Why Mathias Cormann could be our next Prime Minister

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By Stephen Holt

The Turnbull government’s ordinary showing in the Super Saturday byelections looks like triggering a new round of leadership speculation.

The pressure for the moment is off Bill Shorten. Instead it is Malcolm Turnbull who is again seen as being vulnerable and exposed.

Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann could be just right as prime minister.
Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann could be just right as prime minister.Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Media commentators are already re-energised by the prospect of a fresh outbreak of instability.

They include Professor of politics at University of Western Australia Peter van Onselen, who in the wake of the byelections has published an article in which in passing he sums up the possible alternative leaders of the federal Liberal Party.

The good news for Turnbull is that each alternative leader is found to have a serious flaw.

Tony Abbott, for example, “is well and truly yesterday’s man”.

The list of flawed contenders also includes Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Being a Senator he is, van Onselen suggests, “in the wrong chamber”.

But is this truly an objection?

A possible Mathias Cormann ascension from the Senate, were it to occur, would not be unprecedented. It would mirror events which happened exactly half a century ago this year.

At the end of January 1968, Australia had a brand new prime minister in Senator John Gorton.

Gorton had become leader of the federal Liberal Party following the disappearance before Christmas of his predecessor Harold Holt.

Newly-elected prime minister John Gorton addresses the media after his party-room victory in 1968.
Newly-elected prime minister John Gorton addresses the media after his party-room victory in 1968.

Photo: John O’Gready

Prime Ministers can come from the upper house but they cannot sit in it. So on February 1, 1968, Gorton resigned from the Senate. In a byelection held on February 24 he filled the vacancy in the House of Representatives caused by Holt’s disappearance.

The parallels between then and now are striking.

Harold Holt was the Malcolm Turnbull of his day. Together with his wife Zara he offered the promise of a fresh start after the aged Sir Robert Menzies retired in 1966 just as Malcolm and Lucy once embodied the prospect of an exhilarating era of innovation following Tony Abbott’s stint as PM.

Holt won a khaki election at the end of 1966 but he did poorly in a half Senate election held towards the end of 1967.

Against a backdrop of government despondency the Canberra media corps began to detect leadership murmurs.

The angst continued after Holt drowned at Cheviot Beach.

Like Turnbull today, Holt seemed to have no clear successor as Prime Minister. There was no other Liberal Party member in the House of Representatives who came across as a viable replacement.

Faced with this situation the Liberals simply bypassed the House of Representatives. On January 9, 1968, they elected John Gorton, a cabinet minister who was government leader in the Senate, as their new leader.

There is nothing to prevent today’s crop of Liberals from following the Gorton scenario.

Turnbull is chronically hapless but, like Holt before him, he is not seen as having a viable successor. As commentators such as Peter van Onselen freely acknowledge, his lower house colleagues who may have leadership ambitions – Abbott, Bishop, Morrison, Dutton – turn out to be unacceptable to either their party colleagues or to the wider public.

But that still leaves the Senate and Mathias Cormann. He can do a Gorton on his colleagues.

There is no doubting Cormann’s credentials for the top job. For almost five years as Finance Minister he has been involved at the highest level in the federal budgetary process and in government decision making.

He is leader of the Government in the Senate and has served as Acting Prime Minister.

Cormann is skilled and respected as a negotiator and deal maker. His work ethic is prodigious. As a foreign-born person he can draw on themes of diversity and resilience in developing the grand narrative that a good Prime Minister has to command.

Cormann, along with Peter Dutton, currently forms a Praetorian Guard protecting Turnbull against a final leadership meltdown. But in imperial Rome, in the days of its decadence, it sometimes fell to the Praetorian Guard to slay the Emperor.

Turnbull would immediately resign as federal member for Wentworth should he lose the Liberal leadership and yet the Gorton precedent suggests that this is not an inhibiting factor at all.

John Gorton had no connection at all with Holt’s old seat of Higgins in Melbourne and yet victory in the resulting byelection was no problem for him.

In a similar way, Cormann, who would need to move to the House of Representatives, could be slotted into the seat of Wentworth as Turnbull’s replacement.

Fixed boundaries mean little to him. He comes from a region of Europe that has been swapped between Belgium and Germany according to the fortunes of war. He studied in England before migrating to, and flourishing in, Perth.

Every time Cormann moves to a new city he fits in with the local lingo and mores. Sydney’s eastern suburbs would be no exception. He would speedily shake off the dreaded tag of being a blow-in. He would be an entirely credible candidate and member for Wentworth. Leaving the Senate would remove the only serious objection to his becoming our next prime minister.

And so after 50 years the Gorton precedent is suddenly very much alive again. It is certainly worthy of consideration.

Stephen Holt is a Canberra writer.


Source :  The Brisbane Times

Brisbane school tells students to stay home after flu outbreak

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By Lucy Stone

A Brisbane primary school has urged parents to keep their children home on Friday morning in the wake of an “extraordinary” influenza outbreak.

Middle Park State School, an independent public school in the south-west of Brisbane, sent a letter to parents explaining the school had been struck by a host of influenza cases, forcing them to effectively close the school on Friday.

Middle Park State School has asked parents to keep children home on Friday.
Middle Park State School has asked parents to keep children home on Friday.Photo: Google Street View

A letter sent to parents by principal Ann Kitchin said on Thursday 182 children and 15 staff were absent with influenza A and B cases.

“In response to the situation we will have a cleaning team here to run additional shifts,” the letter said.

“We urge all parents to keep children all students home tomorrow.”

Education department regional director Helen Kenworthy said they hoped a break from regular classes until Monday would allow them to thoroughly clean the school and get ahead of the outbreak.

“We didn’t feel we needed to close the school completely because there still could be a number of students who potentially still needed to come to school,” Ms Kenworthy said.

“An additional cleaning team will come in and we’re working through all the classrooms to sanitise, to disinfect desktops, door handles, all those things that children touch each day.

“By Monday we’d expect to have eliminated all the germs as much as possible and we’d have children back as normal.”

The school is expected to open as normal on Monday but Ms Kenworthy said any sign that the outbreak was gaining steam again and they would send children home a second time.

Queensland Health is advising the school about how best to respond to the incident.

Metro South Public Health Unit physician Kari Jarvinen said there didn’t appear to be anything unusual about the strain of flu causing the outbreak.

“One key thing that we emphasise not just for this school but in general is it is so important for sick children and adults to stay away from the school or childcare or workplace,” Dr Jarvinen said.

“When sick children go to school they keep spreading the bug quite easily because influenza is quite easily spread, and then you get big outbreaks.”

He said the incident highlighted the need for people to get a flu vaccination, stressing it still wasn’t too late for people to get one.

Children with flu symptoms were asked to be kept home between five and seven days until their symptoms were cleared.

The school had been in correspondence with the Public Health Unit, Ms Kitchin said, and a skeleton staff would be on-hand on Friday to assist with parents who could not arrange for childcare.

The outbreak also required school activities to be cancelled, while a year 5 camp had no symptoms of the flu.

In a post on the school’s Facebook page from August 1, the school warned influenza had hit the surrounding suburbs “hard”.

Anyone with health concerns for themselves or their child should visit their GP, contact the nearest public health unit or call 13 HEALTH.

Source :  The Brisbane Times

New website tracks Australian deaths in custody

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By Lucy Stone

A new website that comprehensively tracks and publishes data about deaths in custody across Australia has been launched by the University of Queensland.

The website was created by staff and students in a bid to increase public awareness around deaths in custody and to provide up-to-date anonymised information.

In 1987 the federal government held a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, investigating 99 deaths of people who had died in police custody.

The new database collates 530 reported deaths, providing data to the community, researchers, lawyers, and journalists.

Tracking whether recommendations were made after the death, if the person involved was Indigenous or not, and specific cause of death, the website can be searched for state-based information as well as national.

Project coordinator Professor Tamara Walsh said the project was designed to improve research around such deaths.

“The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that a database be maintained to record the details of deaths that occur,” she said.

“It is important that this information be made available to researchers and members of the public in the interests of transparency.

“People in our prisons are among the most disadvantaged members of our community.

“If coroners’ recommendations regarding deaths in custody are not being implemented, the community should be made aware of that.”

Collated by a volunteer team of staff and students, the website required hours of research into coroner recommendations, and researching information surrounding reported deaths in custody.

The website is the first time up-to-date data on deaths in custody has been made public.

Law graduate Ella Rooney said she took part in the research to help provide clarity on a critical issue.

“I was drawn to the fact that this research is essential to making a genuine impact on policy development in this area,” she said.

Source :  The Brisbane Times

Minister of Media launches information plan for Haj season

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JEDDAH – The Minister of Media Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad launched here on Thursday the information plan for the 1439H Haj season, Saudi Press Agency said. He also launched the website for this year’s Haj season http://hajjmedia.gov.sa so that it becomes the main source for news, data, information, events and activities.

In a speech on the occasion, Dr. Al-Awwad expressed thanks and appreciation to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman for the generous care and support to enable the Ministry of Media and the government authorities participating in the Haj season to serve the pilgrims.

The minister stressed that the Kingdom — leadership and people — welcomes the pilgrims of various nationalities, sects and races from different countries of the world. He further said that the Kingdom spares no effort to provide care for the pilgrims and enable them to perform their rites with ease. This care continues from the moment they arrive until their departure.

The minister announced the ministry’s preparations to host the local and international print and audiovisual media. He said it was ready to provide the mechanisms, equipment and technology so as to facilitate the task of transmitting the great event to the whole world. This reflects the great attention and care by the Kingdom’s government.

Awwad expressed the Media Ministry’s keenness to host all the channels wishing to transmit this great international event by preparing the infrastructure for satellite channels, international news agencies and various other media.

Awwad said the Kingdom is scheduled to host over 800 prominent foreign media persons to cover the Haj rites in a way depicting the importance of the occasion in the hearts of Muslims worldwide.

He said the ministry has readied several information centers in Makkah and the Holy Sites to serve its guests — the journalists and media men — from within the Kingdom and abroad. It has provided the centers with all the requirements, including telecommunication networks, computers, studios and other equipment to facilitate their task to cover the Haj.


Source :  Saudi Gazette

Youngest Participant at Hajj Hackathon hopes to solve big crowd issues

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Saleh Fareed

JEDDAH — Out of more than 2,000 programmers, designers and entrepreneurs, 14-year-old Yazed Al Khalaf, Syrian national but living in Riyadh, caught everyone’s attention at Hajj Hackathon conducted by the Saudi Federation of Cybersecurity, programming, and drones at Jeddah Center for Forums and Events.

Earlier this year, Yazed — who has his own YouTube channel — was invited as the youngest-ever participant at Hajj Hackathon Conference here.

The youngest participant at the Hajj Hackathon taught himself the basics of computer coding two years ago. It was then time to “learn some real ones,” he said.

He continued, “I learned the language of HTML CSS through YouTube, other social media sites and with the help of my experienced uncle.”

Yazed teamed up with three other Saudi programmers — Mukhtar Al Haji, Mohammed Al Doukhi and Yazed Al Marawani — to create a new program to organize the big crowds that occur during Haj.

Looking to the future, Yazed would like to work more with programming and designing as hobbies but his life dream is to be a businessman.

Source :  Saudi Gazette

MDA recruits 14,000 employees to serve Haj pilgrims this year

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MAKKAH — The Emir of Makkah Province, Adviser to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Chairman of the Makkah Development Authority (MDA) Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has approved the operation plan for the Authority for the 1439H Haj season, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said Thursday.

This year’s plan aims to raise the performance of projects supervised by the Authority in the Holy Sites, foremost of which is operation of the Mashaer Train, Jamarat Bridge, maintenance and operation of the restrooms in the Holy Sites, project for providing cool drinking water to the pilgrims, monitoring the efficiency of Haj services, setting up a reference database on Haj services and updating it periodically.

MDA’s official spokesman Eng. Jalal Bin Abduljaleel Kaaki said, “The plan was prepared under the supervision of the Emir of Makkah and direct follow-up by the Deputy Emir. It will be in conformity with the new projects carried out by the Authority this year in the Holy Sites, apart from the projects carried out earlier.”

He said the Authority supervises the mechanism to operate the projects to ensure providing the pilgrims with integrated services. In its operation, the plan relies on continuous coordination with all the related authorities, especially the security sectors.

The Secretary General of the Authority and Supervisor General of the Haj Works Plan Dr. Hisham Bin Abdulrahman Al-Faleh is keen to ensure a collective effort of all the related authorities with joint coordination to ensure success of the Haj works, God willing, Kaaki said.

Kaaki added that the Authority has mobilized all its administrative and technical personnel totaling 14,000, apart from 400 machines, to carry out the operation plan. Specific mechanisms have been set to carry out the operation plan on the ground.

The operation plan this year comprises supervision of the projects for services to be provided to pilgrims in the Holy Sites.

Foremost among these is supervising operation of the Mashaer Train, expected to transport over 350,000 pilgrims during the Tafweej Plan on the 8th of Dhul Hijja from Mina to Arafat Holy Sites and then back to Mina during the Nafra of pilgrims from Arafat. Meanwhile, the total number of pilgrims expected to be transported by the Mashaer Train during the Tashreeq days exceeds two million, Kaaki said.

He added that the Jamarat Bridge Plan focuses on the facility’s readiness to receive pilgrims during the days for lapidating the Jamarat, aside from maintenance and operation of the projects linked to and leading to the Jamarat Bridge. This also includes the projects affiliated to the Jamarat Bridge and the readiness of their infrastructure.

The plan also includes ensuring the readiness of the restrooms in the Holy Sites. Some 36,000 restrooms will be ready for use by pilgrims during Haj.

Through its operation plan, the Authority supervises the project for providing cool drinking water to the pilgrims in the Grand Mosque and the Holy Sites. Some 600 water coolers distributed at various points in the Holy Sites will provide the pilgrims with cool water via the water cooling and sterilization plants.

Suqya Project’s administration supervises these water coolers and their maintenance so that they are ready for use this Haj. Their production capacity is estimated at 700 cubic meters per hour.

In another development, Prince Khaled met on Thursday at the Emirate headquarters in Jeddah with the Assistant Minister of Interior for Operation Affairs, Supervisor of Public Security and Chairman of the Haj Security Committee Gen. Said Bin Abdullah Al-Qahtani, accompanied by several security commanders participating in the Haj season this year.

During the meeting, Prince Khaled stressed the importance of readiness of all sectors to carry out their plans for this year’s Haj with the aim of providing the best services to the pilgrims since their arrival in the Kingdom and until their safe return to their countries.

Prince Khaled lauded the role of all the government and private agencies, especially the security sectors that have mobilized all their human potentials and machinery to serve the pilgrims. He praised the role security men are carrying out, making them the pride of every Saudi.

Prince Khaled was briefed on the plans of the various security agencies during the current Haj season.

Gen. Al-Qahtani confirmed the readiness of all security sectors to serve pilgrims and secure their safety. He thanked the Emir for his directives and continuous follow up of Haj and Umrah works.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Prince Khaled launched the 11th edition of “Haj is worship and civilized conduct” campaign under the motto “Haj is a message of peace”.

He reaffirmed that the approval of King Salman to establish the Royal Commission for Makkah and the Holy Sites under the chairmanship of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman reflects the leaderships’ keenness to develop Makkah and the Holy Sites and provide the best services to those visiting them.

Prince Khaled described the establishment of the royal commission as a major developmental event in the region. He said following the royal commission’s first Board of Directors meeting he is “optimistic about the future of Makkah and the Holy Sites”.

Asked about the attempts of some quarters to politicize Haj, Prince Khaled said: “The reply to the campaigns being waged against the Kingdom to distort its image is by the actions and deeds of the Kingdom in serving the Guests of Allah.”


Source :  Saudi Gazette

Japan driver’s license to start showing expiration with Western date

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Japan’s driver’s license will start to show the expiration date in the Western calendar instead of the Japanese calendar, a draft of revised traffic law regulations showed Thursday.

The draft disclosed by the National Police Agency will also change rules to allow an ID photo of a driver wearing a hijab.

The changes reflect an increasing number of foreigners holding Japanese driver’s licenses, according to the agency.

However, other dates including the license holder’s birth date will remain in the Japanese era style.

The police agency aims to implement the changes next month after hearing public opinions.

Licenses using the Western year for expiration are likely to be issued from next March or later.

Drivers are currently allowed to use photos showing them in a hat or wig if deemed appropriate by police officials, while they are basically required to take off their hats for ID photos.

The planned changes will enable drivers to wear a hat or clothes for medical or religious reasons as long as their faces remain uncovered.

The number of foreigners with Japanese driver’s licenses increased from 737,000 in 2012 to 868,000 last year, according to the agency.


Source :  Japan Today

Japan ruling party objects to lawmaker calling LGBT unproductive

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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party asserted in a recently issued statement that it is against the view expressed by one of its lawmakers that gay and lesbian couples are unproductive because they cannot have children, amid growing criticism over her opinion.

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the LDP said a magazine article written by Mio Sugita “shows her lack of understanding of (LGBT) issues and consideration for the feelings of people involved,” while noting that the party is working to create a society friendlier to sexual minorities.

It is unusual for the LDP to issue a statement clarifying its position regarding “personal opinions” expressed by its lawmakers.

The move is apparently intended to allay public anger over the issue, which has provoked street protests from members of Japan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and led some prominent figures in Japan to voice their objections via social media.

Echoing his party’s view, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters during a visit Thursday to Miyagi Prefecture that it is “only natural to aim at a society where human rights are respected and diversity is cherished.”

The LDP also said a party member in charge of LGBT issues has told Sugita to be “very careful” in her conduct from now on. Sugita, a House of Representatives member elected twice, said through her office Thursday that she will take the matter “sincerely” and will “study diligently.”

Opposition parties, however, slammed the ruling party for its “belated” action and “lenient” attitude toward Sugita.

“It is a very indulgent treatment,” Yuichiro Tamaki, co-head of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, said at a press conference in Nagasaki Prefecture, adding that it is a sign of how the LDP lacks sufficient recognition of LGBT issues and human rights.

At issue was an article Sugita contributed to the latest edition of the conservative monthly magazine Shincho 45, which went on sale July 18.

In the article titled “Support for LGBT is too much,” Sugita wrote, “Can spending taxpayers’ money for LGBT couples gain approval? They don’t make children. In other words, they lack ‘productivity.'”

“Why can’t sexes be just two — man and woman?” the 51-year-old mother of one also wrote.

The initial response to the matter by the LDP’s No. 2 figure, Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, added to the criticism.

Nikai said at a press conference on July 24 that the LDP “is a gathering of wide-ranging people from right to left. Each (LDP politician) has his or her own political position and life philosophy.”

Nikai himself had previously come under fire for criticizing — in a speech he made in Tokyo in June– people opting not to have children as being “selfish.”

Celebrities who have reacted with anger include author Hirotada Ototake, who was born without limbs.

Ototake tweeted, “Some people label others as unproductive even though their situations are not the ones they chose…isn’t it politicians’ duty to work for removing their difficulties in life?”

“If (Japan) becomes a society where people are judged superior or inferior from the viewpoint of how useful they are to the state, the person to be eliminated next time around can be ‘me,'” Ototake said in a tweet shared by thousands of people.

Even as the LDP sought to bring an end to the controversy over Sugita’s article, another junior lawmaker, Tomu Tanigawa, was found to have said on a recently aired internet TV program that a same-sex relationship is “something like a hobby.”

Tanigawa also said on the program that he does not necessarily reject the idea of sexual diversity but there is “no need to go so far as making a law to allow same-sex marriage.”

The remarks drew criticism from the head of the Komeito party, the LDP’s junior coalition partner. “I want the LDP to make its lawmakers follow the party’s (official) view,” Natsuo Yamaguchi said at a press conference on Thursday.


Source :  Japan Today

Japan asks ASEAN to steadily implement U.N. sanctions on N. Korea

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Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono urged ASEAN member states Thursday to continue to steadily implement U.N. sanctions against North Korea, amid concern that some other countries have effectively relaxed them, a government official said.

During a foreign ministerial meeting in Singapore between Japan and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Kono said it is still necessary to make efforts to close loopholes in the international economic sanctions, according to the Japanese official.

Kono’s remarks came with fears growing that countries friendly to North Korea, such as China, have boosted economic cooperation with it, undermining the impact of the U.N. sanctions designed to stop the country’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

All ASEAN members have diplomatic relations with North Korea, although Japan does not.

“I believe all the nations I talked today agreed that steady implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions will back” the process of denuclearization by North Korea, Kono told reporters later Thursday in Singapore.

At a historic summit in June in the city-state, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised with U.S. President Donald Trump to work toward “complete” denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula in return for security guarantees from the United States.

Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang on the specifics of denuclearization, however, are at a standstill, while North Korea has been improving ties with China, Russia and some ASEAN countries.

In particular, Beijing and Pyongyang have strengthened their economic relations, with Kim visiting China for summit talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping no less than three times since March.

Kono also called for ASEAN members’ cooperation to resolve the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, the official said, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has placed priority on settling the matter.

Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances.

As for the South China Sea, which has some of the world’s busiest sea lanes, Kono told his ASEAN counterparts that Japan rejects any actions that would change the status quo or raise tensions in the contested waters, apparently referring to China’s fortifying of islets it occupies there.

Kono pledged to bolster cooperation with Southeast Asian countries based on the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” promoted by Abe and endorsed by the United States.

As a concrete step, Japanese and ASEAN foreign affairs chiefs made a broad agreement to deepen bilateral technical cooperation, such as the dispatch of experts on disaster prevention and assistance for capacity-building, the official said.

The Indo-Pacific concept is aimed at ensuring stability from the Asia-Pacific to Africa through cooperation with countries that share values including respect for freedom of navigation and the rule of law, effectively as a strategy to counter China.

On Saturday, the ASEAN Regional Forum — an annual security gathering involving foreign chiefs from nearly 30 nations like China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the ASEAN members — is scheduled to be held.

It is one of the very few multilateral events also attended by North Korea’s foreign minister almost every year.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


Source :  Japan Today