Week in Brief: 20–26 May 2018

27 May 2018

Week in Brief: 20–26 May 2018

Story of the week

Irish voters lift abortion restrictions

Image credit: Barry Cronin (Agence France-Presse)

On Friday, Irish voters went to the polls to vote in a referendum to lift constitutional restrictions on abortion.

Abortion has been a criminal offence in Ireland since 1861, and in 1983 Irish voters approved a constitutional amendment to ensure that abortion would be restricted to circumstances where the life of the mother was at risk. After 1983, the Constitution declared that “the right to life of the unborn” was equal to that of the mother.

But on Friday, the Irish voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 1983 amendment, with 66% of voters in favour of allowing the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) to create laws regulating abortion more broadly.

Proposed legislation will permit termination of pregnancy in circumstances where there is a health risk to the mother, a medical emergency, a foetal condition likely to lead to death before or shortly after birth, and otherwise up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

Irish women who seek to terminate their pregnancy have had to travel abroad, especially to England, to have the procedure. Some women have, however, had illegal abortions in Ireland.

Although the country has historically tended towards conservative Catholic values, in recent years it has shown a trend toward more progressive public attitudes, including the lifting of the constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Australia

Archbishop Philip Wilson convicted of child sexual abuse cover up

Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was convicted on Tuesday for his role in covering up child sexual abuse.

Prosecutors successfully argued that the Archbishop had covered up the abuse committed by priest Jim Fletch in the Hunter region of NSW in the 1970s.

In the Newcastle Local Court in NSW, Magistrate Robert Stone dismissed the Archbishop’s claim that no one had come forward to report abuse during his 40 years as a member of the clergy.

Prosecutors have sought a custodial sentence for Wilson, 67, but he remains on bail until a sentencing hearing on 19 June. Magistrate Stone is able to give a sentence of up to two years imprisonment.

Couple face court over female genital mutilation

The trial of a couple who allegedly sent their daughters to Africa to undergo genital mutilation began on Monday in the Beenleigh District Court in Queensland.

The couple, who are African migrants, are accused of sending their daughters to Africa for the procedure in late-2015, when they were aged nine and 12.

Under section 323B of Queensland’s Criminal Code 1899, removing a child from Queensland for female genital mutilation is a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. Each parent has been charged with two counts of the offence, and it is the first time a Queensland court has heard a case since the laws came into effect almost 20 years ago.

Government cracks down on live exporters

On Thursday the Coalition Government introduced legislation that will establish tougher rules and harsher penalties for exporters of live animals who disregard animal welfare laws.

“The Export Legislation Amendment (Live-Stock) Bill 2018 will increase criminal penalties and introduce new criminal offences and civil penalties for conduct that is unacceptable for live-stock exporters,” Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud told Parliament.

This includes penalties for hindering veterinarians or dishonestly influencing export officials. Executive officers who fail to take reasonable steps to uphold legal obligations will be held personally liable, and courts will be able to make “adverse publicity orders” that “name and shame” offenders.

Mr Littleproud said the Government was confident that the penalties “provide the right levels of deterrence and punishment” and will not “simply be viewed as a cost of doing business.”

Bushfires burn out of control in Western Australia

Residents in the Western Australian city of Albany have been issued with a bushfire warning, as officials say people must act immediately to survive.

“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive. There is a threat to lives and homes,” the Department of Fire and Emergency Services warned on Friday. The warning affects residents in the suburbs of Redmond, Marbelup, McKail, Elleker, Napier and Torbay.

Firefighters are struggling to respond to the large number of fires in the area.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintended Wayne Green said that “resources are absolutely stretched to the point where some of the fires that are … being reported aren’t even getting a response.”

Will Power to start on front row for Indianapolis 500

On Sunday Australian driver Will Power qualified third in the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, which will take place on 27 May. Power will start on the outside of the front row, alongside Ed Carpenter and Simon Pagenaud.

Carpenter took pole with an average speed of 229.618 mph (369.5 kmh) on the 2.5 mile (4 km) oval circuit, compared to Pagenaud’s 228.761 mph (368.1 kmh) and Power’s 228.607 mph (367.9 kmh).

Thirty-three drivers will compete on Sunday. Defending race winner Takuma Sato will start from 16th, while Power’s compatriot James Davison qualified in 19th.

World

United States denies Syria strike

The United States has denied knowledge of an alleged strike on Syrian army positions this week.

Syrian state media and a media unit run by Hezbollah reported that military sites near Syria’s eastern border with Iraq had been bombed by US-led coalition jets. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that at least 12 Syrian fighters were killed.

But Captain Bill Urban, a spokesperson for US Central Command, denied that the US has knowledge of the strikes, saying that the US has “no operational reporting of a US-led coalition strike against pro-Syrian regime targets or forces.”

Last year two campaigns, one led by Russia and the other by the US, drove Islamic State from most of eastern Syria. Although clashes between the competing campaigns have been averted, the US-led coalition has retaliated against Syrian pro-government targets it alleges have attempted to attack its positions.

New Zealand delays euthanasia laws

The New Zealand Parliament’s Justice Committee has said that it might not report back to the Parliament on a bill legalising voluntary euthanasia until March 2019. The Justice Committee has received more than 35,000 submissions from the public, which it is determined to review before producing its report.

“The Justice Committee intends to hear from all submitters who have asked to be heard. The Committee could not have done the submitters justice if we had refused to travel or hear everyone who asked to be heard,” said Committee Chair Raymond Huo.

Weinstein charged with sexual offences

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein surrendered to New York City police on Friday and was charged with rape, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse and committing a criminal sex act against two women.

The charges come seven months after a slew of allegations emerged from women who had worked with Weinstein, which effectively destroyed his career and brought sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry into the spotlight.

Weinstein, 66, has been released on US$1 million cash bail, surrendered his passport, and is required to wear a location monitoring devices. He denies the allegations and, according to his lawyer, intends to plead not guilty.