies are in Italy for their annual two-day meeting which had initially been expected to focus on talks with new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about hotspots like Libya, Iran and Ukraine.

But the agenda is now likely to be dominated by last week’s suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Syrian town that killed at least 87 civilians, and the US cruise missiles fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation.

It was the first time Washington has intervened directly against the regime of Assad, who is fighting a civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran, and the G7 ministers will deliberate the West’s next steps.

The gathering in the Tuscan city of Lucca, which begins at 1430 GMT, groups foreign ministers from the United States and Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

‘End Assad support’

Washington’s retaliation was slammed by Iran and North Korea and put it on a direct diplomatic collision course with Moscow, where Tillerson heads on Tuesday for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The US stepped up the pressure on Sunday on Russia to rein in the Syrian regime, warning that any further chemical attacks would be “very damaging” to their relationship and suggesting any peace deal would be difficult with Assad in power.

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Tillerson enraged Moscow by asking if it was possible Russia did not know about Syria’s chemical arms, and called on the country to fulfil the obligation it made to the international community to guarantee the elimination of the weapons.

“We need to make it clear to Putin that the time to back Assad has gone,” Johnson said Monday, warning that Putin was “damaging Russia” by supporting Assad.

He had cancelled a scheduled visit to Moscow “to continue contact with the US and others” ahead of Tillerson’s Russian trip.

He called on Russia to do “everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated”.

Tillerson would “deliver that clear and coordinated message to the Russians”, he said.

Related’Crime against innocents’

Italy has arranged a last-minute meeting on Tuesday between the G7 ministers and their counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Italian media said the aim was “to avert a dangerous military escalation”.

Tillerson briefly met Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Lucca ahead of the wider meeting.

Kishida said he told Tillerson that Japan supports the US in its push to “deter the spread and use of chemical weapons”, and discussed the pressing North Korean nuclear threat.

Japan hopes the strong US response on Syria will also put pressure on the isolated country, which is showing signs of preparing for its sixth nuclear test and more test-firings of ballistic missiles.

“We agreed that the role of China is extremely important. Japan and the United States will jointly call on China to play a bigger role,” Kishida told reporters.

Tillerson spent the morning at a WWII ceremony at the site of a Nazi massacre in Sant’Anna di Stazzema near Lucca.

“We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” he said after he and other ministers lay a red wreath at the foot of the site’s memorial.

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Work-for-dole scheme safe, govt insists

The federal government’s work-for-the-dole scheme won’t be abolished in the upcoming budget, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash insists.

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The expenditure review committee has discussed ending the program, introduced by Tony Abbott in 1998 when he was a junior minister in the Howard government, Fairfax Media has reported.

But a key group of backbenchers has lobbied Treasurer Scott Morrison to keep the program, saying axing it would infuriate many conservative voters.

Senator Cash insisted the program was fundamental to the coalition’s efforts to get people off welfare.

“The government will not be abolishing Work for the Dole. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply incorrect,” she said in a statement.

“It means charities, not-for-profits and other community groups get extra pairs of hands to do valuable community work.”

Former employment minister Eric Abetz urged the government to continue the scheme.

“The work-for-the-dole programme is a vital tool in ensuring that unemployed people engage in work-like activities instead of spending the day on the couch,” he said in a statement.

“In my time as employment minister, I visited literally hundreds of work-for-the-dole sites and the overwhelming feedback from participants was that this is a positive programme that builds self-confidence and helps people to find friends and the support to find work.”

Cabinet minister Darren Chester told reporters outside Melbourne the scheme has had varying levels of success.

He’s seen programs in his electorate which have been extraordinarily beneficial.

“And then I’ve seen other programs which haven’t been quite as successful,” he said.

“So in terms of quality control, I think there’s work that could be done on improving work-for-the-dole and it’s something I’m very keen to work with the government to achieve.”