Top state news stories in 2017

(Australian Associated Press)



Terror Plane

An alleged conspiracy to bring down a plane with an improvised bomb after it took off from Sydney Airport in July was one of the most sinister terror plots to be thwarted by Australian authorities. Four men were arrested during a series of raids following a tip-off about the alleged scheme from foreign intelligence services. Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat were charged with planning a terror attack after being held for almost a week while officers rifled through their Sydney homes searching for evidence. It’s alleged Khaled Khayat accompanied his brother Amer Khayat to Sydney’s international airport on July 15 ahead of an Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi with luggage containing a military-grade explosive. Khaled Khayat left the airport with the luggage reportedly because it was too heavy and Amer Khayat flew to Abu Dhabi on an uneventful Etihad flight then travelled to Lebanon. Bomb components were sent from Turkey to Sydney by air cargo. When the first attempt was unsuccessful police allege an Islamic State controller then instructed the two on how to create a gas-dispersion device using the highly-toxic hydrogen sulfide. Lebanon’s interior minister said that the IS controller was another Khayat brother, Tareq, who moved to Raqqa in Syria and become a commander in the jihadist group. Two other men were held under counter-terror laws and while one was released without charge the other, Khaled Merhi, was charged with possessing a prohibited weapon. The alleged scheme prompted airports to temporarily heighten security provisions.


Bourke St Fatalities

Six people were killed, 27 injured and 25 hospitalised after a car ploughed through pedestrians in Melbourne’s Bourke Street mall on January 20. Among the people killed were three-month-old Zachary Bryant and 10-year-old Thalia Hakin. Dimitrious Gargasoulas, 27, who was shot and injured by police during the rampage, wass charged with six counts of murder and 28 counts of attempted murder. He has been in custody since the rampage and courts are assessing his mental state and whether he is fit to stand trial. The coroner is investigating all events in the lead up to the deaths, including police actions and a decision to release Gargasoulas on bail a week before the deadly rampage. The tragedy also prompted a shake-up of the Victoria’s bail system: serious matters are no longer heard by volunteer bail justices and a new night court sits seven days a week. Temporary bollards have been installed at busy public places across the city to stop unauthorised vehicles from entering. Gargasoulas’ case is still before the Melbourne Magistrates Court but prosecutors and defence counsel have been providing the Victorian Supreme Court with unprecedented progress updates.



Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk focused international attention on Adelaide in 2017 when he first promised to build the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery and then revealed his plans to have humans colonise Mars as early as 2024. His promise to help end SA’s energy woes came from a much-publicised Twitter exchange with fellow tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes when the American agreed to build the 100-megawatt battery in 100 days or provide it free. Mr Musk made good on his promise and with the launch of the battery on December 1. His Tesla Powerpacks will be able to store 129-megawatt hours of energy, enough to power 30,000 homes for an hour on a full charge. The battery is three times larger than any previous storage device and has been paired to the existing Hornsdale wind farm operated by French renewable energy company Neoen near Jamestown in SA’s mid-north. It has cost an estimated $50 million and could have a life of more than 30 years. As work on the battery was underway, Mr Musk flew into Adelaide to excite the global science community, outlining his plans to carry settlers to Mars. His SpaceX company is developing a new rocket and spaceship, code-named BFR (Big F***ing Rocket) that will carry more than 100 people on each flight. The BFR will stand 100 metres tall with 31 engines to lift a payload of more than 4000 tons. An added bonus could be using the same technology to transport people anywhere in the world, from Los Angeles to Sydney for example, in under 30 minutes.


State poll

Speculation about when the next state election would be dominated Queensland politics for much of 2017. After a surprise victory over Campbell Newman in 2015, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk asked Queenslanders to deliver her a majority. LNP leader Tim Nicholls struggled to get cut-through with voters or escape his past as Mr Newman’s former treasurer. Although not a candidate, One Nation senator Pauline Hanson led the ‘Battler Bus’ as it made its way up and down the state to talk to disaffected voters. It became clear Ms Palaszczuk would be re-elected when the results of the November 25 poll started flowing in, but it took two weeks for the final result. Labor ended up with 49 seats, two more than it needed to govern with a majority in the new 93-seat parliament. The LNP secured just 39 seats, while Katter’s Australian Party increased its representation to three and Mirani’s Stephen Andrew became the sole One Nation candidate elected. The Greens had a historic victory in Maiwar, defeating shadow treasurer Scott Emerson, and independent Sandy Bolton won the seat of Noosa. Mr Nicholls fell on his sword following the LNP’s loss. His decision sparked a party room vote that resulted in his deputy Deb Frecklington becoming leader.


Abbott headbutt

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was the victim of a headbutt in Hobart during the at-times tense debate over same-sex marriage. Hobart DJ Astro Labe allegedly attacked Tony Abbott on September 21 as he walked along the city’s waterfront at night. A “shocked” Mr Abbott claimed it was an orchestrated attack as part of the same-sex marriage debate. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten were highly critical, while cabinet minister Christopher Pyne labelled it un-Australian. Labe admitted he was wearing a ‘yes’ sticker but insisted his actions were solely because of a “personal hatred” for Mr Abbott. Labe will return to court next year. His original charge of common assault was upgraded to the federal offence of causing harm to a Commonwealth public official which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail. The incident made international news, including on US talk show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.


Don Dale

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was triggered by Abu Ghraib-style footage of boys being tear gassed at Darwin’s notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The $54 million inquiry took eight months longer than originally anticipated and was over budget. The thrice-delayed final report was handed down in November, delivering a scathing assessment of shocking abuse that denied kids access to basic human needs such as water, food and toilet use. The NT government has already accepted some of the probe’s 226 recommendations, including calls for a radical policy shift toward diversion and rehabilitation, the closure of youth prisons and an Australian-first increase in the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 12. High profile former inmate Dylan Voller, who was infamously spit-hooded and strapped to a restraint chair while locked up, gave evidence to the inquiry and later said he hoped his ordeal could lead to national change in juvenile justice. The 15-month investigation found that ex guard Conan Zamolo breached international and Territory laws when he filmed a detainee masturbating in the shower, while systemic failures were ignored at the highest levels. But ex-CLP corrections minister John Elferink, who was sacked over the 2014 gassing incident, said he was vindicated when the inquiry failed to recommend any criminal charges. Commissioners Mick Gooda and Margaret White also pushed for a 10-year child protection strategy, an end to the detention of minors under 14 years who haven’t committed serious crimes, and to stop the use of isolation for managing behaviour. The proposed detention reforms are forecast to save $336 million over the next decade, but after calling the inquiry Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull still hasn’t committed to help fund the implementation of the recommendations.


Labor landslide

West Australians turfed out Colin Barnett’s Liberal National Government in March in one of the most crushing election defeats in the nation’s history. Mr Barnett, the second-longest serving WA premier since World War II, led the state during the mining boom when it was awash with money. But by March this year it had ended and he was deeply unpopular. Former navy lawyer Mark McGowan returned Labor to power after nearly nine years in the wilderness and became the state’s 30th premier. Unemployment had officially risen to above six per cent and was the highest in the nation, underemployment was far higher and house prices were falling. Labor won 41 of the 59 seats in the lower house to take a 12-seat majority. Unlike leafy Cottesloe-based Mr Barnett, Mr McGowan was from working-class mortgage belt Rockingham on Perth’s outer southern edge. He played up that contrast and the Liberals’ controversial preference deal with the Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party as symbolic. Since then, the realities of government have led to the premier breaking his signature election promise of no new taxes or increases on taxes with hikes to gold mining royalties and payroll tax, while slugging families with average $440 per year increases in utilities and other bills. Labor justified the decision on the basis that the dire state of the finances, including record debt tipped to go past $40 billion and record budget deficits were far worse than expected. Mr Barnett retired to the back bench, to be replaced as Liberal leader by his former treasurer Mike Nahan, and in December announced he would be leaving politics in January 2018.


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