An emergency legal challenge to Australia’s contentious ban on citizens returning from Covid-struck India failed Monday, dashing stranded travellers’ hopes of an immediate return.
Federal Justice Thomas Thawley ruled the government had not overstepped its biosecurity powers in banning Australians from returning home temporarily.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month shut the door to all travel from India, fearing a large number of Covid-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia’s already strained quarantine facilities.
The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.
Thawley ruled that Morrison acted within the law, dashing the hopes of a 73-year-old Australian man who brought the case as he tries to return from Bangalore.
An Australian national has been sentenced to death in China for drug trafficking, in a ruling that could further inflame tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
Australia’s foreign ministry said it was “deeply saddened” by the verdict and reiterated the country’s opposition to capital punishment.
The man, named in Chinese pinyin as “Kamu Jielaisibi” and identified by Australian media as Cam Gillespie, was handed the death penalty by Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Wednesday, according to a notice posted on the court website.
The notice revealed no details about the defendant besides his Australian nationality.
According to Chinese local media, the man was arrested at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, northwest of Hong Kong, in December 2013 with more than 7.5 kilograms (16 pounds) of methamphetamine in his checked luggage.
A spokesperson for Australia’s foreign ministry said consular assistance was being provided to the man, but they would not confirm his identity citing privacy obligations.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the verdict made in his case,” the spokesperson said, adding that Australia “opposes the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people.”
“We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us.”
China is Australia’s largest trading partner, as well as a major source of lucrative international students and tourists.
But relations have been troubled in recent years and worsened after China reacted furiously to Australia’s call for an independent probe into the origins of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Beijing subsequently imposed tariffs on Australian barley and issued travel warnings to tourists and students over virus-linked racism against ethnic Asians in the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the allegations of racist treatment of Chinese as “rubbish” and said his government would “never be intimidated by threats” or “trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes”.
Last year, China sentenced two Canadian nationals to death on drug trafficking charges during an escalating diplomatic row with Canada over the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Canadian attempts to plead for clemency for Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei have so far not been successful.
China has also detained two Canadian nationals, including a former diplomat, on spying charges, in a move widely considered to be in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
The Taliban released two Western hostages in southern Afghanistan Tuesday, handing them over to US forces more than three years after they were abducted in Kabul, insurgent sources and police told AFP.
The release of American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, both professors at the American University in Kabul, comes one week after President Ashraf Ghani announced that Afghanistan would free three high-ranking Taliban prisoners in an apparent swap that he hoped would help jumpstart peace talks.
“This morning at around 10:00 am two American University professors were released in Nawbahar district of Zabul province. They were flown out of Zabul by American helicopters,” a local police source said.
Three Taliban sources in the province also said the hostages had been released, with one saying they have been brought there by car.
“We released the professors and are now expecting the Kabul government and Americans to release our three prisoners as soon as possible,” one of them told AFP.
There was no immediate comment from the US embassy in Afghanistan. Afghan officials in Kabul said they would release a statement shortly.
The American University in Kabul said it “shares the relief of the families” of the hostages.
“The AUAF community, our students, faculty, and staff, have keenly felt the absence of our two colleagues even as we have continually urged their release over these past three years,” a statement from the university said.
King and Weeks were kidnapped by gunmen wearing military uniforms in the heart of Kabul in August 2016.
They later appeared looking haggard in a Taliban hostage video, with the insurgents going on to say that King was in poor health.
Ghani said Tuesday that the pair’s health had been “deteriorating while in the custody of the terrorists”.
Ghani had first announced the exchange on November 12, saying the Taliban prisoners held at Bagram prison north of Kabul would be “conditionally” released.
They include Anas Haqqani, who was seized in 2014 and whose older brother is the deputy Taliban leader and head of the Haqqani network, a notorious Taliban affiliate.
Afghan authorities accuse Anas of being a high-level player in the network. The Taliban has long demanded his release, insisting he is a student.
The other two Taliban prisoners to be released are Haji Mali Khan, believed to be the uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Abdul Rashid, said to be the brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, a member of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar.
It was not clear when and where they would be freed.
In his statement, Ghani had hinted they could be released outside the country. On Saturday an Afghan government spokesman said there had been a “delay” in the exchange.
Ghani had said he hoped the swap would “pave the way” for the start of unofficial direct talks between his government and the Taliban, who have long refused to negotiate with the Kabul administration.
Australians living in the home of the country’s parliament will be allowed to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis from next year under a new law passed Wednesday.
While the possession of small amounts has been decriminalised in some parts of the country, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) — home of Canberra, the nation’s capital — is going a step further and will legalise it for personal use.
People aged over 18 will be allowed to possess up to 50 grams (1.8 ounces) of cannabis and cultivate two plants — or a maximum of four per household.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said although the territory’s government “does not condone or encourage the recreational use of cannabis or other illicit drugs”, it was time to acknowledge that outright prohibition was no longer an effective policy.
“There is good evidence from drug law reform around the world that a harm minimisation approach delivers better outcomes both for individuals and communities,” he said in a statement.
The change marks the first time it has been fully legalised anywhere in Australia.
The federal government, however, has the power to overturn the law — and has done in the past when faced with controversial legalisation passed by Australia’s territories, such as voluntary euthanasia.
The new legislation also requires rubber-stamping from the territory’s health minister.
Lawyers warned Wednesday that users could still face prosecution as federal laws clash with the ACT’s new legislation.
“It creates uncertainty where we don’t seem to have a formal position from the police themselves,” criminal lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith told the Canberra Times newspaper.
Buying and selling the drug will remain illegal in the territory.
Australia last year agreed to allow exports of medicinal cannabis, in an effort to boost budding domestic manufacturers and fulfill its aim of becoming a leading global supplier.
Unemployed Australians who say they were wrongly targeted by an automated debt recovery scheme will launch a class action against the government, their lawyer announced Tuesday, as Canberra ramps up pressure on welfare recipients.
The case — which claims the controversial system unlawfully took money from job seekers as well as pensioners, students and carers — will demand the government pay restitution and damages.
The so-called “robodebt” scheme uses an algorithm to compare tax returns with welfare payments, with the onus placed on income support recipients to prove they do not owe the amount demanded.
Advocates and welfare recipients say many have been relentlessly hounded by debt collectors to pay thousands of dollars they did not owe.
Lawyer Peter Gordon, who is leading the class action, estimated up to Aus$300 million ($200 million) had been “illegally” collected from those “least able to afford” it since the scheme’s launch in mid-2016.
“The unfair and incorrect assumptions had a devastating financial impact on people’s lives,” said Gordon.
“The emotional distress for people who have done nothing wrong has been high.”
Robodebt is one of a raft of measures pushed by Australia’s conservative government in recent years targeting the alleged misuse of welfare.
It is currently seeking to introduce drug testing of young job seekers and trialling cashless debit cards that restrict money being spent on alcohol, gambling or withdrawn in cash.
About 500,000 debt notices had been issued as of March this year, almost 100,000 of which were reduced, waived or written off — some of which had been sent erroneously while in other cases the intended recipients had died.
Several individuals are already battling their alleged debts in court, including a local government employee who had her entire tax return of about $2,700 recouped without her knowledge, according to Victoria Legal Aid.
“I was so shocked that they had the ability to access my tax return to take money but not to actually check if the debt was real,” she said in a statement.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert told parliament Tuesday he had faith in the robodebt system and criticised the case’s backers, who include the opposition Labor Party, for announcing it before making a court filing.
“There is no court case, there’s no case, there’s no papers, there’s no (plaintiffs),” ABC reported him as saying.
Gordon is a high-profile class action lawyer who has previously taken on the Catholic Church and Big Tobacco, as well as acting on behalf of asbestos victims.
The remains of the first British explorer to circumnavigate the Australian continent and popularise the country’s name have been found near a busy London railway station.
Archaeologists sifting through a vast burial ground near Euston station said Friday they had found a coffin plate identifying the last resting place of Royal Navy captain Matthew Flinders.
Flinders was buried on 23rd July 1814, but not before publishing “A Voyage to Terra Australis,” which described his circumnavigation of Australia in 1802-1803 that proved it was a continent.
“Flinders put Australia on the map due to his tenacity and expertise as a navigator and explorer,” said Helen Wass, an archaeologist overseeing the dig for the HS2 high speed rail project.
With an estimated 40,000 remains at the site, archaeologists were not sure they were going to find Flinders, whose resting place had been subject to much speculation.
“We were very lucky” said Wass, he “had a breastplate made of lead meaning it would not have corroded.”
“We’ll now be able to study his skeleton to see whether life at sea left its mark and what more we can learn about him.”
Flinders is a hero for many Australians of European origin, with stations, streets, squares and towns across the country named after him.
The discovery of his remains comes on the eve of “Australia Day” a controversial national holiday which falls on the date of the arrival of the British First Fleet to Australia.
Many Australians view the Fleet and men like Flinders as harbingers of the decimation of ancient Aboriginal societies and cultures.
There is added controversy over the role of an aboriginal Australian aide to Flinders named Bungaree, who has been largely eclipsed by his British captain, but who historians now believe played a crucial role in success of the voyages.
An Australian nurse jailed for 18 months for running a surrogacy clinic in Cambodia had her sentence upheld Monday in a prominent case highlighting the country’s role in the lucrative trade.
Tammy Davis-Charles, a nurse in her early 50s from Melbourne, was arrested in November 2016 with two Cambodian colleagues weeks after the country passed an edict forbidding commercial surrogacy.
She was convicted of sourcing clients and falsifying documents, although she said in her trial that she simply provided medical care to the Cambodian mothers.
Appeal Court Judge Kim Dany upheld the verdict during a brief hearing in Phnom Penh, saying the court had “already given a lenient sentence”.
Dressed in a blue prisoner uniform, Davis-Charles did not react to the ruling or speak to reporters afterwards. She has a final chance to appeal the sentence in front of the Supreme Court.
Cambodian authorities moved to curb the surrogacy trade after prospective parents — many from Australia — turned to the impoverished country in the wake of bans in Thailand and India.
Critics of the practice say it leaves women with few economic choices open to exploitation.
Police said Davis-Charles moved from Thailand to take advantage of the continued demand after several scandals in the neighbouring country prompted a government crackdown.
More than 20 Cambodian surrogate mothers were paired with clients in the Davis-Charles clinic, and they received around $10,000 each.
The nurse’s two Cambodian colleagues were convicted of the same charges and also jailed for 18 months.
With cheap medical costs, a large pool of poor young women and no laws excluding gay couples or single parents, countries in Southeast Asia were for years attractive destinations for the surrogacy trade.
Cambodia defended its decision by saying it did not want the country to become a “factory” for making babies.
Laos has emerged as the next frontier in the “rent-a-womb” business, which still exists through shadowy unregulated networks in Cambodia and other countries.
Australia’s Cameron Davis shot a brilliant final round of seven-under-par 64 to win the 102nd Australian Open after a wild finish to the tournament Sunday.
Regarded as one of Australia’s most promising young players, the 22-year-old charged home to beat his more experienced rivals and capture his first professional title.
With the blustery conditions testing the nerves and skill of all the players, Davis birdied the last hole to finish at 11-under-par and win by one stroke from Sweden’s Jonas Blixt and compatriot Matt Jones, the 2015 champion.
“To know that I can play my best golf under the most pressure you can really feel, is so good,” Davis said.
“I’m going to take that going forward for sure, and hopefully it’s going to help me over the line in the future.”
Cameron Smith, the only Australian to win on the PGA Tour this year, finished fourth at nine-under after closing with a 68, while overnight leader Jason Day faded to fifth at eight-under after shooting a 73.
“You can’t be perfect all the time,” Day said. “I played three terrific rounds actually, the first three rounds, and I just didn’t put it together on Sunday.”
In a thrilling final round which saw four different players hold the lead at various stages, Davis timed his run to perfection to claim victory.
Day led from the outset but slipped back down the leaderboard when he hit his second shot from a fairway bunker on the ninth hole into the water for a double bogey.
Day’s playing partner Lucas Herbert briefly took over in front but made three bogeys and a double in his last 10 holes to fall out of contention and eventually finish tied for sixth.
Blixt recovered from a double bogey on the ninth to reel off four birdies in five holes and join Davis in a share of the lead. But he missed a 15-foot putt on the last to force a playoff.
“I haven’t been in this position (for a while), so it was kind of fun being in it,” Blixt said.
“I felt really comfortable the last four holes and tried to make a run at it and it didn’t happen.”
While his rivals all struggled in the wind, Davis made six birdies and a spectacular eagle-2 on the 12th, when he found the hole from the middle of the fairway.
Davis, the 2015 Australian Amateur champion, turned professional after helping his country win the Eisenhower Trophy last year.
But he has been struggling to make his mark while playing on the Canadian PGA Tour.
Best known as one of the few ambidextrous players in golf, Davis joined the honour roll of champions to get their name engraved on the Stonehaven Cup for winning the Australian Open, one of the world’s oldest tournaments.
Ranked 1,494th in the world, he also earned himself a place in his first major, at next year’s British Open, but was still trying to grasp the magnitude of his win on Sunday.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff coming that I’m not really aware of yet, but it’s going to be good,” Davis said.
“I was trying to take my mind off that (but) I’m sure later on today I’m going to start looking around and seeing what this might get me. But at the moment I’m just kind of a little bit numb to it all.”
Defending Australian Open champion Jordan Spieth eagled his final hole to end a disappointing week on a high and finish eighth at six under.
“I found a nice trigger and I was getting through my putts a lot better than I was at the beginning of the week,” Spieth said.
“Had that happened the whole week, I would definitely have been in contention.”
The Presidency has described as erroneous, the allegations by critics of the Jonathan administration and the All Progressives Congress party that President Jonathan is hobnobbing with former Governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sherrif.
Speaking to State House correspondents, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, dismissed the claim that Senator Sherrif accompanied President Jonathan on his trip to N’Djemena as a member of his entourage, reiterating that the former Borno State Governor was not even a member of the delegation to Chad.
He listed those on the entourage to have included the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd.), the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed and the Director-General of National Space Research and Development Agency, Prof. Seidu Mohammed, and other presidential aids and journalists.
He said that Ali Modu Sherif was seen at the N’Djemena Airport in Chad on his own volition and not at the instance of the President. He wondered why anyone would rush to condemn the President over it.
He said that President Jonathan was fully aware of the allegation made against Senator Sheriff by Stephen Davies and that the allegation was already being investigated by the security agencies who would make their findings known to the public in due course.