ACCUSATIONS OF CIVILIAN EXECUTIONS IN ALEPPO

The battle for Aleppo is over, with the remaining insurgent forces agreeing to withdraw. The conclusion of the four-year long struggle represents a major victory for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies, though it is not believed the win will necessarily hasten the cessation of the country’s bloody civil war. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood fighting in the city has taken a significant humanitarian toll, with Assad’s allies accused today of executing fleeing civilians in the streets. The Syrian army has denied the claims and said rebels trapped civilians, using them as human shields.

CASH ECONOMY CRACKDOWN

While not all of us have a green $100 note in our wallets, there are actually three times more $100 notes in circulation than pink $5 notes. In a crackdown on money laundering, the federal government has announced a taskforce into the black economy as part of Monday’s mid-year budget update. The sharing economy, cash-in-hand tradie jobs and a possible ban on cash payments above a certain amount will be explored, Revenue and Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer told the Australian Financial Review: “The truth is the movement of money is a significant issue. It’s much easier to take a suitcase full of $100 bills than a suitcase full of $20 bills overseas,” O’Dwyer said.

THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING

Reshuffle whispers are again being reported and played down within the same breath, in both The Australian and the Fairfax papers this morning. Defence Minister Marise Payne is still suffering an abdominal infection that landed her in hospital last month, and an important meeting with her Japanese counterpart scheduled for next week have been cancelled due to the illness. There’s talk that Defence Industries Minister Christopher Pyne wants Payne’s job (“It’s no surprise he said  [Labor’s Anthony Albanese] is his only friend in politics,” a cabinet minister is quoted saying in the Fairfax report), and Attorney-General George Brandis and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion are also said to be on the chopping block.  James Massola and Amy Remeikis‘ report stresses however that Malcolm Turnbull is in support of Payne and ministers are playing down the possibility of a reshuffle. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told Sky News this morning Payne was back at work, but could not fly due to medical advice. “She’s certainly working but she’s recovering from surgery,” she said.

DEMOCRACY SAUSAGE

It’s the sweet taste of a civic duty well executed, and now it is also the word (or phrase?) of the year. The Australian National Dictionary Centre has announced its word of the year, and the Australian tradition of a sausage in bread has won out over census fail, smashed avo, shoey (my favourite), deplorable and Ausexit. Dr Amanda Laugesen, director at the dictionary centre, told Fairfax the word has been around since 2012 but its use increased this year. “Its use was also boosted by a controversial incident where Opposition Leader Bill Shorten — who noted his sausage sandwich was ‘the taste of democracy’ — ate his sausage from the middle,” Laugesen said.

TAX OFFICE COMPUTERS BACK UP

The Australian Tax Office’s website is back online after a two-day blackout, but the major failure of the agency’s computer systems has led to a loss of one petabyte of data (that’s 1000 terabytes). Tech website iTnews reports the issue began with the failure of a “hardware storage solution” and was made worse when back-up systems didn’t kick in at the beginning of the outage.

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Melbourne: Energy ministers from around the country will meet today. On the agenda is renewable energy in South Australia and its impact on the statewide blackout in September and the closure of Hazelwood power station in Victoria. The closure of the Hazelwood power station will be felt by households across the eastern seaboard, according to a report by the Australian Energy Market Commission. Bills will go up by average of $78 per household per year, with South Australians and Tasmanians to feel the pinch even more.

Sydney: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will address the Financial Services Council BT Political Series breakfast, and will discuss the government’s economic priorities in 2017.

Sydney: Treasurer Scott Morrison will address the Australiasian Finance and Banking Conference, and in a preview of the speech, the Australian Financial Review reports Morrison will make his case to ratings agencies, saying the government has done better than expected on budget repair. “This was the challenge set down by the ratings agencies to the Parliament after the election. So far, we have bested expectations,” Morrison will say.

THE COMMENTARIAT

Centre of politics pulled apart by outsider centrifugal forces — Paul Kelly (The Australian $): “The appeal of the “outsider” trading on grievance and exploiting regional and demographic alienation is the new gospel. The question for Australia becomes: is such disillusionment now factored into our system or does the tidal wave of disruption still lie ahead fed by economic downturn and cultural conflict?”

Federal government needs to stop Gonski funding row so we can fix schools — Adrian Piccoli (Sydney Morning Herald): “The federal government is wrong if it thinks schools can do this without additional support. Profound change in educational outcomes won’t happen overnight.”

Australians have far too much in common to divide over a treaty: — Gary Johns (The Australian $): “Unfortunately, the record was mundane: a hunter-gatherer people met its match in a far more sophisticated group of later arrivals. Around the world, all hunter-gatherer people have suffered that same fate.”

Women are the key to a world of sport— Jodie Fields (Herald Sun $): “In a dynamic and ever-competitive women’s sport environment, recruitment of talent for the best athletes is becoming fierce. Netball, soccer, AFL and more recently NRL have realised that women’s participation is now the biggest growth area in sport.”

THE WORLD

The blasphemy trial brought against Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has begun. A Christian, Purnama is accused of insulting the Koran by misquoting a verse. The case inspired massive Islamist protests in Jakarta earlier this year. Known as “governor Ahok”, Purnama faces five years in prison. — BBC

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen ex-governor Rick Perry as his secretary of energy nominee. Perry famously vowed to abolish three government departments during a 2011 Republican primary debate but was left embarrassed after he couldn’t remember the third one. He later confirmed it was the department of energy. Perry has described evidence for human induced climate change as a “contrived phony mess”. Trump also announced that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson will serve as secretary of state. — Washington Post

Pressure is mounting on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh to leave the office he has held since 1994. Jammeh was defeated in an election resulted he initially accepted, before changing his position. Other African leaders indicated he was receptive to doing so despite the fact army forces have occupied the nation’s electoral commission headquarters. — Reuters

WHAT WE’RE READING

The Experimental Nuclear Reactor Secretly Built Under the University of Chicago (Atlas Obscura): “Although there were risks to firing up an experimental nuclear reactor in a densely populated area, Fermi’s team chose to do it underneath the school’s disused football field because they wanted to use student labor to help assemble the atomic reactor.”

It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education (New York Times):“They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don’t.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

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Peter Fray

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