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Hi, this is Gerry, and this is my News Digest for Friday 17th November, 2017. On today’s show my topics are the qualifications you need to enter different parliaments; then the sorry state  that Britain’s parliament is in; and finally where all that plastic waste  in the oceans comes from.
There was a bit of a political crisis in Australia recently. I don’t know if you heard about it. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Barnaby Joyce, had to resign  because he was found to be not 100% Australian. He had dual nationality: Australian and New Zealand. It seems that it’s difficult not to be a New Zealander if you have the right to be one. So, although Mr Joyce was born in Australia, and never lived in New Zealand, he automatically qualified as a New Zealand citizen because his father was born there. This fact emerged  as the result of a court case, and Mr Joyce was not the only Australian MP to lose their seat  in the Australian parliament. There were two Brits, another New Zealander and a Canadian, all from the government side, who were found to be registered as citizens in these other countries. The Australian constitution states that MPs may not be the subjects  or citizens  of a foreign power . This story got me wondering about qualifications in other countries. You probably all remember the stories about where President Obama was born. There were false  reports that Obama was born in Kenya. The point of these stories was that you have to be born in the United States if you want to become the US President. But this qualification does not apply to  Congress – the American parliament. You don’t have to be American-born to be a Congressman or –woman you just have to be over 30 years of age, an American citizen, and you have to be living in the area that you wish to represent. No mention of dual nationality there. In Britain the qualifications are different again. Here you have to be over 18 years old but you don’t actually need to be a British citizen: you can be Irish. Or you can be the citizen of a Commonwealth country as long as  you have the right to freely leave and enter the country whenever you like. That means, at the moment, that you can be Maltese or Cypriot, for example, because these countries are member states of the Commonwealth but also EU states with freedom of movement with the UK. In the UK there are, however, a lot of disqualifications. You can’t stand for election, for example, if you’re in the police, or the army or other government departments. And you can’t be a member of two parliaments. And you can’t be in prison. But no problem with dual nationality. In fact, the deputy leader of the Brexit campaign in our referendum was the Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, who grew up in Germany and has, as far as I know, dual British and German nationality. I wonder what the qualifications are to become a Swiss MP.
The British Parliament may be relatively easy to join, but it’s also in crisis at the moment. The Palace of Westminster is falling down. The Palace of Westminster is the name of the famous building on the River Thames in London where our Parliament has its meetings. Already Big Ben, the world-famous bell in the clock tower, that tolls  the hours at Westminster has been silenced for repairs that will last four or five years. A Parliamentary Committee has reported that the Palace of Westminster, “is in a state of extreme disrepair . The risk of a catastrophic failure  is high” it says “and growing with every month that passes. It must be repaired.” End of quote . The roofs are leaking; asbestos is everywhere; the plumbing  regularly fails; the heating and electrical systems are ancient . The building needs massive repairs, and it’s estimated that the work will take at least six years. But there are other problems. Our politicians don’t want to move out while the work is done. The House of Commons and the House of Lords have very unusual shapes which create a special sort of atmosphere. Out of date perhaps, but the British love their traditions, and a lot of the traditionalist MPs feel that our parliament wouldn’t work  properly  in a different kind of building. And, of course, the repairs will cost a huge amount of money. I think it’s fair to say that our politicians have lost the respect of a large part of their electorate , so they are nervous about spending too much money on themselves while other public services are being cut. The building that’s falling down can also be seen as a metaphor for our political system. Political morality also seems to be collapsing. Some years ago we had a big scandal about politicians’ expenses, and now we’ve got a sex scandal. Following the scandal in Hollywood surrounding Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men in the entertainment business, we’ve now got something similar at Westminster. This is another place, it seems, where certain powerful men have been using their power over younger women - or younger men - in a sexual way. It just took one or two women to start talking about their bad experiences and the floodgates were opened . As I talk to you, new cases are hitting the headlines daily. All this is happening while the future of the country, that is to say what Brexit is going to mean, is being shaped by these same politicians. I’m glad I’m not the Prime Minister – wherever she looks, all she can see is crisis.
Perhaps the only encouraging thing  that our politicians can see when they look around them at Westminster is the River Thames. It’s a river that’s so much cleaner now than it used to be, but the same cannot be said for a lot of other rivers in the world. I read a report in the Guardian newspaper the other day about how ten of the world’s biggest rivers are responsible for 90% of the plastic waste that we find in our seas. And just to give you an idea of how much plastic is involved, it’s estimated that every minute of every day the equivalent of a big rubbish  lorry’s load of plastic waste arrives in the world’s oceans. (My PodClub colleague Francesca talked about this recently in her Italian podcast.) Eight of the ten rivers that carry the most waste are in Asia, with two in Africa, including the Nile which feeds into the Mediterranean, of course. In Asia the rivers are the big Chinese ones but also rivers like the Mekong in south-east Asia and the Ganges in India. Perhaps you heard Owen, my wandering son, talking about the Ganges recently in his podcast. It has a huge pollution problem. The latest research, by a team from Germany, is based upon measurements of populations living next to rivers and the amount of rubbish they throw away combined with an absence of systematic recycling in these areas. Whichever beaches you visit these days you’ll find plastic waste. For the health of the planet we need to stop this getting into the sea. Perhaps we now know where to start.
And that’s it for today. To comment on my stories, please write via the PodClub website (podclub.ch) or on Twitter under the address @Gerrypod. Don’t forget that the PodClub app not only allows you to listen to our podcasts but also provides you with some help to extend your vocabulary. I’ll be back with my next News Digest on December 15th. Till then thanks for listening, and take care!