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At Sue Schmidt’s gas station and roadhouse off a remote highway in the Australian Outback, employees usually watch out for snakes when they are walking outside. But this week, they were looking for something else: A tiny capsule of radioactive material that sparked a search along a roughly 900-mile stretch of the road. The capsule, used in mine equipment, went missing while in transit from a Rio Tinto PLC mine to Perth, Western Australia’s state capital. As the search dragged on over the past week, Ms. Schmidt and her employees grew wary of cleaning up the bottle caps and coins that they usually find outside the roadhouse, fearing that any shiny object could be the capsule that would hit them with a dangerous dose of radiation.
Western Australia state’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services crews had been searching for the tiny capsule. SYDNEY—A tiny capsule containing radioactive material that sparked a massive search over hundreds of miles of highway in the Australian Outback has been found, authorities said Wednesday. The success “is testament to amazing inter-agency teamwork in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds,” Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Twitter.
Western Australia state’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services crews had been searching for the tiny capsule. A tiny capsule containing radioactive material that sparked a search over hundreds of miles of highway in the Australian Outback has been found, authorities said Wednesday. The success “is testament to amazing inter-agency teamwork in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds,” Western Australia state’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Twitter.
SYDNEY— Chris Hipkins , a lawmaker best known for serving as New Zealand’s Covid-19 minister, is poised to become the country’s next leader after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier in the week that she would step down. Mr. Hipkins, a minister who currently oversees the education, police and public service portfolios, told reporters on Saturday that he is the only nominee to lead New Zealand’s center-left Labour Party, setting him up to become prime minister. Mr. Hipkins still needs to win a party vote, but political analysts said that is now effectively a formality.
SYDNEY— Jacinda Ardern ‘s tough response to the Covid-19 pandemic catapulted her party to a historic election landslide in late 2020. But about a year later, her popularity began to wane. New Zealand’s strict border closure, designed to keep out the virus, was hurting tourism businesses, educational institutions and other sectors that relied on visitors, foreign students and workers from overseas. Auckland, the country’s biggest city, was still locked down for several months near the end of 2021. New Zealanders were frustrated that their bigger neighbor, Australia, appeared to be reopening faster.
SYDNEY—New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would step down by Feb. 7 after over five years as leader, as the country grapples with the prospect of a recession stemming partly from its strict response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms. Ardern, 42 years old, has struggled to reverse her Labour Party’s slide in the polls ahead of an election due later this year, and said on Thursday that she lacked the energy to do the job. It marks a turnaround for a leader whose pandemic policies, including lengthy border closures, helped her party to a landslide win in the last election in 2020.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Step Down
  + stars: | 2023-01-19 | by ( Mike Cherney | ) www.wsj.com   time to read: 1 min
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she is proud of what she has accomplished during her time as leader. SYDNEY—New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would step down by Feb. 7 after 5½ years as leader because she lacks the energy to do the job ahead of an election later this year. “I know what this job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice,” Ms. Ardern said Thursday. “But I absolutely believe and know there are others around me who do.”
SYDNEY—When Australia’s military acquired a fleet of European-made helicopters to fly troops into combat, it planned to operate the aircraft for decades. But there was a problem: The door wasn’t wide enough to allow its self-defense gun to fire while special-operations forces were rappelling to the ground. A new gun mount was designed that could be stowed quickly, but the weapon still couldn’t be fired while troops exited the aircraft. Military commanders said two helicopters might be needed for some missions so one could provide cover while soldiers disembarked from the other.
SYDNEY—Before floodwaters surrounded Geoff Davis’s home in the Australian Outback, the 67-year-old moved vehicles to higher ground and stacked freezers on tables to keep them from getting submerged. But the severity of the flood, which spread as wide as 30 miles in places, caught Mr. Davis by surprise. The freezers floated away. The cars were inundated. Mr. Davis, who lives near the Western Australian town of Fitzroy Crossing, decided to stay at home, but his family was picked up by a nephew in a boat and fled.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or Himars, involves trucks that can carry satellite-guided rockets and strike targets up to about 185 miles away with high precision. SYDNEY—Australia said it will acquire a highly mobile, U.S.-built rocket system that can strike targets from far behind the front lines, the latest step by the U.S. ally to beef up its military amid increased competition with China in the region. The system, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or Himars, has gained prominence after being used effectively by Ukrainian forces against Russia. The system involves trucks that can carry satellite-guided rockets and strike targets up to about 185 miles away with high precision.
SYDNEY—Wayne Hills, an abattoir worker in New Zealand’s South Island, blames his emphysema on years of smoking before he kicked the habit three decades ago. Still, the 64-year-old is uneasy about a new law in the country that some have called the strongest antitobacco regulation in the world. The law, which was passed by New Zealand’s parliament this week, bans the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after 2008. It will also require that in about two years, nicotine levels in cigarettes be reduced significantly so that they are no longer addictive. The number of retail shops allowed to sell cigarettes will be cut by 90% by the end of 2023.
President Biden held a summit in September with Pacific island leaders in Washington aimed at signaling the U.S. commitment to the region. The U.S. is trying to shore up its influence among Pacific island nations against China’s inroads in the region. First, the U.S. Postal Service needs to get on board.
U.S. Plans Broad Increase of Military Presence in Australia
  + stars: | 2022-12-07 | by ( Mike Cherney | ) www.wsj.com   time to read: +1 min
Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Richard Marles, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a joint news conference following an annual meeting among the two countries’ officials. ​SYDNEY—The U.S. said it would deploy more military assets in Australia, including air, land and sea forces, as the two countries agreed to deepen defense cooperation amid growing concerns about China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific region. Details remain to be worked out, though the two countries said they would place more munitions and fuel in Australia to support U.S. military activity, jointly develop airfields in northern Australia to support more rotations of U.S. aircraft, expand locations where U.S. troops can conduct exercises and further integrate their defense-industrial bases. They invited Japan, another ally, to participate in three-way military drills.
New Zealand Plans to Make Facebook, Google Pay for News
  + stars: | 2022-12-05 | by ( Mike Cherney | ) www.wsj.com   time to read: 1 min
New Zealand has proposed a law that would seek to make online platforms pay news publishers for content. New Zealand said it would seek to require online platforms like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc. to pay news publishers for content, becoming the latest country to wade into a worldwide debate about whether tech giants unfairly benefit from news shared on their platforms. New Zealand’s proposal will be based on a similar law in Australia and introduced legislation in Canada and will be designed to act as an incentive for digital platforms to reach voluntary deals with local news outlets, according to a statement from New Zealand Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson.
BRISBANE, Australia—Every week, workers at one of Australia’s major airports spend hours searching the tarmac and terminals for a security threat that could bring down an airplane. The inspectors at Brisbane Airport, in Australia’s third biggest city, are hunting for the keyhole wasp, an introduced species that builds nests in Pitot tubes—a crucial instrument on the fuselage that tells pilots how fast they are flying. The wasps, which build nests out of mud, can block a tube in as little as 20 minutes. They are smaller than similar native species and have distinctive rings on their bodies.
SYDNEY—Australia will review its rules aimed at deterring former military personnel from aiding foreign adversaries, as U.S. allies grow concerned that China has recruited Western pilots and benefited from their technical expertise. Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said an investigation into whether former Australian personnel had provided training to China had raised concerns that justified a deeper examination of existing regulations. He declined to say whether any individual Australians had helped China, but said some cases remained under investigation.
SYDNEY—The U.S. is laying the groundwork for further deployment of long-range B-52 bombers in strategic northern Australia, drawing criticism from China, which warns the move could spark an arms race in the region. A new, U.S.-funded aircraft-parking apron at an Australian air force base near the town of Katherine will be able to accommodate up to six B-52 aircraft, a spokesperson for Australia’s defense department said. The upgrade could also be used by other aircraft and will enhance Australia’s capacity to train with other allies, the spokesperson said.
Australia and Japan said they would deepen defense cooperation and that Japanese forces would train in Australia’s north, the latest move by U.S. allies to respond to growing strategic tensions with China. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan made the announcements after meeting in the western Australian city of Perth. The leaders said they agreed to update an existing 2007 security declaration between the two countries, reflecting the growing alignment between both nations.
Australia and Japan said that they would deepen defense cooperation and that Japanese forces would train in Australia’s north, the latest move by U.S. allies to respond to strategic tensions with China. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan made the announcements after meeting in the western Australian city of Perth. The leaders said they agreed to update an existing 2007 security declaration between the two countries, reflecting the growing alignment between both nations.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said much of the aid increase will focus on mitigating climate change, which many view as an existential threat to low-lying Pacific islands. SYDNEY—Australia plans to increase aid to Pacific island nations and invest more in security ties with those countries, as the U.S. and its allies seek to counter Chinese influence in the strategically important region. The Australian government said it would increase official development assistance to the Pacific by 900 million Australian dollars, equivalent to roughly $565 million, over the next four years. That is much more than the A$525 million boost that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s party promised during the recent election campaign, highlighting the issue’s importance to policy makers.
Cockatoos Are Getting Smarter. Should Humans Be Worried?
  + stars: | 2022-10-19 | by ( Mike Cherney | ) www.wsj.com   time to read: 1 min
STANWELL PARK, Australia—Outside a local cafe, a sulphur-crested cockatoo perched on a garbage bin, trying to open the lid. Another loitered nearby, waiting to see if its companion found tasty morsels in the trash. The birds, a type of parrot that is native to Australia, were acting out a common scene in this beachside suburb. There was a lock on the bin, but it seemed either broken or not properly closed. Coffee cups littered the street.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the final status of Jerusalem should be decided between Israel and the Palestinians through talks. Australia dropped its recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, sparking a diplomatic spat between the two U.S. allies over the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision by Australia’s center-left government, which came to power after an election in May, reverses a 2018 move by the previous center-right government to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Australia’s Embassy is still in Tel Aviv.
SYDNEY—An Australian regulator hit one of the country’s main casino operators with a record fine, as authorities increase scrutiny of an industry that has faced questions over how it attracts international high-rollers, particularly from China. Star Entertainment Group which runs a large casino in Sydney, was fined 100 million Australian dollars, equivalent to $62 million, by the New South Wales Independent Casino Commission on Monday. The regulator also suspended Star’s license to operate the Sydney casino, though it will remain open under a government-appointed manager.
SYDNEY—A new U.S. strategy for the Pacific will involve a bigger diplomatic and security footprint, help island nations respond to climate change and focus on economic prosperity, according to a preview released shortly before Pacific leaders planned to meet President Biden in Washington. The two-day meeting, billed by the U.S. as a summit involving leaders and representatives from more than a dozen Pacific island nations and territories, starts Wednesday. It caps months of intense U.S. diplomacy in the region, which has emerged as a hot spot in the great-power rivalry between the U.S. and China.
The Barossa gas field is about 85 miles off the coast of the Tiwi Islands. SYDNEY—An indigenous clan on remote islands in northern Australia scored a legal victory against energy giant Santos Ltd., in a case that could have a wide-ranging impact on how resource companies handle relations with traditional landowners. On Wednesday, an Australian judge threw out a regulator’s approval of Santos’s environmental plan to drill for natural gas in the Barossa gas field, about 85 miles off the coast of the Tiwi Islands near Darwin. The case was brought by Dennis Tipakalippa, an indigenous leader on the islands who argued the regulator shouldn’t have approved the drilling because Santos didn’t properly consult his clan on its impact.
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