Australians going to fight with extremist groups in the Middle East are dying as fast as they are arriving, meaning that the total number of fighters has remained stable at about 70, security agency ASIO has revealed.
ASIO deputy director-general Kerri Hartland told a Senate hearing on Thursday that the organisation knew of at least 20 Australians who have now been killed in Syria and Iraq while fighting with groups such as the Islamic State.
“The overall number of Australians currently fighting with or supporting Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq has remained consistent over recent months,” Ms Hartland said.
“However, this does not reflect a reduction in the number of Australian travellers. Instead it reflects the relatively high casualty rate for Australians, with the numbers of new arrivals roughly keeping pace with the fatalities.”
Ms Hartland also revealed ASIO had recommended to the foreign minister the cancellation of nearly 100 passports of Australians they suspected of wanting to fight in the Syria-Iraq conflict, with about half of those cases this year alone.
The government’s policy of cancelling passports came under fire from Queensland Liberal-National Senator Barry O’Sullivan, who said most ordinary voters would rather the government let them go.
“If I’ve got a frustrated terrorist, my preference would be to have the frustrated terrorist somewhere else other than within Australia,” he told the committee.
Senator O’Sullivan said “most freethinking voters” felt that if people were suspected of being terrorists they should be arrested or, if there was not sufficient evidence to arrest them, they should be allowed to travel.
He said Australians were worried about “frustrated” extremists returning to the suburbs after being prevented from travelling.
“The average punter would be happy for you to let them go, in fact encourage them … That’s the mood down here in punter land,” he said.
But Attorney-General George Brandis said Australia was obliged to stop its citizens contributing to the swelling problem of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, who number about 12,000, including about 3000 from the West.
Australia had signed up to a United Nations resolution pledging signatories to “assume a common obligation to the passage across their borders of foreign fighters”.
“If all the nations of the world observed (this), then there wouldn’t be any more foreign fighters going to this war,” he said.
Senator Brandis added that some Australian fighters, particular younger ones, were similar to cult members who were being “ensnared” by a “death cult” like the Islamic State group.
“I myself don’t think that we should blithely let an Australian adolescent who is foolish enough to have been ensnared by a cult just go overseas where he might blow himself up and blow up another 20 people in Iraq. I think we should stop that.”
Emergency services are now armed with new technology.As you’ve probably already guessed over these several unusually wet weeks, NSW State Emergency Service is expecting this storm season to be a particularly bad one and is arming itself with smartphones and tablets, and will get the help of a supercomputer.
SES volunteers will for the first time be able to access the main system using smartphones and tablets while they’re out on the ground and respond to emergency calls as they come.
“I was out at Penrith a few weeks ago when the storm was happening and found the crew on the ground going ‘how good is this’. They had their tablet there and could see that they had a job here, two jobs around the corner, and exactly what they had to do,” NSW SES Acting Commissioner Jim Smith said.
The new beacon system, launched just in time for the worst of the storm season, has moved the service’s management system to the cloud allowing calls to be categorised by urgency and viewed and actioned in real time by the closest SES units.
The system has been successfully used by crews to provide more than 10,400 hours of assistance services since it became functional in October. During the next few months, SES is expecting to beat the 90,000 hours spent on the ground last storm season.
Police and Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres said: “I think it puts NSW well ahead of the pack when it comes to utilising technology.
“What this means is we can get out there faster, we can respond more effectively and we can deal with more than we’ve been able to before.”
The new system was built in-house over 18 months for about $1 million and will replace the ageing RFA Online system that could no longer handle the increasing workload.
As well as improving response times, SES is also expecting to better detect emergencies with the help of a new Bureau of Meteorology supercomputer that will provide “much more accurate predictions of where storms are going to hit, which will allow [SES] to stand up specific units much quicker”, said Mr Smith.
“At present we often get maps showing that it’s going to affect all of Sydney, which is quite difficult for us to prepare for.
“I met with the head of the bureau last week and we’re hoping to get much better results for storms.”
The new supercomputer is expected to be in operation by mid-2016 and will also improve predictions for fires, floods and cyclones.
Local councillor Susai Benjamin wants the next step to be real-time information for the community.
“I think there should be some indication of how long someone will get there in,” Cr Benjamin said. “I think it’s important to keep the affected party informed.”
No free lunch: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants developers and home owners to carry some of the NBN costs. Photo: David MariuzWould-be rivals to the government’s NBN wholesale broadband services will face a cap on the charges they can reap from internet retailers under new rules unveiled on Thursday.
The rules were flagged in the government’s response to the Vertigan Review of NBN and will buttress the state-owned business from private sector attempts to cherry pick highly profitable locations such as inner-city apartment buildings.
The government is also doing away with cross-subsidies, which currently part of NBN Co’s wholesale pricing, and will force owners of high-speed networks, targeting residential and small business customers in commercially viable areas, comparable to NBN, to make contributions to help fund the less viable areas, such as regional and rural Australia.
Under a new carrier licence condition that will come into effect on January 1, 2015, internet service providers (ISPs) providing superfast broadband to residential customers will be forced to split their retail and wholesale businesses.
Those companies will need to “operate their networks and retail operations at an arm’s length”.
ISPs will also be able to charge no more than $27 a month for 25/5 megabits per second, 25 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload, to other retail providers through their wholesale business. This licence will remain in place for two years as a transitional measure.
The move is aimed at preventing ISPs such as TPG, which is building its on fibre-to-the-basement network in more profitable metropolitan areas, from cherry picking retail customers and locking out other providers.
NBN Co is required to provide broadband to all Australians, with emphasis on underserved areas.
TPG used a clause that allows networks built before 2011 to be extended by an extra kilometre to get around laws designed to stop NBN Co from having any competition.
TPG plans to connect 500,000 apartments and businesses to its FTTB network, offering similar services to the National Broadband Network.
The announcements are part of the government’s response to 53 recommendations made by the Vertigan Review in October.
At the same time proposed legislation was released that will see developers and home owners in new premises bear some of the costs of NBN installation.
The proposal would see the introduction of a $300 connection charge, which the government expects to be passed on to end-users, as well as a deployment charge on developers for infrastructure; $600 for single-dwelling units and $400 for multi-dwelling units.
The government is also proposing that property developers pay for pit and pipe infrastructure and a trial process where developers will sell the infrastructure back to NBN Co at “a pre-determined price”.
“NBN Co has been able to provide ‘free’ infrastructure in part because it recovers these costs later from access charges, but also because it is supported by taxpayers,” the government said in the draft policy paper.
“While NBN Co’s size and reach will always be advantages, the measures in this policy update will significantly level the playing field. Developers and end-users will both need to make larger upfront contributions.”
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said in a joint statement that the charges were consistent with other charges for the provision of infrastructure in new developments.
“It will foster competition, which will benefit developers and consumers by increasing choice and putting downward pressure on costs,” the said.
Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said the move was an unfair hit to new home buyers.
“It means that if you buy an existing home you don’t have to pay anything extra for the NBN,” Mr Clare said. “Your taxes pay for it. But if you buy a new home, you have to pay for it twice.”
The infrastructure policy would come into effect on March 1, 2015.
Bridal waltz: Greg Bird on his wedding day with new bride, Becky. Greg Bird’s week from hell just got worse after he broke down at training on Wednesday with a knee injury.
On the same day he fronted a Titans tribunal to explain why he urinated on or near a car the day after his wedding, the Gold Coast co-captain raised fears at a regulation training session. Titans medical staff believe he has a minor strain to his medial ligament and will have precautionary scans.
Bird admitted his actions were “stupid” and he admitted he had put a “dampener” on wedding celebrations after receiving an infringement notice from police after leaving the Beach Hotel, where he was having dinner with his wife and friends. Bird and James Roberts faced the Gold Coast Titans’ disciplinary committee hearing on Wednesday. Roberts was arrested and charged with being a public nuisance following an incident in Surfers Paradise in October but the charges were subsequently dropped.
Bird is one of the highest-profile players in the game, finally tasting success at State of Origin level after his beloved Blues ended Queensland’s domination earlier this year. There has been speculation he may be stripped of the Titans’ captaincy following his latest indiscretion, but teammate Aiden Sezer hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
“Birdy is one of our leaders, he leads from the front,” Sezer said at Auckland Nines jersey launch in Sydney. “The club obviously have their policies and procedures and we can’t do much as players. He wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s our captain and that’s the way it is until now.”
The Titans released a statement on Thursday night: “The Gold Coast Titans Disciplinary hearings for Greg Bird and James Roberts concluded a short time ago. The finalisation of the process will occur overnight where the Titans Board members will be contacted to ratify the recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee. The Titans will formally announce the outcome at some stage tomorrow.”
A small shared Bankstown apartment, an old sedan, a job as a waiter and dole payments– such was the world of Vietnamese refugee Peter Tan Hoang.
Except for the $1 billion that he gambled at Australia’s biggest casino, Crown, in little more than a decade.
Hoang, 36, was shot in the face in September while waiting on a darkened Sydney suburban street. His murder has police baffled, but has also shone a light on a massive money-laundering scheme for a global crime syndicate with links across Asia and the Americas.
Hoang’s story, his rise from a Vietnamese-born orphan living on a refugee visa to one of Australia’s biggest gamblers and money launderers, also raises concerns about how he was able to rort the system for so long and for so much money – particularly at Australia’s biggest casino, Crown in Melbourne.
Court documents from a recent case reveal Hoang ran as much as $1 billion in black cash through Crown between 2000 and 2012. He also gambled under four different names and received perks including overseas holidays, cash gifts of as much as $100,000, and gambling “commissions” in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Australian Crime Commission estimates at least $10 billion a year is laundered in and through Australia; other estimates suggest it is higher. Much of that money is the result of drug trafficking. Most federal crime agencies in Australia acknowledge they face an increasingly monumental struggle against global crime groups seeking to launder their multibillion-dollar narcotics profits here.
Despite being targeted during a 2005 – 2006 Australian Crime Commission operation dubbed Operation Gordian, and with a series of intelligence reports revealing his role as a drug trafficker and money launderer, Hoang remained a fixture at Crown until he was charged with money laundering in late 2012.
Hoang was also involved with several Vietnamese-Australian drug trafficking syndicates in Sydney and Melbourne. NSW police Homicide Squad commander, Mick Willing, said there was little doubt Hoang’s background in Asian organised criminal syndicates played a role in his death.
“We have certainly considered that he was involved in drug trafficking and moving money through casinos. [That] may have been a catalyst for his death,” Mr Willing said.
Born in Vietnam in 1977, Hoang arrived in Australia in 1997 on a student visa and an Indonesian passport under the name Petrus Keyn Peten. Within months he had applied for refugee status, under the name Minh Tan Nguyen. By 2001 he had become an Australian citizen, and changed his name twice more.
By the time he had become a citizen he had already been banned from Sydney’s casino, The Star. Law enforcement officials speaking to 7.30 on condition of anonymity said he became a professional money launderer, gambling millions in the profits of heroin and other drug sales.
Intelligence gathered by state and federal law enforcement agencies during the mid 2000s suggests Hoang was involved with a group of Vietnamese-Australians that formed the Australian end of a Hong Kong-based crime group known as Ong Ngoai – or “grandfather” in Vietnamese.
Ong Ngoai is a global drug-trafficking syndicate with links across Asia and North and South America. Australian police have identified at least two dozen drug syndicates here with links to it.
Michael Purchas was the brains behind Operation Gordian and spent months watching Vietnamese-Australian criminals, including Hoang, sell drugs and launder the profits. “He was a known gambler at casinos., [Hoang] would certainly deal with other people’s money at casinos under instructions,” he said.
Gordian was hailed as a breakthrough investigation into money laundering and resulted in the convictions of members of a small group Vietnamese-Australians responsible for laundering about $93 million in drug profits in a year. At the time Hoang was only a peripheral figure and managed to slip the police dragnet.
He continued to be involved in heroin trafficking and other illicit drugs. The amount of money he laundered through casinos – primarily Crown – also increased.
His luck ran out in October 2012, when he was arrested in a high-roller room at Crown casino attempting to gamble with $1.5 million cash that police alleged was the proceeds of crime. The court case revealed he had bought about $75 million worth of chips at Crown between 2000 and 2012, which equalled a gambling turnover of at least $225 million, possibly as high as $1 billion.
“This is an amazing amount of money,” said Deakin university social scientist and author of a book on Crown casino, Professor Linda Hancock.
“He would be accounting for a very high proportion of gambled funds. He would be what’s called in the business, ‘a person of interest’, so you would think that there would be a trigger between any casino and the police for such a person.”
While Crown did report many of Hoang’s transactions to federal authorities asitis required to, it also provided him a slew of perks and benefits not available tomost gamblers.
He was allowed to have four different identities at the casino – Pete Hoang, James and John Ho and Patrick Lu – and received free business class flights, accommodation, and alcohol, as well as cash gifts of up to $100,000.
The case also revealed his remarkable gambling patterns. A hearing in June this year received evidence that during the month of September 2012 he bought more than $9 million in chips and played the card game baccarat at an average of $106,000 per hand.
The casino paid him a commission based on the amount he had gambled, and that month he earned $199,000 as a result of his high-stakes gambling.
Crown casino declined to answer specific questions about Hoang’s treatment, but did say: “Crown is and has been for some time assisting state and federal law enforcement agencies regarding Mr Hoang and we will continue to do so.”
For more on this story, watch ABC’s 7.30 on Wednesday.