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Climate authority puts RET review on ice

The Climate Change Authority has quietly commissioned research it hopes will prove “useful” should it need to proceed with its review of the renewable energy target (RET).

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The climate advisory body will conduct a study into ways of reducing emissions in the electricity sector, including in relation to both the RET and the Abbott government’s climate change policy.

It’s required by law to conduct a review of the RET which mandates that 20 per cent of all electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. This has to be completed by the end of the year.

But the government wants the authority abolished by the incoming Senate which starts sitting in July and has appointed its own panel to examine the renewables scheme instead.

The authority has put its RET review on the backburner while its future remains uncertain but it will now conduct a separate study on the electricity sector it hopes will make a “constructive contribution” to policy development.

It plans to commission electricity market specialists to provide modelling as part of its research. It will feed this into its official RET review should the authority survive beyond July.

“If the authority were not abolished, the research would form useful background information for its own RET review,” an authority spokeswoman told AAP in a statement.

The study won’t be formally submitted to the government but a research paper is expected to be released in June, around the same time the government’s RET panel is due to report back.

While it is not outside the remit of the authority to commission independent research, this surprise study has alienated some politicians.

Liberal senator Anne Ruston has questioned why the authority not only approved this unsolicited research but sought funding for it when the government’s agenda was clear.

“I just don’t understand what the motivation would have been to have undertaken this when it was quite clear that we were trying to wind down the operations of your authority,” she told a Senate estimates committee this week.

Authority CEO Anthea Harris insisted they weren’t running a competing RET study, describing it as “preparatory work” in case they needed to finish their statutory review by December 31.

A spokesman for environment minister Greg Hunt said the Government stands by its policy of abolishing the authority by June 30.

But he said it would consider any material prepared by the independent body.

First pictures of Peter Greste behind bars

The first pictures have emerged of journalist Peter Greste caged behind bars in a Cairo courtroom.

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SBS Dateline has gained exclusive access to the footage of last week’s court hearing for a story to be broadcast on tonight’s program.

They show the Australian journalist and some of his co-accused in cages inside the courtroom, shouting to their supporters through the bars.

It’s a scene which shocked Peter’s brother Andrew, who’d travelled from Brisbane to lobby for his release.

“It was shocking… how you expect animals to be treated,” he tells SBS Correspondent Brett Mason, but says the family must remain strong.

“If I focus on Peter’s situation, where he is and the conditions that he’s living in, it would break your heart.”

“He’s my brother and family… and we’d drop anything for family.”

Peter Greste’s family live in Queensland and New South Wales, and have been reluctantly thrust into the spotlight by events in Egypt.

The Al Jazeera reporter is among 20 people accused of ‘airing false news’ about Egypt and supporting the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood – the party of ousted President Morsi.

Tonight, Dateline meets his family at home as they struggle to take on board what’s happened, and travels with Andrew as he leaves behind his farm in outback New South Wales to support his brother.

“I’m not an expert in international law or diplomacy or media or anything like that, so all of it’s a bit nerve wracking,” he tells Brett.

And when Andrew emerged from Peter’s court appearance, he was surrounded by a huge crowd of media.

“I wasn’t expecting this sort of interest in front of the prison,” he says. “I’m a cotton and grain grower… definitely the lifestyle I lead at home is not in front of the camera.”

Peter was refused bail and his case was adjourned until 5th March. Andrew will remain in Cairo until then.

See Brett’s full story on the family behind the headlines, A Brother’s Plea, on Dateline tonight at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.

Israel bombs Hezbollah target

Israel, bent on halting any transfer of weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has bombarded a position of the powerful Shi’ite group on the Lebanese-Syrian border.

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“Two Israeli raids hit a Hezbollah target on the border of Lebanon and Syria” on Monday night, a Lebanese security source told AFP.

Lebanon’s National News Agency said the raids struck outside the border town of Nabi Sheet, a Hezbollah bastion where its fighters are suspected of maintaining a weapons store and training camp.

Residents told AFP they saw flares light up the sky ahead of the raids, which shook their houses.

They said they heard planes flying low and that the target appeared to be a Hezbollah position in the nearby mountains.

There was no official comment on the raids from Hezbollah, the Lebanese government or Syria, although the army said there had been Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace.

Hezbollah is an arch-enemy of Israel, and has sent thousands of fighters across the border to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as it battles Sunni-led rebels.

Syria has long provided arms and other aid to Hezbollah, and served as a conduit for Iranian military aid to the movement, which battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in a brief 2006 war.

Israeli officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down refrained from commenting specifically on Monday night’s reported raid although they confirmed a policy of interdiction of suspected arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

“We are doing everything that is necessary in order to defend the security of Israel,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

“We will not say what we’re doing or what we’re not doing.”

2nd Test pitch helped us beat Mitch: Amla

Hashim Amla concedes a more placid pitch was one of the main reasons South Africa handled Mitchell Johnson with relative ease in the second Test.

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Johnson claimed career-best Test figures of 12-127 in the opening match on a bouncy Centurion pitch, also striking brutal blows to the helmets, hands and forearms of the opposition.

In Port Elizabeth, Johnson was restricted to match figures of 3-121 and rarely had Amla and his teammates ducking and weaving.

Amla, who returned to form with a match-high 127 at St George’s Park, suggested the surface helped his side see off Johnson’s new-ball spells.

“It was a lot more batter-friendly compared to Centurion,” he said.

“The wicket was vastly different. The one on Centurion was a lot harder and had a lot more variable bounce.

“For any team, when you’ve got variable bounce, it’s a lot more difficult to face. This wicket was a lot more true and the pace was a bit slower as well.”

Amla noted it was too early to predict what sort of pitch would be prepared for the series decider at Newlands, but said his side headed to Cape Town with confidence.

“Newlands has been a happy ground for the Proteas over the last few years, but the Aussies are a good team,” he said.

“Without a doubt, winning the second Test gives you a bit more momentum – a bit more confidence in the team; guys got hundreds and guys bowled well.

“It’s a better situation to be in going into a series decider.”

Amla went seven innings without a score of substance, but Proteas skipper Graeme Smith said nobody in the team doubted his form.

“He’s incredible. It’s a natural part of sport – and life – that you’re going to have little dips and up-curves,” Smith said.

“It really meant a lot to all of us to see him respond.

“It was great to see Hash bounce back from a small, small thing.”

Nigeria school attack leaves 43 dead

Suspected Boko Haram Islamists killed 43 people when they attacked secondary school students as they slept in the latest school massacre to hit Nigeria’s troubled northeast.

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The raid at 2am local time on Tuesday targeted the Federal Government College in the town of Buni Yadi in Yobe state and bore the hallmarks of a similar attack last September in which 40 died.

The attackers reportedly hurled explosives into student residential buildings, sprayed gunfire into rooms and hacked a number students to death.

A senior medical source at the Sani Abacha Specialist Hospital in Yobe’s capital Damaturu said the gunmen only targeted male students and that female students were “spared”.

“So far, 43 bodies have been brought (from the college) and are lying at the morgue,” said the source, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss death tolls.

Yobe has been one of the hardest areas in Boko Haram’s four-and-half year Islamist uprising, which has killed thousands of people.

The name Boko Haram means “Western Education is forbidden”.

The group has been blamed for waves of school attacks, especially in Yobe, where scores of students have been slaughtered in the last year.

The state’s police chief, Sanusi Rufai, who confirmed the attack and had given an earlier death toll of 29, was headed to Buni Yadi, roughly 60km from Damaturu, with Governor Ibrahim Geidam to assess the damage.

Damaturu resident Babagoni Musa told AFP that four ambulances carrying dead bodies drove past his shop, which falls on the road from Buni Yadi.

“They had tree branches on them which is a sign used here to signify a corpse is in a vehicle,” he said.

People whose relatives were studying at the college had surrounded the morgue and were desperately seeking information about those killed, forcing the military take control of the building to restore calm, the hospital source said.

Yobe is one of three northeastern states which was placed under emergency rule in May last year when the military launched a massive operation to crush the Boko Haram uprising.

Ukraine a pawn in high-stakes global game

By Stefan Wolff, University of Birmingham and Tatyana Malyarenko, Donetsk State Management University

It was just last Friday that the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych and three leaders of the parliamentary opposition – Vitaliy Klichko, Oleh Tyahnibok, and Arsenij Yatseniuk – signed an agreement on how to end the two-month crisis that has engulfed Ukraine.

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They did so as the protests turned increasingly violent, with up to 100 people killed in the days immediately before the agreement.

Witnessed by the foreign ministers of France, Poland and Germany, the agreement was hailed as another major success of EU diplomacy. A special envoy of the Russian president had also participated in the negotiations, but refused to sign the agreement as a witness, arguing that it was difficult to see how it could be implemented.

That gloomy assessment unfortunately proved accurate. The agreement, among other things, optimistically laid the ground for the restoration of the 2004 constitution of Ukraine, the formation of a national unity government, constitutional revisions to limit presidential powers, presidential elections, and an amnesty.

But within three days, President Yanukovych had been impeached by parliament and a warrant for his arrest had been issued after he left Kiev on Saturday, insisting that he did not resign, and apparently disappeared entirely by Sunday. Meanwhile, protests in Kiev’s Independence Square continue, encouraged (to a mixed reception) by former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, newly freed from prison.

Demonstrations have also escalated elsewhere in the country in response to the agreement and its subsequent partial annulment. They extend even to Yanukovych’s presumptive stronghold in the southeast. Meanwhile, in the western parts of Ukraine, where pro-Western and nationalist Ukrainian sentiment are strongest, protesters established so-called People’s Councils – alternative and informal parallel structures of governance at the local level – that have assumed control of local administrations and security forces. These “takeovers” took place before the agreement was signed and continues at the time of writing, highlighting the long-standing fragility of the Ukrainian state and its institutions.

Meanwhile, tensions have also escalated between Russia on the one hand and the US and the EU on the other. Russia has condemned the developments in Ukraine since the agreement was signed as an unconstitutional, Western-backed coup, while the US and the EU have warned Russia not to stoke Ukraine’s continuing crisis.

Deep trouble

There are some fairly obvious underlying problems perpetuating the Ukrainian crisis. For one thing, only the current government and the parliamentary opposition were party to the agreement; the opposition in the streets were left out in the cold.

 

On top of this, the parliamentary opposition is not homogeneous in its composition or political platforms; it is neither fully representative of the the protesters in Independence Square nor in any position to control them. In fact, many of the protesters, who themselves are highly heterogeneous and have no unified leadership either, deeply distrust the parliamentary opposition, and see it to some extent as part of the same corrupt system to which they are opposed.

 

Another problem is that Ukraine has become a pawn in a much larger geopolitical game with significantly higher stakes. The current crisis was triggered by Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union, arguably under significant pressure and incentives from Russia. For both the EU and Russia, Ukraine is a valued prize in the competition for influence in the post-Soviet borderlands, similar to Georgia and Moldova but much more important because of its size, its strategic location, and its potential to destabilise the entire Black Sea region – and NATO and EU borders along with it.

That said, Ukraine’s fundamental problem is not really whether it faces east towards Russia or west towards the EU, the US and potentially NATO. The really pressing issue is whether Ukrainians have a choice about their country’s direction and whether they can take for granted the rule of law and the protection of their human rights as they go about making that choice.

While the EU has steadily worked on improving the rule of law and the protection of human rights across the area of the Eastern Partnership, in which Ukraine is a strategic “target”, this is still a long-term work in progress. The Association Agreement was just one step along the road in an environment of taut geopolitical competition. When Yanukovych brushed the Association Agreement aside, the geopolitical dimension of the EU’s engagement in the region suddenly became more open than ever.

 

The result is an elite-level agreement that can at best be interpreted as an attempt to foster a political situation in which Ukraine’s underlying governance problems can finally be addressed. But so long as the agendas of domestic and external actors remain as disparate as they are today, the prospects for this look bleak indeed.

 

Neither Russia nor the EU and US has a clear interest in further escalation, but it is equally hard to see any incentive for Russia to work with the West to calm the crisis. Yanukovych may have been disowned by his Party of the Regions and a “unity government” including the parliamentary opposition may have been formed, but this has simply entrenched rather than done away with an essentially dysfunctional and corrupt governance system. Many of the Maidan protesters rightly loathe it, and they are very unlikely to lend it any support.

Given the depth of these problems, Ukraine’s crisis is certain to continue. Any effort to resolve it in a sustainable way will require a more comprehensive agreement and the breathing space to negotiate it – neither of which will be possible without highly responsible and strategic leadership in Kiev, Moscow, Brussels and Washington.

Stefan Wolff currently receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK.

Tatyana Malyarenko 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.

Asylum seekers say Australia blew up boat

Two dozen asylum seekers stranded in Indonesia say Australian authorities blew up the boat that was carrying them toward Christmas Island then sent them back in a lifeboat, Indonesian officials say.

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The Indonesia Search and Rescue Agency evacuated 26 migrants after the local navy found the lifeboat stranded on Monday near Agropeni beach in Kebumen district of Central Java.

Australia’s new policy of using lifeboats to send back asylum seekers found in unseaworthy vessels has angered Indonesia, which sees it as a breach of sovereignty.

The asylum seekers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Iran are being held at the local immigration office in the nearby district of Cilacap, said Imam Prawira, the office’s head of investigation and enforcement.

Prawira said, according a Pakistani migrant, they were rejected near the maritime border by Australia, which transferred them into the lifeboat.

Kebumen police Capt Warsidi said two of three Indonesian crew were being questioned while another escaped.

According to Kebumen police, the migrants left for Christmas Island from West Java last Wednesday.

Three days later, they arrived near the border but were intercepted by an Australian warship which blew up their wooden boat.

Australia bought unsinkable lifeboats as part of its policy to deter such boat journeys, but it has refused to confirm the boats’ use in sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

The orange lifeboat was equipped with television, navigation equipment, batteries and foods, police said.

It was the second lifeboat with turned-back asylum seekers stranded in Java’s southern coast this month.

Australian Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison’s office on Tuesday refused to comment on the latest lifeboat arrival. A statement cited a policy of keeping border protection activities secret.

Indonesia’s vast chain of islands is a popular transit point for people fleeing war-torn countries to reach Australia.

But Australia’s new government has instituted new policies and refuses to resettle even genuine refugees who arrive by boat, instead sending them to Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the South Pacific.