Cancer the focus of new research funding

The Turnbull government is pouring $38 million into cancer research as part of a broader $200 million investment into medical projects.

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More than $29 million is being set aside for mental health research and nearly $23 million will go towards studies into cardiovascular disease.

The National Health and Medical Research Council funding to be announced on Wednesday will also see $8 million invested in diabetes research projects and $5 million to look into obesity.

The money for cancer research will have a specific focus on childhood cancers with the highest death rates.

The announcement builds on the $5 million set aside in the May budget for CanTeen to find a cure for cancers that target children and young adults.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says eliminating cancer once and for all is the goal and the funding will enable to organisation to start new clinical trials, especially into brain, bone and blood cancers.

About 1100 young people aged 15-25 are diagnosed with cancer each year and about 150 will die from the disease.

“This initiative will bring the latest medical innovations within reach of young people with cancer,” he said.

“There is nothing more tragic than childhood cancer.”

The University of New South Wales’ Dr Jason Wong will use his funding to investigate mutations in DNA to understand how cancer is caused.

Other projects include:

* The University of Sydney’s Professor Richard Scolyer will research ways to improve the outcomes of young patients with melanomas.

* The Murdoch Research Children’s Institute will investigate therapies for the treatment of end-stage kidney disease and a greater understanding for how the condition is inherited.

* Dr Ashleigh Lin from the University of Western Australia will look into prevention and early intervention strategies for young people with poor mental health.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says the government is supporting Australia’s world-leading researchers and scientists in their work to make the next major medical breakthrough.

“Their work is helping to make a better tomorrow for us all,” he said.

The announcements follow the decision earlier in the week to list a leukaemia and lymphoma drug Ibrutinib – also known as Imbruvica – on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

The medicine, which normally costs $187,390 per course of treatment, will be reduced to $38.80 per script or $6.30 for concessional patients in December.

Mr Turnbull and Mr Hunt also on Sunday announced an improved version of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil 9 will be given to all 12 and 13-year-old students from next year.

Trump challenges Tillerson to IQ test

Having loudly dismissed reports that Tillerson once called him a “moron,” Trump showed no sign of letting the controversy go, renewing questions about Tillerson’s future as America’s top diplomat.

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Just to make it clear that he’s smarter than his secretary of state, Trump suggested taking a test to prove it.

“I think it’s fake news,” Trump told Forbes magazine of Tillerson’s reported insult.

“But if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”

The explosive interview was published hours before the two men were scheduled to meet at the White House for lunch with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Ahead of that sit-down Trump insisted he still had confidence in the secretary of state, saying “I did not undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people.”

But White House insiders said that Tillerson’s refusal to directly deny an NBC News report that he labelled Trump a “moron” after a July meeting at the Pentagon, only fueled differences between the men.

Since then White House chief of staff John Kelly has been struggling to keep a lid on the crisis — an effort that has been consistently thwarted by Trump’s tweets and barbed remarks.

After the reports Trump took to Twitter to publicly upbraid the former ExxonMobil CEO for “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea.

The Twitter rebuke revived rumors that Tillerson is unhappy at his post, but he insists he has no intention of resigning.

Diplomatically crucial time

In Washington, Tillerson, along with Mattis, Kelly and chairman of the joint chiefs Joseph Dunford are increasingly seen as buffer around Trump that contains an impulsive president.

Kelly has worked to control the flow of information that crosses Trump’s desk and imposed a decision-making structure that was absent in the early days of the administration.

“The White House has become an adult day care center,” Senator Bob Corker declared at the weekend, in an astonishing public rebuke from a Republican who campaigned for Trump and chairs the Senate foreign relations committee.

Tillerson’s departure would be a major blow to those hoping to temper Trump and stop what Corker described as “the path to World War III.”

And it could not come at a more sensitive time diplomatically. Trump is poised to confront Iran by questioning a major nuclear deal later this week and appears set on upping tensions with North Korea. 

Tillerson is also set to play a major role in preparing Trump’s monster trip to Asia next month, that will take in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Still, it remains far from clear how long a secretary of state who has lost the ear of the president can remain in the post.

“When Cabinet officials continue to work for a president with whom they have fundamental disagreements, nothing good ever really comes of it,” Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University wrote this week.

WA Liberals to kill off gold royalty hike

The WA government’s hopes of raising $400 million for the budget by increasing gold royalties is in tatters after the Liberal opposition voted to block the deal.

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The announcement is a major blow for Labor and victory for the mining industry after intense lobbying and an emotive advertising campaign with a war chest of $500,000.

That culminated in a rally against the increased royaltues outside parliament on Tuesday.

Labor slammed the Liberals as “budget wreckers” in parliament for blocking measures they say they need to deal with a record budget deficit of $3 billion and debt tipped to pass $42 billion.

It warned WA families, which have already been slugged more for various household bills this year, could be hit further and the state could face a credit rating downgrade.

Liberal leader Mike Nahan said the party room vote was unanimous but it is understood at least some MPs were reluctant to take the unusual – but not unprecedented – step of blocking financial legislation in the upper house.

Labor won 14 of 36 upper house seats at the March election so needs at least five other MPs to lift royalty rates from 2.5 per cent to 3.75 per cent and raise nearly $400 million over four years.

The Nationals oppose the royalty hike despite having its own controversial policy of increasing BHP and Rio Tinto’s iron ore mining taxes – controversially policy the industry also spent big on successfully opposing.

Dr Nahan said he did not believe the Labor royalty increase was about budget repair but rather paying for $5 billion in “unfunded and unaffordable election promises” such as its Metronet rail system expansion.

The Mark McGowan-led government did not seek or receive a mandate to increase gold royalties at the election and had broken promises not to do so or increase taxes, he said.

“The idea that McGowan and Ben Wyatt have come up with that no jobs will be lost on this is quite absurd … it brings into question the competence of the government on this issue,” he said.

Dr Nahan said the party had made the “tough decision” to oppose the bill because it was the right one for the state and thousands of West Australians’ jobs would be lost if the royalty went ahead.

The industry lobby group the Chamber of Minerals and Energy released data last week claiming 3000 could be lost because the higher royalties made marginal mines such as the massive Telfer mine unprofitable.

Upper house leader Peter Collier conceded the party had only consulted with the gold mining industry but said he accepted its claims.

However, Mr McGowan and Mr Wyatt slammed the Liberals as “financial vandals”, accusing them of creating a budget crisis when in government and then refusing to support Labor in repairing it.

“What you’ve said to the households of Western Australia is that you can bear the burden of the Liberal party fiscal mess,” Mr Wyatt said in parliament.

Sri Lanka seals Pakistan series victory

Sri Lanka have ended Pakistan’s unbeaten record in the UAE after winning the second Test by 68 runs to wrap up a 2-0 series success.

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Chasing 317 to win, Asad Shafiq scored a valiant 112 before Pakistan was bowled out for 248 inside the first session on day five.

Sarfraz Ahmed scored a fighting 68, but when off-spinner Dilruwan Perera induced a top edge of the Pakistan captain’s mistimed sweep and broke the 173-run stand with Shafiq, Pakistan lost its last five wickets for 23 runs.

Sri Lanka made 482 and 96, and dismissed Pakistan for 262 and 248.

“We are over the moon,” Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal said.

“The boys executed the game plan really well in this series. Last night, it was a little difficult to bowl, especially with the dew (but) we knew when we come today, it will grip more. We knew Dilruwan and Rangana (Herath) would do the job.”

Perera grabbed 5-98 and Herath 2-57, taking the last wicket.

Pakistan, ranked No. 1 a year ago, will drop to No. 7, below Sri Lanka, which began the series as the underdog.

Sri Lanka’s confidence was down after losing every match during a visit by India recently, followed by a first five-match series loss to Zimbabwe in one-day internationals.

“It was a tough series for us, we came close in both matches,” Ahmed said after being whitewashed in his first test series as Pakistan captain since the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq this year.

“Test captaincy is a little difficult and I’ve learnt a lot. The boys are new as well and they’ll learn. We’ll do better in the future.

“Our preparations were fine, but we just missed big partnerships.”

The teams begin a five-match one-day international series, starting on Friday. That will be followed by three Twenty20s, with the last T20 scheduled to be played at Lahore.

Labor asks teachers for funding answers

Labor will bring together parents, teachers and principals for a forum to discuss what works best to improve schools and student results.

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Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek says the November 20 event in Melbourne will be about making sure the $17 billion extra Labor has pledged to spend on schools is used to get the biggest improvements for children in the classroom.

“Labor is hosting this national schools’ forum to identify and discuss the changes needed to ensure excellence, tackle educational disadvantage and make certain all Australian children leave school with the skills they need to participate in their community and in our changing economy,” she said on Wednesday.

“We want all Australian schools to be great schools, where children make strong progress each and every year.”

The forum will include representatives from the Australian Education Union, the NSW P&C Federation, the Australian Primary Principals Association, the Secondary Principals Association, the National Catholic Education Commission, the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the Independent Education Union, and Children and Young People with Disability Australia.

Teachers and principals will talk about their everyday experiences in the classroom.

The Turnbull government has commissioned businessman David Gonski to lead a review of how best to achieve educational excellence in schools, to report back by March.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham derided the Labor forum as another talkfest the opposition would use “as nothing more than a photo opp”.

“This forum is Labor turning their back on David Gonski and his work,” he said, calling on the opposition to back the new review of education initiatives.

Labor says the government’s overhaul of school funding passed earlier in the year duds the nation’s poorest children and takes billions away from what schools were expecting in their budgets over the next decade.

Deadly nerve agent found on body of North Korean leader’s half-brother

Kim Jong-Nam had 0.

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2 milligrams of VX per kilogram of body weight on his facial skin, well above the typical lethal dosage, chemist Raja Subramaniam told the trial of two women accused of his murder.

VX is so deadly it is listed by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, and Kim died shortly after the attack as it overcame his nervous system.

Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, in their 20s, are accused of smearing the poison on Kim’s face in February at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in a hit that stunned the world.

The women, who were arrested a few days after the killing and face death by hanging if convicted, have pleaded not guilty to murdering the estranged half-brother of Kim Jong-Un as he waited to board a flight to Macau.

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On Tuesday Raja outlined to the Shah Alam High Court near Kuala Lumpur how much VX was found on Kim’s face.

Asked if it was enough to kill, he responded: “I can’t give a direct answer to this. Based on concentration estimate, it is about 1.4 times the lethal dosage.”

He said that VX was also found on the collar of Kim’s blazer and its sleeves, which he likely used to wipe his face after the attack.

Raja previously testified that VX was found on the defendants’ clothing, the first evidence linking them directly to the poison.

On Monday the trial visited a high-security laboratory to examine the poison-tainted clothes worn by the women on the day of the attack.

Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, who was detained in connection with the death of Kim Jong-Nam, is escorted by Malaysian policeEPA/AAP

The defendants say they were duped into believing they were taking part in a prank for a reality TV show, and their lawyers blame North Korean agents for the assassination.

The murder sparked a fierce row between Malaysia and North Korea, which is suspected of ordering the hit. Pyongyang denies the allegation. 

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Kyrgios blames stomach bug for Shanghai retirement

Kyrgios then ran up to his opponent, shook his hand and walked off court to boos from the crowd, leaving Johnson and chair umpire Fergus Murphy confused.

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Local media reported that Kyrgios received two code violations during the set and was docked a point in the tiebreak.

Reports also said he told officials he would quit if he lost the set, but Kyrgios took to Twitter to apologise to his fans.

“I’ve been battling a stomach bug for the past 24 hours and I tried to be ready but I was really struggling on the court today which I think was pretty evident from the first point,” Kyrgios said.

“My shoulder started to hurt in the practice which didn’t help either and once I lost the first set I was just not strong enough to continue because I’ve not eaten much in the past 24 hours,” he added.

“I’m hoping to be okay for the doubles and will make a decision tomorrow morning, hopefully off of a good night’s sleep which I didn’t get last night.

“I’m gutted to be honest to be honest as I was keen to keep the good momentum that I built in Beijing going and finish the year strong. I’ll do what I can to make sure I do.”

Kyrgios was fined $16,500 by the ATP last year for deliberately throwing a game away during his second-round defeat by Mischa Zverev in Shanghai.

Argentine Juan Martin del Potro overpowered Russian teenager Andrey Rublev 6-3 6-4 in the second round.

American Sam Querrey powered past Yuichi Sugita 6-3 6-2 and Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov beat Viktor Troicki 6-7(3) 6-3 6-0 in first-round matches.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)

D-Day for Catalonia: Europe braces for Catalan leader’s declaration of independence

Whether or not Carles Puigdemont will follow through on his threat to announce a full breakaway – defying the central government and Spanish courts – is still a mystery.

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At stake is the future of a region of 7.5 million people, one of Spain’s economic powerhouses whose independence drive has raised concern for stability in the European Union.

Mr Puigdemont, a 54-year-old former journalist and life-long independence advocate, will address Catalan lawmakers on Tuesday in an extraordinary parliamentary session beginning at 6pm local time. 

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Political leaders in Catalonia, Spain and Europe have urged Mr Puigdemont to stand down and ease the country’s biggest upheaval since its transition to democracy in the 1970s. 

But the Catalan president says an independence referendum that took place on October 1 despite a court ban ruling it unconstitutional justifies splitting from Madrid. 

About 90 per cent of those who cast ballots voted for independence but the poll was poorly monitored and many Catalans opposed to secession simply stayed at home. 

Deputy prime minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria warned on the eve of Puigdemont’s address that any secession declaration “will not go unanswered by the government”.

The front page of Catalan daily El Periodico called Tuesday “the end of the road”.

Police deployed

Catalan separatists have come under intense pressure both at home and abroad to halt plans to break away from Spain.

On Monday evening, Ada Colau, the popular mayor of Barcelona, warned a unilateral declaration of independence would put “social cohesion” at risk.

The results of the referendum “cannot be an endorsement to proclaim independence but they constitute the possibility of opening a dialogue and international mediation”, she said.

Pressure also came from the street itself, with hundreds of thousands of pro-unity demonstrators marching through Barcelona and Madrid at the weekend. 

Their slogan, “Basta!”, was simple: “Enough”. 

Mr Puigdemont vowed following the disputed referendum that he would declare independence in the coming days but he has a variety of hands to choose from. 

Short of declaring an outright split, the Catalan leader could play for time and call for dialogue, or back down outright from his secessionist demands.

Madrid insists any independence declaration would not change the legal reality that Catalonia is one of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions with laws governed by the national constitution. 

But EU nations are watching developments closely amid concern that Catalan independence could put further pressure on the bloc still dealing with the fallout from Brexit.

Catalan police were out in full force in Barcelona on Tuesday morning around the region’s parliament building ahead of Mr Puidgemont’s address.

Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, when asked how Tuesday may unfold, told reporters in Luxembourg: “You will have to ask Mr Puigdemont. I hope common sense prevails.”

‘A disaster’ for business

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to use everything in his legal power to prevent Catalan independence and has even refused to rule out imposing direct rule over the region from Madrid – a move many fear could lead to unrest. 

The crisis has caused deep uncertainty for businesses in one of Spain’s wealthiest regions. 

A string of companies have already moved their legal headquarters – but not their employees – from Catalonia to other parts of the country. 

The head of Spain’s chamber of commerce Jose Luis Bonet told Cadena SER radio that a unilateral independence declaration “would be a disaster”.

“For Spain it would be extraordinarily negative and even for Europe it would mean enormous instability,” Mr Bonet said

Trump may visit DMZ on North Korea border

President Donald Trump may visit the heavily-fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea when he visits South Korea next month, according to Korean media reports.

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The White House sent an advance team in late September to check candidate sites for Trump’s “special activity” in South Korea, a defence source was quoted as saying in Yonhap news.

Trump was expected to send a significant message to North Korea, either verbally or “kinetically”, during his first trip to the peninsula as US commander-in-chief, the source said.

The truce village of Panmunjom and the observation post, both inside the DMZ, were among locations Trump was considering visiting, the source said.

Yonhap did not elaborate and the White House did not comment.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been engaged in an increasingly bellicose exchange of rhetoric, with Trump suggesting the military option was the only way to halt the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

A trip to the DMZ, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and Vice President Mike Pence, would bring Trump within yards of North Korean soldiers.

In recent weeks, North Korea has launched two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test, all in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Last week, Trump dismissed the idea of talks as a waste of time, a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was maintaining open lines of communication with Kim Jong Un’s government.

Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.

Trump is scheduled to visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines starting from November 3.

Belgium’s Hazard brothers take chances in win over Cyprus

Belgium were the first European side to secure a place in the tournament in Russia next year, while Cyprus arrived in Brussels knowing they would not be joining them.

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With little but pride at stake, Belgium showed why they are fifth in the world rankings with a totally one-sided win to make it nine victories from 10 in the group.

Coach Roberto Martinez changed five of his starting line-up from the 4-3 win in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday, with midfielder Kevin De Bruyne among those given some rest and Marouane Fellaini injured.

The result appeared settled in the 12th minute when Eden Hazard found the far corner of the net with a curling right-footed shot.

Thorgan, starting for the first time with his brother, scored Belgium’s second shortly after half-time, pouncing when goalkeeper Constantinos Panagi could only parry Michy Batshuayi’s shot into his path.

The older Eden then slotted in from the penalty spot after a handball from defender Giorgos Merkis. Romelu Lukaku, returning from injury, later muscled past Cyprus defender Giorgos Merkis for Belgium’s fourth.

Lukaku was unlucky not to score a second two minutes from time, when he was adjudged offside, although replays showed him in line with the last defender when played through.

On a largely celebratory night, home defender Jan Vertonghen also became Belgium’s most capped player, his 97th moving him ahead of Jan Ceulemans, who presented the record holder with a framed commemorative shirt before kickoff.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Ken Ferris and Christian Radnedge)