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Australian Defense Force’s Cultural Challenges

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The Australian Defence Force’s “greatest enemy” lies within itself, with deep-rooted cultural challenges revealed by a royal commission, its chair says.

Opening the final public hearings block of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Monday, Chair Nick Kaldas urged co-operation and accountability to address the issue.

“We are not the cause of the ADF’s troubles. Our data analysis has
confirmed that their greatest enemy lies within the ADF itself and its
resistance to change,” he said.

“It is apparent from the evidence we’ve uncovered that there are deep-
rooted cultural and systemic challenges within the ADF and DVA (Department of Veterans’ Affairs) which have had dire consequences.”

Mr Kaldas said no more could the “siloed, fragmented and incremental approach to veteran support be tolerated”.

“No longer can these systemic issues be denied, dismissed, diminished or deflected by those in the halls of power and positions of leadership,” he said.

“Their lack of ownership of these issues, their lack of curiosity about contributing issues, and their willingness to accept glossy versions of history over stark facts cannot continue.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles and other senior military leaders will give evidence at the hearings.

The last of the public hearings have started in Sydney and will wrap up at the end of March.

It will be the final chance for the inquiry to ask questions of senior Defence and government figures about evidence before its final report is handed down in September.

Vice chief of the defence force Vice Admiral David Johnston is giving evidence on Monday, with Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie to appear at a later date.

Australian Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell has already faced questioning at the royal commission.

The commission has previously expressed its frustration at the slow response from commonwealth agencies to requests for information, as well as claims of confidentiality, parliamentary privilege and public interest immunity.

Mr Kaldas said many of the people who came forward and told their story had expressed a “strong sense of disappointment and betrayal” at being let down by Defence.

“Some are angry or bitter, many are sad, others are shattered, but almost all want to help make it better,” he said.

“They want the defence force to succeed. They don’t want others to have the same experiences they had.”

The final report was originally due in mid-June, but a three-month deadline extension was granted. It will now be handed down in early September.

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China drops heavy tariffs against Australian winemakers

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China drops heavy tariffs against Australian winemakers

Most recently, China has abolished heavy tariffs against Australian wine, marking a significant step towards improved diplomatic relations and trade ties between the two nations. The Chinese government had agreed to review the wine tariffs five months ago and has gradually unwound the trade barriers since then. The Commerce Ministry in Beijing announced on Thursday that it was no longer necessary to impose anti-dumping duties and other levies on imports of Australian wine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his gratitude for this development, stating that the re-entry of Australian bottled wine into the Chinese market will benefit both Australian producers and Chinese consumers. The removal of these tariffs comes at a critical time for the Australian wine industry, which had faced difficulties exporting to China due to the imposed trade barriers.

In 2019, Australian wine exports to China were valued at $1.1 billion before the tariffs were implemented during the height of diplomatic tensions in 2020. The removal of these duties means that Australia will no longer pursue legal action against China at the World Trade Organisation, which had been initiated by the former coalition government.

While the Australian government’s approach is to cooperate with China when possible and engage in its national interest, some trade barriers still remain. Chinese tariffs are still in place for Australian rock lobster and beef, and in 2020, Beijing imposed trade sanctions worth $20 billion on a variety of Australian products, including coal and cotton. The tariffs on Australian wine specifically amounted to a hefty 220 per cent tax.

As South Australian Wine Industry Association president Kirsty Balnaves noted, the Chinese market has evolved since the imposition of tariffs. There is now stronger in-market competition for wine, increased choices for consumers at various price points, and a decline in alcohol consumption. Balnaves emphasized that South Australian exporters will need to invest time in assessing opportunities, creating awareness, educating consumers, and reintroducing their wines to the market.

Despite the remaining challenges, Prime Minister Albanese reaffirmed his government’s commitment to trade diversification and supporting Australian businesses in selling their products on the global stage. The removal of tariffs on Australian wine is seen as a positive step towards strengthening trade relations between Australia and China, and it is hoped that further trade impediments affecting Australian exports will be addressed in the future in the interests of both countries.

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Emma mistakenly flew with her wheelchair

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Emma mistakenly flew with her wheelchair

Many people with disabilities face challenges when it comes to air travel, and Emma Weatherley’s recent experience highlights some of these issues. Emma, who has Facioscaplohumeral Dystrophy (FSHD), a muscle-wasting condition, was left stranded when she was told her motorised wheelchair could not be transported on a recent flight.

Despite having a wheelchair that met aircraft-approved specifications and weight limits, Virgin staff prohibited Emma’s 190kg chair from boarding the Link Airways-operated flight, citing a 120kg weight limit on the plane. This left Emma, a regular traveller and mother of two, feeling frustrated and discriminated against.

Virgin Australia later admitted that allowing Emma’s wheelchair on a previous flight was a mistake due to procedural errors made by staff members. The airline issued an apology to Emma and refunded the cost of the initial flight. They also pledged to improve their service and processes for passengers with specific needs.

Emma’s ordeal sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities when it comes to air travel. Despite having her mobility information stored in the airline’s system, Emma still had to navigate through misunderstandings and a lack of awareness surrounding procedures for wheelchair transportation.

Issues like these not only impact the individual’s confidence and independence but also highlight systemic barriers faced by people with disabilities. Emma’s experience of being rerouted through another city at her own expense due to a lack of accessible flights underscores the financial burden and inconvenience faced by many in similar situations.

Furthermore, Emma’s call for financial penalties for transport services that fail to provide adequate accessibility support raises important questions about accountability and inclusivity in the transportation industry. She also advocates for increased awareness about conditions like FSHD and the need for government funding to support new treatments and clinical trials.

Emma’s story serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a more accessible and inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities, both in air travel and broader community settings. By sharing her experience and advocating for change, Emma hopes to prevent others from falling through the gaps and facing similar challenges in the future.

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Australians Doubt Labor’s Efforts to Ease Cost of Living

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There has been a dip in support for the Labor government as Australians continue to feel the burden of the high cost of living, according to the latest Newspoll.

The poll, conducted for The Australian, shows that Federal Labor’s primary vote has fallen by a point to 32 per cent, while the Coalition has gained a point, reaching 37 per cent.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers highlighted the government’s efforts to alleviate cost-of-living pressures without adding to economic inflation, stating, “Our job is to do the right thing for the right reasons and the politics will take care of themselves.”

However, opposition finance minister Jane Hume criticized the government, suggesting that they are focusing on the “wrong priorities” and are distracted by the “chaos on our borders.”

The poll also revealed that Labor’s two-party-preferred lead over the Coalition has been reduced by two points to 51-49 per cent.

With a year to go before the next federal election, Nationals leader David Littleproud emphasized the importance of addressing the cost-of-living crisis, stating that voters will support the party that can best explain how they plan to tackle this issue.

Overall, 31 per cent of voters indicated that they would not support either Labor or the Coalition, signaling a trend away from the major parties. Combined support for Labor and the Coalition stood at 69 per cent.

On the other hand, the Greens saw a one-point increase to 13 per cent, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation also rose one point to seven per cent in the poll.

Approval ratings for both leaders, Mr. Albanese and Mr. Dutton, saw little change in the past month. Mr. Albanese’s approval rating rose to 44 per cent, while Mr. Dutton’s approval remained at 37 per cent.

In terms of the better prime minister choice, Mr. Albanese saw a one-point increase to 48 per cent, while Mr. Dutton fell one point to 34 per cent.

The Newspoll surveyed 1223 voters nationally between March 18 and 22, providing insights into the current political landscape and public sentiment amidst the ongoing cost-of-living pressures.

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