Friday, November 20, 2020

War crimes inquiry shocks the nation

The Australian military is reeling after a landmark war crimes inquiry recommended 19 current and former soldiers be investigated by police over the alleged murders of 39 civilians in Afghanistan. The inquiry pointed the finger at non-commissioned officers of the SAS who allegedly demanded junior soldiers “blood” themselves by executing unarmed prisoners, some of whom were handcuffed at the time, and then planted weapons and falsified reports to cover up incidents. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that consequences include the disbanding of The Special Air Service Regiment’s second squadron, the potential stripping of medals from soldiers, and the payout of compensation to Afghan families. Writing in The Conversation, journalist Michelle Grattan questioned how the inquiry could have found that senior leadership in the military was unaware of what was taking place or of the need for safeguards against such misconduct. The Australian Financial Review meanwhile reports ($) that former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has used his Victoria Cross and other medals as collateral for a loan from his current boss at Channel 7, media billionaire Kerry Stokes, to fund a defamation case against Nine. Stokes' spokesman said the medals would be donated to the Australian War Memorial if the loan could not be repaid.

The koala land management bill that prompted the Nationals to threaten to leave the NSW Coalition has been scrapped, after the Upper House voted to subject it to an inquiry. Liberal MP Catherine Cusack crossed the floor and voted with Labor and the minor parties in favour of the inquiry into a proposed compromise version of the bill negotiated between the Liberals and Nationals. In response the NSW Government decided to dump the legislation altogether. Premier Gladys Berejiklian subsequently sacked Cusack as a parliamentary secretary over the move. The NSW Government will seek to develop a new plan next year.

The federal government’s quadrupling of the cost of bringing a migration case before the Federal Circuit Court will undermine refugee and asylum seeker access to justice, according to the Law Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright told SBS it was “unconscionable” for the government to be imposing such an “exorbitant" price rise, with migration case fees to jump from $690 to $3330. “This change will help the court with this workload, and allow migration applicants to have their matters resolved faster,” a spokesperson for Attorney-General Christian Porter said.  

Japanese MPs have declared a climate emergency in a symbolic vote on Thursday aimed at increasing pressure for action to combat global warming. The emergency, non-binding declaration cites “unprecedented damage” from hurricanes, flooding and fires, exacerbated by climate change. It comes after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last month announced Japan would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to match during a visit to Japan this week.

The truth about robodebt and political responsibility
The federal government has settled the largest class action in Australian history, over the unlawful robodebt program. Today, Paul Bongiorno on who was responsible and whether anyone in the government will be held accountable for this policy.

“After these years of torture and humiliation, miserable and dooms, my heart cannot let me be free of these pains. I am in very bad situation which is unexplainable, like a bird in the cage. When you open the cage after a long time, the poor bird cannot fly anymore. It has lost the wings of its heart for flying. I come by boat to save my life. If this is my crime, so you have imprisoned me for 11 years for this crime.”

“On Monday night, they had a raised-voices row in front of the Labor shadow cabinet. The next morning, Joel Fitzgibbon resigned from Anthony Albanese’s frontbench, prompting a fresh round of speculation about leadership instability. On Wednesday, after two days of further destabilisation, they had a beer together and watched the rugby league State of Origin.”

“Richard, incidentally, is still alive ... but having been diagnosed in 2016 with dementia, he’s now embarked on what his daughter calls ‘the beginning of his disappearance’. Johnson’s third feature, Dick Johnson Is Dead (streaming on Netflix), is her attempt to make something useful out of this slow, sad drift away from shore … she conceives a variety of fictional scenarios in which her beloved father might die, his dementia notwithstanding, and then proceeds to enact them for the camera.”

“WA Premier Mark McGowan has warned hotel quarantine staff who refuse to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing risk losing their job … But the Government has ruled out banning hotel quarantine staff from having a second job, after it emerged a security officer involved in the Adelaide outbreak was also employed at a pizza restaurant. ‘Telling people they can't have a second job is very difficult. That's not something we're considering at this point in time,’ the Premier said.”

“We also need to get serious about resourcing our hotel workers ... we need to prevent workers from needing to work across multiple sites, by paying them more. Even if they’re not working full-time, they need to be paid as such to ensure they don’t need to take on extra work and increase the risk of spreading the virus to other workplaces. This goes for all staff — security staff as well as cleaners. Cleaners have a very important job and are particularly vulnerable.”

“Galea alleged police brutality. He said that he had been suffering auditory hallucinations as a result of a stun grenade that detonated beside his head, and complained of cuts to his arm when police maliciously hauled him from a window framed by broken glass. It’s an ironic and common complaint of white nationalists when arrested – that they are victims of a jackbooted state, even as they dream of Hitler.”

“Huge, yellow, inflatable, the rubber ducks were pushed to the front and took on the brunt of the water cannons. Few knew where they came from. But all witnessed their heroism: protesters, veiled with thin green plastic rain jackets, ducked behind the ducks as wave after wave of chemicals hit the protesters. Afterward, pictures were disseminated in the press: of the rubber ducks, slightly deflated, stained purple but still smiling.”

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