Kremlin critic Navalny gets 15 days in jail after protest

The United States and the European Union voiced deep concern after Navalny and more than 1,000 others were detained in the Moscow protest on Sunday, with the State Department calling the arrests an “affront to democracy”.

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A Moscow district court handed down the sentence after finding Navalny guilty of disobeying police orders. His fine was 20,000 rubles ($350) for organising an unsanctioned protest.

The lawyer turned activist, 40, who has announced plans to run for president next year, called Sunday’s protests after publishing a report accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a shadowy network of nonprofit organisations.

“The authorities are being accused of multi-million theft, but they remain silent,” a haggard-looking Navalny said in court, insisting the protests were legal.

“More than 1,000 people were arrested yesterday but it is impossible to arrest millions,” he said.

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Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova told reporters that his defence team would appeal the rulings.

About 7,000 to 8,000 people demonstrated in Moscow on Sunday, according to police figures, making it one of the biggest unauthorised rallies in Vladimir Putin’s 17 years in power as president or prime minister.

The Kremlin called the protest “a provocation and a lie”, and claimed that minors had been promised “financial rewards” to participate.

Demonstrations were held not just in the capital Moscow and second-largest city Saint Petersburg, but also in a number of provincial cities where protests are rarely seen.

They attracted a significant number of minors born since Putin came to power.  

“I am very happy that a generation that wants to be citizens, that isn’t afraid, was born in the country,” Navalny said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russians’ “civic stance” would be respected if expressed legally but, without mentioning Navalny by name, suggested “some people will continue using (politically) active people… to their own ends, calling them to illegal and unauthorised actions”.

EU urges protesters’ release

Navalny was arrested as he was walking to the Moscow protest and another 1,030 people were detained, according to OVD-Info, a website that monitors detentions of activists.

Most were fined and released overnight, while about 120 remained in custody on Monday morning, OVD-Info said.

Navalny’s campaign director Leonid Volkov was jailed for six days. according to the Interfax news agency.

One policeman was hospitalised after suffering a head injury, the interior ministry said.

The EU urged Russia to release the demonstrators “without delay” and expressed concern that police action had “prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.

“We call on the Russian authorities to abide fully by the international commitments it has made, including in the Council of Europe… to uphold these rights and to release without delay the peaceful demonstrators that have been detained.”

Britain, in a statement by its foreign office, also called on Russia to release those arrested, as the “widespread arrests in Russia contravene its international commitments to uphold citizens’ rights”.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the detention of “peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values”.

‘Hope for a normal future’

The protests drew comparisons with the mass anti-government rallies that swept Russia in 2011 over alleged vote-rigging after a parliamentary election, which snowballed into the biggest challenge against Putin since he took power in 2000.

Navalny said Sunday that he was “proud” of the demonstrators.

“You are the country’s best people and Russia’s hope for a normal future,” he wrote on Twitter.

Despite the scale of the protests, Russian state television news did not cover them, broadcasting soap operas and nature films instead.

The Russian constitution allows public gatherings when authorised by city authorities, but that privilege is rarely accorded to Kremlin critics.

Navalny won a surprise 27 percent of the vote in the Moscow mayoral election in 2013, and afterwards announced plans to seek the presidency.

But he has been the subject of several legal prosecutions, and in February was found guilty of embezzlement in a case he called politically motivated. He was given a five-year suspended sentence which could make him ineligible to run in next year’s polls.

Navalny and his team, ignored by official media, have taken their anti-corruption campaign online, using social media to expose the hidden fortunes of high-ranking officials.

Community language schools help families connect

A group of teenagers taking part in a drama class – it looks and sounds like fun and games.

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But these kids are hard at work, learning Greek for three hours a week at a Community Languages School in Melbourne.

“Go over the homework that we had during the week, then we’ll either do grammar or exercises, we’ll do history, we do Ancient Greek and every second week we’ll do drama as well,” student Fortis Kollios said.

Learning Greek was a priority for his mother, Maria Kollios, who enrolled her son in Grade One.

“I wanted him to be able to communicate with his grandparents and also be able to go to Greece and speak to people there, we have family and cousins [there],” she said.

Stefan Romaniw, Executive Director of Community Languages Australia, said these after-hours courses are more specialised and complement language classes in mainstream schools.

“The fact that some schools are finding it difficult to deliver in terms of languages, finding teachers, there’s always the argument of the crowded curriculum and so on,” he said.

“We would argue that languages need a space in schools, but I think it doesn’t detract from the fact that communities want their children to be connected with their communities.”

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About a decade ago there were around 80,000 students studying at community languages schools across the country. Today, that number is over 100,000.

In Victoria, more than 60 languages are on offer.

Spanish is on the wane, as are Eastern European languages – Ukranian, Latvian and Lithuanian. But interest in Chinese and Greek remains steady.

Dr Nick Dalas, board member of the Greek Community of Melbourne, said migrants can help set a high standard in language learning in Australia.

“The crisis in Greece continues, we are still seeing migrants arriving and the benefit here is that it’s also attracting local students who have got a high standard as well,” he said.

Mr Romaniw said changing migration patterns can be attributed to growth in emerging languages.

“Very, very small languages, especially a lot of the African languages, they’re never going to be provided through mainstream schools,” he said.

Increased migration from Iraq, Lebanon and Syria have contributed to a spike in Arabic enrolments.

Fortis’s mother said she can already see the flow-on effects from her son’s Greek lessons.

“I know that’s helped him with his reading and his writing,” she said. “He can write better than I can.”

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Bilingual schools offer language fluency for Australian children:

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Merkel dominant in bellwether test ahead of German national elections

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party easily won a regional election Sunday, dealing an early blow to centre-left hopes of ending her more than decade-long reign.

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In the Saarland state vote held six months before a general election, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) won 40 percent against 30 percent for the Social Democrats (SPD), according to early results by public broadcasters.

The result spelt a five-point boost for the CDU over the SPD, which has served as the unhappy junior partner to the conservatives in so-called grand coalitions at both the state and national levels.

The vote in the tiny state on the French border, which has a population of only one million, was seen as a bellwether ahead of the September 24 general election in which Merkel, the veteran leader often dubbed “the Queen of Europe”, will seek a fourth term. 

The SPD have made strong gains in national opinion surveys since Martin Schulz, the folksy and plain-spoken former president of the European Parliament, took over in January.

Meet the opposition:

The “Schulz effect” has seen especially younger voters flock to the more than 150-year-old workers’ party, which is now polling neck-and-neck at the national level with Merkel’s conservative bloc.

But the new euphoria did not translate into the strong results the SPD had hoped for in Saarland, a former coal mining region, which held the first of three German state polls scheduled in the run-up to the national election.

Schulz conceded it was “not a nice evening” and that “the CDU clearly won” but insisted that “our goal is a change of federal government” this year, calling the campaign until then “a marathon, not a sprint”.

Designated SPD chairman and German Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz arrives for the federal congress of Social Democratic Party 19/3/2017. AP Photo/Michael Sohn

‘Path of success’

The CDU’s popular state premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was cheered by jubilant supporters, admitted she was “floored” by the strong result, about five points up from the last election amid strong turnout of around 70 percent.

Merkel’s right-hand man Peter Altmaier, the chancellery chief-of-staff who hails from Saarland, said “it’s an outcome that gives us courage”.

The result suggested many voters in Saarland were frightened by talk of a “red-red” coalition between the SPD and the far-left Linke party, which scored about 13 percent.

Merkel, 62, had warned local voters last week that “red-red… experiments should be avoided” and urged them to stick with the CDU’s “path of success”.

She had also cautioned at a campaign event that a leftist coalition would harm the economy and “wall it in with taxes, bureaucracy and red tape”.

A starker warning came from the pro-business Free Democrats who cautioned against turning Saarland into a modern version of the former communist East Germany or “a GDR lite”.

Related:’Uncertain times’

The SPD’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas admitted the outcome was “disappointing” and conceded that “we had clearly hoped for a better result”.

He said the debate over a possible red-red coalition had “obviously penalised the SPD” by frightening part of the electorate.

Another leftist party — the ecologist Greens, possible candidates for a future “red-red-green” national coalition — meanwhile scored less than five percent, meaning they missed the hurdle for parliamentary representation and were kicked out of the state assembly.

CDU secretary general Peter Tauber said the outcome was “a clear rejection of red-red-green”, including at the national level.

“In uncertain times, the people trust in leaders and political forces that govern in a dependable way,” he said.

The anti-immigration and right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party just scraped in with six percent, meaning it is now represented in 11 of Germany’s 16 state assemblies.

It was, however, the AfD’s worst result after five state elections in which it topped 10 percent, in a sign that the abating refugee crisis and bitter infighting have damaged popular support for the protest party.

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Queensland chief scientist Professor Suzanne Miller stood aside amid fraud claims

Queensland’s chief scientist has been stood aside after being charged with fraud over a $45,000 private health insurance claim.

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Scottish-born Professor Suzanne Miller is being investigated by the Crime and Corruption Commission and has been ordered to surrender both her UK and Australian passports.

Police allege the 52-year-old dishonestly gained private health insurance as an employee of the Queensland Museum between February 2014 and July 2017.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Miller, also the museum’s CEO, had been stood aside on full pay while the matter was dealt with.

“I was shocked, just like anyone else, but (the allegations) now need to run their natural course through the justice system,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters on Tuesday.

Miller has been bailed and is expected to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on August 8.

Under bail conditions, she is not allowed to attend the Queensland Museum either as an employee or visitor.

Queensland Premier Anna Palaszczuk says she’s shocked by the allegations.AAP

She is also barred from directly or indirectly contacting any board member or former board member of the museum, as well as current or past employees.

Science Minister Leeanne Enoch on Tuesday praised Ms Miller’s work as the state’s chief scientist since starting last December, while also stressing the matter needed to be dealt with.

“The chief scientist has a very important role in Queensland and she has been incredibly successful in terms of putting science at the front and centre of not just Queensland but Australia,” Ms Enoch said.

“There is a CCC investigation underway, I am not going to make any comments than would impact on that investigation in any way.”

Ms Enoch said she had only been made aware of the situation in the last 24 hours, and had not yet spoken to Miller.

Miller had been due to appear during budget estimates hearings on Tuesday afternoon, but was withdrawn from appearing.

Queensland Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls said the issue was another crisis the government would have to deal with.

“This isn’t a government that is governing for Queensland, this is a government that is lurching from bushfire to bushfire, trying to stay in office,” Mr Nicholls said

Miller has a lengthy and impressive resume and, before moving to Queensland, was the director of the South Australian Museum from 2007 to 2013.

Mental health fears over plebiscite

Giving Australians a say on gay marriage could have mental health consequences, experts warn, amid calls for a postal plebiscite on the matter.

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National Mental Health Commission chairman Allan Fels says there could be mental health impacts for both the gay community and opponents of gay marriage arising from a debate on same-sex marriage if a plebiscite goes ahead.

“People get very stressed about this topic and debates can get out of hand,” Prof Fels told the National Press Club on Tuesday.

“The commission has often said that the mental health of the LGBTI community is not good.

“The numbers are really bad for the LGBTI community.”

Cabinet minister Peter Dutton’s idea of a postal plebiscite has been criticised inside the coalition, with Liberal senator Dean Smith labelling it “corrosive”.

Senator Smith, who is drafting his own private member’s bill for a conscience vote in parliament, acknowledges the latest idea demonstrates a willingness to deal with the issue, but he is wary of the cost and legal hurdles.

“We have had two binding plebiscites previously in 1916 (and) 1917. They were acrimonious and they divided communities,” Senator Smith told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“Postal plebiscites, national plebiscites are corrosive to our representative parliamentary democracy.”

Senator Smith says his bill for a free vote before year’s end will be made public and is a sensible and constructive way forward.

A ReachTEL poll for activist group GetUp says 70 per cent of those surveyed in Mr Dutton’s own electorate want a free vote in parliament.

Just 24 per cent of the 708 Dickson residents disagreed that the government should allow a free vote.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists his party took a plebiscite policy to the election and to change it would be breaking a promise.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott concedes a vote via the post would be better than parliament.

But he too questions how much real authority a postal plebiscite would have.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is happy to have a discussion about holding one.

Vic closes in on safe assisted dying laws

Victoria’s assisted dying laws will be “the safest in the world”, says Premier Daniel Andrews.

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He has embraced a set of guidelines which would allow terminally ill Victorians to choose to die.

A proposed timeline means eligible patients with less than a year to live could use the new laws by 2019.

An expert panel asked by parliament to investigate the matter has made a raft of recommendations to build a legal framework.

“These 66 recommendations provide us with a conservative system, the safest in the world, but one where we no longer deny people that which they seek,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.

In a press conference flanked by Attorney-General Martin Pakula and Health Minister Jill Hennessy, the premier said he hoped to have a conscience vote by the end of the year.

“What we know is many Victorians are not getting the care they need,” he said.

“There is no solution to their unbearable pain and they are taking matters into their own hands. That leads to many tragic outcomes. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Legislation was being drafted and could be finalised within months, Mr Pakula said.

If the laws are passed by the end of 2017, it could be in practice after 19 months and there would be a review after five years.

Mr Andrews, who changed his views to support the practice after his father’s death, called for a respectful debate.

“That, I think, requires people to be measured. They can be passionate certainly, they can be very engaged in this process,” he said.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy opposes any form of euthanasia but will allow his MPs to vote freely.

“I don’t think politicians are the right people to decide when someone under what circumstances you should end your life,” he said.

Greens MLC Colleen Hartland unsuccessfully made a bid for assisted dying laws a decade ago and thinks this attempt should be successful.

The family of right-to-die campaigner and palliative care nurse Ray Godbold, who died of gastroesophageal cancer, told reporters they are pleased the laws are making progress.

A ministerial advisory panel on Friday revealed its recommended guidelines, including that a patient would need to be expected to die within 12 months, show sufficient mental capacity to make the decision, and be a Victorian resident at least 18 years’ old.

The medication, which is yet to be finalised, would be dispensed in a lockable box by a pharmacist.

The panel also suggested safeguards including offences for inducing a patient to request assisted dying, proposed offences for falsifying assisted-dying records and administering medication to someone who lacked the sufficient decision-making capacity.

Crow stalwart Thompson to retire from AFL

Adelaide’s stalwart Scott Thompson is retiring, but he’s not giving up on an AFL fairytale finish just yet.

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The dual Crows club champion has confirmed his retirement at season’s end, but clings to hope it might end with recall to AFL ranks – maybe even a premiership.

“If fairytales happened, I would certainly put my hand up for it, that is for sure,” Thompson told reporters on Tuesday

The 34-year-old has played just one game this season, overlooked in Adelaide’s new-look midfield which has the Crows atop the ladder

But the 308-gamer has told his teammates: “I think we are capable as a group of chasing huge success not only this year but going forward,.

“And I said to ’em: don’t slacken off, because I’m right up your arse and I’ll take your spot if you don’t watch it.”

Thompson implored his Crows teammates, six points clear at the top of the table, to take their shot at the flag – he’s played in three losing preliminary finals.

“There’s three games I don’t want to remember but still stick in the mind,” he said.

“I spoke to the boys about that this morning, about doing whatever it takes to chase that ultimate success.

“I played in three losing prelim finals, 05, 06 and then in ’12 when I thought we had a team that was capable of going all the way and for whatever reason it didn’t happen.”

Thompson, who finished top 10 in Adelaide’s club champion award nine times in the past 11 years, has coaching ambitions.

But first, he has a season, and possible fairytale, to finish.

“I have got bigger things to fry with these boys throughout the back half of this year,” said Thompson, who in 2012 was an All Australian and third in the Brownlow medal.

“There’s six home and away games plus finals. And I’m certainly going to do everything I can to play a role in that.”

Microsoft teams up with Sydney University

Sydney is in the running to build and operate the world’s first quantum computer in what experts are calling this generation’s space race.

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Microsoft and the University of Sydney have teamed up to research and develop a quantum computer capable of solving problems current computers can’t.

At the announcement of the multi-year partnership in Sydney on Tuesday, the tech giant said the potential for the science was endless and could solve global issues including climate change and medicine.

Quantum computers promise to deliver a massive increase in processing power over conventional computers by using a single electron or nucleus of an atom as the basic processing unit – a quantum bit, or qubit.

By performing multiple calculations simultaneously, quantum computers could be applied to economic modelling, fast database searches, modelling of biological molecules and drugs, and encryption and decryption of information.

The university’s Professor David Reilly is in charge of the project, named Station Q Sydney, and said while current computers allow scientists to analyse atoms inside of materials, they can’t create materials from specific elements.

“What we can’t do at the moment in our technology is we can’t go in reverse,” Prof Reilly said.

“I can’t give you the periodic table and say, there, choose any element you like on the periodic table (and) assemble them in a combination I want.”

With the quantum computer, he said chemical properties such as the strength of magnates could be combined with thermal or electrical properties to design and build entirely new materials.

“Having a quantum computer gives us the computational power to start to attack quantum chemistry problems and quantum materials problems that reverse that whole process,” Prof Reilly said.

The tech giant had the luxury of picking a “dream team” of academics from across the world and chose the team at the University of Sydney.

“Sydney represents this very unique capability of spanning physics through engineering,” said Microsoft’s head architect of their quantum computation team Doug Carmean.

The partnership with Microsoft will join Purdue University in the US, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Denmark’s University of Copenhagen.

But Prof Reilly said Sydney was best placed to get the computer running.

“It’s going to come together here in this country, in this city, I think is where we switch on the quantum machine.”

Sickies and poor sleep linked: study

Poor sleep and sick days are cosy bedfellows with more than one in four Australians taking a day off a month because they’re too tired, researchers say.

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The study of 551 working adults found 27 per cent missed one or more days of work in the past month because of sleep problems.

“Surprisingly, we discovered that you don’t need to be an insomniac or a severe snorer to have sleep problems that stop you going to work,” Sleep Health Foundation researcher Professor Robert Adams said.

Young well-educated men and women, many experiencing financial stress, are taking the most days off, with work demands appearing to be the main driver.

But their lifestyles should not be discounted either, Prof Adams said, with young people “trying to pack an awful lot into their week day life”.

“We certainly know the younger generation sleep a lot more on the weekends, they sleep in more as weekend catch up sleep,” he said.

This imbalance and their busy lifestyle, coupled with work demands, was causing sleep problems for the under 45s other generations hadn’t reported.

The study found working late into the night, along with computer, tablet and smartphone use, were the main disruptors of quality sleep, although financial stress was also reported as a factor leading to poor sleep.

Prof Adams said this cumulative effect of overwork, too much play and financial stress not only had the risk of becoming a vicious cycle resulting in a continued lack of quality sleep, it also resulted in grumpier, less resilient workers who were increasingly unable to cope with stress.

“Those sort of people tend to end up taking time off or make errors at work or are less productive,” he said.

Although employers can’t be held responsible for people’s lifestyles and behaviour, with $32.5 billion lost each year to sick days, the workplace may be the right place to begin talking about it.

“People need to start thinking about sleep health and recognise along with good diet and exercise, and not smoking and moderating alcohol intake, sleep health may well be an important factor,” Prof Adams said.

Yowie shares drop on weak US sales growth

Confectionery maker Yowie Group’s stocks have fallen to a three-and-a-half year low after it posted full-year sales revenue growth of 51 per cent – short of its forecast of 55 per cent – and suffered near-flat sales in its key US market.

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Yowie said sales growth in the US was “essentially flat” at one per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016/17 at $US3.48 million ($A4.39 million) as a rise in convenience and grocery store sales was offset by a drop in sales in its largest retailer.

But the company said sales of Yowie products in Australia have continued to exceed expectations since they returned to shelves in February, with $US755,000 ($A952,735) in local sales in the fourth quarter.

The figures, revealed in a statement of Yowies fourth quarter results on Tuesday, bring the company’s unaudited sales for the year to June 30, 2017, to $US19.48 million ($A24.58 million).

Yowie reaffirmed it expects total sales growth for 2017/18 to be between 55 and 70 per cent.

Chief executive Bert Alfonso says the company still plans to grow by expanding its distribution in the US and entering other key markets.

Its US growth will include it launching a new brand of chocolates in its largest retailer in the first quarter of 2017/18, after the launch was delayed from the fourth quarter of 2016/17, he said.

“We remain confident regarding the prospects for the Yowie brand in both the US and selective international markets,” Mr Alfonso said.

Yowie Group shares finished Tuesday down five cents – a 16.7 per cent drop – at 25 cents, their lowest level since January, 2014.

Heinz denies misleading marketing

Food giant Heinz has denied misleading consumers over the nutritional value of a snack food for kids.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken the company to the Federal court alleging it engaged in false and misleading representations in relation to its Little Kids Shredz products.

The ACCC claims the snacks, made from dehydrated fruits and vegetables along with concentrated fruit juice, were suggested to be nutritious for children aged one to three by the use of certain statements and images on the packages.

But counsel for Heinz, Rowena Orr, told the court on Tuesday that none of the packs contained anything like the representations alleged by the consumer watchdog.

“The ACCC case has to fail at the threshold level,” Ms Orr said.

She said it would require an “unrealistic” interpretation of the wording on the packs to reach the conclusions alleged.

Heinz dietitian Kathryn Hodson told the court that while the Shredz snacks contained a relatively high proportion of sugar, she did not consider they were a discretionary food.

The snacks did not pass some internal company dietary guidelines but Ms Hodson said those guidelines were “never developed with Shredz in mind” and were more appropriate for baked goods.

She said the guidelines were only a “first security check” and a dietitian would always make a more detailed assessment before a product was brought to market.

Also on Tuesday, Justice Richard White rejected a request from the ACCC for him to taste one of the products, ruling that any conclusions he reached would be subjective and not capable of being analysed or scrutinised.

He said the application was asking the court to “carry out some form of experimentation.”

In evidence for the ACCC on Monday, nutritionist Rosemary Stanton told the hearing in Adelaide that while the Heinz snacks contained a number of nutritious ingredients they were more like confectionery.

Dr Stanton said in her opinion the Heinz products should be placed in the discretionary category, only to be eaten occasionally.

The ACCC case centres on allegations Heinz made three representations on its packaging including that the snack had the same nutritional value as fresh fruit, that it was a nutritious food for children aged one to three and that it would encourage healthy eating habits.

The commission is seeking pecuniary penalties, corrective notices and costs against the company.

Kushner returns for second day of grilling

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner will return to Capitol Hill for a second day of private meetings with congressional investigators, this time for a closed-door conversation with the House intelligence committee.

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Kushner answered questions on Monday from staff on the Senate’s intelligence panel, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s victorious White House bid and insisting he had “nothing to hide”.

He emerged smiling to publicly declare: “All of my actions were proper.”

Kushner is the first top Trump lieutenant to be quizzed by the congressional investigators probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Hours before the Senate meeting, Kushner released an 11-page statement that was billed as his remarks to both the Senate and House committees.

He acknowledged his Russian contacts during the campaign and in the following weeks, in which he served as a liaison between the transition and foreign governments.

He described each contact as either insignificant or routine and he said the meetings, along with several others, were omitted from his security clearance form because of an aide’s error.

“Let me be very clear,” Kushner said afterward in a rare public statement at the White House, “I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”

Kushner’s statement was the first detailed defence from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Trump’s presidency.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to tip the 2016 campaign in Trump’s favour.

Congressional committees, as well as a Justice Department special counsel, are investigating whether Trump associates co-ordinated with Russia in that effort and whether the president has sought to hamper the investigations.

Kushner said on Monday he “will continue to co-operate as I have nothing to hide”.

Trump watched on TV as Kushner made his appearance outside the West Wing and “thought Jared did a great job”, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

She said his House testimony on Tuesday would show “what a hoax this entire thing is”.

In the statement for the two committees, Kushner provided for the first time his recollection of a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who was said to have damaging information about Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Emails released this month show the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, accepted the meeting with the idea he would receive information as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign.

But Kushner said he had not seen those emails until recently shown them by his lawyers.

He called the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.

Qld govt accused of ‘protection racket’

Queensland’s Labor government has been accused of running a “protection racket” after the state archivist was blocked from appearing at budget estimate hearings to answer questions about stood down minister Mark Bailey.

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The Crime and Corruption Commission last week found that Mr Bailey may have breached the official records act when he deleted his personal yahoo email account used for some ministerial business.

Mr Bailey has been stood aside as minister while the State Archivist Mike Summerell investigates the matter further.

Opposition MP Verity Barton tried to add Mr Summerell to estimates proceedings twice on Tuesday, but was thwarted both times.

Ms Barton accused the government of protecting the energy and main roads minister.

“This whole process is a farce,” Ms Barton said.

“The whole point of estimates is to be transparent and accountable and this government is running a protection racket.”

Fellow Opposition MP Tarnya Smith expressed frustration later on Tuesday when she asked Digital Economy Minister Leeanne Enoch and her Director-General Jamie Merrick a series of questions about the state archivist’s inquiry, but was then told only Mr Summerell could answer.

“If the state archivist had been allowed to come along today we might have been able to get through some of these questions,” Ms Smith said.

Ms Enoch clarified that Mr Summerell was never going to appear at the hearings for procedural reasons.

“The state archivist is neither a direct report or a CEO of a related entity, and according to standing orders… the state archivist is not listed as a person who can be directly questioned anyway,” Ms Enoch said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the list of people appearing at estimates had been finalised several weeks ago

“That’s a matter for the committee, the witness list is set, I think, from memory, about a month out,” she said earlier on Tuesday.