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The last work week of the year would unfortunately not go quietly, as Donald Trump eviscerated the taxation system, complicated violent sped through the Melbourne CBD and history was made at the end of a cuff.
Merry Christmas Eve to TBSers everywhere and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve had the Trump Tax Plan receive the rubber stamp, continuing horrors in Myanmar, a horrific pre-Christmas incident in Melbourne and a win for Border Force.
US President Donald Trump has finished the year with a victory, getting a tax overhaul through that many didn’t believe would pass. At the same time, he also managed to pass a short-term spending bill to allow the government to exceed its approved debt ceiling and subsequently avoid a potential government shutdown.
The big selling point is a major reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Whilst many see this as a boost to the big end of town, Trump argues that America has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world and that such a cut will boost the economy. As much as it pains me to admit it, he’s probably right. It also represents Trump being able to fulfil a campaign promise to reduce corporate taxes, and fulfilling campaign promises has been something he’s largely struggled to do.
The bill also provides tax cuts for most individuals with families on wages between $US50,000 and $US75,000 receiving average cuts of $890 per year and those on $100,000-$200,000 receiving a cut of $2,260 on average. However, the big end of town, those making more than $1 million per year, will receive a cut of $70,000 on average. The tax cuts at the lower end are also temporary with an expiration in 2025, but those at the upper end will continue to receive the cuts after that time.
On the topic of healthcare, Trump also managed to strike a blow against the policy he has been desperate to destroy, the Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as “Obamacare”, including in the bill a provision which repeals the requirement for all Americans to obtain health insurance. The move is expected to cause insurance premiums to rise (around 10% in most years over the next decade) and result in around 13 million people losing coverage by 2027.
The environment has also been hurt by the bill with a provision being included allowing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be opened up for oil and gas exploration, which will result in oil and gas drilling being allowed on approximately 1.5 million acres of currently protected coastal plain areas.
Unlike Trump’s performance to date, the bill actually contains some bold and unpopular moves that could have long-term positive effects on both the economy and the job market. Like all of his other performances, the welfare of the most vulnerable and the environment have been stomped on yet again.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Current affairs wrap: Democrats take Alabama, Alexander takes Bennelong, Star Wars takes a risk
- Fake news or real? Retailers using invisible ink on receipts, tall man prints business card, China invents invisibility cloak
Aung San Suu Kyi, the defacto leader of Myanmar, could face charges of genocide according to the UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.
Countless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State have been systematically expelled and killed in what the UN have described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. The government and military of the primarily Buddhist nation have flatly denied the accusations. Military leaders have claimed that all moves have been part of legitimate counter-insurgency operations, however with around 660,000 Rohingyas having fled to nearby Bangladesh since late August, it’s hard to believe them.
Zeid has indicated he personally spoke to Ms Suu Kyi, warning her to stop the killings earlier this year but according to him, the advice has been left unheeded. Zeid cited a long list of atrocities that have been reported to the UN by Rohingya who have managed to escape to Bangladesh which he described as “acts of appalling barbarity”.
“They include deliberately burning people to death inside their homes, murders of children and adults, indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians, widespread rapes of women and girls, and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques.” Zeid had also previously reported that Myanmar’s military had been accused of planting landmines in the path of Rohingya Muslims trying to flee.
With Bangladesh seriously overwhelmed by the influx, the central Queensland Rohingya community have called for help from the Australian Government but it has unsurprisingly fallen on deaf ears so far. Under the current Australian policy it’s all but impossible for any of the Rohingya refugees to make their way here despite being legitimate and stateless. The Rohingya have had their citizenship stripped by the Myanmar government, leaving some languishing in refugee camps for decades, unable to leave now being citizens of nowhere. Little hard to come in through official channels in that situation…and we know how the government feels about them coming by boat.
The Melbourne CBD was home to a shocking attack earlier in the week which has seen 19 people injured, several of them critically.
The chaos began at around 4:40pm on Thursday afternoon when a white Suzuki SUV accelerated through the intersection of Flinders and Elizabeth streets, deliberately mowing down anyone in the path of the car. Witnesses have described the car as travelling at around 70km/h when it hurtled towards up to 100 people crossing the intersection at the time.
Apart from the injured, the 15-second incident has shaken all that were there to witness it. Some talked of people “flying into the air”, others described the audible thumping sound of the car hitting people. Many were left shaken, crying and feeling helpless.
The perpetrator, who was arrested on the spot by an off duty police officer, has been identified as Saeed Noori, a 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghani descent. Police have indicated that while investigations are still proceeding, they do not believe that the incident has any terror-related links. Mr Noori, they have indicated, does, however, have a history of drug use and mental illness, suggesting that one or both may have been a factor.
The response, of course, has been polarising. For many in the public at large, the response is sympathy and sadness, particularly at this time of year. For others, it’s an immediate excuse to try and link the incident to a terror group without any evidence (ISIS are pretty good at claiming things that they had nothing to do with, we hardly need to assist them). Then there are those connected to mental health who are desperately trying to stop its inclusion as a factor lest it tarnish the many Australians suffering from a variety of mental health issues.
Accusations have been shot at Victoria Police for playing politics with the incident by indicating that no terror link had been found yet and indicating that the offender had a history of mental health and drug issues. For some reason, the police reporting the actual information they have so far and not postulating is suddenly considered playing politics. Questions like “How can Victoria Police dismiss the terror angle before speaking to the alleged attacker?” suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of police procedure as well as a complete unwillingness to listen to the actual words said by the police publicly. These aren’t questions being posed by the public on social media; these are questions being posed by journalists who should know better at a time when tensions and emotions are going to be extremely high.
Jeff Kennett, former Vic Premier and former chairman of Beyond Blue, was also quick to point the finger at police for blaming mental health for the incident. They haven’t done anything of the sort of course; they’ve simply stated the facts which are that Mr Noori has a documented history of mental health issues and is currently on a mental health care plan.
Kennett goes on to rightly point out that millions of Australians suffer from mental illness and that very few of those are a risk to society, and that we do mental illness and those suffering mental illness an injustice by blaming antisocial behaviour and criminal acts on their affliction. I, like many, would empathise with Kennett’s intention here but his delivery is misguided and dangerous while emotions and tensions are running high. No one is using mental health as a justification for the atrocities, but if it was a factor then it was a factor. Trying to exclude people from the mental health banner is unbelievably counter-intuitive.
Apologies, TBSers, for editorialising a little bit here, but when things like this happen in our backyard it creates a very visceral reaction in most of us. I used to live in Melbourne. I worked in the city. I used that crosswalk more times than I could possibly remember and I have probably used it at that exact time of day more times than I can remember; and like many others, I have dozens of friends that could have easily been there on Thursday afternoon. Emotive and particularly angry responses to this are understandable and most of the time, justified.
But when I see that emotion being manipulated and taken advantage of by those in the public eye who should not only know better but also, due to their positions, have a basic ethical responsibility not to throw petrol onto a large bonfire, then I have no choice but to go off script and call it out. When we actually know what happened in full, then the debate can start. Right now, we should direct our emotions towards sympathy and care for the 19 injured victims, their families and every poor soul that had to witness it. At this time of year, rather than using it to divide or justify hate, why not do as I plan to and use it as a timely reminder to cherish the time we have with our friends and family. Hug your family, hug your friends and share a laugh. Regardless of the yet to be discovered motivations behind an incident like this, that’s the best and most Australian response we can have.
Also on The Big Smoke
- While you were asleep: Street art criticises Streep, truck goes for a swim, Trump does his job
- While you were asleep: Mal’s cabinet shuffling, local arrested on terrorism charges, Damon commits social suicide
- While you were asleep: Barnaby Joyce promoted, Prince George becomes a revolutionary, Pam calls out Dutton
Australian State and Federal Police have been credited with Australia’s biggest ever methamphetamine bust as the result of a joint operation in Geraldton, WA.
A pre-dawn raid on a 16 metre vessel late this week was the culmination of the operation and resulted in the seizure of a whopping 1.2 tonnes of the drug with an estimated value of over $1 billion.
Three occupants of a van that took delivery of the drugs from the boat were arrested, all from NSW aged 33, 52 and 38. The three men on the boat were also taken into custody, a 45-year-old man from the NSW Central Coast and two men from South Australia aged 48 and 44.
Around 20 search warrants were also executed at residences in Sydney, the NSW Central Coast and Adelaide. Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner of operations, Leanne Close, has indicated police believe the drugs originated in China and the shipment came from a “mother ship”.
Two further arrests occurred later of a pair of 37-year-old men from South Australia at a hotel in WA. The charges against all the men include importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug and possessing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported.
Wacky and wonderful
No Wacky and Wonderful for you this week, dear readers. Instead, I’d like to wish you and yours a very merry Christmas on behalf of the entire team at The Big Smoke. We hope your Christmas is filled with good food, good cheer and fearsome, spirited debate amongst family and friends.