Consumer prices surged in the March quarter, beating market expectations, suggesting that interest rates may be going up soon, economists say.


The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 1.6 per cent in the March quarter for an annual inflation rate of 3.3 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported on Wednesday.

The market forecast had been for a CPI of 1.2 per cent for the quarter for an annual pace of 3.0 per cent. ICAP senior economist Adam Carr said the ABS figures suggested that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) must act soon to put a lid on inflationary pressures.

The RBA adjusts the cash rate to keep inflation in a target band of two to three per cent over the medium term. “The RBA has to hike rates – they don’t have a choice,” Mr Carr said.

“The arguments for them to hike are compelling (and) the arguments for them to hold are non existent.

“I still think, because of the politics of the decision, they’ll potentially hold off until June but it’s very clear that inflation pressures have spiked higher.” Mr Carr said the higher than expected core inflation figure should not be interpreted as being due to the effect of flooding in Queensland.

“For people who want to blame this on the floods, they need to get their head out of the sand because that’s not the reality.

“The reality is food prices are rising around the world.

“The RBA has a job to do and they need to just do it, rather than focusing on this dribble that people are pumping out about depressed consumers and one-off flood impacts from CPI – that’s not a reality.”

Nomura chief economist Stephen Roberts said the price increases in the CPI were broad based. “Of 11 major CPI categories, seven of the 11 inflated by more than one per cent on a quarter-on-quarter basis,” he said.

“It was high on the underlying inflation rates so, if you get my way of thinking, the Reserve Bank will have to go sooner rather than later with another rate hike.”

Mr Roberts said he expected the headline rate to stay well above three per cent for the remainder of 2011 and into 2012, driven by Australia’s historically high terms of trade, the renewed mining boom and price rises elsewhere in the economy.

“There’s very strong fundamentals and there’s been underlying price pressures running through most services sectors,” he said. Macquarie Group senior economist Brian Redican said the more volatile components of the CPI were drove up overall inflation in the March quarter.

“We had higher fresh food prices as a result of the cyclone,” he said.

“We had a higher petrol price coming through, with oil prices jumping up. “We had the seasonal increases in education and health prices and even things like the reduction in term deposit rates by banks came through in the form of higher financial services prices.”

Mr Redican said inflation may cool off later in the year.

“As we get to the second half of the year, you get the reversal of those fresh food prices coming down and people would be surprised by how low inflation is at that time. “But that said, if the Reserve Bank does want to tighten policy, then this provides them a good excuse to do that.”

Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, footballer David Beckham and his pop star wife Victoria and “Mr Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson are among the glittering line-up for the service in London’s Westminster Abbey on Friday.


In a nod to William’s military background and status as second in line to the throne, there will also be a British veteran of the war in Afghanistan and the families of soldiers killed in that country and in Iraq. The seating plan revealed that William’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and other senior royals will be the front row, with the Middleton family on the other side of the aisle. Kate’s mother Carole will sit directly opposite the queen. The Spencer family of William’s mother Diana, princess of Wales, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, will sit behind the Middletons. However, as expected there is no place for Sarah Ferguson, William’s aunt and the ex-wife of his uncle Prince Andrew, following a series of tabloid newspaper scandals. More than 40 foreign royals from countries as diverse as Brunei, Thailand, Morocco and Swaziland are among the “confirmed attendees”, said St James’s Palace, William’s official residence. There is an unexpected appearance by Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain after reports that the Gulf state’s rulers would withdraw to avoid embarrassment after a bloody crackdown on protesters there. But Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni cannot attend the wedding, Phnom Penh’s foreign ministry said, although it denied reports in Britain that he had ignored the invitation. A St James’s Palace spokesman said inviting other crowned heads of state was a long-held tradition but the Foreign Office’s advice was sought on issues. Since the wedding is not a formal state occasion, world leaders such as US President Barack Obama have not been invited. There are however several heads of government including Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her New Zealand counterpart John Key, along with governors-general from 15 Commonwealth realms where the queen is still the monarch. Key figures from the British government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also attend. The wedding is expected to be watched by a worldwide television audience of around two billion people. Celebrities feature heavily on the guest list, and also include Guy Ritchie, the film director and ex-husband of Madonna. Elton John – who sang the hit “Candle in the Wind” at Diana’s funeral in the abbey – will be accompanied by his partner David Furnish. William met former England captain Beckham as part of England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Mario Testino, the official photographer for the engagement, will be there along with singer Joss Stone, who performed at a Diana tribute concert. Sports stars include Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning former England rugby union coach; Gareth Thomas, the Wales rugby back; and the former England football midfielder Trevor Brooking. Former British prime minister John Major, who was appointed a guardian to Princes William and Harry after their mother died, will attend, as will Julia Samuel, chair of the Child Bereavement Charity. A number of William’s colleagues from his job as a search and rescue helicopter pilot for the Royal Air Force will also be attending, along with members of charities he supports. There will also be space for Lance Corporal Martyn Compton, a British soldier who served with William, and who was so badly burned in an insurgent attack in Afghanistan in 2006 that he lost his ears and nose. William has also invited members of the families of two colleagues from the military officer training school at Sandhurst: Joanna Dyer, who was killed by a bomb in Iraq in 2007, and Major Alexis Roberts, killed four years ago in Afghanistan. Most of the invitees are family or private friends of William and his fiancee, and her guests reportedly include the butcher, the postman and the greengrocer from the rural English village of Bucklebury where she grew up. Inside Westminster Abbey itself, only the bride and groom’s nearest and dearest will be able to witness the ceremony close up. Most guests will be behind the choir screen, a partition in the abbey which restricts the view of the altar to those behind it. They will have to watch on video screens to see the moment when William and Kate exchange their vows.

Julia Gillard’s tour of Japan takes on a sombre note today when the PM visits one of the communities hardest hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.


Minami Sanriku was once a quaint fishing town but it’s been all but wiped off the map with up to half the town’s 20-thousand residents losing their lives.

Ms Gillard will view the devastation from a helicopter before landing to visit an evacuation centre to talk with locals who lost homes and loved ones.

She’ll be accompanied by Rob McNeil the leader of the Australian search and rescue team that helped Japanese authorities search for survivors in the Minami Sanriku wreckage.

Japanese may train with Aust troops: PM

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Japanese troops could be allowed to train in Australian defence units under a new vision for greater military co-operation by both countries.

The Prime Minister outlined her vision in The Weekend Australian newspaper in an interview in Tokyo on Friday, saying she’s open to exploring the idea of Japan’s soldiers gaining direct experience from their more combat-ready Australian peers, 66 years after World War Two.

Gillard sits down to dinner with Kylie

At a fundraising dinner in Tokyo overnight also attended by Aussie songbird Kylie Minogue the prime minister has announced three initiatives from Australia to help Japan recover from last month’s earthquake and tsunami.

Ms Minogue says she chose to continue with the Japanese leg of her world tour despite ongoing aftershocks and the Fukushima nuclear crisis but she didn’t perform at last night’s gala.

Julia Gillard’s announced a new program will help fund university students academics and professionals from those areas most affected by the disaster to spend some time in Australia.

Ms Gillard’s also announced an ongoing program of 10 Endeavour Scholarships a year for Japan.

The government will also begin a study for an exchange program to allow young Japanese people to teach Japanese in Australian schools.

Collingwood pair Lachie Keeffe and Josh Thomas have tested positive to clenbuterol, threatening their careers and rocking the AFL with a fresh doping scandal.


The timing could not be worse for the game, with news of the positive tests coming a day before the AFL anti-doping tribunal’s Essendon verdicts and in the same week that the season starts.

“I hope it (the buildup to round one) is not all taken away, but it’s incredibly disappointing,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told Fox Footy.

“I have to say that one, I didn’t see it coming and I’m incredibly disappointed and frustrated.”

It also means the AFL has had four positive tests in the last two years.

Those are separate to the Essendon supplements saga, now in its third year and the reason for Tuesday’s anti-doping tribunal verdicts on 34 current and past Bombers players.

Keeffe and Thomas tested positive on February 10, two days after the team returned from a New Zealand training camp.

The pair are under provisional suspension.

Their B samples will be tested on April 14, but this is expected to be a formality and they most likely will have to front the anti-doping tribunal.

Clenbuterol is the banned substance that cost Spanish cycling ace Alberto Contador his 2010 Tour de France title because of a positive test.

Australian cycling star Michael Rogers also tested positive to clenbuterol, but was cleared on appeal.

Contador and Rogers had the same defence – that they ate contaminated meat.

ASADA broke the news to Keeffe and Thomas on Friday and it is so far unclear what might have caused the positive tests.

“They’re at a complete loss to understand where the positive test has come from,” Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley told Fox Footy’s AFL 360 program.

“They’re very decent, upstanding young men.

“This is nearly a standard line, (but) if you asked me a couple who I wouldn’t have thought would have ever tested positive to anything, then they’d be right up there.

“They’re cleanskins and yet they’ve returned a positive sample.”

Collingwood are adamant the positive tests have no connection to their own dietary and supplements program.

Buckley said Keeffe and Thomas were roommates on the NZ trip and are best mates.

“In many ways, they’ve been joined at the hip their whole career,” he said.

Their coach added there was no logical reason why they would take a banned substance such as clenbuterol, which helps build muscle and burn fat.

He noted Keeffe and Thomas had overcome serious injury problems in the last few years.

“Both of these boys have had reasons throughout their career where they might want to go to it (taking banned substances) … but they’ve had their opportunities and they haven’t,” Buckley said.

“They’ve just worked hard and plugged away and they’re right in the sweet spot of their careers.

“We’re devastated for them.”

It is understood there were tense negotiations between Collingwood and the AFL Players Association on Monday before the announcement of the positive tests and the identities of the players were revealed.

Normally, if a sportsperson tests positive, he or she stays anonymous until the B sample confirms the result.

But Collingwood wanted the names revealed as soon as possible.

Buckley, Magpies chief executive Gary Pert and club football manager Neil Balme spoke briefly to the two players on Friday.

The club hopes to talk to them again at greater length on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Buckley said Keeffe would not have played in Saturday night’s round-one game against Brisbane, but Thomas was “well in the mix”.

Also in the last two years, St Kilda small forward Ahmed Saad served an 18-month ban for testing positive to a banned substance in an energy drink.

And Fremantle midfielder Ryan Crowley is suspended until he goes before the anti-doping tribunal on May 1, having tested positive to a specified substance found in a painkiller.

Johnathan Thurston has stolen a desperately needed win for North Queensland in a golden point thriller against Melbourne.


Trailing 16-4 at halftime, the Cowboys avoided their worst start to a season in 13 years with an 18-17 win over the Storm in Townsville on Monday night.

It came down to a field goal shootout between Queensland Origin halves Cooper Cronk and Thurston.

Cronk appeared to have put the Cowboys resistance to sleep in the 72nd minute with a field goal in front of the posts.

But the Cowboys rallied late, Matthew Wright scoring in the 79th minute before Thurston slotted a sideline conversion from his non-preferred side and then kicked a field goal of his own to level the scores with seconds remaining.

Thurston and Cronk traded shots in extra time, including a fluffed left-foot effort from the Cowboys halfback before Thurston eventually kicked North Queensland to victory.

Antonio Winterstein had given the Cowboys hope with his double, after returning from a two-game absence following the tragic death of his brother.

While North Queensland was able to build pressure, it rarely equated to points in the first 70 minutes as fifth tackle options and errors plagued them.

Melbourne had leapt out to a 16-4 lead at halftime through tries to Kurt Mann, Felise Kaufusi and a superb effort from Marika Koroibete who dashed 95m after collecting a Thurston bomb.

Stuttering all night, the Cowboys came to life in the final 20 minutes and punched holes in the Storm defensive line giving the home crowd hope.

When Winterstein crossed for his second in the 62nd minute, a Cowboys comeback looked possible if improbable – ultimately they achieved a memorable win to lift them off the bottom of the NRL ladder.

Thurston said the win was vital to keep the Cowboys in the hunt to remain competitive in 2015.

“You have no idea (how much we needed that win,” he said.

“It’s been a long time coming.

“Finally we can stay in the fight.

“We had our backs against the wall there in the past three weeks when we’ve been blown off the park.

“It’s good that we can find that little bit of character there and stay in the game.”

Cowboys coach Paul Green said it was a win the club could use to turn their fortunes around.

“When you lose your confidence, you focus on the things you’re not doing well,” he said.

“We just need a bit of evidence to show that we are a good team.

“I thought tonight was exactly what we needed against a very good team.”

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy was clearly fuming about some late referee calls that gave the Cowboys the field position needed to secure the win, but restrained himself to avoid sanction by the NRL.

“The blokes deserved better than what they got in the last five minutes,” he said.

“(But) we can’t say anything about that.”

World leaders, including Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, had their personal details accidentally shared before last year’s G20 summit in Brisbane.


But Australia’s immigration department determined it was not necessary to notify the presidents, prime ministers and other representatives of the privacy breach.

Passport numbers, visa details and dates of birth of leaders attending the Brisbane summit last November were accidentally sent by a department employee to a member of the Asian Cup Local Organising Committee.

An email from the department to the privacy commissioner, obtained under freedom of information by The Guardian, reveals the breach was reported less than 10 minutes after the email was sent.

The receiver of the email informed the department he had deleted it and there was no other copy.

“The Asian Cup Local Organising Committee do not believe the email to be accessible, recoverable or stored anywhere else in their system,” the department’s email states.

The director of the department’s visa services division sought urgent advice but stated because the risks of the breach were considered very low he did not believe it was necessary to notify the leaders.

“Given the steps taken to contain the breach outlined above, it is unlikely that the information is in the public domain,” the email says.

The absence of other personal data, like addresses or contact details, limited the potential risk of the breach, it said.

The email labels it an “isolated example of human error”.

It’s not clear if the leaders were eventually notified of the breach.

The offices of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, who was responsible for the portfolio at the time, have been contacted for comment.

An expert witness has argued for the death row challenge of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran to be heard in an Indonesian administrative court, testifying it is the correct forum.


The court last month threw out a challenge against the rejection of clemency for the Bali Nine pair, determining the decrees by President Joko Widodo were not within its jurisdiction.

The men sentenced for heroin smuggling in 2006 have no other legal avenues left and have resorted to the administrative court appeal to spare them from the firing squad.

Otong Rosadi of Ekasakti University on Monday gave his opinion in support of the challenge.

The law expert said in his opinion, all “products of the law” can be reviewed, even clemency, which he argued was not purely a matter of presidential prerogative.

The constitutional rights of the president were still a product of the law, he said.

“The legal product is the presidential decree and a presidential decree rejecting or granting clemency, it’s a state administrative matter,” he told the court in Jakarta.

“The forum to challenge it is the state administrative court.”

Mr Otong maintained this view under questioning from lawyers for the state and judges, who asked if other constitutional rights of the president could also therefore be challenged in the administrative court.

Lawyer for Chan and Sukumaran, Leonard Arpan, said he was confident Mr Otong’s evidence was strong.

“I think the expert has delivered all the statements that were required,” he told reporters.

Both sides are due to give their conclusions on Wednesday for a decision soon afterwards.

If they are given the chance, lawyers for Chan and Sukumaran will argue President Joko Widodo didn’t properly assess their case – including their rehabilitation – before refusing clemency because they are drug offenders.

Several of the 10 prisoners in line for Indonesia’s planned simultaneous mass execution are pursuing court action.

Indonesia’s Attorney-General HM Prasetyo has committed not to execute them before their legal avenues are exhausted, and has ordered those cases before the Supreme Court to be expedited.

The 10th prisoner, Filipina Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, will soon join the others on Nusakambangan island as her bid for a Supreme Court judicial review was rejected last week after a matter of days.

Mr Joko and Prime Minister Tony Abbott were photographed speaking on the sidelines of the state funeral for Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore on Sunday.

Mr Abbott has been keen for another chance to speak with Mr Joko again regarding Chan and Sukumaran’s fate.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir says they did not have time for a meeting, however.

He didn’t know what the leaders discussed in passing.

“While there, the president’s time was very tight and we didn’t arrange any meetings with other heads of state while in Singapore,” he told reporters in Jakarta on Monday.

Queensland’s government hangs in the balance while an outcast MP uses surgery recovery time to decide whether he’ll quit parliament and force his electorate to a by-election.


Cook MP Billy Gordon on Monday morning resigned from the Labor party before Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk could boot him for failing to disclose his criminal history, including break-and-enter and stealing offences dating back 25 years.

He’s also accused of domestic abuse of an ex-partner and his mother.

Ms Palaszczuk now wants him to quit parliament, forcing a by-election in his far north Queensland electorate.

If he does, it could mean both Labor and the Liberal National Party (LNP) holding 43 seats each in the state’s 89-seat parliament, meaning the government could change hands just two months after the election.

In the meantime, there is jockeying behind the scenes as the state’s two Katter Australian Party MPs meet both parties to try to get their core policies, such as mandated ethanol in fuels, on the agenda.

Mr Gordon underwent pre-arranged eye surgery on Monday and says he’ll use the recovery time to consider his future.

“I need further time to consider my options, seek further legal advice and have ongoing discussion with my family and my supporters,” he said.

“I will therefore make no further media comment at this time.”

Ms Palaszczuk said she wouldn’t call a fresh election, but was pushing for a by-election in Cook.

“I’m prepared to put my premiership on the line, I’m prepared to put the integrity of my government on the line because we stood up for what was right,” she said.

But the premier refused to reject the MP’s vote in parliament, like the opposition has, claiming she was giving him time to resign from his seat before parliament next sits in May.

“I don’t think we should raise hypotheticals at this moment,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg slammed the stance.

“You cannot on one hand say he is unfit to be in parliament and yet say you are looking at the possibility of accepting his vote if he remains the Member for Cook,” he said.

Mr Gordon does have the backing of some indigenous mayors in his Cape York electorate, who have agreed with the embattled MP’s calls for “natural justice”.

Kowanyama Mayor Robert Holness said the saga was a “witch hunt” and he was innocent until proved guilty.

He also brushed off his criminal past, saying “all of us do stupid things when we’re young fellas”.

Controversy surrounding Mr Gordon first arose last week after it was revealed he deliberately failed to submit tax returns to avoid paying child support.

Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that the International Cycling Union’s Licence Commission was to strip Astana, the team of Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, of their licence following a series of positive anti-doping tests last season.


“No hearing has yet taken place in the Astana case and therefore no decision has been made,” the UCI said in a statement to Reuters.

Astana had until March 20 to submit all documents in their defence to the Commission and are planning to send a team to be heard on Thursday in Switzerland, the source said.

Members of the Kazakh federation, sports directors, riders and the head doctor will travel to the April 2 meeting.

“We’ve been told it would then take about 10 days, so after Paris-Roubaix,” the source said.

The UCI said in February it wanted the sport’s licencing commission to strip Astana of their elite status.

Kazakhstan-based Astana were only granted their World Tour licence for 2015 “under probation”.

But the UCI released a statement on Feb. 27 saying it wanted the license withdrawn after finishing a review of an audit on Astana which was undertaken by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL).

The World Tour license guarantees its holder direct participation in the top races, including the Tour de France, the Paris-Roubaix classic and the Giro d’Italia.

Several Astana riders failed dope tests last season. The UCI agreed to grant the team a license but only on the condition that it underwent an independent audit.

If Astana are stripped of their licence, they would be able to take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

The incident could hardly have happened at a worse position for the Chinese boat, 240 nautical miles (nm) from Cape Horn in southern Chile, one of the most remote places on Earth.


The breakage in the top section of the mast means that the team cannot properly manoeuvre the boat. No members of the nine-strong crew on board were injured.

The team originally announced that they would have to quit the leg but now they are investigating whether they can continue after making repairs in Argentina.

“There’s still a possibility we could limp all the way to Brazil — the leg destination — and that way we’d still earn two points. It may make all the difference in the end. We’ll see,” said a team spokesman.

The boat’s French skipper Charles Caudrelier sent a message to his team, saying he was devastated by the breakage.

The team of Chinese rookies had been joint leaders of the nine-month, offshore marathon race with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at the halfway stage.

“The mast broke without warning, in about 30 knots of wind,” saif Caudrelier. “We are unable to sail safely on starboard tack, but we are able to make reasonable speed on port tack. We will head towards Ushuaia, Argentina, and assess our options.”

The team was on its way to Itajaí, south-eastern Brazil, from Auckland, New Zealand on the 6,776nm leg when the accident happened.

Volvo Ocean Race organisers said they had alerted maritime safety organisations and were doing everything they could to assist the crew.

It is the second major breakage to hit the seven-strong fleet since the race began on Oct. 11 from Alicante, Spain.

On Nov. 29, during the second leg in the Indian Ocean, Denmark’s Team Vestas Wind badly damaged their boat after it smashed into a reef.

The crew escaped unhurt after wading through waters known to be shark-infested to reach safety.

The Volvo Ocean Race is generally reckoned to be the toughest offshore challenge in sailing. In 2011-12, five of the six-strong fleet suffered major breakages.

In all, the 2014-15 race will cover 38,739nm, visiting 11 ports and every continent. It is due to conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

Richard Branson, the billionaire businessman behind everything from record stores to space travel, wants to help Australia’s women entrepreneurs find their perfect match.


His not-for-profit foundation Virgin Unite is teaming up with Australian entrepreneurial support group Rare Birds to launch a new mentoring program for businesswomen.

The program aims to have 500 women entrepreneurs matched with mentors within the next two years.

Rare Birds founder Jo Burston says the entrepreneurs can seek confidential advice on the good, bad and ugly parts of their business.

“It’s an intrinsic, tacit knowledge transfer between people who are experienced and got the war wounds and the ones that are going into battle,” she told AAP.

Rare Birds was founded in 2014 by Ms Burston, a serial entrepreneur who has set up eight businesses, with the aim of inspiring one million women entrepreneurs around the globe.

She credits mentors with giving her invaluable advice on a range of issues from the importance of knowing balance sheets inside out through to how to stay ahead of rivals.

“When it’s really, really difficult and when I think I’m really stuck or hitting a wall, that’s the person I go to,” she said.

“What we know is when an entrepreneur has a safe place to talk and a safe place to discuss problems and challenges with a person who has previously experienced that, the success rates for the entrepreneur are accelerated.”

Rare Birds Mentoring is open to entrepreneurs with existing business ventures.

Applicants will be asked about their business, where they are in their career, personal details and key challenges.

A high-tech algorithm, similar to those used by dating websites, will analyse the data and match entrepreneurs with a mentor.

The algorithm was developed by Rare Birds in conjunction with Virgin Unite, which uses a similar version to help entrepreneurs through the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.

“This partnership with Rare Birds is a fantastic way to inspire and mentor women and help make a promising business a truly successful one,” Virgin Unite boss Jean Oelwang said.

The program has already received 137 applications from entrepreneurs eager to find their perfect match among a pool of mentors, who include corporate executives through to successful startup businessmen and women.

Mentors and entrepreneurs are matched for a year, with data collected along the way to make sure the relationship is working.

After 12 months, entrepreneurs can opt to continue the relationship or switch to a new mentor if they need advice on a fresh set of challenges.

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Campaigning in Britain’s closest national election in decades will start on Monday after Prime Minister David Cameron meets Queen Elizabeth following parliament’s dissolution, teeing up an unusually fraught battle to govern the $2.


8 trillion economy.

In a ritual steeped in tradition, Cameron will be driven to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the monarch ahead of a May 7 ballot, a formality marking the symbolic end of five years of coalition government between Cameron’s Conservatives and the centre-left Liberal Democrats.

Hours later, Cameron, who says he wants another term in office “to finish the job”, is expected to lead an election rally in rural England, after warning voters they face “a stark choice” between economic competence and chaos.

The opposition Labour Party is due to present its business policies, warning Cameron’s Europe stance poses a “clear and present” danger. Cameron says Labour would hit voters with “a tax bombshell”, a charge it denies.

Although the government formally continues until a new one is formed, convention dictates it take no more major policy decisions, while the 650 members of the lower house of parliament revert to being ordinary members of the public.

Britain excels at such set-piece events. But the consequences of the election – in which polls predict nobody will win an outright majority – could be more disorderly.

Britain’s continued membership of the European Union hangs on the outcome, as does the future of the increasingly frayed balance of power between the United Kingdom and its most assertive constituent part: Scotland.

In a sign of the uncertain times reflecting the fragmentation of the political landscape, the leaders of the two main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – will on Thursday be joined by the leaders of five other parties for a seven-way TV debate

. The issues on the slate: how to tackle the budget deficit, the future of the country’s treasured but troubled National Health Service (NHS), and immigration.

Both the Conservatives and Labour say they want to better manage immigration flows and pump more money into the NHS.

The main difference between them is on the deficit with the Conservatives promising to cut it faster with deeper spending cuts and Labour saying it would do it more steadily and fairly. EU EXIT? Two polls released on the eve of campaigning underscored the election’s volatility.

One gave Labour a four point lead, the other gave the Conservatives exactly the same lead. However, most polls put the two neck-and-neck. None give either enough support to govern alone, meaning that the winner may need to try to rule as a minority government relying on others for backing on an issue-by-issue basis, or go into a formal coalition government with another party. The contest is freighted with irony. Even though the economy has bounced back from its deepest downturn since World war Two to become one of the fastest-growing in the industrialised world, many Britons say they haven’t felt the benefit or that they feel dissatisfied for other reasons.

If Cameron is re-elected, he has promised to deliver an EU membership referendum by the end of 2017, raising the spectre of Britain leaving the world’s largest trading bloc, something the United States had made clear it doesn’t want.

If Britain voted to leave the EU, Scottish nationalists have signalled they’d push for another independence referendum, even though they lost one as recently as last year. Labour opposes an EU membership referendum.

Buffeted by high levels of immigration from eastern Europe after 10 mostly former communist states joined the EU, many voters blame the bloc at a time of belt-tightening because of fiscal austerity for pressure on wages and school and hospital places.

Cameron promised to reduce annual net migration to the “tens of thousands.” Instead, it’s running at around 300,000. That, for now, makes the outcome of any EU referendum too close to call even though many of the country’s big companies want more immigration and for Britain to stay in the EU. The issue has helped fuel the rise of the anti-EU UK Independence Party or UKIP, a party often compared to the U.S. Tea Party. It wants sharply lower immigration and a swift British exit from the EU, a scenario known as “Brexit.” Britain’s winner-takes-all first-past-the-post electoral system means the odds are stacked against UKIP and that it’s unlikely to win more than half a dozen seats. But it has become sufficiently popular, regularly getting double digit support in the polls, to emerge as a potential disruptor that risks splitting the right-wing vote in particular, making it harder for Cameron to win in individual constituencies. SCOTLAND Another major disruptor is Scotland. Nationalists may have lost an independence referendum there last year, but they have bounced back with unexpected vigour.

Polls show they could enjoy an almost clean sweep, dealing a potentially knock-out blow to Labour which has traditionally drawn around one fifth of its lawmakers from Scotland.

Ironically, the nationalists, who could emerge as Britain’s third biggest party, say they’d only do a post-election deal with Labour, the party they’re trying to politically annihilate.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has unsurprisingly ruled out entering a coalition with a party that may be responsible for depriving him of an outright win.

But he hasn’t yet ruled out doing an informal deal with them, even though their ultimate goal remains the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Publicly, both the Conservatives and Labour say such speculation is pointless as they’ll prove the polls wrong and win an outright majority. Privately, they’re less confident.

“It’s tough to call, but I think the Conservatives will just about emerge as the largest party,” a senior Labour lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

“But they won’t win an outright majority and their government might not last, meaning that before long we might be faced with a second election.”

Australian airlines must have two crew members in the cockpit at all times, under a deal struck with the industry after the Germanwings plane crash.


The pilot of the plane, which is believed to have been deliberately crashed into the French Alps, was locked out of the cockpit by his co-pilot.


Domestic and international airlines will have to comply with the new rule immediately, Transport Minister Warren Truss announced on Monday.

Standard operating procedure will require two members of the operating crew, or authorised people, on the flight deck at all times.

The rule will apply at all times to all regular passenger transport services where the aircraft has seating capacity for 50 passengers and above.

Mr Truss says aviation agencies will work with the industry and airline staff on further improvements, such as the requirements for medical testing, including mental health, of all flight crew members.

“Today’s decision is a sensible, measured response that combines safeguarding the travelling public with the practical capabilities of the aviation sector,” he said.

The Germanwings flight crashed on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board, including Australians Carol Friday, 68, and her son Greig, 29.

Australian pilots are already subject to annual medical reviews, which include a psychiatric assessment.

If at any time there are concerns about the mental health of any pilot or co-pilot they are not placed in command of aircraft.

Qantas said in a statement it would have two approved people in the cockpit at all times in-flight.

When one pilot needs to leave the cockpit for any reason, another authorised person will occupy the jump seat – as distinct from the control seats occupied by the captain and first officer – until they return.

Qantas said it offered regular medical checks, stress management training, confidential counselling and pilot-to-pilot support networks.

Virgin said it would also adhere to the policy.

Australian and International Pilots Association president Nathan Safe told AAP he was not convinced the new policy would have prevented the Germanwings crash.

“But we understand it is important the government acts and treats safety as its most important consideration,” he said.

Greens transport spokeswoman Janet Rice said it was a stopgap measure and the answer lay in providing greater resources for support services and ensuring airlines took a “mature approach” to the mental health of employees.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.