2017: Not Such a Good Year

(See Crocs, Spiders, Snakes, Sharks below)

Not such a good year.  Much appeared to happen in the United States, but the story is still emergent and so I might save that for next year.  Furthermore, query what actually happened, as Tom Switzer pointed out recently.  He also pointed out that Tump’s approval ratings were on par with Merkel’s, Turnbull’s, and Theresa May’s.

Nukes 2017 was a Korean kinda year, mostly because of the ‘BBC Dad’ interview of Associate Professor Robert E. Kelly, an expert on North Korea, a resident of South Korea, and a little bit because nuclear war kept threatening to erupt there (though the two Koreas are having their first public talk about peace in a long time).  The memory of having children of the Professor’s children’s age is sufficiently fresh for me that the clip is one of the few things that makes me laugh out loud, over and over.  It got better as it was revealed over time that the Professor was sporting jeans below his suit jacket and tie and would have looked even more ridiculous if he had got up, and it was enhanced by the wonderful mess generated by commenters  mistakenly assuming the Professor’s wife was a maid. 

Of course there was a serious undercurrent to this impeccable vaudeville which made it funnier.  Or rather there was a serious undercurrent (possible nuclear annihilation) to the vaudeville of two leaders with bad hair to which the story was ancillary.  Trump tweeted ‘I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.’  Little Rocket Man infuriatingly let off a new nuclear weapon each time Trump advised that he was prepared to ‘totally destroy North Korea’ (e.g. in an address to the United Nations), with ‘fire and fury and, frankly, power like the world has never seen’.  Given that North Korea might very well kill and injure 9 million people in Tokyo and Seoul very promptly upon being attacked (compare Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s about 200,000), Trump’s talk was hopefully absurd, but I doubt the Japanese thought it was very funny. Seoul is just 55 km from the border and there are batteries and batteries of conventional weapons pointed at it just over the border such that Pyongyang has an unusually profound non-nuclear deterrent to nuclear attack.

The North Korean said ‘I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.’  An evangelical adviser to Trump preached ‘In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un. ‘  

Last year saw reports that Tillerson had called Trump a ‘fucking moron’ after a meeting in which Trump expressed his wish to increase the US’s nuclear arsenal from 4,000 to 32,000 nukes.  Trump also railed against the agreement between Iran and the US, UK, Russia, France, China, and Germany by which sanctions were lifted in return for Iran committing not to build a nuclear bomb and to suffer intense monitoring.  Fitting then that Melbourne’s International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a bunch of doctors and Melbourne Uni types, won the Nobel peace prize in Oslo after 120 nations (not including any state with nuclear weapons, any NATO state, or Norway) adopted the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty.  Africa, Latin America and most of South-East Asia, nuclear-free zones, promised en bloc not to assist the development, threat of the use of, or transport of nuclear weapons and to work towards a nuclear weapon free world.

China and Tibet  The Middle Kingdom certainly made the news.  China did some good things, principally not invading anyone, becoming the second largest contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, and making the third largest contribution to the UN’s budget generally.  It announced plans to invest $360 billion in renewable energy and to close 85 coal-fired power plants.  There is no doubt that China plays a long game, readying itself slowly for a new energy economy in which Australia is squandering opportunities.  But its one-party government’s repression of its people, and the people of neighbouring Tibet went from strength to strength.

But its one-party government’s repression of its people, and the people of neighbouring Tibet went from strength to strength. When Chinese memes which compared Xi Jinping with Winnie the Pooh gained traction, the Communists simply banned Winnie the Pooh; you couldn’t make this stuff up. But the man is not much like Winne the Pooh. He is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People’s Republic of China (not to be confused with the Republic of China, which is Taiwan, unbeknown to President Trump when he was extolling the closeness of relations between the US and China), and Chairman of the Central Military Commission and National Security Commission. He is also the Core Leader and his thought has been written into the Constitution. His 2017 picks for the 7 positions on the Politburo suggested strongly to commentators that he intends to continue as the Great Helmsman beyond the customary ten year term and he is said to have more personal power than any leader since Mao. Since mangoes which Mao had touched used to be worshipped by peasants, he has a way to go, but commenters now occupy themselves debating whether it is appropriate to call the President a dictator. Like Trump he has advocated cleaning up the swamp with a Machiavellian anti-corruption campaign and has shaken up the established order considerably. Kevin Rudd enrolled in a DPhil at Oxford with a view to writing a thesis on Xi Jinping’s worldview.

The ‘4 Corners’ documentary ‘Power and Influence‘ in June kicked off public attention to the issue of China’s non-military efforts to influence domestic policy of other nations and silence criticism of its grotesque human rights abuses and contentious foreign policies.  Ironically, Allen & Unwin was terrified out of publishing Professor Clive Hamilton’s Silent Invasion. The book investigated similar subject matter to ‘Power and Influence’, notably oddly wealthy Chinese Australians and their political donations, the insertion of organs of the Chinese State into Australian educational institutions, and so forth.

Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest publisher, agreed to block certain articles in its China Quarterly selected by the Communist Party, e.g. about Tianmen Square and Xi  from Chinese internet users before a scandalised outcry forced a rethink.

In the last five years more migrants have arrived from China than any other country and patriots seem to have missed the boat slightly in their obsession with Muslims fleeing war on leaky boats. Many are students – 100,000 of them – who pump $18 billion a year into the university sector but who are closely monitored by agents of the Chinese state, and swathes of whom are either controlled by, or enthusiastic assistants to, the Politburo, turning up in busloads to shout down pro-Tibet protests, for example, as Lupin Lu explained on ‘4 Corners’.  There are more than one million Australian residents with Chinese heritage. ASIO came out and intervened forcefully and to its great credit, the Government acted decisively, helped along by Labor’s embarrassment on the issue when it emerged that Senator Sam Dastayari had done things like warn one of the wealthy Chinese Australians close to Beijing prone to generous political donations, Huang Xiangmo, that his phone might have been tapped. Ross Babbage, former head of strategic analysis at the Office of National Assessments (the analysis arm of Australia’s intelligence apparatus) said Dastayari was probably a Chinese ‘agent of influence’.

The Australia Tibet Council published a report on Australia’s silence on Tibet and a somewhat unlikely (to my eyes) crew of politicians travelled to Dharamsala and met the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government.  The crew was Derryn Hinch (Independent), Kimberly Kitching (Labor), Kevin Andrews (Liberal), and Meryl Swanson (Labor).  You can watch Senator Hinch here recounting how his parting words to the Dalai Lama were ‘See you again in 15 years, your Holiness, in Tibet’.

The US House of Representatives and its Senate separately passed resolutions calling on the Trump administration to call out China on its abuses.  To contrast the Australian government’s supine pose towards China, it is worth repeating what Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, said of the Senate resolution he co-sponsored with Bernie Sanders:

‘The oppressive will of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) knows no bounds. It stretches to the outermost realms of China, pulling all people of religious, ethnic, and social affiliation into the all-powerful orbit of the Communist Party. Few regions within the PRC have suffered more loss of freedom than Tibet. Autonomous in name only, Tibet was conquered forcefully by Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army in 1950, initiating nearly seven decades of political violence, unjust imprisonment, imposed nationalism, restricted movement, and religious suppression. Journalists and exile Tibetans seeking to return home either face obstacles to entering Tibet or risk their safety after entering. It stands as a stark reminder of the PRC’s unquenchable determination to subjugate peoples of all creeds, affiliations, and histories under their Marxist-Lennist-Maoist rule.’

Seven Tibetans self-immolated in Tibet, calling for freedom for the people of the nation which the International Commission of Jurists considers to have been illegally occupied since Mao’s invasion in October 1950.  Two more Tibetans self-immolated in India: one in the Dalai Lama’s home-in-exile in Dharamsala and one in Varanassi.

Cock-ups  I really thought that nothing could possibly top 2016’s census fail for making the government look like geese.  But all the data was published in 2017, 2016’s hiccup overcome, and much of it will be referred to in what follows. Incredibly, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunnaway announced that the wrong movie (‘La La Land’) had won the best picture Oscar and the night descended into farce when it emerged, as the ‘La La Land’ people were on cloud nine making their acceptance speeches that ‘Moonlight’ was in fact the winner.

But 2017’s dual citizenship fiasco really took the cake, causing the country to go without a Deputy Prime Minister for a while, and had the Prime Minister telling the High Court what to do (as his fellow Ministers made a habit of) unsuccessfully. It resulted in yet more folk elected in 2016 not being in the parliament any more.  Senators who did not survive 2017 included Dastayari, Lambie, Parry, Roberts, Nash, Waters, Xenophon, Culleton, Kakoschke-Moore and Scott Ludlam (of the viral parliamentary speech inviting Tony Abbott to Western Australia (watch here)) who kicked things off with an elegant, unreservedly apologetic, and funny retirement speech. ‘I’ve got no wish to draw out legal uncertainty, or create any kind of lengthy dispute, particularly when that section of the Constitution is so clear,’ he said. The Prime Minister was not thinking very hard when he responded, hilariously in retrospect:

‘It is pretty amazing, isn’t it, that you’ve had two out of nine Greens senators who didn’t realise that they were citizens of another country. And it shows incredible sloppiness on their part. You know, when you nominate for parliament, there is actually a question. You’ve got to address that Section 44 question, you’ve got to tick the box and confirm that you’re not a citizen of another country. So, it is … it’s extraordinary negligence on their part.’

It must be said that things went downhill from there as the crisis unfolded, prompted by agitation of WA barrister John Cameron. The loss of Indian born Malcolm Roberts, climate conspiracy theorist and One Nation senator, was a great bonus (Brian Cox quipped on Q&A that had he known Roberts was a fellow pom, he might have been nicer to him on his last appearance on the show) but it is sad that Jackie Lambie had to go just when, she said, she was getting the hang of Canberra and some of her views were moderating.

One of the best shows of 2017 was the livestream (now taken down) of Stephen Donaghue QC being dealt with as a proxy for his clients, federal ministers Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge and Michael Sukkar, by Justices of Appeal Weinberg and Kaye and Chief Justice Warren.  Mr Donaguhe, who was at University with Minister Hunt had a tough brief that day.  The Chief Justice retired in 2017 and when I read the Ministers’ co-ordinated series of comments to The Australian it occurred to me that I had never previously heard a bad word spoken about her.  Anne Ferguson replaced her.

Curiously, everyone seemed without thought to understand that to be a hard left activist is a terrible slur, seemingly because of the hard-left bit.  But the point about it all is the Kafkaesequity of the allegations.  Warren CJ represented mainstream, conventional adherence to deeply conservative values: freedom, dignity, fairness of process, the three arms of government each doing their things, the rule of law, the common law developing incrementally based on real cases, evidence-based sentencing.  To anyone who knows anything about her, the proposition that she was a hard-left activist is quite simply ‘weird shit’ as George W Bush might have put it.  These conservative values were becoming left-wing values, partly because the government’s messianic zeal illegally to keep away Muslims on boats make them inconvenient.  Justice Weinberg’s cross-examination of the Ministers through the Solicitor-General showed how ignorant the comments were and the government again looked like geese.

Justice moved quickly and the Ministers backed down mid-hearing as they watched the livestream as the Justices of Appeal put on a fine show (‘my instructions have evolved somewhat,’ the Solicitor-General said).  The whole affair was redolent of the disgraceful and much more chronic disparagement of Gillian Triggs, one of Australia’s great international lawyers, a wearer of pearls, recently the Dean of Law at Sydney University, for Christsakes.  Crikey wrote insightfully about The Australian‘s role in mounting character assassinations of persons of interest to the government in ‘Holy Wars’.

One of its subjects was Yasmin Abdel-Magied who was subjected to an extraordinary outpouring of outrage by people outraged by the oppression of Muslim women, after the structural engineer and petrolhead tweeted, in a not very oppressed kinda way on ANZAC Day: ‘Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine).’ Quite what she meant never really emerged, since she deleted the tweet and apologised promptly (probably an error in retrospect since it got her nowhere and was read as an admission of guilt), but if she meant that the diggers who perished at Gallipoli fought against Germany and its allies for values which did not include those manifested in dumping refugees fleeing wars on little islands in the middle of nowhere and pretending that they were under the care of other governments, in contravention of international law, then the comment might be thought reasonably anodyne. But the excoriation was carried out under the smokescreen of the timing of the thing. This is how the New York Times reported the brouhaha.

Elections France chose 39 year old Emmanuel Macron, who studied philosophy and worked as a merchant banker, as its President, spurning Marine Le Pen, daughter of one of the original far-right anti-immigration politicians, Jean-Marie Le Pen, whom she expelled from the party he founded for making comments which were too controversial for her alt-right-lite version of politics.

There were state elections in Queensland and Western Australia, both awful news for the Liberal, National Parties. The liberal government in Western Australia suffered one of the worst defeats of a state government since federation, with a record 12.8% swing against it. Labor won an astonishing 55.5% of the two party preferred vote. The Greens picked up two seats to have 4 of the 36 seats in the Legislative Council, and One Nation picked up 3, but failed to win a lower house seat after the Liberals’ preference deal with the party pleased no one.

In Queensland, Labor had just 42 seats while the Coalition and Katter’s Australian Party had 44 but Annastacia Palaszczuk still managed to govern with the allegiance of 3 independents. It surprised me to read that Queensland is a thoroughly Labor State these days, having won 9 out of the last 10 elections. The 2012 landslide won by Campbell Newmann was an anomaly. Heck, one lower house electorate in Brisbane’s inner West even voted a Greens candidate into office for the first time, and one in ten electors voted Greens.

Victoria elected its first Aboriginal woman to state parliament in the State seat of Northcote. The people of Northcote did very well since they got the representative they wanted as well as the fruits of some pork barrelling by Labor. That the young vegan renter preselected by the Labor Party was the not always universally adored Federal member David Feeney’s god-daughter may not have assisted her. Labor ran a smear campaign against Lidia Thorpe, while the Greens whispered that Clare Burns’s veganism may not have been super-rigorous. Thorpe’s husband’s history of domestic violence and sexually transmitted debt resulting in her bankruptcy did not deter the voters and almost one in every two of them (45.2%) voted for her, an 11% swing.

This left Labor nervous because they wasted half a million dollars on the campaign and had already been dragged into more progressive territory by adopting Greens policies in an effort to placate the inner city seats before 2018’s state election. Dan Andrews’s government played catch up with the rest of Australia, announcing a plastic bag ban (after Coles and Woolies had already announced their own intentions in that regard), as did WA and Queensland.  The Age reported that ‘The commitment to eradicate plastic bags comes after the Greens attempted to force the state government’s hand by introducing a bill into the upper house banning plastic bags at retail level, including heavy plastic bags.’

Labor also passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, a Greens project. Adults, whether or not they have a disability or a mental illness, will be able to self-administer a doctor-prescribed lethal poison if they are in what is expected to be their last six months of an incurable illness and experiencing intolerable suffering. Doctors may assist in administering the poison if the patient is incapable of doing so but may conscientiously object. The ABC reported that only 150 people a year are likely to take up the option.

Women Lots of men got excoriated for alleged past sexual misdeeds, and powerful networks of media and lawyers to keep victims quiet were revealed.  Most memorably, Harvey Weinstein, Don Burke, and the French conductor associated with the Sydney Symphony, Charles Dutoit were fingered.  Presumably fewer breasts were fondled at 2017’s Christmas parties, but the Lord Mayor was allegedly at it, the breast in question belonging to Melbourne lawyer and Councillor Tessa Sullivan.  Nothing at all much happened to Donald Trump, despite 19 public allegations of rape and sexual assault, though Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against him might provide a forum for the truth to be tested if it is allowed to proceed. Most remarkably, perhaps, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche, had allegations made against him.  Indeed, it was said by persons who had been close to him that his public persona was greatly at odds with his abusive and narcissistic personality and that he lived a lavish lifestyle funded by donations by his acolytes.

The AFL women’s competition kicked off successfully.  Chelsea Manning was  released.  The rape allegations against Julian Assange were dropped by the Swedes.

Wealth Dimitry Rybolovlev made a handsome profit on the sale for $587 million for a damaged painting of Jesus by Leonardo da Vinci, Salvatore Mundi‘. Fewer than 20 of Da Vinci’s paintings survive and this was the last in private hands.  It sold at auction in 1958 for a smidge over US$58.  It was purchased by Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud and it’s destined for the Louvre Abu Dhabi which opened in 2017.

Famine Governments and other state actors deliberately starved people to death in 2017, in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen.  Famine threatened 20 million people, the greatest crisis ever faced by the UN.  The first famine officially declared worldwide since 2011 occurred in South Sudan.  The macabre requirements are 30% of the population suffering extreme malnutrition with one in 5,000 dying of starvation per day.

It hasn’t rained in some parts of South Sudan (or of Somalia) for two years, but the famine was largely man-made.  It was abated when aid was finally allowed in.  That sounds like great news, but when the famine was called off, there were six million people facing ‘acute hunger’ in South Sudan, one million more than when the famine was ‘on’. There are 3.3 million South Sudanese refugees from the fighting: about half inside the country and half in neighbouring countries (one camp in Uganda holds 800,000 alone).  About 10,000 unaccompanied children sought refuge in Kenya alone, their parents having been slaughtered or otherwise lost to their children.  A PBS journalist was told by a man that soldiers had killed his 5 year old daughter in front of him and then made him eat a bit of her.

Terror One of the worst terrorist attacks in recorded history went down in Mogadishu.  Somalia was already suffering its worst drought in 40 years, and the results can be read about here.  Again, the news said that once Al Shabab allowed aid in, famine was averted, but that leaves as the rosy substitute for that calamity 3 million people in acute need of humanitarian assistance, with acute malnutrition threatening the lives of more than a million kids.

An unknown number of people — at least 512 — died in Mogadishu on 14 October 2017.  Suspected Al Shabab terrorists drove two trucks towards the Airport compound where most embassies are located, along with the African Union’s peace keeping operation and the UN.  The smaller truck was to be exploded to bust down the compound’s gate and the larger was to cause maximum damage inside.  Neither could not make it through the surrounding security and the bigger truck was parked on one of the city’s busiest roads and its 350 kg of explosives detonated, accidentally causing a fire ball and conflagration when a petrol tanker exploded, burning people alive.  More than 300 were injured, and I expect the deaths and the suffering of the injured were not pleasant, given the state of the city’s medical systems to deal with such carnage.   The driver of the bigger truck was from a village in which three little kids had been killed in a botched raid by US special forces and a desire to exact revenge against the Somali government for tolerating the US actions may have been harnessed cleverly by Al Shabab. The reasons why Al Shabab has exploded hundreds of improvised bombs with such impunity in the last few years are eloquently enumerated in this article in the New York Times.

Attacks against the west by Muslims continued.  A man attacked soldiers with a machete near the Louvre, a man stabbed 5 people to death outside the houses of parliament in London and injured another 40, then a suicide bomber killed and injured dozens of passengers in the St Petersburg metro.  Dozens of people were injured by a truck driving into a pedestrian precinct in Stockholm, a man slaughtered people with an automatic weapon in the Champs Elysee, scores died in a suicide bombing outside a concert in Manchester, dozens were killed and injured when a van ran over pedestrians on London Bridge and people were stabbed at Borough Market, then Barcelona got the van and pedestrian treatment, killing 14, there was another bombing on the London tube injuring 22 and causing mass panic, New York got the van and pedestrians treatment too (20 casualties)

The bizarre terror presided over by a Nobel peace prize laureate continued and worsened in 2017. Aung San Suu Kyi mocked a Rohingya woman’s testimony of sexual abuse by soldiers as ‘fake rape’ though she has never been to the hotspot of Northern Rakhine Province nor to a refugee camp in Bangladesh. I say again, a Hollywood script writer could not have made up this extraordinary connection between Donald Trump and the laureate.

Before August there were already more than 300,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Burma in Bangladesh, non-citizens who were not counted in the census. Bangladesh is a lot smaller than Victoria but is home to 165 million people. It is the sixth biggest country by population.  But more than 655,000 more fled Burma in the last four months of the year, generally arriving without any possessions, their villages having been burnt down by Buddhists. Six to nine thousand people were probably killed during this period of what is certainly an ethnic cleansing and may be a genocide. The Pope went to Burma and Bangladesh and said ‘In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who’ve done you wrong, above all, the world’s indifference, I ask you for forgiveness,’ while China said ‘We think the international community should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development.’

The most widely reported atrocity involved a baby being lobbed by Buddhists onto a fire, in Tula Toli. The New York Times’s version is:

‘Myanmar soldiers held Hasina and other village women at gunpoint, she said, while the troops executed the men and boys, doused the bodies with gasoline and turned the corpses into a bonfire. Then the troops led the women and girls, five at a time, toward a hut.

“I was trying to hide my baby under my scarf, but they saw her leg,” Hasina recalled, her voice brittle, her mouth trembling. “They grabbed my baby by the leg and threw her onto the fire.”

Hasina said she collapsed on the ground, screaming. The impatient soldiers then began to club her — she showed me scars from the beating — and dragged her into a hut with her sister-in-law, Asma Begum. The soldiers stripped the women naked and raped them, she said, and finally closed the door and set the hut on fire.

As bits of the burning roof fell down on them, Hasina said, she and Asma broke a hole in the side of the hut and ran away naked. They rolled in mud to soothe their burns, and the next day they found a Rohingya house and begged for the man inside to throw out clothes so that they could cover themselves.

A three-day hike took Hasina and Asma to Bangladesh.’ All of Australia’s terrorist attacks were in Melbourne.  Only the two big ones  weren’t committed by terrorists and the third, in which a man took a Columbian escort hostage in Brighton and murdered a receptionist seemed more the work of an ice addict nutjob than a terrorist.’

On 20 January, Jimmy Gargasoulas of Greek-Tongan allegedly drove his neighbour’s maroon Commodore through the Bourke St Mall killing six and injuring at least 30, having earlier allegedly stabbed his brother and taken his pregnant girlfriend hostage.  He was on bail at the time.  Jimmy was known to police for drugs, domestic violence, and mental ill health which his social media contributions in the days prior also pointed to.   Though it seems very unlikely that Gargasoulas was Muslim, and police were keen to emphasise that religion had nothing to do with motivation, he did say, puzzlingly, in court that ‘the Muslim faith is the correct faith according to the whole world’, as well as that everything was controlled by the illuminati before the Magistrate turned off his microphone.

Then on 21 December 2017, an Australian citizen who came to Australia from Afghanistan as a refugee, mowed down a crowd at the intersection of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets, injuring 19: three South Koreans, a Chinese, an Italian, an Indian, a Venezuelan, an Irishman, and a New Zealander and ten Australians.  Saeed Noori was a mental health patient with drug issues.  He too rambled on about the treatment of Muslims, but no one has suggested to date that he is actually a terrorist.

The Premier, Daniel Andrews, described both attacks by mentally ill young men as ‘evil’ and ‘cowardly’, both of which struck me as hopelessly cliched and, in the case of ‘evil’ as (a) doubtful and (b) highly prejudicial to any (entirely predictable) defence of insanity or plea emphasising diminished responsibility. When challenged in relation to his use of ‘evil’ by a journalist in the wake of the December attack, the Premier foundered in such a way as to suggest he had not really turned the issue over in his mind.  My thoughts on ‘cowardly’ are here.

Straya The census data came in.  The resident population of Australia reached almost 25 million, increasing at the rate of one per 90 seconds, with a net gain of migrants over emigrants of one per 200 seconds, six of whom arrived by boat despite what the Minister for Making Refugees Disappear would tell you.

Seven in 10 resided in capital cities.  Melbourne’s population (4.4 million) is likely to exceed Sydney’s (4.8 million) soon.  There are more than 650,000 Aboriginal people, mostly in NSW and Queensland, but fully one in four Territorians are Aboriginal.  Australians have over 300 other ancestries and hail from nearly 200 countries by birth.  One in two Australians were born overseas or had one parent who was born overseas, making us more diverse than the US, UK, New Zealand, and Canada, a theme the Prime Minister banged on about at length in his appearance on Q&A.

Four in ten young people report having no religious affiliation.  Twenty times the number of people who think of themselves as Christian (about 50%) think of themselves as Moslems (about 2.5%).  The median weekly income was $660 (a little under $35,000 per annum).  One third of houses were owned outright by their occupants, mortgaged by their occupants, and rented by their occupants.  There were almost 50,000 same-sex couples, an 81% increase on 2006.

Deaths, Nuptials Not so many premature A-list deaths as 2016 though had the Daily Telegraph‘s headline mix-up upon his retirement from public duties been accurate, Prince Phillip’s death at 96 would have been big news.  (It was a royal kinda year: many enjoyed late 2016’s series one of the most expensive tv show ever made, ‘The Crown’.  The screens also featured ‘Victoria’ and ‘Churchill‘, and the very good ‘The Halcyon‘.  ‘The Crown’ dramatised the abdication prompting scandal of King Edward VIII’s  proposed marriage to Wallace Simpson, a married American divorcee propelling his brother (the Queen’s dad) to the the throne as George VI.  Eighty-one years on, Prince Harry was engaged to a black American divorcee actress, Meghan Markle.  And in this year when Australia caught up with much of the rest of the developed world by allowing two people of the same sex to marry, no one raised an eyebrow.  Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz who is now known as Princess Michael of Kent wore a ‘blackamoor’ brooch to meet the bride to be.

The rest of the world which we caught up with (in order) was: The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, America, Luxembourg, Colombia, Greenland, Finland, Slovenia, Malta and Germany.   (Marriage but by a different name was also permitted in Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary and Italy.))

Two women behind landmark SCOTUS decisions died. Edith Windsor, the LGBT activist whose case led to federal recognition in America of same-sex marriage, died in September at the age of 88. Norma McCorvey, who was the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, died aged 69.

A man with three zeds in his name, Zbigniew Brzezinski, died.  He was President Carter’s national security adviser (can’t imagine a guy with a name like that in Trump’s camp).  Wang Panyuan, the Taiwanese artist, died aged 109.  Christine Keeler of the Profumo Affair.  Antonio Carluccio of ‘Two Greedy Italians’ who introduced me to the splendid idea that to get the freshest fruit, you must eat it while it is still attached to the tree.  Hugh Hefner died and there was confusion about what to make of him, a confusion which The Guardian did not share.  Jerry Lewis.  Roger Moore and John Hurt.  The creator of Miffy, Dick Bruna.  Floh Bjelke-Peterson.  Sir Ninian Stephen.  Ken Inglis, one of Australia’s great historians, long associated with the excellent History Department at the Australian Catholic University, died in Melbourne.  He wrote one of the great books about a trial, The Stuart Case, about a miscarriage of justice by way of the conviction of an Aboriginal man, Max Stuart, on a confession in strikingly good English, for the rape and murder of a 9 year old white girl.  Mind you, the Privy Council upheld the conviction and a Royal Commission did not change things.

Crocs, spiders, snakes, sharks Crocodile stories began to appear in outlets other than the NT News.  For example, a crocodile was found wandering up a driveway in Heidelberg Heights.  And someone shot this mother near Rockhampton. A woman noticed a large python on her windscreen as she drove through Melbourne’s CBD after shopping in Albert Park for 20 minutes. She pulled over and asked some workmen to deal with it. A Bannockburn family got a nasty shock when a 1.5 metre specimen of one of the world’s deadliest snakes slithered through their cat flap. Five new species of peacock spider (see pic) were found in Western Australia. Only one person was eaten by a shark (in WA) but 11 others were injured by shark attacks.

Law and order We kept on eroding basic rights and freedoms, the government never having responded to Institute of Public Affairs and Australian Law Reform Commission Reports a couple of years back documenting this death by 1,000 cuts.

Presumably we maintained our policy of illegally and secretly arresting refugees in international waters, illegally locking them up in secret floating jails while their asylum claims are secretly summarily assessed without access to lawyers, and then secretly popping them into grotesque orange life boats, sometimes inadvertently nudging just 9 km or so into Indonesian waters for the purposes of pointing the refugees back into the clutches of the people smugglers in Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

The Minister for Making Refugees Disappear was vexed by pro bono lawyers whom he disgracefully dubbed ‘un-Australian’, earning a rather polite rebuke from the Vic Bar President, and a slightly more passionate rejoinder from the Law Council of Australia.  The idiot called Slater + Gordon ‘ambulance chasers’ for having very admirably sought compensation successfully.  1,905 prisoners and former prisoners on Manus Island sued the Minister for negligently allowing the riots which saw Australians and New Guineans kill Reza Barati, and for illegally imprisoning them.

Their claim was entirely without merit, according to the Minister, and the $70 million plus costs ($20 million?) the Commonwealth paid out was just nuisance money, 7% of the >$1 billion we spent in 2017 on intentionally causing harm to refugees to convince other refugees not to come.  The settlement had nothing to do, of course, with Slater + Gordon’s brilliant application, which Justice Michael McDonald granted (Kamasaee v Cth (no. 9) [2017] VSC 171), to have the six month trial of the class action live streamed internationally so that the hundreds of class members in Iran, Albania, Vietnam, etc and various Australian jails could see their case unfold.  And it had nothing to do with the fact that doctors and security guards were going to testify for the class members notwithstanding bogus laws prohibiting them from doing so which the Minister was forced quietly to repeal rather than actually prosecute which was of course never the intention.

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