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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Lone Wildlife’

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.

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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.

F-35s for Turkey on hold as U.S. approves sales for Australia, Norway

By Allen Cone

APRIL 2, 2019

April 2 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin was awarded a $151.3 million contract to sell 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to Australia and six to Norway.

The contract for the 21 planes comes in the wake of the United States halting delivery of equipment related to the F-35 jet to Turkey because of the nation’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system. As a NATO partner in the development of the fighter jet, Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays and was expecting the first of the $90 million jets to arrive in November.

The sale to Australia and Norway, which was a modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition, was announced Monday by the Defense Department.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2022 in U.S. and foreign plants. Thirty-percent will be performed in the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas; 25 percent in El Segundo, Calif.; 20 percent in Warton, United Kingdom; 10 percent in Orlando, Fla.; and 5 percent each on Nashua, N.H.; Nagoya, Japan, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Australia will pay $108.2 million and Norway $43.1 million under a cooperative agreement. The international partner funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Australia received its first F-35s last December, and Norway received them in November 2017.

Australia and Norway are among six NATO countries that have received the planes, including the United States, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. Two other nations that also participated in the aircraft’s development — Canada, Denmark and Turkey — are scheduled to receive the F-35.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2019/04/02/F-35s-for-Turkey-on-hold-as-US-approves-sales-for-Australia-Norway/3891554217447/.

Australian prime minister hit with egg in protest

May 07, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister was hit on the head with an egg and a woman was knocked off her feet Tuesday during a protest ahead of a general election next week. The egg appeared to strike Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the back of the head then bounce off without breaking as he spoke to voters at a hall in the regional town of Albury.

Bystander Margaret Baxter was knocked to the floor as security guards grabbed a 25-year-old woman who is accused of throwing the egg and carried her outside. Morrison helped Baxter to her feet. He later suggested the protester was part of a militant movement that raids farms that it accuses of cruelty to animals.

“My concern about today’s incident in Albury was for the older lady who was knocked off her feet,” Morrison tweeted. “I helped her up and gave her a hug. Our farmers have to put up with these same idiots who are invading their farms and their homes,” he added.

Baxter later said she had been knocked over by a cameraman. She said she landed on her hip but was not injured. “The prime minister helped me get up off the floor and I was very grateful for his assistance,” Baxter told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“I recently had surgery on my stomach so my main concern was holding my stomach to make sure it didn’t get hit or somebody land on it,” she added. Outside the hall, the protester told reporters she did not mean to knock anyone down.

The protester, who did not identify herself, described throwing the egg as “the most harmless thing you can do.” Police later said in a statement the woman had been taken into custody. Opposition leader Bill Shorten condemned the protest as “appalling and disgraceful behavior.”

“In Australia, we have violence-free elections,” Shorten told reporters. “People are allowed to protest peacefully, but anything approaching violence is unacceptable.” Morrison was campaigning in an electorate held by his conservative Liberal Party. The party fears that an independent candidate could win the seat at the election on May 18.

Australia says tensions with Turkey ease after WWI remarks

March 21, 2019

SYDNEY (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday tensions between his country and Turkey had eased after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said comments by the Turkish leader that sparked the row had been taken out of context.

A diplomatic dispute flared over Erdogan’s comments in the wake of Friday’s gun massacre in which 50 people were killed at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, attacks for which an Australian white supremacist has been charged with murder.

Speaking while campaigning for local elections, Erdogan warned Australians and New Zealanders going to Turkey with anti-Muslim views would return home in coffins, like their ancestors who fought at Gallipoli in World War I.

Morrison slammed the comments as “highly offensive,” and on Wednesday summoned Turkish Ambassador to Australia, Korhan Karakoc, to explain the remarks. Australia also placed under review its travel advisory for its citizens visiting Turkey, which was already set at “exercise a high degree of caution” due to the threat of terrorism.

But on Thursday, Morrison said progress had been made on mending bilateral ties after a spokesman for Erdogan said the president’s words were “taken out of context.” Fahrettin Altun, director of communications for the Turkish presidency, said Erdogan was in fact responding to the manifesto posted online by the man arrested in the mosque attacks.

Altun also said Erdogan had made his remarks in a historical context relating to attacks past and present against Turkey, a move partly inspired, he said, by the fact the president was speaking near commemorative sites near the Gallipoli battlefields.

“President Erdogan’s words were unfortunately taken out of context,” Altun said on Twitter. “He was responding to the so-called ‘manifesto’ of the terrorist who killed 50 innocent Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. Turks have always been the most welcoming & gracious hosts to their Anzac (Australia and New Zealand) visitors.

“The terrorist’s manifesto not only targeted Erdogan himself but also the Turkish people and the Turkish state. “As he was giving the speech at the Canakkale (Gallipoli) commemoration, he framed his remarks in a historical context of attacks against Turkey, past and present.”

Morrison on Thursday welcomed what he called a “moderation” of Erdogan’s views, which followed a series of high-level bilateral diplomatic communications on the matter. “Overnight, progress has been made on this issue and overnight we’ve already seen a moderation of the president’s views,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

“It’s my intention to break any cycle of recklessness, to work through these issues practically, to register in the strongest and clearest of terms the offense that was taken — I believe rightly — by those comments yesterday, but now to work constructively,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

“Australia and Turkey, the peoples of both countries, have a tremendous relationship, built up over generations.” Thursday’s developments came as New Zealand Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was en route to Turkey to meet with Erdogan and seek clarification over his comments.

The 1915 Gallipoli campaign, marked by heavy casualties on both sides, was a disastrous defeat for the allies against the then Ottoman Empire. Although the battle later helped cement friendship among the three countries, it remains a highly sensitive subject in Australia and New Zealand.

Erdogan has also sparked outrage abroad by showing video excerpts at his campaign rallies of the footage broadcast by the Christchurch gunman, to denounce what he has called rising hatred and prejudice against Islam. Three Turkish citizens were among the dozens wounded in the attack.

It is not the first time Erdogan has sparked outrage abroad by making controversial statements about foreign countries, particularly during pre-election periods to stir up nationalist sentiment and consolidate his support base. He has sought to patch up relations after the elections.

Local elections are set to be held in Turkey on March 31. With the economy struggling, Erdogan’s party risks losing the capital, Ankara, to the opposition. Such an outcome would be a severe blow to the president, whose ruling Justice and Development Party and its predecessor have run the city for the past quarter century.

Indonesia and Australia sign pact eliminating many tariffs

March 04, 2019

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia and Australia signed a free trade agreement Monday that will eliminate many tariffs, allow Australian-owned hospitals to be set up in the giant Southeast Asian country and increase work visas for young Indonesians.

Trade ministers from the two countries signed the agreement, negotiations for which first began in 2010, at a Jakarta hotel with Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla looking on. It is subject to ratification in both countries.

Annual trade between Australia and Indonesia is valued at $11.6 billion. Though they are neighbors, their trade is relatively small with Indonesia’s exports to Australia just 1.5 percent of its total exports.

Major details of the agreement were announced by Australia last September after leaders of the two countries said negotiations had been completed. The text of the agreement is expected to be released after the signing.

Australia says 99 percent of its exports to Indonesia will be tariff free or have improved preferential access by 2020, up from 85 percent under an existing trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand and 10 Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia already enjoys substantially tariff-free access to the Australian market under that agreement.

The Australia-Indonesia agreement will allow Australian companies to have majority ownership of investments in various industries in Indonesia including healthcare, telecommunications, energy, mining and aged care.

Separately, Indonesia is considering allowing foreign companies to invest in higher education, which along with hospitals, is an area the country is lagging far behind international standards. Australia’s live cattle exports are set to increase under the agreement with tariffs to be eliminated and the number of animal exported to Indonesia allowed to increase 4 percent a year until reaching 700,000.

Australian working holiday visas for young Indonesians will be increased to 6,000 a year from the current 1,000 over six years.

Australia says coal holdups at China ports are not a ban

February 22, 2019

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Australia’s trade minister said Friday that while there might be some delays in the processing of coal shipments at Chinese ports, he has no reason to believe China is banning Australian coal.

Simon Birmingham told reporters in Adelaide that he did not see any problem in the relationship between the two countries. His comments followed a report a day earlier by the Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed port official, that the northern Chinese port of Dalian had banned imports of Australian coal.

Coal is one of Australia’s largest exports. The report caused the Australian dollar to briefly tumble, coal stocks to fall, and sent officials scrambling for answers. China’s markets are vital for Australia and relations are sensitive after Australia last year blocked Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from involvement in its 5G network due to security concerns.

Birmingham said import quotas, combined with the testing of products for quality assurance, “may be slowing down the processing of coal in certain ports across China.” But he said China was applying its rules equally to all countries and wasn’t discriminating against Australia.

“I want to provide reassurance that we have no basis to believe that there is a ban on Australian coal exports into China or into any part of China,” he said. Australia is working to clarify China’s policies and to reassure Australian coal companies, Birmingham said.

He said the relationship with China was in good shape. “We can be confident as a country that our relationship, we believe, is strong, that our ability to work through these issues is strong, and that the economic ties we have, valued as they are by both parties, will continue to be strong into the future,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was traveling in New Zealand, told reporters that people needed to be careful about jumping to conclusions. He said local ports make their own decisions. “This happens from time to time, and we will just work constructively with our partners in China about those issues,” Morrison said.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Chinese customs conducts risk monitoring and analysis on the safety and quality of imported coal. “The purpose of this is to better maintain Chinese import enterprises’ legitimate rights and interests and to ensure environmental safety,” Geng said.

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