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Japan pushes for closer ties

Peter Hartcher: World citizen Japan prepares for the worstJohn Garnaut: Abe speech all about the Nationa that Must Not Be NamedPolitics Live with Judith Ireland
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has used a historic address to the Australian Parliament to move the two countries closer to a strategic defence alliance in a development certain to anger Beijing.

Declaring a new Japanese ”determination” to behave as a normal nation in the international sphere following a period of being ”self-absorbed” on security matters, the hawkish Prime Minister stopped short of directly criticising Chinese territorial expansion.

But his speech left little doubt as to Tokyo’s new activist defence posture – ditching its postwar pacifist stance – and its related desire for closer strategic co-ordination with Australia and the US.

That will no doubt fuel suspicions in Beijing that western powers are pursuing a containment strategy regarding China.

”There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations,” he told the special joint sitting of Parliament.

”Japan is now working to change its legal basis for security so that we can act jointly with other countries in as many ways as possible.”

In a subsequent press conference after the two leaders signed a new Economic Partnership Agreement, Mr Abe went further, however, describing the Tokyo-Beijing relationship as ”one of the most important bilateral relationships” but then blaming China for a deterioration.

”The door for dialogue is always open from the Japanese side, so I do sincerely hope that the Chinese side will also take the same posture,” he said.

”The fundamental position of Japan that we are keen to improve our relationship with China has been fully explained to Tony, the Prime Minister, but, however, we also discussed … China’s attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo.

”China along with Japan and Australia should play a greater role for peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region.”

He added that it was important that China ”share and accept international norms and play a concerted role in the region – that is what I am hoping China will do”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised Japan as an ”exemplary” and ”model” international citizen since 1945, despite Mr Abe heralding the resumption of whaling.

Mr Abe said the recent decision by the International Court of Justice had envisaged ”scientific” programs and revealed Japan would resume the practice in order to collect the ”indispensable scientific information in order to manage the whale resources”.

Mr Abe’s comments regarding the rule of law were transparently aimed at Chinese moves in the South and East China seas where it has simmering disputes with neighbours including Vietnam and the Philippines raising fears for the future security of sea lanes.

”I believe strongly that when Japan and Australia, sharing the common values, join hands, these natural rules will become the norm for the seas of prosperity that stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian,” he said.

Relations between China and Japan are at a dangerously low point, and Beijing views the Australian visit as part of Japan’s plan to rally its neighbours to counter China’s rise.

”In everything we say and do, we must follow the law and never fall back into force and coercion,” Mr Abe said. ”When there are disputes, we must always use peaceful means to find solutions.”

China last week hit out at Mr Abe after his cabinet endorsed a reinterpretation of a constitutional clause banning the used of armed force, except in narrowly-defined circumstances.

This diplomatic juggling act was underlined as Mr Abbott sought to reassure Beijing that the strengthening of ties with Tokyo was ”not a partnership against anyone”.

The two leaders signed a defence research agreement that could pave the way for Japan sharing with Australia its widely admired submarine technology as Australia prepares to shop for a successor to the ageing Collins class.

Defence Minister David Johnston said Australia wanted to strengthen the three-way defence co-operation between Australia, Japan and the US based on their ”common set of democratic values and similar strategic perspectives” – another emphasis likely to irritate Beijing.

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Labor to push for new CBA probe

Perceived federal government tardiness in responding to a recent Senate committee recommendation for a high-powered inquiry into the Commonwealth Bank’s investment arm, and the financial regulator ASIC, has prompted a counter-move from the opposition.
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It will now push for a new dedicated Senate inquiry instead, in a move that could see Commonwealth Bank managers once again dragged before the Parliament to explain apparent inaction.

Fairfax Media has learnt the opposition believes it has the support of sufficient crossbenchers in the Senate to commence the new probe into Commonwealth Financial Planning Limited.

But the inquiry would also look specifically at the failure of Commonwealth Bank management to root out corrupt planners, and its refusal to more aggressively respond to the detection of fraud that caused thousands of investors to lose their life savings.

Labor leader Bill Shorten will announce the new inquiry in Sydney on Wednesday claiming the government was sitting on its hands.

”This is a scandal of shocking proportions. It’s shone a light on some incredibly poor practices that simply should never be allowed to occur again,” he said. ”It absolutely beggars belief that the government is watering down consumer protections in financial advice, particularly in light of this disgraceful episode.”

Mr Shorten slammed the government saying its plans to modify the Future of Financial Advice laws regarding investment advice would allow the Commonwealth Bank situation to reoccur.

Mr Shorten described the Commonwealth Bank’s own process for redressing some of the losses as ”a good first step”, but claimed it but fell ”well short” of adequate.

The new inquiry would issue an interim report by September 1, 2014.

Defence alliance to anger China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has used a historic address to the Australian Parliament to move the two countries closer to a strategic defence alliance in a development certain to anger Beijing.
杭州桑拿网

Declaring a new Japanese ”determination” to behave as a normal nation in the international sphere following a period of being ”self-absorbed” on security matters, the hawkish PM stopped short of directly criticising Chinese territorial expansion.

But his speech left little doubt as to Tokyo’s newly activist defence posture – ditching its postwar pacifist stance – and its related desire for closer co-ordination between Japan, Australia and the US.

That will no doubt fuel suspicions in Beijing that Western powers are pursuing a containment strategy regarding China.

”There are many things Japan and Australia can do together by each of us joining hands with the United States, an ally for both our nations,” Mr Abe told the special joint sitting of Parliament.

In a subsequent press conference, held after the two leaders signed a new Economic Partnership Agreement, Mr Abe went further, describing the Tokyo-Beijing relationship as ”one of the most important bilateral relationships”, but then blaming China for a deterioration.

”The fundamental position of Japan – that we are keen to improve our relationship with China – has been fully explained to Tony [Abbott] … but we also discussed … China’s attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo.

”China along with Japan and Australia should play a greater role for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The provocative comments came as Mr Abbott pointedly praised Japan as an ”exemplary” and ”model” international citizen since 1945, despite Mr Abe also flagging the resumption of whaling.

Relations between China and Japan are at a dangerously low point, with Beijing viewing the Australian visit as part of Japan’s plan to rally its neighbours to counter China’s rise.

”In everything we say and do, we must follow the law and never fall back into force and coercion,” Mr Abe said.

China last week hit out at Mr Abe after his cabinet endorsed a reinterpretation of a constitutional clause banning the use of armed force, except in narrowly defined circumstances.

This perennial diplomatic juggling act was underlined as Mr Abbott sought to reassure Beijing that the strengthening of ties with Tokyo was ”not a partnership against anyone”.

The two leaders also signed a defence research agreement that could pave the way for Japan sharing with Australia its widely admired submarine technology.

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Reject Shop has high hopes of new boss

The Reject Shop’s incoming chief executive, Ross Sudano, is expected to review the discount retailer’s aggressive expansion plans, product range and digital offer when he takes the helm in September.
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Mr Sudano, a former brewing and grocery executive with more than 20 years’ retail experience, will take the reins from Chris Bryce, who announced his resignation in March and left last month.

Mr Sudano, 44, joins the Reject Shop at a difficult time. The discount variety sector has been hard hit by the downturn in discretionary spending after the May budget and is grappling with structural challenges including a raft of new online and bricks-and-mortar competitors including Japanese discounter Daiso and NQR.

Last week, the Reject Shop’s largest competitor, Jan Cameron’s Discount Superstores Group, which owns about 150 Crazy Clark’s and Sam’s Warehouse stores, collapsed for the second time in less than two years.

After rapid expansion, the Reject Shop has been struggling to control costs with new stores appearing to be cannibalising sales at older ones. Key metrics including sales and earnings per store have been going backwards for four years. Commonwealth Bank analyst Sam Teeger says consumers are increasingly going to shopping centres for lifestyle reasons instead of shopping and the Reject Shop is being undercut by larger chains such as Kmart, which has slashed prices.

Analysts expect Mr Sudano, the former chief executive of craft brewer Little World Beverages and outdoor leisure chain Anaconda, to review longer-term plans for 400 to 490 stores, improve the product mix and reconsider the company’s reluctance to move online. ”Once this leadership transition occurs, we suspect the Reject Shop’s strategy will shift to improving store profitability metrics, which have been deteriorating since 2011 at the expense of the ambitious store rollout,” Mr Teeger said in a recent report.

Chairman Bill Stevens said Mr Sudano was an accomplished retailer who would bring great expertise to all aspects of the business, including merchandise buying, supply chain management, distribution, store operations, and marketing.

”Ross has clearly got very strong retail experience across a range of elements of retail including marketing, merchandising and buying, with a particular focus on customer requirements,” Mr Stevens told Fairfax Media.

”He doesn’t come to us with any preconceived notions.”

Mr Stevens conceded South African-born Mr Sudano lacked experience in discount variety, ”but based on where he’s been I don’t see that as a particular negative.

”He is certainly aware of the space and, particularly at Anaconda, had a focus on customer requirements and how to fill customer needs,” he said.

Mr Sudano’s contract includes fixed pay of $650,000 plus short-term incentives potentially worth 30 per cent of fixed pay.

World citizen Japan prepares for the worst

In lockstep: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Tony Abbott leave the House of Representatives after a joint address to parliament. Photo: Alex EllinghausenDefence alliance to anger ChinaComment: Abe speech all about the National that Must Not be NamedTony Wright: Parliament freezes in a moment that stopped timePolitics Live with Judith Ireland
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Australia and Japan continue to hope for the best from China, but they are putting in place mechanisms to deal with the worst.

This is the grave purpose underlying the new “special relationship” that Japan’s Prime Minister has declared with Australia.

The two countries restated their commitment to the shared peace and prosperity of the region, but girded, unmistakably, for the possibility of war.

Shinzo Abe’s appearance in Canberra on Tuesday ranks with Barack Obama’s Canberra speech in 2011. They are companion pieces, threshold moments in the Western bloc’s response to China’s rise.

Obama’s appearance gave force to his “Asia pivot” by announcing the US Marines for Darwin. Abe’s visit gave weight to his reinterpretation of Japan’s constitution to allow it to help defend its allies.

Last week, Abe declared the redefinition of his country’s post-war “peace constitution”.

It was a momentous decision that brought Japanese citizens onto the streets in protest and sent Beijing into furious denunciations of a militarist “coup”.

But it brought relief in Washington. It was “none too soon”, said the former admiral in charge of the US Pacific Command, Dennis Blair.

The move “should give pause to potential aggressors”, he said, and “provides tangible support for the US pivot to Asia”.

Abe told a joint meeting of the Australian Parliament on Tuesday: “So far as national security goes, Japan has been self-absorbed for a long time.

”Now, Japan has built a determination. As a nation that longs for permanent peace in the world, and as a country whose economy is among the biggest, Japan is now determined to do more to enhance peace.”

Abe signed a defence agreement with Tony Abbott to allow the exchange of military technology between their countries.

“That will make the first cut, engraving the special relationship in our future history,” Abe said.

Specifically, it will allow Australia to buy Japan’s submarine technology, the best conventional capability in the world, in renewing its own fleet.

Abbott gave Abe strong endorsement: “Give Japan a fair go,” he told a joint press conference. “Japan should be judged on its actions today, not its actions 70 years ago.”

He embraced Japan as an “exemplary international citizen”.

On Wednesday Abbott escorts Abe on a trip to the Pilbara. Why? “It’s about the future,” said an Abe adviser travelling with the Prime Minister, Tomohiko Taniguchi.

“It’s location, location, location. Australia just happens to be on the same longitude as Japan. You happen to send your ships to Japan without passing through the contested areas like the South China Sea. My own take is that Australia will gain even more strategic salience for Japan.”

In other words, for Japan the intensified relationship with Australia is all about hedging against a bellicose China. Abbott won’t say so plainly, but Australia’s embrace of a tougher new Japan is in search of just such a reassurance.

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Asylum seekers in limbo on high seas

Elite officer suspected of key role in smuggling bidPolitics Live with Judith Ireland
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More than 150 asylum seekers, including about 40 children, face living in limbo on the high seas in an Australian customs vessel for weeks, while their fate is decided in the High Court.

Lawyers for the Abbott government and the asylum seekers agreed on a timetable for court action on Tuesday after the government promised to give 72 hours’ notice in writing if it intended to hand the asylum seekers to Sri Lankan authorities. A directions hearing will be held within three weeks, raising the question of where the asylum seekers will be held in the interim.

During the hearings, the government revealed that it had intercepted a boat carrying the asylum seekers outside Australia’s migration zone and transferred them to a customs vessel. This follows the revelation on Monday that it had already handed over to Sri Lanka 41 asylum seekers on another boat after they were subjected to ”enhanced screening” at sea.

Lawyers representing those on the second boat say they will challenge any transfer of the 153 people to Manus Island or Nauru while the case proceeds, on the grounds that such a transfer would be unlawful because the boat was intercepted on the high seas.

Another option would be to transfer the asylum seekers to Christmas Island until the case is decided. Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young urged the government to bring the asylum seekers to Australia to assess their claims, saying they had already been at sea for three weeks and were ”anxious and frightened”.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, argued the group could have been assessed on Christmas Island or Manus Island.

”The government has options,” he said. ”The reason they are not taking those options is because they want to protect nothing other than a political scoreboard – and that is not good enough and in the process what they are doing is trashing this country’s international reputation.”

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said the government had offered no commitments on what it would do with the asylum seekers in its custody.

”I have no doubt [Immigration Minister] Scott Morrison is currently working the phones trying to find some godforsaken place to dump them,” he said.

In Parliament, the government’s Senate leader, Eric Abetz, defended its hard line on boat arrivals, declaring: ”I see no sense of social justice whatsoever in giving priority to those who bypass safe haven after safe haven after safe haven and then pay a criminal to get them to the front of the queue.”

Human rights lawyer George Newhouse said after the hearing: ”What the government’s decision today means is that a group of vulnerable men, women, and children will not be sent back to their persecutors in Sri Lanka.”

Mr Newhouse said the asylum seekers would be given access to legal representation.

High Court Justice Susan Crennan said during the hearing that a challenge to any handover would be heard ”expeditiously” by the full High Court.

Counsel for the government Justin Gleeson, SC, said the boat carrying the asylum seekers had been intercepted outside Australia’s migration zone, ending more than a week of secrecy by the government. Appearing via video link from Sydney, Mr Gleeson said the government had the executive discretion to determine where those detained ended up under the Maritime Powers Act.

Ron Merkel, QC, acting for the asylum seekers, claimed the government did not have the power to lawfully return the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka against their will before their claims were determined.

Mr Merkel has issued writs on behalf of 50 of those on board, including eight children aged between two and 16. He said that once an assessment of the claims had begun, the government was lawfully bound to take it to its conclusion under the provisions of the Migration Act.

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A plan to sell the workwear division may have spurred the exit of Pacific Brands CEO John Pollaers

Workwear was a poor performer. Photo: Glenn HuntPacific Brands chief executive John Pollaers may have quit over a proposal to sell the company’s workwear division, which owns such brands as Hard Yakka, KingGee and Stubbies.
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Workwear was one of the worst performers in the Pacific Brands stable in the first half of 2014 and the company was forced to write down the value of goodwill by $248 million after a near 40 per cent fall in workwear earnings.

But despite declining sales and profits in recent years, Pacific Brands remains the global leader in the workwear industry and Mr Pollaers was confident about its longer term prospects.

Analysts believe a strategic review by Macquarie Capital may have recommended the sale of several brands and businesses, including workwear, flooring and the Brand Collective division, which includes footwear and sportswear brands such as Clarks, Hush Puppies, Volley, Dunlop and Everlast.

They believe Mr Pollaers may have baulked at the sale of workwear, given Pacific Brands’ historic links to the category, the strength of its brands and the potential for a rebound in earnings when mining activity picks up.

”Flooring has been non-core for a long period of time, he’d be happy to get rid of that … Brand Collective changed at the half-year and there’s no goodwill or brand value in that division,” said one analyst, who declined to be named.

”But John was keen to make workwear work – it’s been under the hammer for the last few years but he wanted to be the dominant player in workwear and that well could be the reason for the disagreement,” the analyst said.

Workwear accounts for about 28 per cent of group sales but is expected to generate only 17 per cent of group earnings in 2014.

”That business would be more structurally challenged than the other divisions and that would be a more likely area of dispute than Brand Collective,” the analyst said.

Mr Pollaers quit unexpectedly on Monday after a dispute with the board over the socks and jocks maker’s future direction.

Chairman Peter Bush said the ”divergence in views” had become clearer after the board hired Macquarie Capital in April to conduct a strategic review.

The company declined to comment on the strategic review, saying it was incomplete and shareholders would have to wait until August for details.

Mr Pollaers’ departure after less than two years has rattled major shareholders, who had backed his long-term vision for the company.

But the shares, which slipped 0.5¢ to 54.5¢ on Tuesday, are underpinned by takeover speculation. Private equity investors including KKR have been running the numbers on the company.

JP Morgan analyst Shaun Cousins said finding a replacement for Mr Pollaers would be more difficult because of the strategic review and the strong views of the board regarding the path forward. This suggests that the board may delay making a decision or will make an internal appointment.

Parliament freezes in a moment that stopped time

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a joint press conference in Canberra. Photo: Alex EllinghausenDefence alliance to anger ChinaComment: Abe speech all about the National that Must Not be NamedAnalysis: World citizen Japan prepares for the worst
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Should Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have strolled from his hotel in Canberra’s frigid morning, rehearsing what would be the first speech by a Japanese leader to the Australian Parliament, he would have found himself in calming territory.

A few steps from the Hyatt, just down the hill from Parliament House, is a serene Japanese garden, complete with pagoda and large stone lanterns.

It is called the Nara Peace Park, celebrating Canberra’s twin-city arrangement with Japan’s ancient former capital Nara.

If Mr Abe had wandered a few steps further, he might have discovered his peace disturbed.

Canberra has a second, newer sister-city relationship – with China’s capital Beijing.

Workers are transforming an area next door to the Japanese garden into a Chinese garden, with its own pagoda and Chinese stone sculptures.

China and Japan: facing off even on the shore of peaceful Canberra’s lake. The past and the future colliding in a park.

But Mr Abe was about to confront another past in a way not heard before in an Australian parliament.

Settling history and looking to the future in uncertain times is in Mr Abe’s genes. Fifty-seven years ago, his grandfather, Japanese PM Nobusuke Kishi took the first step to put the bitterness of World War II behind Australia and Japan when he signed with PM Robert Menzies an agreement that supplied gas to fuel Japan’s postwar industrial rise.

And so, when Mr Abe, pictured with PM Tony Abbott, rose in the Australian Parliament on Tuesday, seeking more sorely needed energy, the grandson took another step. ”Now, ladies and gentlemen, when we Japanese started out again after the Second World War, we thought long and hard over what had happened in the past and came to make a vow for peace,” he said. ”We will never let the horrors of the past … repeat themselves.”

And then came words too late for those who were there but which still sizzle in history.

”Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan,” Mr Abe said.

”How many young Australians with bright futures to come lost their lives, and for those who made it through the war, how much trauma did they feel years later from these painful memories?

”I can find absolutely no words to say. I can only stay humble against the evils and horrors of history.

”May I most humbly speak for Japan on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.”

Sandakan … to Australians who know the story, it was the greatest atrocity of the Asian-Pacific war.

Of 2351 Australians and British imprisoned by the Japanese at Sandakan, Borneo, all but six died in the camp or on a subsequent death march.

And here, finally, was a Japanese prime minister using the name of that place, offering condolences, if not an outright apology, in the Australian legislature.

In a world moved on and a region colliding in new ways, it was a moment to stop time.

Office assets prove irresistible to investors as sales top $1b

More than $1 billion of office, hotel and retail assets have been bought by overseas investors in the past six months, including in joint ventures, proving that the stable economy is a drawcard for international investors.
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The sales have come from China and Europe and the inflow is expected to continue to remain strong for a range of properties, with a focus on city offices that can be converted to apartments.

There are suggestions several Chinese buyers are looking at 4 Bligh Street and AMP’s 338 Pitt Street. Aside from the pending sale of 52 Martin Place to REST Super Fund, other assets on the market include GIC Real Estate’s 175 Liverpool Street, worth $450 million, and the Dexus Property Group and Perron Group co-owned 201 Elizabeth Street, worth $350 million. The latter two are considered residential conversion plays.

There is also the potential sale and probable lease-back of the four David Jones department stores.

According to the latest data from Colliers International, Australia is still a preferred destination for offshore and domestic investors as new groups enter the market – despite some predictions that capital could begin to depart Australian shores.

Nerida Conisbee, Colliers International national director of research, said between 2007 and 2012, the commercial property transaction landscape was dominated by offshore investors.

Ms Conisbee said she found that while a lot of attention had been paid to the volume of offshore dollars still to land here, Australian institutions made a remarkable comeback last year, becoming net buyers of commercial property for the first time in this property cycle.

”While institutions and offshore groups were net purchasers overall in 2013, not all of these groups are in acquisition mode,” she said.

Shinzo Abe’s condolences for those lost at Sandakan: a horror from the past, a moment to stop time

Should Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have strolled from his Canberra hotel rehearsing what would be the first speech by a Japanese leader to the Australian Parliament, he would have found himself in calming territory.
杭州桑拿网

A few steps from the Hyatt, just down the hill from Parliament House, is a serene Japanese garden, complete with pagoda and large stone lanterns.

It is the Nara Peace Park, celebrating Canberra’s twin-city arrangement with Japan’s ancient former capital, Nara.

If Mr Abe had wandered a few steps further, he might have discovered his peace disturbed. A new garden marks Canberra’s second, newer sister-city relationship: with Beijing. China and Japan: facing off even on the shore of peaceful Canberra’s lake. The past and the future colliding in a park. But Mr Abe was about to confront another past in a way not heard before in an Australian Parliament. Settling history and looking to the future in uncertain times is in Mr Abe’s genes. Fifty-seven years ago, his grandfather, Japanese PM Nobusuke Kishi, took the first step to put the bitterness of World War II behind Australia and Japan when he signed with PM Robert Menzies an agreement which supplied gas to fuel Japan’s post-war industrial rise.

And so, when Mr Abe rose in the Federal Parliament on Tuesday, seeking more energy, the grandson took another step.

”Now, ladies and gentlemen, when we Japanese started out again after the Second World War, we thought long and hard over what had happened in the past and came to make a vow for peace,” he said. ”We will never let the horrors of the past … repeat themselves.”

And then came words too late for those who were there, but which still sizzle in history.

”Our fathers and grandfathers lived in a time that saw Kokoda and Sandakan,” Mr Abe said.

”How many young Australians with bright futures to come lost their lives and for those who made it through the war, how much trauma did they feel years later from these painful memories? I can find absolutely no words to say. I can only stay humble against the evils and horrors of history. May I most humbly speak for Japan on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards the many souls who lost their lives.”

Sandakan. The greatest atrocity of the Asia-Pacific war. Here was a Japanese Prime Minister using the name of that place, offering condolences in the Australian legislature. In a world moved on, it was a moment to stop time.