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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Lone Wildlife’

Australian court rules indigenous people can’t be deported

February 11, 2020

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s highest court ruled Tuesday the government can’t deport Aboriginal people as part of its policy of ridding the country of foreign criminals. The High Court ruled in a 4-3 decision that indigenous Australians cannot be deported even if they do not hold Australian citizenship.

The court had heard the case of two men who were born overseas but identified as being from indigenous tribes: Brendan Thoms and Daniel Love. Thoms, 31, was released after 501 days in immigration detention within hours of the court ruling that his indigenous status entitled him to live in Australia, his lawyer Claire Gibbs said.

“Brendan has had 500 sleepless nights worrying he could be deported at any time, and that is now thankfully at an end,” Gibbs said in a statement. “He is very happy to have been released and to now be reunited with his family at long last,” she added.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the Home Affairs Department would review other cases that might be affected by the precedent. “ The High Court delivered a significant judgment today which has implications for our migration programs,” Tudge said in a statement.

The court had “created a new category of persons” that was neither an Australian citizen nor a non-citizen, he added. The government attempted to deport the men on character grounds in 2018 after they served prison sentences for violent crimes. The government has been criticized for deporting some criminals who have lived in Australia since where were children but had never become citizens.

The court found that Thoms, 31, who was born in New Zealand to an indigenous Australian mother, was an Aboriginal Australian. Thoms had lived in Australia since he was 6, is accepted as a member of the Gunggari tribe and is recognized as a native title holder of their traditional land.

But a majority of judges was not convinced that Love, 40, was indigenous and was accepted as a member of the Kamilaroi tribe. He was born in Papua New Guinea to an indigenous Australian father and has lived in Australia since he was 5.

His lawyers say he will provide more evidence of his Aboriginality and another trial could be held to decide the issue. Both Love and Thoms were placed in immigration detention and threatened with deportation on their release from prison after serving sentences for unrelated crimes.

Love has had his visa restored since his lawyers initiated court action in 2018 and lives on the Gold Coast. Thoms had been in immigration detention in Brisbane for 16 months since he completed a six-month prison sentence.

The court found Aboriginal Australian have a special cultural, historic and spiritual connection to Australia which is inconsistent with them being considered “aliens” in the meaning of the Australian constitution.

Gibbs said the government had used its constitutional powers to deal with aliens “inconsistently, unfairly and, now we’ve proven, unlawfully.” “This case isn’t about citizenship. It’s about who belongs here, who’s an Australian national and who’s a part of the Australian community,” Gibbs told reporters outside court.

“The High Court has found that Aboriginal Australians are protected from deportation. They can no longer be removed from the country that they know and that they have a very close connection with,” she added.

The Home Affairs Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gibbs said both Love and Thoms would sue the government for wrongful detention. “Both of my clients have suffered severe embarrassment about being Aboriginal men in immigration detention and they’ve been subject to a lot of ridicule,” Gibbs said. “So it’s been a very, very tough time for them both.”

Mary Crock, professor of public law at Sydney University, described the decision as “radical.” She noted the case arose from Australia’s increasingly tough policies of deporting non-citizens who break the law, some to countries where they don’t speak the language or have any real connections.

“I see it as a very positive development,” Crock told Australian Broadcasting Corp. of the ruling. “The case only went to the High Court because Australia uniquely has been trying so hard to deport so many different people. I can’t think of another country that has gone as far as we have towards locking up and then trying to deport people who literally have no other country that they deeply belong to,” she added.

Indigenous Australians make up 3% of the population and are the most disadvantaged minority group in a range of measures. Indigenous Australians die younger than other Australians and are overrepresented in prisons.

Firefighting plane crashes in Australia, killing 3 Americans

January 23, 2020

SYDNEY (AP) — Three American firefighting airplane crew members were killed Thursday when the C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker they were in crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed the deaths in the state’s Snowy Monaro region, which came as Australia grapples with an unprecedented fire season that has left a large swath of destruction.

Canada-based Coulson Aviation said in a statement that one of its Lockheed large air tankers was lost after it left Richmond in New South Wales with retardant for a firebombing mission. It said the accident was “extensive” but had few other details.

“The only thing I have from the field reports are that the plane came down, it’s crashed and there was a large fireball associated with that crash,” Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had conveyed Australia’s condolences to U.S. Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr. “Our hearts go out to their loved ones. They were helping Australia, far from their own homes, an embodiment of the deep friendship between our two countries,” she said in a statement.

Payne added: “Thank you to these three, and to all the brave firefighters from Australia and around the world. Your service and contribution are extraordinary. We are ever grateful.” The tragedy brings the death toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September. The fires have also destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.4 million hectares (25.7 million acres), an area bigger than the U.S. state of Indiana.

Coulson grounded other firefighting aircraft as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drops more than 15,000 liters (4,000 gallons) of fire retardant in a single pass.

Spokeswoman Robyn Baldwin of Coulson, with headquarters in the Canadian province of British Columbia and extensive U.S. operations, declined to identify the crew members or say what U.S. states they were from.

“We ask for privacy at this time as we mourn the loss of our crew members,” Baldwin said. Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the national air crash investigator, and state police will investigate the crash site, which firefighters described as an active fire ground.

“There is no indication at this stage of what’s caused the accident,” Fitzsimmons said. Berejiklian said there were more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel in the field, and five fires were being described at an “emergency warning” level — the most dangerous on a three-tier scale — across the state and on the fringes of the national capital Canberra.

Also Thursday, Canberra Airport closed temporarily because of nearby wildfires, and residents south of the city were told to seek shelter. The airport reopened after several hours with Qantas operating limited services, but Virgin and Singapore Airlines canceled flights for the rest of the day.

The blaze started Wednesday, but strong winds and high temperatures caused conditions in Canberra to deteriorate. A second fire near the airport that started on Thursday morning is at a “watch and act” level — the middle of the three tiers.

Residents in some Canberra suburbs were advised to seek shelter and others to leave immediately. “The defense force is both assisting to a degree and looking to whether that needs to be reinforced,” Chief of Defense Angus Campbell told reporters.

“I have people who are both involved as persons who need to be moved from areas and office buildings that are potentially in danger, and also those persons who are part of the (Operation) Bushfire Assist effort,” he said.

Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.

Australian prime minister is jeered in wildfire-ravaged zone

January 02, 2020

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Scott Morrison was confronted by angry residents who cursed and insulted him Thursday as he visited a wildfire-ravaged corner of the country. Locals in Cobargo, in New South Wales, yelled at him, made obscene gestures and called him an “idiot” and worse, criticizing him for the lack of equipment to deal with the fires in town. They jeered as his car left. In the New South Wales town of Quaama, a firefighter refused to shake hands with him.

“Every single time this area has a flood or a fire, we get nothing. If we were Sydney, if we were north coast, we would be flooded with donations with urgent emergency relief,” a resident said in Cobargo.

The outpouring of anger came as authorities said 381 homes had been destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast this week. At least eight people have died this week in New South Wales and the neighboring state of Victoria.

More than 200 fires are burning in Australia’s two most-populous states. Blazes have also been burning in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. “I’m not surprised people are feeling very raw at the moment. And that’s why I came today, to be here, to see it for myself, to offer what comfort I could,” Morrison said, adding, “There is still, you know, some very dangerous days ahead. And we understand that, and that’s why we’re going to do everything we can to ensure they have every support they will need.”

Morrison, who has also been criticized over his climate change policies and accused of putting the economy ahead of the environment, insisted that Australia is “meeting the challenge better than most countries” and “exceeding the targets we set out.”

Cooler weather since Tuesday has aided firefighting and allowed people to replenish supplies, with long lines of cars forming at gas stations and supermarkets. But high temperatures and strong winds are forecast to return on Saturday, and thousands of tourists fled the country’s eastern coast Thursday ahead of worsening conditions.

New South Wales authorities ordered tourists to leave a 250-kilometer (155-mile) zone. State Transport Minister Andrew Constance called it the “largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we’ve ever seen.”

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a seven-day state of emergency starting Friday, which grants fire officials more authority. It’s the third state of emergency for New South Wales in the past two months.

“We don’t take these decisions lightly, but we also want to make sure we’re taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday,” Berejiklian said. The early and devastating start to Australia’s summer wildfires has led authorities to rate this season the worst on record. About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have burned, at least 17 people have been killed, and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed.

The crisis “will continue to go on until we can get some decent rain that can deal with some of the fires that have been burning for many, many months,” the prime minister said. In Victoria, where 83 homes have burned this week, the military helped thousands of people who fled to the shoreline as a wildfire threatened their homes in the coastal town of Mallacoota. Food, water, fuel and medical expertise were being delivered, and about 500 people were going to be evacuated from the town by a naval ship.

“We think around 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals are there. Not all of those will want to leave, not all can get on the vessel at one time,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Smoke from the wildfires made the air quality in the capital, Canberra, the worst in the world, according to a ranking Thursday.

Australia fire survivors join global climate protests

November 29, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Australians affected by recent devastating wildfires in the country have joined young environmentalists kicking off a global protest Friday demanding governments act against climate change.

The “global day of action” was expected to see rallies in hundreds of cities around the world, days before officials gather Monday in Madrid for talks on tackling climate change. Janet Reynolds, who joined a protest in Sydney, said she had lost everything in an “inferno, an absolute firestorm that raced through my property.”

Speaking outside the local offices of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party, student Daisy Jeffrey said “people have lost their homes, people have lost their lives. We have to ask: How far does this have to go before our government finally takes action?”

Further rallies were planned in cities worldwide, including Washington, London, Berlin and Madrid. Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling across the Atlantic by sailboat to attend the climate talks next week, sent a message of support to protesters.

“Everyone’s needed. Everyone’s welcome. Join us,” she said on Twitter. About two dozen environmental activists in the German capital symbolically jumped into the chilly waters of the Spree river in front of parliament to protest a government-backed package of measures they say won’t be enough to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The package was blocked Friday by Germany’s upper house, which represents the country’s 16 states.

China-Australia rift deepens as Beijing tests overseas sway

October 03, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s ban on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s involvement in its future 5G networks and its crackdown on foreign covert interference are testing Beijing’s efforts to project its power overseas.

In its latest maneuver, China sent three scholars to spell out in interviews with Australian media and other appearances steps to mend the deepening rift with Beijing _ a move that appears to have fallen flat.

In a recent press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Chen Hong, the head of Australian studies at East China Normal University, accused Australia of acting as a “pawn” for the United States in lobbying other countries against Huawei’s involvement in the nascent 5G networks.

“Australia has been in one way or another, so to speak, pioneering this kind of anti-China campaign, even some kind of a scare and smear campaign against China,” Chen said. “That is definitely not what China will be appreciating, and if other countries follow suit, that is going to be recognized as extremely unfriendly,” he said.

After meetings in Beijing last week, Richard Marles, the opposition’s defense spokesman, assessed the relationship as “terrible.” A growing number of Australians are convinced that Beijing has been using inducements, threats, espionage and other clandestine tactics to influence their politics _ methods critics believe Beijing might be honing for use in other western democracies.

“Australia is seen as a test bed for Beijing’s high-pressure influence tactics,” said Clive Hamilton, author of “Silent Invasion,” a best seller that focuses on Chinese influence in Australia. “They are testing the capacity of the Australian democratic system to resist,” he said.

Still, Australian officials have downplayed talk of a diplomatic freeze. They must balance a growing wariness toward China and their desire for strong ties with the U.S. with the need to keep relations with their resource-rich country’s largest export market on an even keel.

Australia relies on China for one-third of its export earnings. Delays in processing of Australia exports of coal and wine at Chinese ports have raised suspicions of retaliation by Beijing. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared to side with President Donald Trump on the issue of China’s trade status during a recent visit to Washington, he sought to temper suggestions by Trump that he had expressed “very strong opinions on China” in their closed-door meeting.

“We have a comprehensive, strategic partnership with China. We work well with China,” Morrison replied. Trump and Morrison did agree that China has outgrown trade rule concessions allowed to developing nations, advantages it insists it should still be able to claim.

Australia also chose to side with the U.S, in shutting Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear producer, out of its next generation 5G rollout on security grounds. Huawei, and the Chinese government, objected to that, saying the security concerns were exaggerated for the sake of shutting out competition. But Huawei still renewed a sponsorship deal with an Australian rugby team, saying it hopes the ban will be lifted.

Morrison, the prime minister, has won praise from the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times for standing up for Gladys Liu, the first Chinese-born lawmaker to be elected to Australia’s Parliament, when she was attacked for her associations with the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party, whose mission is to exert influence overseas.

Hong Kong-born Liu, a conservative, was elected in May to represent a Melbourne district with a large population of ethnic Chinese voters. She says she has resigned from such organizations and any honorary positions she might have held, some possibly without her “knowledge or consent.”

Morrison accused her critics of smearing the 1.2 million Chinese living in Australia. That was a “decent gesture,” the Global Times said. But while it seeks to control damage from the tensions with Beijing, the Australian government has been moving to neutralize its influence by banning foreign political donations and all covert foreign interference in domestic politics.

Opposition lawmakers likened Liu’s situation to that of Sam Dastyari, who resigned as a senator in 2017 over his links to Chinese billionaire political donor Huang Xiangmo. Huang successfully sued Australian media outlets for defamation over the allegations of his involvement in Chinese political interference. But he lost his Australian permanent residency after it was discovered that his company had paid Dastyari’s personal legal bills. Huang also appeared with him at a news conference for Chinese media where Dastyari supported Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, contradicting Australia’s bipartisan policy.

Chen and the other two Chinese scholars recently dispatched to Australia to try to sway public opinion insisted China was without blame. “If we’re talking about Australia-China relations, I think the responsibility totally is on the Australian side,” Chen said. “China always promotes friendship and mutual benefits between our two countries.”

The Chinese scholars singled out for criticism Hamilton and another Australian author, John Garnaut, who has described Australia as the canary in the coal mine of Chinese Communist Party interference.

Hamilton’s book was published last year, but only after three publishers backed out, fearing retaliation from Beijing. It became a top seller. Hamilton told a U.S. congressional commission last year that Beijing was waging a “campaign of psychological warfare” against Australia, undermining democracy and silencing its critics.

In separate testimony, Garnaut, a former government security adviser, told the House of Representatives Arms Services Committee that China was seeking to undermine the U.S.-Australian security alliance.

In 2016, the government commissioned Garnaut to write a classified report that found the Chinese Communist Party has been seeking to influence Australian policy, compromise political parties and gain access to all levels of government.

He has said Australia is reacting to a threat that other countries are only starting to grapple with. “This recognition has been assisted by the sheer brazenness of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s drive for global influence and by watching Russian President Vladimir Putin and his agents create havoc across the United States and Europe,” Garnaut wrote.

“In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, it is far more difficult to dismiss foreign interference as a paranoid abstraction,” he added. Garnaut, whose friend Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained in Beijing since January on suspicion of espionage, declined to comment to The Associated Press.

China wants to make an example of Australia, said Chinese-born Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, who was detained for 10 days and interrogated about his friend Garnaut’s investigation while visiting China in 2017.

“For the last two decades, Australia has been taken for a soft target because of this myth of economic dependence on China, so they believe they have sufficient leverage to force Australia to back off,” said Feng, a professor of China studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.

“They are extremely upset that Australia somehow in the last two years has taken the lead in what we call the democratic pushback” against Chinese interference, he said.

Ex-soldier David Hurley becomes Australian governor-general

July 01, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Former soldier David Hurley was sworn in as Australia’s governor-general on Monday, a day before Parliament resumes for the first time since the May election. Hurley represents the Queen Elizabeth II, who is Australia’s constitution head of state.

Hurley was most recently the British monarch’s representative in New South Wales when he spent five years as state governor based in Sydney. He will officiate on Tuesday when Parliament resumes for the first time since Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government was elected to a third three-year term on May 18.

Hurley replaced Peter Cosgrove who held the position since 2014. Both are former chiefs of the Australian Defense Force.

Australian election May 18 to be fought on refugees, economy

April 11, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister on Thursday called a May 18 election that will be fought on issues including climate change, asylum seekers and economic management. “We live in the best country in the world,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters after advising the governor-general to authorize the election.

“But to secure your future, the road ahead depends on a strong economy. And that’s why there is so much at stake at this election,” he added. Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a third three-year term. But Morrison is the third prime minister to lead a divided government in that time and only took the helm in late August.

Opinion polls suggest his reign will become one of the shortest in the 118-year history of Australian prime ministers on election day. The polls suggest center-left opposition leader Bill Shorten will become the eighth prime minister since the country plunged into an extraordinary period of political instability in 2007.

The election pits Shorten, a former labor union leader who has presented himself as the alternative prime minister for the past six years, and Morrison, a leader who the Australian public is still getting to know.

Shorten said in his first news conference since the election was called that his government will take “real action on climate change” and reduce inequality in Australian society if his Labor Party wins power.

“Australians face a real and vital choice at this election. Do you want Labor’s energy, versus the government’s tiredness? Labor’s focus on the future, versus being stuck in the past?” Shorten said. Morrison is seen as the architect of Australia’s tough refugee policy that has all but stopped the people-smuggling traffic of boats from Southeast Asian ports since 2014. The policy has been condemned by human rights groups as an abrogation of Australia’s responsibilities as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention.

Morrison’s first job in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s newly elected coalition government in 2013 was as minister for immigration and border protection. He oversaw the secretive military-run Operation Sovereign Borders.

Asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia would typically disable or sink their boats when intercepted by patrol ships in waters north of Australia so that the Australian crews would have to rescue them rather than turn the boats away. Under the new regime, the asylum seekers were placed in motorized life boats that were towed back to Indonesia. The life boats had just enough fuel to reach the Indonesian coast. The Indonesian government complained the policy was an affront to Indonesian sovereignty.

The government has also maintained a policy adopted in the final months of a Labor government in 2013 of sending boat arrivals to camps on the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Those who attempt to reach Australia by boat are told they will never be allowed to settle there.

Morrison remains proud of virtually stopping people-smuggler boat traffic. He has a trophy shaped like a people-smuggler’s boat in his office inscribed with “I Stopped These.” Labor has promised to maintain the policy of banishing boat arrivals to the islands. But Labor says it would give priority to finding permanent homes for the asylum seekers who have languished in island camps for years.

The conservative coalition argues that the boats would start coming again because a Labor government would soften the regime. The government introduced temporary protection visas for boat arrivals so that refugees face potential deportation every three years if the circumstances that they fled in their homelands improve. Labor would give refugees permanent visas so that they have the certainty to plan their lives.

Climate change policy is a political battlefield in a country that is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas and has been one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters on a per capita basis because of its heavily reliance on coal-fired power generation.

Disagreement over energy policy has been a factor in the last six changes of prime minister. Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced a carbon tax in 2012. Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott scrapped it two years later.

The coalition is torn between lawmakers who want polluters to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions and those who reject any measures that would increase household power bills. The government aims to reduce Australian greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Labor has promised a more ambitious target of a 45% reduction in the same time frame. Action on climate change was a major priority for votes when conservative Prime Minister John Howard’s reign ended after more than 11 years at an election in 2007.

Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd immediately signed up to the U.N.’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol on reducing emissions. Australia and the United States had been the only industrialized countries to hold out. Climate change dropped down the list of Australian priorities after the global financial crisis hit.

But after Australians sweltered through a record hot summer and grappled with devastating drought, global warming has become a high-priority issue for voters again. The government warns that Labor’s emissions reduction plan would wreck the economy.

The coalition also argues that Labor would further damage the economy with its policy of reducing tax breaks for landlords as real estate prices fall in Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

Morrison boasts that the conservative administration Prime Minister Howard led delivered 10 annual surplus budgets and paid off all federal government debt before the government changed at the 2007 election.

Rudd had planned a budget surplus in his government’s first fiscal year, but the global financial crisis struck. Many economists congratulate Rudd for keeping the Australian economy out of recession through stimulus spending. The coalition has accused Labor of spending too much and sinking Australia too deep in debt,

But debt has continued to mount since the conservatives regained the reins in 2013. But opinion polls suggest voters consider the conservatives to be better economic managers. The government brought forward its annual budget blueprint by a month to April 2 and revealed a plan to balance Australia’s books in the next fiscal year for the first time in 12 years.

Labor also promised to deliver a surplus budget in the year starting July 1, but it has yet to detail how it will achieve this goal. Labor has also promised to spend an additional AU$2.3 billion ($1.6 billion) over four years on covering treatment costs of cancer patients. It’s an attractive offer with half Australia’s population expected to be diagnosed with some form of the disease in their lifetimes.

The conservatives have largely taken credit for Australia’s remarkable run of 28 years of economic growth since its last recession under Labor’s rule. Morrison hopes that voters will look to him to deliver a sequel to the Howard years when a mining boom delivered ever-increasing budget surpluses.

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