Well, it was a particularly brutal week, punctuated by the awfulness of Nauru, and a rather vivid plane crash. But hey, we all laughed at Julian Assange. That’s something, right?
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve seen more tragedy in Indonesia, the brutal death of an infamous gangster, a welcome human rights development back home and a strange request from an Ecuadorian judge.
Tragedy has struck Indonesia this week with Lion Air flight JT-610 crashing into the ocean roughly fifteen minutes after takeoff. The flight had departed Jakarta airport at around 6:20am local time and was scheduled to arrive at Pankai Pinang an hour later at 7:20am. At 6:33am, air traffic control lost contact with the plane before it plunged into the water.
Authorities have confirmed that the plane was carrying 189 people including crew and it’s all but certain that there are no survivors. The pilot made an emergency request to return to Jakarta airport, which was approved, but moments later lost contact.
The plane in question was almost new having being delivered to Lion Air in August this year and had clocked up approximately 800 flying hours prior to the disaster. The captain and co-pilot were both experienced with approximately 11,000 flying hours between them.
In the days following the crash, it was revealed that the plane had issues during its previous flight the night before between Denpasar, Bali and Jakarta. There were allegedly issues with the altitude and speed sensors during that flight which saw the pilot make a distress call to traffic controllers at Denpasar airport before updating the control tower to advise the problem had been resolved and he would continue with the flight. Maintenance teams inspected the plane and the sensors before clearing it to fly the next morning. Whilst Lion Air CEO, Edward Sirait, downplayed the incident, indicating that the technical problem had been resolved “according to procedure”, passengers on board the Denpasar-Jakarta flight reported hearing strange engine sounds and the smell of burnt cables, with panicked passengers praying for their lives as the plane rapidly lost altitude.
It will be some time before the cause of the accident is discovered and made public, however in the meantime, search and rescue teams continue to recover debris and bodies in the aftermath of Indonesia’s second-worst aviation disaster in history.
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Infamous mobster, James (Whitey) Bulger, was discovered dead in his jail cell this week at the age of 89. Bulger was serving two life sentences for a long list of crimes including eleven murders, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, possession of firearms and other minor charges.
Bulger was finally arrested in 2011 after eluding authorities for 16 years after fleeing his native Boston in late 1994. The brutal details of Bulger’s crimes saw a jury find him guilty of 31 seperate charges with Judge Denise Casper saying at his sentencing, “The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes, is almost unfathomable.”
His vicious crimes, it appears, were not the motive for his murder; rather, it was the fact that he was operating as an FBI informant when he committed most of them. So much so that the US Justice Department paid more than $US20 million in damages to the families of his victims due to him being operating under government supervision whilst killing.
Bulger met his end inside a maximum security cell at the US Penitentiary, Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, only one day after being transferred there. It’s believed the attack happened sometime between 6am when inmates were released from their cells to get breakfast and 8am when staff made their morning rounds. Prison staff noticed that Bulger hadn’t emerged from his cell for breakfast and upon checking on him, found him wrapped in blankets and unresponsive. When staff tried to shake him, blood spattered on the floor and it was clear he was dead.
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Prison staff have indicated that they believe the inmates involved in the brutal murder are thought to be “affiliated with the mob”. A senior law enforcement official who wasn’t involved in the investigation into Bulger’s death but who oversees organised crime cases indicated he had been told by a federal official that an organised crime figure was responsible for the murder.
The Hazelton prison itself has been troubled by an increase in violent crime within its walls, with some suggesting the shortage of correctional officers during the Trump administration has been a major factor. It was reported that last year there were 275 violent episodes inside Hazelton, including fights among inmates and major assaults on staff, representing an almost 15% increase from 2016. Bulger was the third inmate to die as a result of violence inside Hazelton this year.
Whilst Bulger’s legacy is one of depraved violence and crime, he was also immortalised in the entertainment industry several times; he was played by Johnny Depp in the 2015 movie Black Mass, and the character of Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson) in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, The Departed, was loosely based on him.
Back home, this week saw a major and somewhat unexpected development surrounding our offshore detention centre on Nauru with the Federal Government aiming to remove all asylum seeker children from the prison island by the end of the year.
When current PM, Scott Morrison, stole took office back in August, there were 113 asylum seeker children on Nauru. The Government has reported that as of last week that number was down to 52 and it’s believed that by Thursday just gone, that number was down to 38.
Whilst the news has been welcomed by human rights activists and, well, anyone with a semblance of basic empathy, the Federal Government was quick to make it clear that the children would never be settled permanently in Australia. Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, told the media that none of the children would permanently stay in Australia, even if they are found to be genuine refugees, in order to not discourage people smugglers. Dutton indicated that the refugees will be sent to the United States or resettled in other countries but gave no indication as to how and when that might occur.
Labor have also welcomed the development with frontbencher, Anthony Albanese indicating he is glad that the coalition is “finally responding” to demands from health experts to get the children off Nauru. But he’s also indicated that he wants the Government to provide more information as to how it is being done and what the plans are moving forward, saying, “They need to be a little bit more transparent about it.”
Under the current Labor opposition policy, should they form government at some stage, the refugees would still be blocked from permanently settling in Australia. Human Rights Law Centre advocacy director, Daniel Webb, has indicated he will be launching legal challenges to keep the children in Australia once they arrive but believes the government is already working on ways to return them to Nauru or to be resettled elsewhere.
The announcement of course led to Pauline Hanson jumping into a debate that, as usual, she knows nothing about. In a fiery argument on Sky News with former Labor Senator, Sam Dastyari, over the refugee status of asylum seekers on Nauru, Hanson claimed that the asylum seekers that still remain on Nauru have not been judged to be refugees by the Australian Government, a claim that Dastyari strongly rebuked. Hanson, shockingly, was completely incorrect with an RMIT ABC Fact Check finding that 83% of the remaining 652 asylum seekers on Nauru have been granted refugee status by the Nauruan Government in accordance with international law and the United Nations refugee convention. The Department of Home Affairs also confirmed that they have accepted the Nauruan Government’s assessment of the refugee status of the asylum seekers. In addition, 13% of the remaining 17% that haven’t been granted refugee status are still being assessed and are still subject to the “refugee status determination” process. Only 23 out of 652 were considered “failed asylum seekers”. Perhaps Senator Hanson could have reviewed the information provided in a recent Senate Estimates Committee hearing where the deputy commissioner of the Department of Home Affairs, Mandy Newton, provided these figures to the Senate. But hey, don’t worry about the facts getting in the way of your political ambitions, Pauline – you never have.
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Maybe Hanson could offer Sky News host Ross Cameron a job following his immediate firing after he made “totally unacceptable” comments on air this week about the appearance of Asian people.
Whilst performing his duties as host of Sky News’ Outsiders program on Tuesday evening, the former NSW Liberal MP was having a discussion with fellow conservative commentator, Rowan Dean, during which Cameron said, “If you go to the Disneyland in Shanghai on any typical morning of the week, you’ll see 20,000 black haired, slanty-eyed, yellow-skinned Chinese, desperate to get into Disneyland.” Unsurprisingly, the episode has been removed from all Sky News platforms.
Sky News Chief Executive Paul Whittaker released a statement soon after, saying “I have today advised Ross Cameron that his contract with Sky News has been terminated. Sky News is committed to robust discussion and debate however this language is totally unacceptable and has no place on any of our platforms, nor in modern society. All content from the episode dated 30 October has been removed from all Sky News platforms. We apologise for any hurt or offence caused by the remarks made by Ross Cameron, on the program.”
Cameron has become the second Outsiders host to be fired in two years after former Labor leader, and current nutcase, Mark Latham, was fired in March of last year. If it’s not the hosts, it’s the guests, with Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonjhelm appearing on the show in July this year to discuss comments he made in parliament about Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young – the appearance has since resulted in a defamation case against Leyonjhelm from Hanson-Young. In May, Sky News also had to issue an apology for allowing far-right white supremacist activist Blair Cottrell to appear and talk about Muslim immigration after being convicted in 2017 of inciting contempt and ridicule of Muslims.
Then there’s Andrew Bolt…no, I’m way too close to my word count. Perhaps the Sky Execs might be due for a bit of a review of their hiring and content policies. Despite the adage, not all publicity is good publicity.
Wacky and wonderful
Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, was in the news this week as his lawsuit against Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Ministry was due to begin.
Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, has filed the suit against Foreign Minister, Jose Valencia, following the introduction of new rules regarding Assange’s extended stay at the Embassy. Assange, who became an Ecuadorian citizen in December last year, is arguing that the new rules are a violation of his rights under the Ecuadorian constitution. The rules included a ban on Assange commenting on politics and a requirement that he clear any visitors to the embassy three working days in advance. Failure to adhere to the rules could see Assange expelled from the embassy.
The first hearing into the suit, however, didn’t proceed as scheduled. Assange was reportedly having trouble understanding the court appointed translator, indicating that the court-appointed translation service was “not good enough”.
Ecuadorian Judge, Karina Martinez, agreed, indicating that it was vital that Assange testify and that the court had erred by appointing a Spanish translator who only spoke English. She then called for a replacement who was “fluent in Australian”.
No word yet on whether Paul Hogan’s spanish is up to scratch, but here’s hoping!
That’s it from me, TBSers. Have a cracking week!