Violence escalates in the Middle East

TENSIONS have risen even higher in the Middle East with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declaring war on terrorism. Throughout the week, pressure on PLO chairman Yasser Arafat has increased. Israeli forces spent much of the Easter period bombarding Mr Arafat’s headquarters. The escalation in violence against Mr Arafat has followed a series of bloody suicide bombings in Israel. A US-brokered peace plan for the troubled region appears to have been consigned to the too-hard basket. However, a peace plan suggested by the League of Arab Nations still appears to offer some hope for an end to the conflict.

Queen Mother dies

THE Royal Family and, indeed, many people around the world are mourning the passing of the Queen Mother at 101. Loved for her ability to relate to people of all walks of life, the Queen Mother was regarded widely as the most popular royal. The role of Queen’s Consort appears to be one she had never contemplated. However, the abdication of King Edward so he could marry an American divorcee forced the role upon Elizabeth when her husband George was crowned King. Her links were probably strongest with Britons who endured the blitz during World War II. She steadfastly refused to be evacuated to Canada and spent much of her time helping to raise the morale of Londoners. After Buckingham Palace was bombed she quipped that she could now look the East End in the face. The Queen Mother’s passing brings a further tinge of sadness to Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. In little over seven weeks the Queen has lost both her younger sister, Princess Margaret, and her mother. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has broken with protocol and said he and his wife Janet, instead of Governor General Peter Hollingworth, will attend the Queen Mother’s funeral.

Liberal coup

HOT on the heels of the children overboard and Governor General sagas, Prime Minister John Howard has received another blow. Mr Howard recently put his support firmly behind Kerry Chikarovski, who led the Liberal Party in his home state of New South Wales. But the PM’s support was to no avail. Ms Chikarovski was defeated last week in a party room coup by John Brogden. However, Mr Brogden, a socially progressive 34-year-old from a family of Labor voters, has offered Ms Chikarovski a seat on the front bench.

OneTel saga

FORMER OneTel chief financial officer Mark Silbermann has cast doubt over claims that Publishing and Broadcasting Limited director James Packer’s claims that he was unaware of the true state of the failed telco’s finances. Mr Packer and fellow budding media mogul Lachlan Murdoch were directors of OneTel. Both claimed to be unaware of the company’s financial difficulties when it went into administration last year. Mr Silbermann said James was present at a briefing on the state of OneTel’s books, given to PBL chief Kerry Packer in his hospital room while he was recovering from a kidney transplant.

Premiums up

HEALTH insurance premiums increased this week amid warnings of further rises and a suggestion the Federal Government could scrap the health insurance rebate. Higher premiums and interest rates are expected to put pressure on current levels of private health insurance.

Desert damage

THE Federal Government was faced with more opposition to its treatment of asylum seekers when hundreds of people travelled to the South Australian desert for Easter to protest against mandatory detention. Perimeter fences were not the only things damaged when 50 detainees escaped amid clashes between Woomera detention centre staff, police and protesters. Numerous protestors now face criminal charges and detention, and Australia’s international reputation was again on the line in front of the world’s media.

Wheatbelt trembles

A WHOLE lotta shakin’s been going on in Burakin for sometime now, but the significant Easter earth tremor, which was felt in Perth suburbs, has jolted the State Government into checking the adequacy of emergency services. Measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale, this shake was just one of 10,000 near the town, 200 kilometres north-east of Perth, in the past few months.

Oath to change

THE WA Government announced this week it was looking at an alternative Local Government oath of office or affirmation, containing no references to Britain’s Queen or the Crown. Removing these references would be due only to a desire to “modernise the law” and implied no offence, the Government said.

The move will require an amendment to the Local Government Act.

Money to claim

IT was no joke earlier this week when the Government also announced it was putting on-line information on unclaimed Government payments, including share dividends, cheques, wages, real estate bond repayments and deceased estates. The on-line register of unclaimed monies will be located on the treasury website.

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