Hello all and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. Tragedy has struck in central Italy, more controversy on the coast of France, Plebiscite madness at home and some feels from the US for a change.
Tragedy struck this week with a 6.2 earthquake hitting Central Italy on Wednesday. The powerful quake is responsible for the deaths of at least 281 people at the time of writing, with hope almost gone of finding further survivors.
Rescue efforts have been marred by at least 470 aftershocks, the largest of which being a magnitude 4.3 in the town of Amatrice, which sadly experienced the largest number of deaths in the original quake. The aftershocks are causing further damage to buildings and increasing the risk to rescue workers. Authorities are also having trouble estimating how many people may be missing; Amatrice normally has a population of around 2,500 people, however, reports suggest that a large number of tourists were visiting the town this week.
The quake was only 50 kilometres south of the site of a 2009 earthquake in the city of L’Aquila which resulted in the death of three hundred people. Following the 2009 quake, the Italian Civil Protection Agency set up a one billion euro fund to assist in the upgrade of local buildings due to the high potential of seismic activity in the area. However, the grants were rarely taken up; reportedly due to the paperwork involved to get access to them.
France has hit the headlines this week following the controversial introduction of “burkini” bans in 15 towns across the country in response to the recent spate of terrorist attacks that France has fallen victim to.
The issue hit fever pitch this week following photographs being released of four armed French police forcing a Muslim woman to remove some of her clothing on the beach in Nice.
Thankfully, it appears the outrage over the ban is shared by France’s Conseil d’État, who responded by suspending the ban, stating the ban ‘clearly illegally, breached fundamental freedoms.’
Earlier in the week, another woman was fined in Cannes while wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf. The ticket issued to her reportedly described her offence as “not wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”. The wording in Nice, the latest French resort town to implement the ban, specifically bars clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”. Now, not to question the ability of the Nice police force, but it seems a bit of a stretch to expect them to be able to analyse and interpret the correlation between clothing and a person’s faith – particularly as Burkini creator, Aheda Zanetti, has indicated that the Burkini has been sold to many non-Muslims, estimating that around 40 percent of her client base were from non-Muslim backgrounds. Would a Catholic Priest be expected to remove his collar before getting some sun? A Buddhist his robes? Highly doubtful…if you’re going to discriminate against an entire faith, at least have the stones to admit it rather than vaguely word it with no intention of prosecuting anyone except for your actual targets.
Thankfully, it appears that the outrage over the ban is shared by France’s Conseil d’État (France’s highest administrative council), who responded late this week by suspending the ban on full-body Burkini swimsuits pending a definitive ruling. The suspension came following a request from the League of Human rights to overturn the ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, arguing that it contravenes civil liberties. The court released a statement following the suspension, stating that the decree to ban the Burkini “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”.
Back home and with the election finally over, the same-sex marriage plebiscite is back in the headlines with The Greens announcing they will vote against the plebiscite. Greens leader Richard Di Natale said that “a plebiscite will be harmful, it’ll be divisive, it’ll be expensive, and we should never put questions of human rights to an opinion poll.” It’s a pretty difficult argument to disagree with; particularly the poignancy of the last phrase. After all, I’m sure that whole women’s suffrage thing and the abolition of slavery would have happened if we put them to a popular vote at the time; let alone Aboriginal Australians who weren’t officially granted full voting rights at all levels of Government until 1962.
Di Natale also called on Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, and all crossbenchers to back the move to “not support legislation that enables a plebiscite under any circumstances.” The response from several Liberal MP’s has been as classy as you would expect, with Liberal MP Russell Broadbent indicating that if Labor blocked the plebiscite, there would be no parliamentary vote in this term of the government “and they need to understand clearly that’s the proposition”. Craig Kelly, the member for Hughes, echoed the sentiment, indicating that the issue would be off the table for the next three years should the plebiscite be killed.
Ah…it looks like the old Abbotesque “our way or the highway” routine is alive and well. All of this despite the fact that we are effectively only in this situation due to the amendments to the Marriage Act of 1961 introduced by the Libs in 2004, that for the first time introduced a specific definition of the term “Marriage” in Australian Law as the now infamous “Union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”. Prior to this introduction, the Marriage Act deferred to Common Law for a definition of Marriage. Was this deliberate? Absolutely, according to Senator John Gorton (Liberal Senator and eventual Liberal PM John Gorton for the record). He remarked when the original act was passed through parliament that “in our view it is best to leave to the common law the definition or the evolution of the meaning of ‘marriage’ as it relates to marriages in foreign countries and to use this bill to stipulate the conditions with which marriage in Australia has to comply if it is to be a valid marriage”.
Okay – so we are having this argument now because a Liberal Government inserted a definition into a piece of legislation originally introduced by a Liberal Government that deliberately never had such a definition, to prevent them from doing exactly what they are doing now…all of which they were happy to do without a plebiscite.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Same-sex marriage: Much I do about nothing?
- Same Sex Marriage: A reply to Kevin Donnelly
- Same sex marriage plebiscite: Strangers voting on my future
The Fremantle City Council have drawn the ire of almost everyone this week after announcing that they are cancelling next year’s annual Australia Day fireworks display. The decision, according to them, was made out of respect to Indigenous people. Fremantle Mayor, Brad Pettitt, stated: “There has been a growing movement that January 26 is increasingly becoming a day that is ‘not for all Australians’. For many Aboriginal Australians, it is indeed a day of sadness and dispossession…This does not just refer to indigenous involvement but the involvement of many other Australians who feel increasingly uncomfortable with the date and what it represents.”
Criticism of the decision has come from far and wide with residents in the local community expressing their unhappiness due to the decision destroying their own family traditions. The Fremantle Chamber of Commerce is very disappointed that the business community was not consulted, saying the economic impact of the decision would be significant.
Warren Mundine, Indigenous leader and the PM’s top Indigenous adviser has also labelled the move a mistake. Mundine suggested having “a sensible conversation about shifting the date so we can all come together, but banning fireworks doesn’t help – it just spoils the day for people.”
Indigenous Labor MP Ben Wyatt also weighed in on Twitter, saying:
Cancelling popular events in the name of reconciliation does not advance the cause. If its because of cost, then call it cost.
— Ben Wyatt MLA (@benwyatt) August 25, 2016
The rel’ship between Aboriginal people and Aust Day is profound. Cancelling fireworks a facile response and likely to cause more division.
— Ben Wyatt MLA (@benwyatt) August 25, 2016
Good intentions aside, perhaps a little more consultation may have been in order before limply tilting at that particular windmill.
Wacky and wonderful
After all that negativity, it’s time for some feels. A young couple from Detroit in the US were lucky enough to win a contest which gave them free Little Caesars pizza for an entire year. Rather than indulging in their winnings as I probably would have, Hannah Spooner and Pete Kadry decided to forgo their 52 pizzas and donate the vouchers directly to Convenant House, Michigan, which helps homeless children and young adults.
Spooner told the media: “I just know there are other people out there who have nothing. And I don’t think I should be eating a year’s worth of free pizza when there are people who go hungry at night.”
While 52 pizzas may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, I’m sure it’s brought some much-needed smiles to some young people who would rarely get the chance to indulge in something we all take for granted so often. Hats off to you both.
To New Jersey and amidst the ongoing divide between sections of the public and law enforcement in the US, 5-year-old William Evertz Jr sent a wonderful message this week, reminding us that we should occasionally turn to the mouths of babes to get a reality check. William had been saving up his allowance to buy a Power Wheels police car, but had a change of heart and decided to use his hard earned savings to buy lunch for the local Winslow Police department.
He was given a special key to unlock the police entrance and proudly walked in to deliver the food in person, telling the waiting officers, “Happy kindness day. I want to be a police officer. They keep us safe.” Police Chief George Smith greeted William and gifted him a show bag of police memorabilia, telling the little fella: “We need good police officers like you. I can’t wait until you’re old enough so we can hire you”.
We don’t just need more police like William, we need more people like him.
Have a cracking week, TBSers!