Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Fears for safety of Chinese defector

Wang Liqiang, the alleged Chinese spy who defected to Australia, is in significant danger, warn experts. Wang, who the Chinese government say is being investigated for fraud, has made a claim for asylum and is staying at an undisclosed location in Sydney. John Blaxland, a security and intelligence expert at the Australian National University, told The Guardian “If I was his minders, I would be looking to double up on protection duties.” The concerns come after the death of Bo “Nick” Zhao in a Melbourne hotel room in March, after a Chinese espionage ring reportedly approached him to run for federal parliament. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age report that suspected senior Chinese intelligence operative Brian Chen, who is understood to have approached Zhao, also allegedly tried to infiltrate the CSIRO. The news comes as district council elections in Hong Kong delivered an unexpectedly heavy defeat to pro-Beijing candidates, with pro-democracy representatives sweeping nearly 90% of 452 district council seats.   

Westpac scandal: Embattled Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer has privately told the bank’s senior leadership that mainstream Australia did not care about the paedophile money scandal, and there was no need to “overcook” their response. The Australian ($) reports that in a closed-door meeting on Monday, Hartzner told executives that allegations Westpac facilitated millions of transactions connected with paedophilia, money laundering, and terrorism was “not an Enron or Lehman Brothers” level of scandal. He reportedly apologised for cancelling Christmas parties, explaining it would not “look good if we have our staff whooping it up with alcohol”. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Monday said Westpac’s leaders had given “a free pass to paedophiles”. Westpac shares are under pressure, and the company is potentially facing more than $1 billion in fines, lost government contracts, as well as potential class actions.  

Government blocks Labor FOI: The federal environment department has blocked a Labor freedom of information request to access emails regarding Angus Taylor’s use of false figures to critique the City of Sydney’s travel expenditure, reports Guardian Australia. The department claimed exemption from a freedom of information request lodged by Labor because they relate to an unspecified “ongoing process”. The emails were sent the day after the revelation of the controversy.

Assange supporters speak out: Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has said Julian Assange would pay an "unacceptable" price if extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States, where he faced decades in prison on charges of leaking classified diplomatic cables. Rudd joins a disparate group of Australian politicians to come out in defence of the Wikileaks founder, with actor and Assange supporter Pamela Anderson also in Australia to lobby politicians. More than 60 doctors on Monday put their names to an open letter saying they feared Assange's health was so poor he could die inside a British prison while awaiting extradition hearings.

Peter Ridd’s European adventure
A speaking tour of Europe has revealed the strategy behind Peter Ridd’s rejection of reef science: he believes that if people doubt the reef is dying, they will doubt climate change more broadly. Max Opray on the Australian physicist whose sacking became a cause célèbre.


“Economist James Laurenceson, acting director of the Australia–China Relations Institute, says that while there was ‘quite a bit to agree with’ in Keating’s speech, ‘leaving out mention of issues like Xinjiang gave the impression these could be glossed over, which they absolutely can’t be’. For Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, recently denied a visa to enter China over his outspoken criticisms of the country – along with his colleague Senator James Paterson – the significance of the Xinjiang Papers is clear. ‘The leaked documents gave insight into the character of the regime. Penny Wong came out. Anthony Albanese, Richard Di Natale, Rex Patrick, among others.’”


“Backbenchers from all parties have been confronted by distraught constituents. They are being extorted by big government, intimidated into paying money they are sure they don’t owe but don’t have records – in some cases going back seven years – to prove it. A senate inquiry was told that 2030 people had died within two years of receiving a robo-debt letter. The Greens senator Rachel Siewert told the inquiry there are at least five families who believe the debt notice led to their loved ones taking their own life.”


“Parker took the paper offcuts from a factory that produces poppies for Remembrance Day, using reams of perforated red paper with thousands of poppy-shaped holes to fashion a room-sized tent. Upon entering the space you’re surrounded by the countless ‘negatives’ where poppies have been mechanically punched out from paper, each representing a person lost, with shadows cast by four lightbulbs. The tent is modelled on a structure used for failed peace negotiations between England and France during the time of Henry VIII. The absence of the poppies is poignant – an emotional rumination on the limitless capacity for violence and death in the West.”


“When men do the wrong thing, they should apologise. Most men do. But when they don't they should be called out. It’s for every woman and girl who’s been told or made to stay silent in the face of harassment and disrespect that I took legal action. Today's ruling is a win for them … I was awarded substantial damages by the way of vindication, which I will donate to charity.”


“It has a similar chemical signature and behaves like rhino horn when cut or shaved. It even smells the same when burned. With such properties, Dr. Vollrath believes his artificial horn could be used to covertly flood the market with a cheap, convincing replacement, reducing the demand that leads to rhinos being slaughtered. He also hopes it might provide an educational tool for ‘demystifying that rhino horn’s something very special,’ he said. A number of experts pushed back, however, saying such a product is unnecessary and even dangerous.”

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