Race to escape fall of Kabul

The Taliban has assumed control of Afghanistan’s presidential palace, as the US and Australia scramble to evacuate hundreds of people before the country is completely overtaken.

What we know:

  • Taliban fighters entered the palace hours after President Ashraf Ghani and members of his cabinet fled the country on Sunday (CNN); 
  • Ghani has been slammed as “unpatriotic” for fleeing as his government falls (Al Jazeera); 
  • The Taliban is moving into Kabul, after seizing dozens of key cities in a rapid advance this month;
  • The militant group is executing surrendering Afghan troops and civilians believed to have ties to the Afghan government (Newsweek); 
  • An Australian rescue mission was supposed to arrive on Monday to evacuate Australian citizens and Afghans who worked with the ADF (SMH); 
  • Military experts have criticised Australia for its slow visa processing of Afghan interpreters who face Taliban reprisals;
  • The United Arab Emirates is helping to facilitate the evacuation of foreign diplomatic staff including Australians (Middle East Eye); 
  • Helicopters began landing at the US Embassy in Kabul on Sunday and Americans have been told to “shelter in place” in scenes reminiscent of the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War (USA Today). 

Hundreds fined for gathering outdoors

NSW and Victorian police have issued a raft of fines to locked-down Australians enjoying a sunny weekend, despite experts warning that a crackdown on outdoor activities could do more harm than good.

What we know:

  • 529 infringement notices for public health order breaches were issued on Saturday and Sunday in NSW, with maximum fines increasing to $5000 (ABC);
  • Thirty-one people were fined for a “public gathering” on cliffs in Sydney’s eastern suburbs;
  • Victorian police warned against socialising at takeaway venues and parks, with 1300 calls made to the Police Assistance Line over alleged Covid-19 restriction breaches (ABC);
  • Authorities justified both crackdowns on the continued community transmission of Covid-19, with NSW recording 415 new cases and Victoria 25 on Sunday;
  • The danger of outdoor transmission of Covid-19 is extremely low;
  • Prohibiting outdoor activities may encourage gatherings indoors, contribute to public fatigue with pandemic restrictions and impact mental health (BMC);
  • Experts warn that the pandemic is undermining social cohesion, as people increasingly react with anger and moral outrage to the behaviour of others (The Guardian).

Neo-Nazis recruiting for race war

Australians as young as 16 are being radicalised to enlist in a white power race war, with half of ASIO’s significant anti-terrorism cases involving neo-Nazi cells and other ideologically motivated groups.

The warning comes from ASIO director-general Mike Burgess, who says the trend is fuelled by disinformation surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and other global events (The Age). 

“What they [neo-Nazi cells] are prepared to do, or some of them are prepared to do, to make [a race war] happen … is of grave concern to us, and should be of grave concern to all Australians,” he said.

An informant has recorded Neo-Nazi leaders advising members to build an arsenal of guns and buy up rural property to form a new, racist state (60 Minutes). 

The National Socialist Network has recruited ex-military members, a Crown casino security manager, a Finks outlaw motorcycle gang member and government agency employees (SMH). 

The group is liaising with outlaw bikie gang associates, a prison skinhead gang and international neo-Nazi terror groups.


Gas field threatens Twelve Apostles

The Victorian government has granted consent to extract gas from beneath a national park near the Twelve Apostles.

Lily D’Ambrosio, the state energy and climate change minister, gave consent for an existing exploration gas well underneath the Port Campbell national park to be developed into a production well (The Guardian). 

Beach Energy’s onshore drill site is 450m outside the park, but the bore extends 1.3km beneath the national park.

Victorian Greens deputy leader Ellen Sandell said state support for fossil fuel expansion was “bonkers” in the wake of a dire IPCC report on rising carbon emissions.

Sandell said no one would visit the Twelve Apostles “if it’s surrounded by gas drilling rigs” and warned the area is a migratory path for whales.


Lebanon tank explosion kills 28

At least 28 people were killed in a fuel tank explosion in Lebanon on Sunday, reportedly after scuffles between residents desperate for fuel.

The Lebanese Red Cross reports that at least 79 people were injured in the blast, which rocked Akkar in northern Lebanon (Al Jazeera). 

Akkar hospital turned away most of the wounded because it is unable to treat severe burns.

The explosion reportedly took place as the Lebanese army was distributing gasoline to residents from a hidden fuel storage tanker it had confiscated.

Lebanon faces a severe fuel shortage that has been blamed on smuggling and the government’s inability to secure deliveries of imported fuel.

The crisis deteriorated dramatically this week after the central bank decided to end subsidies for fuel products.

The explosion comes just after the first anniversary of the devastating blast at Beirut’s port, which killed at least 214 people.


One million doses of hope.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison engages in an apparent rhetorical flourish over a Pfizer purchase from Poland — although the way the rollout has been going he might just have bought a load of empty syringes labelled “hope” (SBS).


Postscript: Ten Observations on Lullabies

Is any music genre more disrespected than the lullaby? It may be the oldest music genre, and almost certainly the most widely performed. Every one of us has benefited from the lullaby at some point in our life — if not as a singer, at least as a listener during our infancy. But show me a single musicologist who specialises in this genre. Who has written its history? What music writer has celebrated its power (The Honest Broker)?


Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.