The Week in Brief: 28 January to 3 February 2018

4 February 2018

The Week in Brief: 28 January to 3 February 2018

Story of the week

The Cabinet Files: Nightmare on Parliament Drive

Classified government documents have been uncovered by the ABC after being located in a second hand ex-government filing cabinet in a Canberra shop.

Now dubbed the “Cabinet Files”, the documents consist of thousands of pages of “top secret” or “AUSTEO” (AUSTralian Eyes Only) material.

The revelations in the Cabinet files include the following:

  • 400 national security files, from the National Security Committee of the cabinet, have been lost by the Australian Federal Police over five years.
  • Former Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Penny Wong, left nearly 200 top-secret, code word protected documents in her office safe after Labor lost the 2013 election, including profiles of terror suspects, details of missile upgrades, deficiencies in Defence security vetting and national security intelligence priorities.
  • Phillip Ruddock, Attorney General under the Howard Govenrment, proposed introducing legislation to remove a terror suspect’s right to remain silent following Dr Mohammed Haneef’s arrest; the proposal was shut down by the National Security Committee of the Cabinet.
  • Then-Immigration Minister Scott Morrison gave the go ahead for a request that ASIO should delay security checks when processing some 700 asylum seekers, slowing their processing rate down by 30 a week, in order to miss a deadline to grant them permanent protection in Australia. It is unclear whether the request was followed.
  • The Abbott Government considered a proposal during the 2014 budget to restrict anyone under 30 from accessing income support, potentially saving $9 billion over four years. It was canned by Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews due to the anticipated backlash.
  • Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was advised that there were “critical risks” associated with his ill-fated Energy Efficient Homes Package roll out of insulation, which resulted in four contractor’s deaths before it was abandoned. It is not clear if this referred to safety risks.

After first moving to provide a safe to secure the documents in the ABC’s Melbourne offices, ASIO has officially taken custody of the Cabinet documents after reaching an agreement with the ABC.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has admitted that it lost the files, most likely “some time ago”, and that they would co-operate with the ensuing AFP investigation.

In the meantime, the Government is reassuring intelligence partners that the leak was a one-off, and that other confidential information is suitably protected, with the Cabinet Files leak being the subject of “chatter” across Five Eyes partners — Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.


Australia to become one of top 10 arms exporters in the world

Australia will become one of the world’s top 10 arms exporters within the next decade under a new plan unveiled by the Turnbull government on Monday.

The Coalition says the plan will be a boon for job-creation in local manufacturers and has identified a number of “priority markets”, including the Middle-East, the Indo-Pacific region, Europe, the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

A new Defence Export Office will work in close collaboration with Austrade and the Centre for Defence Industry Capability to drive up arms exports.

A $3.8bn loans program called the Defence Export Facility will fund local companies to help them sell their defence equipment overseas.

While announcing the plans, Mr Turnbull said, as cited by The Guardian: “It is an ambitious, positive plan to boost Australian industry, increase investment, and create more jobs for Australian businesses. A strong, exporting defence industry in Australia will provide greater certainty of investment, support high-end manufacturing jobs and support the capability of the Australian defence force.”

The opposition has indicated it will support the plan.

“I’m very supportive of any proposal that creates jobs, that’s the starting point,” said senior Labor MP Anthony Albanese on ABC Radio.

However, the Greens and various charities have criticised the Government, with Greens leader Richard Di Natale accusing Prime Minister Turnbull of wanting Australia to become a “massive exporter of death”.

Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds said that while there is a need to tackle terrorism, “as an organisation working on the front-lines in conflict zones, we also know that an increase in the supply of arms and munitions is not the answer.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said exports would be based on “strategic concerns” and that the country is bound by international treaties and all deals would be negotiated on a “case by case” basis.

Cause of seaplane crash still a mystery

Preliminary investigations into a seaplane crash in the Hawkesbury River on New Years’ Eve have found that there was no damage to the plane prior to the incident.

All six people on board died in the crash.

Investigators are unsure as to why the plane would be in the area that it was, and there is no evidence of flight control issues.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau are calling for further witnesses to come forward, so they can try to ascertain the reason for the incident. There was no recording equipment on the plane that the Bureau can use to aid in the investigation.

Lucy Gichuhi  joins the Liberals

Crossbench Senator Lucy Gichuhi has joined the Liberal Party in a move that will restore the Federal Government’s voting bloc to 30.

Senator Gichuhi has often voted with the Coalition in the Senate.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed the Senator in a video on social media.

In a statement, the Prime Minister praised Ms Gichuhi, saying:

“Her story is a remarkable tale of perseverance, selfless sacrifice for family and achievement over adversity. She chose to come to Australia because she knew it was the best country in the world to realise her dream, and now she is in the Australian Senate working to ensure that Australia remains a land of opportunity. She is a true Australian success story and we are honoured that she has chosen to join the Liberal Party.”

Senator Gichuhi said she didn’t realise how much of a liberal she was until after her maiden speech.

Speaking with the Prime Minister she said: “I didn’t discover that until I did my maiden speech and I thought, wow, I can’t believe how liberal I am at the core. And I think that really enables me to serve South Australians.”


Cape Town braces for water shut-off

Residents in South Africa’s capital Cape Town will have their water shut off on April 12, as the city continues to struggle with the worst drought in a century.

On ‘Day Zero’, as it is called, ordinary water supply will be cut off and from then on, the city’s four million residents will need to collect a daily water ration of 25 litres from one of the 200 water collection points.

A current water usage limit is in place, however less than half of Capetonians adhere to it which in turn moves the date closer.

Mayor Patricia de Lille said last week: “It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards ‘Day Zero’.”

In an effort to protect the economy, water will not be shut-off to the CBD.

We’re only two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced on Wednesday it has moved the Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes to midnight, suggesting the world may experience a man-made gobal catastrophe sooner than later.

After world leaders failed to respond adequately to threats posed by nuclear war and climate change, scientists have decided to move the clock’s hand forward by 30 seconds.

The Bulletin’s president and CEO, Rachel Bronson said: “In 2017, we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and relearned that minimising evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies.”

The recommendations in the 2018 Doomsday Clock statement include:

  • US President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognising the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions.
  • The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests.
  • The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying.
  • The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO.
  • The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalise the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself.

The last time the clock’s hand was this close to midnight was in 1953, the height of the Cold War.

VW, BMW and Daimler condemn diesel fume tests on monkeys

German car manufacturers Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler have denounced tests they funded which involved 10 monkeys being contained in airtight chambers and exposed to VW Beetle diesel fumes, while watching cartoons on a screen.

The tests aimed to defend the use of diesel against a 2012 World Health Organisation decision to classify the fuel’s exhaust as a carcinogen, however the Beetle used in the test was equipped with illegal cheating software.

According to the initial report by the New York Times, the three car-makers provided the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) with funding, who then commissioned the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, a US organisation, to design the experiment.

In a statement, Volkswagen said: “Volkswagen Group explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal cruelty. Animal testing contradicts our own ethical standards. We ask forgiveness for this bad behavior and for the poor judgment of some individuals. We are convinced that the scientific methods chosen at the time were wrong. It would have been better to forgo such a test from the very beginning.”

BWM denied all involvement in the experiment, saying, “The BMW Group in no way influenced the design or methodology of studies carried out on behalf of the EUGT.”

Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, distanced itself from the experiment and said it is conducting an investigation into how the tests were commissioned.

“Daimler does not tolerate or support unethical treatment of animals,” the auto-maker said.

Rare lunar event seen around the world

On Wednesday evening, there was a very rare event indeed; a supermoon (when the full moon is closest to earth in its orbit) coinciding with a total lunar eclipse (also known as a blood moon, because of the red appearance of the moon during the eclipse).

In some parts of the world, it was also a blue moon, which is the second full moon in a calendar month.

In Australia, this combination had not been seen in 30 years, but in other parts of the world, it was closer to 150 years since this lunar phenomenon had been seen last.

Refugee ban lifted by US, still hard to get in

The United States has announced that the ban has been lifted on refugees arriving from 11 “high-risk” countries.

However, refugees arriving from those countries will still face great difficulty in trying to enter the US.

They will be required to pass more stringent “risk-based” assessments in order to gain entry with many needing to give access to their phones or social media accounts.

This all comes following major cuts to the number of refugees that have been allowed to enter the country each year.

Mark Salling’s death a suicide

Former Glee actor Mark Salling had only recently plead guilty to possession of child pornography when he was found dead.

He was yet to face his sentencing in US Federal Court, where he would have been given four to seven years in prison, with 20 years of supervised release.

His body was found on Wednesday and it is being investigated as a suicide.