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May, 2019

Leunig on Leak, and how to let go

NATIONAL TREASURE: Beloved cartoonist Michael Leunig is a headline guest of the Newcastle Writers Festival. Picture: Simone De PeakIF ANYONE wantsto wind back Australia’sracial discrimination laws in the name of a beloved cartoonist, they’d best not ask Michael Leunig.
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The 71-year-oldsays cartoonists in Australia “have masses of freedom”, despite arecent push to overhaul section 18C of the Racial Discrimination act.

A guest of this weekend’sNewcastle Writers Festival, Leunig said the cartoonist atthe centre of the free speech maelstrom, the late Bill Leak, was “egged on” by commentators eager for a fight.

Leak died last month aged 61, following an investigation by the Human Rights Commission into his cartoon that portrayeda neglectfulAboriginal father.

“I thought Bill made a terrible mistake in drawing that cartoon,” Leunig told the Newcastle Herald.

“I thought it was a cruel cartoon which had no point except for reinforcing some stereotypes. I didn’t like it.”

The national living treasure andCurly Flat creatorsaid he had reservations about more protections forspeech deemed offensive, and that Australians readilyacceptlibel and slander laws.

But Leunig, whose workhas criticisedAustralia’s militaryinvolvement in Iraq,aspects ofchildcare,and Victoria’sban on un-vaccinated children attendingkindergarten, said he’d thought about the latter stages of Leak’slife.

“I imagine it could’ve been painful, deep water he was in.”

In the social mediaage, when anyone can be used“as a bit of content”, Leunigsaid being a cartoonist camewith its share of soul-searching.

“It’s a lonely job. You’re given great freedom on the one hand, but you’ve got to wear it alone,” Leunig said.

“Some people say cartooning is just making wisecracks about politicians, but I’m more interested in our part in all of this.”

In a career spanning 40 years of whimsy in Fairfax newspapers, has Leunigregretted a cartoon?

“I think I have. There area deadlines, and sometimesthere’s nothing coming,” he said.

“You look backand think, that was a bit spiteful, or that was a bit clever dick-ish. That pressure to be cruel for the sake of it, I find pretty pointless.”

Onhis second visit to Newcastle, the first having been at night, Leunig said he was still recovering from a near-fatal head knockthat had “sent the books flying” from his memory.

Leunig was struckby asteel trapdoor last year in a bushfire shelter in rural Victoria, and suffered seizures and bleeding onhisbrain.

Since then, Leunig said he values“letting go-ness”and being in the natural world.

“It’s sort of liberating to have an accident like that;it makesyoulet go,” he said.

“Life is a kind of injury. None of us gets awaywithout some kind of damage.”

Political comment is one thing, he said, but “sometimes you just want to do a drawing of a little guy talking to a dog, saying something about life”.

No excuses: Why Kyrgios doesn’t deserve Australia’s love

Here’s a question for the Australian sporting public: Have you any self-respect? Or are a few cheap wins all that stand between you and the surrender of your pride?
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Australia’s moral bottom line is for sale, and the transaction is being run by Nick Kyrgios, sometime professional tennis player and amateur auctioneer. Kyrgios, if you didn’t know, put his car up for sale on his Facebook page this week. But in wearing the national colours for Australia’s Davis Cup tie with the US in Brisbane over the weekend, he is also taking bids on the price of our national sporting principles.

I have not bothered to write about Kyrgios in this column previously. One thing he and I have in common is that neither of us is all that interested in tennis. But Kyrgios is the chump; he’s the one trapped in it. The rest of us can walk away from this most pointless of corporate advertising vehicles, but he is snared by his own prodigious talent, poor dear, and can’t break out into his preferred professions of basketballer, car salesman or gentleman of leisure because, bless his cotton ankle socks, he is, like his heroic forebears in the land of Homer, cursed by too much talent.

Kyrgios’ talent is such that, in spite of his best efforts, he is on a path to fulfilment. His results this year suggest he is not only unable to avoid the destiny that his natural gifts bestow but is also luckier than he deserves, rising to the top just as a lot of tall timber is falling around him. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are enjoying an Indian summer before they take their leave, and behind them, the Djokovic-Murray generation is showing signs of burnout. Kyrgios’ time is nigh.

Now for Australia to ask itself: will on-court success whitewash their reservations about Kyrgios’ personality? Should he reach his potential and begin winning major tournaments, will Australia forgive him (or script for their own absolution and willed amnesia), and rewrite the past as a story of perfectly understandable youthful indiscretion? Will the Davis Cup – a green-and-goldwash of reputation-laundering – be Kyrgios’ avenue to redemption?

Shame on you, Australia, for even contemplating it.

In case that path seems well-trodden, it’s not. Look at Lleyton Hewitt, courtside, the patron saint of redeemed bad boys. Hewitt grew up in the public eye, made his mistakes, but then transformed himself from uncouth bogan into national treasure. But Hewitt never had to climb out of a gutter as deep as Kyrgios’. He was not quite comme il faut, but never so wantonly foul.

Nor was it winning titles that earnt him the public’s love. When Hewitt was, briefly, the world’s best player and the winner of Wimbledon and a US Open (at which Kyrgios has never proceeded beyond the round of eight), he still carried the stigma of his occasional displays of ignorant temper. What absolved Hewitt was not success, nor even his commitment to Davis Cup, but his long, long, long career of giving every ounce of his energy and willpower to his game.

Hewitt was far more loved as the eternal middle-aged battler, giving his all year after year, chasing down every ball even when the game had left him behind, than he ever was as a brash youngster. It wasn’t success that saved him, but sheer persistence. We resisted him, but he ended up wearing us down. Whatever else we thought of him, we had to bow to his epic determination.

Perhaps Kyrgios will still be courageously chasing down younger opponents in his 30s. Hard to see, when the generation gap between him and his seniors is so deep. Why would he have respect for his own seniority when he has so little for anybody else’s? During his duel with Roger Federer at Indian Wells last week, Federer’s wife Mirka – the Dorian Grey portrait of Roger’s true feelings – was catcalling the Australian. At the end of the match, which should have been a celebration of tennis for tennis’ sake, Kyrgios threw his toys out of his cot while Federer looked as if the first thing on his list, after having to shake his opponent’s hand, was to have a wash. Kyrgios has earnt this treatment through his actions and his words. He cannot complain that he is not being valued, among his peers, at his true worth.

But will some wins for Australia win Australia over? It’s a depressing thought. Yes, we all love a winner, but at what cost? Do we have no principles at all?

A lot of the Kyrgios-forgiveness line is engraved around the pressures of individual sports. The young man is on his own, he is exposed on the court, he lacks the warm bosom of a team to sink into and hide behind, so the outbursts of temper are entirely understandable. And other crap of this kind.

Look at some other young Australian individual sportsmen plying their trade this weekend. Jason Day has carried his debt to his mother with a love that is plain to see and heart-wrenching in its naked authenticity. Adam Scott and the other Australians at Augusta National have brought nothing but credit upon their country and their sport through their conduct over the years. What has Kyrgios got, next to these men?

Look to the west, where surfer Owen Wright continues to overcome a brain injury that left him with a terrifying future, looking at one point as if he might never be able to hold a coherent thought, let alone practise his sport. After a 15-month convalescence, Wright came back to defeat the best in the world at Snapper Rocks last month and has extended his world championship lead taking on ground-shaking waves at Margaret River. This is courage.

These are young professionals in individual sports with all the same excuses for being dickheads that Kyrgios leans on – uneducated, precociously spoilt, insulated from the real world – and yet, when the real world has broken into their bubble, the likes of Day and Wright have shown true character, true bravery. They don’t need to win in their sports to gain our admiration. They have gained it already, for who they are.

So enough of the rubbish. Kyrgios himself has shown zero regard for what Australians think of him, and that disregard ought to be mutual. But will it? If he brings down the US in the Davis Cup, if he goes on to win Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow and Melbourne Park, Kyrgios will still be Kyrgios. But what of you, Australia – how will you be changed?

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

Work like a dog, now time to rest like one

Work like a dog, now time to rest like one HEART MELTER: Guide Dog Stamford with Belinda Carroll and musician Matt McLaren on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
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BUDDIES: Musician Matt McLaren and his Guide Dog Stamford. Picture: Marina Neil

Matt McLaren and Stamford in Martin Place, Sydney, last year. Picture: Jessica Hromas

Matt McLaren and Stamford in Martin Place, Sydney, last year. Picture: Jessica Hromas

Matt McLaren and Stamford in Martin Place, Sydney, last year. Picture: Jessica Hromas

BUDDIES: Musician Matt McLaren and his Guide Dog Stamford. Picture: Marina Neil

BUDDIES: Musician Matt McLaren and his Guide Dog Stamford. Picture: Marina Neil

TweetFacebook Matt McLaren and StamfordIF adog is man’s best friend, a Guide Dog must be family.

Stamford, the four-legged companion of Newcastle singer and songwriter Matt McLaren, has proven he’s still got it, raising more than $4000 for Guide Dogs at his retirement party.

The Labrador melted hearts across Australia when he appeared with McLaren onAustralia’s Got Talentin 2016. Stamford will hang up the harness next month after nine years of service. But he is not going anywhere, McLaren will keep him as a pet.

Scores of people turned out to farewell the pup two weeks ago, and on Friday, the proceeds of his retirement party were handed over to a graciousBelinda Carroll of Guide Dogs’ Newcastle branch.

McLaren said it was a fitting tribute to the selfless canine.

“People love getting behind Guide Dogs because it’s tangible thing –they enable so many people in so many ways,” he said.“It’s incalculable, really, what they do for people. I wouldn’t even understand the scope (of what) Stamford has done for me over the years.”

A Guide Dogcosts more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train.

PM ‘knew in advance’ of US strike on Syria

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne. Photo: Alex EllinghausenUS bombs Syria: Transcript of Donald Trump’s statement in fullWhat we know so far Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Photo: HOPD
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The Trump administration informed the Australian government in advance of its plans to launch the Tomahawk missile attack on Syria, Fairfax Mediaunderstands.

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 hoursreports emerged that the US had launchedabout 50 Tomahawk missiles from US Navy warships at targets in Syria.

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

He said 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 underway 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 onKhanSheikhounkilled more than 70 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.

On Friday morning, Mr Turnbull branded the gas attack “a war crime of the worst sort”.

Asked 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 Vladimir Putin, Mr Turnbull said that “Russia obviously is the principal foreign sponsor of the Assad regime”. Asked whether Russia has 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 saidAustraliawas already providing forces to fight the Islamic State inIraqandSyriabut it was up to countries such asRussiaandIranto pressure the Assad regime.

“Australiacertainly 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.”


US launches missiles on Syria: what we know so far

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The United States has fired more than 50 missiles at a Syrian airbase following orders from President Donald Trump. The escalation was in response to the chemical weapon attack earlier this week, which killed more than 80 civilians, including at least 30 Syrian children. The attack has been widely blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This is what we know so far:

What has just happened?

The United States has launched more than 50 Tomahawk missiles at the al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs, an air base that is under the control of the Assad government.

A chemical attack was launched from this airfield earlier this week on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria, in which at least 80 people were killed, including some 30 children.

The Syrian government denied responsibility for the chemical attack. The Russian government said chemicals leaked when the Syrian government conducted an air strike on a rebel-held chemical weapons depot. What is the latest Trump has said on the strikes?

In a press conference about midday on Friday Sydney time, Trump said the strike was “to prevent and deter the spread of deadly chemical weapons”.

He said there was no dispute Syria was behind the chemical attack.

“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed,” he said. He called on other nations to end terrorism.

“We ask for God’s wisdom as we face this challenge,” he said. Has anyone been killed in the missile strike?

Syrian state television says the strikes “led to losses”. CNN reported there were Russian personnel at the base at the time of the strike. It is not known if they were injured. What is Australia’s position?

It is being reported that Trump received support from nations including Australia before launching the attack.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not yet commented on the US’s response, but he has previously called for a strong response to the deadly chemical attack.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten supports the strikes. “We support the US sending a strong signal that these gas attacks should have never occurred – and they should never occur again,” he said. How will Russia respond?

It will certainly raise the risk of confrontation with Assad’s main military supporters, Russia and Iran.

A senior military official said there were no Russian planes at the Shayrat airbase and Russian military officials were informed ahead of the strike.

Just before the attack, Russia’s deputy UN envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, warned of “negative consequences” if the United States carried out military strikes on Syria over the deadly toxic gas attack. His government accused Trump of being “too hasty” in his response.

Neither country’s leader has yet issued a statement on the strikes. How are people reacting?

The attack was described as “American aggression” by Syrian state TV.

A Pentagon statement said “he strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act”. . “Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons,” it said.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton applauded Trump’s military action. “I commend President Trump for taking swift, decisive action against Bashar al-Assad’s outlaw regime.”

Fellow Republican Bob Corker, who is the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also welcomed Trump’s “decisive action”.

“It is critical that Assad knows he will no longer enjoy impunity for his horrific crimes against his own citizens, and the proportional step was appropriate.” What happens next?

The UN Security Council may convene another emergency meeting. The world is expecting Russia and Iran to make a statement. How did the United States initially respond to the chemical attack?

On Thursday, the United States signalled it could take a more aggressive response to the chemical attack..

When asked if the attack on a Syrian hospital crossed a “red line”, Trump said “it crossed a lot of lines”. “That crosses many, many lines, beyond red lines,” he said.

At a sitting of the United Nations Security Council an hour earlier, US Ambassador Nikki Haley stood up at her desk to show diplomats photos of dying children and accused Russia, which backs Syria, of pushing a false narrative blaming rebel forces for the attack.

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