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Weekly News Round-Up: The US downgrade, Australia-Malaysia refugee swap halted, and the passing of a war heroine

Elizabeth Yick

Wed Aug 10 2011


Standard and Poor’s Downgrades US Debt

Last Friday, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) announced the downgrading of the United States’ long-term sovereign credit rating from AAA to AA+.

The decision came after prolonged turmoil with the country’s finances, which had resulted in the Obama administration raising the statutory debt ceiling to avoid default.

“We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling… indicate that further near-term progress… is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process,” S&P said in a public statement made on Friday.

“The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable.”

S&P stated that there remains a possibility for further rating deterioration.

High Court issues injunction on refugee swap

The Australian High Court has halted the Gillard government’s Malaysia refugee swap deal, after Justice Kenneth Hayne extended an injunction preventing the deportation of the first group of refugees bound for Malaysia.

The injunction, imposed late Sunday afternoon, prohibits the government from transferring 42 refugees to Malaysia until a full bench of seven judges hears their case in two week’s time.

Refugee advocates argued that the swap deal between the two governments should be ruled invalid given that Malaysia has failed to meet the legal requirements for refugee protection, and arguing that given Minister Bowen was legal guardian of the six children within the group, he is bound to protect their ‘best interests.’

Immigration Minster Chris Bowen responded by stating the government is on strong legal grounds and that “nobody should doubt [the government’s] resolve”.

“I am confident that when the full bench considers the case, the injunction will be lifted. The transfer will occur and the arrangement will be implemented.”

However, Mr Bowen confirmed that no refugees arriving on Christmas Island would be removed from Australian soil until the High Court has come to a decision regarding the matter.

He further conceded that Australia would begin accepting the 4,000 promised refugees from Malaysia, regardless of the ruling’s outcome.

Australian war hero Nancy “The White Mouse” Wake dies at 98

Nancy Wake, one of the Ally’s most decorated servicewomen of World War II, has died in London at age 98.

“Nurse, journalist, soldier, spy”, Wake led a life that “read like the most daring of fiction.”

Born in New Zealand but growing up in Northern Sydney, Wake ran away at age 16 to London, where she self-trained as a journalist and later worked in Paris.

When France was overrun by Nazi Germany in 1940, Wake became a courier and spy for the French Resistance and later joined the Special Operations Executive where she coordinated resistance movements within France.

Her elusiveness and luck in escapes earned her the codename “the White Mouse” from the Gestapo, who had placed a prize of five million francs on her head.

One fellow combatant jested “she was the most feminine woman… right until the fighting starts, then she is like five men”.

Wake herself reflected she was only sorry she did not do more in the war.

“Freedom is the only thing worth living for. While I was doing that work, I used to think it didn’t matter if I died, because without freedom, there was no point in living.”

Wake’s story is believed to have inspired Sebastian Faulk’s novel Charlotte Gray (with a film of the same title). As one of the most decorated war heroine of WWII, she leaves behind a published autobiography The White Mouse, as well as a fantastical legacy.