Morning mail: 'no evidence' of terrorism in Melbourne horror

Morning mail: 'no evidence' of terrorism in Melbourne horror

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Good morning, this is Eleanor Ainge Roy bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Friday 22 December.

Top stories

Victorian police say they have no evidence to indicate any connection with terrorism after a car ploughed into pedestrians on Flinders Street in Melbourne on Thursday, injuring 19 people, four critically. Police described the event as a “deliberate act” but at a media conference late last night the acting police commissioner, Shane Patton, said the driver had a history of mental illness and drug use. The 32-year-old Australian citizen of Afghan heritage was arrested by an off-duty police sergeant, who was on the scene within 15 seconds. A 24-year-old man seen filming the incident was also arrested and was found to be in possession of a bag containing knives, but Patton said police believed he was not connected. “[The man] in this incident, who we are alleging was driving the car, we have reviewed footage and at this stage we are satisfied that he was driving the car without anyone else present at all,” Patton said.

Descriptions from shocked witnesses and images captured a scene of chaos and horror at one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections on Thursday afternoon. The premier, Daniel Andrews, said 19 people had been admitted to hospital, including the alleged offender. “Fifteen are in a stable condition,” he said. “Four are in a critical condition. The [driver] is one of those patients and is not in a critical condition, and indeed, the off-duty arresting officer … did suffer some injuries.”

The UN has voted resoundingly to reject Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Only nine countries opposed the motion, while 128 members voted in favour, supporting the longstanding international consensus that the status of Jerusalem – which is claimed as a capital by both Israel and the Palestinians – can only be settled as part of an overall a peace deal. Thirty-five countries – including Australia – abstained, and a further 21 were absent. The vote came after a redoubling of threats by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who said Washington would remember which countries “disrespected” the US by voting against it. Although largely symbolic, the vote had been the focus of days of furious diplomacy by both the Trump administration and Israel, including Trump’s threat to cut US funding to countries that did not back the US recognition.

New modern slavery laws will fail to stop exploitation of Australian sex workers unless their work is decriminalised, advocates have warned. The federal government is preparing to respond to a cross-party parliamentary inquiry’s report into modern slavery and worker exploitation. The inquiry called for the creation of a modern slavery act, mandatory supply chain reporting for big companies and the establishment of an independent anti-slavery commissioner. The peak body for sex workers, the Scarlet Alliance, has warned those experiencing exploitation would not be helped until their work was fully decriminalised. Most aspects of sex work are still criminalised in South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Advocates have long argued that criminalisation denies workers their basic rights and protections, and fosters exploitation and mistreatment.

An interpreter for Ukraine’s prime minister who was part of official visits to Britain and the US has been arrested on charges of spying for Russia. Stanislav Yezhov, who had regular access to insider information, had worked “for the enemy state [Russia] for a long time”, the prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, said on his Facebook page. Yezhov allegedly sent data back to his Moscow handlers and was equipped with special spying equipment. Tensions between Kiev and Moscow remain high more than three years after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, seized Crimea and stirred up a conflict in eastern Ukraine, backing and arming pro-Russia rebels.

Police in Delhi have raided a “spiritual university” and found women detained in locked rooms who appeared drugged. The city’s commissioner for women said it feared it was a site for sexual exploitation after 200 women and girls were discovered in “shocking” conditions. “It was like a fortress,” said the commissioner, Swati Maliwal. “Once we managed to enter we could only walk four steps to another metallic gate, and then five steps later another huge locked gate. It was full of hidden cells.” Huge quantities of syringes and drugs were strewn about the facility, and Maliwal said she had found “stacks of sexually explicit letters” written by women at the ashram to its leader, a self-styled guru named Virender Dev Dixit.

Sport

The Brazil midfielder Paulinho almost quit football at the age of 19, was written off after leaving Tottenham for China in 2015 but is now preparing for his first clásico having silenced his critics at Barcelona. “Everyone said, ‘Bah, his career is over.’ Now I’m at Barça. That’s football,” Paulinho told the Guardian in a revealing interview.

The Guardian continues with its countdown of the 100 best footballers in the world. We’re one day away from the top 10. As 2017 comes to a close, take a look back at the unsung heroes of the sporting year, remind yourself of some of the greatest video moments and test your knowledge of some of the year’s less high-profile events.

Thinking time

Donald Trump with Malcolm Turnbull



Donald Trump with Malcolm Turnbull. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s been a mad, bad, dark year,” writes Brigid Delaney. “The pace of events moved so fast that legislators and the media in the US barely paused to consider the country’s worst mass shooting (October, the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas) before moving on to the next thing, and the next, and the next.” Australia was not immune to a year of absurdity, with politicians disappearing over the citizenship drama, a nasty social media war raging about same-sex marriage and, worst of all, the phone call between Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull in January. “The assumption, before the transcript was leaked to the Washington Post months later, was that Trump was being an unreasonable bully. Instead, it is Turnbull who comes off looking worse than Trump.”

Elon Musk’s criticism of public transport has prompted an outpouring of stories of the connections and community formed in the midst of a “bunch of random strangers” on mass transit. The billionaire entrepreneur had expressed disdain for the inconvenience and cramped confines of mass transit – along with the potential proximity to “serial killers”. “I think public transport is painful. It sucks,” he said. “Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end?” But online, many thousands of people from around the world disagreed, sharing stories of births and marriages, surprise reconnections, strangers’ kindness and appropriately festive cheer, all on public transport.

From seafood and dry sherry to cold glazed ham with sparkling shiraz, Chad Parkhill picks the best ways to combine alcohol with an Australian Christmas lunch. “There’s something a little perverse about the way Australians shoehorn European religious and cultural traditions into our summer,” Parkhill writes. “In the midst of a sweltering Australian summer, it’s hard to muster the appetite for anything heartier than a salad and an ice-cold lager.” Despite this, there’s something to be said for the joys of an Australian culinary Christmas. “Australia’s love of a good drink means these hybrid dishes cry out for matching beverages. So rather than sticking to the usual suspects – crisp lagers, dry sparkling whites, and still whites and reds – why not match these unusual foods with some off-the-radar drinks?”

What’s he done now?

Donald Trump has once again attacked the “fake news media”, accusing journalists of writing negative articles about his tax cut bill to “please their Democratic bosses”. “The Massive Tax Cuts, which the Fake News Media is desperate to write badly about so as to please their Democrat bosses, will soon be kicking in and will speak for themselves. Companies are already making big payments to workers. Dems want to raise taxes, hate these big Cuts!” he tweeted overnight.

Media roundup

Age front page

All the papers devote their front pages to the Flinders Street tragedy. “Evil at Christmas,” declares the West Australian; “Not Again,” at the Mercury; “Nightmare before Xmas,” says the Daily Telegraph; and “Christmas carnage” at the Australian. The ABC reports that Victoria police with boost numbers in Melbourne’s CBD in coming days, with hundreds of extra officers on patrol, although they have said there is “no increased threat” to the public. The Courier-Mail reports on a 25-year-old man who infiltrated the Lady Cilento children’s ­hospital and invented an alter ego as a doctor for six months, creating fake papers and a hospital ID. The man said he had faked being a doctor because he wanted to meet the hospital’s staff and find love.

Coming up

Authorities in Melbourne will give more details about yesterday’s Flinders Street crash and what it means for security measures over the Christmas and new year period.

The high court justice Stephen Gageler will consider submissions in relation to the Liberal Senate candidate Jim Molan and whether he will get a six-year or three-year term after replacing Fiona Nash.

Until the new year

We will be taking a short break over the holiday period, but the morning mail will be back early in 2018. Thanks for joining us in 2017.

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