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Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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Filter by June, 2013

Synthetic drugs: Australian and international trends

 Synthetic drugs hit the headlines earlier this month following the death of a Sydney teenager who jumped from a third-floor balcony while under the influence of a hallucinogenic substance. They are again in the headlines this week after the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced it had arrested 225 people and seized 1,500 kilograms of synthetic drugs destined for the US and Australian markets. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) admitted in the World Drug Report 2013 that ‘the international drug control system is floundering, for the first time, under the speed and creativity of the phenomenon known as new psychoactive substances (NPS)’.What drugs are we talking about?W... Read more...

Streamlining Defence Acquisitions: the UK experiment

The struggle to control the cost and improve the effectiveness of acquiring defence capability has taxed successive Australian governments—but Australia is not alone. A new UK Government white paper outlines a plan to manage the purchasing of defence capability very differently to most other countries by stating its intention to move to a Government Owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) model for running the Defence Equipment and Support Organisation (DE&S).It sets out the major reasons the DE&S struggles to provide capability on time and within budget and suggests a variety of possible solutions while noting the Secretary of State for Defence’s preference for the GOCO model. Critics of A... Read more...

Australia's current debt position - update June 2013

This Flagpost article aims to present Australia’s current debt position and how it has changed since prior Flagposts on Australia’s debt position. This Flagpost updates the latest available data on Australia’s level of debt for both the public and private sectors in gross and net terms, and compares it with previously published data. For definitions of gross and net debt the reader is referred to the Library’s earlier Flagpost titled Australia’s current debt position. Chart 1 below presents Australia’s current foreign debt for the March quarter of 2013 in gross and net terms for the public and private sectors. From Chart 1 it is clear that the private s... Read more...

US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013

On 19 June, John Kerry, US Secretary of State, released the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2013.Each year since 2001, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in the US State Department has produced a legislatively mandated report outlining major trends and issues in combating human trafficking and providing country by country analyses and ratings. The 2013 Report assesses 188 governments, including the United States, on their compliance with minimum standards set out in the Trafficking Victim Protections Act 2000 (TVPA).  As the 2011 Report noted, the TVPA standards are ‘largely’ (though not entirely) consistent with the framework for addressing trafficking establish... Read more...

World Refugee Day

On Thursday 20 June people around the world will celebrate World Refugee Day, which was first marked in 2001 following the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution in December 2000. World Refugee Day is an opportunity to increase awareness about the world’s growing number of refugees, asylum seekers and forcibly displaced people. Events will be held around the world, including in Australia, to celebrate the achievements of refugees and highlight the many challenges they still face. When the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was first adopted in the 1950s there were an estimated 1.5 million refugees worldwide. By the time World Refugee Day was first celebrate... Read more...

Exiting quantitative easing – the need for a deft touch and some luck

In recent weeks, speculation the United States Federal Reserve may begin tapering its quantitative easing (QE) program has sparked volatility in bond and currency markets. This has underscored the uncertainty and risks associated with QE and the possibility that, if exiting QE is not handled well, it could have adverse implications for the global economy.With official interest rates close to zero monetary authorities in the United States, Europe, Japan and the United Kingdom turned to unconventional monetary policy tools. QE involves central banks purchasing financial assets (such as government bonds, corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities). It increases the money base with a view ... Read more...

Gene patents overturned in landmark US Supreme Court decision

The landmark decision of the US Supreme Court in the Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics case would appear to have overturned three decades of gene patent awards, signaling a clear shift from the Patent and Trademark Office’s past practice.Nearly 20 years ago, Myriad obtained several pa­tents after discovering the precise location and sequence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, mutations of which can dramatically in­crease the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. This knowledge enabled Myriad to develop medical tests for detecting muta­tions in these genes to assess a patient’s cancer risk.The validity of the patents was challenged by a consortium of interested parties. Cancer p... Read more...

Law enforcement access to telecommunications data: neither secret nor new

In the wake of the furore over the leaking of details of the US Government’s electronic surveillance program, PRISM, reports emerged in the Australian media ‘revealing’ that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are accessing phone and Internet records without a warrant. In response, the Australian Greens announced on 11 June their intention to introduce a Bill to ‘strengthen the regulation of data collection on Australians’ by requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to access such information. However, warrantless access by police to communications data has been in place for over 15 years and reported in detail annually since 2008, meaning such access is neither secret nor new.... Read more...

ASIO security assessments of asylum seekers

Recent media reporting and questioning in the May Budget Estimates hearings have again focused attention on security processes relevant to the processing of asylum seekers, with one particular case leading the Prime Minister to direct an Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security inquiry into ‘the management of [by] Australian government agencies of persons seeking asylum who present complex security issues’. ASIO’s security assessment role The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) performs security assessments for other Australian Government agencies for several different purposes: visa security assessments, which assess whether an appl... Read more...

Asylum seekers and income management

The Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, recently proposed that certain asylum seekers living in the community should be required to work on community projects in exchange for food and accommodation vouchers. The vouchers would be instead of cash, which Mr Morrison said could be used to pay 'people smugglers debts'. The Immigration Minister, Brendan O'Connor indicated that the idea was one 'worth considering'.While media reports and commentary have suggested a relationship between the 'work for vouchers' proposal and income management, there are actually some significant differences between the two.Income management refers to a policy under which a percentage of the income support pa... Read more...