Trade War with the US over Steel
Make America Great Again. We all knew this was coming. Trump has whined about how the American economy is in the toilet thanks to ‘bad deals’. Now, he wants to impose a big tax on steel and aluminium imports. World stock markets tumbled in response to Trump’s announcements, and long-term allies – like Australia – got the willies. Apparently the tariffs are mostly aimed at China, but Australia could become collateral damage. The Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, couldn’t say with certainty that Australia would be exempt from the tariffs, even though Trump had previously promised Turnbull that Australia was safe. There are warnings of a global ‘trade war’, with some European actions considering retaliation against Trump’s measures. Turnbull hasn’t ruled that out either, although he has said retaliatory action wouldn’t make ‘good policy sense’ for Australia. After all, the US takes only 0.8% of Australia’s total aluminium exports, and about 1.5% of our steel. But there are certainly potential knock-on effects – like other countries sending their steel products to Australia and under-cutting our local producers.
The slow softening of Aussie gun laws
In the shadow of a red hot gun laws debate in the United States, Australia is looking at its own laws. In this story published this week in the Guardian, it was reported that Australian gun lobby groups spent $500,000 in last year’s Queensland election on minor right wing groups such as One Nation and the Katter Australia Party. The money comes from SIFA – the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia – representing some of the country’s largest arms manufacturers. Sifa was appointed to a reference group to provide advice to the government on the National Firearms Agreement.
SIFA’s plan to support minor right wing parties to pressure the major parties appears to be working. In the Tasmanian election last week, the Liberal party revealed (quietly) that it would introduce measure to weaken gun laws. Critics said the move would breach the National Firearms Agreement that Tasmania has signed on to.
North Korea to give up the nukes? 
South and North Korea have been talking, and the news is good. Apparently the North will consider freezing its nuclear missile program if it begins directly talking with the US. The two leaders are set to meet in April. It will be the first summit of its kind in over a decade. It looks as though South Korea is doing all the heavy lifting here, although it won’t surprise you to learn that Trump is finding ways to take the credit. (Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs would hit South Korea pretty hard, at a time when they’re a key ally to US interests.) Other, saner, American voices are welcoming the announcements from Korea, but approaching with caution before breaking into full celebrations. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, as said: “We must view it with the necessary skepticism born of such talks in the past. On multiple occasions, Pyongyang has seemingly opted for the path of negotiation, only to reverse course after pocketing concessions from Seoul or the international community.” He then added a quote that’s apparently from Winston Chruchill: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
Not sure if that’s poetic or just dumb.
Our previous deep dive on North Korea can be found here.
Australian & Myanmar
Our defence department plans to spend around $400k on the Myanmar military, despite the accusations that the Myanmar military attempted an ethnic genocide last year on the Rohingya people. (Our deep dive here.) The money will go to English lessons and training courses. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi is making a visit to Australia later in March, where it’s expected that the Rohingya people will be discussed. Our allies, the US, UK, Canada, France and the EU have all cut ties with Myanmar. The US and Canada have gone so far as to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s military. The Myanmar military has also recently been criticised for purchasing fighter jets from Russia and ballistic missiles from North Korea.
A note from the Aussie Defence Department states: “Defence has a modest program of engagement with Myanmar in non-combat areas, with a focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping training and English language training. This engagement is designed to expose the Tatmadaw to the ways of a modern, professional defence force and highlight the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law.”
Australia’s first same-sex marriage
On December 15, 2017, Australia had it’s very first same-sex marriage. Records can now confirm that Jill Kindt and Jo Grant were the country’s pioneers. The wedding proceeded without the 30-day waiting period because Ms Grant was terminally ill. She died on January 30, 2018, just six weeks after their wedding.
Happy International Women’s Day
Thursday was International Women’s Day. There is progress and plenty of reasons to be disappointed. Women in Saudi Arabiacan now drive and go to sporting matches. #metoo, #timesup, pay inequality and harassment are receiving consistent international media attention. On the other hand, incidence of genital mutilation are on the rise, and a self-confessed sexual predator remains in charge of the United States.
The Oscars Happened
The Oscars happened. I can only recommend Get Out, which won Best Screenplay and was utterly deserved. It beat The Big Sick in that category, which is also a great film. They are just about the only two films I’ve managed to watch recently, given that I have an eight month old. Comment or reply with your recommendations.
Surprise – Penguins! 
Scientists have found a new colony of Adélie  penguins near Antarctica – about 1.5 million of them. P. Dee Boersma, directer of the Centre for Ecosystem Sentinels at the University of Washington said: ‘It’s always good news when you find new penguins.”
Couldn’t agree more P Dee.


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And thanks, as always to Jennifer McDonald, who proofs these posts and makes sure I’m making some kind of sense. You can read Jen’s blog here.

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