by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister has signaled that Australia will take more people from war torn Syria.
Addressing reporters in Canberra, Mr Abbott said:” Like just about every other Australian I was moved by the horrific imagery of that little boy washed up on a beach in Turkey.
“Absolutely awful imagery and certainly no parent could fail to be moved by what we saw.
“Australia is a country which has always taken its international obligations seriously.
“Australia is a country which has always done what we can to assist when people are in trouble around the world and we certainly are not going to change our character now.
“So, I have asked the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to go urgently to Geneva to talk to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on what more Australia can do to assist on the migration crisis that is being driven by the problems in the Middle East.
“We are disposed to take more people from that troubled region under our refugee and humanitarian program and we are open to providing more financial assistance to the UNHCR in the weeks and months ahead.”
Then he added:” I should point out that we are already doing a lot.
“In the last financial year we took almost 4,500 people from the trouble spots of Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq.
“Since 2011, we have provided $155 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis and just this year alone we have provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance for the Middle East more broadly.
“We are a country which, on a per capita basis, takes more refugees than any other. We take more refugees than any other through the UNHCR on a per capita basis but obviously this is a very grave situation in the Middle East.”
Mr Abbott’s policy of turning back refugee boats has been sharply criticised, in the past week.
This criticism has included an editorial in The New York Times urging European countries not to follow his example, as they struggle to deal with the current crisis in their region.
by Alan Thornhill
Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati, knows his country is just a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean.
But he also knows the danger its people – and many other Pacific Islanders – will face if global warming is accompanied by rising sea levels as the Antarctic ice sheet melts.
Loss of homelands.
The passions such risks inspire are squarely behind an appeal President Tong is making to stop an industry our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, still finds attractive.
The Pacific President wants nothing less than a ban on all new coal mines.
“Kiribati, as a nation faced with a very uncertain future, is calling for a global moratorium on new coal mines,” he says.
“It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change.
“And it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour,” said President Tong, in an appeal he addressed, primarily, to Mr Abbott.
“Let us join together as a global community and take action now,” he said.
“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions now will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical,” the President added.
“As leaders, we have a moral obligation to ensure that the future of our children, our grandchildren and their children is safe and secure.
“For their sake, I urge you to support this call for a moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine expansions.”
In cases like this, it is always useful to have allies.
And – this time – the Australia Institute and Greenpeace have declared their support for President Tong.
Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute, said bluntly:”there is no plausible scenario in which a world that is tackling climate change is a world that needs more coal mines.”
The Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Dr. Kumi Naidoo, endorsed that warning, saying:”I join President Tong in calling on all leaders of similarly threatened islands to stand together and demand climate justice.
“I have now seen first hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati.
“It is not some scientific modelling or projection – it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse.”
All are waiting for Mr Abbott’s response.
by Alan Thornhill
No-one should know better than Angela Merkel just what good debt forgiveness can do.
After all the German Chancellor’s own country has seen – and enjoyed – it twice – once after each of the World Wars.
The most recent case, in February 1953, was a major factor behind Germany’s own rise as the industrial powerhouse of Europe.
Over recent times, though, Ms Merkel has led European creditors in their strident demands for Greece to pay its crushing debts in full, regardless of the consequences.
But now, as The Nation magazine reports, five leading economists have sent her an open letter, urging the German leader to reconsider.
The five, led by Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics at the Paris School of Economics, remind Ms Merkel that history will be watching what she – and other European creditors, do over the next few days.
They have reminded her, too, that most of the world knew that Europe’s financial demands crushed the Greek economy.
That, in turn, had led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the Greek banking system and made that country’s external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP.
The economists also warned that:”The (Greek) economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.”
They say:” The humanitarian impact has been colossal — 40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent.
“Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem.”
The economists note that the Greeks have already complied with much of their creditors’ calls for austerity — cutting salaries, government spending, slashing pensions, privatising, deregulating and raising taxes.
“But,” they say,”in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933.
“The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.
“Together we urge Chancellor Merkel and the Troika to consider a course correction, to avoid further disaster and enable Greece to remain in the eurozone.
Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger.
“Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe,” they warn.
“The collateral damage will kill the Eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.
“Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger.”— Piketty, et al.”
The four other economists, who joined Piketyy in the appeal, were:-
* Heiner Flassbeck, former State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Finance
* Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University
* Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School and
* Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia is “dancing with the devil” in its intelligence sharing deal with Iran, according to a former intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie.
Mr Wilkie, now an independent Tasmanian MP. told the ABC that Iran is the last nation Australia should be swapping sensitive information with.
He said the deal, reached by Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop: “…might be good political theatre for the Government, but it’s complete and utter madness from a security point of view.”
Mr Wilkie said the Iranian government uses torture to extract sensitive information.
Ms Bishop, who has just visited Tehran, announced Iran had agreed to trade information on Australian citizens fighting in Iraq, as part of efforts to counter the Islamic State militia.
“They are in Iraq in places that we are not, they also have a very sophisticated intelligence network so there’s a lot of information that they’ve been gathering,” she added.
But Mr Wilkie was not convinced.
“The announcement by the Foreign Minister that Australia is entering into a security arrangement with the regime in Tehran really should send shudders down the spine of every Australian,” he said.
He said Australia risked being used as a pawn and the information could not be trusted.
“When you start dancing with the devil in a place like Tehran, then we run the risk of becoming almost as bad as those who we dance with,” Mr Wilkie said.
“They are also experts at disinformation.
“…we’ve seen this time and time again.
“…the regime in Iran will tell people whatever they want us to believe.”
Mr Wilkie said he was the only serving member of Parliament who had worked in Australia’s intelligence services and therefore had a unique insight.
“I saw first-hand some of the, and excuse the expression, the crap that was coming out of Iran, which was worse than useless because it was downright misleading,” he said.
He said Australia should not accept intelligence that comes from torture.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was seeking further details about the deal and would take a steady and considered approach.
“I’m not naive,” Mr Shorten said.
“Iran’s a very sophisticated country with a different view of the world to Australia and so we need to keep our eyes open whenever we deal with them.”
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government has tightened air safety regulations after last week’s Germanwings disaster.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, announced that from this afternoon Standard Operating Procedures will require Australian airlines to keep two members of their operating crews or authorised persons “on their flight decks at all times.”
He said these arrangements would apply at to all regular passenger transport services where the aircraft has seating capacity for 50 passengers and above.
“The pilot in command of the aircraft will retain operational discretion on the application of the two flight crew cockpit requirements, to ensure safe operations, depending on flight crew circumstances,” Mr Truss said.
“This is to ensure that existing safety and security standards in the passenger cabin continue to be maintained,” he added.
Mr Truss said these arrangements would be reviewed after 12 months.
“As the investigation into the tragic loss of Germanwings flight 4U9525 proceeds, Australian Government aviation agencies will continue to work with the Australian aviation industry and airline staff to identify further improvements to the safety and security of aircraft cockpits as appropriate,” he added.
by Alan Thornhill
Two Australians were killed when a German Airbus, with 150 people aboard, crashed in the French Alps.
There were no survivors.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, issued a brief statement on the accident early today.
He said:”Overnight, there has been another air disaster involving Australians.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of all those killed, but particularly with the loved ones of the two Australians who have lost their lives.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“Our consular officials are doing what they can for the families,” Mr Abbott said.
The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, and his Deputy, Tanya Plibersek, said they were shocked at news of the crash.
“We are particularly saddened to learn that two Australians, a mother and her adult son from Victoria were on board flight 9525,” they added, in a joint statement.
The BBC reports that the Germanwings plane crashed in the French Alps on its way from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.
The Airbus A320 – flight 4U 9525 – went down between Digne and Barcelonnette.
The “black box” flight recorder has been found, the French interior minister says.
The cause of the crash is not known and the plane did not send a distress signal.
Among the passengers were 16 German pupils returning from an exchange trip.
Germanwings, a low-cost airline owned by Germany’s main carrier Lufthansa, has an excellent safety record.
French, Spanish and German leaders have expressed shock.
“This is the hour in which we all feel deep sorrow,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, adding that she was planning to travel to the crash site.
A recovery team reached the site, in a remote mountain ravine, earlier on Tuesday, local time.
Their work was called off in the evening and will resume at first light on Wednesday, the French interior ministry said.
Bruce Robin, a prosecutor from Marseille, told the Reuters news agency that he had seen the wreckage of the aircraft from a helicopter.
“The body of the plane is in a state of destruction, there is not one intact piece of wing or fuselage,” he said.
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott says there will be more RAAF mercy flights to the cyclone stricken Pacific island nation of Vanuatu today.
The Prime Minister made the promise in a telephone call to his counterpart in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, last night.
Mr Abbott also told Prime Minister Joe Natuman of Australia’s plans for a humanitarian response to the devastation left by Cyclone Pam.
He said RAAF flights would deliver additional personnel and supplies today.
Mr Abbott said he had also spoken to the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, about the disaster.
He welcomed the UK’s announcement of £2 million worth of assistance.
The two Prime Ministers agreed that Australia and the United Kingdom would cooperate in assisting with Vanuatu’s recovery from Pam.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of severe food shortages in Port Vila, as people who fled the cyclone’s destruction gathered in the island nation’s capital.
by Alan Thornhill
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, told cabinet colleagues today that the government had achieved a lot, but there is still much more to do.
In a rare transcript of his remarks to cabinet, he also thanked his colleagues for their work.
He said:” We are delivering for the people of Australia.
“We are working hard for the people of Australia
“And that’s exactly what they want of us.”
The publication of the transcript appears to be an attempt by the Prime Minister, whose leadership style has been criticised, to be more open and transparent, both with both backbench Liberal MPs and the public.
He said:”Just in the last week we’ve announced some improvements to national security.
“We’ve flagged progress in welfare reform, in childcare reform.
We’ve flagged improvements to food labelling
“And we’ve also announced a crackdown on illegal foreign investment in Australia.
“Of course, last week, as well, we announced some important benefits to the people who were hit by the cyclone in Queensland,” Mr Abbott said.
But he added: there’s a lot more to do.
” This week, the data retention legislation comes before the Parliament.
“This week, obviously, the Treasurer will be releasing the intergenerational report and while that shows the scale of the budget problem, it also shows the extent of the progress that we’ve already made.
“So, we’ve got a lot to discuss today and let’s get down to business, Mr
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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