The week in brief: 11-17 February 2018

18 February 2018

The week in brief: 11-17 February 2018

Story of the week

Joyce Saga: tensions rise in the Coalition

Tensions in the Government have soared after it was revealed Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce had an affair with a former staffer and is the father of her unborn child.

Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned Mr Joyce’s behaviour, saying he had “made a shocking error of judgement in having an affair with a young woman working in his office. In doing so he has set off a world of woe for those women, and appalled all of us. Our hearts go out to them.”

He also announced he had re-written the code of ministerial standards because they were “truly deficient”.

He said: “Today, in 2018, it is not acceptable for a minister to have a sexual relationship with somebody who works for them, it is a very bad workplace practice and everybody knows that no good comes of it. This is the standard that I will hold — from this day forth — all my ministers to.”

The Prime Minister added that politicians “have to recognise that here in this place we have such important responsibilities and we don’t, in practical terms, have the privacy that many others do, we have to acknowledge that we must have a higher standard.”

Mr Joyce responded to the Prime Minister’s comments by accusing him of making things worse.

He said: “Comments by the Prime Minister yesterday at his press conference … in many instances, they caused further harm. I believe they were in many instances inept and most definitely in many instances unnecessary.”

Mr Joyce also criticised Mr Turnbull for telling the National Party, in which Liberal Party are in a Coalition with, what to do.

“In regards to the National Party there is nothing we dislike more than implied intervention into the processes of the National Party,” he said.

Former Prime Minister and Liberal backbencher Tony Abbott has taken aim at Mr Turnbull over his comments, saying that if politicians wanted to give each other advice, they should do so by knocking on their door and picking up the phone to talk directly.

“I am just not going to get into any details about personalities or specifics, but certainly as a general rule one party doesn’t give another party public advice,” Mr Abbott said. He added, “That’s the general rule that I observed.”

Liberal Party Senator Ian Macdonald has said Mr Joyce should take a seat on the backbench and keep a low profile for the good of his own party, and the nation.

Mr Joyce is taking leave next week to support his family and partner after such intense public focus on personal matters.

He has also indicated he would like to restore his relationship with the Prime Minister, however, analysts remain sceptical as the rift in the coalition continues to grow.


Circular Quay fire

Sixteen fire crews responded to a fire at the old Gold Fields House demolition site in Sydney’s CBD at around 8:50am on Tuesday.

Witnesses reported hearing explosions as the blaze burned through the site on the corner of Pitt Street and Alfred Street.

Authorities evacuated nearby offices and Circular Quay Station. It is believed the fire was sparked by a blow torch.

Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Andrew Ticehurst said numerous gas cylinders had exploded and that firefighters had been in significant danger.

“There were some significant dangers to the firefighters with the gas cylinders exploding as well as it being a building that was under demolition,” he said as cited by Fairfax.

“Sometimes you can get some collapse of scaffolding, thankfully today the fire fighters were on scene very quickly … which prevented any significant risk of that scaffolding collapsing.”

Thirteen people were treated for respiratory complications but no one was seriously injured.

Former bikie boss fatally shot outside gym

Former Comanchero bikie chief Mahmoud Hawi has died after being shot at least six times outside a gym in Sydney’s south on Thursday.

Hawi was in his luxury black SUV parked at a Anytime Fitness gym car park in Rockdale at the time of the attack.

Witnesses tried to resuscitate him before he was rushed to St George Hospital in a critical condition, where he later died.

The hospital had a strong police presence with three riot squad vehicles and a police car blocking the entrance, according to the ABC.

A torched and abandoned Mercedes Benz station wagon was found in an alley about 1km from the scene and is understood to be the getaway vehicle.

Police say the assailant was a male cladded in black clothing and a balaclava.

Assistant Commissioner Mal Lanyon said: “I’d say it was a targeted and planned attack and completely without regard to human life.”

Assistant Commissioner Lanyon said the full resources of the NSW Police have been deployed in the investigation, and that Police are focused on preventing any retaliatory acts that may be taken.


South Africa’s President resigns

South African President Jacob Zuma resigned on Wednesday after mounting pressure from his own party, the African National Congress (ANC).

He announced his resignation in a televised address, saying it was effective immediately and that he disagreed with the ANC’s decision.

The ANC had given Zuma two options: step down or face a vote of no confidence in parliament.

Zuma’s nine-year-long Presidency has been battered by multiple allegations of corruption.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s new leader, will now take up the position in what many are calling a new era for South Africa.

13 Russians charged with US election meddling

Thirteen Russians and three Russian companies have been charged over alleged tampering in the 2016 US Presidential Election.

An indictment letter from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller said a Russian propaganda arm disseminated material online and orchestrated events in the US which sought to support the Trump and Sanders campaigns and discredit the Clinton, Cruz and Rubio campaigns.

The indictment said the accused “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The court document alleges the Russians used false online personas to propel divisive messages, travelled to 10 US states to collect intelligence, and staged political rallies while posing as Americans, including one case where they paid an unidentified person to install a cage on a flatbed truck, and another to wear a costume “portraying Clinton in a prison uniform.”

“These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself,” said Paul Ryan, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, as cited by Reuters.

US President Donald Trump responded in a tweet on Friday:

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova replied to the development in a post on Facebook (translated by OPMG):

Apparently, there were 13, according to the US Department of justice. 13 people intervening in the us election?! 13 against the billions in the budget of the secret service? Against Intelligence and counterintelligence, against the latest developments and technology? Absurd? Yes. But this is a modern American political reality. By the way, why 13? Looks like there are no negative associations with other numbers, and in this case it’s the only hope [for this story].

The indictment did not link the Russian Government to the accused despite earlier US intelligence assessments which claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a campaign to influence the US election.

Due to the absence of an extradition treaty between the US and Russia, it is unlikely the accused Russians will be arrested or appear in a US court to face charges, which include conspiracy to defraud the United States, wire fraud, bank fraud and identity theft.

Gun control debate resurfaces after US suffers 18th school shooting for 2018

A 19-year-old opened fire on former classmates at a high school in Florida on Wednesday, killing 17 people and injuring 14.

The shooting occurred at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, some 72 miles north of Miami.

The shooter set off the school’s fire alarm and started firing with an AR15 rifle, wearing a black backpack and carrying a black duffel bag.

His victims were indiscriminate, aged from 14 to 49, and included three staff members.

The shooter is suspected to be Nikolas Cruz, a former student of the high school who was expelled last year after several suspensions, and was known to have a history of anger, depression and mental instability.

Initially, the shooter escaped among the throng of fleeing students, buying a drink from a nearby Walmart and sitting at a McDonalds.

He was arrested on Friday, and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

Speaking on national television, US President Donald Trump promised to tackle the “difficult issue of mental health” in response to the shooting, making no policy recommendations or mention of gun control.

The tragedy marks the 18th school shooting in the United States in 2018, and the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2013.

The national conversation has once again moved to gun control, with calls for change starting from students themselves as members of the ‘mass shooting generation’.

Florida gun control laws are under scrutiny, and compared with other states like Connecticut, which enacted stricter gun control laws after Sandy Hook and has seen a decrease in gun violence.

Cancer in mice killed by DNA nanorobots

A group of scientists have developed autonomous DNA nanorobots that can cure cancer in mice. They do this by injecting tumours with drugs that cut off the blood supply to these specific areas, causing them to shrivel and die. The bots worked within a timeframe of 48 hours, and did not affect the healthy tissue.

They also demonstrated that this still worked in the tissue of Bama miniature pigs, and not just mice. The goal is that this can eventually be scaled up to work in humans, but there is still much work to be done.

Square Kilometre Array to hear the oldest sounds

The world’s largest radio telescope array is taking shape across the Australian outback and South African desert. The project involves researchers from around the world, and with it, we will be able to hear some of the oldest sounds in the universe. There will be a total of 3000 radio telescopes, each 21 metres tall. A prototype of the design has been unveiled in China, and one will be erected by April in South Africa.