Good morning, early birds, and happy St Patrick’s Day. Confidence in the housing market has fallen to a 40-year nadir, Mark McGowan‘s new cabinet will be sworn in, and will the Snowy Hydro plan ever make it out of the gate? It’s the news you need to know, with Cassidy Knowlton and Charlie Lewis

RATES ON THE RISE, CONFIDENCE PLUMMETS 

National Australia Bank has raised interest rates on its home loans, despite the Reserve Bank of Australia keeping rates on hold this month. NAB, which made a profit of $352 million last year, has raised its standard variable interest rate for owner-occupiers from 5.25% to 5.32%, and for investors from 5.55% to 5.8%. The rate rise coincided with an increase in interest rates in the United States, and it could be the catalyst for the other big four banks to raise rates as well.

The news comes as confidence in the housing market falls to a 40-year low, according to Eryk Bagshaw and Peter Martin in the Fairfax papers. In September 2015, 28% of those surveyed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research said property was the safest place to park their savings, but just 11.6% of respondents trusted the real estate market with their hard-earned this time around. The Reserve Bank is concerned property prices could finally crash, with RBA assistant governor (financial system) Michelle Bullock telling a business breakfast on Tuesday: “The worry is what happened in the United States: a big downturn in housing prices and negative equity.”

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT: SNOWY HYDRO REDUX (SO FAR)

The Prime Minister yesterday announced a plan to expand the Snowy Hydro scheme at a cost of $2 billion to increase the dam’s power generation by 50%. The Commonwealth owns 13% of the scheme, New South Wales owns 58%, and Victoria owns 29%. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was very supportive of the plan, saying it would bring much-needed infrastructure and jobs to NSW and would beef up energy supply on the east coast. “We will be working together with the feds to make sure that happens,” she told reporters in Sydney. Victoria also likes the plan — in theory. “I do hope this spells the end of the lecturing and the bagging of states all the time. Let’s get on and work constructively together in a partnership,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.

But when it comes to coughing up for the scheme, well, that’s a different matter. Neither state government would make a firm commitment on ponying up the cash to dig 27 kilometres of tunnels and build new power stations. Turnbull said he was committed to the project with or without help: “If they don’t wish to contribute additional equity and they’d rather the Commonwealth government do that, then we’re very happy … we would stand ready.”

And he could be on the hook for rather more cash than he’d bargained for, with Brian Robbins reporting in the Fairfax papers that the power station itself is only half the battle, and the electricity grid itself would have to be upgraded, doubling the cost of the project. 

Will it ever happen? Crikey‘s Bernard Keane does not think so: “You’ll get more power from burning the media release it’s written on.”

HE REALLY SAID THAT

“The CEOs would be better off out there arguing at the moment for the economy to be run a particular way or for tax to be reformed in this way so that people grow their businesses and grow jobs as opposed to taking on these moral causes,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on a letter supporting marriage equality signed by 20 of the nation’s top CEOs. Is “corporate tax cut” becoming the new “stop the boats”?

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Sydney: A memorial will be held for controversial Australian cartoonist Bill Leak in Sydney today. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will speak at the event.

Also in Sydney, Senate inquiry hearings continue into the efficacy and consequences of shark nets and other mitigation measures. 

Perth: Mark McGowan‘s 17-member new Labor cabinet will be sworn in today. Ben Wyatt, nephew of federal Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, will become the nation’s first indigenous treasurer. Roger Cook, who will be McGowan’s deputy, will be the new health minister, while former federal MP Alannah MacTiernan has been given the portfolios of agriculture and regional development.

Brisbane: The court case surrounding the collapse of Clive Palmer‘s Queensland Nickel will resume today, after being adjourned in February. Queensland Nickel, besieged by hundreds of millions in debt, failed spectacularly early last year, with 850 jobs lost in Townsville.

Alice Springs: Hearings will continue in the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Yesterday, a former young detainee at Don Dale told the commission an adult guard had threatened him with rape after he smashed several windows and a camera and hit a guard with a chair.

Melbourne: Public hearings will begin today on youth justice centres, with the Commission for Children and Young People, the Sentencing Advisory Council and the Youth Parole Board to give evidence. The issue has divided the community, with the Victorian government earlier this week scrapping a plan to build a new high-security youth justice centre in Werribee South following intense protests. The government is searching for alternative sites. 

THE COMMENTARIAT

Australia could rebuild broken Mosul after Islamic State’s defeat — Clive Williams (The Sydney Morning Herald): “Unless the West is prepared to break the mould in northern Iraq and emphasise local governance, reconstruction and reconciliation, we will see the same old cycle of violence repeated, with Shi’ite excesses followed by Sunni retaliation. As one of my defence colleagues said pessimistically: ‘We could be back there in 10 years banging heads together again.'”

The sun has set on Greens’ dreams — and they many not be renewable — Graham Richardson (The Australian): “The Greens’ dream has well and truly faded. Their vote has hovered about 10 per cent for all of those two decades and they have been utterly useless when it comes to convincing Australians to support them. They continue to run up their flag and they continue to see only that loyal 10 per cent prepared to salute.”

It’s the people of NSW who deserve an apology over the police bugging scandal— Sean Nicholls (The Age): “Damage has been inflicted on all involved … Meanwhile, the office of the Ombudsman – a respected and independent agency with the important role of uncovering wrongdoing and mismanagement across government – is being attacked like never before by the crime commission and Kaldas over its handling of the Prospect inquiry.”

TODAY IN TRUMP

The plan for Donald Trump’s first budget has been unveiled. The big winner is defence, receiving an increase of $54 billion in spending, which requires a repeal of the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, while the Department of Homeland Security will receive an additional $2.8 billion, largely to pay for a wall along the border with Mexico and additional border patrol agents and immigration and customs officers. 

Meanwhile, the Republican and Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee have said they have encountered no evidence that supports Trump’s claim that his campaign headquarters were were wiretapped by Barack Obama in the lead-up to last year’s presidential election. Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner — leading a Senate investigation into suspected Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election — released a joint statement that said: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.” This follows a statement to same effect from the House Intelligence committee on Wednesday.

THE WORLD

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called his election victory a rejection of the “wrong kind of populism” after his centre-right VVD party took 33 out of the 150 available parliamentary seats. This represents a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament, but more significantly, it left Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration The Freedom Party in a distant second with 20 seats. Wilders insisted his “patriotic spring” would still happen. — BBC 

Three people have been wounded after a teenage pupil opened fire in a small south-eastern town in France, and a further five injured in the resulting stampede. A 17-year-old armed with a rifle, two handguns and two grenades was arrested after the shooting, according to police. Visiting the scene of the attack, Tocqueville high school in Grasse, near Cannes, French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem described it as “a crazy act.”– Al Jazeera

Queen Elizabeth has given Royal Assent to the UK government’s Brexit bill, allowing Prime Minister Theresa May to invoke article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal trigger for two years of negotiations around the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. May has pledged to do so by the end of the month, indicating it will occur after the March 25 EU summit in Rome. — Bloomberg

WHAT WE’RE READING

The minimum age of criminal responsibility continues to divide opinion (The Economist): “A proposal to let Philippine criminal courts try nine-year-olds has drawn sharp criticism. But in 35 American states, children of any age can be convicted and sentenced.”

The appealing logic that underlies Trump’s economic ideas (The Atlantic): “While Trump’s economic doctrine may fall apart when it comes to the specifics, which in the end is the only measure that will really matter, there is a certain undeniable logic to it. It answers the core question that millions have about economic policy over the past three decades or so: What about me? “

The New York Times and The Washington Post are at war, and everyone’s winning (Poynter): “As both newspapers unearth scoop after scoop and build their subscriber rolls, Americans find themselves bearing witness to a curiosity at a time of supposed diminished relevance for print journalism: an old-fashioned newspaper war.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

 

Peter Fray

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