What a week. George Pell experienced jail food, Donald Trump finally went to Vietnam and our media lost a true heavyweight.
Hello and welcome to this week’s Current Affairs Wrap. We’ve seen a historic—if not short—summit in Hanoi, nuclear tensions in the sub-continent, and a big, big news week on the local front.
The eyes of the world were on Hanoi this week as US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim John-un travelled to Vietnam for a long awaited nuclear summit.
The meeting promised much as an open dialogue looked to continue with the rogue Asian state that would hopefully see an eventual disarmament of North Korea’s growing nuclear capability.
But before anyone could blink, it was over. The summit collapsed with the respective leaders heading back to their own countries and the world wondering what the hell had just happened.
According to the Trump camp, North Korea insisted that all current sanctions against North Korea be lifted in exchange for an agreement to stop nuclear testing but wouldn’t commit to a complete elimination of the nuclear arsenal.
Trump played down the failed summit, saying, “Sometimes you have to walk. I’d much rather do it right than do it fast.” The comment has Stormy Daniels perplexed for some reason…
In defence of Trump, organising the summit, spending two days with Jong-un and sticking to his guns should actually be applauded. One way or another it does represent progress on what is potentially a very important and very serious issue.
But it wouldn’t be a Trump party without some controversy, and he’s still managed to deliver it in spades. Trump took the opportunity after the collapse of the summit to absolve Kim of responsibility for the death of US student Otto Warmbier, who was kidnapped and tortured for seventeen months by North Korea in December 2015.
Trump told the media, “I really believe something horrible happened to him, and I really don’t think the top leadership knew about it. Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places and bad things happened. He (Mr Kim) felt badly about it. He knew the case very well, but he knew it later. And you’ve got a lot of people, big country, a lot of people… He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”
Otto was returned home to his family in mid-2017, in a coma. Sadly, he never regained consciousness and died within days of arriving back home. Trump used Warmbier’s experience and death as an example of what North Korea were capable of on multiple occasions, even inviting his family to the 2018 State of the Union address where he told them during the speech, “Tonight, we pledge to honour Otto’s memory with American resolve.”
Trump’s exoneration of Kim dishonoured Warmbier’s memory and showed a complete lack of resolve. The comments have quickly been attacked by Democrats and Republicans alike back in the US and are a continuation of a worrying trend where Trump backs brutal and corrupt foreign leaders at the expense of his own people.
To suggest that Kim Jong-un wasn’t intimately aware of what was happening with a US prisoner in North Korea at a time when tensions between the nations were at an all time high is beyond ludicrous. Which begs the question, is Trump really that stupid? Or does he just think everyone else is?
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- Current Affairs Wrap: Pope Francis’ devilish hot take, Bishop concedes square, mum gets lion’s (over) share
While we’re on the topic of potential nuclear flashpoints, all focus quickly turned to Pakistan and India this week as a number of conflicts quickly poured petrol on one of the most volatile situations in the world.
The problems began on Valentines day when an IED attack on Indian troops in Kashmir killed forty-four Central Reserve Police Force personnel. Terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack.
India retaliated this week by launching air strikes inside Pakistani territory, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhle claiming the strike was in response to “credible intelligence” that pointed to Jaish-e-Mohammed preparing to target India again.
“Credible intelligence was received that the Jaish-e-Mohammed was attempting other suicide terror attacks in various parts of the country and various jihadis were being trained for this purpose,” he said. “In the face of imminent danger, a pre-emptive strike became absolutely necessary.”
Gokhle also claimed that a “large number of terrorists” were successfully eliminated during the strike which they allege was on a Jaish camp in Balakot.
Pakistan have a different version of events, with Major General Asif Gaffor, spokesperson for the Pakistani Defence Forces, saying “Indian aircrafts’ intrusion across LOC in Muzaffarabad Sector within AJ&K was three to four miles. Under forced hasty withdrawal, aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties.”
So India claim that they took out a dangerous terrorist camp; Pakistan claim that they scrambled fighters in response which resulted in the Indian aircrafts dropping their bombs in an open, unpopulated area before high-tailing back to Indian territory.
Pakistan then decided to return fire, carrying out airstrikes inside Indian territory and allegedly shooting down two Indian jets. Then, according to Pakistan, India sent jets back into Pakistani airspace which were promptly shot down by Pakistani forces. One of the aircraft fell in Pakistani-held territory and its pilot was promptly captured by the Pakistani military.
As tensions between the two nuclear powers reached the highest they have in recent times, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke publicly calling for talks with India whilst indicating that he hoped “better sense” would prevail and tensions could be defused.
On Friday, Pakistan returned the Indian pilot in what they have described as a “peace gesture”, suggesting that Khan is genuine in seeking “better sense”. Here’s hoping, for all of our sakes.
Back home and there was one name on almost everybody’s lips this week: Cardinal George Pell.
Following the lifting of a suppression order, the Australian media was finally able to announce that Cardinal George Pell had been found guilty of sexual penetration of a child and four further charges of committing indecent acts with or in the presence of a child at the end of his trial in December.
The verdict had been kept under wraps due to another set of charges related to an alleged abuse committed by Pell in Ballarat which had been slated to reach the courts early this year. The suppression order was put in place to avoid the December 2018 conviction prejudicing the second case, however it was lifted this week after it was decided that the second trial would not proceed.
Pell, the highest ranking Catholic in Australia and until recently, the third highest ranking Catholic in the world, was accused of abusing two 13-year-old boys in 1996 at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, including the rape of one. Unsurprisingly, Pell didn’t receive a warm welcome after leaving court on Tuesday with onlookers heckling the Cardinal.
The public reaction, for the most part, has been of a similar vain. PM Scott Morrison immediately began proceedings to strip Pell of his Order of Australia honour. Pell’s legal team have indicated that he intends to appeal his conviction and it’s believed that the Government will hold off on the application to the Council of the Order of Australia to revoke the honour until the outcome of that appeal.
Morrison told the media he was “deeply shocked” by the verdict.
“I respect the fact that this case is under appeal, but it is the victims and their families I am thinking of today, and all those who have suffered from sexual abuse by those they should have been able to trust, but couldn’t,” Morrison said. “Their prolonged pain and suffering will not have ended today. While due process continues, our justice system has affirmed no Australian is above the law.”
The Richmond Football Club have also revoked Pell’s honorary position at the club and St Patrick’s College in Ballarat have moved to remove his name from a building immediately. The Vatican have described the conviction as “painful news” but will not commence any disciplinary action until the outcome of the appeal is determined. Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti said “We await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal.”
Whilst the response from the Vatican is expected and measured in the circumstances, a number of high profile politicians and media personalities have come out in support of Pell, despite the conviction.
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All eyes were on former PM Tony Abbott, who has been a very vocal supporter of Pell over the years. He spoke with Ben Fordham on 2GB radio during which he confirmed he had spoken directly with Pell following the guilty verdict being made public and that he would reserve judgement until the appeal was heard, whilst maintaining that the verdict “certainly doesn’t sound consistent with the man I have known”.
Another former PM John Howard provided a character reference for Pell which was submitted during his pre-sentencing hearing. Howard described him as “a person of the highest character” and indicated that “none of these matters alter my opinion of the cardinal.”
Abbott’s response was expected, and somewhat understandable in the circumstances. Howard’s was ill-conceived and could see the former PM’s reputation decimated further, should Pell’s conviction be upheld on appeal.
Columnist and long-time Pell defender Andrew Bolt almost immediately released a column indicating that he believed that Pell had been falsely convicted. “Pell could well be an innocent man who is being made to pay for the sins of his church and made to pay after an astonishing campaign of media vilification,” he said. Not that Andrew would know anything about vilifying people through the media for personal gain. Bolt went on to indicate that in his opinion, Pell is a scapegoat and not a child abuser.
Apart from the fact that Bolt wasn’t afforded the luxury of looking into the eyes of Pell’s accuser as he told his story, the defence is also very much in line with what has been a systemic and consistent editorial mission from Bolt to defend Pell at all costs and accuse all and sundry of a witch hunt against him.
Courts have wrongly convicted people before. Pell may well be one of them. But the jury that heard his victim’s testimony unanimously ruled that he committed these crimes. Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and all those who would claim to know better than that jury do not know whether Pell committed these crimes or not. Even in not knowing, they choose to proclaim his innocence whilst simultaneously labelling his victims as liars. I don’t know about you, but I’d want to be damn sure before I accused a victim like this of lying…but then again, I have a conscience.
As it stands now, in the eyes of the law, Cardinal Pell committed these crimes and is a convicted paedophile. That conviction removed his right to a presumption of innocence.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Cardinal sin: Bolt and Devine’s defence of Pell is beyond the pale
- Everything you need to know about the Pell ruling
Australia is mourning the loss of one of our most respected journalists and television hosts, Mike Willesee.
Willesee died on Friday at the age of 76, following a three-year battle with throat cancer.
Willesee’s career began on This Day Tonight on the ABC as the show’s first full-time political reporter. He then moved on to host the ABC’s flagship current affairs program, Four Corners from 1969-1971 before moving to the Nine Network to host its new show, A Current Affair.
Willesee’s career went from strength to strength across a variety of shows and networks and documentary making. Whilst his body of work contains many memorable moments, his interview with former Liberal leader John Hewson in the buildup to the 1993 election is probably seen as his most iconic and certainly his most impactful.
Willesee interviewed Hewson ten days out from election day, asking Hewson to explain the proposed GST model that he intended to implement if he won the election. A set of questions surrounding how GST would be applied to a birthday cake left Hewson unable to clearly answer. Willesee’s interview is widely credited as having cost the Liberals that election, despite it being dubbed “unlosable”.
Willesee also interviewed James Packer on Channel 7’s Sunday Night back in 2013 in what was considered one of his best interviews. The interview saw James break down in tears when describing the death of his father Kerry, in a very rare show of vulnerability. It could be argued that no other journalist could have elicited such a raw and genuine response from someone as guarded as Packer.
According to colleagues, including fellow journalistic icon Ray Martin, Willesee’s signature move, the “Willesee pause”, was incredibly effective at breaking down the walls of interview subjects, particularly politicians.
“You give a politician a moment’s silence and they feel like they had to talk,” Martin said. “They often said things they didn’t want to say to Mike Willesee.”
Former ABC heavyweight Kerry O’Brien described him as “an absolute trailblazer on Australian television”, saying, “I regarded him right through my career as the benchmark. He was quality and class from the outset. A very sharp mind and a great instinct for the right question.” High praise considering the source.
As a child born in the early 1980s, Willesee’s face and interviews are so intrinsically linked to my upbringing; a glimpse for me at what real journalism could and should be—something that we’ve perhaps lost to a degree now in the age of digital media, and more importantly, in the age of the modern politician. An inspiration to myself, and many; an example to myself and many. RIP, Mike.
That’s it from me, TBSers—have a cracking week!