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Investing to address causes of crime, not the consequences

LAST week was a big week in Canberra. While much of the focus was on Julia Gillard's work for the Australian Workers' Union in the mid 1990s, the Parliament also considered laws for the national disability insurance scheme, education funding recommended by the Gonski review, pokie reform, the Murray-Darling basin plan, and recognising indigenous Australians in our Constitution.

But another important issue was considered by our politicians; one that may have far-reaching implications for our justice system and more broadly across the community, and one that received hardly any attention amidst the cacophony of the last sitting week of Parliament - the Senate began to consider a new policy of "justice reinvestment".

A tectonic shift on the two-state solution?

It is starting to look like Israel’s apparent reaction to the Palestinian Authority (PA) being granted ‘observer state’ status at the UN last Friday is about to backfire. In a rapidly changing world, Israel’s heavy handed response is seen as less and less seen as an appropriate way forward.

Last Friday, the UN General Assembly voted 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions, to grant Palestine observer state status. While not recognising Palestine as a full state, which requires nine of the 15 UN Security Council members to also vote in favour, including all veto-power members, the vote was a significant step towards Palestine’s eventual statehood recognition.

Contrary to claims by Israel’s spokesman, Mark Regev, the vote gave the PA overwhelming international endorsement for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Expected council sacking reeks of hypocrisy

There is much speculation that the Victorian Government will move to sack the Darebin City Council early in the New Year, following the release of the Ombudsman’s much anticipated report into the council’s affairs. On the face of it, the State Government will be acting to protect local residents by cleaning up yet another dodgy council.

There has long been a strong sense that the Ombudsman’s inquiry was necessary. Most Darebin residents are aware that there have been at least a couple of highly questionable council planning decisions, and it is common knowledge that political control of the council was held by a particular political network.

However, there is a yawning gap between addressing the problems of Darebin’s previous council and the Baillieu government’s likely solution. For a number of reasons, sacking the council is the wrong answer.

Myanmar’s International Recognition and the Needs of the Poor

(President Obama Meets With Burmese President Thein Sein. Addressing Myanmar's deep poverty and lack of basic services will be a fundamental challenge in developing the economy. Source: State Department's flickr photostream, U.S. Government Work)

What drives us to eat?

It is the question that underpins the search to find an answer to the obesity problem: what drives us to eat? No matter what a person’s genetic profile, environment or activity levels, eating more food than what the body needs to meet its energy demands results in just one outcome: weight gain.

Pervasive food marketing and 24 hour access to cheap, energy-dense food are important drivers of making us eat more. Other factors such as lack of sleep, endocrine disorders, air conditioners (which reduce the energy needed by the body to regulate temperature), and even increasing maternal age are just some of a long list of factors that can each explain a small part of the weight gain problem.

Hildur’s Facebook Album of Everyday Sexism and Death Threats

Everyone has friends and enemies online, but what do you do when people online are threatening to kill you? Well-known Icelandic women’s rights advocate Hildur Lilliendahl Viggósdóttir faced this problem last month when she came across the following message on Stefán Heiðar Erlingsson Facebook wall: 'If I "accidentally" ran over Hildur, she is probably the only person on earth that I would back up over, and leave the car on top of her with the hand brake on!!! Put this in your "men who hate Hildur" folder, Hildur Lilliendahl'.

 

Egypt leader's power play shows how messy revolutions can be

If it was intended as an act of sneaky rat cunning -- first get elected and then seize total power -- Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi's edicts last Thursday which have thrown the country into turmoil were both painfully transparent as well as being a high-risk gamble.

 Exempting presidential decrees from judicial review fundamentally challenges the idea of separation of powers, which is critical to democratic functioning, is on the face of it an anti-democratic act. However, Egypt's judiciary remains that which was appointed by previous dictator Hosni Mubarak and there was real concern that it could, with the stroke of a pen, roll back the revolution.

The judiciary's hobbling of Egypt's parliament showed it is certainly not averse to wielding its power in overtly political ways.

East Timor left to fend for itself with challenges ahead

Australia's draw-down of its remaining military force in East Timor, and the conclusion of the United Nations mission on December 31, has signalled that this sometimes troubled tiny country is now responsible for its own future. The stark realisation that the security blanket provided by the international community is being taken away has left some in East Timor feeling vulnerable. Some observers, too, have suggested that the withdrawal is still too soon and that East Timor still has the potential to slide back into internal conflict. The country’s leaders, however, have been making clear they are not only ready to take full responsibility for their own affairs but are demanding to do so. In this, Australia's continuing military presence is regarded by some East Timorese as neo-colonial, and the UN as of marginal competence or value.

China’s divisive role in the East Asia Forum

The recently concluded East Asia Forum (EAF) has highlighted the contentious role of a growing China in regional affairs. For an event that was intended primarily to lay the foundation for a huge Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the EAF has been at least as notable for a profound, perhaps fatal, rift in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The proposed East Asia Free Trade Area (FTA), including around a third of the world’s global economy, is intended to capitalise on this region’s current and projected economic strength. While there are many thorny details to be resolved, not least trade advantages flowing from China’s artificially low currency, there is a general sense that the FTA process will continue to be developed.

A question of faith: reforming religious education in schools

Last month, a Victorian tribunal found that the state department of education did not discriminate against children opting out of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) classes.

The plaintiffs – parents who chose to opt their children out of the classes – argued the students were treated differently, on religious grounds, and were not being offered proper instruction during SRI time.

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