Speaking of the Catholics as I was at the end of the last post, there were some fairly spectacular sick notes. Cardinal Pell was too sick to attend the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in person. Alan Myers QC could not persuade the Commission to hear his evidence by video link. ‘No problem’, the Commissioner said, ‘Come back in February.’
And lead counsel for the appellants in the High Court appeal which might wind back advocates’ immunity called in sick the afternoon before the hearing, leading to its last minute adjournment. It is now fixed for 8 March 2016.
The sexual abuse royal commission quietly did great work.
Dyson Heydon released his findings in relation to Union Corruption, and demonstrated in his reasons for not recusing himself for ostensible bias that an ability to use email is not a necessary attribute to rise to the ranks of High Court judge. Bill Shorten escaped relatively unscathed. Kathy Jackson and once-influential industrial tribunal member Michael Lawler shared their thoughts in an extraordinary 4 Corners, the appropriateness airing which, given the protagonists’ apparent state of health, I was dubious about.
Violence against women in Australia got some serious attention. Sarah Ferguson’s ‘Hitting Home’, a two part ABC documentary, was like nothing I had ever seen before. The same is true of some of the excellent policing it records. Rosie Batty was Australian of the Year, and the Herald Sun were right behind her. The government appointed a woman Minister for Women. There was a report into endemic sexual harassment in the Victorian police force.
Boko Haram continued to kill Nigerians, but expanded their operations into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The loss of one in three houses in Wye River in a Christmas Day blaze was tragic, but at least 14 townsfolk were not murdered by terrorists on bicycles (WTF?), and at least the whole town was not burnt to the ground deliberately. Kimba, in Borno state, Nigeria suffered that fate on that same day at Boko Haram’s hands, adding to the 17,000 odd victims of the thugs to date, making them far and away the deadliest terrorists in the world. For completeness in the wrap of Christmas Day cheer, note that a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque in Bangladesh and injured up to twelve worshippers the same day.
Terrorism again struck Sydney when a 15 year old, Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar, shot dead a police employee, Curtis Cheng at NSW police headquarters in Parramatta. Official comment was restrained for a change, on the advice of the Chief of the Spies, which was listened to for a change.
French people were attacked by terrorists twice. The first, on 7 January, was an Al Qaeda attack on freedom of speech and I noticed in myself a silly tendency to find it more shocking than the second for that reason, even though the innocent and random victims of the second were logically even more blameless victims than the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo who had certainly at least entered the arena of controversy by lampooning Muhammad in caricatures.
Two orphaned brothers, the Kouachis, one a Parisian fishmonger for whom it was a point of honour not to kill women (as he explained in his post-massacre interview with a tv channel, and as he explained to Charlie Hebdo’s legal affairs reporter Sigolene Vinson while pointing a gun at her) murdered 11 people in Charlie Hebdo‘s offices and a policeman outside. Their parents had been Algerian immigrants.
100,000 French came out into the streets on the night of the attacks, while the Kouachis were still being manhunted, 35,000 of them in Paris, and everyone ‘was Charlie’. Circulation for the next issue after the massacre was up by 7,890,000 copies on the usual print run despite the murder of 5 of the magazine’s cartoonists including its editor, and other staff. The French Foreign Minister said that the attackers’ religion was ‘not Islam, … but barbarity’, a controversial proposition. The Australian government was more poetic, declaring that the ‘death cult has declared war on the world’. Four days after the attack, two million people took to the streets. Amongst them were 40 world leaders, including those from countries absolutely committed to the combatting of freedom of speech, such as Egypt, Russia, and the UAE. You will recall that in an earlier post, I noted that certain elements of Russian society did not seem to share Mr Putin’s enthusiasm for freedom of speech when they called months later for Charlie Hebdo to be banned as extremist literature when Russians were the brunt of its satire.
Friday 13 November saw the murder of 130 people in Paris, with about 350 others injured. Three teams of three mainly French Muslims, some of whom had fought in the Middle East, and who were apparently organised by ISIL, perpetrated multiple outrages, shooting innocent restaurant goers, and assassinating young people amongst the 1,500 strong audience in the Bataclan Theatre listening to American band ‘Eagles of Death Metal’. The gunmen took scores of hostages and threatened to decapitate one every five minutes, throwing the corpses out of the window. The police stormed the theatre. The last team blew themselves up outside a soccer ground where the French President was watching France play Germany. The first of the terrorists’ apparent plan was to blow himself up inside, the better for his colleagues to blow themselves up in the panicked exodus from the ground outside. It was foiled by one of those annoying security checks.
The previous day Syrians allegedly acting on behalf of ISIL had blown up a bike loaded with explosives in a crowded part of Beirut in an atrocity which attracted little publicity outside Lebanon. A suicide bomber then blew himself up in the crowd which gathered. Around forty people died and hundreds were injured. More might have died had a brave resident not tackled one of the bombers, blowing himself and the bomber up in the process, away from the crowd. An eye witness, physician and blogger, Elie Fares, said hundreds of families remained complete as a result of Adel Termos’s bravery. Termos left behind a wife and two young children. The Lebanese authorities who arrested suspects soon afterwards suggested that the original plan had been to blow up a hospital (sound familiar?) with five simultaneous suicide bombings, but had been thwarted by heavy security.
The Beirut and Paris bombings, along with the shooting down of the passenger plane over the Sinai saw ISIL claim 1,000 casualties in co-ordinated terrorist attacks outside the war zones of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in a fortnight, quite an entrée into the field of international terrorism.
Misery & Disaster
I don’t know if it was just me, but 2015 was the year in which I first heard it suggested (on Radio National and in Vlad Sokhin’s photo essay) that the Bhutanese were not as happy as the Ministry for Gross National Happiness liked to make out. I’ve known for a while that the Maldives are not that great unless you’re a well-heeled international tourist, but the people of Male are so cranky that huge numbers, proportionately, are going off to jihad in Syria.
And that other ‘happiest nation’, Vanuatu, suffered an appalling cyclone, one of the most severe ever in the Southern hemisphere. The wind got up to 320 kph. Ninety percent of the nation’s buildings were thought to have been compromised. 11 or 44 people, or somewhere in between, died. Tanna, where my friends the Naieu family live (and I urge you to stay at their lovely resort which is back to normal in every way), was particularly hard hit. But Australians Martin Butler and Bentley Dean shot a spectacular, unique, gorgeous film called Tanna on Tanna in the Nauvhal language of the Yakel people. It deserved the awards it won at the Venice Film Festival, and it was undoubtedly film of the year for me.
Nepal did it tough too with a terrible earthquake killing 9,000 (19 in an avalanche on Everest), injuring 23,000 and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Kathmandu was almost instantly moved 3 m to the South. It’s so cold in the mountains, as I well remember. There are no roads up there. The people are grindingly poor. I mean really, really poor, and are routinely trafficked to work as sex slaves in India and construction slaves in appalling places like Qatar. And the government in Nepal is just crap. Unbelievably, there has been almost no reconstruction of ordinary people’s homes. The government did not even succeed in creating the Nepal Reconstruction Authority until very recently, and so have probably not spent any of the £2.7bn pledged by international donors. The lovely people of Nepal deserve a better government than they have had since the end of the paradoxical civil war between the Chinese-backed King and the Maoist rebels fighting for democracy.
Speaking of Qatar, that was a Sepp Blatter era (as we can since 2015 say) pick to host the World Cup: nothing like a place where it will be 50 degrees Celsius, where gay fans will have to avoid having sex while in the country, and where some sort of foreign policy trick will have to be found to accommodate the footballers who profess to come from the officially non-existent polity of Israel, for a slave-labour-built world game shindig. Last year was a big one for long-time FIFA head honcho, Mr Blatter. He was banned from any involvement in the game for 8 years after a slew of corruption investigations were found proven by an Ethics Committee of his own organisation. The ending of this kind of corruption in a sphere so central to so many people is terribly important in advancing the rule of law.
David Cameron’s Tories swept back to power in the UK for a further fixed 5 year term, gaining 24 new seats in the 306 seat House of Commons, defeating Ed Milliband’s Labor party, who lost 26 seats. The Liberal Democrats, whose leader Nick Clegg had been Deputy PM, lost 49 of their 57 seats, while the Scottish National Party led by Nicola Sturgeon added 50 seats to their previous tally of 6. All this in an election which pollsters were opining as too close to call. Then the British Labor Party elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn leader.
Things did not go so well for the conservatives in Canada or Sri Lanka, though. Pierre Trudeau’s little boy swept to power in Canada, unseating Mr Abbott’s great friend and fellow climate change sceptic Stephen Harper. Justin Trudeau won 148 new seats in the election. The media frenzy over the drowning of Alan Kurdi featured prominently in the campaign, since the little boy’s family had hoped to come to Canada where some of their relatives had been given refuge.
Mahinda Rajapaksa who was President of Sri Lanka when so many Tamils were slaughtered after the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s civil war (see last year’s post), was bundled out of office. The new guy told us that Mr Abbott and Mr Rajapaksa had done a putrid little deal whereby we would stay quiet about the state sponsored genocide against the Tamils in return for Mr Rajapaksa getting tough on refugees who irritatingly wished to head for Australia. He also told us that Mr Rajapaksa’s people were in on the people smuggling in the first place which added a degree of paradox to the whole equation and was not prominently featured in government missives on the topic.
The grotty little ‘see no evil’ deal by the Australian government with that other bastion of human rights observance and good governance, the Khmer Rouge’s kleptocratic dictator Hun Sen, fell apart in 2015. We gave the strong man $40 million in ‘aid’ and they were to take as many refugee boat arrivals as they pleased. They took four.
Julie Bishop even went to Iran to cosy up with the Supreme Leader’s men and talk about how great human rights are, and attracted flak for wearing a hat and a headscarf. I wonder whether she admonished the Persians for having the world’s highest per capita rate of executions in the first 8 months of 2015, pretty much executing more people than at any time in 25 years. An average of several a day, some convicted of the vague sounding ‘enmity against God’. They executed men, women, and little kiddies. Some in public. And they do it in a nasty way: instead of a trapdoor which causes the noosed up-convict (or tortured confession-giver) to drop suddenly, they draw the noose up the neck of the victim with a crane, and hoist him or her from there, giving rise to a slow, torturing, strangulation. One bloke took 14 minutes to die. If only the rabble had known that Ms Bishop was just doing what was necessary on Team Australia’s behalf to get pesky economic migrants back to Iran, I daresay the fuss would have been less. I totally trust the Iranians to fulfil their assurances to Ms Bishop that they would be nice to the emigrants upon their deportation.