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Issues of the Week

BUOYED by a big thumbs-up from the electorate, Prime Minister John Howard has further strengthened his position by appointing allies to key positions in the new cabinet and, in the process, sidelining Liberals aligned to Treasurer Peter Costello.

Mr Howard then gave new Opposition leader Simon Crean something to think about by pushing industrial relations, and in particular unfair dismissal laws introduced by the Keating Government, firmly back onto the agenda. Political observers believe the manoeuvre aims to gain maximum political mileage by highlighting Mr Crean’s still-strong allegiance to the union movement.

WHILE Mr Howard is unlikely to make much head way on industrial relations, with a hostile Senate likely to water down any reform, the same cannot be said for his plans to end strict media ownership laws. While the Labor Party has baulked at changing the laws, new Labor communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner is at odds with his party, being a firm believer in foreign investment and a critic of the current media laws. Mr Tanner’s stance is likely to provide the first real test for Mr Crean as he rebuilds the party.

ANOTHER major breakthrough in cloning pushed ethics back onto the front pages this week after US scientists announced they had cloned a human embryo for the first time. If planted in the womb, the clone can develop into a baby identical to the adult from which the original cell came. The scientists say that it would help in curing ailments such as Alzheimer’s Disease. While Australian laws pre-vent the use of cloning to create humans, the law remains ambiguous in relation to using the technology for medical treatment.

UNITED STATES marines have landed in southern Afghanistan near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. The city is one of the Taliban’s last centres of power after Northern Alliance troops, aided by US and British forces, gained control of most of the country. However, as the Taliban consider Kandahar their spiritual home, they have vowed to fight to the death to maintain control in the city. And tensions between Pakistan and the US may rise this week with reports that 400 foreign supporters of the Taliban were killed when they staged an uprising at a prison fortress near Mazar-e-Sherif. The supporters were prisoners of the Northern Alliance and had smuggled weapons into the fortress. Once inside the fortress, the prisoners seized an ammunition depot and began firing at their captors. More than 500 Northern Alliance troops were called to the uprising and were backed up by US forces, who fired on the prison from warplanes.

TELSTRA’S engineering and construction subsidiary NDC announced plans to cut up to 1000 staff positions, claiming a slowdown had left it with only a third of the work it had a year ago. Some Western Australian workers will lose their jobs, with rural areas expected to be the hardest hit. NDC employs about 5,500 people nationally and will begin offering voluntary redundancies from February next year. The company designs and constructs tele-communications networks, but a company spokesman has estimated that about 15 per cent of its workforce is currently inactive.

WESTERN AUSTRALIANS fighting to stay awake during the early hours of Monday were spared no mercy watching the Soceroos suffer a demoralising defeat at the hands of Uruguay. The 3-0 loss dashed the hopes of the Australian team of being the first side to qualify for the World Cup since 1974. But the loss also was being felt by the money men at Soccer Australia, who were banking on a $12 million windfall that would have come with qualification for soccer’s biggest showpiece, providing a much needed injection to the league in Australia. With this revenue source now gone, the administrators must now look elsewhere for money.

THE Kingstream Steel saga may be a step closer to an end with the announcement on Tuesday that the directors had appointed Bryan Hughes and Vincent Smith of Clohessy Chartered Accountants as Voluntary Administrators. In an ASX announcement, chairman Ken Court blamed the poor global outlook for the demise of the dream to build an iron and steel mill in the State’s Mid West. Suspended from the ASX board, the company still hopes to come away with a financial backer.

THE mining industry has been going through a shake-up with several high-profile moves announced on Tuesday. Peter Johnston resigned from WMC Limited as executive general manager of Copper and Fertiliser to take up a new position as Anaconda Nickel Limited CEO, replacing Andrew Forrest. Anaconda has appointed James Campbell as non-executive chairman while Paul Chapman will become chief financial officer.

WMC responded to Mr Johnston’s resignation by doing its own reshuffling. Alan Dundas, currently executive general manger, nickel, overlooked for Anaconda’s top job, has moved to a newly created position to become executive general manager, operations. Sea-mus French, taking over his former role will report directly to him.

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