Saudi Arabia to let women drive but here’s what they still can’t do

Rights groups have welcomed King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia’s decree to allow women in the country to drive.

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The decree ordered a committee be set up to help implement the change according to “established legal regulations”.

The decree is expected to be implemented by June 2018.

However, even if the bill is passed, women are still confronted with significant barriers to participating fully in Saudi Arabian society.

The guardianship system

In Saudi Arabia, every woman has a male guardian, either their father, brother, husband or son, who are given the authority to make decisions on her behalf.

In 2009, Saudi Arabia accepted a recommendation by UN member states to end its guardianship system, but it did not follow through with its commitment. In 2013 it again agreed to abolish the system after its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.   

In April 2017, King Salman issued an order that women should not be denied government services because they did not have approval from a male guardian “unless there is a regulatory obligation for this request”, it is yet to be enforced.

The order, reviewed by Human Rights Watch, required government agencies to submit a list of procedures that require approval by a male guardian, suggesting they might be reviewed to give women greater freedom.

If the order is enforced, women would have greater access to public education. For example, male guardians would no longer be required to approve the enrolments of women into public universities.

But Amnesty International said in its statement, “we also need to see a whole range of discriminatory laws and practices swept away in Saudi Arabia, including the guardianship system.”

Human Rights Watch, which monitors the restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia, says the guardianship system prevents women from the following rights.

RELATEDEffects of guardianship system

Healthcare

Women must get permission from their guardian to access healthcare.

Education

Saudi women must gain approval from their guardian to enrol into public universities.

Travelling abroad

Saudi Arabian women are prevented from travelling abroad unless they have gained approval from their male guardian. This includes travelling abroad on a government scholarship.

Having a passport

Saudi Arabian women are not able to obtain a passport without the approval of their male guardian.

Getting married

Women must get the consent of their male guardian to marry.

Leaving Prison

Even if they have finished their sentence, women must have their guardian’s permission before they can leave jail.

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Conducting transactions

Human Rights Watch says women often have trouble managing property, such as renting, or filing for legal assistance unless a male is with them.

Sports

According to Human Rights Watch World Report 2017, as of July 2016, most public schools in the country did not provide physical education for females.

Women were forbidden from participating in national tournament or state-run sports leagues.

However, the country is making progress towards greater rights in sports. In August 2016, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Sports announced it would open a female department. That same month four women represented Saudi Arabia in the Rio Olympics.

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NSW boy accidentally shot in face by mate

A 12-year-old boy is believed to have been shot in the face by his mate at a farm in southwestern NSW after a bullet ricocheted from a rifle and hit him.

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The boy had been visiting a friend’s home at Thuddungra near Young when his friend was asked to return a .22 rifle to the firearm safe.

It’s believed the gun then discharged, the bullet bouncing back to hit the unsuspecting boy in the face, police say.

Acting Superintendent Frank Brown from Cootamundra Local Area Command refused to rule out police laying charges over the incident, stressing that the police investigation was still in its early stages.

“We will thoroughly investigate the incident and if there is evidence to suggest prosecution should take place we will look at that,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“It’s very early stages at this point … the incident that’s occurred last night has been quite stressful to all persons involved and the priority at that time was the welfare of the young children and to seek medical attention.”

Supt Brown agreed the boy was lucky to be alive and warned the public to treat firearms as if they were loaded at all times.

The firearm responsible for the boy’s injuries was registered, he said.

The bullet hit the left side of the boy’s face and travelled through his shoulder, leaving behind two entry and exit wounds, Young NSW Ambulance Inspector Stephen Pollard told Fairfax Media on Thursday.

The boy was immediately driven from the Thuddungra farm to be met by paramedics who took him to a hospital nearly 20km away.

He was then airlifted to The Children’s Hospital in Sydney with non-life-threatening injuries for specialist care.

Supt Brown said police had attempted to make contact with the injured boy’s family but had so far been unsuccessful.

“It is suggested they’re tied up with the young boy,” he told reporters.

A crime scene was established at the property after the incident.

The boy is the second child to be shot in NSW in the past month after a three-year-old girl died in her western Sydney home last month after accidentally being shot with her father’s unregistered sawn-off shotgun.

A2 Milk, Wattle strengthen China position

Infant formula suppliers The A2 Milk Company and Wattle Health Australia have strengthened their regulatory position in the lucrative Chinese market.

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A2 Milk’s application to continue selling its infant formula products in China has been approved by China’s health regulator, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA).

Formula manufacturer Synlait Milk, which has been in partnership with A2 Milk since 2010, submitted the mandatory CFDA application in May.

All infant formula manufacturers must register brands and recipes with the CFDA for products to be imported into China from January 1, 2018.

Also, foreign manufacturers of infant formula products in China must register the canning facility used to blend and pack the products with the Certification and Accreditation Administration of People’s Republic of China (CNCA).

From January 1, 2018, all infant formula to be sold in China must be manufactured by a facility accredited by the CNCA, and each facility can only register up to three brands.

A2 Milk’s CFDA registration included tests on raw materials and finished products, certification of manufacturing standards, formulation assessment, and packaging changes,

Chief executive Geoffrey Babidge said the company’s multi-channel infant formula strategy in both Chinese-labelled products and English-labelled products had positioned A2 Milk well in the context of current regulatory requirements.

“We look forward to the continued expansion of our business in China following this announcement,” Mr Babidge said in a statement.

Wattle Health has completed its previously announced $5 million acquisition of a five per cent interest in Australian infant formula maker Blend & Pack, which is licensed by the CNCA to produce infant formula for China’s market.

Wattle Health said the acquisition ensures that its infant formula range will be the first brand nominated by Blend & Pack for CFDA approval.

CFDA approval will allow Wattle Health to sell infant formula in China in bricks-and-mortar stores and online after January 1, 2018.

Executive chairman Lazarus Karasavvidis said completing the Blend & Pack deal was a significant milestone for Wattle Health.

“Not only will it help us execute and grow brand awareness across our Australian channels, but we’re also in a much stronger position to obtain the necessary approvals to be able to service the Chinese market,” Mr Karasavvidis said.

A2 Milk shares were higher during Thursday’s sesssion but ended the day steady at $5.99, while Synlait Milk gained 49 cents, or 9.1 per cent, to $5.87 and Wattle Health added five cents, or 6.5 per cent, to 82.5 cents.

Family law review will consider whether court cases are too distressing for children

The Australian Law Reform Commission will undertake the most comprehensive review of the family law system since 1976, in a review announced by the Turnbull government on Thursday.

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Attorney-General George Brandis said the review was “necessary and long-overdue”.

The government has ordered the independent commission to undertake the review, beginning on October 1. It will be led by Professor Helen Rhoades.

“Australian families and their needs have significantly evolved since the 1970s,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.

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The review will examine the adversarial nature of family law cases – including divorce and custody disputes.

Senator Brandis said he did not want to prejudice the outcomes of the review and would not offer his personal views.

‘There is certainly a body of opinion among family law practitioners that the adversarial mode in which family law proceedings are conducted is not the perfect model,” he told the ABC.

“It’s always better that disputes be resolved by mediation rather than by litigation, particularly though when they concern intimate relationships, people at a fraught and despairing time of their lives.”

The review will also consider how the system can better support families, reduce legal costs and resolve cases more quickly.

The Australian Law Council welcomed the wholesale review but warned that any meaningful, long-term reform needed significant funding.

 

President Fiona McLeod said resourcing had not kept up with the increase in the number and complexity of family law cases.

“The Law Council looks forward to contributing to this review, however we note that any significant recommendations for reform will not be able to be implemented without corresponding funding,” she said in a statement.

Labor also welcomed the review, but also called for “urgent action” before the review is completed.

“The government has still not announced any funding to facilitate an end to domestic violence survivors being cross-examined by their abusers in court,” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a statement.

“None of these problems can afford to wait until the report’s due date in 2019.”

The ALRC has been given until March 31 in 2019 to report back.

Twitter in court over ‘venomous tweets’

An Australian firm has taken Twitter to court after confidential financial information was leaked in a series of “venomous tweets” by someone impersonating the firm’s CEO and another senior officer.

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The firm, which has a large number of partners, sought orders to stop Twitter publishing the offending material anywhere in the world and stop the unknown person operating any Twitter accounts.

The “barrage of tweets” between May and September became “increasingly bold and threatening” and “were clearly suggestive of a malicious intention to harm the plaintiff”, Justice Michael Pembroke said in his NSW Supreme Court judgment on Thursday.

While the identity of the author of the tweets is unknown, it’s “clear that he or she has access to some of the plaintiff’s financial records”, he said.

When the firm complained about the first tweets, Twitter removed the account but said it wouldn’t provide the identity and contact information of the user as per its privacy policy.

The “venomous tweets” continued in August but this time the twitter handle didn’t impersonate anyone, it “simply utilised a provocative descriptive noun”, Justice Pembroke said.

Again the firm complained but Twitter said the tweets didn’t violate its terms of service because there was no impersonation.

“This was clearly wrong,” Justice Pembroke said.

The firm made another complaint in early September following a further 17 tweets, but Twitter said they weren’t in violation of its private information policy.

When a fourth round of offending tweets appeared, stating “We are back up!”, the account was quickly shut down.

Legal proceedings started in September where interlocutory orders were made restraining the publication of “offending material” and suspending the relevant accounts behind the posts.

The firm also sought orders limiting future offending tweets and accounts.

Although Twitter didn’t appear at the final hearing, it submitted information via email that it is “not feasible to proactively monitor user content for offending material”, the judgment said.

Justice Pembroke said he does not consider it unreasonable or inappropriate to make orders for filtering or checking to ensure confidential information doesn’t get posted or is removed.

“The high profile and size of Twitter give me confidence in the utility of making the proposed orders,” Justice Pembroke said.

“Although Twitter publicly disclaims any responsibility for user content, the success of its business model depends in part on ensuring that the Twitter platform is not used by dishonest persons who seek to damage others.”

The orders were confidential but were “substantially in accordance with the orders sought by the plaintiff,” Justice Pembroke said.

Drought killed off Tasmanian tiger: study

Drought was to blame for the extinction of Tasmanian tigers from the Australian mainland, a new study by the University of Adelaide has found.

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Using DNA from fossil bones and museum specimens, the report says drought caused by the onset of El Nino weather patterns was the likely cause of the tiger’s demise.

“The ancient DNA tells us that the mainland extinction was rapid, and not the result of intrinsic factors such as inbreeding or loss of genetic diversity,” researcher Lauren White said.

Ms White said tigers lived in western regions of Australia right up to their extinction from the mainland around 3000 years ago.

The researcher said the reasons for the tiger’s disappearance but continuing survival in Tasmania until the 1930s had remained a scientific mystery.

Previous theories include the introduction of dingoes and an increased Indigenous population.

But professor Jeremy Austin, said both groups went through a population crash at the same time and with no dingoes in Tasmania at the time and minimal population, weather was the most likely cause.

“Tasmania would have been somewhat shielded from the warmer, drier climate because of its higher rainfall but it appears that this population was also affected by the El Nino event before starting to recover,” Mr Austin said.

The animal survived in Tasmania after European settlement but the local government offered a bounty for tigers claiming the animal was attacking sheep.

The last wild Tasmanian tiger was shot by a farmer in 1930 and the last in captivity died in 1936.

There have been numerous unconfirmed sighting ever since the animal was declared extinct.

Late caesareans linked to preterm births

Emergency caesarean sections performed when a woman is fully dilated during labour may raise the risk of premature births in later pregnancies.

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A study of hundreds of Australian women who had two consecutive births between 1989 and 2015 found caesareans at full dilation was associated with a two-fold risk of a subsequent spontaneous preterm birth.

The findings are published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Since premature births pose a risk to newborn babies, the researchers say mums who have caesareans at full dilation – when the cervix has dilated to 10cm – should be closely monitored.

“Preterm birth is a multifaceted public health concern for which many risk factors are still unknown,” says study co-author Dr Joanne Ludlow, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Royal Prince Alfred hospital.

“Our study has shown a statistically significant two-fold increase in the rate of spontaneous preterm birth among women who had a fully dilated caesarean section compared with caesarean section in the first stage of labour,” Dr Ludlow said.

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus and connects the uterus to the vagina. During pregnancy its job is to stay closed and only open at the end of the pregnancy.

When the cervix has become fully dilated in labour it kind of merges with the uterus and a caesarean runs the risk of causing potential trauma to the structure because it’s harder to identify, explains RPA obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Bradley d Vries.

“When you do a caesarean section when the cervix is fully dilated sometimes when you do the cut in the uterus it might extend down to the cervix and then that could cause some damage to the cervix. So in the future pregnancy it might not function so well,” Dr d Vries said.

To investigate the risks it may cause for future pregnancies researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study of 2672 women done over a 25-year period (1989-2015) who had an emergency caesarean section.

Eighty per cent of these women (2142) had a caesarean section during the first stage of labour and 20 per cent (533) at full dilation of the cervix (10cm).

The rates of spontaneous preterm birth in a subsequent pregnancy were 1.7 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively.

While pre-term births were twice as common among those women who’d had a previous caesarean at full dilation, the overall risk is small, says Dr d Vries.

Time running out for asylum seeker claims

The federal government continues to cop flak over its treatment of asylum seekers as a deadline looms for hundreds of people to claim protection in Australia.

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Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has given thousands of asylum seekers who arrived by boat between late 2012 and early 2014 an October 1 deadline to “lodge it or leave.”

The government is concerned “fake refugees” are bleeding taxpayers of welfare dollars, and may have lived in the community for years without a proper analysis of their backgrounds.

Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim believes the deadline, which will expire this Sunday, is unreasonable and unfair.

Senator McKim claims the cut-off date continues a pattern of treating vulnerable people seeking asylum with contempt and cruelty.

“This is another sorry chapter in his long record of trying to overturn due process and the rule of law,” he told AAP on Thursday.

“We urge everyone potentially affected who has not yet received legal advice to contact the legal supports available as soon as they can.”

More than 6000 people have applied since the cut-off date was announced in May, but about 600 asylum seekers are yet to submit their paperwork.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre acting principal lawyer Noosheen Mogadam said those who had not yet lodged applications faced an uphill battle.

“They need to make themselves known and we will endeavour to assist them where we can,” Ms Mogadam told AAP.

The immigration department has indicated it will deal swiftly with those who do not apply, considering it an indication the person no longer intends to seek protection in Australia.

Those who do not apply and do not make arrangements to leave Australia may be detained and removed from the country.

Mr Dutton, who is in London for a series of counter-terror meetings, has been contacted for comment.

Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann praised the lawyers who handled an influx of applications.

“For some asylum seekers, the Turnbull government only lifted the bar to make an application late last year and many have been on waiting lists to receive legal assistance,” Mr Neumann said.

“I commend those in the legal and not-for-profit sectors who have provided legal assistance and helped asylum seekers lodge their applications before the deadline.”

Beach Energy buys Origin assets for $1.6b

Kerry Stokes-backed Beach Energy has agreed to pay $1.

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585 billion for Origin Energy’s conventional oil and gas exploration business in a deal that will double its market value.

The Lattice Energy acquisition will also triple Beach’s oil & gas reserves to 232 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe), and production in the 2018 financial year is now expected to more than double to between 25 and 27 mmboe.

Beach Energy chief executive Matt Kay says the “transformational” acquisition will deliver a diverse asset portfolio and provide material value growth for shareholders.

“It establishes Beach as a major supplier of gas to domestic markets, and provides a step-change in production, operating capabilities and geographic exposure,” he said said in a statement.

Beach, whose biggest shareholder is the Kerry Stokes-owned Seven Group Holdings, had been rumoured to be a suitor for the assets since Origin hived them into the Lattice business in December 2016.

The deal covers oil & gas projects in the Otway, Cooper, Bass and Bonaparte basins, as well as an interest in the Perth Basin.

It also includes stakes in the Kupe gas project and the Canterbury basin in New Zealand.

Cooper Basin-focused Beach completed an all-stock takeover of smaller rival Drillsearch Energy in 2016, amid an extended downturn in oil prices.

On Thursday, it announced a three-for-14 rights share offer to raise $301 million, with the balance to be funded through syndicated debt facilities.

Shares are to be sold at 75 cents each, a 9.1 per cent discount to the 82.5 cents closing price on Wednesday.

Beach shares are currently in a trading halt.

Seven Group will subscribe to $68 million of the capital raising, taking its stake in Beach to 25.73 per cent, from 22.73 per cent now.

The Lattice sale settles efforts by Origin Energy to streamline its business and reduce debt as part of efforts to bolster its finances.

Origin’s balance sheet had been stretched by the development of the $26 billion Australia Pacific liquefied natural gas project in Queensland, which has forced it to raise equity, slash jobs and suspend dividends.

The company had pledged to divest Lattice by the end of 2017, either through a trade sale or an IPO float.

On Thursday, it said the proceeds from the sale will be used to pay down debt, putting it on track to cut net debt to below $7 billion by June 2018.

Origin will retain its 37.5 per cent stake in APLNG, exploration interests in Ironbark, Browse and Beetaloo basins, and its power generation and retailing business.

The company said it had retained access to a significant portion of Lattice’s future east coast gas production through long-term gas supply agreements.

Morgans analyst called the deal a great result for Origin, but said it was hard to see an upside for Beach.

“Beach has agreed to pay a heavy price to pick up these assets, given all of the upside has been removed by Origin having recently contracted all of the east coast gas back to itself at a fixed below-market gas price,” he said in a note.

By 1432 AEST, Origin shares were up 0.9 per cent at $7.52 each.

US slashes number of refugees for resettlement

The decision will disappoint refugee advocates and United Nations agencies, which are struggling to cope with millions displaced by several major wars.

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In the 2016 fiscal year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees from around the world. This year it is on course to take in about 50,000.

The US is still the world’s biggest destination for refugees, but arrivals are well down from a high of more than 200,000 in 1980.

And President Donald Trump has made no secret of his hostility to resettlement, having ordered a moratorium on new arrivals and tougher background checks.

Officials said they plan to complete a review of security procedures for vetting new arrivals by next month, but arrivals next year will be reduced.

“The security and safety of the American people is our chief concern,” a senior US official told reporters on a call to announce the new figure.

“We need to ensure refugee resettlement opportunities go to those who are eligible for such protection and who are not known to present a risk to the safety or the security of our country.” 

Those who are accepted for resettlement in the United States are selected by the United Nations refugee agency from among the most vulnerable displaced people.

Widows with children, the elderly and the disabled are given priority and subjected to a thorough screening process by US security and intelligence agencies.

The process takes between 18 months and two years, and only then are the refugees assigned to resettlement agencies working under contract with the State Department.

The agencies help families find housing and employment, mainly in small and medium cities around the United States. 

Nevertheless, Trump has ordered a security review to further tighten procedures, slowing acceptances.

The International Refugee Assistance Project, part of the New York-based Urban Justice Center, condemned the announcement as a case of the United States abdicating its leadership role on humanitarian issues at time when the world is grappling with the largest number of refugees since World War II.

“Resettlement is only an option in the most urgent refugee cases,” Betsy Fisher, IRAP’s policy director, said.

“It’s hard to comprehend why the administration would move to limit resettlement, when the need is greater than ever. We are abandoning desperate people in life-or-death situations, including children with medical emergencies, US wartime allies, and survivors of torture.”