MH17 cockpit voice recorder ‘intact’

Dutch experts investigating the shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine say data from the cockpit voice recorder is intact and has not been tampered with.

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“The cockpit voice recorder was damaged but the memory module was intact. Furthermore no evidence or indications of manipulation of the cockpit voice recorder was found,” the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) said, as the black boxes were being analysed in Britain.

The recorders, salvaged from the plane wreckage in eastern Ukraine, have been handed to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) headquarters in Farnborough, southwest of London.

AAIB experts are tasked with extracting information from the cockpit voice recorder, which should give them hours of pilots’ conversations, as well as the contents of the flight data recorder.

“The cockpit voice recorder data was successfully downloaded and contained valid data from the flight. The downloaded data have to be further analysed and investigated,” the OVV said.

“Tomorrow (Thursday) the team will start the examination of the Flight Data Recorder. This will show whether this recorder also contains relevant information, in which case the data from both recorders will be combined.”

The boxes – which are actually orange in colour – were delivered to Farnborough by the OVV, which is leading an international investigation into the crash in which 298 people died, including Australia citizens and residents.

The OVV is coordinating investigation teams from eight different countries, including Russia.

Pro-Russian rebels controlling the crash site handed the boxes over to Malaysian officials on Tuesday.

Western governments say the evidence points to the Boeing 777 plane having been shot down with a missile by pro-Russian separatists.

Hamilton seeks fifth victory in Hungary

Lewis Hamilton is aiming to win his third straight Hungarian Grand Prix and fifth overall as he chases Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for the championship lead in the last race before the summer break.

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Mercedes has won nine of the season’s first 10 races and Rosberg leads the drivers’ standings with 190 points, 14 more than Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull is third with 106 points.

If previous results are anything to go by, Rosberg would not seem to have much of a chance to hold off Hamilton in Sunday’s race.

Rosberg’s last three placings at the winding, slow Hungaroring circuit have been going from bad to worse – ninth, 10th and 19th.

Hamilton, meanwhile, won in 2012 and 2013 and was fourth in 2011. He also took the top spot on the podium in Hungary in 2007 and 2009.

“I don’t really have any secrets there,” Hamilton said.

“I’ve just been very fortunate in that race and it’s a circuit I really enjoy. It’s one where you can really attack … so perhaps it suits my driving style a little bit more than some others.”

Hamilton drew much praise for his performance at last week’s German GP in Hockenheim.

After crashing during qualifying and taking a five-place grid penalty because of a gearbox change, he started in 20th place and climbed up to finish third.

“I can’t focus more or work harder than I am doing right now,” Hamilton said.

“The championship is proving a big challenge for me but that’s how I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

High track temperatures are expected again this year, though weather forecasts say light rain is likely on Saturday and thunderstorms on Sunday.

After Hungary, the Formula One circuit returns from vacation for the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps on August 24.

Russia to raise forecast despite sanctions

Shrugging off the threat of additional Western economic sanctions, Russian officials have indicated the 2014 growth forecast is likely to be doubled.

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“We are moving at a level of about one per cent annual growth in GDP … and are likely to stay there until the end of the year,” senior Kremlin adviser Andrei Belousov was quoted on Wednesday as saying by Russian news agencies.

Russia’s current 2014 growth forecast of 0.5 per cent is set to be updated, and Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said at a separate news conference that at this point “we’re talking about an increase to the forecast”.

Earlier this month, officials said the Russian economy, which was buffeted by market uncertainty surrounding Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a violent pro-Russian separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, escaped entering a technical recession in the second quarter of this year.

Officials said they expected data to show the Russian economy remained flat in April through June, after having contracted by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter.

The European Union and United States imposed in April only limited sanctions on Russia that target individuals and businesses.

This hit sentiment and sparked massive capital flight, which then prompted the government to lower the growth forecast after the Russian economy recorded 1.3 per cent growth last year.

However, the tensions calmed and recent industrial production data has been encouraging.

“The current sanctions will not have a macroeconomic effect, it is a problem for specific companies,” said Belousov.

But both the European Union and the United States are moving towards imposing sanctions on entire economic sectors, which some analysts see as likely by September unless the Ukraine crisis is resolved.

Analysts at London-based Capital Economics warned that the widespread presumption that Russia will prove resilient in the face of any additional sanctions could prove complacent.

“Even if the direct impact of sanctions is limited, the indirect impact can be significant,” Chief Emerging Markets Economist Neil Shearing said in a recent research note, adding the sanctions could spark another increase in the flow out of the country and deter a rise in both foreign and domestic investment.

Early missteps show Abbott needs a plan B to deal with the Senate

By Mark Rolfe

Last week, television news presented grabs of former prime minister John Howard arriving in Canberra.

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It is unknown if Howard was there to share his wisdom with Coalition MPs on how to deal with minor parties controlling the balance of power in the Senate. If he was, it would demonstrate a lack of corporate memory in the Coalition government of how to deal with this situation.

Having to seek advice from Howard would fly in the face of Tony Abbott’s election promise of a team of experienced ministers from the Howard era: Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Eric Abetz and Abbott himself. But lessons on how to deal with the upper house have been hard learned by some governments – even by Howard in his first term.

Ever since Labor introduced proportional voting for electing the Senate in 1948, the government of the day has rarely controlled the upper house. Since the Democratic Labor Party’s (DLP) arrival in the 1950s a variety of minor parties and independents have found it easy to gain the lower thresholds of votes to get into the Senate, especially after further reforms under Labor prime minister Bob Hawke.

As a result, the experience of prime ministers Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s and John Howard after 2004 were throwbacks to the first half of the century when governments faced overwhelming support or overwhelming opposition in the Senate.

What the 1948 change did was to accentuate the natural inclination of federal parliament. Australia has two chambers of almost equal powers. The only difference is that the Senate cannot initiate or amend “money bills”.

In effect, Australia’s political system is a recipe for both conflict and co-operation. And it is necessary for any political leader to judge the uses and limits of both aspects.

In that respect, we can expect – but should not take too seriously – parties to spout while in government about their electoral mandate to get policies through, after rightly declaring in opposition their scepticism of the concept – which this government has done on both counts.

 

As prime minister, John Gorton did it ‘his way’ and was reluctant to deal with a hostile Senate. NAA

 

The complexities were lost on John Gorton, who was prime minister between 1968 and 1971. Gorton’s way of dealing with people was summarised by a newspaper with a song by Frank Sinatra – My Way. As Gorton notably said:

I am always prepared to recognise that there can be two points of view – mine and one that is probably wrong.

As such, Gorton sometimes attacked or refused to negotiate with the DLP, upon which his government depended for passage of legislation.

Gorton was brought down by Fraser, who proved not much better at dealing with a minor party when he became prime minister. Admittedly, the Democrats formed from breakaways of the Liberal Party and were led by former Liberal minister Don Chipp, who labelled Fraser, Labor’s Gough Whitlam and their parties bastards who needed to be kept honest. Still, Fraser tried to ignore the political upstart.

This changed with the Hawke government. It decided to work with the Democrats, who used the balance of power where they could – that is, only when the Liberal and National parties were opposed – to modify ALP legislation.

Meanwhile, antagonism towards the Democrats seeped through the Coalition souls, leaving them convinced that the Democrats were a pro-ALP or even radically left party. Adversarial rage prevented any appreciation of their small-l Liberal origins or the shift of the political spectrum to the right during the 1980s and 1990s.

When the Coalition returned to government in 1996, its mind was generally set on ideological incompatibility with the Democrats. Although Peter Reith negotiated changes to industrial relations with Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot, there was a reversion to type. Like Fraser, Howard tried to ignore them for the sake of dealing with Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine and Labor turncoat Mal Colston. Howard was more ideologically comfortable with Harradine’s social conservatism than with the Democrats.

 

John Howard was forced to deal with Senate Democrats over the GST. AAP/Alan Porritt

 

The comfort was not to last. After the 1998 election, Howard and treasurer Peter Costello didn’t even consult the Democrats about the GST upon which they had staked their campaign. There was no Coalition plan for concurrent negotiations with different players. There was no plan B when Harradine said no to the GST.

The government was completely unprepared, even though it knew the Democrats had the balance of power from July 1999. Howard and Costello backflipped. They suddenly found the Democrats a delight to work with.

Abbott and current-day treasurer Joe Hockey knew PUP and others would have the balance of power in the Senate from July 2014 but also made no preparations. As crossbench senator Ricky Muir’s senior adviser Glenn Druery said:

Not a single minister, not a single member of the government, has come and knocked on the door and offered to buy us a coffee or have a chat. It should have begun weeks ago. If I could give the government some gentle advice I would say they need a little more empathy with those they have to deal with.

As the debacles of the last two weeks have shown, Druery’s comments were not simply self-serving.

Last October, I posited belligerence as a style of this government which can leave:

… voters with perceptions of ridiculous stubbornness or humiliating backdown.

With belligerence goes bluster, particularly with the range of promises at the election that could not be met or were contradicted by the budget; with the failure to recognise the limits with the Senate; but also in the refusal to countenance the public backlash.

Since last year, the government has manoeuvred itself into this position where its bluster has made it vulnerable to Clive Palmer’s bluster. Bluster has begotten bluster.

Mark Rolfe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

World Cup will inspire Rio Olympics – IOC’s Bach

“I think the success of the organisation of the World Cup helped, and will help, the organisation of the Games,” Bach told Reuters in an interview ahead of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

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“I could really feel this during my visit there for the final weekend of the World Cup. It was much more confident and optimistic. Brazil realised that it can deliver.”

Preparations for Rio 2016 were called the “worst ever” by IOC vice-president John Coates in April, but Bach, elected to his position in September, said progress was being made before the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

“Since the last meeting with the organising committee in March, you can feel, not only feel, you can see the commitment and the determination coming from the top of the government,” said German Bach, a 1976 Olympic champion in fencing.

“They were extremely clear by saying that from the Monday after the World Cup the Games would be top priority.

“But it does not mean that you can lean back. There is still a lot to do, but I think we can be really confident that we will have a great Games, with all the Brazilian enthusiasm and joy of life.”

With FIFA yet to decide whether to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in the summer or winter, the 60-year-old Bach is certain the tournament will not clash with the Winter Olympic Games in the same year.

“I spoke with FIFA about this a couple of months ago and it is very clear that in mutual interests there would be no conflicting situation,” Bach said.

“I am very relaxed because FIFA knows it would not be good to compete against the Winter Games and we also know that it would not be good for the Winter Games to compete against the World Cup.”

Bach did concede, however, that the IOC needs to do more to attract cities to bid for the Winter Games after several decided against hosting the 2022 event due to financial concerns.

Sochi cost Russia an estimated $50 billion (29.34 billion pounds) because of the huge infrastructure projects undertaken in the Black Sea resort but Bach stressed that the operational costs of the Winter Olympics have been the same for last few Games at around $2 billion.

Around $700 million of those running costs for Sochi were met by the IOC, who might contribute even more towards the running of the next Winter Games.

“What happened with the bids, I think, is a kind of misunderstanding of what needs to be done to organise an excellent Winter Games,” Bach said.

“We think we need to explain that the cost for the organisation of the Winter Games is about the same as it was for the Sochi Games.

“We need to explain this and then it is up to each of the bidding cities to make best use of their existing infrastructure, their existing facilities, and in such a way organising sustainable and feasible Olympic Winter Games.

“There was clearly a misunderstanding of this concept and we are addressing this.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)