by Alan Thornhill
Australia and Turkey are to unite in the fight against terrorism
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who is in Turkey to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the landing of Australian soldiers at Gallipoli, made the announcement.
Mr Abbott said he – and his Turkish counterpart – Ahmet Davuto?lu had agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation to counter terrorism, tackle terrorist financing and mitigate the threats from foreign fighters, during their official bilateral meeting held today in Ankara.
“Turkey is on the front-line in the fight against DAESH and plays a crucial role in these efforts,” Mr Abbott said.
He said Australia welcomes Turkey’s renewed efforts to prevent young people from using Turkey’s border as the entry point to joining DAESH and other terrorist organisations through tougher border controls and increased information sharing.
“Both parties underlined the importance of identifying and stopping foreign terrorist fighters travelling to conflict zones, at their country of departure,” Mr Abbott said.
With over 100 Australians fighting with DAESH in Iraq and Syria – and the arrest this week in Melbourne of young men intent on bringing the violence to Australia – Australia will continue to do all it can to stop foreign fighters,” Mr Abbott declared.
He said there would also be closer co-operation on the issue, between officials of both countries.
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
“These people arrested today are not people of faith, they don’t represent any culture,” the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, said.
A fascinating observation.
And on a case that promises to become even more intriguing, in the weeks and months ahead.
The reference, of course, is to the weekend arrests of five men, including two 18 year olds, said to be planning a violent attack on ANZAC Day celebrations in Melbourne, next Saturday, to disrupt those ceremonies.
Assuming that all is as it seems to be, this poses very deep questions.
If not faith – however misguided – what is it that drives young men like Sevdet Besim to involve themselves in plots like that?
Besim is the only person, so far, to be charged over this alleged plot, although police are also holding another teenager in custody, without charge.
Obviously, there is much more of this story yet to be told.
But that question is not easily dismissed.
The two central figures in this affair are only 18.
Still a year short of the age of the Vietnam war soldier at the heart of the 1983 Redgum hit, “God help me, I was only 19.”
That soldier, at least, had a reason for going to Vietnam.
He had been conscripted by a government, which had made the second worst military decision it is possible to make.
That is getting involved in a land war in Asia.*
Those on both sides of the Crusades – and the present Middle East wars that have descended from them – know – only too well – that religion can be a very powerful motivation for armed – and other – conflict.
Despite Mark Twain’s cynical comment that “faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
But what if the erudite Victorian premier is right – and our young plotters aren’t “men of faith.”
A sense of alienation?
A lack of acceptance into Australia’s less than perfect multi-cultural society?
There is, of course, another possible back-story to all this.
The two young men – at the heart of this alleged plot -are said to have been followers of Abdul Numan Haider, at the Al Furqan Islamic study centre in South Springvale.
Haider was shot and killed by counter- terrorism police last September.
None of these things, though, would come close to justifying plans anything like those said to have been involved here.
Even if we add the powerful natural passions, that so often arise in our teenage years.
However, the trials, over coming weeks and months, will – nevertheless – be well worth watching.
They might, after all, teach us lessons about ourselves that we have, so far, been unwilling to face.
So keep watching.
* Foot note (The worst, according to the late Kim Beazley senior, is “to invade Russia in winter.”That’s a fascinating story. Remind me to tell it, some time).
by Alan Thornhill
Political leaders are urging Australians to turn out in great numbers for ANZAC Day, defying terrorists who planned to disrupt the day’s celebrations in Melbourne.
The terrorists’ plot was foiled this morning, when police launched raids in Melbourne, arresting five men.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, later urged Australians to respond by attending ANZAC Day celebrations next Saturday in great numbers.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Mr Abbott said:” … people should turn up at Anzac Day events in the largest possible numbers.”
He said that is “….the best thing you can do in the face of those who would do us harm is live your life normally.
“The best sign of defiance that we can give to those who would do us harm is to go about a normal, peaceful, free and fair Australian life.
“…I say to everyone who is thinking of going to an Anzac Day event: please don’t be deterred.
“Turn up in the largest possible numbers to support our country, to support our values and to support our armed forces.”
Mr Shorten endorsed those remarks.
“I know Australians will not let these events disrupt the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the first ANZAC landing in Gallipoli,” the Opposition Leader said.
The ABC is reporting that police arrested five men in Melbourne this morning, in a major counter-terrorism operation.
They said two of the men they were planning an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack on an Anzac Day ceremony.
These two men were identified as an 18-year-old Hallam man and an 18-year-old Hampton Park man.
Another man was arrested for weapons offences and two other men were in custody assisting police with their inquiries.
All were arrested after seven search warrants were executed as part of Operation Rising.
The Australian Federal Police said they believed the two 18-year-olds were plotting an attack to take place on Anzac Day.
AFP Acting Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said it was believed the attacks were to have involved the use of “edged knives.”
“It is alleged both men were undertaking preparations for a terrorist attack at an Anzac Day activity in Melbourne which included targeting police officers,” he said.
Victorian Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton described the plot as being inspired by Islamic State (IS).
“At this stage we’re comfortable that we have this threat fully contained,” Mr Patton said.
“…we have no information that it was a planned beheading.
” But there was reference to an attack on police,” he told a news conference in Melbourne.
“Some evidence that was collected at a couple of the scenes and some other information we have leads us to believe that this particular matter was ISIS-inspired.”
Acting Deputy Commissioner Gaughan said this morning’s operation involved 200 police officers and was the culmination of Operation Rising.
The ABC said it understands that a number of the arrested men attended the Al Furqan Islamic study centre in South Springvale and were associates of Abdul Numan Haider, who also attended the centre.
Haider was shot and killed by counter-terrorism police in September last year.
by Alan Thornhill
Young Australians – particularly women – are among the most anxious people in the nation.
This is revealed in the results of a new “well-being” survey, conducted by the National Australia Bank.
The survey, for the first three months of this year, showed that the Bank’s Well-being Index remained unchanged at 63 points in that time.
But there were sharp differences in the well-being levels of different groups.
It rated Tasmanians, widows, the over 50s, high income earners, professionals and those living in rural areas among the top people in the nation for well-being.
“In contrast, well-being declined heavily in Queensland and for young Australians – particularly women – who continue to report the lowest well-being of any demographic,” the bank said.
The bank’s Chief Economist, Alan Oster, said that: “While perceptions of happiness, life worth and life satisfaction were all rated lower, overall well-being was supported by a reduction in personal anxiety.
” Despite this promising improvement however anxiety is still the biggest detractor of personal well-being for a significant proportion of Australians, with more than 1 in 3 Australians still rating their anxiety “very high”.
The survey also found:-
· Well-being improved solidly in Tasmania, but fell sharply in Queensland, which is now lowest of all states and – to a lesser extent – in WA.
· Well-being also fell heavily among younger Australians, especially young women due to much lower levels of life worth and happiness.
· Young women continue to report the lowest levels of overall well-being.
· Well-being improved in rural towns and in the bush but fell elsewhere.
· Widows report a big increase in well-being and rate highest in all demographic categories – by some margin.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia will commit a military force – of more than 300 defence force personnel – to help train Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic extremists.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who announced this today, said the Australian trainers would be drawn largely from the Army’s 7th Brigade, based in Brisbane.
“It is, as I stress, a Building Partner Capacity training mission,” Mr Abbott said.
“It’s not a combat mission.
“But Iraq is a dangerous place.
“It is a dangerous place and I can’t tell you that this is risk-free.”
The Prime Minister said the operation, involving Australian military personnel, would last about two years.
“They will work as part of a combined Task Group alongside about 100 personnel from the New Zealand Defence Force,” he added.
“The mission of the Australian and New Zealand trainers will be to help the Iraqi Government to prepare sufficient forces to maintain the momentum of the counter-attack against ISIL, or Daesh, and regain control of its territory, Mr Abbott said.
He recalled that the Government announced, on March 3. that it had decided to commence preparations to deploy this force.
“This followed requests for an Australian contribution from both the Iraqi and US governments,” Mr Abbott said.
These preparations are now complete and the combined Task Group will deploy to Iraq over the next few weeks.
“The training mission is expected to be fully operational in May 2015.
“The combined Task Group will be stationed at the Taji Military Complex north of Baghdad, working to build the capacity of units of the Iraqi army.
“We will also deploy around 20 personnel to coalition headquarters roles in Iraq.
“The Air Task Group will continue to support coalition air operations,” he added.
“This marks the next phase of Australia’s contribution to the international coalition effort to assist the Iraqi Government to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat the Daesh death cult,” Mr Abbott said.
by Alan Thornhill
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey might well have spent the weekend humming the 1966 Seekers’ hit “we shall not be moved.”
The Prime Minister certainly echoed those thoughts, in Auckland on Saturday, when he declared not only that he would continue to lead the Liberal party now, but that he would face the people again late next year.
We shall all see about that on Tuesday, if not before.
There will be many disgruntled backbenchers among the 102 Liberal MPs who will gather in Canberra then for a party that day.
And Federal Cabinet, which meets on Monday, may well try to avoid an undignified scramble then by declaring that – yet another – ballot will be held on the Liberal leadership.
Mr Abbott, himself, declared, at the weekend, that we are living in “querulous” times, seeing our glasses as “half-empty” rather than “half full.”
That’s hardly surprising.
Economic growth – in the US – has been one of the few bright spots in a mostly dull global economy.
But even that was scaled back – to 2.2 per cent – from a previous estimate of 2.6 per cent – on official figures, released shortly after Mr Abbott had spoken.
So far, that hasn’t hit the all-important “animal spirits” driving the world’s biggest economy, too hard.
As the BBC reports:” Investors initially took the revised figure in their stride, with the Dow Jones opening unchanged, but the index slipped in afternoon trading to end the day down 0.5 per cent at 18,133.”
There could be a similar downward revision in Australia’s economic growth figures, which are to be published on Wednesday.
We chalked up 2.7 per cent growth, in the 12 months to the end of September.
However Westpac economist, Andrew Hanlan, is tipping that this will slip back to just 2.5 per cent, when the December quarter figures are out.
The Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens, might well beg for a sneak peek the day before.
That’s when his board meets, to review interest rates.
Another cut – of 25 basis points – like the one we saw last month – would not surprise anyone.
That’s because the spirits of both shoppers and business people in Australia have been quite subdued.
Even the big falls we have seen in fuel prices – and that rate cut last month – haven’t been enough to lift us.
So the Reserve Bank board might well decide that we need a little more encouragement, even at the risk of inflaming the Sydney property market.
But if the former News Corporation boss John Hartigan is right, even that might not be enough.
He says our all-too-evident political instability is now impeding Australia’s economic recovery.
Mr Hartigan says, too, that Tony Abbott’s “opportunity has gone.”
He is far from alone in that assessment.
So don’t be shocked if Australia finds itself with a new Prime Minister this week.
That could happen amid the inevitable confusion that will come with a slew of fresh statistics in key areas.
These include business indicators, balance of payments, building approvals, national accounts, retail trade and international trade.
And Mr Hockey expects to cap it all, on Thursday, with a report that he says will cause Australians to “…fall off their chairs” in surprise.
That, of course, will be the government’s long-awaited “Intergenerational Report, Australia in 2055.”
So strap yourself in, Thursday.
by Alan Thornhill
An local Muslim leader says Tony Abbott was “incredibly reckless” in the speech he gave about terrorism on Monday.
Samier Dundan, President of the Lebanese Muslim Association, also said the Prime Minister had “displayed a profound lack of awareness” of what local Muslims had done.
“The antagonistic rhetoric used by the Prime Minister is politically opportunistic and exacerbates the atmosphere of Islamophobia and intolerance,” Mr Dundan said.
The issue “of greatest concern” was the Prime Minister’s suggestion that Muslim leaders “must do more” to vocally and explicitly condemn violent extremism – and be more practical in promoting Islam as a religion of peace.
Mr Dundan said Muslim leaders and the Muslim community had gone to great lengths to illustrate that their faith “is completely dissociated from violence committed in its name.”
But the Prime Minister had shown “a worrying lack of comprehension of the ongoing engagement and work of the Muslim community.”
“Few would fail to see this new found focus on ‘national security’ as anything other than an attempt at gaining public approval, especially in the light of the contemporary political climate,” Mr Dundan said.
“The combination of divisive language and lack of acknowledgement only serve to further distance the Muslim community from the government,” he added.
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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