Crikey has been spent the last two weeks enjoying a well-earned break and we know that many of our readers have as well. So if you’ve only passed a cursory eye over the news in the past few weeks, here are the biggest stories of the Christmas break:

Cairns Massacre. A 37-year-old woman was charged with murdering seven of her children and her niece in a massacre in Cairns on December 19. The house where the eight children were murdered is set to be demolished to make way for a memorial. The woman charged with murdering seven of her children and a niece has been placed under an involuntary treatment order in Cairns Hospital. There have been calls for newly sworn in Social Services Minister Scott Morrison to review the states’ child protection systems in response to this tragedy.

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Bushfires. More than 200 families have been displaced by bushfires still burning in South Australia. It has been confirmed that 12 homes have been destroyed while 20 others are feared to have been lost. About 20 people have been injured, 12,800 hectares of land blackened, and about 1000 houses were without power over the weekend. Specialist teams are currently assessing damaged areas and preparing for deteriorating weather conditions expected to spike on Wednesday.

Reports on the weekend’s western Victorian fires suggest more than 1000 sheep have been killed in the Moyston fire. The stock deaths occurred within a fire that blackened 4600 hectares of Moyston, near Ararat.

Peter Greste retrial. On January 1, Peter Greste and his fellow Al Jazeera colleagues had their original convictions quashed and a retrial ordered. It is now open to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to have Greste and one of his two jailed Al Jazeera colleagues deported.

Tony Abbott in Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has traveled to Baghdad for talks on helping Iraq fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. Abbott used his first visit to Iraq to meet with his Iraqi counterpart Haider al-Abadi and discuss Australia’s involvement in the fight against IS.

Changes to Medicare. The federal government has snuck in a couple of important changes to Medicare. From January 19, 2015, the rebate for consultations under 10 minutes will be cut by about 55% from $37.05 to $16.95 for all patients, including pensioners.  From July 1, 2015, the Abbott government plans to cut the Medicare rebate for all consultations, excluding children and pensioners, by a further $5. This cut is essentially a cut to a person’s rebate and not to the GP’s salary. In other changes, it is assumed  there will be no further indexation until after 2018, meaning the cost of providing medical care will continue to rise.

Flight QZ8501. On December 28, 2014, the AirAsia flight QZ8501 carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members crashed. According to Indonesia’s Search and Rescue Agency chief, the plane is most likely at the bottom of the sea. More than 80 deep-sea divers have been deployed to search for the missing plane. AirAsia today says the number of recovered bodies sits at 34.

Royal Commission into Family Violence. Just prior to Christmas, the Victorian government announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into Family Violence, which is set to begin sitting in February. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says the Royal Commission will have a budget of $40 million.

Cabinet reshuffle. On December 23, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s new frontbench team was sworn in. It was essentially the resignation of Senator Arthur Sinodinos on December 19, 2014, that sparked the reshuffle. Josh Frydenberg took over from Sinodinos as Assistant Treasurer. Scott Morrison was appointed Minister for Social Services, David Johnston was replaced by Kevin Andrews as Defence Minister and Peter Dutton moved to immigration with his former portfolio of health going to Sussan Ley. In other news, Steve Ciobo replaced Brett Mason as the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. Moreover, three new additions to the frontbench were made: former Western Australian treasurer Christian Porter is the new parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer the parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer, and Karen Andrews the new parliamentary secretary to Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane. Abbott said the new team will focus primarily on employment and families.

Scott Morrison threatens to stop citizenship by Moreland City Council. At the beginning of the new year, it was reported that former immigration minister Scott Morrison threatened to revoke the rights of an inner-city Melbourne council to conduct Australia Day citizenship ceremonies after its mayor refused to read aloud a message that, according to an ALP member, contradicted the council’s policy to welcome asylum seekers and refugees.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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