Oz end. Of Abbott and abattoirs

Hard to believe, but asked to name his biggest achievement for women in 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is also minister for women, said it was the carbon tax repeal: “As many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget, and the repeal of the carbon tax means a $550 a year benefit for the average family.”

The remark echoed a 2010 comment made as opposition leader, when he said housewives would feel the effect of a price on carbon pollution through higher electricity charges, as they did the ironing. That was about the same time Abbott said virginity “is the greatest gift you can give someone” replying to a question about advice he’d give his daughters on sex before marriage. His government is the first since 1976 not to appoint a dedicated minister for Women’s Affairs.

“It’s almost as if he’s in that portfolio to make sure there are no strides ahead for women in Australia,” said Greens’ leader Christine Milne. In another retrograde move, the new minister for Social Services is none other than Scott Morrison, previously minister for Immigration and Border Protection, who oversaw the government’s hard-line “stop the boats” strategy and harsh regime for asylum seekers. With a review of welfare policies under way, the new year is looking grim for those on the outer fringes.

Anti-halaal campaigner Kirralie Smith

No doubt anti-halaal campaigner Kirralie Smith would appreciate Abbott’s focus on household budgeting. “Ordinary mums” is the focus for her Facebook page “Boycott Halaal in Australia” which has 41,000 supporters. The permaculture farmer and mother-of-three claims that certification puts up prices for Australian families, with companies passing on the cost of certifying a vast range of products, from milk to pies to shampoo.

Certification of meat, it is reported, can cost a large abattoir up to $27,000 (R255,000) a month. But the international halaal market is said to be worth trillions, with 20% annual growth, and a rising Muslim middle class in nearby countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Smith, meanwhile, says her objection is not to Islam itself, but to the “scam” by Muslim interests to raise money for mosques and therefore “for jihad”. She says she is being courted to stand for parliament “by everyone – the Christian parties, the right wing parties”.

Mohammed Eris, treasurer of the Supreme Islamic Council of Halaal Meat in Australia, responds: “We are Australians... I love my footy, my cricket, my meat pies. Halaal pies of course.”

Three thousand police were on high alert and security was tight for Sydney’s New Year’s Eve $750,000 pyrotechnics extravaganza after the December siege at the Lindt chocolate café in which two victims, plus their hostage-taker, died and Isis claimed the man as their own. Mamdouh Habib, a former Australian citizen released from Guantanamo Bay after the US wrongly accused him of being an “enemy combatant”, claims he knew the gunman well and could have talked him down had police let him.  

Sympathy notes and messages harvested from the flowers left at the scene were mulched for landfill in an environmentally sound memorial. One of the more affecting moments at the service was when lawyer Paul Smith, husband of one victim, 38-year-old barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, said about the media hype that she had died protecting a pregnant friend: “I doubt she laid down her life for Julie… Her focus was 100% on getting home for [her children] Chloe, Oliver and Sasha.To me, that makes her even more of a hero.”

Said to generate A$156 million for the economy, Sydney’s New Year fireworks spectacle was reported to be carbon neutral, using recycled water, biodegradable firecracker cases and carbon offsets. In all, “80% of all rubbish collected is recycled, which all adds up to one very Happy New Year,” said the city council’s very PC website.

A baby southern white rhino, part of several breeding programmes in Australia for the subspecies, died on New Year’s Eve despite round-the-clock intensive care at Melbourne’s Werribee Zoo. After picking up an infection from her mother, the 67kg baby was euthanised at five days old.

On holiday in Auckland, a prettier, gentler place and more welcoming people I could not imagine. The city seems decent, like Sydney used to be about 20 years ago, where doors are left unlocked and windows unbarred. But reality shifts when the daughter of a Cape Town expat describes the city’s north shore as “a creepy little utopia” and another expat says she’d never have made the move if she’d known how she would cry every day. Oh, the trials and tribulations of those of us lucky (or is it unlucky) enough to have choice.

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