Mining downturn to push more into arrears

The mining downturn and soft property price growth are expected to hurt Australians with a mortgage, especially in resource-reliant regions.

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Moody’s Investors Service, the credit ratings agency’s research arm, expects the proportion of Australians more than 30 days behind in their mortgage repayments will edge up over the coming year, after rising slightly in 2015.

But, it will still stay at a historically low level, Moody’s says, after the “delinquency” rate rose to 1.20 per cent in the 12 months to November, compared with 1.19 per cent the previous year.

Moody’s assistant vice president Alena Chen says the country’s economic growth was well below the long-term average of 3.5 per cent, with the mining industry wind-down having a major impact on borrowers.

“The economic backdrop will prompt a slight increase in the mortgage delinquency rate in 2016,” Ms Chen told AAP.

“What needs to be highlighted is the diverging performance between the states and the big difference we are seeing between the more diversified states compared to the ones that are more reliant on the resource sector.”

She said the resource reliant regions in WA, NT and Queensland would experience the most mortgage arrears, while better labour market and economic conditions in NSW would likely mean its level of arrears remains steady.

In 2015, a high proportion of the worst performing parts of the nation were where employment hinged on the mining industry, a sector hit hard by low commodity prices, falling investment and China’s declining demand for iron ore.

WA had the highest level of mortgage arrears in 2015 with the rate rising by a significant 0.48 percentage point over the year, Moody’s report says.

Imports of Adler shotgun pouring into Aust

SYDNEY, March 4 AAP – Thousands of Adler rapid-fire shotguns have flooded into Australia over the past six months, sidestepping a ban on a previous version of the controversial weapon imposed following the deadly Sydney siege.

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As commonwealth and state ministers and attorneys-general were undertaking an urgent review of national gun laws following the siege, orders for a five-round version of the Turkish-made Adler A110 were already pouring into gun dealers across the country.

Figures obtained by AAP from law enforcement agencies in NSW, Queensland and Victoria reveal almost 4000 of the lever-action shotguns have been imported into those states alone.

In some states, they are sold to shooters under the least restrictive weapon category, which includes air-rifles and paintball guns.

The gun-control lobby argues that even the modified weapon – which fires five 12-gauge cartridges in rapid succession – should be classified as a semi-automatic firearm, warning that tough laws introduced by John Howard after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre are being eroded.

“How utterly shameful in the year of the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, governments have commemorated the year by handing back to the gun lobby general access to rapid-fire shotguns,” Gun Control Australia president Samantha Lee said.

“Rapid-fire rifles turn up in mass shootings, which is why these guns were basically banned here after Port Arthur.”

Plans to import a previous seven-round version, marketed as a game changer for hunters because of its rapid-fire ability, were halted by a 12-month ban imposed in July on guns that fire more than five rounds without the need for reloading.

But since then, more than 1000 five-round shotguns have been imported into NSW, with 701 sold to shooters and a further 373 held by dealers as stock.

“There was no Adler A110 shotgun 5 capacity identified on the Integrated Licensing System prior to 15 September 2015,” NSW Police said.

In Victoria, 602 Adler A110s have been registered by licence holders since September while 86 are held by dealers.

There are 2063 Adler shotguns “registered in possession” in Queensland.

The original version – which anti-gun lobbyists say had similar firepower to a pump-action shotgun – was banned by former prime minister Tony Abbott for six months, which was extended to 12 months, to allow time for the states and the federal government to consider a review of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA).

A spokesperson for Justice Minister Michael Keenan has confirmed to AAP that at a meeting of commonwealth and state ministers and attorneys-general on November 5 an updated NFA was referred to federal, state and territory police commissioners and justice department secretaries for consideration.

“Once appropriate amendments to the NFA have been agreed by senior officials, the updated NFA will be reconsidered by the LCCSC (Law, Crime and Community Safety Council) in 2016, prior to being reviewed by the Council of Australian Governments,” the spokesperson said.

Microsoft pushes smart chats with computer

Microsoft wants you to talk more with your computer – and have more useful conversations.

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The software giant is promoting new uses for Cortana – its voice-activated answer to Apple’s Siri digital assistant – including the ability to interact with software “bots” that can have limited conversations with users and help with tasks such as booking a hotel room, ordering a meal or arranging a delivery.

Voice-activated services such as Siri, OK Google or Amazon’s Alexa can already perform tasks for users such as playing a song at a request or answering a question.

Bots are smarter than traditional software apps, though, using artificial intelligence to respond to a wider range of commands and in a convenient, conversational way.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, at the opening on Wednesday of the company’s annual conference for software developers, touted the power of “conversational intelligence” as he outlined a long-term vision in which Cortana, a central feature of Windows 10, becomes a digital concierge for other online interactions.

“Bots are the new apps,” Nadella told developers.

Lilian Rincon, a program manager for Microsoft’s Skype service, demonstrated how this might work.

After receiving a video message from her boss that mentioned an upcoming conference in Dublin, Rincon used Cortana to mark the dates on her calendar. Cortana then used Skype to contact a hotel chain’s bot, which suggested a room and helped Rincon make a reservation for those dates.

Integrating Cortana with other companies’ bots could increase the use of Microsoft’s services, and make them more valuable, said analyst Ross MacMillan, who follows tech companies for RBC Capital Markets, in an email on Wednesday.

Bots are not perfect, however. Microsoft recently shut down an experimental internet bot called “Tay” after some Twitter users taught it to make offensive statements.

Nadella acknowledged the episode Wednesday, saying it shows the importance of designing technology to be “inclusive and respectful.”

Cortana isn’t as well-known as Siri or OK Google. But unlike those services, which are found mostly on smartphones and tablets, Microsoft has made Cortana available on desktop and laptop PCs, via Windows 10.

But Microsoft, after seeing its business suffer because fewer people buy new PCs, has also released Cortana as an app for smartphones and tablets that run Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating software. Similarly, Skype also works on those platforms.

Microsoft is now releasing programming tools for developers to build bots that will interact with Cortana.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft would be glad to see people use these services on Skype, the internet video and voice-calling service that it owns. But some of its tools for creating bots will work with other messaging services: Microsoft listed Slack and standard text messaging, among others.

Storm destroys 1000 refugee homes in Nigeria

At least 4,300 people have been affected by violent storms that swept the state of Borno, the heart of the eight-year jihadist insurrection, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) after assessing conditions in 44 camps for displaced people in the state.

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“Rain are just beginning and they will last for three or four months,” Henry Kwenin, an emergency coordinator for the IOM told AFP.

The region has been devastated by eight years of conflict, with the majority of roads inaccessible for security reasons. The conflict between the army and Boko Haram jihadists has led to over 20,000 deaths and displacing 2.6 million people since 2009.

Several hundred thousand people have fled to the capital of the region, Maiduguri.

“The number one priority is to reinforce the shelters, to build adequate drainage systems, and safe places in camps where people can gather in case of violent storms,” Mr Kwenin added.

The storms came with powerful winds damaging precarious structures in Jere, Kaga, Konduga and Maiduguri, killing one person, the IOM said.

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“It began with a sandstorm which lasted for an hour and was followed by a heavy downpour which continued for the next two hours,” said a resident of Pompomari, a district in Maiduguri.

“Our neighbourhood has little trees to break the wind and this makes our houses vulnerable to windstorms.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 5.2 million people could need life-saving food aid in three northeast states from June to August.

But lack of funding is forcing aid agencies to cut feeding programs in the northeast Nigeria, the UN said last month, warning of growing pressure on resources as refugees return.

The World Food Program has said nearly two million people were living on the brink of famine in the remote region.

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Kohli in awe of Yuvraj’s performance against Pakistan

India’s top four batsmen helped themselves to fifties but none of them looked as fluent as Yuvraj, whose quickfire 53 off 32 balls enhanced his reputation as one of the sweetest timers of the ball.

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“I felt like a club batsman while playing alongside ‘Yuvi’, the way he was hitting the ball,” Kohli said after India kicked off their title defence with a comprehensive victory over their arch-rivals.

A 136-run opening stand between Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan laid the foundation for a big total but Kohli appeared to struggle for momentum in the rain-interrupted match.

But Yuvraj’s unbridled aggression lifted the pressure on Kohli, who accelerated towards the end to remain not out on 81 off 68 balls.

“The way he batted, I think it was the game-changing innings to be honest. That gave all of us the confidence to start striking the ball well,” Kohli said of Yuvraj, who missed both India’s warm-up games with viral fever.

“The way he batted was the way only he can strike the ball, hitting low full tosses for fours and sixes, and even digging out yorkers for fours – he was outstanding.”

It was only after he had been dropped on 43 that Kohli stepped on the gas and clobbered three sixes.

“I could not get the big ones because it was tricky,” the 28-year-old said of the sluggish phase.

“We went off about four times and we came back in. So a player who likes to play a long innings and usually plays like that for the time, it becomes very difficult to find momentum every time you come back.”

India meet Sri Lanka in their next Group B match at the Oval on Thursday.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Peter Rutherford)

Thurston, Slater on track for Qld: Walters

Kevin Walters has left the door ajar for Billy Slater to be welcomed back into the Queensland line up for State of Origin II and also indicated strongly that Johnathan Thurston will be passed fit to play.

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Faced with having to win in Sydney to save the series, the Maroons coach said he was open to recalling the Melbourne veteran despite dumping him for last week’s game one loss to NSW.

After back-to-back shoulder reconstructions, Slater – widely considered one of the great modern day fullbacks – was overlooked for game one in favour of Brisbane skipper Darius Boyd.

But after Queensland suffered their worst home defeat to the Blues, Walters is under pressure to make changes.

Slater has been superb since his return this year and Walters said his performance in the Storm’s 40-12 rout of last-placed Newcastle had put him in the frame.

“There’s no concern with Billy Slater,” Walters told Sky Sports Radio on Monday.

“We’ve just seen him get better and better. That’s what we hoped would happen with Billy. He’s right back in the frame now for game two.”

Walters also rated North Queensland playmaker Thurston a 70 per cent chance of resuming his place in the Queensland side after missing game one with a shoulder injury.

Thurston was replaced by Anthony Milford in the series opener and is racing the clock having not played since the May 5 Anzac Test in Canberra.

“He’s not over the line as yet. He’s got to do some more stuff around his rehabilitation in Townsville,” Walters said.

“He’s hopeful of playing (for North Queensland) this weekend. If he plays this weekend and comes through, then that’s no dramas.”

Walters also said he was open to selecting Coen Hess despite the North Queensland young gun’s insistence he wasn’t ready for rugby league’s toughest arena.

With Nate Myles struggling with an elbow injury and the likes of Jacob Lillyman and Aidan Guerra under pressure to hold their spots, the 20-year-old has burst into the frame.

He has grabbed attention after scoring nine tries in the opening 13 rounds – the fourth most in the competition and the most of any forward.

Hess said he was unsure if he was ready for Origin after just 21 first grade games however Walters said he was being considered.

“I think he was just being a little bit humble, which is a good sign because you don’t want to be throwing yourself out there that you’re the next big thing in Origin,” Walters said.

“That only brings you undone, doesn’t it?”

Thousands join Hong Kong vigil for Tiananmen Square anniversary

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong on Sunday for a candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing’s Tianamen Square, while Taiwan urged China to make a transition to full democracy.

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Nearly three decades after Beijing sent tanks and troops to quell the 1989 student-led protests, Chinese authorities ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland and have yet to release an official death toll.

Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand killed.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is the only place on Chinese soil where a large-scale commemoration takes place, symbolising the financial hub’s relative freedoms compared with the mainland.

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This year’s events are especially politically charged, coming just a month before an expected visit of President Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China.

“When Xi Jinping comes, he’ll know the people of Hong Kong have not forgotten,” Lee Cheuk-yan, an organiser of the annual candlelight vigil, said.

On a sombre night, many held aloft flickering flames, sang songs and listened to speeches calling on Beijing to fully atone for the crackdown.

Organisers of the vigil, held in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, said the event drew some 110,000 people, enough to fill more than six football pitches. Hong Kong police estimated the crowd at 18,000.

“The students who died (in 1989) still haven’t got what they deserve. They fought for their future, in the same way we’re fighting for our future,” Yanny Chan, a 17-year-old high school student at the vigil, said.

Video clips were shown of the relatives of four men who were arrested last year and charged earlier this year for subversion by Chinese authorities for manufacturing and selling bottles of Chinese liquor, or “baijiu”, with specially designed labels commemorating June 4.

Interactive: What really happened in Tianamen Square?

In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen marked the anniversary with an offer to help China to make the transition to democracy.

Tsai said that the biggest gap between Taiwan and China was democracy and freedom, needling Beijing at a time when relations between China and the self-ruled island are at a low point.

“For democracy: some are early, others are late, but we all get there in the end,” Tsai said, writing in Chinese on her Facebook page and tweeting some of her comments in English on Twitter.

“Borrowing on Taiwan’s experience, I believe that China can shorten the pain of democratic reform.”

Beijing distrusts Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party because it traditionally advocates independence for Taiwan. Beijing says the island is part of China and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had long ago reached a conclusion about June 4.

“I hope you can pay more attention to the positive changes happening in all levels of Chinese society,” she said without elaborating.

In Beijing, security was tight as usual at Tiananmen Square, with long lines at bag and identity checks. The square itself was peaceful, thronged with tourists taking photos.

One elderly resident of a nearby neighbourhood, out for stroll at the edge of the square, said he remembered the events of 28 years ago clearly.

“The soldiers were just babies, 18, 19 years old. They didn’t know what they were doing,” he told Reuters, asking to be identified only by his family name, Sun.

While some search terms on China’s popular Twitter-like microblog Weibo appeared to be blocked on Sunday, some users were able to post cryptic messages.

“Never forget,” wrote one, above a picture of mahjong tiles with the numbers 6 and 4 on them, for the month and day of the anniversary. 

Remembering Tianamen Square

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Aust boycott of nuke ban talks a cop out

Sheer dumb luck is the only reason the world has so far avoided a nuclear weapons catastrophe, a former Australian foreign minister says.

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Gareth Evans, who served under the Hawke and Keating governments, believes it’s a “cop out” for Australia to boycott United Nations negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

He said nuclear armed states, and those sheltering under their umbrella like Australia, were failing to recognise the scale of risk associated with nuclear weapons.

“We will see, sooner or later, human error, system error, accidental miscalculation producing a catastrophic nuclear event,” Professor Evans told a European Union-Australia leadership forum in Sydney on Monday.

“That we have survived seven decades without any catastrophe is not a matter of any inherent system stability or great statesmanship, it really is a matter of sheer dumb luck.”

Professor Evans said there was no reason that luck would continue indefinitely, especially with the large numbers of nuclear weapons in the world – 15,400 half operationally deployed and 2000-odd on hair trigger alert.

“The other great existential risk is of course climate change but… nuclear weapons can kill us a hell of a lot faster than CO2,” Professor Evans said.

Australia should unequivocally be participating in the UN negotiations, he said.

“I think it’s very important to get the normative momentum going, just as was the case with cluster bombs and land mines,” Professor Evans said.

“We have to create an environment in which the nuclear weapons are delegitimised.”

Professor Evans acknowledged negotiations weren’t going to be able to deliver enforceable results any time soon. But he said nuclear armed states and their allies needed to argue their reservations, not just stand aside.

“I think this is a complete cop out by Australia,” the Australian National Univeristy chancellor said.

Last week Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials told a Senate estimates hearing that Australian diplomats would be watching a webcast of UN talks later this month, rather than participating with the 130 other countries.

EU countries are also divided on the issue of a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Sweden supported kicking off negotiations, while the Netherlands and Finland abstained from voting.

Other EU countries were against.

Mourners mark 10 years since Kerang crash

The 11 lives cut short in one of Victoria’s worst rail crashes have been remembered in a memorial service marking 10 years since the tragedy.

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Family, friends and dignitaries including Premier Daniel Andrews have gathered in Kerang, the country town where seven adults and four children were killed when a semi-trailer smashed into a Swan Hill-to-Melbourne V-Line on June 5, 2007.

Another eight people were seriously injured.

Candles were lit and prayers said at Monday’s sombre service.

Vanessa Reid, granddaughter of victim Harold Claude Long, told reporters the tragedy “still haunts me every day” and she hasn’t been able to catch trains ever since.

Mr Long was pinned under luggage in the train carriage and had to have his leg partially amputated to be freed.

He died on the way to hospital in Melbourne.

“I went into severe denial when he passed. I just shut myself away, I didn’t want to believe it,” Ms Reid said.

“I still can’t believe it. Every time I see a level crossing I close my eyes because I’m scared it’s going to happen again.”

Safety at level crossings has improved since the crash, but Ms Reid said people still tried to cheat trains.

“They must stop, because there’s a lot of people on those trains and there’s a lot of people that can get hurt,” she said.

Truck driver Christian Scholl was charged with 11 counts of culpable driving over the deaths but acquitted by a Supreme Court jury in 2009.

A coronial inquest made 25 recommendations, including calling for improved signage and warnings for drivers approaching level crossings, and better co-ordination between emergency authorities.

Tributes for Kerang crash victims 10 years on

The 11 lives cut short in one of Victoria’s worst rail crashes have been remembered in a memorial service marking 10 years since the tragedy.

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Family, friends and dignitaries including Premier Daniel Andrews have gathered in Kerang, the country town where seven adults and four children were killed when a semi-trailer smashed into a Swan Hill-to-Melbourne V-Line on June 5, 2007.

Another eight people were seriously injured.

Candles were lit and prayers said at Monday’s sombre service.

Julie McMonnies paid tribute to her husband Geoff, who died in the accident.

“We’d been married 26 years, he was my childhood sweethear, my best friend, devoted and loving husband,” she said.

Her daughter Rose also killed in the crash.

Emergency service workers inspect the truck at the point where it hit a V-Line train at a level crossing near Kerang, northern Victoria. (AAP)AAP

“[She was] acting in the school play, crazy in love for the first time and dreaming big dreams about the future,” Mrs McMonnies said.

A decade on, but the pain is still fresh.

Harold Long, 83, was flown to Melbourne after the accident, but died on the way hospital.

His granddaughter Vanessa Reid haunted by the tragedy.

“I’ve struggled every day since that day,” she said.

Mr Long was pinned under luggage in the train carriage and had to have his leg partially amputated to be freed.

He died on the way to hospital in Melbourne.

“I went into severe denial when he passed. I just shut myself away, I didn’t want to believe it,” Ms Reid said.

“I still can’t believe it. Every time I see a level crossing I close my eyes because I’m scared it’s going to happen again.”

Safety at level crossings has improved since the crash, but Ms Reid said people still tried to beat trains.

“They must stop, because there’s a lot of people on those trains and there’s a lot of people that can get hurt,” she said.

Truck driver Christian Scholl was charged with 11 counts of culpable driving over the deaths but acquitted by a Supreme Court jury in 2009.

A coronial inquest made 25 recommendations, including calling for improved signage and warnings for drivers approaching level crossings, and better co-ordination between emergency authorities.

But questions over rail safety continue to be raised.

“When it comes to level crossing safety we are continually doing everything we can to raise the bar, as it were,” V-Line Chief Executive James Pinder said.

But he, like the families, was adamant the day’s focus should not be lost.

“We are here, like everybody, to support the families and the loves ones of those involved,” Mr Pinder said.

– with AAP

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US, Aust stand together on N Korea tests

Australia and the US are demanding China ramp up pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear ambitions, while urging Beijing to stop militarising its artificial islands in the South China Sea.

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The calls come after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne hosted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis for high-level talks in Sydney on Monday.

Mr Tillerson said the US and Australia “speak with one voice” in calling for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

With its increasing economic might, China had a responsibility as a regional power to stop North Korea.

“China and other regional partners should also step up their efforts to help solve this security situation which threatens not just that region but really presents a threat to the entire world,” Mr Tillerson told reporters at a joint press conference after the lengthy AusMin talks.

Ms Bishop branded North Korea’s recent missile weapons tests as “highly destructive behaviour”.

“We see North Korea as a threat to our region as much as we see it as a threat globally,” she said.

US President Donald Trump has warned that all options are on the table when it comes to trying to stop North Korea’s missile program amid fears it could develop weapons capable of hitting North America, Japan and Australia.

But the US has made clear that while it wants Beijing to pressure Pyongyang to end the program, it’s not happy with China’s militarisation of a series of man-made islands in the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan.

During the AusMin talks, the US and Australia reaffirmed their commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, a key regional trading route.

“We oppose China’s artificial island construction and their militarisation that features in international waters,” Mr Tillerson said.

“We desire productive relationships but we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it’s militarising islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea.

“They must recognise that, with a role as a growing economic and trading power comes security responsibilities as well.”

The US angered China when its Navy came within 12 nautical miles of one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea during a freedom of navigation patrol in late May.

Concerns about China’s presence in the South China Sea featured heavily during a weekend security summit in Singapore, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged Beijing to respect the sovereignty of other nations.

Before sitting down for talks with her US counterpart, Ms Bishop said China had violated international law by building the islands and that no nation should take “unilateral action to change the status quo”.

We’re not scared of terrorists: Mattis

America and Australia remain steadfast in their fight against terrorism and won’t be scared off by those trying to cause harm, the US defense secretary says.

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James Mattis insists the US does not take its alliance with Australia for granted and wants it to strengthen, particularly when it comes to global security.

“We are united in our resolve even against an enemy that thinks by hurting us they can scare us. We don’t scare,” he told a high-level meeting of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Australia’s foreign and defence ministers in Sydney on Monday.

“We are here to work together in a manner that protects the freedoms and the values we share together and we’re committed to passing those freedoms on to the next generation intact.”

Countering violent extremism, stemming the flow of foreign fighters and shutting down propaganda arms online were shared goals for both the US and Australia, Mr Tillerson said.

The talks follow the latest deadly terrorist attack in London in which three armed men mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge before stabbing revellers in nearby Borough Market.

Mr Mattis thanked Australia for its commitment to defeating Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, saying its partnership was a foundation for stability and peace in the region and more broadly.

“We stand together. We do not allow ourselves to be intimidated at all,” he said.

“We are going to ensure that, between our forces, our diplomats’ voices are alway backed up by skilful, ethical and fierce force of arms.”

Mr Mattis noted the issue of foreign fighters and the risk they pose in bringing back their skills and message of hatred to attack innocent people.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the federal government had made it clear any Australian who supports terrorist organisations is breaking the law.

“Should they survive and seek to return to Australia, they will be monitored, they will be tracked and they will be subjected to the Australian laws,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Tillerson said he would wait until the review of America’s position in Afghanistan was completed before forming a view as to whether the US should send more troops or request additional resources from Australia.

Just last week, Australia agreed to increase by 30 its personnel numbers following a request by NATO.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said Australia will continue engage with the US and NATO about their plans and consider any future decisions at the time.

The increasing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear missile program and growing regional tensions about China’s militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea were also on the agenda at Monday’s meeting.

The nations jointly called for North Korea to abandon its program, while Mr Tillerson accused China of buying its way out of problems.

The AusMin talks are usually held annually but it’s been nearly two years since the last gathering because elections in the US and Australia in 2016 made it difficult to schedule the high-level talks.

Australia, US say they oppose China’s claims to South China Sea

The US and Australia say they oppose China’s artificial island construction and militarisation of the South China Sea, saying China cannot use its economic power to “buy its way out” of problems.

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Speaking at a press conference following high-level talks with Australia’s foreign and defence ministers, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the long standing friends were committed to freedom of navigation in the contested sea and the rules based international order.

The allies also called for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program and for China to step up its efforts to help.

“We desire productive relationships, but we cannot allow China to use its economic power to buy its way out of other problems, whether it’s militarizing islands in the South China Sea or failing to put appropriate pressure on North Korea,” Mr Tillerson said.

2 countries, 4 ministers: “We stand resolute” in our determination to fight terrorism. #AUSMIN pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/s5ZqaQ1xDu

— Nastasya Tay (@NastasyaTay) June 5, 2017

Mr Tillerson and US Defense Secretary James Mattis joined Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne for AusMin talks today.

The talks were dominated by challenges on the Korean Peninsula, conflict in the Middle East, terrorism, trade and investment, Ms Bishop said.

The ministers also reaffirmed the strong partnership between the two staunch allies, which was thrown into doubt following the election of Donald Trump as president.

Relations were strained after an acrimonious telephone call shortly after Mr Trump’s inauguration in which he reportedly berated Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee relocation deal.

“As you’ve already heard, we stand here before you representing the strongest possible military alliance,” Mr Mattis said.

“This is one that has stood together through thick and thin and through generations.”

President Trump entered office with a “America First” foreign policy, which has seen the US pursue a more isolationist role in the world and reassess some agreements entered into by the previous administration.

Asked about Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mr Tillerson said the president was not walking away from climate change.

“He’s not walking away from it – he’s simply walking away from an agreement he felt did not serve the American people well, Mr Tillerson said.

Bishop: #AUSMIN talks “productive, useful, important discussions between counterparts, between friends”.

— Nastasya Tay (@NastasyaTay) June 5, 2017