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October, 2018

Malcolm Turnbull ‘knew in advance’ of US plan to strike Syria

US Syria attack live
Nanjing Night Net

The Trump administration informed the Australian government in advance of its plans to launch the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria, Fairfax Media understands.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had pointedly said before news of the strikes broke that the chemical attack on civilians “cries out for a strong response”.

On Friday morning, Mr Turnbull linked the attacks to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and blamed Russia for failing to rein in its ally.

But Mr Turnbull carefully sidestepped questions about what action Australia might take against the regime after Washington appeared to ramp up its rhetoric about the need for Mr Assad’s removal.

“This is a war crime of the worst sort. It is inhumane and it has been universally condemned,” Mr Turnbull told radio 3AW.

Within hours reports emerged that the US had launched about 50 Tomahawk missiles from US Navy warships at targets in Syria.

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson overnight described the chemical attack as a “serious matter” that warranted “a serious response”.

He said that, given the gas attack, “it would seem that there would be no role for [Mr Assad] to govern the Syrian people”.

He also said removing Mr Assad needed an international effort and, when asked if the US would organise that effort, said “those steps are under way”.

The US response in Syria has been an about-face from its previous stated position. Last week Washington told the United Nations that removing Mr Assad was not a priority. And it was uncertain whether Mr Tillerson was referring to international steps that have been under way for two years to find a political process for the removal of Mr Assad as part of ending the Syrian civil war.

US media reports overnight stated that the Pentagon was preparing military options for President Donald Trump against the Syrian regime.

Mr Trump said of Mr Assad that “something should happen” in response to the chemical attacks.

Hillary Clinton on Friday called for the Trump administration to “take out” the Syrian air force to prevent further attacks.

The gas attack on the opposition-held town on Khan Sheikhoun killed more than 80 people, including dozens of children. Photos and videos shared on social media showed victims choking and foaming at the mouth, with some locals needing to be hosed down by rescue workers.

Asked on Friday morning whether Australia would step up its military effort in Syria beyond air strikes against the so-called Islamic State group, Mr Turnbull said he had spoken “a little while ago” to Defence Minister Marise Payne and Chief of the Defence Force Mark Binskin but refused to say if any action was being discussed.

“I don’t want to speculate any further about that. You know where we stand. We have condemned this attack, utterly. It cries out for a strong response and we are in very close touch, as we always are, constant communications with our allies, in particular the United States.

In a slap at the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Turnbull said that “Russia obviously is the principal foreign sponsor of the Assad regime”.

Asked whether Russia had behaved appropriately, Mr Turnbull said, “No.”

The most likely way that the US can find a political path forward to removing Mr Assad would be to persuade his key backer, Moscow, to help engineer his removal.

But Mr Putin has long refused to abandon his military and political support for his ally, frustrating international efforts to remove the dictator.

Illustrating the uncertainty about the process for removing Mr Assad, Mr Tillerson said the international community effort would mean first defeating the Islamic State group, then stabilising Syria and working on a political transition.

But such a transition has been discussed for two years without progress, given that there is little leverage to oust Mr Assad – a situation that would only become further solidified if Syria were stabilised with the regime still in power.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Australia was already providing forces to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria but it was up to countries such as Russia and Iran to pressure the Assad regime.

“Australia certainly can provide some sort of international condemnation of Assad,” he said. “You can’t gas citizens of your own country. That is a war crime.

“It’s time for Putin and the Russians to step up.”

Greens senator Scott Ludlum issued a statement on Friday condemning the US strikes on Syria and calling on Mr Turnbull to rule out Australian involvement in any new military campaign.

“The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless President,” he said.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

In search of my father and his fate

It’s an early spring afternoon in west London. The open sitting-room window in Hisham Matar’s flat ushers in a welcome warm breeze, the rumble of nearby trains and the squawking of gulls. Tranquil in town, but the birds’ presence means rough weather out at sea.
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Inside it is peaceful – flowers on the table and mantelpiece, art on the walls – although Matar, the author of two fine novels, The Country of Men and Anatomy of a Disappearance, and last year’s remarkable memoir, The Return, is talking about times that were anything but.

Matar was born in New York in 1970 while his father served as first secretary in the Libyan Mission at the UN. The family went back to Libya and lived there until 1979 when Matar’s father, Jaballa, who was prominent in the opposition to the new dictatorship of Mohammed Gaddafi, was forced to flee to Cairo.

Some 11 years later, Jaballa Matar was plucked from the streets of the Egyptian capital by the secret police and delivered to the Libyan authorities. He disappeared into the gloom of Abu Salim prison and is assumed to have died in a mass shooting of 1270 prisoners that took place on June 29, 1996.

In The Return, Matar relates the story of his first trip back to Libya since 1979 and his quest to establish once and for all the fate that befell his father. He, his brother and mother had three letters from their father and reports of sightings and rumours.

“Eventually,” he writes, “the original loss, the point of departure, the point from which life changed irrevocably, comes to resemble a living presence, having its own force and temperament. Like desire, its vitality is in what it withholds, until attachment and resentment are so closely intertwined that it is difficult at times to distinguish one from the other.”

Matar, a gentle man who speaks carefully and with consideration, says there is something a “little bit perverse” about someone who has lived in another country and language for most of his life being obsessed with the place he left at nine.

“I realised that all along what I have been convincing myself about is a myth. And the myth is that I was a stowaway and that eventually this island will appear on the horizon and all of my anxieties, reservations – whatever you may call them – will be resolved. Libya came to symbolise this mythical place.”

The title of his book reflects more than simply a physical return to Libya and the extended family he was deprived of for so long. It also represents a return to a “sensibility in a sense” of loud times and dramatic events.

“I had my own sensibility develop abroad. I had to go away for that, so when I returned I felt paradoxically a return to myself, to that sensibility.”

The Return is subtitled Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between. He is fascinated both by the nature of the relationship between fathers and sons and the fate of his own father.

“It was both a genuine attempt by a son to confirm the whereabouts of his father, absolutely. I think that was always the case, but that’s not to say that at the same time it was doing other things. It was at times a way for me to exercise my passion for him. When your father’s present you can exercise your passion for him in so many different ways. It could even be in conflict or affection, but you have someone real there you can bounce against.”

His father is not the only one in the book and Matar is not the only son. In his at times frantic attempts to discover the truth about Jaballa’s fate he came into direct contact with Gaddafi’s son, Seif el-Islam. Their encounters occur at a time when the British government was trying to improve its relationship with the regime. Shamefully, some might say.

But the engagement with Seif el-Islam – choreographed meetings in London hotels, bizarre phone calls and text messages – give Matar another perspective on being his father’s son. On the one hand it was difficult because Jaballa had disappeared; on the other it was easy because “he was a good man, he was brave, he didn’t break under the strain ??? Being my father’s son is a kind of privilege”.

This helped when dealing with the dictator’s son, who could, of course, have told him immediately where Jaballa was had he chosen to “because there was really nothing he could have done that would have taken away or added anything vis a vis my father’s position and that was a surprise to me”.

At the same time, he says, he felt a genuine awareness of the predicament of being Gaddafi’s son. “Being the son of the man who tortured my father is much more complicated than being the son of my father. And I have on some level a humanistic sympathy to that kind of complicated inheritance.”

Matar is adamant, though, that his memoir is not catharsis for him. He doesn’t like books that serve a purpose for somebody – “that feels to me like a betrayal of literature, as well intentioned as it is” – and reckons that when you write a book you have to leave all your causes, your ambitions behind you.

“That’s what I have tried to do; I don’t know whether I’ve succeeded. It’s not so much an attempt to arrive at a catharsis or to mark a loss. It’s more an exercise of curiosity. In my person maybe, but in literature I’m not interested in resolution ??? I’m interested in things opening not closing, really thinking about these things.”

He talks often about his curiosity, about being fascinated and bewildered by human nature.

“I use what I’ve gone through, these things, in order to tap into these streams of human nature,” he says. “This is what I know and it has allowed me some access into the nature of intimacy, the nature of grief, belonging to anything or to anyone, the bizarre organisation of human society, family, nations – all that stuff.”

Matar has always written, although he didn’t think of it as “writing”. He says in The Return that he sees words and images in the same way some conductors hear music all the time. But he didn’t have models of people who worked as writers.

“When you look at my generation of Latin American writers you see not only did the boom generation give them exposure to the world and great books but it gave them the respectability of being a writer – they don’t have to justify themselves. But in the Middle East, it still remains. It would be like some bizarre fringe scientist is looking at something and nobody understands.”

Many would-be writers hoped the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mafouz winning the Nobel Prize in 1988 might change the perception of writing in the region, but apparently it remains a problem.

As a boy, Matar’s language was Arabic. But at 12 he was sent to Britain for education and English became his stronger language. As a young man he met Mafouz at one of the weekly soirees the writer held – secretly after an assassination attempt – in Cairo. He found him kind and gentle but the as-yet unpublished Matar was made uneasy when the old master pointed out that writing in the English language involved “writing into that river”. But, says Matar, he was right. “Language is not just a code, you are writing into its history, into its tides.”

Writing in English was not a choice for him in the way, say, Joseph Conrad, a Pole, had to choose between writing in English or French. By then it was his language du jour.

He recently worked with a young Egyptian writer on a new translation into Arabic of The Country of Men. He felt uncomfortable about the experience – “a deathly sense of being detained” when he wanted to be elsewhere.

“I had somehow entertained the fantasy that once the book in you is translated into Arabic, it would somehow return to the language it was meant to be in. But I found that, no, it’s actually like any translation – it’s a corruption, it becomes hued ??? and that my ear, my linguistic enthusiasm is sharpist in English.”

In his novel Anatomy of a Disappearance – a father is kidnapped, a son must adjust to new, complicated circumstances – Matar refers to the guilt a survivor feels. I wondered if that was something he had experienced.

“I did. I don’t. I haven’t for a long time. I have grown out of it. Guilt is not the right word. Guilt harnesses your appetites a bit; I felt like my appetites weren’t as full blooded. But ??? there’s a lot of things I’m not sure about.”

He pauses briefly. “But one thing I’m definitely sure about is that life is for the living.”

And writing.

The Return is published by Viking at $35. Hisham Matar is a guest at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, May 22-28 (swf.org419论坛). He speaks at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne on May 30 (wheelercentre南京夜网).

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Preschoolers start saving for big future

Money minded: Evan Beacher, Julia Rudolph, preschool director Narelle Jackson, Estella Kacev and Amelia Sherwood. Picture: Simone De PeakCHILDREN attending Hamilton Community Preschool don’t need to wait for the Tooth Fairy or Santa to top up their piggy banks, or deliver a toy they’ve got their eyes on.
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The childrenhave been complementing their preschool lessons about financial literacy with chores to earn pocket money, which they deposit in their own bank accounts once a month.

Preschool director Narelle Jackson said she tried to incorporate lessons about money into the children’s daily routine. “We do run little mathematics experiences to understand the basics of accounting and addition and set up play areas where they learn the role of money in life,” Ms Jackson said. “This week we have a shop set up with cash registers – it’s the ideal shop because the change is usually more than what you have to pay! – and we talk them through what happens when they go to the shops with Mum and Dad and that their credit cards aretied to real money.

“It’s becoming a cashless society so it’s good for kids to understand what happens and that you do have to earn money.

“We remind them all the time that you can’t get everything that you want and that you do enjoy things a lot more when you’re able to wait and buy them for yourself.”

Ms Jackson said many children did chores at home including setting the table, making their beds or cleaning their rooms for small change, amounting to an average of about $5 a month.

The preschool was the first to sign up to Greater Bank’s Banking Buddies program in late 2015. The children walk to the Hamilton branch every month andline up at the teller to deposit their earnings.

“One of the four year old girls had been saving coins and came with $37 in a zip lock bag,” she said.

“We like to remind them they are saving for a goal or a dream, we have that talk all the time. Some want a unicorn, a shop, or Lego.”

Ms Jackson said the children are also taught how to recognise different coins and notes and learn to draw pretend money to buy tickets for the preschool’s disco or to watch a DVD. “We want children to have respect for and understanding of money,” she said.

“Too many take it for granted and don’t appreciate the value of money and what you need to do to be able to buy what you like. We want to teach them money does not just appear in your wallet.”

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s Moneysmart website said teaching children about managing money has “never been more important”.

“Giving your kids a good foundation and teaching them about money matters is critical for their personal development,” it said. “Showing children the basics such as how to budget, spend and save will establish good money habits for life.”

Time to ‘get serious’ about interest-only loans

The longer the property boom in Sydney and Melbourne goes on, the more avenues we explore to put a cap on buyer exuberance.
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I don’t like sledgehammer government responses to the property market, because as I’ve pointed out, some of the “solutions” might actually further fuel the problem, especially where more money is put in the first home buyer’s pocket.

But one of the better ideas has been to tighten criteria on interest-only loans.

Interest-only loans, where no principal is paid, are used mainly by property investors because it’s the most tax-effective mortgage.

This works for experienced and sophisticated investors, most of whom are advised by accountants and solicitors.

The loans have drawbacks, but the benefit to home buyers is that they have lower repayments because the borrower is not paying down the principal of the loan.

When property prices are soaring and first home buyers are taking on large mortgages, people are looking for the lowest possible repayments in order to afford the loan. So clearly, people who are not investors and are not sophisticated are being lured into interest-only loans for the lower repayments.

ASIC says one in four owner-occupier mortgages is now interest-only and two out of three investor loans are interest-only. That’s a national average and I suspect that in red-hot property markets like Melbourne and Sydney, there is an even higher proportion of owner occupiers with interest-only loans.

I broadly support government moves to control this trend on owner-occupier properties.

Anyone being tempted to take an interest-only loan should be required to take professional advice, especially on owner-occupied purchases.

Why? Well firstly, when you pay interest only, you don’t reduce your loan amount. So you have the same debt when you sell as when you bought.

So in order to increase equity in the property – thus increasing your own wealth – you rely solely on capital appreciation, that is the value of the property going up.

If the market stalls or goes backwards, you are caught with no principal amount paid off – it’s like you’ve been paying rent to the banks the whole time, rather than increasing your ownership.

If property does go backwards, and you have a small deposit, you could wind up owing more than the property is worth.

Now, add to this scenario a period of increasing interest rates. If you’re on a variable rate, your repayments go up and you’re still not repaying the principal debt.

Be aware also that interest-only loans typically have higher interest rates than principal and interest loans.

I’m advocating that lenders and brokers give specific advice to borrowers about the loans, and the traps that are inherent in them. It should be written and signed off by the borrower.

Time to get serious. Remember that professionally advised investors accept interest-only loans because it is part of their tax planning. They know they are not paying off the principal, because they can reduce their taxable income and still pick up tax benefits if they sell the property in certain time windows.

If you’re not being advised, you may be experiencing all the downside of an interest-only loan, while enjoying none of the tax benefits.

Before taking one of these loans, get expert advice.

Mark Bouris is executive chairman of Yellow Brick Road.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Ablett shocks footy world with talk of premature retirement

Coach Rodney Eade says the Gold Coast Suns will remain supportive of Gary Ablett despite the champion midfielder claiming he could retire at the end of this season unless a trade was brokered.
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Ablett, 32, has been the focus of much attention this week over his performance and poor body language during the Suns’ 102-point thumping by Greater Western Sydney, reigniting debate he wants to leave the club. He had requested a trade back to Geelong late last year but that was denied by the Suns.

The dual Brownlow medallist told the The Footy Show on Thursday night that he could retire for personal reasons at the end of this season with a year remaining on a contract reportedly worth between $700,000 and $800,000.

“That’s exactly what I am saying – I don’t know what next year holds for me. There are some things going on in my life which is my No.1 priority at the moment. I need to work through those things,” he said.

“As I said, that will be something that I will talk to the club about at the end of the year, what the next step is for me. But I am fully committed to this year. If it does end up being my last, I want to make sure I make the most of it, I want to play finals football. We are only two rounds into the season, there are still 20 games to go and I am confident we can get back to playing some good football.” Subscribe to The Age Real Footy Podcast

Eade said on Friday the Suns remained supportive of Ablett but he wouldn’t discuss the personal issues impacting on him.

“We will support Gary and continue to support him football-wise and matters off the field as well. We’d like people to respect the personal nature of some things in his life off-field and we won’t be commenting or speculating on that,” he said.

Eade said the Suns, as they had for departed stars Dion Prestia and Jaeger O’Meara, would have plans for the end of the year regardless of Ablett’s decision. But the immediate focus was on resurrecting the Suns’ winless campaign to start the new season, beginning against Hawthorn at Metricon Stadium on Sunday.

“Off field, he’s very engaged. He’s a very caring individual. He cares about his teammates, he’s spending a lot of time with younger players on the track, helping (co-captains Steven) May and (Tom) Lynch as well,” Eade said.

“Certainly, off field, he’s been terrific. We’ve only played two games. People tend to be throwing barbs a bit after two games.

“He equalled for the (Marcus Ashcroft) medal in round one so, from my point of view, he played very well, and he’s had a poor one at the weekend.”

Ablett said he could yet complete his contract with the Suns, who maintain he is a required – and contracted – player.

“No, of course, I am not ruling out playing with the Suns. It’s just a discussion I need to have with the club at the end of the year,” Ablett said.

“I am managing some things in my life at the moment and I need to work through those things. There is no more of a story to it. That’s what it is.”

Ablett had initially revealed late last year that this season could be his last. He did not want to divulge what his family reasons were.

“The reason why I asked for a trade (last year) was for family reasons – no other reason – and it was shut down pretty quickly. The club said I was a required player. The club respected that. The club was very supportive through that time and still very supportive today in helping manage those things in my life,” he said.

Ablett insisted he was happy with the club but his wife Jordan was still adjusting to life away from her Victorian-based family.

“It was, obviously, a tough move for Jordan up the Gold Coast, moving away from family. I think she knew it was going to take a while to settle in, it was the same for me, it took me a good 18 months to settle in, but Jordan is an amazing support – she has always said she will support me where ever I am,” he said.

While he was criticised for his efforts against the Giants, Ablett insists he physically is well. He had only 16 touches against the Giants and admitted he was “frustrated” with what unfolded on the field.

“My body is not feeling too bad. I felt like I had a really good pre-season. I put a lot of time in the off-season into getting my shoulder right and my body right,” he said.

“I was able to do most of the sessions. There has been all this talk about how poor the team’s performance was on the weekend and we are not going to shy away from that. It wasn’t my best game but at the same time I felt I like I played a decent game the week before.”

Eade has used Ablett in long stretches up forward this season, sparking suggestions Ablett was not happy about this. The former Cat has been arguably the league’s best midfielder of the past decade.

“I am actually enjoying the role, spending a bit of time through the midfield and also down forward. I started my career down forward and really enjoyed that,” Ablett said.

“But I guess it all depends on where ‘Rocket’ wants to play me. We have, obviously, got some young guys that we would love to play through the midfield just for their development. If my best role is playing down forward, then I am happy to do that.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.