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West Papuan activists test waters around Australian asylum rules

West Papuan activists are testing Prime Minister Tony Abbott's statements in relation to his asylum-seeker boat turnback policy, that he has "total respect for Indonesia's sovereignty, total respect for Indonesia's territorial integrity". So far, they are having little luck.

As Abbott was preparing to leave for Bali, three West Papuan activists scaled the wall of the Australian consulate-general in Bali. The activists delivered a letter seeking the release of political prisoners jailed in Indonesia and free access to the long restricted region by the international media.

The letter also said: "We seek refuge and plead for our safety." Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb told the ABC that the men did not seek asylum for themselves, and left voluntarily within hours, and had gone into hiding.

Last week, seven West Papuans travelling by boat from Papua New Guinea to Australia seeking asylum and were returned to PNG. The legality of sending the asylum-seekers back remains in question.

Last month, the pro-West Papuan independence "Freedom Flotilla" met with West Papuan activists off-shore of the island split between the Indonesian republic and PNG. It had been told it would meet force if it tried to land at Indonesia’s most south-easterly port of Merauke.

The upsurge in West Papuan activism follows attempts by the Indonesian government to find a solution to the West Papua problem while at the same time conducting a crackdown in the territory.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s proposal is to create what is referred to as "Special Autonomy Plus", a new take on the "Special Autonomy" status granted to the province of Papua in 2001. Not only has there been little about the "autonomy" that is "special", within two years the province had been divided in two, contravening its new status.

The recent "Plus" proposal is intended to allow the more-or-less democratically elected Papua provincial government to engage more closely with the separatist Free Papua Organisation (OPM). Pro-human rights activists say the provincial government does not have power to conduct negotiations. Further, any benign intentions the provincial government might have are undermined by the Indonesian police and military’s continuing "security" approach to West Papuan activism.

As activists further note, any negotiations need to be with the national, not provincial, government. They also say that such negotiations must be conducted outside Indonesia to ensure the safety of participants, and be internationally mediated to guarantee their outcome.

With less than one year left in Yudhoyono's term as president, his two-term limit ends in September 2014, both sides have now run out of time to have such negotiations ratified by Indonesia’s legislature. But, as Yudhoyono knows, the parliament would in any case be very unlikely to accept such a negotiated settlement.

West Papuan activists therefore believe their only option now is to try to raise the issue internationally. In doing so, however, they have run up against Australia’s well established policy of supporting West Papua’s continued incorporation within Indonesia.

The West Papuan activists have also run up against Australia’s tougher position of supporting Indonesia’s "territorial integrity", hence, their "voluntary" agreement to leave Australia’s consulate-general in Bali, just ahead of the arrival of Indonesian police.

Abolishing defensive homicide will benefit female victims and offenders

This article was first published at The Conversation on 4th October 2013

The Victorian Department of Justice has released its long-awaited review into the operation of the controversial offence of defensive homicide. The Consultation Paper proposes the offence's abolition on the basis that it is "inherently complex", "has no clear benefit" for women who kill in the context of family violence and has been "inappropriately" used by men who kill. 

Spicing up diabetes treatment

Cinnamon is a popular spice, promoted for its ability to control blood sugar levels in diabetes. Clinical trials using cinnamon in diabetes though have mostly been small in number and haven’t always shown a positive benefit. With more clinical trials recently published, a new scientific review is painting a more positive picture of how this humble spice could have a role to play in managing diabetes.

The idea of using the traditional spice cinnamon to control blood glucose levels in diabetes is an attractive one. Cinnamon contains compounds that show effects similar to insulin, which has the flow-on effect of helping to remove excess glucose from the blood.

Abbott's first foreign test: pulling policy fat from diplomatic fire

Tony Abbott's first international test as prime minister is also likely to be his toughest, when he meets with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today. It will be a remarkable feat if he can pull the policy fat from the diplomatic fire.

In the balance lies Australia’s critical relationship with Indonesia. Not only has Abbott’s signature "turn back the boats" policy been comprehensively rejected by the Indonesian government, Indonesia has now fired a real warning shot across Australia’s diplomatic bow.

The "unintentional" release of the notes of the conversation between foreign ministerial counterparts Julie Bishop and Marty Natalegawa late last week was a blunt warning: the issue may blow up further if not resolved quickly.

Abbott’s dismissal of his asylum-seeker boats policy as a "passing irritant" in the wider bilateral relationship with Indonesia will be viewed as arrogant. Arrogance is a quality not much appreciated in Indonesian political society, and especially not from Australian politicians. It is also incorrect to treat it so lightly, given the issue is now central to a complex web of arrangements.

At primary risk is Indonesia’s existing co-operation with Australia against the people-smuggling trade. This then segues into other areas of security co-operation, including on terrorism and wider security issues.

The awkwardness of Abbott's visit has been underscored by the inept intervention by former foreign minister Alexander Downer on Thursday. Downer's status as a former Coalition foreign minister means his "pious rhetoric" comment against Indonesia will be read in Jakarta as informing the Australian perspective.

Asylum-seeker boats leaving Indonesia are a private and, at most, criminal matter. If they do breach Australian sovereignty, it is not a consequence of Indonesian state policy.

By contrast, Australia’s "Operation Sovereign Borders" of sending boats in international waters back to Indonesia is official state policy. On this, Downer blundered and Indonesia holds the high diplomatic ground.

Abbott distancing himself from Downer’s statement will be seen as just as unconvincing as Natalegawa’s claim of the "unintentional release" of notes of his conversation with Bishop. The distinction on issues of sovereignty and official policy can be expected to be brought to Abbott’s attention .

Australia has recently enjoyed a positive relationship with Indonesia, overwhelmingly because of the benign political character of President Yudhoyono. But Natalegawa’s release of the Bishop conversation notes reflects a growing impatience with Australia. If Abbott persists, bilateral relations could quickly collapse to the lows of 1999, when Australia intervened in East Timor.

Indonesia has always been important to Australia, but is increasingly so. Its economy, growing at over 6% a year, is due to overtake Australia’s by 2017, while it is Australia's 13th biggest trading partner (and growing).

Importantly, Indonesia is Australia's pivot into ASEAN, including the security-focused ASEAN Regional Forum, as well as a key partner in APEC and wider regional relations. Add to that key sea lanes and air routes, and you have a relationship that Australia cannot afford to get wrong. All of this will be on the table when Abbott and Yudhoyono meet.

The question will be, then, whether Abbott throws overboard his "turning back the boats" policy in favour of greater regional co-operation. The alternative might instead be looking at throwing overboard a large part of the bilateral relationship with our closest neighbour.

Health Check: the low-down on eating vs juicing fruit and veg

Eating more fruits and vegetables is the foundation stone of any healthy diet, with the national dietary guidelines recommending adults eat two pieces of fruit and five to six serves of veggies and legumes a day.

Juices can be a convenient and tasty way to get some of the health benefits of these foods – but how do they compare nutritionally?

The one clear downside from drinking rather than eating fruits and vegetables is the loss of fibre and other nutrients found in the skin and pulp. But juicing is certainly better than not eating them at all.

The 'jealous man's' defence lives on in the English criminal courts

This month the Home Secretary Theresa May MP announced a major review in England and Wales of how police respond to domestic violence. The much-needed review comes in the wake of several high profile cases of women killed by former male partners with a recorded history of violence against women. These cases, including the deaths of Clare Wood and Maria Stubbings, have rightly led to community concern as to why victims of domestic violence are not better responded to, and protected, by the police.

What’s wrong with merit? Why ‘equal’ treatment does not reward the most deserving

Just one woman has been appointed to new prime minister Tony Abbott’s first Cabinet of 19.

Short on grant money? Five tips for crowdfunding success

With only one in five National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant applications successful, and a similar rate for Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery grants, it’s little wonder researchers researchers are looking to alternate forms of funding – one of which being crowdfunding.

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Read more at The Conversation

Russia the real winner of Syrian negotiations

The "framework agreement" reached over the weekend between United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured) to identify and destroy chemical weapons in Syria is a positive step in a war to date characterised only by negatives. But it has created a series of new complications for the US.

Assuming that Syria’s Assad regime is not rapidly shifting its stockpile of chemical weapons to secure sites beyond its borders, Syria’s chemical weapons will be identified by the end of the week and, over coming months, retrieved -- in the middle of a vicious civil war -- and destroyed. Syria will also sign the convention against the use of chemical weapons, for what little that might be worth.

It is also standard -- if not formally acknowledged -- practice for the side giving up weapons to underestimate the weapons it has in order to keep some in reserve.

US President Barack Obama has been quick to say that a military response remains an option if President Bashar al-Assad's regime does not comply with the terms of the agreement. But the agreement specifies that if Syria does not comply, the matter will be referred to the UN Security Council.

With Russia’s veto power that is, of course, a dead-end. Following its recent indecision, a US response is possible, but far from definite.

The rebel Free Syrian Army is, unsurprisingly, furious about the agreement. As it correctly notes, in terms of the proportion of deaths, chemical weapons are not the issue. Conventional weapons have taken what is now estimated to be over 100,000 lives; chemical weapons perhaps a thousand or so.

The FSA wanted direct intervention in the hope of taking away the Assad regime’s advantage. But the US’ primary concern is being seen "to be doing something" while not becoming embroiled in another war it is very unlikely to come out of well.

In this respect, Obama faces the classic US post-war dilemma. Having engaged in unwinnable wars -- Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq II -- the US retreated to lick it wounds. The succeeding Democratic presidents -- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and now Obama – were more or less locked into an anti-intervention position, making them look weak on international issues. This, then, explains the tortured and sometimes confused rhetoric of both Obama and Kerry on the Syria issue, where they talk tough and then back off in alternating sentences. To reprise the Stephen Stills song, when "the eagle flies with the dove", it usually comes off badly for the dove.

What is not yet much acknowledged is that Russia has returned from being a struggling second-rate international power to again strutting the international stage as, more or less, the equal of the US. Kerry is no diplomatic slouch, but Lavros -- backed by the decisiveness of the bare-chested President Vladimir Putin, has put Russia at the centre of global negotiations.

In strategic terms, Russia remains very far behind the US, and it will not in the foreseeable future again challenge it -- that is now China’s job. But in diplomatic terms, with all the unburdening implied by the style, the US was played like a Russian violin.

As for the people of Syria, there has been very little change on the ground. The war continues, the Assad regime appears willing to fight to the last, and the anti-Assad forces remain profoundly divided between "moderates" recognised by the West and the al-Qaeda-aligned Syrian Islamic Front.

A final outcome remains very far away. But, should it materialise, it will probably be something like a US-Russia-backed alliance of the FSA and pro-Assad forces, if without Bashar as-Assad, opposing the SIF. This is the logic of "my enemy’s enemy is my friend".

Many observers now agree that the US intervention in Iraq should have removed Saddam Hussein but retained his Ba’athist regime in coalition with more moderate anti-Hussein elements. This would have produced the quickest and most stable outcome for Iraq, and avoided its subsequent civil war.

The last thing the US or Russia wants is for Syria to descend into a similarly interminable civil war. But, despite the Kerry-Lavrov agreement, it might be too late to avoid such an outcome.

Holiday times the major culprit for weight gain

Weight gain through adult life is a slow insidious process. Rather than being a gradual weight gain over the year, obesity researchers have now pinpointed the danger zone periods of the year. These shorter danger zone times explain the majority of weight gained by adults each year.

For the majority of adults, weight gain throughout life is an unwanted consequence of the lifestyles they have chosen to live. A few extra snacks here, a second helping of food there, and the lure of the couch instead of the park adds up to mid-life mid-riff spread.

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