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Thursday, 18th December 2014

DIFFICULT QUESTIONS

Inevitable questions are being asked as Australia comes to terms with the siege in Sydney. Was it an act of terrorism or "mere" criminality? As David Wroe writes in Fairfax, if the siege was criminal then it was appropriate for NSW police to handle it. If it was terrorism, then the AFP and perhaps the military should have been brought in. One unnamed "federal law enforcement officer" told The Australian that "pride" prevented NSW police from calling in the SAS. John Howard has no doubt the siege was an act of terror, and journalist Rachael Kohn agrees: Islamist jihad now has "a sophisticated internet presence that incites anyone in the West to carry out single acts of destruction".

A wide-ranging inquiry into the authorities that could have been monitoring Man Monis will no doubt examine what the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, the AFP and ASIO might have done differently. NSW has already ordered a review into its bail laws, and is seeking to bring forward changes to its Bail Act that had already been legislated. David Leyonhjelm thinks the siege victims would have been safer had Australia had Texan-style gun laws.

But as well as sensible questions, there must be caution about reacting to the siege in such a way that would further enhance the powers of security authorities (or, indeed, increase the number of guns on the streets). The rafts of security legislation passed this year already grants extraordinary powers to those authorities. Perhaps Monis should have been on a watch list, though as David Marr argues that's no argument for even greater powers. Greg Barns points out that bail laws are already very strict, and former NSW DPP Nicholas Cowdery says we must think very hard about the recent trend toward providing more funding to police, security and prisons and not courts, legal aid or crime prevention programs. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is this week conducting hearings into the government's proposed metadata retention laws, and it has emerged that the laws will not require the retention of metadata relating to public wifi. (Submissions are open until January 19.)

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Climate changing

As British PM David Cameron predicts that international pressure will eventually force Australia to do more to tackle climate change (Fairfax), the Australian reports that the renewable energy sector will accept a deal that lowers the Renewable Energy Target from the current legislated target of 41,000GWh if it means getting a deal (either with cross-benchers or with Labor) on the RET over the line.

Meanwhile, the Conversation is carrying an analysis by UQ academics who argue that the Abbott government is right to oppose a move by the World Heritage Committee to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef to "in danger" status. And Queensland has granted environmental approval to an $8 billion, 7500-room hotel and casino resort complex to be built at Yorkey's Knob just north of Cairns (Guardian).

Nothing doing

Yesterday Fairfax revealed that Joe Hockey has backflipped on the company tax avoidance provisions he's been publicly pushing for all year. Today, Fairfax also reports that ATO head Chris Jordan has described the rule that Hockey is now keeping as having been "abused" by foreign companies at huge cost to Australia's budget. Mike Callaghan has an analysis in the Business Spectator.

The AFR predicts that the central claim of the Abbott government's tax white paper will be that the economy relies too much on income and company taxes and not enough on consumption taxes.

And lecturer Ben Spies-Butcher analyses Australia's intergenerational economic problem in the Conversation, while Greg Jericho wants the Abbott government to do more than make empty announcements (Drum).

Less pay, more rent

The Australian reports that as well as offering defence force personnel a below-inflation pay increase of only 1.5 per cent, the Abbott government has decided to raise their rent by up to 4.2 per cent.

Medicare wrecking ball

As the AMA describes the Abbott government's revised GP co-payment plan as a "wrecking ball" (ABC), News.com.au reports that Peter Dutton's plan to freeze the indexation of the Medicare rebate doesn't require either legislation or regulation – so it can't be blocked by the Senate. The indexation freeze may mean that most patients will pay a $45 gap to see a GP.

Bad policy

Alex Wodak comments on the Abbott government's appointment of prohibitionist Kay Hull to lead an inquiry into ice use in Australia (Guardian).