Campaign underway to preserve Indigenous languages

July 7th, 2019

Globalisation has put Indigenous languages in a precarious position.




Studies indicate that by the end of the 21st century, 90 per cent of the world’s 7000 languages could be lost.


But academics and educators across the Pacific, where a third of the world’s living languages are from, are trying to halt the trend.


Will Mumford reports.


Actor Richard Green says he wants bring his native tongue Dharug, or Eyora, back to life.


Mr Green, who speaks eight Aboriginal languages, has joined academics, educators and linguists in calling for more effort to be put toward preserving the vast and diverse range of Indigenous languages in the Pacific.


The Pacific region is home to more than 2000 languages, however many are critically endangered and face the prospect of dying out in the coming decades.


A symposium at Sydney University has brought together experts in the field to discuss the status of indigenous languages in the French Pacific and Australia, and how we might better protect their future.


Professor Jaky Troy is the director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the university and says when a language ceases to exist, it also has a broader cultural effect.


“It means that there is a lesser world. So when a language disappears in many ways the people associated with that language disappear, part of them disappears. All their knowledge, everything they know about themselves in their language goes with the language.”


There are around 250 languages spoken by Australia’s Indigenous communities, however many experts say there is a lack of engagement with and recognition of these languages.


Professor Troy says there needs to be a greater focus on language education in policy and the curriculum, as well as the arts and new media.


According to Professor Troy, Australia is behind other parts of the world when it comes to recognising and actively supporting the existence of native tongues.


“None of our Indigenous languages are national languages. We should have our languages alongside English, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Australia was the country in the world with 251 national languages – English, plus the other 250. It’s a sad thing that a lot of the countries where the English invaded English becomes the dominant language and is the only national language. But for other countries in the world, in spite of European invasion, the languages are recognised – so the French recognise the languages across French Polynesia, they are national languages as well in their constitutions.”


Actor Richard Green says better public knowledge of local languages would help us explain the world around us and its history.


“The whole city is covered in this very language we’re speaking about, when we’re concerning ourselves with the Sydney language – the Dharug, Eyora – in that it’s written on all the street signs, it’s written in all the suburbs… I mean Bondi does not mean waves crashing on rocks, it’s a five letter word that’s mispronounced. It’s Boondee and it means beach – so when are we going to be allowed to deal with our own language, instead of everyone else deciding what my Grandmother’s tongue was. “


Aboriginal actor and television presenter Ernie Dingo spoke at a public forum held as part of the symposium.


He says native languages represent a self-contained form of history.


And through the quirks and idiosyncracies of languages, Dingo says we can understand something about the culture and geography of the people who speak them.


“Language is very important for people’s identity. Before we had too much influences…you can tell where people come from by the sounds of the language because it reflects their environment.”


Professor Troy says the preservation of languages has been proven to result in positive health outcomes and gives people a sense of cultural awareness and identity.


“There are studies now that demonstrate that where people speak their languages their health is better. Chronic disease is reduced, youth suicide is dramatically reduced. If you, as an Aboriginal person know that you and your language are recognised nationally, you’re one of the people of the country. You’re no longer somebody who sits sideways while English and imported culture dominates. “






Explainer: What is the List of World Heritage in Danger?

July 7th, 2019

Peter Valentine, James Cook University

The List of World Heritage in Danger has recently come to the attention of Australians, as the World Heritage Committee considers whether the Great Barrier Reef belongs there.


What is the list, and what does getting onto it mean?

The World Heritage Convention and the ‘in danger’ list

The World Heritage Convention is an international convention adopted by UNESCO aimed at conserving the world’s most outstanding heritage sites. The convention covers 190 countries that voluntarily participate in it. Identifying potential world heritage places is the responsibility of each participating country.

The World Heritage Committee – a 21-member body established by the convention but with membership elected by the member states – decides which sites make the list (there are currently 1,007). Countries have to protect, conserve, communicate the value of, rehabilitate and transmit the sites to future generations.

The government of Honduras requested the World Heritage Committee place its Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve on the List in Danger because of its reduced capacity to manage the site. Lawlessness in the area led to illegal logging, fishing and land occupation, poaching and the presence of drug traffickers. Hjvannes/Wikimedia Commons

The World Heritage Committee also publishes a second list: the “List of World Heritage in Danger”.

Normally, for a site to enter this list, its country asks for help to address serious threats. But in cases of urgent need, the committee can inscribe a site immediately and without the agreement of its country. Currently, 46 World Heritage Sites, 20 of which are natural, are on the List in Danger.

The 46 sites currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO/Google Maps


How are sites added to the list?

The World Heritage Committee gets information about the state of conservation of sites from countries and from advisory bodies such as the IUCN (natural heritage) and ICOMOS (cultural heritage). Where threats have been identified or changes proposed that may adversely effect a World Heritage property, the committee may seek a detailed site examination. This happened on the Great Barrier Reef in 2012.


The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, was put on the World Heritage in Danger List for excessive development. The Great Barrier Reef is under scrutiny for similar concerns. Asteiner/Wikimedia Commons

Two of the criteria used for placing a property on the list are ascertained and potential danger. Ascertained danger measures imminent threats, such as industrial development, to the site. Potential danger applies to development proposals that could undermine the essential character of the site.

Why list a site as ‘in danger’?

There are some advantages to a country of having a site listed as “in danger”. The World Heritage Committee can allocate funds to respond to the threats, typically under a plan drawn up with the country concerned. And it highlights to the world the threats that exist and encourages donor agencies to help.

For example, all five World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been on the endangered list since 1994, which has generated a large amount of international aid to support their rehabilitation. More than US$50 million has flowed not just from UNESCO but also from non-government organisations and from Belgium and Japan. This is an excellent example of the convention at work.


Garamba National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to the last known wild population of Northern White Rhinoceros. Continual poaching of the rhinos has caused the park to be added to the list on two separate occasions. Nuria Ortega/African Parks Network

Countries may seek to avoid listing (and any perceived shame attached to this) and address the concerns internally. This occurred when Ecuador’s Galapagos World Heritage Area was inscribed.

Ecuador initially opposed the listing and asked for time to resolve the concerns internally. This required a constitutional change to empower the federal government to take appropriate action. Much to Ecuador’s credit, this was accomplished.

Few other countries have taken such dramatic action to protect World Heritage. On two occasions when countries have failed to respond appropriately, the committee has taken the radical step to remove sites from both Heritage lists altogether. The first to be removed was Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary – a victim of the nation’s lust for oil.

Every such removal would be seen as a failure of the convention. The presumption is that a site is rehabilitated and then upgraded to its original standing on the World Heritage list.

While there has been some debate about its efficacy and there are different interpretations about the significance and meaning of listing a site as “in danger”, the process is a very clear first step in the potential removal of a site from the World Heritage List.

Peter Valentine is Adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University and is a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. He has received funding from State and Federal Governments for World Heritage work.

Hockey accused of rental ‘double dipping’

July 7th, 2019

Joe Hockey has been attacked for what one voter has called “double dipping” as the debate on paid parental leave turned to political allowances.


Less than a fortnight out from the Abbott Government’s second budget, the Treasurer took part in a special one guest episode of the ABC’s Q&A program, facing questions on budget measures, marriage equality and tax reform.

Mr Hockey was questioned by audience member Mark Travers over allowances for politicians living away from home.

It follows allegations from News Corp Australia that Mr Hockey has claimed more than $100,000 in allowances relating to a house owned by his wife.

Mr Hockey said the allowances were not taxpayer-funded subsidies, citing it as a payment that applies for public servants that travel away.

“It has been a common practice on all sides of politics because ultimately most people want to have the same place over a number of years where they can leave their toothbrush at night,” he said.

“That’s what you want, instead of a hotel room or whatever the case or renting different accommodation as people do… I was away 185 days last year. You try to have the same bed, try to have the same place to leave a shirt.”

‘I’m sorry if you have taken offence’

Mr Hockey also apologised for the debate around his budget’s new paid parental leave proposals, which has described parents accessing payments from both the government and employers as “rorters” who were “double dipping”.

When pressed by host Tony Jones, the Treasurer conceded the wording was wrong.

“Yes, I totally accept that,” he said.

“No problems. I accept that.”

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Mr Hockey took the chance to defend the government’s new PPL proposal, saying costs had to be cut to meet childcare funding commitments.

“It was patently obvious that in the case of the government, we were paying a full wage replacement paid parental leave scheme to government employees and then they were also claiming $11,500 from the government’s paid parental leave scheme which is separately delivered by Centrelink,” he said.

“From our perspective, you couldn’t do both and still put more money into childcare.”

‘It is like a sausage machine, right?’

Mr Hockey also continued his attack on the modelling commissioned by Labor which shows that the low income families will be hit hard by his second budget.

Modelling by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) in Canberra stated that a family with two children and a single income of $65,000 will be $6164 a year worse off by 2018-19.

The modelling has not been released in full, a move which Mr Hockey said was “flawed”.

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“We haven’t seen it,” he said.

“You are asking me about something I haven’t seen, the Government hasn’t seen and most of the media haven’t seen.”

Mr Hockey went on to compare economic modelling to a sausage machine, saying “what you put in and what comes out” could be frightening. 

Mercedes to hold factory inquest after Monaco gaffe

July 7th, 2019

Although they won Sunday’s showcase race for the third year in a row with Germany’s Nico Rosberg, the headlines were all about how the dominant team blew a surefire victory for Lewis Hamilton.


Hamilton had the race under control until the safety car was deployed some 14 laps from the end and the Briton was called in for a needless pitstop while rivals stayed out.

The world champion finished third, his overall lead over Rosberg halved to 10 points.

Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff said an extensive debrief had been carried out already involving about 100 personnel from the factory, engine side and trackside operations on Sunday evening.

“We discussed it in an overview and we get back together on Tuesday morning to analyse it and by then we will know where we had a gremlin in the system,” the Austrian told reporters.

Hamilton, who was excused the post-race debrief and usual team media duties in Monaco, is unlikely to attend after struggling to comprehend what had happened.

Others were equally mystified, with former racer David Coulthard among those saying the driver was badly let down.

Wolff said the decision to declare a ‘virtual safety car’, a new development since last season, followed by a real safety car and Hamilton complaining about the state of his tyres had caught the team out.

They thought he had enough time to pit and rejoin the race in the lead but the figures were wrong, seemingly misled by unreliable GPS readings around the winding street circuit.

“The system, showing us a clear possibility of a free stop, was wrong by a couple of seconds,” said Wolff. “In hindsight, if you look at it from a common sense standpoint, there is a very different logic.”

Wolff would not say who made the call to pit and added Mercedes would not play the blame game anyway.

“I rate that guy and his group just as highly as I did before the race. He was dragged in by a decision, fooled by the numbers,” said the boss.

“There is no doubt what happened. We had a problem in our data tools and those data tools have won us many great races.”

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Aussie to be sentenced in NY over drugs

July 7th, 2019

US prosecutors have asked a judge to sentence a Queensland prison counseller to a maximum 12.


5 years’ jail for his role in the massive global drug-trafficking website, Silk Road.

Peter Nash, 42, was facing a life sentence when he was arrested by the FBI and Australian authorities in Queensland in December, 2013.

However, prosecutors admitted Nash played a relatively minor role in Silk Road, had entered guilty pleas to drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering charges and had an impressive history helping people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

“Given Nash’s unique circumstances – both in terms of his low-level role and his mitigating personal factors – the government believes that a below-guidelines sentence is appropriate,” prosecutors Serrin Turner and Timothy Howard told US District Court judge Thomas Griesa.

They have asked for a sentence of between 10 and 12.5 years, while Nash’s lawyer argues the Australian should be given a time-served sentence for the 18 months he has been held in Australian and US jails.

Nash will be sentenced in a Manhattan court on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST).

An undercover operation by US authorities shut Silk Road down on October 2, 2013.

“The website was designed to make conducting illegal transactions on the internet as easy and frictionless as shopping online at mainstream e-commerce websites,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing submission.

Nash was living a double life.

During the day he worked as a senior manager of the Forensic Disability Service in Wacol, Queensland, where he helped intellectually-disabled adults in or facing jail and in his off hours was paid $US1,000 a week as a Silk Road forum moderator.

He didn’t sell drugs on the site, but bought cocaine to feed his own addiction.

Nash on one occasion posted to a discussion thread tips on how drug sellers could evade narcotics detection efforts by Australian customs officers.

He wrote “Australian customs claim they inspect all international mail, either visually, with canine detection, or a scanner” but if vendors prepared their shipments “using non vapor permeable methods” then the chances of packages being scanned by Customs was “approximately nil”.

“The scope of the criminal activity supported through Silk Road was staggering,” prosecutors said.

The site had $US17.3 million in sales of cocaine, $US8.9 million in heroin and $US8.1 million in sales of methamphetamine.

“The dealers and buyers involved in these transactions were spread across the world, from Argentina to Australia, from the United States to the Ukraine,” prosecutors said.

San Francisco-based site creator Ross Ulbricht, known as Dread Pirate Roberts, was convicted in February of seven charges, including conspiring to commit drug trafficking and money laundering, and faces a life sentence.

Malaysia finds 139 graves at ‘cruel’ jungle trafficking camps

June 6th, 2019

Malaysia has found 139 graves, and signs of torture, in more than two dozen squalid human trafficking camps suspected to have been used by gangs smuggling migrants across the border with Thailand, the country’s police chief said on Monday.



The dense jungles of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major route for smugglers bringing people to Southeast Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingya Muslims who say they are fleeing persecution, and Bangladesh.

“It’s a very sad scene… To us even one is serious and we have found 139,” Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, told reporters in the northern state of Perlis. “We are working closely with our counterparts in Thailand. We will find the people who did this.”

The grisly find follows the discovery of similar shallow graves on the Thai side of the border earlier this month, which helped trigger a regional crisis. After a crackdown on the camps by Thai authorities, traffickers abandoned thousands of migrants in rickety boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

“We were shocked by the cruelty,” said Khalid, describing conditions at the 28 abandoned camps, scattered along a 50 km (30 mile) stretch of the Thai border, around which the graves were found in an operation that began on May 11.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are ferried by traffickers through southern Thailand each year, and in recent years it has been common for them to be held in remote camps along the rugged border with Malaysia until a ransom is paid for their freedom.

Past Reuters investigations have shown ransoms demands ranging from $1,200 to $1,800, a fortune for impoverished migrants used to living on a dollar or two a day.

Pictures of the camps shown to journalists by Malaysian police showed basic wooden huts built in forest clearings.

Khalid said bullet casings were found in the vicinity and added there were signs that torture had been used, without elaborating. Metal chains were found near some graves.

The first decomposed body was brought down to a police camp set up at the foot of the mountains where the camps were found on Monday evening, an operation that took nearly five hours due to the roughness of the terrain.

“The body was only bones and little bit of clothing on it,” said Rizani Che Ismail, officer in charge of Padang Besar police department, adding that the cause of death was not immediately apparent.

Smuggling crackdown

Police chief Khalid said one of the grave sites was just 100 metres or so from the site where twenty-six bodies were exhumed from a grave in Thailand’s Songkhla province in early May.

Thailand, under pressure from the United States to do more to combat people smuggling, launched a crackdown after finding that mass grave, since when more than 3,000 migrants have landed from boats in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Thai police said on Monday there were no human trafficking camps left in southern Thailand after a month-long crackdown.

But the crisis at sea is not over.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimated on Friday that some 3,500 migrants were still stranded on overloaded vessels with dwindling supplies, and repeated its appeal for the region’s governments to rescue them.

Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will allow the thousands still at sea to come ashore temporarily and ordered their navies to rescue people found adrift.

Thailand has said it will not allow migrant boats to land, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday the Thai navy would help those in medical need.

“I have ordered the navy to take our boats and set up a floating command centre to help those who are hurt,” he said.

Most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Rakhine state. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012. They are denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Myanmar denies discriminating against the group and has said it is not the source of the migrant problem.

The scale of the discoveries along the Thai-Malaysia border will raise questions about the extent of official complicity in the camps.

Malaysian police said in a statement that two police officers were among 10 people arrested so far this year in investigations into human trafficking, without giving details.

Thailand said earlier this month that more than 50 police officers had been transferred as a result of investigations into human trafficking networks in the south.

Malaysia’s Najib said in a post on his official account that he was “deeply, deeply concerned with graves found on Malaysian soil purportedly connected to people smuggling.

“We will find those responsible,” Najib posted in English.

Unions must be campaigners: ACTU

June 6th, 2019

The trade union movement should be a permanent campaigning force, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver says.


At the start of the council’s triennial gathering in Melbourne on Tuesday, Mr Oliver conceded it was a significant mistake to dismantle the successful anti-Work Choices campaign infrastructure.

“As long as I’m here, we will not make that mistake again,” he told delegates, while insisting unions were ready to fight for living standards in the lead-up to next federal election.

Mr Oliver said lessons have been learnt since the ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign, which helped defeat the Howard government.

It was wrong to dismantle the campaigning infrastructure, which had been built up over many years, after the 2007 election, he admitted.

“We literally went from overnight from being a campaigning movement to a transactional movement.”

The ACTU’s strategic plan in the lead-up to the next federal election will be about not only building campaigning capacity, but keeping it, he said.

Mr Oliver, who formally put himself forward for a second term as secretary, urged congress to back the strategy.

It will include an increase in affiliation fees to help build a multi-million dollar war chest.

He urged delegates and their unions to come together to fight for workers’ rights and against the Abbott government’s royal commission into trade unions and productivity commission inquiry into workplace relations.

President Ged Kearney, who is also seeking re-election, said the social wage was again under threat, like it was in 2007.

“Isn’t it funny how history repeats itself,” she told the gathering.

It was time to commit to building a strong campaigning infrastructure, Ms Kearney added.

Government ‘sidelining Muslim community-groups’

June 6th, 2019

The Islamic Council of Victoria has criticised the Abbott government for continuing to sideline Muslim groups when forming policy responses aimed at countering radicalisation.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to announce a new ministerial position to improve consultation with Muslim leaders, aimed at combating radicalisation, as part of its beefed-up response to the threat of terrorism.

But the peak group for Muslim organisations in Victoria has raised questions about the sincerity of the latest move, saying it would have been appropriate to engage with their community before forming a new post that is supposed to improve consultation.

“We’ve been in three consultations with the attorney-general and this has never been raised,” Kuranda Seyit, the secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, told AAP on Tuesday.

“This is just an example where the Muslim community has been sidelined to the effect that it’s just a pawn in the political landscape.”

The new ministerial post is likely to be given to parliamentary secretary for social services Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who will report to Attorney-General George Brandis.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells would be charged with building better relations with at-risk communities and tackling the appeal of jihadist teaching.

The development comes after Mr Abbott on Monday confirmed former ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty as Australia’s first national counter-terrorism co-ordinator, and Justice Minister Michael Keenan as the nation’s first counter-terrorism minister.

Senator Brandis on Tuesday insisted the government wasn’t trying to alienate Muslims with the latest announcements.

“The government knows the vast majority of Australia’s Muslim people are peace-loving people,” he said.

But Mr Seyit said the language from government in relation to the Muslim community was still creating fear and suspicion.

The ultimate effect would only be to drive young people further towards radicalisation.

“The overall approach is abrasive and confrontational,” he said.

Instead there needed to be a dialogue that included not just Muslims but other community groups that had skills and resources at their disposal.

Freak tornado kills 13 in Mexican border city

June 6th, 2019

Among the dead were three children as the whirlwind damaged an estimated 750 homes in the city across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, said Jesus Garcia, spokesman for the local state of Coahuila.


The calamity also injured 229 people, all of whom were transported to local hospitals for medical care.

Walls and ceilings collapsed under the force of the whirlwind, which traveled at a speed of some 31 mph (50 km per hour) and blew gusts over 124 mph, the government said, taking the border city unawares in the early hours of Monday.

“We’re not used to such destruction,” Ciudad Acuna’s mayor Evaristo Lenin Perez told local radio. “We don’t have records of a single tornado in Acuna, a 110-year-old city.”

A spokesman for the National Meteorological Service said it was the strongest tornado for at least 15 years in Mexico. Preliminary findings suggested it registered between a grade EF2 and EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the spokesman said.

After the twister had swept through the city, photos showed children climbing past mangled cars that had been swept into their homes, while adults salvaged valuables from the rubble.

“Most of the dead are people who were outside, not people who were inside their homes,” Perez said.

Authorities have set up seven refuge points for those whose houses were destroyed, the Coahuila government said.

“We’re working on clearing the debris of the destroyed buildings and cars that were displaced,” said Francisco Martinez, the deputy minister for Civil Protection in Coahuila.

Coahuila’s governor Ruben Moreira arrived this afternoon in Acuna, which had a population of around 134,000 in 2010, and promised authorities will lead the city’s recovery.

Accused teen might face Supreme Court

June 6th, 2019

A teenager charged with planning to commit a terrorist act might face the Supreme Court after prosecutors revealed plans to apply to move the case out of the Children’s Court.


A Children’s Court has heard that an application to have the 17-year-old tried as a child – but in an adult court – was expected to be made on June 1.

The teen, who cannot be named, appeared via videolink at Tuesday’s hearing where his lawyer indicated an application for bail would likely also be made on June 1.

He is also charged with possessing things connected with a terrorist act, believed to relate to three improvised explosive devices that police allege were found in the boy’s home in Melbourne during raids on May 8.

A further charge, alleging that the teen did not provide police with a password for an electronic device, has also been laid.

Commonwealth prosecutors told the Children’s Court that an order to refer the teen’s matter to a higher court would likely seek it to be heard in the Supreme Court.

The judge acknowledged legislation required children facing serious charges, including murder and manslaughter, to be automatically referred to the Supreme Court.

This did not include terrorism offences, he said, though they were a relatively recent development “right up there with murder”.

“It might be something the legislation has to turn its mind to,” the judge said.

Prosecutors made an application on Tuesday to collect forensic samples, including fingerprints and saliva from the teen, as well as photos of his hands.

The application was not opposed.