Friday, September 06, 2019

Ukraine releases ‘key suspect’ of MH17

A Ukrainian court has released a man linked with the downing of flight MH17, in what is believed to be part of a prisoner swap deal with Russia. Ukraine captured Vladimir Tsemakh in June, with European lawmakers describing him as a “key suspect” in the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet five years ago with 298 people on board, including 38 Australians. A Dutch member of the European Parliament, Kati Piri, said Russia’s offer to include Tsemakh in a prisoner exchange is a “strange request” which “suggests that the Russian government wants to prevent this suspect from appearing in court”. Vladimir Tsemakh had been caught on video boasting of his command of an anti-air brigade in the Ukrainian conflict zone, and indicated he had hid evidence of the kind of missile system linked with the attack. Ukrainian special forces had smuggled an unconscious Tsemakh out of the conflict zone disguised as an eldery man in a wheelchair. 

On the subject of prisoner deals: The Australian government has offered to waive a $1 million fee for deportation costs to allow a Sri Lankan family to apply for migration to Australia without financial penalty. The concession was made to Priya and Nadesalingam and their Australian-born daughters Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, if they agree to return to Sri Lanka and apply for migrant visas. The New Daily reports that the costs Australia charges to failed asylum seekers who try to return on migrant visas will be waived for the family. They are currently being held on Christmas Island awaiting a Federal Court hearing that has delayed their deportation. Legal experts have raised concerns over the “inferior” fast-track refugee assessment process that rejected the family’s asylum bid. 

Speaking of raising concerns: Submissions made to a federal inquiry into the performance of the nation's tax ombudsman urge that the Inspector-General of Taxation be empowered to protect whistleblowers who make public interest disclosures. The inquiry takes place as former Australian Taxation Office employee Richard Boyle faces the possibility of life in prison for blowing the whistle on ATO debt collection practices. The news comes as The Australian ($) reports that major accounting firms are “inherently conflicted” by earning hundreds of millions of dollars in consultancy fees from the same major Australian companies they are hired to audit.

That’s not the only suspect relationship in the news: Surgeon Charlie Teo’s links to underworld figure Mick Gatto have been cited as one of the reasons behind the neurosurgeon's dramatic split from the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, which he founded. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age report that current and former board members of the charity feared Gatto, who hosted a Melbourne fundraising event for the charity in 2012, posed a reputational risk. The story comes as the controversial but talented doctor spoke out against the previous day’s reports of his inappropriate behaviour in the operating theatre, which he described as containing a “staggering number of inaccuracies”.

From one controversial talent to another: Steve Smith has scored a double century on the second day of the fourth Ashes men’s Test in Manchester, with Australia declaring at 8-497.  England lost Joe Denly to finish the day on 1-23, with a formidable mission ahead to win back the urn.

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“In time, how the freedom for religion to discriminate will interact with other protections will emerge. In practice, the legislation draws form from the powerful anti-discrimination legislation already established in Australia: the racial, sex, disability and age discrimination acts. Broad protections are offered to all faith traditions – established and emerging – and to those who choose to not practise any religion. But where the Sex Discrimination Act states clearly that individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, this new bill says simply that if a religious organisation discriminates – acting in accordance with faith – it is not discrimination.”


“Shakthi knows that the lives of Australians living outside the country’s cultural country club are bittersweet, beautiful, funny, tragic and important stories. If only someone would listen. At 21, he established his own production company ‘to tell Australia’s untold stories’. But after a few years, he realised it didn’t work like that. ‘It wasn’t like, “Oh wow! We didn’t know about these stories. Let’s tell them!” It’s like, “No, we’ve built a system not to tell these stories.”’”


“‘Banksy, the most popular contemporary artist in the world, is, of course, anonymous, although the smart money has him as former private schoolboy Robin Gunningham, who was born in the orderly South Gloucestershire town of Yate in 1973. But Banksy has been embraced by Bristol, the city where he grew up, which has an angry sadness of homeless people sleeping in its brutalist town centre and an embarrassment of lovely Georgian buildings on the fringes. And Banksy somehow speaks for the whole place (well, most of it, anyway – probably not the Bristol Division of the English Defence League).”


“Thousands of welfare recipients would be drug-tested for substances including ice, marijuana and cocaine under a revived plan set to go before Federal Parliament next week. The two-year trial would see 5,000 new recipients of Newstart or Youth Allowance tested for drugs in three locations.”


“The use of opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone in Canberra is among the highest in the nation, a new report has found. Analysis of wastewater in the ACT from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission found the use of the pharmaceutical opioids was the second highest in the country.”


“Equal parts car club and camping collective, the Tin Can Tourists of the early 20th century were a membership organization based around camper travel in its incipiency—a sort of fraternity for nomads looking for a life in permanent transit. Their earliest organized meeting was in 1919 in Tampa’s Desoto Park (unintentionally establishing Florida as the perennial RV vacation spot for years to come). That’s where 22 campers driving their ‘tin lizzies’ worked to establish a culture of order and high moral values while retaining a sense of freedom behind the wheels of their tricked-out Model Ts.”


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