Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced Aug. 17 that the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea plan to close the controversial Manus Island detention center. Since 2012 Australia has sent asylum seekers to offshore detention centers where they have been subjected to inhumane treatment. Human rights groups have brought light to the physical and sexual abuse faced by these individuals, which has created pressure for reform. Although there has been an agreement to close the center, Australia continues to state it will refuse to accept the detainees held there. There is no time frame on the process, which has led to skepticism.
The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled April 26 that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island in northern Papua New Guinea is illegal. The court found that the detention center violates article 42 of Papua New Guinea's constitution, which guarantees personal liberty. The court ordered both governments to take steps to end the detention. Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection said that the ruling, "does not alter Australia's border protection policies—they remain unchanged. No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia." There are currently about 850 detainees on Manus Island, half of whom have been determined to be refugees.
Kingi Taurua, a prominent elder of the Nga Puhi, an iwi (naiton) of New Zealand's Maori people at Te Tii Marae, Waitangi, North Island, has sent a formal "notice of veto" of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the embassies and trade departments of its proposed partner countries, and has requested that the Queen of Great Britain intervene on the issue. The document cites the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and the 1835 Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, and states that the New Zealand government does not have "due authority" to sign the TPP without the agreement of Maori elders, "which [agreement] has not been given." Taurua claims that the TPP would be void in respect of New Zealand's involvement as a result, and should not be signed. Release of the document sent by Taurua, entitled "Notice of Non-Assent to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and Exercise of Constitutional Power of Veto in Respect Thereof," came just a day before the TPP was due to be signed in Auckland on Feb. 4 by leaders from countries around the Pacific.
Authorities in Fiji are assessing the extent of the damage after Cyclone Winston brought winds of over 200 miles per hour, torrential rains and waves of up to 40 feet (12 meters). The storm—said to be the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere—destroyed hundreds of homes and cut electricity lines. There are reports of entire villages flattened. At least five people are dead by initial counts. The government has imposed a nationwide curfew and 30-day "state of national disaster," giving expanded powers to police to arrest people without a warrant. The storm moved westward after making landfall Feb. 20 in the north of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. It changed direction at the last minute, sparing the capital Suva the full force of its winds. (BBC News, Slate, Feb. 20)
As readers are doubtless aware, an unknown militant is currently holding a number of hostages at a Lindt Chocolat Cafe in downtown Sydney, and forcing them to display a jihadist flag in the store's window. There is much online controversy about exactly which faction's flag it is. The Sydney Morning Herald identifies it as the banner of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and contrasts it with those flown by ISIS and the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The report says Somalia's Shabab is also now flying the ISIS flag, which may mark another affiliate for the "Islamic State"—which would make four by our count. We have noted that protesters are on trial in Lebanon for having burned the ISIS flag, ostensibly because it includes the Arabic text of the Shahada or declaration of Muslim faith. These are all variations on the "Tawhid flag" that has been adopted by Islamists throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Given the franchise model of the jihadist networks, it really doesn't make that much difference which faction the Sydney militant is associated with, or if he is just a freelancer.
In a move being openly portrayed as part of a race with the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, China has set up a working group to study the feasibility of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host. Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, assured: "We think there will be no conflict between the FTAAP and the region's other FTAs under discussion." But reports note that the news comes just as progress of the TPP has snagged over Japanese insistence on protecting its agricultural and automotive sectors. Chinese President Xi Jinping in October said at the APEC business forum in Indonesia that Beijing will "commit itself to building a trans-Pacific regional cooperation framework that benefits all parties"—an obvious veiled criticism of the TPP. (Tax News, May 5; AFP, April 30)
As record-breaking scorching temperatures persist across Australia, the country's Bureau of Meteorology notoriously added a new color to its weather forecasting map,—extending the range to 54ºC, or 129ºF, from the previous cap of 50ºC, or 122ºF. The new deep purple "dome of heat" swirls above South Australia. (WP, Jan. 8) Fire crews are battling hundreds of wildfires, with New South Wales hardest hit. (Reuters, Jan. 9) Authorities fear a reprise of the devastating brush fires of 2009. One fire broke out at the the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) research facility in Sydney's south, sparking fears of a radiation release before it was extinguished. (TVNZ, Jan. 8) If this had happened, it would have been a nice convergence of the climate crisis and the nuclear threat, as we noted two summers ago when the flooded Missouri River threatened to overwhelm the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska.
Negotiators at the UN Doha Climate Change Conference managed to win an 11th-hour pact that kept the Kyoto Protocol alive but put off anything more. Naderev Saño, the Philippines’ chief negotiator, broke down in tears, beseeching action as his homeland was being devastated by a Typhoon Bopha: "I appeal to leaders from all over the world to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face." Typhoon Bopha, classified as a Category 5 supertyphoon, is believed to have left nearly 1,000 dead as it tore through the southern island of Mindanao—making it more than five times as catastrophic than Hurricane Sandy. Floods and landslides caused major damage in nearly 2,000 villages on Dec. 4, and more than 300 fishermen are still believed to be lost at sea. (FT, Dec. 12; PTI, Dec. 9) On Dec. 16, Cyclone Evan caused widespread damage in Samoa, with 4,500 left homeless, plantations destroyed and at least four dead. (Australia Network News, Dec. 16) Evacuations are now underway in Fiji, the next island nation in the storm's path. (AP, Dec. 15)