Up to 50 would-be extremists assessed by new police ‘fixated persons’ unit

Monday, 13. May 2019

Up to 50 Australians with mental illness or concerning behaviour are being assessed for a new police unit targeting would-be lone wolf extremists before they commit a terrorist act.
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The fixated persons investigations unit, unveiled on Wednesday, is one of newly appointed NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller’s first initiatives.

Comprising 17 detectives and government mental health workers, it will perform risk assessments on so-called lone actors or unstable people who are seemingly fixated on issues or individuals but are not considered persons of interest for counter-terrorism police.

“We know these people aren’t active counter-terrorism targets yet they are capable of acts of terrorism,” Mr Fuller said. “[We] believe we need to move quickly to close this gap.”

People could be referred to the unit by family, neighbours, counter-terrorism authorities or local police, who often know of concerning locals but are limited in how they can deal with them.

The unit might respond by sending an officer to speak to the person, drawing up a mental health plan or forwarding the case to the counter-terrorism unit.

“I’m not suggesting that, if you call, we’re going to kick your door down,” Mr Fuller said.

“What I do want to give is give the community a pathway to contact someone if they’ve got concerns about a family member, a friend or a neighbour because at the moment people don’t see them as terrorists but they are committing terrorist activities.”

Mr Fuller said about 50 people were being assessed for the unit.

Among them are Joseph Mekhael, a DJ arrested on Anzac Day for shouting anti-war slogans during the minute’s silence in Martin Place.

On his Facebook page, he claims to lead the “Save The World Army” and calls on followers to “have the courage to stand up against those who are enslaving the human race!”

Lindt Cafe gunman Man Monis would also fit the unit’s brief as would John Caddle, a mentally ill man who drove his car through a Wollongong mall in February in a mock terrorist act that he hoped would prove other terrorist events were “fake news”.

Monis was a long-standing public nuisance who taunted politicians and bombarded families of Diggers with anti-war letters, but counter-terrorism police had closed his case file.

Mr Fuller said the metropolitan robbery unit would be disbanded and its detectives, who have 10 years’ experience in “profiling” people, would start work on Monday.

He acknowledged that the link between mental health and Islamic State-inspired attacks was contentious and said the initiative was not intended to excuse or play down violent acts.

Muslim youth worker Kuranda Seyit, director of the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations, feared the unit would end up mining health professionals for any Muslim mental health patients.

“We need to carefully consider where we’re going with this….because there is the danger of stigmatising not just people with mental illness but also Muslims,” he said.

The unit is modelled on the Fixated Threat Assessment Centres in Britain and Queensland that have a joint police-mental health approach.

Police Minister Troy Grant said it also built on ideas from the FBI’s bystander work, which recognises that, in the aftermath of an incident, it often emerges that somebody knew or saw something but didn’t have the understanding or the means to report it.

Mr Fuller denied it was an attempt to pre-empt negative findings from the Lindt Cafe inquest.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said the initiative would struggle to succeed because trust had not been established.

“The missing link in the NSW Police Force’s terrorism response is the connection with vulnerable communities; it’s not a resourcing issue but a cultural one,” he said. “The spate of highly armed and high visibility police raids in western Sydney that end with televised arrests of members of the Muslim community destroy hard-fought links with the community.”

FIXATED PERSONS: The type of people the new police unit wants to look at

Ihsas Khan, 23: Years of odd behaviour, including cutting down Australian flags on a neighbour’s home, culminated in the alleged Islamic State-inspired stabbing of neighbour Wayne Greenhalgh.

A 18-year-old man from Narwee: Arrested in the Opera House forecourt last year allegedly carrying canisters of brake fluid on the “instructions of Islamic State”. He has an intellectual disability but was charged after his behaviour escalated.

Alo-Bridget Namoa, 19: Allegedly wanted to do an “Islamic Bonnie and Clyde” with her husband but suffers schizophrenia and hallucinations and became obsessed with watching beheading videos, a court heard.

A 17-year-old boy from The Oaks: Allegedly threatened to carry out a mass stabbing in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Charges downgraded after severe mental health and developmental issues emerged.

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The Young Pope is a very human story, despite its scale, says Jude Law

Monday, 13. May 2019

From its opening frames there is something both brilliant and confounding about The Young Pope. Its star, Jude Law, plays a young American cardinal who is elevated to the highest office in the Catholic church.
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Pushing aside the likelihood of an American pope – as opposed, say, to one from Latin America or even Africa – the series plays a little like a royal family biopic. The pomp and ceremony get it over the line, to some extent only just.

The series was pitched to HBO by writer Paolo Sorrentino as one which would “probe, with honesty and curiosity, the contradictions, the struggles, and the fascinating aspects of a man of the cloth who unexpectedly rises to lead a billion member congregation”.

Law holds high praise for Sorrentino. “It was really eye opening to work with someone who had such clarity of vision and contributed such an extraordinary signature and heightened, just every day, in every way, what we were all doing as a cast and as a team,” he says.

Not having been brought up in a religious home, Law says he had “always been curious about faith and one’s personal relationship with faith and I suppose it encouraged me to question and look at that a little more”.

The series does seem to play cleverly into a sort of global paradigm; a shift in religious conservatism, a rise in secular conservatism and a swing in politics to the right.

Whether The Young Pope is a reaction to that, or merely reflective of it, Law is unsure. He credits the show’s subtle sensitivity to the world around it to Sorrentino’s writing.

“Great writers and great creative minds, I think, have a natural antenna that reads what is in the ether, and I think I’m safe to say that perhaps some of this came from the religious terrain of the past,” Law says. “It also came from perhaps the Italian political terrain of the past.”

Clearly too, he adds, “there was a certain amount of preemptive registering of what was going on internationally. It just highlights how relevant sometimes this sort of reactionary voting or indeed, you know, the idea of voting in the unknown can lead you.”

Sorrentino’s writing, Law says, takes the character of Lenny Belardo and crowns him with this magnificent pontifical power but then explores him in a very ordinary human way.

“Paolo can take epic themes and operatic scale and make it very human,” Law says. “When I started I thought, I need to educate myself on papal history, on Catholic history, on life in the Vatican. But I didn’t really find any answers there as to who this character was.”

Sorrentino encouraged Law to focus more on the idea that Belardo is simply a man, orphaned at birth and “at his heart, he is trying to understand this sense of lack of love,” Law says. “A lot of the part he plays as Pope Pius is trying to understand that and, if you like, reflect his sense of solitude.”

Intriguingly, Law’s Pope – Lenny Belardo, later Pope Pius XIII – is a smoker, though the actor is quick to point out that he was written in Sorrentino’s script as a smoker, a character quirk which was borrowed from Pope Benedict.

“Benedict apparently liked a cigarette after mass, and it was I thought a wonderful kind of detail of character that Paolo included,” Law says. “His scripts are rich with detail of both musical reference and character reference and for an actor, that’s joyful. You sink your teeth into those.”

One of the most significant elements of the series, both for the audience and the actor at the heart of it, is the props and pageantry of the papal office.

“I think when I was starting out [as an actor] I underestimated the power of costume,” Law says. “And in this role, unlike almost any other, putting on the robes, the white daily robes or the more formal robes of ritual, it had a great impact.”

“A huge amount of revealing and feeling the sort of status of someone in that position is helped by the reaction of others,” Law adds. “And when you’re being carried in by 12 men on a golden throne with robes, bejewelled robes, it helps a lot.”

For one of the key narratives in Lenny Belardo’s story, Law works with Diane Keaton, who plays Sister Mary, the American nun who raised Belardo at the orphanage and who joins him at the Vatican as his personal secretary.

Law says Keaton brought “a unique sense of humour and mischief and boundless warmth” to the role. “She’s fantastically modest too,” he adds. “I remember when she arrived she was constantly saying, ‘I don’t know why I’m here’, because she seemed to be the last person to realise just how loved she is.”

Law said he nicknamed her “Mama Rose”, after Mama Rose in Gypsy. “She was very much my Mama Rose because she’s the one always saying, you’re going to be the Pope, Lenny. You’re going to be the Pope. You’re a saint, Lenny. She’s my biggest supporter in the piece. And it was wonderful to work with her.”

WHAT The Young Pope

WHEN SBS, Wednesday, 10.25pm, and SBS On Demand

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Rules Don’t Apply review: Warren Beatty’s satirical portrait of American double standards

Monday, 13. May 2019

????????????(M) 127 minutes
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Warren Beatty begins this pageant of Hollywood life in the 1960s with a quote from Howard Hughes, whom he plays with just the right amount of crazy: “Never check an interesting fact.” I don’t know if Hughes ever said it, because I haven’t checked it (boom, tish).

It works as both a warning and a statement of creed. What you are about to see might have happened but who cares: almost anything one could say about the real Howard Hughes is weirder than what Beatty could make up anyway.

The advance reviews on Rules Don’t Apply were harsh, to say the least, and it may be that standards are higher for Beatty, who has refused to fade into the Hollywood hills, even as he passed 80 earlier this year.

Apart from his huge body of work as an actor, his reputation as a director peaked in 1982 with Reds, for which he won the Oscar for best director, then faded. Bulworth and Dick Tracy were fun, but the market for Beatty’s satire seemed to have passed.

He claims to have been thinking about this new film since the 1960s, when he was the biggest hunk in Hollywood, and Hughes was still a force in American business. It’s certainly true Rules Don’t Apply is not so much a film about Hughes the movie producer and aviator as it is about the battle between sex and puritanism in American life.

Some critics have missed the point: it’s not that Beatty identifies with Hughes. He identifies with the beautiful young things arriving in Tinseltown in 1958, which is when he, too, arrived from Virginia with his sister Shirley Maclaine.

Frank Forbes (the fast-rising Alden Ehrenreich) has left small-town America and his high school sweetheart to pursue real estate ambitions in Los Angeles. He starts work as a driver for Mr Hughes, thinking he will get him to invest, although he has never actually met him.

Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick), as a cynical senior driver, explains the strict rules for ferrying one of the 30 or so young starlets Hughes has under contract.

Candice Bergen, as Nadine Henly, runs the female part of the Hughes empire. The newest girl is Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) who arrives with her suspicious and god-fearing mother Lucy (Annette Bening). Frank deposits them in a lovely house in the hills above the Hollywood Bowl, where classical music wafts up at night.

In one sense, the film is an elaborate romantic tease about when the rosy-cheeked and wide-eyed Marla will finally succumb to either Hughes or Frank, or both. In another, it’s a sad love story about an old man losing his grip on reality, while these young things lose their innocence. It’s effective as both – far more than I expected. The comedy has bite, the writing captures the weird, and Beatty directs with care.

He gives us a richly satirical portrait of American double standards. Hollywood is in one sense more honest than the apple pie heartland that produced these two beautiful things, raised on the Bible but bursting with sexual energy. At least in Hollywood, they understand the attraction of sin.

As a lifelong liberal and libertarian, the religious right was never going to get much shrift from Beatty, who keeps denying the obvious truth that this is a thoroughly political movie.

It may not mention the current president, but it’s impossible to watch without thinking of his attitudes to women. At least Howard Hughes, as played by Beatty, is a gentleman. Not that Beatty wants us to take his portrayal literally: he never met the man, and Hughes had sold RKO Studios three years before Beatty arrived in the movie capital. Never check a fake fact, either.

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‘Bonds are different’

Monday, 13. May 2019

The wave of money flowing out of active funds and into passive investments causing plenty of headaches for the world’s equity fund managers, is affecting fixed income investors too. PIMCO, the world’s largest actively managed bond fund manager, is preparing its defence.
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In a paper titled “Bonds are different”, a team of researchers headed by Jamil Baz, PIMCO’s global head of client analytics, argues a number of reasons why passive investing doesn’t work as well in bonds, giving active bond investors plenty of room to beat the market.

“We’re talking about different animals here,” Mr Baz told The Australian Financial Review, referring to the differences between passive investment in equities and bonds. The paper’s argument is made most forcefully with figures that show actively managed funds more often than not outperformed their passive competitors across a range of time frames and bond fund types.

These calculations are debated. Others who’ve looked at this question, such as S&P Dow Jones Indices, conclude that bond funds frequently under-perform benchmark indices, particularly over long time periods after fees are taken into account.

However, in bonds, the benchmark and the returns offered by passive funds after fees are not necessarily the same thing.

Passive funds offer cheap exposure to assets by replicating a broad index, far more cheaply than managed funds do. But bond indexes are notoriously tricky to replicate, as bond markets have far lower liquidity than equities and the constituent parts of bond indices change far more quickly (generally every month) than they do in most equities indices.

And bonds, which are sold-on corporate or government debt, can go funny in times of crisis, leading to the curious situation of many active funds having under-performed the index in 2008-09 but having outperformed passive bond funds over the same period.

Comparing the performance of active bond funds to the index in shorter durations that exclude the financial crisis yields better results, according to PIMCO. And in all the categories and time frames examined, with the exception of one-year high-yield bond funds, more than 50 per cent of active bond funds beat passive funds after fees.

There are a number of technical reasons why active management gives greater returns in bonds than equities, Mr Baz argued.

Around half of the $102 trillion global bond market isn’t held by investors seeking a return at all, but by “uneconomic” investors. Central banks, for example, use bond buying and selling to control their currencies and inflation. Commercial banks and insurance companies use bonds for their regular yields rather than their alpha. These “non-economic, constrained investors” are not able to act with the freedom of those investing for profit – so their alpha is there for the taking by “economic” investors.

“Economic investors tend to outperform non-economic investors, as the former buy cheap fallen angels from the latter and sell them expensive high-coupon bonds. Active managers potentially may also be compensated by passive managers for providing the liquidity around changes in index construction,” the paper states.

“We absolutely concede that there is a place for passive management,” Mr Baz said. “Some take advantage of the lower fees, and passive funds put active managers on their toes and incentives them to do better.” But, he added, active bond managers are able to take advantage of opportunities passive managers cannot.

And there are more such opportunities in the bond market. Companies, for example, usually issue only one form of stock. But they can and do issue multiple types of bonds – only the largest of which will make bond indexes even though the others can be, in effect, the same. Active bond managers can do the research needed to discover and buy such bonds when they are cheaply offered.

In this sense, bond managers are somewhat like small caps managers, said BetaShares chief economist David Bassanese, who also tend to perform better against passive funds compared to other equities categories.

For most investors, passive bond investing is the only way to access the fixed income space at all.

“Before the advent of exchange traded funds, the only way retail investors could access fixed income was through unlisted, typically actively managed funds which charged a high fee for their efforts. ETFs, irrespective of debate of active versus passive, give retail investors access to fixed income products.”

Vanguard manages the world’s largest bond fund, which is passive. The issue of fees was also raised by its head of investments for Asia-Pacific, Rodney Comegys.

“Cost matters a tonne, and even more in fixed income than it does in equities,” he told the Financial Review. “There’s lower expected returns in fixed interest, so what you pay really takes away from your return. In a low-yield environment, that matters.”

“In aggregate – whether across equities or fixed income – passive investing keeps costs as low as possible. You don’t spend much on research. And for all the advantages of active … you also have the opportunity to underperform.”

Fees can vary widely across different fixed income active fund managers, and investors have to trade off the performance of an active fund with how much of that performance is eaten up by fees.

“Active is hard,” Mr Comegys said. “Hard for the investment manager and hard for the investor.”

But someone’s got to take the risk, Mr Baz argued. A market fully comprised of passive investors would encourage “free-riding, adverse selection and moral hazard”.

“You could have a situation where companies offer lower-quality paper, knowing it’ll be absorbed by the market because it’s passive and less research-intensive,” he said.

“The more passive fund buying there is, the more uncritical buying there’s going to be.”

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