A plastic sword that “wouldn’t be able to cut a cucumber”, was one of the more frightening images flashed around Australia after it was bagged as evidence during recent counter-terrorism raids.
Operation Appleby resulted in 16 arrests and 22-year-old Omarjan Azari being charged with conspiring to behead a random person in Sydney’s CBD. It also provoked a civil suit for damages from a family who say they were unfairly targeted by men in balaclavas who arrived before dawn, and stayed for 12 hours.
The sword’s owner, Mustafa Dirani, 21, who was detained and released without charge, says the Zulfiqar – a symbol of Shiite Islam – has been on display in his home for years and he is waiting for the police to return it. His family are Afghan-born Shiite Muslims, while Isis is almost exclusively Sunni.
Australia is apparently a prime target for jihadists and the government has said some people’s freedom will have to be curtailed to protect that of many. There’s new legislation, expanded police powers and the media is having a field day unearthing links to the war on terror, with balance represented by interviews with anguished local Muslim families whose children have gone to be part of “violent Islam” overseas.
Australia’s foreign aid looks set to take a cut because of the funds needed to pay for military operations in Iraq. Also mooted are “savings” on old-age pensions and higher education, and increases in medical fees and petrol tax. In early October, PM Tony Abbott gave the “green light” to join the seemingly open-ended war in Iraq, with warplanes to support the US in its aerial strikes, and, since then, ground troops too.
On the same day, burqa hysteria gathered force, with Abbott saying it was “a confronting garment” which he wishes wasn’t worn anywhere, and could even be a security risk in parliament – which by the end of the day had ruled that women wearing the burqa to parliament would be seated in a glassed-in section of the public gallery usually reserved for schoolchildren. This despite the fact no-one knew of women in this attire having parliament as a destination. It was pointed out that, while Tony Abbott is a confronting sight in his “budgie smugglers” (he was once interviewed in his speedo), there’s no talk of a ban there.
Australia holds 647 children of asylum seekers in closed detention: 500 on the mainland and 147 offshore on Christmas Island, including 28 children with disabilities. Another 222 are detained on Nauru, an island in the South Pacific. On average, says Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Prof Gillian Triggs, children and their families waiting to be processed (although none has been since this government came to office 13 months ago) have been held in closed detention camps for over a year.
Paediatricans believe mandatory detention is child abuse, says Triggs, and their doctors are having to consider whether to honour their hippocratic oath and speak out or abide by the confidentiality clauses of their contracts. They were seeing things they did not think appropriate for a mature democracy like Australia, said Triggs.
A recent survey in the Medical Journal of Australia reported that after visiting Christmas Island, one paediatrician concluded that “almost all the children are sick” and other doctors have reported widespread self-harm occurring among the children.
|Former South African Latin teacher, Gail Kelly, was Australia's fifth highest-paid executive last year|
Alongside all this, are the well-intentioned contradictions that are Australia. Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan says older workers (approaching 50) should be offered ‘career check-ups’ to prevent unemployment later. These would involve a skills analysis test and advice about work for the next 20 years, particularly for those in a declining industry, physically unable to continue their job, or burnt out. Ryan says she wants to move away from a model that “seeks and favours only youthful ... and ‘high energy’ dynamos’’
Making their mark: South African born Gail Kelly, CEO of one of Australia’s biggest banks, Westpac, was Australia’s fifth-highest-paid executive last year, with statutory pay of AU$9.1 million (R87m). Her “realised pay” was $14.1m. Kelly, 58, grew up in Pretoria, went to UCT, and worked as a Latin teacher in Zimbabwe before going into banking and emigrating to Oz in 1997. She was Forbes’s 56th most powerful woman in the world in 2014. Last year, when she unveiled a bust of Mandela at the University of NSW, one of Australia’s most influential businessmen and philanthropists, Chancellor David Gonski (whose family emigrated from Cape Town when he was seven) said the bust would stand as a permanent tribute, not only to the man, but to the contribution made to Australia by all South Africans. No sign of burnout there.
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