Latest commentary and opinion
Letters to the editor
12:00 AM Scott Morrison can't justify the removal of children and their families from Christmas Island to the mainland.
Andrew Leigh 12:00 AM Like a progressive, I've always believed that a clean environment is an intrinsic good.
The Canberra Times 12:00 AM Our growing understanding of nature has diminished but not vanquished the threat posed by natural forces.
Brian Yatman 12:00 AM Christmas Eve in Sydney
Andrew P Street And we might be getting a Peter Greste Xmas miracle! It's your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant.
John Birmingham The very model of a modern muddled Admiral... Immigration minister Scott Morrison.
Madonna King The deaths of two colossal statesmen, Nelson Mandela and Gough Whitlam, bookended the past 12 months, reminding us of the magnificent legacy that big policy and even bigger vision can author. But their passing - on December 5 last year and October 21 this year - also served as a buttress to a time of unprecedented turmoil, coloured by acts of terrorism and fringe politics, which found a new bar abroad and at home. Internationally, the tumult of ISIS and its new kind of savagery brought beheadings into our lounge-rooms and into the conversations we have with our children, making a lie of US President Barack Obama's declaration last year that the nation's "perpetual war footing" had ended. Snatching control of Iraq's second city Mosul, the murderous jihadists taunted the western world, challenging the readiness and the resolve of both the United States and its allies, including Australia. It raised the talkback barometer once they went ahead with their barbaric threats and beheaded two American journalists, two British aid workers, several Lebanese soldiers and Gold only knows how many Syrian soldiers. With Australia's terror threat ramped up to high in September, the menace didn't need to come closer to home. But it did, when days later police acted on alleged intelligence that random beheadings were being planned in both Sydney and Brisbane. And the fear it brings is with us again, on this Christmas Day, as we hold the families of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson close, and as Prime Minister Tony Abbott warns of threats again. The suite of tendentious and unprecedented anti-terrorism laws authored by the Abbott government has failed to deliver any unanimity on a way forward, as 2014 closes with fighting, including our own, continuing off-shore, and spot-fires of home-grown terrorism and increased intelligence on threats continuing to be found here. The turbulence of 2014 beyond our shores hasn't started or stopped with ISIS though. Russia annexing part of Ukraine in March, the kidnapping of 200 Nigerian girls in April, the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July, and the ongoing challenge faced by the Ebola virus have been monthly reminders of the precariousness of certainty. It was the baby faces of the Maslin children - Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8 - who were among the 298 passengers (including 28 Australians) aboard MH17 that tore at our souls. The unlikely-as-hell fact that it came after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH350 from our skies a few months earlier in March - and our ongoing inability to locate it - only served to rattle the surety of our everyday lives. It was those international events, and how we responded, that propelled a new candidate into the line-up of those being viewed as future Liberal Party leaders. The stunning performance of foreign minister Julie Bishop elbowed Treasurer Joe Hockey, whose annus horribilis continues, to the side, and gave focus to the ambition of Scott Morrison who goes into 2015 with a bigger set of responsibilities after keeping the boats away. And while the job of chief shirt-fronter Tony Abbott is as sure as it can be - at least this week - that unpredictability on the international front was joined by the unsettling performances of our own elected representatives. Campbell Newman has gone from the nation's most popular Liberal to perhaps its most despised, Barry O'Farrell quit over a $3000 bottle of wine, and John Robertson over a significant misjudgement. Labor's Daniel Andrews became Victoria's 48th premier. It was the lure of stability that sent the Gillard government packing and granted Abbott a taste of the top office. But 2014 has shown it all proved to be a costly mirage. Clive Palmer - the latest in a long eccentric tradition from Queensland which also brought to the political stage Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and One Nation's Pauline Hanson - ensured he used his weight to tip the balance to chaos at every opportunity (although Senator Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania is vying daily to steal Queensland's crown). While Catherine Martin and Cate Blanchett were crowned with Oscars in March, it was a sensational brawl between billionaire gaming mogul James Packer and Nine Entertainment Group head David Gyngell that stole the entertainment credits for 2014. Perhaps the gong for entertainment, with purpose though, goes to the ALS ice bucket challenge to raise awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It proved a phenomenal viral marketing hit, with the New York Times reporting an extra $42 million was donated to the ALS Association in July-August. In the court room, any shred of certainty was thrown out with the defence arguments, as Rolf Harris joined former Hey Dad star Robert Hughes in jail over child sex charges, 2012 Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide, and two former prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard fronted separate royal commissions questioning their behaviour. While Schapelle Corby tasted freedom for the first time in February, dreadful last chapters were penned in courts across the nation, particularly in Queensland where Brett Cowan, who killed schoolboy Daniel Morcombe, was finally locked away for a long, long time. It won't be quite long enough for most of us. But the jailing in June of Australian journalist Peter Greste this year - for seven years on a conviction of aiding a terrorist organisation - showed courts will never get it all right. Let's vow to keep him and his family top of mind, as his January 1 appeal date looms. There's been dozens of other big stories - from the death of Wayne Goss at just 63 and the end of car production at home to the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai making headlines abroad - but the overarching theme of 2014 has been the the wake-up call that nothing lasts forever. The deaths of eight innocent children in North Queensland is beyond comprehension, just as the passing of Robin Williams, one of the funniest men on earth, rammed that point home in August. It also provided a timely reminder of the herculean challenge presented by mental illness. Despite the brutality of our times, Nelson Mandela and Gough Whitlam lived long lives, brimming with achievement. Perhaps it's worth moving into 2015 focusing, not on the unpredictability of the time in which we live, but in the knowledge that it is possible to rise above the din and make a genuine difference.
Stephen Munro 12:00 AM The savanna theory of human evolution has taken a knock with the discovery of an engraved shell.
Christopher Prowse 12:00 AM A visit to the Middle East by Australian bishops highlights the plight of Christians in Lebanon and northern Iraq.
As we near Christmas, I think it's worth asking how much it really means to us.
Letters to the Editor
Paul Krugman More than a century has passed since Norman Angell, a British journalist and politician, published "The Great Illusion," a treatise arguing that the age of conquest was or at least should be over.
Damon Young What we know as Christmas, despite its pagan echoes or contested premises, celebrates the figure known as Jesus. Well and good. But what about Christmas for secular Australians, or those nominal Christians uninterested in devotion?
Andrew P Street And we can stop pretending that Muslims aren't being attacked now, right? It's your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant
Tony Trobe Rob Henry outlines his vision for Canberra after taking a prize in the NEAT housing competition.
Dean Phelan This year is almost over but not before we gather to celebrate Christmas, each in our own special way.
Sam de Brito It's impossible to dislike a bloke with the name Steve Smith. Now he's made it easier to cheer Australian cricket again.
El Gibbs Being on the Disability Support Pension enabled me to buy medication and undertake study - so that when I finally got off it I was actually employable.
Tim Stanley 12:15 AM Heston Blumenthal is to food what Damien Hirst is to art. Original, yes. Thrilling, from time to time. But also overpriced and overhyped.
The Canberra Times In the shadow of horrifying events at the Lindt Cafe, how can Christmas possibly be "merry"? The answer is to seek a deeper spiritual significance.
Archbishop Glenn Davies This week we mark 100 years since the 1914 Christmas truce - the time the guns fell silent in World War One, the war to end all wars.
Peter Cochrane 12:15 AM The recent hubbub over the Prime Minister's Literary Awards was sparked by poet Les Murray, one of the judges on a panel charged with the duty of choosing a short list and recommending a winner.
Brian Yatman The spirits of Christmases past.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher Sydney and Australia are in shock and grief. It will take time for our city to recover; for the families of the deceased and the survivors; for a community also traumatised by what happened in Martin Place.
Elizabeth Farrelly 12:15 AM Christianity should have been the revolution which replaced tribal vengeance with radical love.
Rob Ashton As another year of comment moderation draws to a close, it seems a good time to answer a couple of questions and make a few - dare I say - comments.
Terry Barnes 12:15 AM Compassion is not the sole domain of parents.
Julian Burnside After building a reputation as a callous immigration minister, Scott Morrison takes on social services.
The Canberra Times In the schoolyard shuffle, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rewarded the cool kids and adds a woman to his Cabinet clique.
John Birmingham It was a bar on a hot day. They served fried cheese. It was perfect. A little too perfect.
Letters to the Editor
The federal government has pushed through significant changes to the Medicare system, with further proposed legislation undermining the role and value of Australian general practitioners.
John Garnaut Vladimir Putin doesn't seem to have realised it yet, but his dreams of reviving the Russian empire and assailing the Western rules-based order have just been obliterated by the collapsing price of oil.
Brian Yatman Sydney, city of dust, an ill-timed inferno and coming attractions.
Andrew Carr While the official announcement shows a promotion for Kevin Andrews, make no mistake, Tony Abbott is Australia's new Defence Minister.
Glenda Cooper When I remember Christmas over the years, I don't look back with a smile at the ones that went without a hitch; my fondest memories are actually of the imperfect ones.
Andrew P Street And the new Defence Minister doesn't much care for defence. It's your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant.
Peter Greste A year into a seven-year prison sentence in Egypt, Peter Greste resists the temptation to become morose.