French rightwing party vows ‘unanimous’ support for Fillon

“The political committee, after a wide-ranging exchange, unanimously renewed its support for Francois Fillon,” Larcher told reporters after around 20 party seniors met to “evaluate” the crisis sparked by the fake jobs scandal clouding Fillon’s campaign.

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Former prime minister Alain Juppe ruled out a run for the French presidency on Monday, boosting embattled rightwing party colleague Francois Fillon whose campaign has been thrown into chaos by a fake jobs scandal.

Juppe, 71, was the most likely candidate to replace Fillon and unite their deeply divided Republicans party only seven weeks from the start of the two-stage election.

Polls suggested Juppe would be more popular with voters, but the centrist is considered too soft on immigration and other social issues for many of Fillon’s supporters on the right flank of the party.

“I confirm for a final time that I will not be a candidate to be president of the republic,” Juppe said in a downbeat statement that criticised Fillon and said France was “sick” and suffering from a “profound crisis of confidence”.

His decision removes a major rival for Fillon, who is sticking with his bid for power despite the prospect of criminal charges later this month as well as mounting criticism within the party and falling poll numbers.

The conservative 63-year-old was once the favourite to be France’s next leader but his campaign is mired in accusations he used public funds to pay his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for fake parliamentary jobs.

“No one today can prevent me being a candidate,” Fillon told France 2 television late on Sunday, emboldened by a rally of tens of thousands of supporters in Paris earlier in the day.

Party leaders met for crisis talks on Monday evening, with allies of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy still pushing Fillon to step aside and name a replacement.

“He’s got some breathing space but he needs to ask himself if he can still win the presidential election,” one lawmaker known to be close to Sarkozy told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The infighting among Republicans and Fillon’s chaotic campaign have made an already unpredictable election even harder to call.

The disarray appears to have benefited centrist, pro-business candidate Emmanuel Macron in particular, as well as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who are shown in polls to be the likely top two candidates in the first round of voting on April 23.

Polls suggest 39-year-old Macron would beat Le Pen in the decisive second round on May 7 — but after Donald Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, analysts caution against bold predictions.

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Juppe bows out

Juppe, now the mayor of Bordeaux, voiced Monday his critical view of the state of the election campaign.

“Never under the fifth republic have we had an election in such confused conditions,” Juppe said, stressing the dangers of National Front leader Le Pen’s “anti-European fanaticism” and Macron’s “political immaturity”.

Fillon’s defiance and accusations that the government, justice system and media were plotting against him have “led him into a dead-end”, Juppe added in one of several criticisms of his colleague.

Both Le Pen and Macron — one a far-right anti-establishment figure, the other an independent who founded a new political movement last year — have tapped into widespread anger at France’s political class.

“French people want a profound renewal of their politics,” Juppe, a veteran politician with a conviction over a party finance scandal, told a press conference in Bordeaux.

“Evidently I do not embody this renewal,” he added.

National Front vice-president Florian Philippot said Monday that many French people who were thinking of voting Fillon would now opt for Le Pen.

“They want a free, safe and prosperous France, not a France that is subjected to the most brutal winds of globalisation,” he told LCI television.

Current President Francois Hollande also warned in an interview published Monday that the threat of a Le Pen presidency was real but that he would fight to prevent it happening.

Sarkozy intervenes

Fillon, a devout Catholic, beat Juppe in the Republicans’ primary in November, pulling off a surprise victory by campaigning as a “clean” candidate.

He was the frontrunner in the presidential race until Le Canard Enchaine newspaper revealed in late January that he had paid his wife Penelope and two of their children nearly 900,000 euros ($950,000) as his parliamentary assistants.

Ahead of the meeting of Republicans party leaders later Monday, Sarkozy had piled pressure on Fillon to meet Juppe and find a way out of the crisis.

The former president urged the two men to meet “to find a dignified and credible way out of this situation which cannot continue and which is creating serious problems for the French people”.

A number of Sarkozy’s closest allies have already called on Fillon to step aside.

First woman in space turns 80

Russia has honoured the world’s first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, who recalled tense moments of her pioneering mission on her 80th birthday.

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Soviet officials at the time said the 1963 mission went without a hitch, and only a few years ago Tereshkova first spoke about a technical glitch that could have left her stranded in space.

“When the spacecraft reached the orbit, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to return to Earth because the ship was programed to move to a higher orbit instead of deorbiting,” Tereshkova said in remarks broadcast by Channel 1 television. “I reported the situation to the mission control, they told me how to change the parameters and everything went on without trouble.”

Soviet space officials started planning for a space mission by a woman soon after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly to space on April, 12 1961, seeing it as a way to cement the nation’s lead in a race for space supremacy against the United States.

Tereshkova, a textile factory worker who liked parachute jumps, was chosen for the flight after a rigorous selection from hundreds of candidates. While heading to the launch pad, she told her relatives that she was going to attend a parachute competition – a reflection of deep secrecy that surrounded the Soviet space program.

The three-day mission made her an instant global celebrity and a poster figure for Soviet space glory. Tereshkova received a hero’s welcome after the flight and was showered with awards and honorary titles.

“It was hard, but we realised that we were working to make the country’s glory shine and prevent the competitors from thrusting ahead,” Tereshkova said on Monday. “It was a great happiness to be the first in space.”

Her birthday led the news on national television.

President Vladimir Putin hosted Tereshkova at the Kremlin, praising her as “a role model for us and a symbol of service to the Fatherland.”

Tereshkova is still a member of the Russian parliament, serving as a deputy chair of committee for municipal issues.

Turnbull lands in Jakarta for trade talks

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has landed in Jakarta and is soon to meet his Indonesian counterpart where they are expected to continue talks on trade and security.

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Mr Turnbull will meet with President Joko Widodo for the second time in less than two weeks when he heads to the 20th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in the Indonesian capital on Tuesday.

President Widodo spruiked the waters as the “future” – with the region home to 2.7 billion people and a transport route for the majority of the world’s oil and half the world’s container ships.

During the IORA summit on Monday, and through a series of bilateral meetings with Indonesian ministers outside the forum, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop continued to talk up the two countries cooperation on countering terrorism, increasing trade and working towards increased maritime security.

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Mr Turnbull will continue to build on these talks on Tuesday.

He said he welcomed Indonesia’s proposal for an IORA Concord – that would include a commitment to international law and promoting regional economic growth.

Indonesia is keen to create a statement of governance in the region – hoping that by creating clear guidelines it will prevent the Indian Ocean from turning into disputed waters – like that seen in the South China Sea.

While in Jakarta, Mr Turnbull will also meet with Australian delegates to Indonesia Australia Business Week.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo is also in town Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), which both countries hope to have finalised by the end of next year.

Labor engaged in NZ conspiracy: Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull has accused Bill Shorten and federal Labor of conspiring with the New Zealand Labour Party to undermine the government.

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The prime minister told a coalition joint partyroom meeting in Canberra on Tuesday it wasn’t surprising given Mr Shorten’s record of “sneakiness, dishonesty and disloyalty”.

‘We have learned this morning the Australian Labor Party has been conspiring with the NZ Labour Party to undermine the position of the deputy prime minister and the government of Australia,” Mr Turnbull said.

NZ Labour MP Chris Hipkins last week used a parliamentary question to quiz the NZ internal affairs minister on whether a child born in Australia to a Kiwi father would automatically have NZ citizenship.

Mr Hipkins confirmed he had asked the question after speaking with an ALP MP and was unaware of any issues around Barnaby Joyce.

The NZ internal affairs minister Peter Dunne on Tuesday rejected suggestions Mr Hipkins’ question had instigated inquiries, which led to NZ authorities notifying Mr Joyce he was an NZ citizen by descent.

Rather, the inquiries were triggered by Australian journalists.

Mr Turnbull told the meeting Mr Shorten had “shown disloyalty all his life”.

Mr Joyce said he found himself in a “ridiculous situation”, made worse by Labor’s “treachery”.

NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said any suggestion of a conspiracy was “false”.

She said she had no knowledge of Mr Hipkins’ question – which she described as “not appropriate” – and knew “absolutely nothing” about the Barnaby Joyce case until it broke in the media on Monday.

“I greatly value New Zealand’s relationship with the Australian government. I will not let false claims stand in the way of that relationship.”

China vows to protect its trade interests

China will take action to defend its interests if the United States damages trade ties after President Donald Trump authorised an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property.

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Trump’s move, the first direct trade measure by his administration against China, comes at a time of heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, though it is unlikely to prompt near-term change in commercial ties.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China’s policies on intellectual property, which the White House and US industry groups say are harming US businesses and jobs.

The US should respect objective facts, act prudently, abide by its World Trade Organization pledges, and not destroy principles of multilateralism, an unidentified spokesman of China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Tuesday.

“If the US side ignores the facts, and disrespects multilateral trade principles in taking actions that harms both sides trade interests, China will absolutely not sit by and watch, will inevitably adopt all appropriate measures, and resolutely safeguard China’s lawful rights.”

The ministry said the US should “treasure” the cooperation and favourable state of China-US trade relations, and warned that any US action to damage ties would “harm both sides trade relations and companies”.

China was continuously strengthening its administrative and judicial protections for intellectual property, the ministry added.

China’s policy of forcing foreign companies to turn over technology to Chinese joint venture partners and failure to crack down on intellectual property theft have been longstanding problems for several US administrations.

Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be worth as much as $US600 billion ($A764 billion).

Experts on China trade policy say the long lead time could allow Beijing to discuss some of the issues raised by Washington without being seen to cave to pressure under the threat of reprisals.

China repeatedly rebuffed attempts by previous US administrations to take action on its IP practices, and has insisted it rigorously protects intellectual property.

State news agency Xinhua said the US investigation is a unilateralist “baring of fangs” that will hurt both sides.

Domino’s uncovers $1.1b in underpayments

Domino’s Pizza says it has recovered $1.

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1 billion in unpaid wages and superannuation from its probe into staff complaints and an audit of stores across Australia.

The pizza chain says it has so far recovered $770,000 in unpaid wages and superannuation from its completed audit of 15 stores, and ongoing audit of another 41 stores.

It has also recovered $249,000 in wages and super after investigating 55 individual complaints, while another 19 complaints are still being looked into.

Three Domino’s franchisees, who operated a total of six stores, are no longer part of the business.

Domino’s said it is withholding a total of $487,000 for wage back-payments at those six stores.

Chief executive Don Meij, who opted to forgo a cash bonus of over $500,000 because of the underpayments scandal, said the audit was taking longer than originally expected, and will take another five months.

He said the Fairwork Ombudsman, which is also investigating Domino’s franchisees over allegations of staff underpayments, has issued notices to the company and some franchisees.

“There has been a small number of franchisees who have been cleared,” Mr Meij said.

“We don’t have the full report from the Fairwork Ombudsman and are still working with them on their review.”

Allegations of staff underpayments were first raised in February, and have weighed on the company’s share price as analysts raised concerns about the profitability of franchisees.

Mr Meij attempted to address those concerns on Tuesday as he presented the company’s 25 per cent annual profit growth in the 2016/17 year.

“In a high inflationary wage environment, profitability for franchisees have increased by over 25 per cent in the past two years,” he said.

Domino’s will increase staff wages in the first half of the current financial year while it continues to negotiate a new enterprise bargaining agreement with the retail workers union.

Mr Meij chose to forgo his short-term cash bonus in the 2016/17 financial year because of the “negative effect” of the publicity of underpayments by franchisees.

But his total remuneration of $4.66 million was still nearly 17 per cent higher than the previous year’s, due to an increase in share-based payments.

Worst flu season, vaccinate now: experts

Australia is experiencing its worst ever flu season with the total number of cases so far exceeding 70,000.

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Experts are calling on everyone who hasn’t already had a flu shot to get it done to help prevent further cases.

“It looks like we will again get the greatest number of notified cases in Australia we’ve ever seen,” said Professor Paul Van Buynder from Gold Coast Health and the Immunisation Coalition.

“I’m confident that this is not just the biggest recorded year in our data but it’s also the largest flu outbreak that we’ve seen for quite some time,” he said.

Figures revealed on Tuesday showed last week alone there were more than 4000 notifications of influenza just in Queensland.

Already there have been 19, 216 notifications across the sunshine state. The most notifications Queensland has ever had in one season is about 22,000.

NSW is also experiencing one of its worst flu seasons on record with 21,412 confirmed cases – more than double the same period last year.

The high rates of flu among children has been blamed for the record-breaking figures.

“These are the super-spreaders in the schools, to their grandparents and to others … and they’re keeping the flu spreading within the community itself,” said Prof Van Buynder.

Professor Bill Rawlinson, a Senior Medical Virologist at NSW Health Pathology, says its not too late to get vaccinated .

He has also stressed the importance of hand-washing to prevent the spread.

“A lot of the transmission of influenza comes from touching services where the viruses have settled after someone’s coughed or sneezed,” he said.

There is also a renewed push for the flu vaccine to be added to the national immunisation program for children.

It’s estimated that fewer than 10 per cent of children are vaccinated and Prof Van Buynder says that means nine-out-of-10 children are vulnerable to a very serious illness.

“These children clearly not just spread the virus within the community but they do suffer significant consequences themselves particularly under the age of five,” he said.

“I am disappointed that an argument that it would be difficult to deliver the program is preventing us from protecting children. Parents believe that it’s not important because it’s not funded, but this is very important and it should be funded.”

Third CEO quits Trump council over protest

The chief executives of Intel Corp , Merck & Co Inc and Under Armour Inc have now resigned from US President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, following Trump’s initially tepid response to weekend violence at a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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“I resigned from the council to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues…,” Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Kenneth Fraizer, the chief executive of drugmaker Merck and an African-American, said he left the advisory council because of the president’s reaction after the violence between white supremacists and counter protesters. Frazier cited the need to “take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

The AFL-CIO, a federation of labour unions that represent 12.5 million workers, said it was considering pulling its representative on the committee.

After the white nationalist rally turned deadly on Saturday, Trump initially said that many sides were to blame. On Monday, in a statement, Trump denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as criminals and thugs, bowing to mounting political pressure as critics assailed him for not singling out white supremacists.

The CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, announced his resignation from the council in a Twitter posting. “We remain resolute in our potential and ability to improve American manufacturing,” said Plank. “However, Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”

Plank was criticised last winter by some of Under Armour’s biggest stars over his support of Trump, comments that basketball star Stephen Curry echoed.

The demonstration in Charlottesville by hundreds of white nationalists took a deadly turn on Saturday when a car ploughed into a group of counter protesters and killed one person.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier said in a statement announcing his resignation.

“As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” he said.

Trump responded shortly later in a tweet, saying, “Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

Trump yields to Charlottesville pressure

US President Donald Trump has denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan as criminals and thugs, bowing to mounting political pressure to condemn such groups explicitly after a white-nationalist rally turned deadly in Virginia.

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Trump was broadly set upon for failing to respond more forcefully to Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville. His initially tepid response to the violence also sparked the resignations of the three chief executives from his American Manufacturing Council.

Kenneth Frazier, the head of one of the world’s biggest drug companies Merck & Co, quit the panel saying he was taking a stand against intolerance and extremism, and the chief executive of sportswear company UnderArmour and Intel Corp soon followed.

Critics denounced Trump for waiting too long to address the bloodshed, and for initially faulting hatred and violence “on many sides,” rather than singling out the white supremacists widely seen as instigating the melee.

Democrats said Trump’s reaction belied a reluctance to alienate white nationalists and “alt-right” political activists who occupy a loyal segment of Trump’s political base. Several senators from his own Republican Party had harsh words for him.

Some 48 hours into the biggest domestic challenge of his young presidency, Trump tried to correct course.

“Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” the president said in a statement to reporters at the White House on Monday.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” he said.

A 20-year-old man said to have harboured Nazi sympathies was arrested on charges of ploughing his car into protesters opposing the white nationalists, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring 19 people. The accused, James Fields, was denied bail at a court hearing on Monday.

Several others were arrested in connection with street brawls during the day that left another 15 people injured. Two airborne state troopers involved in crowd control were killed when their helicopter crashed.

Saturday’s disturbances erupted after white nationalists converged in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia’s flagship campus, to protest plans for removing a statue of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army of the US Civil War.

Trump’s belated denunciation of white supremacists by name was welcomed by Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, who thanked the president for what she called “those words of comfort and for denouncing those who promote violence and hatred.”

But not everyone was mollified with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia telling MSNBC: “I wish that he would have said those same words on Saturday.”

Frazier delivered one of the most noteworthy rebukes of the president saying expressions of hatred and bigotry must be rejected.

Trump quickly hit back on Twitter, but made no reference to Frazier’s reasons for quitting the panel, instead revisiting a longstanding gripe about expensive medicines. Frazier would have more time to focus on lowering “ripoff” drug prices, Trump tweeted.

The violence in Charlottesville has sparked heated public debate over racism around the world with a rally held outside the US Embassy in London.

About 500 anti-racism protesters rallied outside the White House, while others gathered outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

In Durham, North Carolina, demonstrators toppled a Confederate monument outside a court before stomping and kicking the fallen statue.

Saints primed for strong AFL finish: Geary

Newly re-signed St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary says it important the Saints finish the season strongly even they fall short of the AFL finals for the second successive year.

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In 2016 St Kilda finished ninth on percentage and could end up in a similar position this season as they sit in 11th.

With matches against North Melbourne and Richmond remaining, they are a mathematical chance although Geary conceded it was unlikely.

“Over the next couple of weeks we’ve got some improvement we need to have in a number of areas and that will be our focus,” said Geary, who announced Tuesday he had extended his deal until the end of 2019.

“Let’s improve those things and if results go our way, we’ll be happy.”

The Saints’ push for the finals came unstuck against Melbourne last round when they let the Demons get away to a 40-point lead midway through the second quarter.

Geary said his team needed to improve their defence and contest ahead of their clash with the Kangaroos at Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

“They smashed us around the ball and all over the ground,” Geary said of Melbourne.

“They outnumbered us around the ground, which is going to give you not too many opportunities to win the ball back off them. Then defensively, we weren’t able to catch them, particularly early.”

The match is club great Nick Riewoldt’s last home game, with the former skipper set to play after missing the Demons match following a head knock.

Geary said the team wanted to ensure they delivered a fitting performance.

“He’s been a champion of the game, a champion of the football club and he deserves every pat on the back and accolade he gets,” Geary said.

Henry says he and Hayne can make it work

Gold Coast coach Neil Henry has denied feuding with star fullback Jarryd Hayne and claimed the pair can co-exist at the NRL club next season.

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Henry will coach the Titans against Hayne’s former club Parramatta on Thursday night, but the future of both men is in doubt following Monday crisis talks with club officials and a Titans board meeting which reserved a decision until next week.

At the centre of the issue is Henry’s relationship with highly-paid Hayne, although there are also claims some other players are unhappy with his coaching.

Henry on Tuesday denied any rift between him and the playing group, labelling it a “beat up in the media”.

While a report emerged that the board had already decided it will sack Henry, the coach acknowledged he was in the dark about his future, not having spoken to chief executive Graham Annesley since Monday.

“There’s speculation (about my future), and we’ll find out I suppose in due course whether or not that’s true,” Henry said.

Asked if he and Hayne can work together at the club beyond this season, he said: “I think we can.

“It’s about being consistent, it’s about some give and take and putting the club first.

“Our challenge is to finish the season in a positive way and my challenge is to finish the season as a coach.”

While Henry refuted claims of a rift, he was circumspect when asked if he viewed the superstar as a team player.

“That’s a difficult one,” he said.

“He’s part of the team, he works hard and certainly we know he can play some decent football, but he hasn’t had the year he’s expected and everyone’s expected and he’d admit to that as well.

“But there’s not a feud between us – it’s not like we don’t talk to each other – we converse, we talk tactics and there’s banter before the game.”

Asked if Hayne was tough to coach, Henry said: “Players are tough to coach at different times but you’ve got to manage personalities … Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t expect your whole squad to be happy with everything you do all the time.”

To complicate matters, Hayne is battling an ankle injury and Henry said he was “50-50” to line up against his former team at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night.

The club is expected to make an announcement next week regarding the futures of Henry and Hayne.

“It’s distracting to the players, to me, to everyone in the organisation,” Henry said.

“I’m contracted here and I’d like to stay here a long time. I think we’ve done some good things at a club that’s had a fair bit of turmoil in the last few years.”

NZ Labour rejects Bishop ‘false claims’

The New Zealand opposition leader has accused Australia’s foreign minister of making false claims about her party’s involvement in the revelation about Barnaby Joyce’s dual citizenship.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says it would “very difficult to build trust” with a Labour government should the opposition party win the upcoming New Zealand election.

NZ Labour MP Chris Hipkins last week asked a parliamentary question – yet to receive an answer – about Australian-born people entitled to New Zealand citizenship.

It’s emerged he asked the question after discussion with someone from the Australian Labor Party.

Having criticised the ALP over the incident, Ms Bishop was asked whether she could trust a future NZ Labour government.

“I would find it very difficult to build trust with members of a political party that had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian government,” she told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ahern insisted she had been “utterly transparent” about the situation and knew nothing about the Joyce case until it broke in media reports.

“It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party,” she said in a statement.

“I greatly value New Zealand’s relationship with the Australian government. I will not let false claims stand in the way of that relationship.”

Ms Ahern intends meeting the Australian high commissioner later on Tuesday over the matter.

NZ Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne earlier said it was “utter nonsense” to suggest the question from Mr Hipkins instigated the discovery of the Nationals leader’s citizenship-by-descent, which may render him ineligible to sit in the Australian parliament.

“While Hipkins’ questions were inappropriate, they were not the instigator. Australian media inquiries were,” Mr Dunne tweeted.

When quizzed by reporters, Ms Bishop said she didn’t accept it.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong accused Ms Bishop of risking relations with Australia’s closest friend and ally.

“Minister Bishop launched an extraordinary attack on both sides of politics in New Zealand,” she said.

“Australia’s long and enduring friendship with New Zealand deserves better than a cheap attack by a government under pressure, seeking to divert attention from its domestic political problems.”

Many Australians feeling the pinch

More than half of Australian households believe they have fallen behind the cost of living during the past two years, at a time when wages growth is at its lowest in at least two decades.

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Two in five respondents to the weekly Essential Research poll, released on Tuesday, said while they have enough for basic essentials they can’t save any money.

Only a fraction more of the 1032 people surveyed said they could save a little money after paying for essentials, and just 19 per cent of those earning over $2000 each week said they could save a lot of money.

Well over half said they were paying a lot more for their electricity and gas, followed by insurance (31 per cent), medical and dental (30 per cent) and fresh food (29 per cent).

Little wonder consumers say they are struggling to remain positive.

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan confidence index fell by a further 1.8 per cent to its lowest level since late May.

ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said increased tensions surrounding North Korea may be having an impact on sentiment.

“More broadly, we think it will be difficult for consumer confidence to sustain any material rise until we see a lift in wage growth,” he said.

The wage price index for the June quarter – the Reserve Bank and Treasury’s preferred measure of wages growth – is released on Wednesday, but is unlikely to provide much joy.

Economists expect wages grew by 0.5 per cent in the quarter, which would keep the annual rate at 1.9 per cent and at its lowest level in at least 20 years.

The minutes of the central bank’s August 1 board meeting, also released on Tuesday, say recent strong employment growth would likely contribute to an increase in household disposable income and consumption growth.

“However, ongoing low wage growth and the high level of debt on household balance sheets raised the possibility that consumption growth could be lower than forecast,” they say.

Labour force figures for July are due on Thursday. Economists believe several months of strong employment results could take the jobless rate down to 5.5 per cent from 5.6 per cent, its lowest level in over four years.

The Essential poll also found less than a third of Australians believe the Turnbull government is doing a good job managing the economy.

About two in five respondents gave the government an “average” mark on its economic performance, and only 15 per cent said they liked government policies and the progress it was making.