Nuclear weapons, some enabled from Pine Gap, on wrong side of law


By KIERAN FINNANE

As of Friday, 22 January 2021, Australia will be on the wrong side of international law. This is the day the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons comes into force, having attained last October the threshold ratification by 50 member states of the United Nations.

Honduras was the 50th on 25 October, 2020; the 51st, Benin, followed on 11 December. The very first was The Vatican (Holy See) in September 2017.

A total of 86 countries have signed the treaty, the first step towards ratification. Australia isn’t one of them. Indeed, under the present government Australia has stood in the way of the development of the ban treaty and of debate in the Australian parliament about it.

This puts our country in conflict with its obligation – under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a party – to pursue negotiations on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.

If it were pursuing such measures,  Australia’s “greatest contribution”, argues the Nobel laureate ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – would be to renounce any role for nuclear weapons in the defence of the country and to join the ban treaty.

Under the treaty, Australia would have to desist from helping the United States with the possible use of its nuclear weapons, which is where the  issue becomes particularly relevant to Central Australia.

As Professor Richard Tanter has explained previously in the Alice Springs News, the American military base we host at Pine Gap has a critical role in US nuclear command, control and intelligence. This is specific to a discrete facility at the base, the Relay Ground Station (RGS) in the western compound.

He argues that an Australian Government, to become compliant with the ban treaty, could require the closure of the RGS without impacting the rest of the base, and that this is technically and strategically achievable without throwing the alliance into crisis.

The Relay Ground Station at Pine Gap. Far from closing, it is currently being expanded. Google Earth image, ©2020 Maxar Technologies, July 2020.

There is no hint of interest in going down this path from the present Australian Government. However, this might change with a future Labor government, the Labor Party having committed to sign and ratify the treaty. Indeed, Labor leader Anthony Albanese – who has described nuclear weapons as “the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created” – will speak at one the national events celebrating the treaty coming into force.

On the impact that ratifying the treaty could have on the alliance with the US he told the party’s national conference in 2018:

“I am a very strong supporter of our friends and our alliance with the United States, it goes beyond a relation between individuals. The fact is that we can disagree with our friends in the short term, while maintaining those relations.

“When other treaties such as landmines first came up, the United States and many other countries that ended up supporting it today were hostile to the idea.”

The present government, however, refuses to give serious consideration to the ban treaty – dispensing with it in just one paragraph on the Department of Foreign Affairs website, a paragraph “riddled with misrepresentations”, according to ICAN, which has published a succinct document to answer each, titled For the record.

This refusal puts us out of step with other allies and friends in the region: most of our Pacific neighbours have ratified the treaty, including Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Our immediate large neighbours to the north, Indonesia and The Philippines, have signed the treaty. Some south Asian states, like Bangladesh and Malaysia, have ratified it. 

No country with a nuclear arsenal has signed, nor have most NATO members, nor many of their military allies; on the contrary, they mostly boycotted the negotiations, which left the field largely to the countries of the Global South, typically excluded from playing a role in nuclear policy discussions.

Of the non-aligned EU member states, Austria and Ireland have ratified the treaty. Indeed, Austria has taken a leading role in negotiations and will host the first meeting of the “states parties” to the treaty within the year. Non-states parties could attend as observers.

One of the obligations the treaty places on its states parties is to seek universality, meaning that they must work to get states that are not party to the treaty to sign on and ratify.

Australia could thus come under increasing pressure at international and regional fora.

Meanwhile the treaty has popular support, says Gem Romuld, Australian director of ICAN, citing an IPSOS poll which asked whether Australia should sign and ratify the treaty: 71% answered yes (20% were unsure, 9% said no).

She says dozens of unions, religious, medical, humanitarian and environmental organisations have joined the movement to push for Australian ratification of the treaty, including the Australian Medical Association, Australian Red Cross and Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Some 88 federal parliamentarians have pledged to work for Australia to join the ban and some local governments are getting involved. In Hobart, for instance, the Lord Mayor will host a reception to celebrate the entry into force of the treaty.

In Alice Springs the Peace Action Think Tank (ASPATT) will host a film night this Saturday to raise awareness and mobilise support for Australia to ratify the treaty, while celebrating the historic occasion.

The 1989 film Fat Man and Little Boy, starring Paul Newman in a story about the Manhattan Project – the secret endeavour during World War 11 to develop the first nuclear weapons – will screen at the Alice Springs Cinema, 6pm ($15 at the door, cash only). It will follow a short film featuring Karina Lester (pictured, photo supplied). She is a Yankuntjatjara/Pitjantjatjara second generation survivor of the nuclear tests at Maralinga, which devastated her Country and were believed to have blinded her father, Yami Lester OAM. 

Says ASPATT’s convenor Jonathan Pilbrow: “Unfortunately, the threat of nuclear weapons does not belong to a bygone era, but remains a present and real threat of our times.

“The most powerful way to honour the victims and survivors of nuclear weapons is to progress the elimination of these abhorrent weapons.

“It will be a step towards addressing some of the wrongs of the past, and ensuring Australia doesn’t legitimise the use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances.”

 

Images, at top: Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, photos by George R. Caron, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Below: Aftermath of the bomb in Hiroshima, August 1945, photo by National Fire Service photographers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. For an unforgettable account of what it was like to live through the bombing and into its aftermath, see Hiroshima by John Hersey, Penguin Classics, first published in the New Yorker in August 1946. 

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Workplace law expert says employers can require staff vaccinate for COVID-19


Employers will be allowed to require workers to vaccinate against coronavirus, a workplace law expert says, despite assurances from the federal government the jab will be voluntary.

As the vaccine’s national rollout approaches, there are calls for greater clarity around the authority of businesses and rights of their employees.

It comes after a Brisbane care worker who was terminated for refusing a flu jab launched an unfair dismissal case against her former employer.

Zana Bytheway, executive director of employment rights legal centre JobWatch, said employers had a responsibility to provide a safe work environment.

As part of fulfilling that obligation, they may require that workers are vaccinated at the company’s expense.

“Under occupational health and safety law, an employer is required to do whatever is reasonable and practicable to ensure workplace health and safety,” she said.

“Given the ongoing global pandemic, this can reasonably include requiring employees to wear masks, do COVID-19 tests and receive vaccinations once they are available.”

Disability discrimination law requires that employers make reasonable adjustments for employees to do their job, and medical exemptions to vaccine rules may apply in some cases.

But Ms Bytheway said the situation was complicated by federal and state laws and directives, and the balance of risk to the community against impact on individuals.

“We’ve seen instances of this already, where aged care workers in Victoria have been required to wear fitted face masks through government orders – individual medical exemptions did not apply in these circumstances because of the high-risk nature of their work,” she said.

“I think employers, like the entire community, are looking to the government to provide us with some clear guidance.”

Although the federal government’s policy is that the coronavirus vaccine is voluntary, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also acknowledged that some people may be required to get one.

Earlier this week, the Fair Work Commission ruled that care worker Maria Corazon Glover would be allowed to pursue an unfair dismissal case against her former employer, Ozcare.

Ms Glover, 64, who works with vulnerable people, was terminated after she refused to comply with a policy that required workers undergo flu vaccination by May 1.

She told the commission she refused the jab on medical grounds, following an anaphylactic reaction she suffered after a flu vaccine when she was seven years old and living in the Philippines.

Ms Bytheway said her case could set a crucial precedent.

“At the moment, the courts have not tested this, and Maria Glover is, in fact, going to be the person that tests it,” she said.

“I think, for her, one of the questions is that this was a long time ago when she had an adverse impact and things may be different now.”

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He’s a law enforcement nightmare


The man accused of driving a pickup truck filled with Molotov cocktails and other deadly weapons to the nation’s capital lives in a brick ranch house in the backwoods of Alabama.

Lonnie Coffman had no criminal record. No apparent social media accounts. And no city officials or law enforcement in the area had ever come into contact with him.

“I don’t know him, never heard of him and I haven’t heard of anybody that did know him,” said Ken Winkles, mayor of the 1,300-person town of Falkville, where Coffman’s mail is delivered.

More than 50 people have been arrested on federal charges in the days after a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Coffman’s face was not among those that have gone viral, and it’s not even clear if he breached the building. But he stands out for the sheer amount of weaponry he brought to Washington.

The 70-year-old Alabama man with no criminal history or known extremist ties represents the worst nightmare for law enforcement, experts say — an apparent lone wolf who operated completely under the radar.

“These are the people who keep law enforcement up at night,” said Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI criminal profiler and an NBC News analyst. “I used to go to bed thinking, ‘Did I do everything I could? Have I looked for this? Have I looked for that?’ But what do you look for in a guy like this?”

Lonnie Coffman, circled in red, with Trump supporters in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, in an image from surveillance video. (U.S. Capitol Police)

The rise of right-wing groups like the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters has become a focus of federal authorities in the President Donald Trump era. The existence of people like Coffman, loner types who amass large collections of weapons and who may become motivated to act on calls to overthrow the government, pose an even greater challenge for law enforcement.

“When you tell no one what you’re doing and do it yourself in a complete void, the only way we find you is, like this guy was found, we’re awful lucky and stumble upon you,” said Van Zandt, who was among a team of investigators that worked to identify the “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski.

Police officers happened upon Coffman’s truck after the authorities received reports of possible explosive devices in the vicinity of the National Republican Club and the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

While sweeping the area with police canines, two Capitol Police officers spotted what appeared to be the handle of a gun on the front-right passenger seat of a red GMC Sierra pickup truck, federal prosecutors said.

The vehicle was parked in the heart of downtown Washington, just a couple of blocks away from the Capitol.

Officers searched the truck and discovered it was equipped for war. Among the weapons found inside the interior and truck bed were: three guns, including an assault-style rifle; hundreds of rounds of ammunition; several machetes; camouflage smoke devices; a stun gun; a crossbow with bolts; and 11 Molotov cocktails in the form of canning jars with gasoline inside and a hole punched at the top.

Police determined the jars of liquid found in Lonnie Coffman's truck were Molotov cocktails. (U.S. Capitol Police)
Police determined the jars of liquid found in Lonnie Coffman’s truck were Molotov cocktails. (U.S. Capitol Police)
One of the weapons found in the truck of Lonnie Leroy Coffman in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. (U.S. Capitol Police)
One of the weapons found in the truck of Lonnie Leroy Coffman in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. (U.S. Capitol Police)

The officers quickly determined through a vehicle registration search that the truck was registered to a Lonnie L. Coffman of Falkville, Alabama, prosecutors said.

Surveillance camera footage recovered later in the day showed Coffman parking the vehicle around 9:15 a.m. Prosecutors said he stepped out of it five minutes later and headed directly toward the Capitol with a crowd of people. A Trump rally was set to begin nearby at 11 a.m.

When Coffman returned to his vehicle around 6:30 p.m., he was stopped by police manning the security cordon and found to be in possession of two handguns, according to federal prosecutors.

Asked about the contents of the jars, Coffman told the officers they contained “melted Styrofoam and gasoline,” according to a Justice Department detention memo. The products created an explosive mixture that has the effect of napalm in that it cases the flammable liquid to better stick to objects it hits upon detonation, the memo says.

Jim Cavanaugh, a former special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the homemade devices were designed to act like miniature hand grenades.

“It’s not really going to take down a building,” said Cavanaugh, who is an NBC News law enforcement analyst. “It’s more like a weapon that if someone was in a demonstration they would throw it at the police. And whatever it hits, because of the styrofoam, it keeps on burning.”

“If he went through all the trouble to make them and transport them, he likely intended to use them,” Cavanaugh added.

Cavanaugh, who led ATF field divisions in Birmingham, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee, said it was not at all surprising to him that someone from the hills of Alabama would be found with such an arsenal. He said the region is rife with people who are distrustful of government and have an affinity for weapons.

“This guy’s not unusual to me,” Cavanaugh said. “What’s unusual is the target: the Capitol. We’d see people making bombs all the time, but they wanted to kill their boyfriend or the person who cheated on them or once in a while they wanted to attack a prominent figure.”

Coffman lived along a country road in the shadow of Lacon Mountain. The heavily forested area is a kind of no man’s land between Falkville and Cullman, the 16,000-person seat of Cullman County.

Winkles, the Falkville mayor, said people in his town were not stunned to hear that someone from that area had been arrested in Washington with a large cache of weapons.

“There are a lot of problems on these mountains south of us,” Winkles said. “There are drugs. There are all kinds of stuff out there. Those people just do what they want to, or at least they think they can.”

Coffman and his then-wife purchased the 1,000-square-foot home on 3 acres for $20,150 in April 2010, records show. The house sits at the top of a long driveway with a “no trespassing” sign beside it and a couple of logs laid out across, blocking any vehicles from driving up to the house.

The home of Lonnie Leroy Coffman in Falkville, Ala. (Jamie Speakman / Cullman Daily)
The home of Lonnie Leroy Coffman in Falkville, Ala. (Jamie Speakman / Cullman Daily)

A federal agent was photographed speaking to a woman outside the house on Thursday.

During his time there, records show Coffman qualified for three tax exemptions: a homestead exemption, disabled exemption and one for senior citizens.

Public records offer a narrow glimpse into Coffman’s life.

He married his wife in March 1971 and eight years later began working for Nicholson File Co., a manufacturer of machine-made files, circular saw blades, power tool accessories and handsaws, records show.

He filed a workman’s compensation claim in 2002 stating that he had carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands that required surgery. He also had a hernia after straining himself on back-to-back days in July 2002.

The court papers say the injury occurred when he was trying to “remove a die that was stuck in a fixture” and was exacerbated the next day “lifting a hook of files weighing approximately 60 pounds.”

At the time of the accident, Coffman was making an average weekly wage of $629.05. He was ultimately awarded a lump sum settlement of $20,000 — which, after attorney fees, broke down to a weekly benefit of $14.01 for the rest of his life.

The only other court case involving Coffman that NBC News could find in Morgan or Cullman counties is his divorce, which was finalized in September 2019.

Mike Swafford, the public information officer for the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, said his department has no records of any contact with Coffman.

“We responded to 80,000 calls last year in a county that has about 100,000 people,” he said. “For someone not to have any interaction with us — not a dispute with a neighbor, not a traffic stop — it’s unusual.”

Chad Whaley, the director of communications for the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, said it also has had no dealings with Coffman.

“Around here it’s very common for people to have a lot of guns, to have stockpiles of weapons,” he said. “And most people we’re not going to think about unless you couple that with odd behavior. It might be this guy was never heard from or seen from, but he was just another member of the community and blended in.”

The only publicly available indication that something may have been amiss in Coffman’s life was a probate document showing that he gave his ex-wife and his sister power of attorney in June 2020, according to documents obtained by NBC News.

It’s not clear what motivated the decision, but a court hearing last week offered a potential clue.

Coffman’s lawyer told a judge that he takes multiple drugs for mental illness, according to Reuters.

Neither his ex-wife nor his sister responded to messages left at their listed numbers. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Coffman’s statements to police following his arrest and some writings found inside his truck indicate he was struggling financially and fixated on right-wing views.

After he was stopped by police, Coffman told the officers he had been living out of his truck in the Washington, D.C., area for around the past week, according to his detention memo.

A crossbow was among the weapons found in Lonnie Coffman's truck. (U.S. Capitol Police)
A crossbow was among the weapons found in Lonnie Coffman’s truck. (U.S. Capitol Police)

In addition to the weapons, the officers found a handwritten note with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. “We The People Are The Rightful Masters Of Both The Congress And The Courts, Not To Overthrow The Constitution But To Overthrow The Men Who Pervert The Constitution,” it read.

The note went on to identify Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana as “one of two Muslims in House of Reps” and to declare the website sgtreport.com, which recently posted an interview with someone stating that the military is on the brink of carrying out a “communist purge,” as “good guys.”

Another set of handwritten messages were found on the back of a magazine. Across an ad for Motel 6 were scribblings of purported phone numbers for “Conservative Talk Show Host Mark Levin,” “Shaun Hannity” and “Senator Ted Cruz.”

Coffman was indicted on 17 separate weapons charges. The Alabama man pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bond.

Van Zandt, the retired FBI profiler, said it’s essential for law enforcement to understand what Coffman planned to do with all of his weapons and what was motivating him in order to identify others like him.

He pointed out that the purging of people with radical views from popular social platforms, which has escalated in recent weeks, deprives investigators of a crucial tool in tracking people who might move along the continuum of ideation to action.

“We know there are going to be guys out there that are not happy over the next four years with the Biden administration,” Van Zandt said. “The authorities really have got their work cut out for them to identify Ted Kaczynski-type individuals who are sitting out there planning to make a difference in the world.”

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Law reform needed to allow deaf and blind people on juries


“I knew at the time deaf people weren’t eligible, but I thought I’d test the system,” Mr Phillips said.

“It wasn’t my ability to comprehend or follow the process, it was not being able to have a 13th person in the jury room.”

It’s something the Victorian Law Reform Commission wants to change.

“We are not inquiring into whether people who are deaf, hard or hearing, blind or have low vision should have easier access, we are inquiring into how to give them easier access,” chair of the commission, Anthony North, QC, said.

Ron McCallum, the former Dean of Sydney Law School, pictured in 2011.Credit:Louie Douvis

“What we have recognised is firstly the need for equal treatment, but we’re trying to overcome a misconception these people are not competent.”

The commission is investigating how people who are vision or hearing impaired could have access to jury duty, either by way of changing the law to allow a 13th person in the jury room, or by allowing access to documents converted into braille and other communication technology.

The commission’s work is not unique.

In Australia, the Australian Capital Territory became the first jurisdiction to change its law to allow for a 13th person in the jury room. And in the United States, the UK, Ireland and New Zealand, deaf and blind people have served on juries.

Dr David McKee, a deaf studies teacher in Wellington, told the ABC that his jury duty in 2005 was facilitated by two interpreters who alternated and it “proceeded quite smoothly.” He was elected as the jury foreperson.

In Australia, there’s been several legal challenges that have so far failed to create a seismic shift.

Two NSW residents, Gemma Beasley and Michael Lockrey, took their case to the United Nations after they were blocked from serving. As a result, the UN called for Australia to change its discriminatory laws.

In Queensland, Gaye Lyons went to the High Court after her request for an interpreter was denied. The majority confirmed that a 13th person wasn’t allowed in the jury room to protect external influence, but the Law Reform Commission said the ruling left it open for state legislatures to determine whether interpreters should be allowed.

Former Sydney Law School dean Ron McCallum AO, the first blind person to become a professor in any field, said blind and deaf people could sit on most juries and the circumstances where they couldn’t, such as where the major evidence was eyesight identification, would be few and far between.

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Auslan, Professor McCallum said, is a language already used in court proceedings and qualified signers are bound by confidentiality.

“I really don’t see any problem,” Professor McCallum said.

“A lot of people think, how can this be? How can we let people with disabilities sit on juries? Even some judges would probably be nervous. A lot of it has to do with not knowing persons with a disability.”

Mr Phillips, a senior executive manager with the National Disability Insurance Agency, said his exclusion from jury duty was disappointing and he welcomed the commission’s intent to reform.

He pointed to one of the fundamental principles of the justice system – that people should be judged by a jury of their peers.

“As deaf people, we’re very much a part of society,” he said.

“It’s time the justice system acknowledges that and makes various adjustments to include deaf people as jury members.”

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China brings in new law to fight Trump’s sanctions


“One point that remains to be clarified is whether the order is intended to target sanctions against China specifically or sanctions targeting a third country, such as Iran or Russia, which has a detrimental impact on Chinese companies,” Nicholas Turner, a lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson in Hong Kong, told the BBC.

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With new law, Sweden shifts towards COVID lockdown


As of Saturday, Sweden’s total death toll stood at 9433. The country now has 93 deaths per 100,000 people, less than Britain, which has 120, but far more than its neighbour Norway, with 9.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven speaks to the media after the laws were passed.Credit:AP

“We see a great risk that we will be in a difficult situation for some time ahead,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told the SVT network. “Of course, that means the pandemic law will be used. And we will be using it in the near future.”

In a separate decision implemented Thursday, face masks, long deemed ineffective by Swedish health officials, are now being recommended for use during rush hour on public transportation. They are not mandatory.

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In April, when much of the rest of the world went into lockdowns, Swedes were able to keep going to bars and restaurants, with the government and health officials saying they didn’t believe in lockdowns. The country’s Public Health Authority issued some coronavirus prevention recommendations, but the government legally wasn’t able to order the sort of blanket stay-at-home measures used in other European countries.

Swedish lawmakers supported the stance, saying they would never force people to adhere to the recommendations. But now that the pandemic is showing no signs of abating, many have changed their positions and have backed the government measures.

Some experts are calling for even stricter measures.

“This law is great but not enough,” said Dr Fredrik Elgh, a professor of clinical virology at Umea University. “We need a four-week lockdown badly to stop this increase. If we do this now, in two weeks time we will see a decrease.” He added: “I don’t understand why my country is one of few countries that cannot do this seriously.”

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The NT pioneered voluntary euthanasia before the law was overruled. Now there is a campaign to restore it


Sharon Cramp-Oliver has boxes full of her mum’s old diaries.

In them, 77-year-old Liz Holmes wrote about the adventures of her three children, what made the nightly news and — in the years leading up to her death — the unbearable pain she experienced and detailed plans to end her own life.

WARNING: This story contains content that some readers may find distressing.

Liz spent 12 years battling breast cancer, had a broken back and suffered through two painful hip replacements, one of which dislocated itself in early 2017.

“This is hell on earth,” she wrote, just months before she took her own life in September, 2017.

Liz Holmes’s diaries detail how much pain the 77-year-old was in the years leading up to her death in September, 2017.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)

Liz also wrote that if she could have accessed voluntary euthanasia, she would have.

But Liz lived in New South Wales, one of the six Australian states and territories that do not allow assisted dying.

Liz’s daughter Sharon, who lives in the Northern Territory, said if voluntary euthanasia was permitted in the NT, she would have brought her mum up to die surrounded by people who loved her.

She decided to share her mother’s story for the first time in the hope it may spark a new conversation about assisted dying.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice for her to have gone to sleep with her family around her, rather than do that by herself?” Sharon said.

A brief period of legalisation

In 1995, the Northern Territory became the first place in the world to legalise voluntary euthanasia.

It was a private bill put forward by then-chief minister Marshall Perron, which came into effect in 1996.

Black and white photos of Liz Holmes can be seen on the lap of her daughter Sharon.
Liz Holmes worked in a bank, as a model, and in retail — but her daughter Sharon said Liz’s greatest joy was being a mother.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)

In the nine months voluntary euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory, four terminally ill people used it to die: one Territorian and three others who travelled up to the NT to end their lives.

But in 1996, federal Liberal MP Kevin Andrews put forward a different bill — passed by the Commonwealth in 1997 — which overrode the right of the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory to legalise assisted dying.

Mr Andrews argued in Parliament that legalising voluntary euthanasia sent a “powerful message” to the Australian community that vulnerable people were “expendable” and not valued, and the law could expose patients to “pressure, abuse and a loss of autonomy”.

A woman in silhouette using a mobility walker.
In 1996, Mr Andrews argued that assisted dying legislation sent a message to Australia’s most vulnerable people that they were “expendable”.(AAP: Alan Porritt)

Doctors maintain objections as political pressure mounts

Australian Medical Association NT branch president Robert Parker said while he wanted the NT to have the power to make its own laws on assisted dying, the AMA believed doctors should not be involved in interventions which had the “primary intention” of ending someone’s life.

In its position paper on the subject, the AMA calls on governments to invest in and adequately resource palliative care facilities to improve the end of life care for Australians, no matter where they live.

“The AMA as it currently stands, cannot support physician-assisted suicide and it says it is an issue for populations and governments,” Dr Parker said.

Two photos are pictured side-by-side. In one, Liz Holmes is with her dog Katie.
Liz’s daughter Sharon says her favourite photo of her mum is from her 60th birthday, when she embraced being a queen for the day.(ABC News: Dane Hirst)

In the 23 years since the Andrews Bill was passed, there have been several highly publicised movements to allow the ACT and NT to regain control of euthanasia laws.

And this year, with Queensland and Tasmania set to debate similar laws and a bill on voluntary assisted dying tabled in SA Parliament, the Northern Territory’s Federal Labor Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling, says his office has been discussing a bill to “restore the rights of Territorians to legislate on euthanasia” with his counterparts in the ACT.

NT Country Liberal Party Senator Sam McMahon has backed the call to allow the Territory to make its own laws about assisted dying, and said — given the right regulatory framework — she was “fully supportive” of voluntary euthanasia.

But former chief minister Mr Perron said it was time for Territory leaders to stop talking about introducing a bill and start actively campaigning for the NT to be allowed to make its own laws about the issue.

Mr Perron said as other states legislated assisted dying, it became more “absurd” that the Northern Territory — the pioneer of assisted dying laws in Australia — was denied the right to decide for itself about the issue.

Former chief minister Marshall Perron.
Former chief minister Marshall Perron wants to see “democratic justice” returned to the Northern Territory.(ABC News: Matt Garrick)

Both Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro agree the Northern Territory deserves the same power as states to determine laws on a range of issues, including voluntary euthanasia.

Now, Mr Gunner is calling on Territorians who agree to reach out to leaders in the nation’s capital.

“I need Territorians to help me here as well. Get on the phone or write an email to politicians in Canberra and tell them we want to decide this issue for ourselves,” Mr Gunner said.

But despite the bipartisan support in the Northern Territory, a spokesman for Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter remained firm, telling the ABC there were “no plans” to introduce legislation to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997.

NT treated as ‘second-class citizens’

Judy Dent’s husband, Bob, was the first person to die from a legal, voluntary lethal injection.

Speaking from the same suburban Darwin home in which her husband ended his life, Judy said she fully supported any renewed push to allow the Territory to make its own laws about assisted dying.

Jude Dent is looking seriously off camera. She has short grey hair and is wearing a blue shirt.
Judy’s husband Bob Dent was the first person in the world to die from a legal, voluntary lethal injection.(ABC News: Erik Havnen)

“I’m hoping that when more of the states have passed their own legislation, they will say it is not right to treat the citizens of the ACT and the NT as second-class citizens,” she said.

“They should restore our rights. Not restore the legislation, but restore our rights to ask for such legislation.”

Bob Dent died on September 22, 1996, after a long battle with incurable prostate cancer.

Judy and Bob Dent in an older photo. He is wearing a navy suit and she is wearing a long white dress.
Judy said while she didn’t want her husband Bob to die, she supported his right to die on his own terms.(ABC News: Erik Havnen)

Judy remembers holding his hand as he took his last breath and said the pain “just disappeared” from her husband’s face in the minutes before he passed.

“But certainly all the signs of pain just disappeared. All the frowns, it at all just disappeared. And then he stopped breathing. It was very calm, peaceful.”

Bob was a “strong willed” man, Judy laughed, and when he set his mind to something, he’d do whatever it took to achieve it.

And dying on his own terms was no exception, she said.

“I didn’t want him to die, but he was going to die anyway, so why not let him die on his terms, with him in control?” Judy said.

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Police officer killed in U.S. Capitol riot wanted to be in law enforcement from an early age


From his early days growing up in a New Jersey hamlet, Brian Sicknick wanted to be a police officer.

He enlisted in the U.S. National Guard six months after graduating high school in 1997, deploying to Saudi Arabia and then Kyrgyzstan. Joining the Guard was his means to joining law enforcement, his family said.

He would join the U.S. Capitol Police in 2008, serving until his death Thursday after being attacked as rioters seething over President Donald Trump’s election loss stormed the U.S. Capitol, believing the president’s false claims of a rigged election.

“His brother told me, ‘Brian did his job,”‘ said John Krenzel, the mayor of Sicknick’s hometown of South River, N.J.

Sicknick’s death has shaken the U.S. as it grapples with how an armed mob could storm the halls of the U.S. Capitol as the presidential election results were being certified, sending hundreds of lawmakers, staff and journalists fleeing for safety. Videos published online show vastly outnumbered Capitol Police officers trying in vain to stop surging rioters, though other videos show officers not moving to stop rioters in the building.

A native of South River, N.J., Sicknick served in the New Jersey Air National Guard and went on to a law enforcement career, which his family said was his lifelong dream. (U.S. Capitol Police via The Associated Press)

Police leadership badly miscalculated the threat despite weeks of signals that Wednesday could get violent. And they refused Pentagon help three days before the riot, and again as the mob descended. Under withering criticism, the police chief resigned as have the chief security officers for both the U.S. House and Senate.

The Capitol Police said in a statement that Sicknick was injured “while physically engaging with protesters.” During the struggle, Sicknick, 42, was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, two law enforcement officials said. The officials could not discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Sicknick was the youngest of three boys growing up in South River, a small borough of about 16,000 people in central New Jersey, about 25 kilometres from Staten Island. He graduated from the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School in East Brunswick, N.J., in June 1997.

Superintendent Dianne Veilleux said school records show Sicknick wanted to be in law enforcement. The school will honour him by planting an oak tree on campus to symbolize his strength.

He enlisted in the New Jersey Air National Guard that December, still a teenager, first deploying to Saudi Arabia in 1999. In 2003, he deployed to Kyrgyzstan, where the U.S. military operated a transit base supporting the war in Afghanistan. He was honourably discharged in December of that year.

Vocal critic of U.S. war in Iraq

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Sicknick became a vocal critic of the war, writing several letters to the editor of the local newspaper that sharply criticized former president George W. Bush for his management of the effort. In one July 2003 letter, published five months before his formal discharge, he said that “our troops are stretched very thin, and morale is dangerously low among them.”

In a statement issued Friday, Sicknick’s family said he “wanted to be a police officer his entire life” and had joined the Guard “as a means to that end.”

A biography issued by his family says Sicknick cared for rescued Dachshunds in his spare time and rooted for the New Jersey Devils. He is survived by his parents, Charles and Gladys Sicknick, his brothers Ken and Craig, and his longtime girlfriend, Sandra Garza.

The family asked the public to respect its wishes “in not making Brian’s passing a political issue.”

“Brian is a hero and that is what we would like people to remember,” the family said.

The Capitol police chief has resigned amid questioning about how prepared the force was for a rally that turned into a riot on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. 2:27

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Iran May Pass #MeToo Law


After a decade of deliberation, Iran’s government approved a bill on Sunday that criminalizes violence and sexual misconduct against women and specifies punishments for perpetrators.

The decision to move ahead with the bill — which, if approved by the parliament, will be the first law of its kind in Iran’s penal code — comes in the aftermath of a groundbreaking #MeToo movement and shocking reports of so-called honor killings that have gripped the public over the past six months.

The bill, which has been passed by the Cabinet, must now be adopted by the country’s conservative Parliament to become law, but women’s advocates are hopeful of success.

“The events of last year, both ‘honor killings’ that got national attention and the #MeToo movement in Iran, have increased the pressure on the government to push this bill that was in the making for almost a decade,” said Tara Sepehri Far, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in New York, referring to the murders of women by male relatives for supposedly shaming their families, even if the women themselves were victims of sexual violence.

Ms. Sepehri Far said that the bill still fell short of international standards and did not address all the aspects of violence that women face. It did not address child marriage and marital rape, she said, and did not properly define domestic violence.

Still, many Iranian rights activists and lawyers said it marked a step forward and reflected the shifting dynamics of Iranian society, which they describe as steps ahead of the government on issues of violence against women.

The complete draft of the bill has not yet been made public, but a summary posted on the government’s website states that “any act that causes physical or emotional or reputational harm” to a woman or results in curbing her freedom and social rights is considered a crime.

It also addresses sexual harassment and coercing women into sexual acts short of intercourse as crimes. Sending a woman an unsolicited sexual message, text or photograph, demanding sexual relations or forcing sexual acts could bring penalties of six months to two years in prison and up to 99 lashes, as well as monetary fines.

The judiciary is required to create and sponsor centers that provide support for victims of violence and women vulnerable to violence, the bill summary said. Security forces are also obliged to create a special female police unit to protect women.

“We have been waiting for this for 10 years,” said Shima Ghoosheh, a lawyer based in Tehran who specializes in representing women and who said she was one of the attorneys the government consulted. “I think this is a step forward because it gives us a general law for protecting women that we can build on and amend.”

The bill still faces a big test in the parliament, which has a conservative majority often at odds with the more centrist government.

Ms. Ghoosheh and two other legal experts in Iran said they expected the parliament to pass the bill because it had been watered down and altered to reflect the views of the judiciary and lawmakers.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s vice president for women’s and family affairs, tweeted that the measure was the result of hundreds of hours of deliberation by legal and government experts and “dedicated to the deserving and patient women of Iran.”

In May, Romina Ashrafi, 14 years old, was beheaded by her father for running away with her boyfriend. The incident drew national attention because the father had consulted a lawyer and committed the crime after knowing he would face a maximum 10 years in prison. In the aftermath, a law that had been stalled for 11 years to protect children against violence was nicknamed “Romina’s law” and passed.

Credit…Farhad Irani

In August, Iranian women broke their silence and voiced allegations of sexual misconduct against more than 130 men, including a prominent artist, Aydin Aghdashloo. Thirteen women accused Mr. Aghdashloo, who is a dual Iranian-Canadian citizen, of sexual misconduct over a span of 30 years. He has denied the allegations but has faced a backlash in the art world, with an exhibition in Iran canceled and a documentary about his life withdrawn from consideration by two international film festivals.

Two other men who faced allegations of rape and sexual misconduct are now in prison. Keivan Imamvardi, a bookseller accused of raping 300 young college students, was sentenced to “corruption on earth,” the highest crime in Iran’s penal code, and could face capital punishment, according to a report by Hamshahri newspaper on Monday.

An Iranian-British sociologist, Kameel Ahmady, who also faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, was sentenced in December to eight years in prison for an unrelated charge of “working for a hostile government.”

Mr. Ahmady’s lawyer did not respond to questions on whether the sexual allegations had weighed on the judiciary’s sentencing or been discussed during court hearings.

Leila Rahimi, a Tehran-based lawyer who has been representing #MeToo cases pro bono, said at the very least the new bill will help bolster women who are coming forward with their stories and taking legal action. Ms. Rahimi said the number of women contacting her with #MeToo cases has steadily increased since August.

“They tell me I have to do this for myself and for other women,” said Ms. Rahimi. “The hope is, as the women speak up, the law will listen.”

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Law Society warning over COVID QR check-in data privacy


South Australia’s mandatory COVID-Safe check-in system lacks “legislative safeguards”, with personal information at risk under the current laws of being used for purposes other than contact tracing, the state’s Law Society president has warned.

In a letter addressed to Premier Steven Marshall and published on the SA Law Society website yesterday, outgoing society president Tim White warned that the State Government needed to adopt “greater care” when handling personal information collected by its mandatory COVID-Safe check-in system.

The technology was introduced on December 1 to track the names and contact details of people who visit businesses with a COVID-Safe plan, to help contact tracers contain the spread of the coronavirus in the event of another SA outbreak.

All businesses with a COVID-Safe plan are required under the state’s COVID-19 emergency management directions to display a unique QR code at their premises for customers to scan upon entry, as well as to provide a paper log-book for customers who do not own smart phones.

Marshall and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens have previously assured the public that the collected data is stored in a government-secured and encrypted database, and only retained for 28 days.

“This information is only kept on the basis that we’re looking to be able to do contact tracing when a positive case is detected, which means that the data will be dumped after 28 days – it’s not being retained,” Stevens told reporters in November.

But White wrote that despite assurances from authorities, the society’s Human Rights Committee could not find any provisions within the COVID-19 emergency management directions which restrict the use or disclosure of the information.

“We are concerned about the lack of legislative safe guards in place to manage the collection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information of persons,” he wrote.

“This particularly so given that a person is compelled to provide their relevant contact details to the COVID-Safe check-in in order to go about their day to day lives.”

White wrote that while confidential personal information is offered some protection under the state’s Public Health Act, information could be disclosed in some circumstances under different state or federal laws.

“This legislative framework makes it difficult for South Australians to have confidence in the assurances provided by the State Government,” he wrote.

The Law Society has called on the Government to consider introducing a separate law “to give a legislative base to the publicly made assurances regarding the collection, storage, use and disclosure of the personal information” collected by the check-in system.

“The now mass collection of personal information requires the exercise of greater care by government authorities in the management of such information,” White wrote.

“Legislation, as proposed, will assist to assure South Australians that their personal information will not be used for any purpose other than contact tracing, and in doing so, maintain the willingness of South Australians to provide information to assist the efforts of government authorities to keep the community safe from COVID-19.”

In a statement to InDaily, a government spokesperson reiterated that data from the QR check-in system is only used by public health authorities for contact tracing and dumped after 28 days.

“The QR system has been operational since 30 November and over 3 million check ins have been deleted after 28 days,” the spokesperson said.

“Together, South Australians have embraced the COVID-Safe check-in system to help stop any potential spread of COVID-19 and keep all South Australians safe.

“The system has been key to further opening up the South Australian economy, which in turn creates and supports jobs.

“Our public health team have been doing an incredible job throughout the pandemic, and knowing that contact tracers now have another tool to quickly identify and isolate any contacts is vital to deal with any future outbreaks.”

White will be replaced by newly-appointed SA Law Society President Rebecca Sandford this year.

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