Thursday, February 11, 2016

Islamic State: Charges dropped against Australian man Jamie Reece Williams, who planned to join Kurdish militia

The case against Melbourne man Jamie Reece Williams, charged in 2015 with attempting to travel to northern Iraq to fight with Kurdish forces against Islamic State (IS) militants, has been dropped.

The decision to discontinue the prosecution was made by Federal Attorney-General George Brandis.

The move could have ramifications for Australians who have fought against IS, returned to Australia, but are still under investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Mr Williams, of Epping, in Melbourne's northern suburbs, was charged in July last year after being detained at Melbourne Airport in 2014 as he attempted to board a flight to the Middle East.

When asked what he was travelling for, Mr Williams told authorities he was going to fight with a Kurdish militia called the YPG, and planned to travel first to the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah.

Late last year Mr Williams' lawyers applied to have the case against their client discontinued by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP), arguing that the prosecution was not in the public interest because the Kurds are an ally of the coalition fighting against IS.

They also said the YPG was in fact the effective government of parts of northern Syria.

Under the foreign fighters legislation, which Mr Williams was charged under, anyone who fought with or planned to fight with the armed forces of a government was exempt from prosecution.

Mr Williams' lawyer Jessie Smith argued that the YPG and its political wing exerted "effective control" over parts of Syria, and therefore constituted a government under the act.

It is not clear on what grounds the CDPP has decided to discontinue the prosecution.


Have and have-not neighbours baffled by NBN

Coulson Street in the inner-­Sydney suburb of Erskineville marks a vast technological divide.

On one side, Loretta Tolnay Bolton and her sons, seven-year-old Miguel and five-year-old Valentino, experience frustration when they log on to surf the web. "Most of the time, all three of us are on our respective devices and it’s all really slow," she says.

And when they attempted to connect to the National Broadband Network, its website informed them the "NBN network rollout has not started in your area".

Not strictly true. Two hundred metres down and across the road, Jeff Lock has just been told he can connect to what has long been touted as Australia’s information super highway. "I use the internet a lot, so to have the best speed will be great," he said. "It’ll make life easier, especially watching movies or downloading ­material, documentaries and things."

The difference between super-fast broadband and ADSL can be infuriating. Miguel and Valentino are both regular YouTube viewers, as well as regular users of iPad gaming apps.

"When you have a look, it says it’s not in your area," Ms Tolnay Bolton says. "To hear there are people right across the road that have it, well, how is that ‘not in your area’? It’s just frustrating. To me, internet service with two young kids is almost as essential as water and electricity."

Mr Lock, 66, was equally surprised. "It’s the luck of the draw, I suppose. I was surprised when I found out I had been connected before others."

Mr Lock has an 800-title DVD collection, but concedes his viewing habits will now change. "Obviously having a fast speed is the future. I know hard-copy movies are not," he says. "While I don’t use it in any professional way, fast speeds are important for social media, communication and for just getting information and archival stuff."

It’s a situation that could be played out in suburbs across the nation as the complex project is rolled out.

A spokesman for the NBN says that areas are divided into modules "and these are built out at different times". That is, buildings across the same road can be constructed as separate modules, as is the case in Coulson Street. "We have whole teams dedicated to working out the best sequence that will prove fastest, decrease the cost to taxpayers, maximise revenues and prioritise underserved areas where possible," the spokesman says.

"The calculation is, by necessity, incredibly complex. It takes into account existing infrastructure in a particular area, location of construction resources, distance from exchanges, cost to build, potential revenue, the list goes on." Further highlighting how the NBN Pandora’s box has been opened in Coulson Street, the NBN is going into two apartment complexes that already have high-speed broadband built by private operator OPENetworks.

OPENetworks chief executive Michael Sparksman says NBN is duplicating his network. "They don’t have to compete with us with real dollars, they are competing with taxpayer dollars," he says.

However, NBN says existing network owners are able to apply for "adequately served" status if they are worried about unnecessary duplications, but the Coulson Street blocks do not have that status.

"NBN’s decision to rollout to those apartment blocks is ultimately good for consumers in there being more wholesale competition," the spokesman says.


Australia set to legalize cultivation of medical cannabis

Australia is expected to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical or scientific purposes with a bill introduced to parliament on Wednesday -- the first step towards doctors eventually prescribing it to patients with chronic pain.

The bill will see Australia create a national licensing and permit scheme to supply medical cannabis to patients with painful and chronic conditions on clinical trials.

Several Australian states have committed to starting trials for the cultivation of cannabis for medical and research purposes but current laws forbid the growing of the plant.

As a result Australian manufacturers, researchers and patients on clinical trials have been forced to access international supplies of legal medicinal marijuana. But costs, limited supply and export barriers make this challenging.

"Allowing controlled cultivation locally will provide the critical missing piece for a sustainable legal supply of safe medicinal cannabis products for Australian patients in the future," said Australia's Health Minister Sussan Ley.

Although the legislation would aid supply to researchers and patients on clinical trials, access to cannabis will not be allowed for other patients and the general public.

Australia is set to decide by the end of March as to whether to lower the criteria on how it allows the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Should Australia decide to treat cannabis similar to opium, patients dealing with chronic pain could be prescribed the drug.

MMJ PhytoTech Ltd became Australia's first listed medicinal marijuana company following an initial public offering last year that was three times oversubscribed.

"The market for medicinal cannabis in Australia is substantial. The number of patients that could be targeted could be people with epilepsy, Multiple sclerosis, while there is the other spectrum of people with chronic pain," said Gaelan Bloomfield, manager at MMJ PhytoTech Ltd.


New And Used Cars Will Get A Lot Cheaper In Australia From 2018, Thanks To Parallel Imports

A big government shake-up for local car importation laws could have massive implications for the way Aussies buy their vehicles. From 2018 onwards, you’ll be able to parallel import brand new cars and avoid tariffs on imported used cars, potentially saving yourself thousands of dollars over local dealers.

Business Insider reports that changes to the Motor Vehicles Act in Australia will open up the domestic markets of dozens of countries around the world to private Australian buyers. From 2018, private buyers will be able to purchase and import cars from countries with comparable standards to Australia — the full list hasn’t yet been decided, but preliminarily both Japan and the United Kingdom have been approved.

The cars must be no more than 12 months old, and must have no more than 500km on the odometer. The price difference won’t be enough to justify importing cheaper cars, but just below Australia’s circa-$64,000 Luxury Car Tax threshold (and beyond) there will be some bargains — with countries like the UK and Japan both selling identical cars at a significant discount to Aussie dealers. The same “Australia tax” that we’re used to with technology applies even moreso with cars.

Used cars will also become far easier to import with the amendment of the Customs Tariff Act 1995, to remove a $12,000 special duty that applies to used imports. That tariff wasn’t applied consistently anyway, but its abolition is a point of comfort for wary would-be importers. Cars that are imported will have a specific plate affixed and their details added to a new register, as well as the traditional blue-slip inspection and registration process.

There are some huge advantages to import at Australia’s luxury and niche car manufacturers’ current pricing. A Porsche 911 Carrera S will cost you $274,000 and change to buy in Australia, while an import including freight and government fees is a full $44,000 cheaper. Some, like Tesla’s Model S, have only a few thousand dollars’ disparity between local and imported prices. These prices may change to make importing less attractive, or we may see more imported new and used cars on Australian roads in the near future.


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