Anti-terror laws could affect legal aid

The Law Council of Australia says, under new anti-terror laws put forward by the Federal Government, legal-aid clients would no longer be able to choose their lawyers.


The council says the Government’s proposal, still to be passed by parliament, requires legal-aid lawyers acting on certain cases to pass security clearances first.

The Law Council’s acting president, Bob Gotterson says clients could no longer choose their lawyers in cases relating to national security.

He says clients would be forced to see lawyers approved by federal government security agencies instead.

Mr Gotterson says that would deny them fair hearings and would especially put newly arrived migrants, who often need to access legal-aid services, at a disadvantage.

“If you want to select a lawyer who speaks your native language and, therefore, get your message across much more easily, and that lawyer hasn’t got government approval, under this new system, then you are disadvantaged. What this really amounts to is moving towards a system, at least at the legal-aid level and for cases where there are national-security overtones, a system of state-controlled lawyers.”

Mr Gotterson says the federal government is intent on introducing the new laws, despite opposition from state and territory governments and from the legal profession.

He says the federal government is simply following the lead of the United States on national-security policy, rather than adopting a more independent stance.

“One might venture the view that why this proposal is coming forward is simply to harmonise the provisions that you might find in some other nations, particularly the United States, for example, and to bring Australia into line with that. National security is very important, but, under the existing court processes and disciplinary proceedings, there’s enough there to protect legitimately national-security interests.”

America remembers September 11

In New York, children guided thousands through a tearful September 11 remembrance, held under brilliant blue skies that were reminiscent of the day of the attacks in 2001.


A total of 200 children, mostly sons and daughters of the dead, read the names of the 2,792 killed at Ground Zero.

While the event was scaled down from the first anniversary, the three-hour ceremony still carried a powerful emotional punch, compounded by the new-found uncertainties of a country at war.

President George W Bush observed the first moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington after attending a special church service.

“We remember lives lost. We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion and the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day.”

Ceremonies were also held in Washington for the victims at the Defence Department headquarters where a third hijacked jet smashed into the building killing 184 people.

Meanwhile a bell tolled 40 times in a Pennsylvania field where a fourth jet crashed after an uprising by passengers against four al Qaeda hijackers, killing all 40 passengers and crew.

But nationals from 80 countries were killed in the attacks on New York and Washington, and mourning was held around the world.

World leaders also seized upon the anniversary to share the grief of the victims’ families and reaffirm their commitment to fight terrorism.

The danger of further attacks was emphasised by a US State Department warning that al-Qaeda could use the anniversary to stage a new strike “more devastating than the September 11 attack.”

The warning stated the European or Eurasian locations could be targeted “possibly to closely coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 attack”.

Police hunt for Sweden murder suspect

Police in Sweden are searching for a homeless “drifter” with a criminal record in connection with the murder of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who was stabbed while out shopping.


The 32-year-old man is known to use knives as his weapon of choice, two Swedish daily newspapers reported on Friday.

Tributes have been paid to the 46-year-old popular minister and mother-of-two and with national flags flying at half-mast, the Swedish parliament held a moment of silence. There has also been a special cathedral service.

Outside the Stockholm store where she was attacked, people placed flowers on the pavement and stopped to pay respects.

Tributes have also been paid around the world, with international politicians and leaders shocked by the murder of a leading campaigner for the euro.

Ms Lindh was a vocal supporter of the euro currency and there was a question mark over whether Sunday’s referendum would go ahead.

However, Prime Minister Goeran Persson said it would go ahead as planned, because to do anything else would be to give into violence.

A spokesman said initial inquiries suggest the attacker probably acted on the spur of the moment.

Police have said that they are searching for a man of Swedish origin who they described as having a haggard face and heavy build, about 1.80 meters tall.

The Expressen newspaper said police were able to link the 32-year-old man to a set of handprints lifted off an escalator handrail in the NK department store. Police also have information placing the man in central Stockholm hours before the attack, it said.

Comment: E-readers prove easy on the eye for dyslexics

By Julia Carroll, University of Warwick

Using an e-reader may help some dyslexic students understand what they read more effectively, researchers at Harvard University argue.


In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, the authors found that a group of dyslexic teenagers showed greater reading comprehension when using an iPod e-reader than when asked to read from paper. The e-reader was formatted to display around nine lines of text on the screen at a time, with only two or three words in each line, leaving fewer visual distractions. The authors therefore concluded that this improvement is due to the reduced demands on visual attention when reading from the iPod.

While the dominant theoretical explanation of dyslexia lies in phonological processing, or understanding the sound structure of speech, there is growing evidence that dyslexia is caused by multiple factors. This includes difficulties in visual attention. It seems that some, but not all, dyslexics have difficulties in processing detailed visual information.

In normal reading, there is a sensitive and highly efficient link between eye movements and understanding what we read. People often believe that when we read, our eyes move continuously and gradually, but that is not the case. Eye movements when reading involve a series of short “jumps” or saccades, followed by a brief period of stillness while the brain processes the letters in front of the eyes. The “visual span” is the number of letters that can be processed during the period of stillness, before moving ones eyes again.

Problems in the text, such as typos or unknown words, prompt an almost immediate response, with eyes tracking backwards and forwards to check the surrounding context to help resolve the issue. This shows that we are interpreting what we read word by word, continually updating our understanding.

In skilled reading, this process is so automatic we hardly notice it. However, many dyslexic readers seem to have difficulties, including a shorter visual span and less efficient eye movements. The e-reader means that readers do not need to make these saccades in the same way, and their visual span is less crucial (since the lines of text are so short).

This study shows a significant interaction between visual span and method of reading. Using an iPod improves comprehension in those students with short visual spans, but it reduces comprehension in those with long or good visual spans. This very neatly shows that the visual abilities of the reader is crucial in predicting whether this method will be beneficial or not.

These findings suggest that e-readers may be a useful tool in the support of dyslexic students, since around a third of the students involved showed a better understanding of what they were reading when using an iPod. However, as the authors state, this would only ever be an adjunct to direct teaching and practise in reading in multiple contexts. They tested adolescent students in a specialist school for children with language learning impairments, and it is not clear that the findings can be extrapolated to older or younger readers, or less severely impaired students.

The study also has implications for our wider understanding of dyslexia. Historically, the evidence for the causal role of visual impairments in dyslexia has been mixed.

Some researchers have argued that, because of the close link between cognition and eye movements, the less efficient eye movements of dyslexic students might reflect their reading problems, rather than causing them. If many of the words that a reader encounters are unknown, they are likely to show many regressions, through checks forward and backward, to improve understanding.

However, the study shows this is not the full explanation. Simplifying the layout of text actually improves understanding in a third of these students, indicating that the eye movements themselves are making it harder for the dyslexic students to understand what they read.

Julia Carroll does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Bernanke warns about US debt showdown

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has warned that threats by Congress not to raise the US debt limit had potentially serious consequences for the world’s largest economy.


“A government shutdown, and perhaps even more so a failure to raise the debt limit, could have very serious consequences for the financial markets and for the economy,” Bernanke said on Wednesday after a meeting of the Fed’s rate-setting Open Market Committee.

He warned that the central bank’s “ability to offset these shocks is very limited, particularly a debt limit shock.”

“It’s extraordinarily important that Congress and the administration work together to find a way to make sure that the government is funded, public services are provided, that the government pays its bills and that we avoid any kind of event like 2011, which had at least for a time a noticeable adverse effect on confidence and on the economy,” Bernanke said.

Opposition Republicans in Congress are preparing for a showdown with President Barack Obama over both a short-term spending measure to keep the government funded and a separate vote on increasing the nation’s debt limit.

House Speaker John Boehner said earlier on Wednesday that Republicans would tie the measures to efforts to stall implementation of Obama’s signature health care law.

The move sets up a showdown with the Democratic-controlled Senate that could cause Congress to run out of time before an existing spending measure ends, forcing the government to largely shut down.

In a meeting with business leaders, Obama denounced an “ideological fight” that avoids talking about the actual budget issues involved.

“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president – or a governing party – and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt,” he said.

Syria attacked by al-Qaeda: Assad

President Bashar al-Assad insists Syria is not gripped by civil war but has been attacked by tens of thousands of foreign jihadist fighters allied to al-Qaeda.


In an interview on Wednesday with US network Fox News, the Syrian leader urged US President Barack Obama not to threaten Syria but to “listen to the common sense of your people.”

“What we have is not civil war. What we have is war. It’s a new kind of war,” he said, alleging that Islamist guerillas from more than 80 countries had joined the fight.

“We know that we have tens of thousands of jihadists, but we are on the ground, we live in this country,” he said, disputing an expert report that suggested 30,000 out of around 100,000 rebels were hardliners.

“What I can tell you that 80 – and some say it is 90 – to be precise, we don’t have clear data and precise data, 80 to 90 per cent of the underground terrorists are al-Qaeda and their offshoots.”

Assad admitted that at the start of the uprising there were non-jihadi Syrian rebels, but alleged that since the end of 2012, due to funding and influence from abroad, extremists had become a majority.

He added that “tens of thousands of Syrians” and 15,000 government troops had been killed “mainly because of the terrorist attacks, assassinations and suicide bombers.”

And he also repeated his insistence that an August 21 sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in the suburbs of Damascus had been carried out by rebels, and not by government forces.

Western capitals, most Arab states and several independent rights watchdogs say there is clear evidence that the attack was launched by Syrian government troops.

also in the interview Assad pledged to destroy his stockpile of chemical arms but warned it will take a year to do so.

“I think it’s a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, about a billion,” Assad said in the interview broadcast on Wednesday.

“So it depends, you have to ask the experts what they mean by quickly. It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more.”

Starbucks urges customers to leave their guns at home

Starbuck’s chairman Howard Schultz has written an open letter to customers urging them to leave their firearms at home, shifting company policy as the American gun control debate intensifies in the wake of multiple mass shootings.


The coffee chain’s longstanding policy has been to conform to local gun laws, including “open carry” regulations which enable members of the public to display their firearms as they conduct their daily business.

Mr Schultz has stressed in the letter that guns are not banned from Starbucks outlets but has encouraged patrons to co-operate with the request.

The request does not apply to law enforcement personnel.

Read the letter in its entirety below.

Dear Fellow Americans,

Few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns. In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate. That’s why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.

From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a “third place” between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community. Our values have always centered on building community rather than dividing people, and our stores exist to give every customer a safe and comfortable respite from the concerns of daily life.

We appreciate that there is a highly sensitive balance of rights and responsibilities surrounding America’s gun laws, and we recognize the deep passion for and against the “open carry” laws adopted by many states. (In the United States, “open carry” is the term used for openly carrying a firearm in public.) For years we have listened carefully to input from our customers, partners, community leaders and voices on both sides of this complicated, highly charged issue.

Our company’s longstanding approach to “open carry” has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don’t exist. We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement—not by Starbucks and our store partners.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the “open carry” debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening. Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called “Starbucks Appreciation Days” that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of “open carry.” To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.

For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas—even in states where “open carry” is permitted—unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.

I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners the chance to respect our request—and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose “open carry,” we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion “open carry,” please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.

I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today’s request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors.


Howard Schultz

Comment: Albo and Shorten should look to New Zealand for primary guidance

By Grant Duncan, Massey University

While Australia’s Labor Party is digesting a significant electoral defeat, the New Zealand Labour Party, in opposition since 2008, has gone through another leadership change and is positioning itself to compete for office at the next general election, to be held by November 2014.


Labour not only has a new leader in David Cunliffe, but for the first time used a “primary-style” internal party process for electing him. And some have compared Cunliffe to Kevin Rudd. With Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten engaging in the first contest for the leadership of the ALP involving a direct vote by party members, the Cunliffe result is worth examining in detail.

But first, some background. Helen Clark’s Labour-led government was defeated in 2008, just after the worst of the global financial crisis had struck. The incoming minority conservative National-led government was headed by prime minister John Key. National were returned to office in the 2011 election with 47.3% of the party vote, the largest ever under the proportional representation system in place in New Zealand since 1996.

Labour, by contrast, gained a mere 27.5% of the party vote, and a contest for the party leadership began soon afterwards in early 2012. This was won by David Shearer, whose main rival was Cunliffe. Shearer, however, never really cut it as leader of the opposition. Relatively new to parliamentary politics, Shearer spent most of his career in humanitarian work in the developing world. He lacked experience and insider savvy, and rarely displayed the cut-through required of a politician on television and in the debating chamber.

Shearer narrowly avoided the sack by resigning, and this set in train a new process for Labour to elect its leader – a ballot weighted 40% for caucus, 40% for paid-up party members and 20% for affiliated trade unions. Hustings events were quickly set up across the country and the process was covered extensively by the news media.

As there were three candidates, a preferential vote was applied.

Cunliffe won on the first round with a total of 51%, but only a third of his caucus colleagues voted for him. Nearly half of them preferred instead his closest rival, former deputy leader Grant Robertson. It was the wider party membership and affiliates whose votes won the race for Cunliffe.

Naturally this has raised questions about how unified the Labour caucus will be under Cunliffe’s leadership, but the desire to win office in 2014 may well take care of that, at least on the surface. In the meantime, though, the prime minister can taunt the leader of the opposition about an apparent lack of support from his caucus colleagues.

The party election results also reflect what many have said for some time about Cunliffe – that he is very intelligent and articulate, with a media presence that Shearer lacked, but with a divisive style. He appeals to the party rank and file but is prone to being a bit grandiose and seemingly narcissistic – or at least he fails to hide those less desirable self-regarding traits that are probably quite common among political leaders. Many of those who have to work with him appear to be less than keen. Hence the comparisons (justified or not) with Kevin Rudd.


Will new Labour leader David Cunliffe be able to take the fight to prime minister John Key? flickr/Kelvinhu


The important comparison for Cunliffe, though, will be with John Key, the present prime minister. Key’s intelligence and business nous are combined with an unassuming and down-to-earth manner that connects well with Kiwi voters, while simultaneously making sense to “the markets.” He has seen off three Labour opponents so far, and his government is in good enough shape at present to help him see off this next contender.

Key’s repeated message is that Labour is heading to “the far left.” As Labour will probably need a coalition with (at least) the Green party to form a government, then a vote for them next election is also implicitly a vote in favour of the Greens. And there is no doubt that Labour’s recent “primary” election has shown that their strategy is to pitch for the left, especially for the one third of those eligible who did not vote in 2011.

Their aim is thus to shift the position of the median voter to the left by encouraging the poor and disfranchised who didn’t vote last time to vote Labour next time. Hence, Cunliffe has made promises about raising low wages and taxing the well-off in order to win that support.

This is a socially worthy but politically high-risk strategy for Labour, especially if it means losing ground from the all-important centre. As an Ivy-league educated, business-friendly middle-class white guy, there is a risk that Cunliffe simply won’t inspire the unemployed or low-income workers, especially Maori or Pacific-Islanders, to come out and vote for him.

Grant Duncan is a member of the New Zealand Labour party.

Westconnex ‘won’t create city gridlock’

The $11.


5 billion WestConnex motorway won’t create bottlenecks in Sydney, the NSW government has assured, as construction of the huge transport project was announced.

The nation’s biggest transport project got the green light on Thursday at a joint press conference between Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay.

They’ve promised that besides shaving 40 minutes off a typical trip from Parramatta in the west to Sydney Airport, the network of roads and tunnels will create 10,000 jobs and enable “urban revitalisation” along the Parramatta Road corridor.

The NSW premier batted away concerns that the project’s first stage – which involves building three-lane tunnels under Parramatta Road to connect the motorway to the two-lane City-West Link – would create bottlenecks.

He said most of the traffic that would use the motorway would have left the road by then.

“Sixty per cent of traffic that will use this road don’t want to go to the CBD,” Mr O’Farrell told reporters.

“Not everyone in Sydney works in the CBD, stop being Sydney-centric.

“We’re confident this project will deliver what people need.”

The NSW government is putting $1.8 billion toward the project, and the federal government will pitch in $1.5 billion over four years.

The bulk of the funding is expected to come from distance-based tolling, which will be capped at $7.35 in today’s dollars by the time the 33-kilometre network is complete in 2023.

The charge for the initial widened M4 section of the network is likely to be between $1.50 and $3.90.

Mr O’Farrell said an expert taskforce would advise the government on where smoke stacks should be located.

But Mr Gay was unable to say where homes would be demolished.

“There will be very few,” he told reporters.

“We’ve brought the best brains in the country and the world together to come up with something that (will) cause the minimum amount of stress to the community.”

Community consultation will begin next month and construction is set to start in early 2015.

Comment: The drone war comes to Asia

It’s now been a year since Japan’s previously ruling liberal government purchased three of the Senkaku Islands to prevent a nationalist and provocative Tokyo mayor from doing so himself.


The move was designed to dodge a potential crisis with China, which claims “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands it calls the Diaoyus.

Disregarding the Japanese government’s intent, Beijing has reacted to the “nationalization” of the islands by flooding the surrounding waters and airspace with Chinese vessels to undermine Japan’s de facto administration, which has persisted since the reversion of Okinawa from American control in 1971. Chinese incursions have become so frequent that the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) are now scrambling jet fighters on a near-daily basis in response.

In the midst of this heightened tension, you could be forgiven for overlooking the news early in September that Japanese F-15s had again taken flight after Beijing graciously commemorated the one-year anniversary of Tokyo’s purchase by sending an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) toward the islands. But this wasn’t just another day at the office in the contested East China Sea: this was the first known case of a Chinese drone approaching the Senkakus.

Without a doubt, China’s drone adventure 100-miles north of the Senkakus was significant because it aggravated already abysmal relations between Tokyo and Beijing. Japanese officials responded to the incident by suggesting that Japan might have to place government personnel on the islands, a red line for Beijing that would have been unthinkable prior to the past few years of Chinese assertiveness.

But there’s a much bigger and more pernicious cycle in motion. The introduction of indigenous drones into Asia’s strategic environment — now made official by China’s maiden unmanned provocation — will bring with it additional sources of instability and escalation to the fiercely contested South and East China Seas. Even though no government in the region wants to participate in major power war, there is widespread and growing concern that military conflict could result from a minor incident that spirals out of control.

Unmanned systems could be just this trigger. They are less costly to produce and operate than their manned counterparts, meaning that we’re likely to see more crowded skies and seas in the years ahead. UAVs also tend to encourage greater risk-taking, given that a pilot’s life is not at risk. But being unmanned has its dangers: any number of software or communications failures could lead a mission awry. Combine all that with inexperienced operators and you have a perfect recipe for a mistake or miscalculation in an already tense strategic environment.

The underlying problem is not just the drones themselves. Asia is in the midst of transitioning to a new warfighting regime with serious escalatory potential. China’s military modernization is designed to deny adversaries freedom of maneuver over, on, and under the East and South China Seas. Although China argues that its strategy is primarily defensive, the capabilities it is choosing to acquire to create a “defensive” perimeter — long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft carriers, submarines — are acutely offensive in nature. During a serious crisis when tensions are high, China would have powerful incentives to use these capabilities, particularly missiles, before they were targeted by the United States or another adversary. The problem is that U.S. military plans and posture have the potential to be equally escalatory, as they would reportedly aim to “blind” an adversary — disrupting or destroying command and control nodes at the beginning of a conflict.

At the same time, the increasingly unstable balance of military power in the Pacific is exacerbated by the (re)emergence of other regional actors with their own advanced military capabilities. Countries that have the ability and resources to embark on rapid modernization campaigns (e.g., Japan, South Korea, Indonesia) are well on the way. This means that in addition to two great powers vying for military advantage, the region features an increasingly complex set of overlapping military-technical competitions that are accelerating tensions, adding to uncertainty and undermining stability.

This dangerous military dynamic will only get worse as more disruptive military technologies appear, including the rapid diffusion of unmanned and increasingly autonomous aerial and submersible vehicles coupled with increasingly effective offensive cyberspace capabilities.

One could take solace in Asia’s ability to manage these gnarly sources of insecurity if the region had demonstrated similar competencies elsewhere. But nothing could be further from the case. It has now been more than a decade since the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China signed a declaration “to promote a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea,” which was meant to be a precursor to a code of conduct for managing potential incidents, accidents, and crises at sea. But the parties are as far apart as ever, and that’s on well-trodden issues of maritime security with decades of legal and operational precedent to build upon.

It’s hard to be optimistic that the region will do better in an unmanned domain in which governments and militaries have little experience and where there remains a dearth of international norms, rules, and institutions from which to draw.

The rapid diffusion of advanced military technology is not a future trend. These capabilities are being fielded — right now — in perhaps the most geopolitically dangerous area in the world, over (and soon under) the contested seas of East and Southeast Asia. These risks will only increase with time as more disruptive capabilities emerge. In the absence of political leadership, these technologies could very well lead the region into war.

Shawn Brimley, Ben FitzGerald and Ely Ratner are, respectively, vice president, director of the Technology and National Security Program, and deputy director of the Asia Program at the Center for a New American Security.


© 2013, Foreign Policy

Comment: Australian drinking habits spirited away

New figures released by the Bureau of Statistics show that Australians consumed 184 million litres of pure alcohol in 2011-12, which is equivalent to ten litres per adult.


A massive 1.8 billion litres of beer was consumed, which provided the nation with 76 million litres of pure alcohol. But despite its popularity the figures also show that beer consumption is falling while wine consumption is gaining ground.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday released a set of figures on Australian alcohol consumption trends. The estimates are based on the amount of alcohol available for consumption using excise, import and sales figures.

In the 2011-12 financial year, beer was the most popular alcoholic drink in Australia. 1.8 billion litres were consumed by volume of fluid, which dwarfs the 545 million litres of wine consumed.

The chart above shows consumption levels based on pure alcohol content. Given the low alcohol content of beer relative to wine and spirits, the fairest comparison uses pure alcohol figures. Beer provided 41% of pure alcohol consumed, which is equivalent to 75.6 million litres. 69.3 million litres of wine was consumed, which provided 38% of the pure alcohol consumed by Australians.

The chart above shows the volume of pure alcohol consumed per adult for each decade from the 1960s to present. For the 2010s decade, data is only available up to the 2011-12 financial year.

We can see that since 1960, beer has generally been a far more popular tipple than wine or spirits, even when measuring by pure alcohol levels.

However, a clear trend has developed. Beer has gradually reduced in popularity from its peak of 8.75 litres of pure alcohol consumed per person during the 1970s to less than half that level during the current decade. Wine, meanwhile, is on an upward trajectory; almost trebling to 3.8 litres per person over a similar timeframe.

Based on current trends, it appears that wine will overtake beer as the most popular method of consuming alcohol at some point during this decade.

Spirits and pre-mixed drinks maintained fairly steady consumption levels from the 1960s to the 1990s. However, during the 2000s these drinks increased significantly in popularity, peaking in 2007-08 at 2.3 litres of pure alcohol consumed per Australian adult.

Consumption of beer in Australia has been on a downward trend over the past decade, which is a continuation of the trend seen since the 1960s. Overall consumption has dropped by about 20 litres per adult per year to 97 litres, which is equivalent to 4.1 litres of pure alcohol.

Full strength beer is classified as having more than 3.5% alcohol content and has dropped from 89 litres consumed per adult per year to 74 litres.  Low strength beer has dropped in popularity at an even faster rate, more than halving to a mere 6.2 litres per adult. However, mid strength beer has taken up some of the slack and is the only category to have increased in popularity during the timeframe, having increased 25% by volume.

White wine was consistently more popular than red wine during the decade to 2011-12. Both forms of wine have increased in popularity, although red wine has slightly outpaced white wine during the period. Red wine increased by 11% whereas white wine increased by 7%.

Overall, wine consumption has increased from about 26 litres per adult per year to 30 litres during the period. This is equivalent to 3.8 litres of pure alcohol consumed and represents a 15% rise over the decade.

John Elliott is a freelance data-driven writer originally from Scotland but now based in Brisbane.

Skaf rapist smiles after parole granted

Mohammed Sanoussi, the notorious Skaf gang rapist, gave the briefest of smiles when he found out he was soon going to be a free man.


It has been a long journey to freedom for the 29-year-old who has been in jail since he was 16 after getting convicted of rapes that shocked the country.

He has applied for parole four times and it was initially granted a fortnight ago, on the condition he did not associate with the Brothers For Life gang.

But it was revoked a day later when it emerged that his two brothers were charged with brutally bashing a cleaner at Revesby in Sydney’s southwest within hours of his hearing.

The State Parole Authority said Sanoussi’s post-release accommodation was unsuitable because his brothers, who are known gang members, lived there.

On Thursday, with his head shaved and wearing his prison greens, Sanoussi listened attentively at his parole hearing as the famous Sydney barrister Charles Waterstreet argued that he had paid the price for his actions and that parole should be reinstated.

“He was been long inside, he has done all the courses,” Mr Waterstreet told the hearing in Parramatta on Thursday.

“It’s not his fault his brothers acted in this way.

“The delay is something that would aggravate someone who was supposed to be out.

“His parents probably need to see him as much as he needs to see them.”

Paul Nash, who was representing Corrective Services, tried to delay the parole until there was stability in his living arrangements but this was rejected.

After a considering period that lasted no longer than two minutes, judge Terence Christie conceded that his brother’s crimes had nothing to do with him.

He ordered that Sanoussi be released next month and by October 10 at the latest.

He ordered that he live in a half-way house until he finds independent accommodation or until his two brothers move out of the family home.

Sanoussi was also told not to be in contact with his two brothers Ahmed and Mahmoud Sanoussi, unless he gets permission from his supervising officer.

Sanoussi was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the August 2000 gang rapes of young girls in isolated Sydney locations.

The attacks involved 14 men and were led by brothers Bilal and Mohammed Skaf.

Bilal Skaf is serving a 36-year prison term, while Mohammed Skaf is serving a 23-year prison term.

The parole authority has said it expects to free another member of the notorious gang, who can only be identified as Offender H, at a separate public hearing next month.

I had tackle count concerns: Raper

Dumped NRL referees boss Stuart Raper admitted he was concerned about successor Daniel Anderson’s new tackle count system before it spectacularly failed in North Queensland’s controversial finals loss.


And Raper conceded scrutiny over Cronulla’s now infamous seventh-tackle try would only add more pressure on whistleblowers in the NRL finals but was confident mistakes would not determine the 2013 premier.

Raper and Bill Harrigan were let go as NRL referees co-coaches after a controversial 2012 season was capped by Manly scoring off an undetected Kieran Foran knock-on, which contributed to knocking the Cowboys out of the finals.

Twelve months later Anderson is feeling the heat after the tackle count system Raper claimed was introduced this year let North Queensland down in their 20-18 loss to Cronulla.

Raper admitted he had a problem with Anderson using a system in which referees used different methods to count tackles rather than verbalising every one.

Anderson has since reverted to referees calling out each tackle after sacking all six officials responsible for last week’s debacle.

“That concerned me when they changed it because you need to communicate in the ruck,” Raper told AAP.

“I thought they were going to have a drama with it.

“It is the first thing the referee should be doing, counting tackles.

“They don’t make basic errors like that anymore in refereeing, because usually there are fail-safe mechanisms.

“I can’t remember the last time a seventh tackle try has occurred in a game.”

Raper admitted more mistakes would be made in the NRL finals but did not believe teams should be nervous that a referee could cost them their season.

“It (seventh tackle try debacle) puts a lot of pressure on the referees,” Raper said.

“Everyone is worried a bad call can dictate a game but it is very rare such a black and white call goes against a team.

“A lot of people say they have been dudded by the referee but usually they are matters of opinion, grey areas.

“There are still going to be disputed calls and referees will make errors in those grey areas.

“But teams should not be nervous of a basic error happening again.”

Raper said he felt for the Cowboys but believed the refereeing howler did not cost them the game.

“It was a bad decision by the referee but there was 73 minutes left of football,” he said.

Raper rated the seventh tackle fiasco “worse” than the 2012 Foran knock-on now dubbed the “Hand of Foz” which sealed his fate as NRL referees co-coach.

But he believed the refereeing standard this year was “at the same level” as 2012.

“People might laugh because I was involved in it last year but at the end of the day the referees are still doing a pretty good job,” he said.

“Last week they made one error in the whole game.”