HOMELAND SECURITY OF OUR OWN

Australia is set to get its own mega-department similar to the US Homeland Security Department, the Fairfax papers report in an “exclusive” today. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is considering merging at least six agencies from two departments to combat terrorism with better co-ordination, according to Peter Hartcher. But wait, haven’t we heard this before? In January The Daily Telegraph‘s Sharri Markson reported:

“Malcolm Turnbull is planning a major shake-up in counter-terrorism and domestic security — with a new super-portfolio to tackle the escalating threat. Mr Turnbull has held high-level talks with cabinet colleagues about a new ­department and ministry to form a co-ordinated counter-terrorism effort.”

So what’s new this time? It’s that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton looks to be the winner in the move, taking some powers from the Attorney-General’s Department, which would lose operational agencies including the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). Hartcher says the only real enthusiasm for the idea comes from Dutton, Immigration secretary Mike Pezzullo and Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg. Attorney-General George Brandis reportedly isn’t keen — which is understandable as both reports on this plan say it includes him getting booted from his job in a reshuffle.

TODAY IN TRUMP

President Donald Trump has signed a new executive order rebooting his travel ban after the first effort was mired in legal challenges. The US will suspend its refugee program for 120 days and accept no more than 50,000 refugees per year, down from a cap of 110,000 under President Barack Obama. The new ban has a number of differences to the first effort:

  • Iraqis are no longer on the list of nationalities temporarily banned due to concerns that such a move would harm co-operation between the two countries;
  • Citizens of Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya still face a 90-day suspension of visa processing, but those with a valid visa will not have it cancelled;
  • Specific conditions for waivers have been outlined, for instance for people who have previously been in the US for a continuous period of work or study;
  • An indefinite ban on Syrian refugees has now been capped at 120 days;
  • The new ban will not be enacted immediately but instead will be phased in over two weeks; and
  • While the first ban was signed in front of cameras, today’s new version was signed in private by the President.

SAFE AS HOUSES?

Treasurer Scott Morrison has said something faintly positive about a Labor state government — yes, really. The Victorian government announced a range of policy changes over the weekend to help first-home buyers to get into the market, including waiving stamp duty for first-home buyers, an increased first-home buyers grant for new properties in the country, and a plan where the government would stump up 25% of the cost of a house. Morrison said “Now, taken together I think, good on them for having a good crack at this,” on Sydney radio, but a spokesperson played down the comments to Fairfax. The Treasurer did warn that the moves could push prices up further, a warning that has also been made by economists

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WHAT’S ON TODAY

Jakarta: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is in Indonesia at the Indian Ocean Rim Association leaders summit, where he will meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo. It’s the second time the two will meet in just a few weeks after Widodo visited Australia last month. Yesterday at the same conference Foreign Minister Julie Bishop quashed speculation that Australia and Indonesia would perform joint patrols in the South China Sea. 

Canberra: Bosses of ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank will face the House of Representatives Economics Committee hearing today. These are part of the regular hearings the government initiated in an attempt to hold off calls for a royal commission into the banking sector. Last week it was NAB’s turn, and MPs questioned payments to the bank’s leaders.

Sydney: ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie will announce a new staff restructure, which is expected to result in job losses in middle management. We’ll have details on this later today.

Sydney: Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen will address the Lowy Institute, and as reported in the Australian Financial Review, he will say Australia should focus on big multilateral trade deals.

Sydney: The Reserve Bank of Australia board will meet and announce any changes to interest rates. Economists believe the RBA will leave rates on hold at the record low level of 1.5%.

Heyfield: The Australian Sustainable Hardwoods board will meet today, and it is expected to decide on a phased shutdown of the Heyfield Mill facility in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. It would be a devastating blow for the area, which is also dealing with the prospect of hundreds of job losses from the closure of the Hazelwood power station, which will close its doors later this month. 

Bangalore: The Aussies will start the fourth day of the second Test against India on the back foot, with India leading by 126 runs after a day three fightback. The home side bowled Australia out for 276, and finished the day at 4/213.

THE COMMENTARIAT

We should put faith in ‘the man on the Bondi tram’ — Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (The Australian $): “The joint committee agreed there is no need to reform Sections 18C and D, which have been interpreted and applied consistently by federal courts for more than 20 years and that “the law strikes an appropriate balance between the freedom of speech and from racial abuse”. However, the time has come to codify the law through the inclusion of a reasonable-person test in Section 18.”

Liberals Gen Next at the mercy of a poll pull back — Peter Van Onselen (The Australian $): “Both Peter Dutton and Christian Porter would lose their seats in a uniform swing against the government of the order identified by Newspoll.”

‘A solution looking for a problem’: the downside to a Department of Homeland Security for Australia — Peter Hartcher (Sydney Morning Herald): “Australia’s record in preventing terrorist attacks is one of the best in the world, so why would you want to restructure the system responsible for it?”

Turnbull facing point of no return — Catherine McGregor (The Daily Telegraph $): “Until last week I believed Abbott enjoyed much more goodwill among his colleagues than Kevin Rudd did after he had been deposed. Now he is a pariah even among those who harboured residual respect for him. Even he accepts this.”

THE WORLD

French citizens living abroad will not be allowed to vote electronically in the country’s legislative elections due to concerns over the “extremely high risk” of cyber attacks. Since 2012, citizens living overseas have been allowed to vote electronically in legislative elections though not in presidential contests. — Reuters

Bahrain appears to be on the verge of a new crackdown on political and civil liberties, with the country’s justice ministry moving to ban the largest opposition party. Protests led by the country’s Shia majority were violently crushed in 2011 by the Sunni-led government. — The Guardian

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hit back at comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that compared modern Germany to the Nazi era. Erdogan was infuriated after several rallies pitched at Germany’s large Turkish population and designed to drum up support for his Turkish constitutional referendum were cancelled, reportedly for security reasons. “It is particularly grave, and makes me sad because Nazi comparisons only lead to one thing: the trivialisation of the unfathomable suffering of those affected by Nazi crimes against humanity,” Merkel said. — Reuters

WHAT WE’RE READING 

A conspiracy theory’s journey from talk radio to Trump’s Twitter (New York Times): “Conservative radio hosts like Mr. Levin and Rush Limbaugh have focused on Mr. Obama’s “tactics” for a while. But it was not until Breitbart published its story that the specific claims crossed Mr. Trump’s desk.”

Stephen King trolls Trump’s wiretapping tweets as only a horror writer could (The Washington Post): “Did you see that one coming? Honestly, the twist is a bit shopworn. But what can you expect? King has been telling stories for half a century, going after Trump for a full year, and wrote that last one in two hours.”

In Xi Jinping’s China, the cult of Mao comes roaring back (Le Figaro): “In Xi Jinping‘s China, it is again a risky proposition to openly criticise Mao Zedong … since Xi Jinping’s rise to power more than four years ago, he has been feeding the cult of The Great Helmsman and clamping down on any criticism of Mao’s legacy.” Utopian thinking: the easy way to eradicate poverty (The Guardian): “When it comes to poverty, we should stop pretending to know better than poor people. The great thing about money is that people can use it to buy things they need instead of things self-appointed experts think they need.”

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Peter Fray

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