TIME Australia

Australia’s Plan to Outsource Its Refugee Problem to Cambodia Won’t Work

Refugee Deal Signed Off By Cambodian & Australian Ministers
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng hold a flute of champagne after signing a deal to resettle refugees from Australia to Cambodia at the Ministry of Interior on September 26, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Omar Havana—Getty Images

Impoverished, repressive and corrupt Cambodia is no place for an asylum seeker

“Let them eat cake.” Australia’s Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison did everything but utter the unsavory phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette when he clinked Champagne flutes with Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng, a former cadre of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, at a ceremony in Phnom Penh last week.

The toast celebrated the signing of a controversial memorandum of understanding to resettle in Cambodia asylum seekers intercepted at sea while attempting to make landfall in Australia. Those asylum seekers are currently languishing in an offshore detention center in the Pacific island state of Nauru.

Morrison refused to answer questions from the local and foreign press corps packing the garishly decorated room. However, in a written statement released at the signing, he commended Cambodia for “making countless efforts to develop the country after civil war [and for] demonstrating its ability and willingness to contribute positively to this humanitarian issue.”

His Cambodian counterpart Kheng likewise remained mum but could do little to hide a beaming smile as his government pocketed a $35 million signing fee from Australia plus an allegorical blank check to cover the cost of resettling up to 1,233 predominantly Middle Eastern asylum seekers.

The deal was quickly condemned by a wide range of pundits as a diplomatic stunt that, if actioned, will see one of the world’s wealthiest nations outsource its refugee problem to one of the poorest.

“It’s shameful, despicable and unconscionable. It makes me sick,” Hong Lim, a former Cambodian refugee and MP in the Australian state of Victoria, tells TIME. “Scott Morrison has earned himself the title of the most notorious human [trafficker] of the year.” He adds, “Cambodia has a terrible record of treating refugees.”

Lim points to the 2009 deportation at gunpoint of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China. On their return, China sentenced 17 of the Uighurs to lengthy sentences in kangaroo courts and rewarded Cambodia with $850 million worth of trade deals — a story that lampoons Morrison’s claim that Australia’s asylum seekers will “now have the opportunity and support to re-establish their lives free from persecution.”

According the U.N., there are only 68 refugees residing in Cambodia. But the number fails to take into account the country’s 750,000 ethnic Vietnamese who, despite being born in the country, are considered illegal immigrants. Deprived of citizenship and voting rights, shut out of normal jobs, housing and schools, they are regularly subjected to public lynchings and scapegoating by political candidates trying to whip up nationalistic furor during elections.

Life for regular Cambodian citizens is not much better. While cutting my teeth as a cadet journalist in Phnom Penh a decade ago, I witnessed almost daily incidents of violence perpetrated by security forces who exhibited pathological contempt for the working poor. And while Cambodia’s economy has improved significantly over the years, with gross national income per capita rising from $400 per annum in 2004 to $950 in 2014, the culture of impunity inherited from the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime remains wholly intact.

In its 2014 World Report, Human Rights Watch accused Cambodia of repeatedly using “excessive force to suppress” protests following last year’s general election. In January, when tens of thousands of underpaid garment workers marched in Phnom Penh to demand a living wage, police opened fire with machine guns, killing four people and wounding dozens more. As recently as Friday, Cambodian protesters attempting to protest the refugee deal in front of the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh were met by riot police who knocked at least one woman unconscious, as this video appears to show.

“Cambodia is not a place to resettle refugees, because the local people in this country cannot lead decent lives,” Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the Cambodia Daily. “They are deprived of fundamental rights and living conditions, so how could we accommodate people from other parts of the world?”

Adds U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres: “It’s crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere. International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works. I hope that the Australian government will reconsider its approach.”

If Australia’s last attempt to outsource its asylum-seeker problem to an aid-dependent neighbor is anything to go by, Guterres may get his way. Before he was voted out of office last year, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stitched together a deal with Papua New Guinea (PNG) — an impoverished state where the maltreatment of refugees (in this case West Papuan), police brutality and corruption rival those in Cambodia — to resettle 1,000-odd male asylum seekers currently held in an Australian-run detention center on PNG’s Manus Island.

At the time, then Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison decried Rudd for “not being upfront,” ignoring the practical difficulties of resettling refugees in PNG and for signing over $400 million in taxpayers’ funds in return “for a blank sheet of paper.”

In the two years that have passed, not a single Australian asylum seeker has been resettled there. The reasons for the failure were manifold, but, as Morrison eruditely opined, PNG was unable to provide anything resembling a durable and secure solution for refugees. The country also lacks a basic legal framework to determine the refugee status of asylum seekers.

The only place where Australia’s Regional Resettlement Arrangement has ever been put into action is Nauru. There, 51 Shi‘ite men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, recognized by Australia as genuine refugees, are living outside the island’s detention center in a community tellingly known as Fly Camp.

“We are living in a camp in the jungle. This is where they resettled us. This is no place to live. If we are refugees why are we not living in community? We have no neighbors here. Our neighbors, our relatives are mosquitoes and flies and dogs,” a refugee who could not be named for legal reasons told Suvendrini Perera, a professor in cultural analysis at Curtin University.

Said another: “Scott Morrison, he wants to sell us, sometimes to one country, sometimes to another country. But no one is ready to [welcome] us.”

And while Cambodia appears willing to break the status quo, it will do so on the caveat that Australia’s asylum seekers migrate on their own volition. And that’s an unlikely possibility, given that some of those in Nauru have said they would rather die than go to Cambodia — literally. After watching a video where Morrison announced the deal with Cambodia, a 15-year-old asylum seeker drank a bottle of washing liquid. She was one of half a dozen inmates who recently attempted suicide in the offshore detention center and was flown to Australian with her mother for emergency medical treatment.

Seen in this context, the Cambodian resettlement plan, like the PNG resettlement plan before it, is destined to fail and unlikely to help a single asylum seeker find refuge in a safe and productive environment. But here’s what it will do.

First, it will fuel corruption in Cambodia by providing a pool of tens of millions of pilferable dollars.

Second, it will, like the detention centers themselves, provide another cruel and calculated deterrent for other asylum seekers considering riding a leaky boat from Indonesia to Australia, by creating conditions that are just as bad, if not worse, than those they fled from.

And third, it will hamstring Australia’s ability to win international support for the critical foreign policy issues it is championing, like stopping the Japanese from resuming whaling in Antarctica, the war against ISIS and seeking justice for victims of the Malaysia Airline’s MH17 tragedy, 36 of whom were Australian residents.

“Only last month, [Australian] Prime Minister Tony Abbott told off Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Crimea. He told Putin, ‘You shouldn’t do something simply because you can,’” says Cambodian-born Australian lawmaker Hong Lim. “But now Australia is paying Cambodia to take part in this ridiculous, immoral plan just because they know they can get away with it. They are bestowing legitimacy to members of a regime who will just take their money and run.”

TIME Australia

A Teenage Terrorism Suspect Is Shot Dead in Australia After Attacking Police

Man Killed After Altercation With Counter Terrorism Officers In Melbourne
Investigators at the scene after a teenage terror suspect was shot dead after stabbing a Victorian officer and a federal police agent outside Endeavour Hills police station on September 23, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. Newspix—Newspix via Getty Images

Officers were stabbed as they tried to shake suspect's hand

Just days after Islamist terror group ISIS urged random attacks on Australians and other “disbelievers,” an apparent sympathizer stabbed two counter-terrorism officers in Melbourne before being shot dead.

The incident occurred when Abdul Numan Haider, an 18-year-old who had allegedly made threats against Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and reportedly waved an ISIS flag at a local mall, arrived at a police station in the southeastern suburb of Endeavour Hills on Tuesday night, ostensibly to assist police with an investigation.

On arrival at the station, Haider stabbed a state police officer who had tried to shake his hand, before turning on a federal police officer and stabbing him three or four times in the body and head. Haider was then fatally shot by the first officer. Both officers were rushed to hospital for surgery where they are reported to be in serious but stable condition.

Prime Minister Abbott, who is en route to New York to attend an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council on ISIS, commended the officers during a stopover in Hawaii.

“Obviously this indicates that there are people in our community who are capable of very extreme acts,” he said. “It also indicates that the police will be constantly vigilant to protect us against people who will do Australians harm.”

On Sept. 21, ISIS released a 42-minute audio clip that called on its supporters to attack non-Muslims in Australia, among several other countries. The threat made against Australians followed the dispatch to the Middle East of 600 Australian military personnel and 10 aircraft, which will be used to launch airstrikes against ISIS.

“If you can kill an American or European infidel — especially the spiteful and cursed French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the infidel fighters, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon God, and kill them in any way possible,” exhorted ISIS spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani al-Shami on the recording.

He added: “Why have the nations of disbelief entrenched together against you? What threat do you pose to the distant place of Australia for it to send its legions towards you?”

Professor Greg Barton of Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre in Melbourne tells TIME that Tuesday night’s attack was not necessarily a result of al-Shami’s call-to-arms.

“It is likely this kid had read the translation that appeared in the media on Sunday. But I don’t think the recording in itself is so significant,” he says.

Barton points out Haider was one of 40 to 60 individuals who recently had their passports cancelled over concerns they would join the small but prominent legion of Australians fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and suggested that this could equally have prompted the stabbing of the two police officers.

“We have to do more work on community engagement on those who had their passports taken,” he says. “These are troubled young men who are highly frustrated and the fact is they can cause a lot of trouble by running someone over with a car or attacking them with knife. Last night’s incident is a reminder of that, and the fact that, if left unattended, these people will become ticking time bombs.”

TIME Australia

Australian Police Foil Islamist Terrorist Plot in Country’s Largest Ever Raid

AUSTRALIA-ATTACKS-IRAQ-SYRIA-CONFLICT-POLICE
New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione, second from right, speaks during a press conference in Sydney on Sept. 18, 2014, after Australia's largest ever counterterrorism raids detained 15 people and disrupted plans to "commit violent acts" William West—AFP/Getty Images

More than 800 security personnel raided 25 addresses in two cities

Australian security officials say that they have thwarted an alleged plot by Islamist extremists to snatch a random member of the Australian public and behead them on camera.

The revelation comes after raids on 25 homes across Sydney and Brisbane early Thursday morning by more than 800 uniformed police officers, forensic experts, and agents from chief spy agency ASIO, in the largest counterterrorism raid every conducted on Australian soil.

The raids resulted in the seizure of computers, documents, a firearm and the arrest of 15 suspects, one of whom, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari, will face court in Sydney later on Thursday, when details of the alleged beheading plot are expected to be revealed.

“You know it is of serious concern that right at the heart of our communities we have people that are planning to conduct random attacks,” New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione said at a press briefing. “Today we worked together to make sure that didn’t happen. We have disrupted that particular attack.”

The swoop took place on the same day that 10 Australian military aircraft, 400 support personnel and 200 special-forces troops were dispatched to the United Arab Emirates as part of the U.S.-led coalition against IS militants in Syria and Iraq.

The raids also follow the arrest last week in Brisbane of two suspects at an Islamic bookstore, accused of recruiting jihadist fighters for Syria, and an announcement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that the country’s terrorism-alert level had been raised from medium to high.

Abbott said at the time there was “no specific intelligence of particular plots” but asked the community to be vigilant and warmed of an increase in security measures at airports, government buildings and major events, including the 2014 G-20 summit to be held in Brisbane from Nov. 15 to 16.

Clive Williams, an adjunct professor with the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at the Australian National University, tells TIME that the recent cancellation of the passports of up to 60 Australians suspected of extremist links may have inadvertently increased the chance of an attack on home soil.

“The policy of stopping extremists from traveling overseas and fighting in Syria or Iraq has resulted in a large pool of frustrated people,” he explains. “They are a large risk to us and more of a threat than [Australian jihadists] who are already in the Middle East and may decide to come back one day.”

Sam Makinda, professor and founder of Murdoch University’s security, terrorism and counterterrorism studies program, says that “having supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and so on, Australia had long ago painted itself as a target.”

He adds, “The only reason Australia has not yet suffered a terror attack is because ASIO has worked so efficiently, professionally and successfully in the past.”

TIME Australia

The Chinese Government Are ‘Bastards,’ Says an Australian MP

Clive Palmer Addresses National Press Club
Clive Palmer speaks at the National Press Club on July 7, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Stefan Postles—Getty Images

"They shoot their own people, they haven't got a justice system and they want to take over this country"

An Australian legislator and mining magnate has delivered a scathing tirade against Chinese investment in Australia, calling the Chinese government “bastards” who want to usurp control of the nation. He also referred to a Chinese resources company as “mongrels.”

“They’re communist, they shoot their own people, they haven’t got a justice system and they want to take over this country. And we’re not going to let them,” said MP Clive Palmer, during a live debate aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The Chinese government wants to bring workers here to destroy our wage system … they want to take over our ports and get our resources for free. So far they’ve shifted $200 million [Australian dollars, or about $186 million] worth of iron ore out of this country without paying for it. I don’t mind standing up against the Chinese bastards and stopping them from doing it.”

The comments were uttered in the context of a legal battle between Palmer’s Mineralogy mining company and Chinese-owned Citic Pacific Mining over multibillion-dollar cost blow-outs and royalty payments for an iron ore port in Western Australia.

“We’ll be suing them and they’ll be answering the questions,” Palmer continued. “We’ve had three judgments in the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Western Australia and an arbitration against these Chinese mongrels,” he said.

The comments were not completely out of character for the political firebrand whose newly minted Palmer United Party won a slew of seats during 2013’s federal and state elections on the back of a populist campaign.

Last year, after threatening to sue Australian-born media baron Rupert Murdoch over an opinion column that questioned Palmer’s claims to being a billionaire, university professor and adviser to the G-20, Palmer called Murdoch a “gutless wonder.” He also made some colorful observations about Wendi Deng, Murdoch’s Chinese-born ex-wife.

“Wendi Deng is a Chinese spy and that’s been right across the world,” Palmer told Australia’s Channel 9 TV network. “She’s been spying on Rupert for years, giving money back to Chinese intelligence. Read the truth about it. She was trained in Southern China. I’m telling you the truth. That’s why Rupert Murdoch got rid of her.”

Palmer’s on-again off-again relationship with the Chinese reads like the script of a Judd Apatow movie. Last year, he ordered 117 full-scale animatronic dinosaurs from China for Palmersaurus, a theme park set around the Palmer Coolum Resort in Queensland.

His plans to build a fully functioning replica of the Titanic have meanwhile stalled after it was revealed in May he was yet to sign a contract with the Chinese shipbuilder CSC Jinling despite announcing a deal was imminent early last year.

Palmer offered his version of an apology for his remarks this morning, tweeting that his comments were “not intended to refer to Chinese people but to Chinese company which is taking Australian resources & not paying.”

Concern has nonetheless arisen over the potential economic and diplomatic fallout from Palmer’s verbal attacks against Australia’s largest trading partner, with leading political figures lining up to slap his wrist.

“Hopefully China will ignore it, but I’ll contact the Chinese embassy to point out that these views are not representative of the Australian Parliament and I don’t believe representative of the Australian people,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Fairfax Radio. “Mr. Palmer’s comments are offensive, they are unnecessary, and it’s unacceptable for a Member of Parliament to make such comments, particularly on a national television program.”

“I think it is hugely damaging for Mr. Palmer to make those sort of comments,” added Treasurer Joe Hockey. “He is in a very obvious legal dispute with his Chinese partners, but I’d say to Mr. Palmer, please don’t bring down the rest of Australia because of your biases.”

Condemnation for Palmer has even come from Pauline Hanson, a former MP and poster-girl of the far right, who shot to notoriety after claiming Australia was being “swamped by Asians” in a 1996 parliamentary address. After losing her seat and being convicted, jailed and then acquitted of electoral fraud, Hanson has reinvented herself as a reality-TV star and now, apparently, a voice of reason.

“I’ve always said clean up your own backyard before criticizing other people,” she told Australia’s Channel 7 network. “It’s not up to Clive Palmer or anyone else. It’s not for us or Australia to get involved in that.”

TIME Australia

Bloodcurdling Images of Australian Jihadists Puts ‘Lucky Country’ on Edge

Australians protest Israeli attacks in Melbourne
Thousands of people stage a demonstration to protest the Israeli ongoing attacks in Gaza on July 26, 2014, in Melbourne, Australia. Recep Sakar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Shocking photos emerge amid fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more young radical Muslims to enter the fray

The phenomenon of Australian jihadists fighting in the Middle East took a disturbing new turn last week when photos of a Caucasian man in mujahedin fatigues holding decapitated heads were posted on Twitter.

It follows the uploading last month of a YouTube video by the extremist Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of two men with thick Australian accents calling on Westerners to join their violent quest to create a Muslim caliphate.

One of the pair, a teenager from Melbourne identified in the video as Abu Bakr al-Australi, later detonated an explosive belt in a crowded Baghdad marketplace, killing five people and wounding 90 more. He was the second Australian suicide bomber praised by ISIS in recent weeks; an estimated 200 Australian jihadists are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The figure puts Australia in the unenviable position as the highest foreign per capita contributor to the conflict in the Middle East, and providing the largest contingent of foreign fighters from a developed nation. And there are fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more radical young Muslims to enter the fray.

“The government is gravely concerned by the fact that Australian citizens are heading to Iraq and Syria not only to fight but to take leadership roles,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in parliament last week. She paused before adding, “There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

The man holding the decapitated heads in the Twitter feed turned out to be Khaled Sharrouf, a boxer from Sydney who was jailed for four years in 2005 for his role in planning the most serious terrorist plot Australia has ever seen. Despite his notoriety, Sharrouf managed to flee while on parole in January by using his brother’s passport to board a flight from Sydney to Southeast Asia from where he made his way to Syria.

The security breakdown has made Canberra redouble efforts to protect the nation from jihadists in the event they return home. Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office added ISIS to its list of terrorists organizations, making it a crime for an Australian to join them punishable with up to 25 years imprisonment.

On advice from intelligence agencies, the Foreign Ministry has canceled the passports of 40 Australians suspected of extremist links. More than $700 million in additional funding will be injected into customs and border patrol over the next six years. In 2015 the service will be streamlined under a tough new national-security agency named the Australian Border Force.

Professor Gary Bouma, acting director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Melbourne’s Monash University, agrees that returning jihadists pose “a very serious problem, as they will be ideologically energized.” But he adds some will have been pacified after witnessing the “hideous gore of battle and the unrighteousness of all sides.”

“The first thing that needs to happen is those people need to be reintegrated into society,” Bouma says. “That means counseling, getting them a job and ensuring their cultural and social needs are met. It’s a much healthier approach than isolating them.”

The leader of an Australian Muslim organization who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity says calling foreign combatants in Syria “terrorists” was wrong, as many had gone there to protect family members from President Bashar Assad’s repressive regime, which has unleashed torture, mass killings, starvation and chemical weapons upon Syrian civilians.

“The idea of them being terrorists just because they go to fight overseas, that is not a fair thing to say,” he says. “It’s also unreasonable to say just because they fought in Syria that they’re going to do the same thing when they come back home. There will always be one or two crazy fanatics among them, but they’re a minority. They’d have to be really misguided to try something here.”

Another community leader, Samier Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, has accused the government of double standards by outlawing those who fight in Syria while allowing others, namely members of Australia’s Jewish community, to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“It’s hard when you say something to one side, and they look and say ‘How come we’re not being treated the same?’ The law should be across everyone,” Dandan told the Australian Associated Press.

However, Rafael Epstein, author of Prisoner X, a book about an Australian lawyer who fought with the IDF and worked as an operative with Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, before going rogue, insists Dandan’s comparison is flawed.

“What he is saying is someone who fights for Israel will be just as radicalized and have just as many [warring] skills to pose a security risk to Australia,” Epstein says. “But the values under which someone would fight for Israel, a democratic country with the rule of law, are very different to the values someone would fight for under ISIS, and they’d be much closer to Australia’s values than ISIS’s.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agrees. “The best thing we can do … is to ensure that jihadis do not come back to this country,” he said last month.

Whether that will be enough to maintain Australia’s record as one of the few major U.S. military partners in Afghanistan and Iraq to not have suffered a terrorist attack on its own soil remains open for discussion.

“U can’t stop me and trust me if I wanted to attack aus [sic] I could have easily,” tweeted convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf in a message taunting Australian federal police posted from the battleground in Syria. “I love to slaughter use [sic] and ALLAH LOVES when u dogs r slaughtered.”

TIME Australia

Whale Collisions Spark Calls for Ship Speed Limits in Australia

A humpback whale breaches the surface by propelling most of its body from the sea in Hervey  Bay
A humpback whale breaches the surface off the East Coast of Australia on Aug. 7, 2006 Russell Boyce—Reuters

Instances of gruesome whale collisions have prompted a conversation about whether to impose speed limits for ships along Australia's coast

Right now, some 20,000 humpback whales are enjoying the warm waters of Australia’s East Coast, where they migrate every year during Antarctica’s winter to feed, breed and calve. They are the product of a wildly successful conservation program launched in 1979 that brought the humpback from the brink of extinction following decades of industrial slaughter.

The species’ recovery has also given birth to a thriving whale-watching industry that generates some $300 million and attracts 1.6 million people per year. From the beaches of Sydney, where surfers rub shoulders with the 30-ton mammals, to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where a rare albino humpback called Migaloo was last seen, the whales are a symbol of Australia’s love for the ocean and how far it has come from the cruel, unsustainable ways of its past.

But the humpback’s stellar comeback has also led to increasingly frequent “whale strikes” — collisions with ships that cause gruesome propeller lacerations and even sever spines. It is part of a global phenomenon seen from such places as Sri Lanka, the Mediterranean and the U.S. Atlantic coast, where overlap between busy shipping lanes and whale habitats has left trails of mutilation.

In early May, a Norwegian cruise liner unknowingly dragged a dead sei whale, which had become caught on its bulbous bow, into the Hudson River. Three days later, another sei was found attached to a container ship docking near Philadelphia. In June, a humpback known as Max that had been visiting Alaska’s Glacier Bay for 39 years was found floating dead in the ocean with its jawbone nearly cut off. The discovery became the subject of a investigation by Alaskan wildlife officials to identify the ship that killed Max — a near impossible task given that most whale strikes by large ships go unreported or unnoticed. Cambridge-based International Whaling Commission, the world authority on the subject, has struggled to quantify the problem. It can’t provide any kind of accurate numbers but nevertheless holds that for some whale species and populations, strikes “may make the difference between extinction and survival.”

Whale strikes don’t currently pose a tangible risk to humpback populations in Australia. But a controversial government decision to expand a series of coal ports along the coast of the Great Barrier Reef — the humpback’s most important East Coast calving ground — is projected to massively increase sea traffic over the reef. And that will spell carnage for humpbacks, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which is calling for the introduction of 10-knot speed limits for large ships in two key humpback habitats near two of the largest ports.

“From our organization’s point of view, the killing of even one whale is an issue,” says IFAW campaign manager Sharon Livermore.“But from the evidence we do have of whales that have been found dead or stranded, we know the number of reported strikes represents a small number of the actual number being injured or killed.”

“Calls for speed limits are very much warranted,” adds Joshua Smith of the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit. “We know humpbacks are already in conflict with shipping, and if you do the maths with these new megaports, you can see the problem is going to get much worse. A national whale-strike strategy is a sound precautionary principle.”

IFAW points to a similar initiative off the coast of the Georgia-Florida border, where 10-knot speed limits on large ships were introduced in 2008 to prevent collisions with critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Thirteen rights were killed as a result of strikes in the 18-month period before the speed limit went into effect, compared to zero fatalities reported in the six years that have passed since. And in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf, the Port of Auckland has introduced voluntary speed restrictions to protect critically endangered Bryde’s whales after scientists estimated a 10-knot speed limit would reduce strike fatalities by 75%.

But Sheila Peake, a lecturer in ecotourism and environmental science at the University of the Sunshine Coast, says not enough is known about the humpback’s migratory routes in Australia to make speed restrictions effective.

“You can’t just say if we introduce speed limits for ships in one or two areas we will reduce whale strikes,” Peake says. “Not enough is known about the areas whales pass through to get there from Antarctica. And if you lay speed limits across the whole East Coast, it will have quite an impact on other industries and recreational fishing.”

Simon Meyjes, CEO of Australian Reef Pilot, a company that’s been guiding large ships through the Great Barrier Reef for more than a century, says 10-knot speed limits in front of coal ports will have next to no impact on reducing whale strikes because coal carriers steam at maximum speeds of 10 to 12 knots.

“I would say these slow ships account for two-thirds of the traffic on the Great Barrier Reef. The other third are faster container ships, livestock carriers and passenger ships that steam at 17 to 19 knots. They can’t be operated for long periods of time at 10 knots as the speed falls within those ship’s critical vibration range. It would risk major damage to their equipment and make it difficult to keep our supermarket shelves stocked.”

Meyjes also questions IFAW estimates that the number of ships passing through the Great Barrier Reef will almost double by 2020. “Shipping increases only as fast as the overall economy grows, so all these stories about huge increases are simply misguided,” he says. “In the last 10 years, traffic on the reef has increased an average of 3.5% a year.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority tells TIME it is liaising with IFAW and the shipping industry on the viability of speed limits, but that “given shipping is an internationally regulated industry … measures need to be linked to the strategic direction of the International Maritime Organization and supported by strong documentation.” In other words: Australia is unlikely to introduce speed limits until the movement to prevent whale strikes gains global traction.

In the sun-kissed Whitsunday archipelago 1,000 km north of Brisbane, Bill Hutchinson weaves and bobs his high-speed catamaran through waters literally heaving with humpbacks, carefully abiding to a local law that requires him to remain at least 300 m away from whales. In 44 years on the job, he’s never hit one.

“How do you avoid them? You can’t,” he says. “When the mothers are feeding their calves on the surface, they’re really docile. So we keep as far away as possible. But if it gets cloudy or the water gets choppy, visibility suffers. You can’t be watching out for whales all the time.”

TIME Australia

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Australia Mulls G-20 Putin Ban

Tony Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, right, attends a service for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on July 20, 2014. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

But it's unclear if Australia can unilaterally bar the Russian leader

The giant Létourneau pipe organ at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral sounded particularly somber Sunday morning as Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other Australian dignitaries joined hundreds of mourners at a service to commemorate victims of the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was most likely hit by a missile before crashing in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

“Sister Philomene Tiernan was one of our teachers and she was killed in the crash. It has really hit our school hard,” said Kasey Brassel. Brassel was one of dozens of students from an exclusive all-girls Catholic school, Kincoppal Rose Bay, who had come to commemorate the Australian nun listed among the 298 passengers lost in the disaster. Choking back her tears, she added, “[But] we came to remember all the victims, each one of them individually.”

However, Bishop Peter Comensoli, who led St. Mary’s Sunday morning sermon, was less restrained. “The downing of MH17 was not an innocent accident. It was the outcome of a trail of human evil,” he told the packed cathedral.

Comensoli’s sentiments mirror Australia’s stern diplomatic rebuke of Russia as the country’s national death toll rose from 28 to 36 after it was revealed eight additional passengers aboard MH17 were permanent residents of Australia. “Russian-controlled territory, Russian-backed rebels, quite likely a Russian-supplied weapon. Russia can’t wash its hands of this,” Prime Minister Abbott told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during a televised interview this weekend.

Adding fuel to the fire are reports that bodies, valuables and wreckage from the crash site are being carted off by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. Those separatists are also reportedly blocking inspectors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe from accessing the site, though reports Sunday indicate the rebels have recovered the Boeing 777’s black boxes and will turn them over to European aviation officials.

“No one is really in charge,” Abbott said, referring to the Ukrainian crash site. “It’s absolutely chaotic.”

Abbott has dispatched his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, to U.N. headquarters in New York to seek a binding Security Council resolution that would ensure Russia facilitates an independent investigation into the downing of MH17. But with Moscow holding veto power over the council and pointing the finger at Ukraine, Bishop will have her work cut out for her.

“Australia has a seat on the Security Council at this time, so it is a good opportunity for Australia to communicate its unhappiness on this matter,” says Dr. Nick Economou of Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry. “But the diplomacy will be quite difficult.”

It’s still unknown if Russia supplied the sophisticated Buk missile believed to have downed MH17, or if the rebels who allegedly shot it secured the weapon from a Ukrainian military depot. Nevertheless, Australian enmity for Russia is heating up, with widespread calls to ban Russian President Vladimir Putin from attending November’s G-20 summit in Brisbane. Australian Greens leader Christine Milne outright supports blocking Putin, Opposition leader Bill Shorten says a Putin ban should be considered, while Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says it will be “difficult” to welcome Putin to Australia. Abbott stopped short of adding his voice to the chorus, but says Australia must ensure visitors “have goodwill to this country.”

However, Mike Callaghan, director of the G20 Studies Centre at Sydney’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, questions Australia’s right to ban Putin from attending.

“The G-20 is an informal economic forum. There are no rules on membership or revoking membership. So any decision has to be made on consensus, and it is questionable if it is up to (the) chair to say who can and can’t come. It would be very different to Russia’s expulsion from the G-8, when all seven other member nations acted together.”

Callaghan adds that a ban on Putin at the G-20 could spark a no-show from other BRICS, a loose association of five major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — which expressed serious concern in March when Australia’s Foreign Minister Bishop suggested Putin’s barring from the G-8 could be extended to the G-20.

“The G-20 is meant to be an event that brings together the largest developing economies in the world with the largest emerging economies,” Callaghan explains. “So if BRICS don’t come, what is the point of the G-20?”

Monash University’s Economou concurs, saying banning Putin from the G-20 or simply refusing him an entry visa into Australia would prove counterproductive for the G-20, as well as the investigation into the downing of MH17 and for broader global cohesion.

“Our anger with Russia must be communicated,” he says. “But with such a big and powerful player like Russia, you’re better off having them inside the process than outside it. And that will be the big dilemma for Australia further down the track.”

TIME Australia

Australia Grieves After 28 Nationals Die in MH17 Crash

Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in eastern Ukraine
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine during a press conference in Canberra, Australia on July 18, 2014. Alan Porritt — EPA

Canberra summons Russian ambassador Vladimir Morozov for an explanation

Grief and shock rippled through Australia after news broke early Friday morning that 28 of its citizens had been aboard the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was allegedly shot down by a surface-to-air missile in southeastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Flags flew at half-mast in Canberra as Prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the nation’s parliament on Friday morning. “The reckless indifference to modern life does not have any place in our world,” he said.

The Russian ambassador to Australia, Vladimir Morozov, was summoned following myriad reports that the plane was downed by weaponry fired by pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine. Kiev has long claimed the rebels are being supported by Moscow.

“I asked him for Russia’s explanation as to how a commercial plane could come down from that altitude over eastern Ukraine,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“[Morozov] assured me Russia would do what it could to find those responsible.”

The death of 28 of the nation’s citizens is the largest loss of Australian lives during a terrorist incident — if that is indeed what it is — since the Bali bombings in 2002. Out of the 298 people killed on Thursday, approximately 100 people were also en route to Australia to attend the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

Security analysts say the incident will likely have immediate repercussions within the country’s security circles.

“Australia cannot afford to ignore the problems of the world, because they come back and affect us in the most horrible of ways as we’ve seen today,” said Rory Medcalf, security program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.

“This reminds us that what’s happening in Ukraine has now become everybody’s business. It’s affected our security in the most awful, direct way.”

Out of the country’s population of 23 million, approximately 1 million are abroad at any given time — making Australia an unusually integrated country in global affairs despite its geographic isolation, explains Medcalf.

One such person was Perth management consultant Nick Norris, who was travelling on MH 17 along with his grandchildren, Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8. One acquaintance remembered Norris as an integral member in his community.

“Nick has been an important part of the club and an active member — as were his grandchildren,” David Harries, the South of Perth Yacht Club general manager, tells TIME.

The club issued a statement praising Norris as a “well loved and respected” member of the club. It said that members were “shocked by this tragic, senseless loss of family members and club members. It will have a lasting impact on the club and members.”

Others among the 28 who perished on Thursday included a nun from Sydney and a couple coming home after touring Europe.

Blowback to the tragedy was immediate as people began canceling reservations with Malaysia Airlines, which is suffering from the loss of its second plane in over four months after its Flight 370 inexplicably vanished over the Indian Ocean in early March.

“We have had several cancellations of clients booked to fly on Malaysian Airlines,” said Penny Spencer, managing director of popular agency Spencer Travel. “But because this has happened twice now it is going to make things a whole lot more difficult for Malaysia Airlines to get over this.”

TIME New Caledonia

Is a Vast Marine Sanctuary Any Use if You Can’t Police It?

New Caledonia, Atoll, Amédée Lighthouse
New Caledonia's Amédée Lighthouse marks the entrance to its coral reef. DEA PICTURE LIBRARY—De Agostini/Getty Images

Tiny New Caledonia relies on a handful of French ships to patrol a marine reserve twice the size of Texas

Correction appended, July 1, 2014

For the first half of June — until the U.S. declared an even bigger one — the tiny, French semiautonomous territory of New Caledonia boasted the largest nature reserve on earth.

Covering a vast 1.3 million-sq-km region of the South Pacific, the Natural Park of the Coral Sea was established on May 28 to protect the world’s second largest coral reef and its attendant lagoon. Already safeguarded in parts by a UNESCO World Heritage listing, this wonderland is a nursery for 25 kinds of marine mammals (including sea cows and humpback whales), 48 species of shark and five different marine turtles. It also spawns vast numbers of pelagic fish, 3,000 tons of which make it into the Pacific every year – an important food source for tens of millions, and a source of employment for thousands of people living in the region.

But before most people had even heard of the creation of the Natural Park of the Coral Sea, U.S. President Barack Obama went one better by using his executive powers to create an even larger marine park in the south-central Pacific on June 17. Known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, it protects 2 million sq km of ocean and a smattering of islands and atolls between Hawaii and American Samoa from commercial fishing.

Obama’s announcement made world news, while New Caledonia’s barely received a mention. Perhaps that’s because the U.S., while sketchy on the details, has the hardware and manpower to enforce the no-take rule at the core of any national park. New Caledonia, however, has no navy of its own and relies on a handful of French ships to patrol an area twice the size of Texas and three times the size of Germany. What, in the end, is the meaning of its marine sanctuary if it cannot police it?

“This is supposed to be a World Heritage area, but look around you. Where are the patrols?” asks Manu Hernu, an eco-tour operator in Bourail, a popular surf beach on the west coast of New Caledonia’s largest island, Grande Terre. “There is no one here to stop people from fishing but me. I have to be the sheriff because the government isn’t here.”

A similar picture emerges in the micro-state of Kiribati, the halfway point between Hawaii and Fiji. Two days before Obama’s announcement, Kiribati banned commercial fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which, at 400,000 sq km, is nearly equal in size to California. But with only 100,000 people and no defense budget to speak of, Kiribati has no means of enforcing the decree. It wants other nations already doing the heavy lifting in the area — like Australia, France and the U.S. — to provide ships and new technology to protect its massive mid-ocean wilderness.

New Caledonia’s lofty ideals must also be measured against its unremarkable environmental record. Home to a quarter of the world’s known nickel reserves, the archipelago is said to be “made of nickel.” The foreign dollars earned from nickel mining and smelting account for more than 90% of all exports. It’s the reason New Caledonia is so much better off than the aid- and tourism-dependent nations it counts among its neighbors in the South Pacific.

But that wealth has come at a price. In the highlands of Grande Terre, strip mining has turned great valleys rust red in color and sliced off entire mountaintops. Most of the damage harks back to the start of the mining boom in the 1970s, when rehabilitation of the landscape — once nickel had been extracted — wasn’t mandatory. Environmental protection standards for mining are relatively high today but accidents continue to dog the sector. In May, a mine owned by Brazilian giant Value leaked 100,000 L of acid-tainted effluent into a river that flows into a World Heritage zone. It follows another accidental spill of 40,000 L of sulfuric acid in 2009 and another in 2008 that turned a river green.

“We must do better for our marine resources than we did for our terrestrial resources,” World Wildlife Fund’s New Caledonia bureau chief Hubert Géraux tells TIME. He commends the announcement of the Natural Park of the Coral Sea but says it’s just a framework and the real work is yet to be done. “The first stage has been realized, but now it is necessary to ensure the success of the next step and implement a management plan for the rezoning of the park,” Géraux says. “People are quite supportive, but it’s too early to tell.”

Professor Joshua Cinner of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University agrees that just calling something a national park does not equate to protection.

“But I would not be cynical enough to believe a government would do something like this as a public relations exercise,” he says. “It’s being done in the kind of top-down manner which I really don’t believe in. But it could be part of a longer strategy that puts a framework in place for protection of marine resources on an absolutely massive scale.

“Either way, it’s always good to see governments talking about conservation,” he adds. “It creates intrinsic value just by just telling people that it’s there.”

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the name of an eco-tour operator. He is Manu Hernu, not Manu Hemu.

TIME Australia

Animal-Welfare Groups Hopping Mad Over Canberra’s Kangaroo Cull

Eastern gray kangaroos graze near Canberra Élodie Raitière—AFP/Getty Images

The Australian Capital Territory wants to reduce the number of kangaroos hopping about town for environmental reasons. But animal-rights groups are challenging the cull in court, saying the science isn't conclusive just yet

The old cliché about kangaroos hopping down the streets of Australia happens to be true in the national capital Canberra. Set 150 km from the east coast, among vast eucalyptus forests that are heavily prone to drought, the city’s parks, gardens, golf courses and sports grounds have proved irresistible to the iconic marsupial that is featured alongside the emu on Australia’s coat of arms. In fact, some of Canberra’s nature reserves boast the highest densities of kangaroos on the continent.

“Seeing kangaroos in urban areas is one of the best aspects of living in Canberra,” says Tara Ward, a legislative drafter with the Department of the Environment. “It’s one of the top things tourists want to see here because they don’t have to go for long drives to see our native animals.”

Yet interactions between humans and kangaroos can easily turn sour. In 2009, a kangaroo crashed through the window of a Canberra home, terrorized a family and gouged holes in their furniture until it escaped through an open door. In 2010, a footballer was knocked unconscious when he ran into a kangaroo in a Canberra park, while another man received deep gashes to his legs last year when he collided with one on a front lawn during his morning jog. “We both got a nasty fright — and of course when kangaroos are startled they lash out,” the victim, the capital territory’s minister for territory and municipal services Shane Rattenbury, said at the time.

In seeming contradiction to the philosophies of the Australian Greens party he represents, Rattenbury is now spearheading Canberra’s controversial kangaroo cull. Introduced in 2008 to prevent overgrazing, this year’s shoot puts over 1,600 eastern gray kangaroos in the cross hairs. “The primary goal of the conservation cull is to maintain kangaroos at sustainable densities to minimize the impact of heavy grazing on other native fauna and flora,” explains the Territory and Municipal Services website. “High numbers of kangaroos can eat down the ground-layer vegetation so it is no longer able to provide food and shelter for small animals.”

Australian National University conservation expert Professor David Lindenmayer says the science behind the cull is solid. “These woodlands were designed to have major predators like Tasmanian tigers, dingoes and Aboriginal hunters that were the key processes of population regulation,” he says. “And now we have significant amounts of extra water and grass, so it’s a double whammy.”

He adds, “Herbivore overpopulation is not just happening here, but in the U.S. and Patagonia with deer and with other species in different parts of the world. So for animal-welfare groups to say there is no evidence of it happening is like people saying there is no evidence of climate change. The data is very strong.”

Yet one of those welfare groups, Animal Liberation ACT, has thrown the demand for evidence-based environmental management back in the Establishment’s face. Earlier this month, the group’s lawyers, the Animal Defenders Office, persuaded a judge to grant a stay against the kangaroo cull on the basis that the government has failed in its duty to prove the kangaroo cull had improved biodiversity over the past six years.

“They have not collected any baseline data or monitoring data on the conditions of other species on the reserves they say they are saving,” says legislative drafter Ward, who moonlights as a volunteer with the Animal Defenders Office. “If the government wants to go and kill more than 1,600 healthy wild animals, we have to be clear that the science is impeccable before we let them do that.”

“And remember, those 1,600 deaths don’t take into account the joeys that have to be brutally dispatched by shooters after they’ve killed their mothers,” she says. “Part of the applicant’s contention is that it is impossible to carry this out without cruelty being involved.”

David Nicholls, a 70-year-old farmer who spent his whole life working in the bush — two years as a “roo shooter” — agrees. “You try to get clean head shots but it’s difficult because kangaroos are very jumpy — the slightest noise or change in the wind startles them,” he says. “You tell me which Olympic shooter can achieve 100% clean shots every time, even in perfect conditions? The clean-head-shot theory is a myth.”

The hearing to indefinitely end Canberra’s kangaroo cull commences on Thursday and concludes on June 2. In a bid to cool tempers, Rattenbury’s office has announced plans to use the drug deslorelin to neuter 500 eastern grays on a trial basis — the largest neutering drive ever performed on kangaroos. But with costs projected at $830 per animal — three times what it costs to shoot them — and data showing deslorelin can cause cancer, the trial isn’t expected to go mainstream anytime soon. “And even if it does work, those nonbreeding animals will continue to eat large amounts of food throughout their lives,” says Lindenmayer.

“The reality is this debate is not about science or the environment. It’s about people’s value sets,” he says. “Some people look at the world from a purely utilitarian viewpoint; others have a strictly bioethical position.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser