Just give me the ball: Jack Bird

Jack Bird has made no secret of his desire to play at fullback or five-eighth and it shapes as a potential key to wrenching the young superstar away from premiers Cronulla.

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Off contract at season’s end, the NSW representative is one of the hottest commodities on the open market and is believed to have attracted attention from at least five rival clubs.

Newcastle have made no secret of their desire to get him on their books as they look to rebuild after a lean couple of years.

The Sharks want to lock him up but have a juggling act on their hands with a host of stars looking to renew their deals at the end of 2017 including skipper-in-waiting Wade Graham.

Bird demonstrated his value with a starring performance at No.1 in last week’s rout of Canberra.

He has made no secret of his desire to move from centre – a position he once called “boring” – closer to the action.

He played five-eighth in 2015 – winning the Dally M rookie of the year award – before being moved into the three-quarter line during the Shark’s premiership winning campaign last year.

Bird said he was simply happiest with ball in hand and felt reinvigorated after his stint at fullback on the weekend.

“I knew it’s a position that’s going to be around the ball, I like to be around the ball and that’s where I play my best football,” Bird said.

“On the weekend I started enjoying myself again and I felt alive out there.”

Asked if where he is offered a spot will affect his contract negotiations, he said: “As long as I’m in the 17 it doesn’t really matter.

“But obviously you want to play a position you’re happy in. And if you’re not, you’re not going to play your best football.”

Bird has been named in the No.1 jersey for Sunday’s local derby against St George Illawarra but could be shunted out to the centres to make way for a returning Valentine Holmes.

Holmes hinted that, regardless of the number on Bird’s back, the side would look to go to him more often this year.

“You need to get him around the ball more,” Holmes said.

“You give him the ball and good things happen. He plays well and the team plays well.

“Obviously coming off the back of that win (against Canberra), it was the biggest win they’ve had down there. It’s not like it was a fluke – he’s a good player.

“You’ve just got to try and get him the ball as much as you can, whether he is playing centre or not.”

Hansen insists Jones praise was genuine

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen insists his praise of England was genuine in response to being compared to fairytale predator the Big Bad Wolf by Eddie Jones.

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Hansen congratulated Jones and his players after they retained their Six Nations title with a 61-21 rout of Scotland, equalling the All Blacks’ record winning sequence of 18 successive Tests in the process.

Jones was wary of the approval, however, likening it to Little Red Riding Hood being deceived by the wolf.

But Hansen told Radio Sport NZ: “Eddie is obviously not used to getting compliments so he’s got to try and brush it off, I suppose.

“It’s not about playing the game, in this case I and the team genuinely believe they should be complimented.

“They’ve done a tremendous job, they’ve equalled the record and could go on and break it this weekend.

“Sport is about paying due when it’s due. They’ve done a good job and well done.

“For a long time England have been the quiet underachiever but now they’ve stepped up and said ‘we want to be part of the big boys’, and what they’re doing is putting together a record that should be commended.

“It doesn’t come easy, doing that. A lot of hard work goes in. We shouldn’t find it hard to say ‘well done’.

“If you can be gracious whilst you’re winning, you’ve got to be gracious when someone else is winning as well. That’s a big part of sport.”

However, Hansen appeared to be making mischief when suggesting he was unaware that the sport’s top two teams are due to meet in a mouth-watering showdown in November 2018.

The Rugby Football Union has confirmed the teams will clash in the autumn series at Twickenham next year in a match that has generated reports of a behind-the-scenes dispute over money.

“I don’t care when we play, but we’re not scheduled to play them, so if we are going to play them we’re going to have to find a way to do that, and give us half their stadium or something. That would be good,” Hansen said.

Copper up on China demand optimism

Copper prices have climbed as funds bought on growing expectations of stronger demand from top consumer China, but a higher US dollar ahead of Wednesday’s decision on US interest rates by the Federal Reserve caps gains.

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The benchmark copper contract on the London Metal Exchange ended up 0.4 per cent at $US5,820 a tonne, nearly 3 per cent above the two-month low at $US5,652 hit last week.

Traders said buying after the New York open helped copper to reverse early losses.

China issued data on Tuesday showing the economy got off to a strong start this year, supported by bank lending, infrastructure spending and a much-needed resurgence in private investment.

China accounts for just under half of global copper demand, which is estimated at around 23 million tonnes this year.

“A lot will depend on what the Fed does, but the demand signals from China are improving, the data was positive,” Citi analyst David Wilson said.

The Fed’s two-day meeting is expected to conclude on Wednesday with a rate rise, which could boost the US currency, making dollar-denominated metals more expensive for non-US firms and potentially weaken demand.

However, copper has been supported for some time by disruptions to output in Chile and Peru due to strikes and in Indonesia, where the government has halted exports of copper concentrate from Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine.

“Supply-side issues should continue to support metal prices; however investors are likely to remain cautious leading into the FOMC (Fed) meeting and other key economic releases,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

The three-month nickel price gained 0.7 per cent to $US10,230 a tonne, underpinned by the prospects of a full-scale mining ban in the Philippines, the world’s top exporter of nickel ore.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accused some miners of funding efforts to destabilise his government and he talked about a possible plan to impose a ban on mining given the environmental damage producers have caused.

Aluminium fell 1.2 per cent to $US1,860, zinc rose 0.2 per cent to $US2,749.5, lead slid 2.2 per cent to $US2,223.5 and tin gained 2.7 per cent to $US19,970.

Turnbull’s WA GST comment ‘off the beat’

The prime minister may have showed he is out of touch with West Australian people after he claimed the media was living in a “parallel universe” over the issue of the GST revenue carve-up, analysts say.

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Malcolm Turnbull spent most of last week in WA but brought little to woo voters in terms of infrastructure funding announcements or a resolution to the GST problem.

WA receives the lowest share of GST revenue and the state government last week urged Canberra to intervene over new census figures downgrading WA’s population, which it says could lead to another $1.9 billion hit.

Mr Turnbull skirted around GST questions but raised eyebrows when he claimed he had received a warm welcome to WA, which he said was contrary to media reports that people were “angry” and “wished” he would stay away.

“It is a complete parallel universe between what the media are saying and what people I’m meeting in the real world are saying to me,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

Political analyst Harry Phillips said the prime minister seemed to be covering up a problem he did not have a solution to yet.

“I was quite amazed by his statement,” he told AAP on Sunday.

“He’s usually quite good in his public statements … but on that one, I think he was just completely off the beat.”

Prof Phillips said the GST was a “coffee table” topic in WA that was a big concern and broadly discussed, even if people did not fully understand the carve-up system.

Analyst John Phillimore agreed on the GST significance and said there otherwise would not be a Productivity Commission inquiry into it.

“Clearly it’s a bigger issue than just the media. But also, what else is he going to say, to some extent (about the warm welcome)?

“It is clearly an issue in most people’s minds and has been for some time.”

Prof Phillimore said the prime minister was “shepherded to the right people” when he was in the community, so it was no surprise he felt positive about his visit.

Analyst David Black said Mr Turnbull’s visit was as successful as expected, but there could be ramifications once the WA budget is handed down on September 7 and the extent of the financial mess is revealed.

“The fact is that there is a real issue here and there is a federal election in sight,” he said.

“WA is a state that makes a difference.”

A recent Galaxy poll suggested four Liberal-held seats in WA could be in trouble.

But Prof Black also noted WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt had a tricky job of selling the state budget.

“From Mr Turnbull’s point of view, while WA deals with its problems it might make it easier from his side,” he said.

The prime minister, whose last visit to WA was in February, promised to return several more times this year.

Saints down Eagles in AFL thriller

St Kilda are believing again after getting their AFL finals bid back on track with a thrilling come-from-behind win against West Coast.

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A week after being rocked by Port Adelaide star Robbie Gray’s last-gasp winner, Alan Richardson’s Saints scored a morale-boosting 15.13 (103) to 14.11 (95) win on Sunday afternoon.

The stakes were high at Etihad Stadium with the Eagles and Saints eighth and 11th respectively going into round 20.

With their finals hopes on the line, St Kilda trailed by 14 points early in the last quarter but held their nerve and rattled through three unanswered goals to hit the lead then hang on for a pulsating win.

“I’m just so pleased for the boys … we couldn’t have been any more dominant in the last quarter, but weren’t able to really get reward,” Richardson said.

“It was just one of those games for the players to just get the satisfaction of being able to come in and sing the song after working so hard is really pleasing.”

The Saints remain in 11th spot with the win but are now the last team in a group of four sides with 10-9 records who are battling it out for a finals berth.

West Coast, in ninth, are one of those clubs but Adam Simpson’s team looks vulnerable after they suffered their fifth loss in Melbourne this season.

“We did a lot right … I thought the boys were pretty brave but couldn’t sustain it in the end,” Simpson said.

“When we got it in our front half we looked quite dangerous so I’m going to look at the glass half-full on this one.

“I think the effort and intent is there but the ability to execute all day is obviously something we’re working on.”

There was just one point in it as the clock ticked down the dying minutes, but Jack Billings marked and kicked the sealer with less than 30 seconds left in a pulsating contest.

Jack Steele was outstanding for the home side with 26 possessions, 10 tackles and two goals, with Blake Acres (30 disposals) and Billings (25 touches, two goals) also important.

Josh Kennedy kicked five goals for the Eagles, with Sam Mitchell (23 possessions) and Andrew Gaff (30) also influential.

The Saints face another key test on Sunday when they face 10th-placed Melbourne at the MCG, while the Eagles return home to host Carlton on Saturday night.

Retiring star Nick Riewoldt finished the match in the concussion protocol after a head clash with Dom Sheed, but the club is confident he will be cleared to play next week.

Tigers march on towards AFL’s top four

Richmond have dismantled Hawthorn by 29 points at the MCG to keep their top-four AFL ambitions on track.

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The Tigers made short work of the in-form Hawks, winning 13.15 (93) to 9.10 (64) to end Hawthorn’s hopes of finals football.

But Damien Hardwick’s side can continue to dream after a relentless performance brought a fourth-straight win.

The Tigers sit third, outside the top two by 3.3 per cent after their fine day’s work.

Dion Prestia put together one of his best showings for Richmond, Alex Rance was unbeatable and David Astbury had a field day.

Josh Caddy kicked four goals and Dustin Martin finished strongly, but nowhere was the difference between the two sides more evident than inside 50.

Richmond — without spearhead Jack Riewoldt once more — brought superb tackling intensity and found new routes to goal.

Caddy, Daniel Rioli, Trent Cotchin and Corey Ellis all kicked first-term goals to create a buffer that the Hawks couldn’t get close to all day.

Hardwick said the quick start against the almost-feared Hawks was key.

“We knew they were a fast-starting side and our guys came to play early. They’ve been a form side,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of sides thankful for us for beating them. Playing those guys in September’s a bit of a concern, so it’s a good win.”

“I’m really pleased with the way the guys shared the ball around, played for each other. It was pretty impressive.”

The hard-working Tigers seemed to inhabit every square inch of the ground, denying Hawthorn any run or clean usage.

Without suspended leader Luke Hodge, the Hawks struggled and played without cohesion.

The first-half display had Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling excited about Richmond’s prospects in September.

“It’s so impressive the style they’re playing with. It’s finals style football. This’ll hold up,” he told radio station 3AW.

Hawthorn eliminated their skill errors but were no more penetrative in the second term.

After a low-scoring second term, Richmond opened up a 45-point lead with three quick third-term goals.

The Tigers would have moved to second on the ladder if they maintained that pace.

Instead, a late Hawthorn rally means Richmond have to be content with third place with three matches left — starting with next Saturday’s blockbuster against fourth-placed Geelong.

In his 250th game, Jarryd Roughead was emblematic of Hawthorn’s kicking woes.

The Hawks skipper twice kicked out on the full, but did slot a tough set shot from outside 50 metres in an otherwise forgettable milestone game.

Hawks boss Alastair Clarkson said the Tigers were “harder and more polished”.

“We probably contributed a fair bit to their good play by giving them the ball far too easily,” he said.

Tigers lick lips for Selwood-less AFL Cats

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick can’t hide his anticipation for Saturday’s marquee AFL match-up with Geelong.

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With Cats skipper Joel Selwood ruled out of the contest, the Tigers coach admits he’ll “be sleeping a little easier” this week.

Richmond will head down the Princes Highway next weekend full of confidence after their 29-point dismissal of Hawthorn, their fourth-straight success.

The venue is not a happy hunting ground for the Tigers, with just one win in Geelong since 1990.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the fixture for Hardwick’s side.

Win and they’ll have all but locked up a double chance in September.

It could even allow the Tigers to stake a claim for a second-place finish, and the possibility of an all-MCG pathway to the grand final.

A loss and Richmond will sit fourth, looking at an away final to rampant minor premiers in-waiting Adelaide.

The stakes are high and Hardwick says he won’t be downplaying them in an attempt to deflect pressure.

“We embrace it. We’re enjoying the challenge at the moment and enjoying the struggle of the AFL season,” he said.

“It’s been an incredible season so far.

“It’s going to be big game down the highway but we don’t hide from any opponent.”

While admitting it would make his job of preparing for the game easier, Hardwick said he was disappointed that Selwood wouldn’t be out there.

The Geelong hard man suffered an ankle injury in Friday night’s loss to Sydney that won’t allow him to play again until the finals.

But Richmond could be without one of their key planks, with Jack Riewoldt no guarantee to return.

Riewoldt cut his cornea at training and visited three specialists in the hope of playing against Hawthorn without success.

“He was pretty close this week,” Hardwick said.

“If he doesn’t get the tick off I’m sure he’ll go searching for four or five other eye specialists.

“I think he’s ticked off half of them in Victoria.

“We’re pretty confident he’ll be right to play.”

Hardwick said the nature of his side’s win, without key forward Jack Riewoldt, showed the Cats would still be formidable.

“We lost a good player in Jack for two weeks. Sides can play when they haven’t got their best player playing,” he said.

Hardwick hailed the influence of recruits Josh Caddy (28 disposals, four goals) and Dion Prestia (31 disposals, one goal), who he said played their “best games for us in a big game”.

Abbas pledges to ramp up Gaza sanctions

Palestinian Authority president Mr Abbas based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been seeking to weaken Islamists Hamas by cutting power supplies to crowded Gaza.

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On Saturday, he said he would continue with sanctions on the coastal strip, despite UN concerns that it amounts to collective punishment of its two million residents.

“We will continue the gradual stopping of financial allocations to the Gaza Strip until Hamas commits to reconciliation” with the Abbas administration, the president said.

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“Since the coup, we have paid a billion and a half dollars to the Gaza Strip,” Abbas said, referring to the 2007 overthrow of his Fatah movement by Hamas in Gaza.

“We will not allow this to continue,” the WAFA official Palestinian news agency reported him as saying in Arabic.

“Either things will go as they are meant to be, or we will continue to reduce these funds,” he said, accusing Hamas of stealing some of the funds.

The Islamist group responded late Saturday in a statement: “Attacking Hamas and threatening the people of Gaza with more sanctions is a blow to reconciliation efforts.”

It accused Abbas’s Palestinian Authority of working with Israel to isolate Gaza and bring suffering to its people.

Both sides have previously committed to reconciliation, but repeated attempts have failed.

The Palestinian Authority had been paying for some electricity to be delivered to Gaza since 2007, but in recent months has reduced the amount.

Gazans now receive only a couple of hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority has also cut stipends to its former Gaza staff forced out of office by Hamas, in a move analysts see as seeking to sow discontent in the enclave.

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Stand-off continues over Sydney tent city

Gladys Berejiklian has accused Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore of playing “political games” over a homeless encampment in the city centre.

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“It has become increasingly clear that Clover Moore has no interest in resolving this issue and serving her ratepayers, but would rather play political games,” the NSW premier said in a statement on Sunday.

“We call on councillors of the City of Sydney to do their jobs and move against this blatant act of politicking at their council meeting on Monday night.”

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and NSW Social Housing Minister Pru Goward previously urged Ms Moore to resolve the issue at crisis talks on Friday.

However, Ms Moore said the camp wouldn’t be dismantled until she was assured there was a long-term housing solution for the residents, dismissing the premier’s accusation of politicising the issue.

“I will not support moving on homeless without certainty they have support and permanent homes to go to,” Ms Moore said in a statement.

“That isn’t politicking, it is doing my job to support society’s most vulnerable, as my community expects.”

Ms Berejiklian in her statement on Sunday said that if the council didn’t do anything to resolve the issue, the state government would.

“The NSW government should not be required to do the job of council, but in extreme circumstances where the lord mayor will not do what is required and uses public property and people’s lives to make a statement, we may be forced to do so,” she said.

The police commissioner has indicated he wants a resolution by the end of the weekend – and that has placed the camp’s residents on edge.

Dubbed the Mayor of Martin Place, Lanz Priestley said camp organisers had an obligation to continue to provide safety, shelter, food and support to the residents, regardless of the talks going on behind closed doors.

“Touch wood someone will consult with us at some point along the line,” the camp organiser told AAP late on Saturday.

“They haven’t so far.”

Mr Priestley is concerned about the few lines of dialogue which have emerged from the discussions so far.

“I laughed when they started to call it a protest – protesters go home,” he said.

“But changing the narrative, getting people on board with the idea of this being a protest makes it political.

“They can be seen to smash a protest, they can’t be seen smashing a community of homeless people.”

Ms Goward on Sunday said Family and Community Services staff had been to the camp 44 times and had permanently housed 70 people.

$1.1b in cuts to hurt disadvantaged: Universities Australia

Universities are worried the federal government’s planned cuts will hit disadvantaged communities the hardest.

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A new analysis of the planned higher education overhaul shows universities will collectively lose $1.16 billion in base funding over the next four years from the so-called efficiency dividend the government wants to impose.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson says this highlights the significant impact of the cuts on the sector – one far from the benign impact she believes the government is trying to portray.

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“It will have a particularly severe impact on those universities that serve some of the most disadvantaged communities,” she told AAP on Sunday.

These universities tended to be younger and smaller, without large cash reserves or the ability to attract the kind of big donations older institutions could, she said.

In NSW, Western Sydney University – which caters to many low-socio economic status students who are often the first in their family to attend university – comes out as the biggest loser, set to cop a $54.1 million cut over the next four years, Universities Australia figures provided to a Senate committee examining the government’s package show.

However, half the 10 universities that will be hit with the biggest cuts in absolute terms are in the prestigious, research-intensive Group of Eight.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said university funding had been a “river of gold” for nearly a decade and was set to keep growing another 23 per cent over the next four years.

“As you’d expect from a lobby group, this shows only one part of the picture,” he said of the Universities Australia analysis.

The minister pointed to education department analysis showing per-student funding would be higher in 2020 than in 2011, although the modelling also shows it would be lower than in 2010 or any year from 2012 on.

The Innovative Research Universities group of six institutions disputed the government modelling, saying it was “over-egged”.

Universities serving disadvantaged communities will be most affected by government cuts, says Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson.AAP

It says much of the touted increase in per-student funding since 2010 has come from universities enrolling more students in higher cost courses.

At the same time, that change means institutions have to spend more to cover those students’ study because government payments for these courses are not indexed at a rate that keeps up with costs.

“Students need better resourced universities, not to pay more for less,” the IRU says.

It estimates its members will lose $43 million by 2021 under the government changes.

As well as the efficiency dividend, the government plans to lift student fees by up to $3600 over a four-year degree and link a portion of university funding to performance and transparency measures.

The Senate committee is expected to table its report on the package on Wednesday, although the legislation isn’t scheduled for debate this week.

BIGGEST LOSERS

* Monash University (Vic) – $57.4 million cut over four years

* Western Sydney University (NSW) – $54.1 million

* The University of Queensland (Qld) – $54 million

* The University of Sydney (NSW) – $51.7 million

* Deakin University (Vic) – $50.3 million

* Queensland University of Technology (Qld) – $47.7 million

* University of New South Wales (NSW) – $47.4 million

* Griffith University (Qld) – $47.3 million

* University of Melbourne (Vic) – $46.5 million

* RMIT University (Vic) – $44.3 million

* Curtin University of Technology (WA) – $41 million

(Source: Universities Australia)

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China and US pressure North Korea after sanctions vote

The United States and China piled pressure on North Korea Sunday to abandon its nuclear missile programme after the UN Security Council approved tough sanctions which could cost Pyongyang $1 billion a year.

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One day after Council members voted unanimously for a partial ban on exports aimed at slashing Pyongyang’s foreign revenue by a third, top diplomats from the key powers in the dispute met in Manila.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was encouraged by the vote, but officials warned that Washington would closely watch China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner, to ensure sanctions are enforced 

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China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his North Korean counterpart Ri Hong-Yo before a major regional security forum being hosted by the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  

He urged the North to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

“It will help the DPRK to make the right and smart decision,” Wang told reporters, speaking through a translator, after talks with Ri — referring to the sanctions and to Ri’s presence in Manila. 

Pyongyang’s top envoy has so far avoided the media in Manila. 

But in a characteristically fiery editorial before the latest sanctions were approved, the North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned against US aggression.

“The day the US dares tease our nation with a nuclear rod and sanctions, the mainland US will be catapulted into an unimaginable sea of fire,” it said.

Tillerson also met Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was to see Wang later on Sunday, seeking to intensify Kim Jong-Un’s diplomatic isolation and reduce the risk of renewed conflict.

“It was a good outcome,” Tillerson said of the UN vote, before a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha.

Senior US envoy Susan Thornton said Washington was “still going to be watchful” on the implementation of sanctions, cautioning that previous votes had been followed by China “slipping back”.

But she added China’s support for the UN resolution “shows that they realise that this is a huge problem that they need to take on”.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, is greeted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.AAP

‘Military option’

The urgency of the situation was underlined by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who told MSNBC news that the US leader was reviewing plans for a “preventive war”.

“He said he’s not going to tolerate North Korea being able to threaten the United States,” McMaster said. 

“It’s intolerable from the president’s perspective. So of course, we have to provide all options to do that. And that includes a military option.”

Saturday’s UN resolution banned exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore as well as fish and seafood by the cash-starved state.

If fully implemented it would strip North Korea of a third of its export earnings – estimated to total $3 billion per year despite successive rounds of sanctions since the North’s first nuclear test in 2006.

The resolution also prevents North Korea from increasing the number of workers it sends abroad. Their earnings are another source of foreign currency for Kim’s regime.

It prohibits all new joint ventures with North Korea, bans new investment in current joint companies and adds nine North Korean officials and four entities including the North’s main foreign exchange bank to the UN sanctions blacklist.

What next?

Trump hailed the vote saying in a tweet that the sanctions will have “very big financial impact!, ” and thanked Russia and China for backing a measure that either could have halted with their UN veto.

The United States began talks on a resolution with China a month ago, after Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, followed by a second ICBM test on July 28.

But the measure does not provide for cuts to oil deliveries, which would have dealt a serious blow to the North’s economy.

China accounts for 90 percent of trade with North Korea, and Beijing’s attitude to its volatile neighbour will be crucial to the success or failure of the new sanctions regime.

China and Russia had resisted the US push, arguing that dialogue with North Korea was the way to persuade it to halt its military programmes.

Speaking to reporters after the council vote, Washington’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said “what’s next is completely up to North Korea.”

US officials have insisted that while Tillerson and Ri will be in the same room during the Manila forum, there would be no direct meeting between the two envoys.

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Campaigners welcome same-sex marriage bill

Marriage equality advocates have welcomed Liberal senator Dean Smith’s “strong and robust” proposal to allow same-sex marriage, in what they say is a exciting moment for their campaign.

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“There have been many bills for marriage equality but this is the strongest bill we have seen,” Australian Marriage Equality co-chair Alex Greenwich on Sunday told reporters in Sydney.

“It is a bill that is designed to pass the senate.

“Now we need parliament to work together to cross party lines and to achieve marriage equality together.”

Mr Smith and MPs Warren Entsch, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman have circulated the private members’ bill to colleagues ahead of a party room meeting on the issue on Monday.

The Human Rights Law Centre says the bill allows same-sex couples to access to civil marriage while respecting religious beliefs.

“It’s important to remember that religious ministers can discriminate now and nothing will change under this bill,” director of legal advocacy Anna Brown told reporters in Sydney.

However, a new category of celebrant would give same-sex couples “the dignity and certainty of knowing that when they go to a civil marriage celebrant, they will be not refused service,” she said.

The Human Rights Law Centre in a statement added the bill would create a new category of military officer to allow members of the Australian Defence Force – who can only be married by a military chaplain – a secular option.

The coalition promised a plebiscite on same-sex marriage but has also floated the alternative of a postal vote.

Ms Brown and Mr Greenwich said a parliamentary vote was the only way forward.

“This should not be anything that is controversial,” Mr Greenwich said.

“This is all about letting loving, committed couples access to civil marriage while respecting the religious celebrating of marriage.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church says the proposed bill would not protect the religious freedom of Australian people.

“If passed, a bill like this would have grave consequences for all people of faith,” Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement.

“The free exercise of religion is a right afforded to every Australian, and a law which does not protect religious freedom for all people does not protect religious freedom at all.”

Brown urges NRL to avoid grandfather rule

Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has urged the NRL not to apply a grandfather rule for clubs hoping to remain under a new salary cap next season.

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As the wait continues on a new collective bargaining agreement to produce a new cap figure, Brown admits the Knights are banking on rivals being forced to shed players for overspending.

“All the clubs, regardless of what they say, everyone got the email eight or ten months ago and got told that you’ve got to work off $9.1 million,” Brown told Triple M.

“And if you go over it, it’s your responsibility to get under it.”

The NRL last week denied suggestions up to 11 clubs had overshot their budget for playing rosters next season and would need to offload players to stay in the black.

Canterbury is one club widely believed to have been shopping a number of contracted players after luring big-names Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran to Belmore in 2018.

Brown wants the governing body to ensure everyone’s books are clean.

“Some clubs have spent over it and took and chance, and probably found themselves in a situation where it’s probably left them a little bit vulnerable,” he said.

“Some clubs like us took a chance to stay under it in the hope of something good coming up.

“Let’s hope our friends at the NRL hold their nerve and do the right thing and make these clubs get under the cap and don’t allow some sort of grandfather rule which some are lobbying for.

“The clubs that are over budget and probably put the market into a bit of a spin, they’ve got to pay the price. But the NRL will decide that at the end of the day.”

Brown, who admitted his interest in signing Bulldogs skipper James Graham to the club should he be tapped on the shoulder, also believes most clubs will have little cap room to move.

That means the Knights could be in a position to dictate the player market.

“It’s like settling a house. If you haven’t got buyers, you can’t sell,” he said.

“Canterbury might not have a choice who they want to let go at the end of the day because if the NRL do the right thing and make them get under the cap like they should do, they may have to let a player go that they don’t want to let go.”