Better housing news but trend still down. An encouraging sign in the official Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for April which show that in seasonally adjusted terms, the total value of dwelling finance commitments excluding alterations and additions rose 3.8%. The number of commitments for owner occupied housing finance was up 4.8%.

Still no turnaround in the ABS’s trend figures though which suggests caution is needed before declaring the housing slump over.

A difference of opinion on Afghanistan. A rather sad difference of opinion this week on what is happening in Afghanistan. Recording the death of yet another Australian soldier, Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke boldly of “making progress towards our goal of an Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists.”

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, a senior Afghan security adviser who works closely with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, gives a far less optimistic assessment. Responding to a question this week from a German journalist seeking an explanation as to why the situation in northern Afghanistan had got worse, Mr Spanta noted that for the terrorists “the stream of new fighters is almost endless.”

While PM Gillard repeated her assertion that while Australia’s resolve was being questioned “we will not waver as we work to complete our mission in Afghanistan,” Mr Spanta was expressing his understanding of why “the Germans are discussing whether they want to keep on investing their money and the lives of their soldiers in this conflict.”

Here are the significant extracts from the two contrasting assessments.

From the official transcript of Prime Minister Gillard’s press conference yesterday:

This has been a hard time for Australia, these two weeks, one of our hardest in Afghanistan. Our resolve is being tested the way the resolve of our coalition partners has been tested on other occasions and I can’t promise that there will be no more hard days. I can’t promise that.

As we enter the fighting season in Afghanistan we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of more hard days to come but I can promise you this: Afghanistan is not an endless war and it is not a war without a purpose. We are crystal clear on our mission and we have a defined time frame for our strategy. We are making progress towards our goal of an Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists.

As the Chief of the Defence Force has said earlier today, our soldiers on the ground believe they are winning. Progress is being made and this year we will see the first areas of Afghanistan begin to transition to Afghan-led security and in Oruzgan, the province where we work, we are on track to achieve this transition by 2014.

Now this progress is difficult but it’s being made because of the courageous work of our soldiers in very difficult circumstances. Progress is being won because of their bravery and their service.

Our nation owes them a debt of thanks.

After the events of the last fortnight I want to say this to the Australian people: I know our resolve is being tested but it will not waver as we work to complete our mission in Afghanistan.

From the Der Spiegel report of the interview with Afghan security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta:

SPIEGEL ONLINE: American special forces have taken out a number of Taliban leaders in the north. Who are the new attackers?

Spanta: Even if European countries refuse to acknowledge it, the resistance is now being orchestrated by terrorist centers in Pakistan, the Quetta Shura (editor’s note: the innermost circle of Taliban leaders), the Haqqani network, the group of (Gulbaddin) Hekmatyar and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 in the al-Qaida leadership. There are 40,000 madrassas — or religious schools — in Pakistan, and even if only a small fraction of them support the terrorists, the stream of new fighters is almost endless. There will only be peace in this region when this source has been dried up.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can negotiations with the Taliban solve the problem?

Spanta: They could be helpful if Pakistan were willing to support the peace process. But that’s not the case. Pakistan has a different strategy: The West is obviously weary and will soon withdraw. Then, in one or two years, Pakistan can finally move into Afghanistan and use it as a strategic area. That’s what this is all about.

Mining tax fears not harming exploration. Mining companies might still be predicting doom and gloom as the Federal Government presses on towards introducing its new tax on mining profits but it does not seem to be stopping development by the industry. Figures this morning from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show a healthy rise in exploration expenditure.

The trend estimate for total mineral exploration expenditure rose 8.8% (or $60.7m) to $748.8m in the March quarter 2011. The current quarter estimate is 31.1% higher than the March quarter 2010 estimate. The largest contribution to the rise in the trend estimate this quarter was in Western Australia (up 9.6% or $37.2m) followed by Queensland (up 7.1% or $9.7m) and South Australia (up 16.4% or $9.7m).

The trend estimate for metres drilled rose 4.6% this quarter. The current quarter estimate is 14.4% higher than the March quarter 2010 estimate.

Greece joins the sports riggers. Just a little update to our story on Monday about gamblers rigging sporting contests. From the Greek newspaper Kathimerini:

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