Australia’s government on Thursday said it was seeking assurances from Indonesia that the man convicted of making the bombs used in the 2002 Bali terrorist attacks would continue to be monitored after his release from prison. Islamic militant Hisyam bin Alizein, also known as Umar Patek, was paroled Wednesday after serving about half of his original 20-year sentence, despite strong objections from Australia. The attacks killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said it was a difficult day for those who lost loved ones in the bombings. Also read: Indian police detain man accused of killing Australian woman because ‘her dog barked at him’ He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that his government had advocated against Patek’s early release and would urge the Indonesian government to ensure he was under constant surveillance while on parole. Indonesian authorities have said Patek, 55, was successfully reformed in prison and they will use him to influence other militants to turn away from terrorism. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said it was a horrible day for the victims and their families. “This is a person who was in the Indonesian justice system. My personal view is his actions are inexcusable and completely abhorrent,” O’Neil said at the National Press Club in Canberra. ”We don’t control the Indonesian justice system, and that is the way of the world.” Bombing survivor Peter Hughes, who gave evidence at Patek’s trial, said he and other survivors were skeptical the bomber was a changed man. “There is a history of people like him, they won’t stop. For him to be let out is laughable,” Hughes told the ABC. Another survivor, Jan Laczynski, said he was shocked and appalled at Patek’s release. “I still can’t understand how this person that created so much loss of life, and not just for 88 Australians — 202 people — could be walking free this morning,” he told Channel 9. Lawmaker Chris Bowen said Patek’s release was concerning but the Australian government respected Indonesia’s legal system. “Indonesians and Australians were killed by these terrible murders, Indonesians and Australians went through this terrible ordeal together,” he told the ABC. Patek was a leading member of Jemaah Islamiah, which was blamed for the blasts at two nightclubs in Kuta Beach. He was found guilty by the West Jakarta District Court of helping build a car bomb that was detonated by another person outside the Sari Club in Kuta on the night of October 12, 2002. Moments earlier, a smaller bomb in a backpack was detonated by a suicide bomber in the nearby Paddy’s Pub nightclub.
Australia’s environment minister said Tuesday her government will lobby against UNESCO adding the Great Barrier Reef to a list of endangered World Heritage sites. Officials from the U.N. cultural agency and the International Union for Conservation of Nature released a report on Monday warning that without “ambitious, rapid and sustained” climate action, the world’s largest coral reef is in peril. The report, which recommended shifting the Great Barrier Reef to endangered status, followed a 10-day mission in March to the famed reef system off Australia’s northeast coast that was added to the World Heritage list in 1981. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report was a reflection on Australia’s previous conservative government, which was voted out of office in May elections after nine years in power. She said the new center-left Labor Party government has already addressed several of the report’s concerns, including action on climate change. “We’ll very clearly make the point to UNESCO that there is no need to single the Great Barrier Reef out in this way" with an endangered listing, Plibersek told reporters. read more: Coral reefs' survival at stake: Unesco “The reason that UNESCO in the past has singled out a place as at risk is because they wanted to see greater government investment or greater government action and, since the change of government, both of those things have happened,” she added. The new government has legislated to commit Australia to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below the 2005 level by 2030. The previous government only committed to a reduction of 26% to 28% by the end of the decade. Plibersek said her government has also committed 1.2 billion Australian dollars ($798 million) to caring for the reef and has canceled the previous government’s plans to build two major dams in Queensland state that would have affected the reef’s water quality. “If the Great Barrier Reef is in danger, then every coral reef in the world is in danger,” Plibersek said. “If this World Heritage site is in danger, then most World Heritage sites around the world are in danger from climate change.” The report said Australia’s federal government and Queensland authorities should adopt more ambitious emission reduction targets in line with international efforts to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. Read more: Great Barrier Reef enters crucial period in coral bleaching The minor Greens party, which wants Australia to slash its emissions by 75% by the end of the decade, called for the government to do more to fight climate change in light of the report. Jodie Rummer, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townville who has worked on the reef for more than a decade, supported calls for Australia to aim for a 75% emissions reduction. “We are taking action, but that action needs to be much more rapid and much more urgent,” Rummer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “We cannot claim to be doing all we can for the reef at this point. We aren’t. We need to be sending that message to the rest of the world that we are doing everything that we possibly can for the reef and that means we need to take urgent action on emissions immediately,” she added. Feedback from Australian officials, both at the federal and state level, will be reviewed before Paris-based UNESCO makes any official proposal to the World Heritage committee. In July last year, the previous Australian government garnered enough international support to defer an attempt by UNESCO to downgrade the reef’s status to “in danger” because of damage caused by climate change. The Great Barrier Reef accounts for around 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems. The network of more than 2,500 reefs covers 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles). Australian government scientists reported in May that more than 90% of Great Barrier Reef coral surveyed in the latest year was bleached, in the fourth such mass event in seven years. Bleaching is caused by global warming, but this is the reef’s first bleaching event during a La Niña weather pattern, which is associated with cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority said in its annual report. Bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 damaged two-thirds of the coral. Coral bleaches as a response to heat stress and scientists hope most of the coral will recover from the latest event.
New Zealand lawmakers will take a vote on whether to lower the national voting age from 18 to 16, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday. Her announcement came hours after the country's Supreme Court ruled that not allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote amounted to age discrimination. But while Ardern said she personally favors lowering the age, such a change would require a 75% supermajority of lawmakers to agree. And even proponents acknowledge they don't currently have the numbers. A number of countries are debating whether to lower their voting age. Some that allow people to vote at 16 include Austria, Malta, Brazil, Cuba and Ecuador. Sanat Singh, co-director of New Zealand's Make It 16 campaign, said he was absolutely thrilled with the court's decision. Read more: Climate change in New Zealand to cause sperm, blue whales to seek higher latitudes “It's a huge day,” he said. “This is historic not only for our campaign, but for the country.” Singh, 18, said existential issues like climate change — as well as issues like pandemic recovery and the state of democracy — will most affect young people. “That's why I think it's really important to get all hands on deck to make sure we can have a stronger future,” he said. Ardern, who leads the liberal Labour Party, said all lawmakers should have a say on the issue. “I personally support a decrease in the voting age but it is not a matter simply for me or even the government,” Ardern said. “Any change in electoral law of this nature requires 75% of parliamentarians' support.” Ardern said the vote would likely take place within the coming months but any change would not take effect until after next year's general election. The liberal Green Party said it supported a change. “Young people deserve to have a say in the decisions that affect them, both now and in the future,” said Golriz Ghahraman, the party’s electoral reform spokesperson. But New Zealand's two main conservative opposition parties said they oppose a change. Read more: New Zealand welcomes back first cruise ship since COVID hit “It's not something we support,” Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters. “Ultimately, you've got to draw the line somewhere, and we're comfortable with the line being 18.” At the Supreme Court, four judges found in favor of the lobby group's appeal with a fifth judge dissenting to some aspects of the decision. In New Zealand, the protection against age discrimination begins at 16, and the judges ruled that the attorney-general had failed to show why 18 had been chosen as the age to vote rather than 16. The nature of the court’s ruling compelled New Zealand lawmakers to at least debate the issue, but it didn’t compel them to take a vote or to make a change. Singh said he's hopeful that while his group may not yet have the 75% support it needs in Parliament, it will get there within the next few years. He said a possible first step would be to get the voting age lowered to 16 for local council elections, as that change requires only a regular majority of lawmakers. New Zealand's voting age was previously lowered from 21 to 20 in 1969, and then to 18 in 1974.
Australia has reversed a previous government's recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the foreign minister said Tuesday. The center-left Labor Party government Cabinet agreed to again recognize Tel Aviv as the capital and reaffirmed that Jerusalem's status must be resolved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said. Australia remained committed to a two-party solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and “we will not support an approach that undermines this prospect,” Wong said. Former conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally recognized West Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2018, although the Australian embassy remained in Tel Aviv. The change followed the then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to shift the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Joe Biden has kept the embassy in Jerusalem as the U.S. steps back from its once-intense mediation between the Israelis and Palestinians, who have not held substantive peace talks in more than a decade. Wong described Morrison’s move as out of step internationally and a “cynical” attempt to win a byelection in a Sydney locale with a large Jewish population. Morrison’s Liberal Party ran Jewish candidate Dave Sharma who was defeated in the byelection but won the seat in the next general election. Morrison’s government was elected out of office in May after nine years in power.
At least three people are dead after a powerful earthquake hit a remote part of Papua New Guinea Sunday morning, authorities say. Others were injured and infrastructure damaged in the magnitude 7.6 jolt that was felt across the Pacific country. The three people died in a landslide in the gold-mining town of Wau, said Morobe Provincial Disaster Director Charley Masange. Other people had been injured from falling structures or debris, and there was damage to some health centers, homes, rural roads and highways, Masange told The Associated Press. Masange said it could take some time to assess the full extent of the injuries and damage in the region. But he said the sparse and scattered population and lack of large buildings near the epicenter in the nation's largely undeveloped highlands may have helped prevent a bigger disaster, given the earthquake was so strong. Read:Earthquake kills 65, triggers landslides in southwest China One resident from the town closest to the epicenter described his ordeal to the AP. Renagi Ravu was meeting with two colleagues at his home in Kainantu when the quake struck. Ravu tried to stand up from his chair but couldn't maintain his balance and ended up in a kind of group hug with his colleagues, while plates and cups crashed from his shelves to the ground, he said. His children, ages 9 and 2, had their drinks and breakfast spill over. Ravu, who is a geologist, said he tried to calm everybody as the shaking continued for more than a minute. Ravu said that about 10,000 people live in and around his town, which is located 66 kilometers (41 miles) from the quake's epicenter. He said people were feeling rattled. “It's a common thing that earthquakes are felt here, but it usually doesn't last as long and is not as violent as this one,” Ravu said. “It was quite intense.” Ravu was sorting through the damage to his home, which he said likely included a broken sewer pipe judging from the smell. He said friends elsewhere in Kainantu had messaged him with descriptions of cracked roads, broken pipes and fallen debris, but hadn't described major building collapses or injuries. “They are starting to clean up their houses and the streets,” he said. Communication seems to have been affected, he added, with some cell towers likely to have fallen. A magnitude 7.5 earthquake in 2018 in the nation’s central region killed at least 125 people. That quake hit areas that are remote and undeveloped, and assessments about the scale of the damage and injuries were slow to filter out. Read: Strong undersea quake causes panic in western Indonesia Felix Taranu, a seismologist at the Geophysical Observatory in the capital Port Moresby, said it was too early to know the full impacts of Sunday's earthquake, although its strength meant it “most likely caused considerable damage.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake hit at 9:46 a.m. local time at a depth of 90 kilometers (56 miles). NOAA advised there was no tsunami threat for the region. Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, to the east of Indonesia and north of eastern Australia. It sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire,” the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where much of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic activity occurs.
Five people died Saturday in New Zealand after the small charter boat they were aboard capsized, authorities say, in what may have been a collision with a whale. Another six people aboard the boat were rescued. Police said the 8.5-meter (28-foot) boat overturned near the South Island town of Kaikōura. Police said they were continuing to investigate the cause of the accident. Kaikōura Police Sergeant Matt Boyce described it as a devastating and unprecedented event. “Our thoughts are with everyone involved, including the victims and their families, their local communities, and emergency services personnel,” Boyce said. He said police divers had recovered the bodies of all those who had died. He said all six survivors were assessed to be in stable condition at a local health center, with one transferred to a hospital in the city of Christchurch as a precaution. Kaikōura Mayor Craig Mackle told The Associated Press that the water was dead calm at the time of the accident and the assumption was that a whale had surfaced from beneath the boat. He said there were some sperm whales in the area and also some humpback whales traveling through. He said locals had helped with the rescue efforts throughout the day but the mood in the town was “somber” because the water was so cold and they feared for the outcome of anybody who had fallen overboard. Read: Whale carcass washes ashore on Cox’s Bazar beach Mackle said he’d thought in the past about the possibility of a boat and whale colliding, given the number of whales that frequent the region. “It always plays on your mind that it could happen,” he said, adding that he hadn’t heard about any previous such accidents. Mackle said the boat was a charter vessel typically used for fishing excursions. News agency Stuff reported the passengers belonged to a bird enthusiasts' group. Police said they were still notifying the relatives of those who died, and couldn't yet publicly name the victims. Vanessa Chapman told Stuff she and a group of friends had watched the rescue efforts unfold from Goose Bay, near Kaikōura. She said that when she arrived at a lookout spot, she could see a person sitting atop an overturned boat waving their arms. She said two rescue helicopters and a third local helicopter were circling before two divers jumped out. She told Stuff that the person atop the boat was rescued and a second person appeared to have been pulled from the water. Kaikōura is a popular whale-watching destination. The seafloor drops away precipitously from the coast, making for deep waters close to the shore. A number of businesses offer boat trips or helicopter rides so tourists can see whales, dolphins and other sea creatures up close. Compliance agency Maritime New Zealand said it sent two investigators to the scene and would be conducting a thorough investigation once recovery operations had concluded. Principal Investigator Tracy Phillips said the agency “offers its heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of the people who have died.”
New Zealand on Friday welcomed the first cruise ship to return since the coronavirus pandemic began, signaling a long-sought return to normalcy for the nation’s tourism industry. New Zealand closed its borders in early 2020 as it sought at first to eliminate COVID-19 entirely and then later to control its spread. Although the country reopened its borders to most tourists arriving by plane in May, it wasn’t until two weeks ago that it lifted all remaining restrictions, including those on maritime arrivals. Many in the cruise industry question why it took so long. Read: New Zealand's unemployment rate remains low at 3.3 pc The end of restrictions allowed Carnival Australia’s Pacific Explorer cruise ship to dock in Auckland with about 2,000 passengers and crew Friday morning as part of a 12-day return trip to Fiji that left from Sydney. “Amazing, isn’t it?” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Its another step in the reopening of our borders and a step closer to resuming business as usual.” Nash said it would take some time for international tourist numbers and revenue to return to their pre-pandemic levels, when the industry accounted for about 20% of New Zealand’s foreign income and more than 5% of GDP.
A five-year government report found Australia’s environment continues to deteriorate due to climate change, resource extraction and other causes, prompting leaders on Tuesday to promise new laws and enforcement of them. The State of the Environment report also adds political pressure on the government to set a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target when Parliament resumes next week for the first time since May 21 elections. The previous conservative government received the report in December but decided against making it public before the elections. The center-left Labor Party won on pledges including greater action on climate change. It wants a target to reduce emissions by 43% below 2005 by the end of the decade enshrined in law when Parliament sits on July 26. Read: Most major nations lag in acting on climate-fighting goals Several unaligned lawmakers want a more ambitious target. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report sent a “very strong message that we need to do better, but she rejected calls for deeper emission cuts. “On the 43% target, we made a promise to the Australian people. We’re going to keep the promise we made to the Australian people,” Plibersek told the National Press Club. She said she would introduce new environmental protection laws to Parliament next year and the government would create an agency to enforce them. The government will also set a target of having 30% of Australia’s land and surrounding sea declared protected areas. It wants to create an east Antarctic marine park. “I am optimistic about the steps that we can take over the next three years. Legislating strong action on climate change is a great start,” Plibersek said. The wide-ranging report found the number of Australian species listed as threatened had increased by 8% since the 2016 report. That number will increase substantially after wildfires in 2019 and 2020 destroyed vast tracts of southeast Australian forests, the report said. Read: Sri Lanka Parliament to choose president to lead past crisis Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, an environmental organization, said land clearing was the major cause of habitat loss. “There’s nothing in this report we don’t know. This is the fourth State of the Environment Report and every time it’s told us that the environment is getting worse and worse and worse because we’re not taking the type of action we need,” O’Shanassy told Australian Broadcasting Corp. She welcomed the government’s commitment to law reform. “That’s what we need to do pretty quickly, otherwise these endangered species will go extinct and they’ll do that in our lifetimes,” O’Shanassy said.
Floodwaters were receding in Sydney and its surrounding area Thursday as heavy rain threatened to inundate towns north of Australia’s largest city. Evacuation orders and official warnings to prepare to abandon homes were given to 60,000 people by Thursday, down from 85,000 on Wednesday, New South Wales state Premier Dominic Perrottet said. Read:Sydney floods burden 50,000 around Australia’s largest city But towns including Maitland and Singleton in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, were still threatened by inundation, Perrottet said. Around 50 rescues were made in the past 24 hours, several of which involved people stranded in cars in floodwaters, he said. Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said record-breaking rain that began around Sydney on Friday last week was easing. “It is very pleasing to see that the weather situation is starting to ease after almost a week of relentless rain,” she said. The weather system that had brought heavy rain to a vast swath of New South Wales was moving further from the coast out to sea north of Sydney, Bureau of Meteorology manager Diana Eadie said. Read:After 3 feet of rain, 32,000 in Sydney area may need to flee Bulga, a town about 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Sydney by road, experienced its highest flood level since 1952, she said. Taree, some 320 kilometers (200 miles) north of Sydney by road, was drenched by 305 millimeters (12 inches) of rain overnight — almost a third of the town’s annual rainfall average, Eadie said.
Hundreds of homes have been inundated in and around Australia’s largest city in a flood emergency that was causing trouble for 50,000 people, officials said Tuesday. Emergency response teams made 100 rescues overnight of people trapped in cars on flooded roads or in inundated homes in the Sydney area, State Emergency Service manager Ashley Sullivan said. Days of torrential rain have caused dams to overflow and waterways to break their banks, bringing a fourth flood emergency in 16 months to parts of the city of 5 million people. Evacuation orders and warnings to prepare to abandon homes were given to 50,000 people, up from 32,000 on Monday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said. Read: Sylhet flood situation improves as rivers recede “This event is far from over. Please don’t be complacent, wherever you are. Please be careful when you’re driving on our roads. There is still substantial risk for flash flooding across our state,” Perrottet said. The New South Wales state government declared a disaster across 23 local government areas overnight, activating federal government financial assistance for flood victims. Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke credited the skill and commitment of rescue crews for preventing any death or serious injury by the fourth day of the flooding emergency. Parts of southern Sydney had been lashed by more than 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of rain in 24 hours, more than 17% of the city’s annual average, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Jonathan How said. Severe weather warnings of heavy rain remained in place across Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday. The warnings also extended north of Sydney along the coast and into the Hunter Valley. The worst flooding was along the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system along Sydney’s northern and western fringes. “The good news is that by tomorrow afternoon, it is looking to be mostly dry but, of course, we are reminding people that these floodwaters will remain very high well after the rain has stopped,” How said. “There was plenty of rain fall overnight and that is actually seeing some rivers peak for a second time. So you’ve got to take many days, if not a week, to start to see these floodwaters start to recede,” How added. Read: After 3 feet of rain, 32,000 in Sydney area may need to flee Residents of Lansvale, in southwest Sydney, were surprised by the speed at which their area became inundated and the growing frequency of such flooding. “Well, it happened in 1986 and ’88, then it didn’t happen for 28 years and, so, 2016 and 2020 and now it’s happened four times this year,” a Lansvale local identified only as Terry told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television of his home being flooded. The wild weather and mountainous seas along the New South Wales coast thwarted plans to tow a stricken cargo ship with 21 crew members to the safety of open sea. The ship lost power after leaving port in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on Monday morning and risked being grounded by 8-meter (26-foot) swells and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph) against cliffs. An attempt to tow the ship with tugboats into open ocean ended when a towline snapped in an 11-meter (36-foot) swell late Monday, Port Authority chief executive Philip Holliday said. The ship was maintaining its position Tuesday farther from the coast than it had been on Monday with two anchors and the help of two tugboats. The original plan had been for the ship’s crew to repair their engine at sea. The new plan was to tow the ship to Sydney when weather and sea conditions calmed as early as Wednesday, Holliday said. “We’re in a better position than we were yesterday,” Holliday said. “We’re in relative safety.” Perrottet described the tugboat crews’ response on Monday to save the ship as “heroic.” “I want to thank those men and women who were on those crews last night for the heroic work they did in incredibly treacherous conditions. To have an 11-meter (36-foot) swell, to be undergoing and carrying out that work is incredibly impressive,” Perrottet said.