The Week in Brief: 18-24 February

25 February 2018

The Week in Brief: 18-24 February

Story of the week

Barnaby Joyce announces resignation

Barnaby Joyce has announced he will be stepping down from his positions as Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister on Monday.

The decision comes after a fortnight of intense pressure following revelations that Mr Joyce had an affair with a former staffer and is the father of her unborn child.

The affair led to the end of Mr Joyce’s marriage, and the two are now partners.

In an address to the media on Friday, Mr Joyce said, “It is quite evident that you can’t go to the dispatch box while issues like that are surrounding you.”

He thanked the people of New England for their support saying, “I don’t deserve the support that you have given me.”

Mr Joyce also took the opportunity to deny the recent allegation of sexual harassment and said he had referred the matter to the police.

While a replacement for Mr Joyce has not yet been announced, Veterans Affairs Minister Michael McCormak is the leading contender.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull issued a brief statement from Washington, in which he thanked Mr Joyce for his service and described him as a “fierce advocate for rural and regional Australia”.

The relationship between the Prime Minister and Barnaby Joyce has been strained after Mr Turnbull publicly criticised the Nationals leader’s affair.

Mr Joyce said he is stepping down to take protect and take better care of his new partner and family.

“The idea that for Vikki, walking across the road as a pregnant lady and just being put under so much pressure, I thought that is not who we are in Australia,” he said referring to a photo published on the front page of the Daily Telegraph earlier this month.

“That’s not the kind of people we are. I am the public figure — go after me. That is what I get paid for. But don’t go after private individuals. It is just wrong.”

Mr Joyce will continue to serve as an MP on the backbench.


Australia

Qantas reveals record interim profits

Qantas shares have soared after the airline reported a record $967 million profit for the December-half and announced a $500 million return for its shareholders.

Increased demand for domestic flights played a key role in elevating the airline’s gross profits by 14.6% during the period from $852 million in the first half of last year.

Despite a 4% hike in fuel prices, Qantas’ total revenue grew by 5.8% to $8.66 billion and its net profit rose by 17.9% to $607 million.

George Christensen Facebook post sparks outrage

Nationals MP George Christensen has refused to apologise after posting a photo of him holding a handgun with the caption, “You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, greenie punks?”

The post has been condemned by both sides of politics with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing it as “clearly innapropriate” and Opposition leader Bill Shorten calling it “so stupid it’s breathtaking.”

Mr Christensen removed the caption following a request by the Senate Nationals leader, and then later deleted the post entirely. It has been reported to police.

Mr Christensen replied to criticism of the post by saying, “I’m not going to be moralised to [sic] by these extreme Greens who put the livelihoods, safety and lives of other people at risk. They’re the ones doing real harm. That’s not a joke with the Greens. It’s real.”

Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has recieved abuse after her strong criticism of the post. She tweeted one particularly disturbing email, which she has reported to authorities.

Crossbencher Derryn Hinch condemned the post, saying that given the Florida school shooting that had just occured, it was “the most disgusting thing I have seen since I’ve been in Canberra”.

Tony Abbott calls for immigration reform and critiques Government

Tony Abbott has taken several swipes at Malcolm Turnbull while the Prime Minister is on a week-long trip to the United States.

In a speech given to the Sydney Institute on Tuesday, Mr Abbott called for Australia to reduce its migration intake by 80,000 places, claiming that the move would reduce house prices and improve quality of living in Australia.

Senior members of the Government, including Treasurer Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, slapped down the criticisms, with the former disputing that Mr Abbott had raised immigration concerns with him in the previous Government and spruiking the economic benefits immigration brings to the economy — some $4-5 billion.

Mr Abbott then took to the airwaves to critique Mr Turnbull, drawing attention on 2GB to the Government’s sagging poll numbers, and stating that “some things have got to change” if the Government was to win the next election.

He also disparaged Mr Morrison, stating his criticism was “wrong” and was guilty of “swallowing advice” from “public servants and so-called experts”.


World

Eastern Ghouta death toll over 400

The continued bombardment of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta by Syrian and Russian warplanes has claimed the lives of more than 400 people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The monitoring group said at least 403 people have been killed, including 150 children, since the attack began last Sunday. They also reported over 2000 injured.

UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called for a ceasefire on Thursday.

“The humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta is appalling and, therefore, we need a ceasefire that stops both the horrific heavy bombardment of Eastern Ghouta and the indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus,” he said.

He also stressed the need for unhindered humanitarian access and evacuation of wounded people, warning that Eastern Ghouta could be a repeat of Aleppo.

The Syrian Government has denied targeting civillians.

Syrian Government supports Kurds against Turkish assault

Syrian Government forces have been sent to bolster the defences of the Kurdish YPG as Turkey continues its military campaign in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region.

The Kurdish YPG is a rebel militia who is trained and armed by the United States, a NATO ally of Turkey and stark opposer of Syria’s Assad regime.

The move has surprised analysts, experts and commentators alike because of the Kurds’ desire to form an independent breakaway state, something the Syrian Government takes issue with.

This confrontation could escalate the conflict even further as it places the Turkish military and allied Syrian rebel groups in direct action against the military alliance backing President Bashar al-Assad.

A possible alliance or improving of relations between the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Government could also cause complications for the US’ position in Syria, as it has 2000 military personnel stationed in Kurd-controlled territory.

Relations between the US and Turkey have been strained over the US’ ongoing backing of the Kurdish YPG.

Billy Graham goes home at age 99

Renowned Christian evangelist Billy Graham died in his home in North Carolina on Wednesday.

He was battling cancer, pneumonia, and several other illnesses.

He preached to over 200 million people worldwide in over 185 countries and territories.

Billy Graham was a key leader of the evangelicals, and a push away from more fundamental Christianity; being influenced more by the ecumenical movement, and going anywhere and everywhere to preach the gospel.

His passing has been mourned by many around the globe.

Hungarian PM increases anti-migrant sentiments

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been ramping up anti-immigration sentiments in the lead-up to the country’s elections.

He has become known for his strong measures to keep out refugees from Syria and other war-torn nations, such as building razor-wire border fences.

President Orban argues that this is what the people want, and that opposing parties are not listening to the people.

Seeing as he maintains a very strong lead in the polls – 50% compared to the runner-up’s 20% – he may be correct.

Polish cow dodges abattoir visit, retires on island

A cow in Poland was being loaded onto a slaughterhouse truck when it broke free, smashed through a fence, broke another farmer’s arm, before swimming out to a nearby island on Lake Nysa.

It then proceeded to stay there despite attempts to remove it.

The cow drew much local media attention and even drew the notice of a local politician, Pawel Kukiz, who offered to fund the cow’s right to a peaceful retirement, rather than seeing it be killed.

The cow has turned into something of a local hero.