What are they dying for? Family, friends and colleagues gathered yesterday at Sydney’s Woronora Cemetery and Crematorium to pay their respects to Sergeant Brett Till, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan on 19 March 2009. The official Defence Department press release said the dedicated Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician was remembered for his love of his family and for his service and sacrifice to the nation.

Joining the family were the Hon Julia Gillard MP, Acting Prime Minister, representing the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister; The Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP, Minister for Defence; Mr Scott Morrison MP, Member for Cook, representing the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Leader of the Opposition; andthe Hon Carmel Tebbutt MP, Deputy Premier of NSW, representing the Hon Nathan Rees MLA, Premier of NSW. The Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston; The Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie; and the Special Operations Commander — Australia, Major General Tim McOwan were also present to pay their respects.

The Minister for Defence, the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon, extended his deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Till on this sad occasion.

“On behalf of the nation, I would like to offer our prayers and support to Brett’s wife, children, family, friends and colleagues. His dedication and professionalism were true expressions of the ANZAC spirit,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Sergeant Till was a patriotic Australian and a valued member of his regiment. He is owed a special debt of gratitude that can never fully be repaid. I know all Australians will remember and honour Brett’s sacrifice.”

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was being accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan’s presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises r-pe within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands’ permission. The Guardian reports the Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution’s equal rights provisions.

The final document has not been published, but the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband s-x.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.

Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, was quoted in The Guardian saying the law was “worse than during the Taliban”.

“Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam,” she said.

Room for gloom. The supposed experts in the game of analysing what is happening in the Australian economy were of the opinion that retail sales in February were down a modest half a percent. That was the median of the 18 economists surveyed by Bloomberg — how wrong they were proved to be this morning when the Australian Bureau of Statistics published its official figure showing a drop in seasonally adjusted terms of a full two percentage points!

Leave aside the month most influenced by the introduction of the GST and we have to go back to April 1997 to find the same sized drop and to May 1983 to find a bigger one (2.5%).

What appears to have happened is that consumers who brought forward some spending when they received a bonus payment from the government back in December have now retreated from the shops.

The ABS reports that the industries with the biggest seasonally adjusted increases in December 2008 have had the largest decreases over the last two months:

  • Department stores increased by 8.3% in December 2008 and decreased by 0.5% and 9.8% in January and February 2009, respectively.
  • Clothing and soft good retailing increased by 5.8% in December 2008 and 0.8% in January 2009 and decreased by 2.7% in February.
  • Household good retailing increased by 9.9% in December 2008 and decreased by 4.0% and 3.8% in January and February 2009, respectively.

No joy from manufacturing. If retailers think they are doing it tough they should spare a thought for the poor old manufacturer. The Australian Industry Group — PricewaterhouseCoopers Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index also out this morning show manufacturing industry continued to deteriorate in March although the rate of decline eased slightly.

The closest the Index came to showing good news was that activity declined more slowly in March in the construction materials and food & beverages sectors. The former may reflect the impact of the Federal Government’s higher first homebuyer grants and lower mortgage interest rates on housing demand and solid infrastructure spending. The ABS Building Approval figures today showed the seasonally adjusted estimate for total dwelling units approved rose 7.8%, the first rise since June 2008.

Plenty of reason to keep travelling. Our peripatetic Prime Minister will clearly have plenty of reasons to keep on flying around the world because it is now clear that the G20 meeting in London will be but the first of many as countries seek agreement on what to do about the broken world financial system. Perhaps we will see some kind of motherhood statement on the need for greater financial regulation but there are no signs of agreement on what form that should take. Plenty of opportunities there for Kevin to flit hither and thither to try and influence agreement. And just how much talking will there have to be as the pros and cons of the Russian proposal, supported by the Chinese, for a new international currency are debated? A good couple of terms of government worth there.

Toss in the need to keep climate change agreements moving forward and Julia Gillard will end up the longest serving acting Prime Minister in the nation’s history.

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Peter Fray

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