Weekend News Tidbits from Australia (31 Jan to 6 Feb)

  The first week of February 2016 proved to be a little loud than usual with hoax bomb threats and pro refugee rallies highlighting this week’s events.   Australians Rally for Asylum Seekers   Thousands of Australians from every state showed support for asylum seekers after a High Court ruling last Wednesday, 3 February 2016 that allowed the government to deport 267 people including 27 children back to Nauru.   Protests began in Bendigo followed by Sydney at lunch time. There were also rallies in New Castle, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.   Churches also offered a place for the refugees. Although not recognized by the Australian laws, it has a biblical basis and was considered legal back in the middle ages.   According to the Very Reverend Dr. Peter Catt, the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, they are opening their churches “because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances asylum seekers, especially children, would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse.”   Protesters gather in support of asylum seekers in Canberra   Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, however, is resolve to prevent people smugglers. Similarly, immigration minister Peter Dutton believes that the decision of the High Court is for the best.   “We have to be compassionate on one hand but we have to be realistic about the threat of people smugglers. We’re acting in the best interest not only for these children but children that would follow them.”   International media including the United Nations are closely watching and warns Australia to consider the best interests of children refugees. The UN fears that “children and families face a great risk at being sent to a place that is not considered safe nor adequate.”   UN spokesperson Benyam Mezmur said Australia’s action “may be a breach of convention against torture which covers cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”   It has been documented that refugees experienced trauma, sexual assault and depression during their detention.   The island in question, Nauru, is the smallest island nation measuring just 21 square kilometres. It is found north east of Australia, 42 kilometres south of the equator with just approximately 10,000 Nauran and the 1,000 non-Naurans. Their main economy relies on phosphate mining.   According to Asian Development Bank, Nauru faces many challenges such as having “no private sector, little arable land, limited fresh water supply, extremely high levels of debt.” The country’s economy improved in 2014 by the reopening of Australia’s Regional Processing Centre and the liquidation of the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust.   AU Pledge help for Syria   Meanwhile, in Rome, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pledged an additional $25 million in aid to Syria and Iraq.   Ms. Bishop also announced an additional 10 Australian Civil Corps specialist to work in different areas to aid in longer term development needs. These areas are education, protection, water and sanitation and logistics project. These specialists will be assigned to Jordan and Lebanon.   The pledge was made during a meeting in Rome attended by foreign ministers from the “small group” coalition. The ministers discussed the situation in Syria where US Secretary of State John Kerry describe the situation as similar to the aftermath of World War II with 13 million Syrians, including 6 million children are in need of urgent aid. Mr. Kerry said that the situation is “getting worse by the day, not better.”   Ms. Bishop and Mr. Kerry are both attended a Supporting Syria in London co-hosted by Britain, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations. This meeting was to raise money for humanitarian aid to war torn countries thus the meeting is called as the “Donor’s Conference.”   Foreign Minister Julie Bishop delivers a speech at the American Australian Association Australia Day   Discussions about peace talks and rebuilding of Syria were also on the table that day.   So far, Australia’s assistance to Syria and Iraq amounted to $230 million since 2011 in humanitarian assistance, around $400 million for the cost of military contribution for this year and an additional $830 million for permanent settlement of 12,000 Syrian refugees.   Oxfam Chief executive Helen Szoke commented on Australia’s $25 million pledge as a “good start.” She said it “pales in comparison to reports that Germany contribution is $770 million.”   In addition, she said that because it is a “massive humanitarian tragedy” the $25 million coming from Australia would only be covering “14 per cent of its fair share of funding for the crisis for this year.”   Ms. Bishop called for other countries turn to help by adding military power to fight ISIS.   School Bomb Threats   Back in Australia, 30 schools throughout the country were disrupted due to hoax calls of school shooting and bomb threats.   These calls started 29 January and were first ignored by most media as per police advice believing it would only encourage the perpetrators.   However, students, educators and staff need to evacuate the buildings every time they receive such calls even if there is a high probability that is is a hoax because there is still a chance that it is a real threat.   Students depart a Sydney high school as police patrol the grounds   Last 2 February, several schools received calls including 17 in Victoria, 9 in Queensland, 5 in ACT and an undisclosed number in NSW and again the next day, additional 8 schools in Victoria, Queensland and NSW central coast.   Although it is thankfully just a hoax and not a real threat, students evacuating school buildings are in a highly stressed situations, some of them are just in preschool or kindy who are in school for the first time.   Students may experience trauma of being forced in a certain meeting point – usually outdoors for a long periods of time until the school is declared safe by the police. Some students in Queensland also suffered from heat exhaustion because the temperature that day reached 40 degrees.   Australia’s hoax bomb threat is not unique in the country, in fact France, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and the UK experienced the same.   The police said the calls do not suggest terrorism but more of a cybersecurity issue. In addition, police believe that since the hoax seem sophisticated, other groups may not copy and play the same hoax calls in Australia.   However, the group called Evacuation Squad who are responsible for the same calls in Europe, US, Japan and South Africa said they were not the ones behind the calls made in the county.   The director of cybersecurity and privacy of the University of NSW, Professor Sanjay Jha said it would be difficult to track the culprits especially if they are overseas. The professor also noted the “numerous commercial internet servers” that makes automated calls possible for businesses.   Any person or organization with malicious intent may sign up for such services using false identities.   Meanwhile, ACT police confirmed that “the schools have been searched and nothing suspicious has been identified.”   Young Australians of the Year Awardees Dream for Their “Crazy Idea”   For some good news this week, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett owners of Orange Sky Laundry from Queensland want to bring their “crazy idea” overseas.   It started out with the two best mates’ vision for the homeless in Australia to have clean clothes to wear. They founded Orange Sky Laundry in 2014 that will provide free laundry service for the homeless and it is completely mobile.   They currently have 270 volunteers running 5 vans in Brisbane, Melbourne, South East Victoria, Sydney and the Gold Coast.   The duo plans of bringing their free, mobile laundry service consisting of two fitted washing machines and two dryers to Europe by March and then to UK and all across America by midyear.   Of course, aside from providing laundry, Orange Sky can help the homeless feel more connected to community by talking to them and giving them the dignity of wearing clean clothes.   2016 Top Restaurants in Australia   The list of 500 best restaurant is out and the competition to vie for the top spot is on.   2015 Australia's Top 100 Restaurants   Chefs will be voting for the top restaurants all over the country including old favorites such as Quay, Attica, Brae and Sepia along with 113 new entries. Also included are names such as Continental Deli Bar Bistro (Sydney), Osteria Oggi (Adelaide), Long Chim by David Thompson (Perth), and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (Melbourne).   The search for the best restaurant in Australia is presented by Qantas. Renowned restaurant critic, Terry Durrack believes that “the Top 500 is living proof that the Australian dining scene doesn’t stand still for a minute.”   Aussies can also vote for their favorite for the People’s Award on 1 March with the Gala Award ceremony on 2 May in Sydney.
Candice C

Candice is a school teacher and a mother, She loves writing about practical guides and of course, parenting advice.


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