WWN#29 – Sydney’s Tent City is coming to an end

What’s Been Happening?

In June, police and council workers dismantled a homeless camp in Martin Place, Sydney CBD which houses about 50 people in tents. The so-called “tent city” has been a subject of debate between the State Government and Sydney Council for months as both sides have accused the other of shunting responsibility over tent city (State vs. Local).

Since then, many residents have returned with some of them having been on the streets for a few months while for others it has been decades. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian claims that the homeless people have been offered accommodation and are simply refusing to help themselves. The residents have countered that the offered accommodation is “not safe, nor affordable, nor acceptable”. Some of them say that the accommodation is only offered on a temporary basis as well. So far negotiations between the City of Sydney and the homeless tent dwellers to vacate the Martin Place campsite have failed.

What Now?

A bill that was introduced by the government on Tuesday was passed in the upper house without amendments on Wednesday evening. The bill authorises police to remove people from crown land if the land minister deems there to be a public safety issue. The legislation only affects crown land within City of Sydney and does not extend to other councils. It effectively resolves the long-running stoush between the government and the city albeit by employment of force.

Following the change in legislation, the residents of the controversial tent city in Martin Place prepared to leave the site today. The NSW Police are monitoring the exodus which has remained peaceful although some residents admitted that they are “traumatised by what’s going on, and had no idea of where they would go”.

What’s Next?

Although the bill is seen as progress towards a solution, it is certainly not the end solution with more steps to come. The lack of affordable housing in the city is the underlying issue here and forcing the tent city dwellers to leave Martin Place will only result in them relocating to another public place.

It is also likely that some residents will remain opposed to leaving a place that has been known to them as a safe haven for many months or years. Some residents will have to be forcibly evicted by police, a move which the Premier said she was reluctant to do.

Lanz Priestly, dubbed the “mayor of tent city”, has said that they are considering all options, including the lodgement of a last minute legal appeal to allow the residents to stay. Having consulted three different groups of lawyers, the law introduced to NSW Parliament was reviewed as weak and therefore they might decide to challenge the law.

References:
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/they-should-be-gone-police-government-plan-to-dismantle-martin-place-camp-20170803-gxow4l.html
http://www.smh.com.au/comment/governments-need-to-listen-to-the-homeless-residents-of-martin-place-20170801-gxniq4.html
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/police-given-power-to-tear-down-sydneys-tent-city/news-story/298df81eb9daff1d228745946535a9a8
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/martin-place-tent-city-mayor-may-lodge-lastminute-legal-appeal-to-allow-homeless-to-stay/news-story/0547cfe4e39068627e20efaafd7927e6

WWN28# – Is this justice? Michelle Carter receives verdict in texting suicide case

What’s Been Happening? Conrad and Michelle

In June 2014, 18 year old Conrad Roy III started sharing suicidal thoughts with Michelle Carter over text messages. Carter initially urges Roy to seek medical help and discourages him from harming himself. Later on, she changes tone and successfully convinces Roy to commit suicide. Roy was found dead near a compression pump that had filled a pick-up truck with carbon monoxide. His death was initially deemed a suicide but police have subsequently charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter after investigating text messages that were sent between Carter and Roy. In one exchange, Carter had told him to stay in the vehicle from 30 miles away after Roy exited the vehicle because the carbon monoxide was “working and he got scared”.

On June 16 2017, Massachusetts judge Lawrence Moniz found Carter to be guilty of Roy’s death and announced that she could face up to 20 years of prison time.

What Now?

Moniz has sentenced Michelle Carter to a 2.5 year term but has said that only 15 months is mandatory. He also sentenced her to five years of probation. If she violates the terms of her five year probation, she will have to serve her full sentence in jail.

Terms of Five Year Probation

  • No contact with Roy’s family and classmates who acted as witnesses for the prosecution
  • Cannot leave the state of Massachusetts
  • Must submit a DNA sample
  • Must have a mental health evaluation
  • Banned from using social media

Carter’s lawyer, Joseph Cataldo successfully petitioned to have her sentence stayed which means that she will not go to jail yet until all of her state appeals are exhausted and denied. Cataldo has asked the judge to spare his client from going to prison at all and require her to receive mental counselling while in probation instead.

Following the sentencing, the prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said that he was disappointed the judge chose to stay the sentence. He had recommended a sentence of 7 to 12 years for Carter who he said has not shown remorse or accepted responsibility for her actions.

What’s Next?

It was certainly unexpected. A 2.5 years sentence is a much shorter sentence than the potential 20. In addition, Carter is appealing the sentence so it could result in only probation time and no time in jail at all. Regarding the sentencing, it is possible that the judge was trying to rehabilitate and not punish and relied on the fact that she was aged 17 when the crime was committed and tried a juvenile court.

The case has drawn a lot of attention to the issue of whether “words encouraging suicide” is a criminal act. In the U.S, criminal law typically punishes physical action and this case could set a new legal precedent in which words and not just actions are deemed to cause death. At this stage, it is unlikely to be used as precedent but the verdict indicates a shift in legal landscape where it may ultimately lead to changes in the way we communicate with others (some say in a more careful manner and with limited freedom).

Postponing the case is also not in the best interests of anyone involved. It offers no peace to Roy’s family and shows a refusal by Carter and her parents to accept responsibility for her actions. The appeal process is likely to drag on for a while and there is no doubt that Carter’s lawyer will surely try to stretch out the process. While some may say that Michelle needs our sympathy and help, I say that she needs to take ownership and accept the consequences of her actions as well.

References:
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3741960/michelle-carter-guilty-encouraging-conrad-roy-boyfriend-suicide/
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-was-wrongfully-convicted-texting-suicide-case-amanda-knox-n789541
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/08/us/text-message-suicide-michelle-carter-conrad-roy/index.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-convicted-texting-suicide-case-sentenced-15-months-jail-n789276
https://qz.com/1009681/a-new-legal-precedent-means-americans-can-go-to-jail-for-what-they-say/

WWN27# – Ride-Sharing Battle in Southeast Asia Intensifies: Grab vs. Uber

Uber vs Grab.jpg

What’s Been Happening?

In 2016, Uber did the unthinkable – it conceded defeat in a costly battle that it has been waging for a year with its local rival Didi Chuxing in China. Uber had been reportedly spending $1 billion a year in its effort to compete with Didi whilst the latter was offering driver and passenger subsidies to stay dominant in its home country. Uber Technologies will sell its brand, business and data to Didi. As part of the deal, Uber Technologies and its other shareholders will receive a combined 20% stake in the combined company.

With China settled, the arrangement is seen to benefit Uber in the long run as it cuts its losses in China and focuses on other opportunities such as gaining market share in other countries in Southeast Asia, India and America.

What Now?

Grab, the ride-hailing company competing with Uber in Southeast Asia has successfully raised $2 billion in new financing from existing investors Didi Chuxing and SoftBank. Grab operates in 36 cities across seven countries in Southeast Asia where it claims to have 50 million downloads from users and 1.1 million drivers on its platform.

This spells trouble for Uber as they had previously lost the battle against competitor-turned-partner Didi in China. Uber only began to see profits shortly before its exit from China last year, approximately three years after it entered the region via Singapore.

In a bid to establish a stronger foothold in Southeast Asia’s ride hailing market, Grab is likely to use the new financing to further develop a mobile payments platform as Grab sees the revenue growth as being “stuck” due to the country’s outdated banking system.

What’s Next?

Uber is under increasing pressure from strong challengers such as Grab in the South East region. By providing financial support to Didi, Grab will inevitably further hurt Uber’s expansions, forcing it to leave Southeast Asia too, rather than burning more cash. Although Grab entered the market as a challenger rather than the first mover, they have been growing at a much faster rate than Uber due to its excellent knowledge and adaptation of local customs.

Some examples are:

  • Subsidizing internet and smartphones for economically disadvantaged drivers
  • Allowing cash payments from customers rather than card payments

Despite the growing list of problems at home and abroad in Southeast Asia, a rumour is circulating that SoftBank is looking to take a multi-billion dollar stake in Uber as it tries to acquire a wider share of the Southeast Asian ride-hailing market. If this holds true and takes place, it may be a much needed silver lining for Uber to continue its operations and expansion plans in the region.

References:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-01/uber-said-to-merge-china-business-with-didi-in-35-billion-deal
http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/08/uber-surrenders-china-in-35-billion-dollar-deal
https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/23/grab-raises-2b-from-didi-chuxing-and-softbank/
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-07-27/why-uber-s-losing-to-local-rivals-in-southeast-asia