Monday, April 12, 2021

Soldier accused of burying evidence

Decorated military veteran Ben Roberts-Smith reportedly buried USB drives with compromising images in his backyard instead of handing them over to an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan. The Age and 60 Minutes report that Roberts-Smith dug a hole in his Sunshine Coast backyard and buried the USB drives inside a pink plastic children’s lunchbox, defying an order from investigators to hand over all relevant images and files. One photo on the drive is of the corpse of an Afghan man who had souvenir Australian military coins placed over his eyes, in the wake of a raid led by Roberts-Smith. Part of the war crimes investigation reportedly considered whether Afghans had been illegally executed in that raid. Other images show a soldier at a military base bar drinking alcohol from a prosthetic leg taken from a Taliban fighter killed by an Australian soldier in 2009, and of a soldier at a fancy dress party wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit holding a noose and standing in front of a burning cross. The story also linked Roberts-Smith, who is suing Nine Newspapers over its reporting, to the intimidation of witnesses, and included audio recordings of him vowing to “destroy” those accusing him of wrongdoing.   

NSW police investigating the rape allegation against former attorney-general Christian Porter passed up the opportunity to travel to South Australia to interview the complainant, reports the ABC. This was despite the trip having been recommended for approval by the head of the NSW Police Child Abuse and Sex Crime Squad. Deputy Commissioner David Hudson declined to approve the trip during the March 2020 Covid restrictions, citing “insufficient detail … to justify why this travel cannot be deferred”. The revelation is included in a new cache of documents provided by NSW Police to the state parliament. The documents detail the timeline of the handling of the complainant’s enquiry before she took her own life in June last year.

The federal government has been accused of pressuring experts who questioned its gas-fired recovery plan. ABC’s Four Corners reports that in July last year Energy Minister Angus Taylor was given an advance copy of a report to be published by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) that did not support the government's position on gas. Taylor phoned then-chief executive of AEMO Audrey Zibelman and unsuccessfully tried to pressure her to change the report’s conclusions in a heated conversation. Separately, the Energy Minister’s departmental secretary was so frustrated by the refusal of the head of the Energy Security Board (ESB), Kerry Schott, to support its position on gas that they called her and urged her to resign.

The McKell Institute has estimated that the slow pace of Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout will increase the risk of snap lockdowns in response to outbreaks, which could cost the economy as much as $4.16 billion. The assessment, made before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced delays due to the risk of rare blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, projected that if Australia distributed the vaccine at the same pace as Germany from here the roadmap would be pushed back by 353 days. McKell Institute executive director Michael Buckland said, “It’s vital we are clear-sighted about the cost and impact of a government’s action or inaction. These delays will increase the chance of lockdowns and the economic costs that come with them.”

The crisis we should have seen coming
There are growing fears that homelessness could soon rise in Australia. One of the most at risk groups in the country is older women, who face both age and gender discrimination. Today, Kristine Ziwica on the homelessness crisis Australia should have seen coming.

“Two senior public servants involved in the establishment of the robo-debt program are now working in the compliance division of the National Disability Insurance Agency, with one making substantial comments on draft legislation that would overhaul the $25 billion support scheme and raise debts from participants ... These public servants joined as the agency began a years’ long project of introducing a fraud strategy and sharpening internal tools that would more easily ‘detect and investigate serious fraud and non-compliance’.”

“Cash said the government’s key policy objective was to simplify the law around sexual harassment so Australians could better understand and access it. That’s the rationale the government gives for rejecting some of the report’s recommendations, including to amend the SDA to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. It argues other legislation contains adequate provisions. It has also not accepted, at this stage, Jenkins’ recommendation to expressly prohibit ‘creating or facilitating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment on the basis of sex’ ... It also won’t legislate that ‘substantive’ gender equality is an objective.”

“Scott Morrison says the issue is one of supply. If only the Europeans supplied our vaccines on time, the rollout would be on track. If only the states stopped hoarding vaccines. If only GPs administered the doses delivered to them. If only. There has been no willingness by the government to engage with the flaws and failures of its rollout strategy.”

“The Australian government is missing out on valuable sources of advice on the increasingly complex relationship with China because Chinese-Australians are under-represented in the public service, a new policy paper says. For decades governments have recognised that ‘Australia’s Asia literacy is meagre’, according to the Lowy Institute paper. But the paper argues that where China literacy does exist in the Australian public service, ‘it is often underutilised or undervalued’.”

“During a Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Committee focused on issues facing diaspora communities in Australia, three Chinese Australians who were invited to contribute their expertise to the committee were repeatedly asked by Liberal Party Senator Eric Abetz to ‘unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship’. Abetz was effectively demanding a demonstration of loyalty from these experts  ... This was both demeaning to the participants personally, and had the effect of marking all Chinese Australians as suspicious internal actors until they prove themselves otherwise.”

“On Wednesday, August 22, a critical phone call finally took place. After several attempts to find, at Turnbull’s request, a mutually convenient time to speak, the prime minister and the media mogul Rupert Murdoch spoke at 9.30am on speakerphone in Turnbull’s office. Clive Mathieson was in the room. Turnbull launched straight in. ‘You and your company are trying to bring down the government,’ he accused Murdoch. Murdoch, who for decades had been in the front row as leaders around the world rose and fell, must have known that Turnbull was already finished.”

“In Tanna, part of a South Pacific Ocean archipelago made up of 80 islands, the Yaohnanen tribe consider the Duke of Edinburgh a deity. The ‘Prince Philip Movement’ came to light in the late 1950s and the unusual conviction originates in legend. According to ancient tales existing long before the tribe’s awareness of Philip, a white man born of volcano spirit travelled overseas to marry a powerful woman, before returning to them. They believe the duke was born in their homeland and was, until recently, keeping the flame of their culture alive in the UK … The Duke of Edinburgh’s death has not marked the end of this movement.”

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