The day that was, Wednesday 7 December

We will leave the live blog there for the night.

Here’s what made the news today:

  • Australia’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 5.9% in the September quarter, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. At a quarterly level, GDP grew 0.6%.

  • China’s relationship with Australia could be heading back “on the right track”, with China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, saying diplomats are in talks on next steps for further cooperation.

  • Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, has taken over CWP Renewables, expanding the billionaire’s clean energy portfolio to 2.4GW.

  • Rideshare company Uber will pay a $21m fine after admitting it overestimated fees for services and advertised a possible cancellation fee that it never charged. The court imposed a lower fine than the $26m the company had originally agreed to pay.

  • Minister for women, Katy Gallagher, said the commonwealth needs to lead reforms of sexual assault law.

  • The US will increase rotational presence of navy and army personnel in Australia. It will see more US air, land and sea forces in Australia.

  • Public hospital performance is at a record low, according to the Australian Medical Association.

We will be back with you tomorrow with all the latest. Until then, have a good evening.


Former Department of Human Services chief continues evidence at robodebt inquiry

The former Department of Human Services boss Kathryn Campbell has told a royal commission she relied on her staff and another department to ensure what became the robodebt scheme was legal.

Campbell, who continued her evidence to a royal commission into the scheme on Wednesday, faced sustained questioning about her role in February 2015 advising the former social services minister Scott Morrison about a proposal for what became robodebt.

Under questioning from the senior counsel assisting, Justin Greggery KC, Campbell was asked about her involvement in an executive minute for Morrison that outlined what would become the robodebt scheme, along with other welfare compliance policies.

Kathryn Campbell
Former Department of Human Services boss Kathryn Campbell during Senate Estimates in April 2022. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP


China’s former ambassador to Australia also optimistic on relationship

As we reported here on the blog earlier, China’s current ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, has told an event China is ready to work with Australia to bring the relationship “back on the right track”.

Fu Ying, who served as China’s ambassador to Australia from 2004 to 2007, has now addressed the same webinar hosted by the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.

She said she was similarly optimistic about the trajectory in the relationship after the meeting between Xi Jinping and Anthony Albanese.

Fu, who is now vice-chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s 13th National People’s Congress, described the discussions as constructive and said the two leaders sent a clear signal about the need for improving the relationship.

She said China had no intention of forcing Australia to make a choice against any other country.

But she said China also disagreed with the idea of dividing the world into power blocs, saying humanity has not forgotten the trauma of “hot and cold wars”.

Fu said while both China and Australia needed to adjust to the new realities in the world, they should take a long term view about power relations. She said that was a point stressed by Xi when meeting Albanese last month.

She said it was imperative to rise above disagreement and respect each other and seek mutually beneficial, arguing this would lead to steady growth of the relationship.

Fu Ying
Fu Ying, a former Chinese ambassador to Australia. Photograph: Wu Hong/EPA


Interesting questions coming out of an ABC interview with Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, this afternoon. I’ll try to get the best bits.

RE: Has @VictorianCHO been silenced?@DanielAndrewsMP: "At the end of the day, anyone who knows Brett Sutton knows that he's not silenced...if he's got something to say he'll say it."

"If he chooses to make public comments that's a matter for him."

— ABC Melbourne (@abcmelbourne) December 7, 2022

Windfall royalty charges on coal buoy Queensland’s finances

Queensland is back in the black after taking a cut on coal exports but wants compensation before it agrees to cap domestic prices, AAP reports.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is reportedly considering demanding Queensland and NSW impose their own price caps on coal to ease pressure on household and business power bills.

That comes as Queensland treasurer, Cameron Dick, revealed on Wednesday that windfall royalty charges on coal producers will help keep the state’s budget in the black for three of the next four years.

He’s forecast a surplus of almost $5.2bn in 2022/23 in his mid-year budget update, against a $1bn deficit predicted six months ago.

That’s on the back of almost $10.7bn in coal royalty payments flowing into state coffers; more than double the amount predicted in June when windfall royalty rates were introduced.

Royalties, along with higher payroll tax and GST returns, will keep the balance sheets in the black over the forward estimates, except for a $458m deficit in 2023/24.

The treasurer says a coal price cap won’t hit the royalty income from exporters but he’s wary about its impact on profitable public-owned electricity generators:

We need to have a look at the final proposal and the detail from the federal government before we can form a view about what that actually looks like when it comes to compensation or support for Queensland if we are to do something that impacts, in a financial sense, on our state.

Dick expects to take $21.5bn in coal royalties over the next four years but admits Treasury’s forecasts are conservative.

The Queensland Resources Council, a coalmining lobby group, has launched an advertising campaign warning that higher royalty payments will deter investment.

QRC chief executive, Ian Macfarlane, claimed that due to the policy, “in 10 to 20 years time, there will be no jobs in coal mining”.

“They are taking so much that they are killing the golden goose,” he said.

“The resources industry in Queensland underpins the Queensland economy yet it is being absolutely trashed by the Queensland government.”

The treasurer is unapologetic about taking a bigger cut from coal producers, saying it will be partly used to fund decarbonisation plans, critical minerals mining and regional infrastructure.

Coal royalties are worth fighting for; Queenslanders deserve their fair share and they will receive it.

The windfall profits made by coal companies are also a win for the people who own these mineral resources, the people of Queensland.

While coal prices are expected to fall from the second half of 2023, the windfall rates will take total income from coal to almost $21.55bn over the next four years.

The net debt forecast has been slashed by $400m to $110.7bn for 2022/23 and is expected to peak around $700m lower at $129.3bn in four years’ time.

Queensland’s economic growth is forecast to be around 2.5% until 2023/24.

The state’s 4% unemployment rate is expected to rise marginally to 4.25% and the current 5.75% inflation rate is expected to fall to 2.75% by 2023/24.

piles of coal ready to be transferred to nearby ships
Queensland’s Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay coal terminals. Photograph: OZSHOTZ/Alamy


China’s ambassador to Australia ready to 'bring the relationship back on the right track'

China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, says diplomats between the two countries are in talks on next steps for cooperation.

Xiao has told a webinar hosted by the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney:

We’re ready together with the Australian side to bring the relationship back on the right track.

Xiao notes this month marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between two countries. He says the “difficulties” in the relationship encountered in the past few years were unfortunate. He says regardless of different views of why and how those difficulties emerged, those difficulties are not in the interest of either country.

Xiao says last month’s bilateral meeting between Xi Jinping and Anthony Albanese on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali was “very successful”. The ambassador described it as positive, constructive and productive, and it set the direction for the future development of the relationship.

He says China and Australia are now working on the follow-up to that bilateral meeting between the leaders. That includes comparing notes between the two sides.

He says diplomats are examining the areas in which the countries can cooperate, the areas where they have differences, and the concerns from each sides, and looking for solutions to those concerns.


Australia’s ambassador to China says problems between the two nations can be managed

The Australian ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, is speaking about the relationship between the two countries.

He tells a webinar that both Beijing and Canberra are now better aware of where the “firm lines” in the relationship are.

The event is hosted by the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.

Fletcher says “our difficulties have not gone away” but each side can start talking abut them.

He says the problems are not trivial things and go to matters of sovereignty, security and dignity as viewed by each government.

But he says there is no need to focus exclusively on those problems:

Problems need to be recognised and addressed and if possible progressed but, if not, managed so they don’t become damaging.

Fletcher says in the wake of last month’s meeting between Xi Jinping and Anthony Albanese, the Australian embassy in Beijing is considering “next steps”.

He says priorities for further talks include regional hotspots in Asia, the international order and the multilateral system including nuclear non-proliferation, human rights, the World Trade Organization, development including in the Pacific, and environment including climate change.

Fletcher says Australia has positions it wishes to put to China, and Australia wants to understand China’s positions, too. Australia wants to “encourage them to see things more from our perspective”.

He cites further areas for talks as new frontiers in renewable energy and public health.

Graham Fletcher
Australian ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, turned away by court officials as he tried to enter the trial of Chinese Australian journalist Cheng Lei in Beijing in March 2022. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images


New Zealand opposition on NZ election 2024

New Zealand’s opposition leader, Christopher Luxon, is up on Afternoon Briefing next discussing the NZ election next year, and National’s improvement in the polls.

He said the National Party has come back from a difficult place, and the current government is “really struggling to get things done and New Zealanders are over it.”

They sense that the country is totally, utterly, completely heading in the wrong direction and they really want a government to step up and turn the country around and get things done and delivered and deliver outcomes for the New Zealand people, that is how we get to improve their daily lives.

Asked if there is any similarity between Australia turfing out the Morrison government in May, Luxon said it is different.

This is a government that does a lot of spin, no delivery, there is a lot of economic mismanagement frankly going on at the moment in our country, there is a lot of centralisation of control, a huge amount of identity politics and we’ve just lost that ambition, the aspiration, the positivity and the confidence to do well in the world so we’ve been playing a small negative game over the last years and New Zealanders can sense that and that is why they are saying look, this country is heading in wrong direction, they want to government to turn it around and get things done for the New Zealand people.


McCarthy says the Nationals should stop and reflect on what they are saying no to, when it comes to an Indigenous voice to parliament, noting that a number of Nationals disagree with the party’s position.

She said while senator Jacinta Price’s position was well known, it was surprising a number of Nationals so quickly arrived at the no position:

I think what was surprising was that so many of the Nationals bought it straightaway without really having the conversation with Linda Burney in particular as the minister responsible and also Senator Pat Dodson. People that they work aside for the last two terms at least. These are very, very strong people who have been in Aboriginal is for many decades and Pat Dodson who is known as a father of reconciliation, I thought it was quite surprising and quite naive really that the Nationals leader hadn’t had that conversation with them?


Government on Indigenous voice to parliament

The assistant minister for Indigenous Australians, Malarndirri McCarthy, is on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing discussing the Indigenous voice to parliament.

After meeting with the ministers for Indigenous Australians in the states this week, McCarthy says there is in-principle support for the work the federal government is doing heading towards the referendum:

We have the two groups, the working group is obviously the group that does advise suddenly the minister and a special for reconciliation and Mark Dreyfus, attorney general, so that working group will meet again next week along with the engagement group which is a larger group of over 60 organisations and individuals from across the country and will be about the communication process and how we actually reach across the country to both Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

It was important to be able to speak to the Indigenous affairs ministers about those two working groups but also, the legal group that’s looking at this as well, that’s assisting with both Senator Dodson and Mark Dreyfus and this was about bringing up to speed each minister and also, recognising the next year is going to be an important year for our country.


Spike in NSW ambulance call-outs due to triple zero operators, union says

Highest priority NSW ambulance call-outs have spiked, with unions blaming the blowout on a change to triage questions asked by triple zero operators, AAP reports.

The most urgent of emergencies, classified P1A by the service, increased 72.8% in the second half of this year compared to before the Covid pandemic, according to the Bureau of Health Information (BHI).

NSW Ambulance conducted 330,591 responses in the July to September quarter, of which a record 12,321 were P1As or immediately life-threatening.

The Australian Paramedics Association (APA) says the increase is partly due to triple zero operators now asking callers a binary yes or no question regarding whether the patient is having trouble breathing.

If the answer is yes, a P1A emergency is sent out, triggering a lights and sirens response from nearby paramedics.

The issue, according to the APA, is that not all such instances will be life-threatening and could instead be due to shock, anxiety or extreme intoxication.

“If you do indicate the patient you are calling about is having trouble breathing it will automatically be classed as a P1A call, which means a resource is going to be redirected from some other callers who might actually need more urgent care,” a spokeswoman said.

“That question is supposed to be sorting through what is a life-threatening cardiac or airway-oriented emergency and it’s failing to do that.”

NSW Ambulance acknowledged the increase in P1A calls was partly due to the update of its triage system but said the intention was to more accurately reflect a patient’s condition.

“The (Priority) 1A response code reflects our most life-threatening incidents which include patients presenting in cardiac arrest but it is not limited to this group,” it said.

“The triage system is designed to provide the highest acuity incidents with the most time-critical ambulance response.”

The APA wants a reassessment to prevent cases being misclassified.

The BHI report also found ambulances responding to the next highest priority emergencies, or P1s, achieved a target response time of less than 15 minutes in 38 per cent of cases, which was well below pre-pandemic levels.

Once patients arrive at hospital they face extended wait times, the report says.

Three-quarters of patients delivered by ambulance had their care transferred to emergency department staff within 30 minutes and one in 10 waited longer than 68 minutes.

Health minister Brad Hazzard, who will retire from politics at the next election, noted NSW emergency departments were actually performing better than anywhere else in the country.

Hazzard took his lead from another report released on Wednesday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showing the state’s EDs had the shortest wait times in the country.

“What is clear is that when a patient shows up at NSW public hospital, they are receiving the best and quickest care in the country,” Hazzard said.

Labor leader Chris Minns said if elected his government would put more funding into healthcare to ensure systems ran more smoothly.

“We’ll introduce safe staffing levels in NSW hospitals, starting with EDs,” Minns said.

“It will help with workloads, it will take pressure off nurses and ensure they can treat patients with the care they deserve and need.”


More from the assistant trade minister …

On whether our trading partners have been informed of potential policy directions when it comes to energy, assistant trade minister, Tim Ayres, says it’s a constant dialogue:

We are in a constant dialogue with our major trading partners and our partners who rely upon Australian energy supplies about all of the issues around energy. Those reassurances have been constant and ongoing all the way through this year, and Australia is a trusted and reliable partner for many of these countries on these questions. It is not a new issue, and what we are seeing around the world as governments taking action over this set of issues. It is complex.

We have got to deal with supply, we have got to deal with price, we’ve got to make sure that Australia’s reputation as a trusted supplier of these resources is maintained and I am very confident that the measures that the government announces in due course after we have gone through a proper process will achieve all of those objectives.


Government welcomes wage growth

The assistant trade minister, Tim Ayres, is on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing discussing the national accounts.

He says it’s good to see wages growth:

It is a good thing to see some growth in wages. Of course a very significant part of that I think can be attributed to minimum wage rises that happened following the election of the Albanese government. But households are still doing it tough. Wages are still well behind the growth and the cost of living and of course we have seen a decade of historically low wages growth, so households have got a long way to go to catch up in real terms, and we are under no illusion this is a very difficult period for Australian household.

Turning to trade policy, Ayres won’t comment on what impact capping coal prices might have on trade, saying the government has not yet reached a position.

We are going through of course a careful, deliberate cabinet process in terms of where we are heading on energy prices, and the public will get to see some of that play out over the course of this week.

We have been very deliberate and very careful to make this a proper, effective process. We haven’t rushed to the press release, we’ve been working carefully with industry, the ministers with each of their departments and now in some consultation with the states and territories about how this is going to proceed but the overwhelming issue here is that energy price rises have had a significant impact on households and when we are talking about exports, a very significant impact on the capacity of gas dependent East Coast manufacturers, particularly those who are exposed to energy price volatility from the end of this year.


[Continued from previous post]

The Alfred has paused elective surgeries for a week because a high number of key clinical staff are off sick due to Covid-19.

AAP has been told it’s the hospital’s highest level of staff sick leave since early 2022.

But all emergency surgery at The Alfred is continuing, with the hospital responding to an increase in trauma cases.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital also confirmed on Wednesday that some elective surgery has been postponed, although planned category one and urgent category two surgeries will still go ahead.

The hospital has cited increased demand and staff illness as reasons for the changes.

“Unfortunately, due to these impacts, some patients may have their surgeries deferred,” a spokesperson told AAP in a statement.

“We are reviewing this on a daily basis and thank Victorians for their patience and support.”

Health minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the government was implementing its long-term plan to boost numbers in the healthcare workforce.

She urged Victorians to take their own steps to reduce the current strain on hospitals, including keeping up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and staying home when sick.

Victorian hospitals to feel Covid pinch for weeks

Victoria’s hospital system will continue to see increased pressure from Covid-19 for weeks to come, AAP reports.

Elective surgeries have been deferred at some of Melbourne’s largest hospitals as staff shortages put pressure on already busy services.

Victorian health minister Mary-Anne Thomas acknowledged staff furloughs were the most likely reason for surgery delays.

Thomas said she has received a briefing from the health department since being re-elected and while the current Covid-19 wave may have peaked, the flow-on effects will continue.

“Our latest data tells us that we’ve got around 550 cases in hospital at the moment,” she told reporters in Clayton on Wednesday.

“The good news on Covid is that the proportion of cases requiring hospitalisation has dramatically reduced in relation to the number of infections. The advice that I have is that we are plateauing.

“But what we know from previous waves is that ... there’s a lag in hospitalisation from the peak of infection.

The next two weeks will continue to be challenging for healthcare workers and all Victorians, Thomas said.

About 550 COVID-19 cases are currently in hospital, she said.



Violet Coco jailing condemned by Greenpeace

Greenpeace has condemned the 15-month sentence handed to climate activist Violet Coco in NSW.

Violet Coco is a member of the Fireproof Australia activist group.
Violet Coco is a member of the Fireproof Australia activist group. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said the right to peaceful protest is fundamental to democracy, and the laws were “rushed through in a chilling and knee-jerk response to ongoing peaceful protests”:

[They] are the latest in a suite of increasingly draconian measures introduced in Australia, designed to curtail peaceful public dissent.

What these laws fail to acknowledge is that climate activism does not exist in a vacuum. People are feeling compelled to take a stand only because of the fossil fuel industry’s wanton and knowing destruction of our right to a safe climate over the past 50 years.

While tactics and approaches to climate advocacy may differ, and there are legitimate differences of opinion on what forms of advocacy are most effective for winning hearts and minds, the fact remains that the inconvenience caused by the climate crisis – catastrophic floods, fires and storms destroying homes, livelihoods, and entire communities – staggeringly outweighs the inconvenience of one climate protester blocking one lane of traffic for 25 minutes.

What we must remember is that climate change isn’t happening to us, it’s being done to us. It’s being done to us by the executives of the fossil fuel corporations, and they know it. Just as Ms Coco knew that her act of protest would disrupt one lane of traffic, these executives know that their relentless pursuit of profit is disrupting the lives of billions of people and every species of life on our entire planet.


Meningococcal case reported in Victoria by schoolies-attendee to Maroochydore

An 18-year-old who attended schoolies in Maroochydore in Queensland is the latest case of meningococcal to be reported, the Victorian health department has said.

Victoria has reported 14 cases in 2022.

The health department is warning people who attended social venues in Maroochydore between 26 November and 2 December to be alert for symptoms and act immediately.

Those symptoms include: sudden onset of fever, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, a rash of red-purple spots or bruises, dislike of bright lights, nausea, and vomiting.


Human remains found under Brisbane building

Human remains have been uncovered under a Brisbane unit complex, sparking a potential homicide investigation, AAP reports.

A member of the public discovered the remains under an Alderley Ave unit complex in Brisbane’s north on Wednesday morning.

Investigations are underway to determine the identity of the remains and the circumstances surrounding the death.

Police have initially declined to elaborate on the condition of the remains or the cause of death.

A crime scene has been declared, with forensic officers scouring the scene.


Young Liberals oppose Greens on lowering voting age

In news that will probably not surprise anyone, the Young Liberals have come out against lowering the voting age. The Greens (and independent MP Dr Monique Ryan) have expressed support for the idea in recent weeks – the Greens plan on making it a legislative priority as soon as parliament resumes in February, with a private members’ bill being drafted as we speak.

That builds on the work Greens senator Jordon Steele-John did in the senate in the last parliament.

So far, Labor has said it is not opposed to the idea, which is not a ringing endorsement, but is also not a no. Whether or not it’s like when your mum says “maybe” to something, but means no is still to be determined.

But the Young Liberals have some thoughts. And those thoughts are no one under 18 should be given the right to vote.

The federal president of the Young Liberals Clark Cooley said:

At best this proposal is a poorly designed attempt at gaining media headlines, at worst it’s an attempt by the Australian Greens to manipulate our strong democratic voting laws to increase the vote share of the Greens political party.

Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that a change in the voting age would not increase political participation. This attempt to change the laws to suit their political agenda, shows the Greens Party as cynical and self-interested.

The Young Liberal Movement champion and applaud the political involvement of young people as being critical to the functioning of our democratic system. However, we completely reject the notion that young Australians are not given a voice in the Parliament. Young people have never been more represented in the Federal Parliament, or respective State and Territory Parliaments.

You could say that rejecting the proposal because it wouldn’t benefit your party is just as cynical and self-interested, but we will leave that determination to the punters.


Food poisoning outbreak at conference on NSW Central Coast

The NSW health department and food authority say they’re continuing to investigate a large outbreak of food poisoning and salmonella infections following a two-day conference on the Central Coast last week.

At least 69 people from NSW, the Northern Territory and Queensland are known to have become unwell with symptoms of food poisoning, of which 27 people have confirmed salmonella infections to date.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, NSW health executive director of public health, said 31 of the 230 people who attended the conference have gone to emergency since, and NSW health and the food authority are working to investigate the cause of the outbreak:

Our public health experts continue to contact people associated with the event, including attendees from the Aboriginal Languages Trust and we thank all of those who have assisted us so far.

We ask anyone who feels unwell or has concerns about their health after they have returned home to seek medical care, and to get in touch with your local Public Health Unit, or the conference organisers.

Those who fell ill had attended the Aboriginal Languages Trust conference gala dinner at the Crowne Plaza Terrigal Pacific Hotel, and the NSW food authority was investigating the function. The hotel has voluntarily closed the kitchen.


Thanks for following along this morning! My colleague Josh Taylor will be here to guide you through the rest of the afternoon.


Australian children failing fitness tests

Australian children are glued to their screens and four out of five aren’t getting enough exercise, according to the 2022 Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA) report card.

Researchers are now calling for a national physical activity plan to get kids moving following the dismal results.

The report card is part of a global initiative started in 2014, involving more than 50 countries, which report on the physical activity levels of children every two years.

It concluded the ongoing poor performance of children’s physical fitness was a clear sign more needs to be done.

The researchers are particularly concerned about the D-grade scored for children’s overall physical activity and screen time.

It found 80 per cent of Australian children were not meeting national guidelines for physical activity and 80 per cent of children were exceeding the two-hour guideline for daily screen time.

Australian children scored below international norms and UniSA researcher Verity Booth says:

When we think of Australian kids, we often picture active, healthy children.

Yet the reality is far from this ideal. Instead, most Aussie kids are spending their time glued to screens and getting nowhere near enough physical activity.

UniSA’s Professor Tim Olds says a national physical activity plan should include a national monitoring system to allow governments to gauge the success of various initiatives.

A national plan should also involve all sectors of government: transportation to encourage walking and cycling to school, urban planning to provide adequate green spaces and recreation facilities, education to encourage specialist PE teachers.

- with AAP

Discoloured water in flooded Murray River towns could last ‘weeks’

Brown filtered water is likely to persist for months in Murray River towns from New South Wales down to South Australia, as communities continue to deal with the aftermath of major flooding.

The Murray River council in Moama was forced to reassure residents its filtered water supply was safe to drink after a string of social media complaints over murky tap water.

A spokesperson said:

Due to recent flood waters, council’s filtered water networks are being affected by discolouration in the river supply systems.

This is likely to be an ongoing issue for weeks to come.

The following may occur: toilet U-bends may look a little murky, bath water may look dirty [and] white sheets and clothes may not stay white when washed.

Read more:


Heatwave spreads across Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland

The Bureau of Meteorology has released infrared footage showing the heatwave sweeping northern Australia, with large parts of the country continuing to exceed 40°C.

Infrared satellite from Tue shows large parts of central and northern Aus exceeding 40°C, appearing as bright orange shades. Marble Bar, #WA reached 45.7°C for the 2nd day in a row 🌡️

Severe to extreme #heatwave conditions will continue in WA, #NT and #Qld until early next week.

— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) December 7, 2022

Weatherzone meteorologist Ben Domensino yesterday said that temperatures in northern WA could reach 47°C by the coming weekend.

Read more:

Penny Wong meets with USAID administrator in Washington

The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, has met with Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), following the annual Ausmin talks in Washington, DC earlier today.

Addressing climate change and driving sustainable economic growth are critical to regional security and prosperity.

Today @USAID Administrator Samantha Power discussed our shared commitment to improving Indo-Pacific development outcomes.

— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) December 7, 2022


NSW vax rollout ‘efficient and effective’

The NSW rollout of Covid-19 vaccines was successful despite the challenges of uncertain supply and building a booking system from scratch, a review has found.

Nearly three years after the coronavirus first arrived, the state’s auditor general, Margaret Crawford, today handed down her review of NSW Health’s jab rollout:

Despite challenges such as uncertain supply and changes to clinical advice affecting vaccine eligibility, NSW Health’s overall delivery of vaccination services was effective and efficient.

NSW Health implemented its own booking system after it identified that the Australian government’s system would not manage bookings.

After launching the rollout in February last year, NSW Health set a target in May to have 80% of the adult population receive two doses by December.

In August, the government offered an incentive by easing restrictions on vaccinated people when 70% of the population was vaccinated.

The original goal of reaching 80% of the population having had two doses was reached in October, and then updated to 95%.

While that goal had been reached for much of NSW, some areas remained below that benchmark.

Crawford said:

Access to quality data to regularly measure vaccination rates in some vulnerable populations remains an ongoing challenge for the NSW and Australian governments.

As a result, NSW Health is unable to fully ensure it has delivered on its shared responsibility with the Australian government to vaccinate vulnerable people.

- from AAP


Australia’s most searched words on Google in 2022

Australians searched for “floods”, “La Niña” and “when will the rain stop?” more than any other country in the world in 2022, according to Google.

As a year of floods and wet weather hit large parts of the eastern seaboard, Google recorded more searches for “mould” in Australia than ever before.

Search interest in floods in Australia increased by 200% compared with last year and search interest in La Niña has increased by 80%, Google said.

Read more:

Cummins ruled out of Adelaide Test

Pat Cummins has been ruled out of the Adelaide Test, with Steve Smith to captain against West Indies.

Australia’s management made the call this afternoon to not risk Cummins for the Test, with Scott Boland to take his place.

Cummins had been battling a quad injury since the first innings in Perth, and did not bowl on the final two days as Australia claimed a 164-run victory.

He completed light runthroughs on Tuesday evening, but with little time before Thursday’s first ball, it was always unlikely the quick would recover in time.

Cricket Australia said in a statement:

Team medical staff commenced Cummins’ recovery in Adelaide but selectors deemed there was not sufficient time for the fast bowler to be fully fit for the match.

- from AAP


Robodebt royal commission probes why averaging debt calculation method used

The former boss of the Department of Human Services has been grilled about why she didn’t do more to stop people receiving inaccurate debts under the failed robodebt program.

Kathryn Campbell, who is appearing at a royal commission into the scheme, faced sustained questioning about why she wasn’t more focused on ensuring debts were calculated accurately.

Campbell has previously accepted she kept a close eye on the scheme once it hit headlines from January 2017.

Campbell sought to bat away questions from the senior counsel assisting, Justin Greggery KC, by saying the Department of Social Services had obtained legal advice saying the “income averaging” method was legal.

While this turned out to be wrong, Greggery pointed out that even if the scheme was lawful, the nature of the averaging debt calculation method meant people could still receive debts that “did not exist”.

He said:

Didn’t it trouble you that using averaging might lead to the calculation of debts which did not exist in whole or in part, irrespective of the legal advice about their validity?

Campbell replied:

I was troubled that citizens weren’t able to engage with the system [by providing payslips to more accurately have their debts calculated].

Greggery said:

Why was that more important to you than the concern about the prospect that averaging might create debts that didn’t exist?


Because I didn’t want to use averaging.


Then why did you use it?


Because the legal advice ... said averaging could be used as a last resort … we didn’t want to do that, which is why we worked hard to ensure that the recipients could engage with the system and work through it ... And in fact I don’t think we used [averaging] from early 2017. Until August or September of 2017.

Other legal advice provided by DSS in 2015 suggested the robodebt scheme would be unlawful. In early 2017, DSS provided new advice suggesting it was legal.

Campbell’s evidence continues.


Djokovic locks in Adelaide tennis return

Novak Djokovic will begin his Australian Open assault at the Adelaide International after the 21-time major champion was confirmed as part of a quality field to compete from January 1.

The Serbian, detained and then deported by authorities ahead of the Australian Open earlier this year, will be allowed back into the country after being granted a visa by the Australian government.

Novak Djokovic in a grey shirt
Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends the Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals 2022 in Malaga, Spain, in November. Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

But the world No 5 won’t play at the inaugural United Cup after Serbia failed to qualify for the teams event, instead starting his year at the Drive in Adelaide.

The world No 6, Felix Auger-Aliassime, No 7, Daniil Medvedev, No 8, Andrey Rublev, No 15, Jannik Sinner and two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray will also feature.

The combined WTA 500 and ATP 250 tournament will also welcome four of the world’s top 10 women - Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka, Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova.

Djokovic will then shoot for his 10th Australian Open title and record-equalling 22nd grand slam victory when the action begins at Melbourne Park on January 16.

But they’ll have to get through Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish 19 year old who is finishing the year as the youngest-ever world No 1.

- from AAP


Severe thunderstorms possible for Queensland

⛈️Today's thunderstorm forecast: #severe #thunderstorms are possible over the southern inland of #QLD. Damaging wind gusts are the primary hazard. Storms could move across #Brisbane, #GoldCoast and #SunshineCoast later this evening/overnight. if needed:

— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) December 7, 2022

Australians spending more on travel and services but saving less, treasurer says

Chalmers goes on to explain a little more what the latest figures tell us about Australians’ spending habits:

We also saw discretionary spending continue to recover from the impacts of Covid with Australians spending more on travel and services.

Overall, household consumption rose by 1.1% in the quarter. Household
consumption is a big part of the story that we are seeing in these national accounts, making a big contribution to growth in the quarter.

We also know that cost of living pressures and rising interest rates are taking a toll on household budgets. That is being felt right now and will be felt increasingly in the economy in the months ahead.

We can see the beginnings of this again in the numbers we have for the September quarter. If you look at the measure of prices in the national accounts, that rose rapidly in the quarter.

You can also see in the household savings ratio that Australians are saving less out of their income now than they were before. And we’re back down to 6.9% in the quarter. Which is lower than it was in the June quarter and now at these sorts of levels that we saw pre-Covid.

Chalmers welcomes beginnings of wage growth

Chalmers say the GDP figures come as “welcome signs” despite the economy facing “pretty serious headwinds coming at us from around the world.”

We are very pleased to see the beginnings of some great wages growth in our economy. Average compensation per hour grew by 2.8% in the quarter. We want to see wages growth in our economy and are pleased to see the beginnings of some of that wages growth in the September quarter.

There are also some tentative early signs of an easing in some of the supply constraints that have been a big challenge in our economy. Dwelling investment grew for the first time since June 2021. We also saw strong growth in imports, imports of goods, suggesting global supply chain constraints are easing a bit as well and again, that is a good development.


GDP figures ‘solid outcome in the circumstances’, treasurer says

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has responded to the latest GDP figures, saying they capture “some, and not all of the substantial global uncertainty that we’re seeing in our economy”.

He said:

These are a backward-looking measure, they capture July and August and September of this year. And obviously a lot has happened since then, whether it’s subsequent interest rate rises or further developments in the global economy.

But this is a really solid outcome in the circumstances. This paints a picture of an economy which is relatively robust, despite the substantial challenges being thrown at it from around the world.

These national accounts show an economy performing solidly withstanding the challenges facing it so far. But with substantial challenges still to come.


Up or down arrow for the RBA after GDP?

A swag of data like national accounts takes time to assess, but markets and economists viewed the September quarter numbers to be on the weak side.

The Australian dollar eased back below 67 US cents and stocks extended losses, influenced by a drop on Wall Street, to be almost 1% lower for the day by about noon.

Catherine Birch, a senior ANZ economist, said spending for discretionary goods and services was up 1.8% for the quarter alone but mostly because we tapped into savings.

Of more note, though, were movements in prices, which within inflation were “uncomfortably high”, she said.

Birch said:

The household consumption deflator (another measure of consumer inflation) accelerated to 2% [quarter to quarter], the strongest quarterly result since 1990 (excluding the introduction of the GST), and wages growth also accelerated.

The data today and statement from the RBA yesterday support our view that more cash rate hikes will be needed in 2023. Our pick is a peak of 3.85% by May.

Ahead of today’s GDP figures, investors were predicting a peak cash rate of about 3.6% - and perhaps even a pause in rate moves when the central bank’s board next meets on 7 February after a January break.

After Tuesday's rate rise by the RBA to 3.1%, investors lifted their 'peak rate' expectations slightly to about 3.65% next year. For now, they're viewing a pause in rate rises when the RBA next meets in February as a 57% chance.

— (@p_hannam) December 6, 2022

For more on the economy, here’s our running report:


Ausmin statement on ‘force posture’ cooperation

The Ausmin statement also reveals a few more details about the “force posture” cooperation between the US and Australia, including pre-positioning munitions and fuel in Australia in support of US forces:

They affirmed that Australia and the United States would continue the rotational presence of US capabilities in Australia, across air, land, and maritime domains. This would include US bomber task force rotations, fighters, and future rotations of US navy and US army capabilities.

The principals decided to identify priority locations in Australia to support enhanced US force posture with associated infrastructure, including runway improvements, parking aprons, fuel infrastructure, explosive ordnance storage infrastructure, and facilities to support the workforce.

… recognising logistics cooperation is a key line of effort for force posture cooperation, the principals decided to preposition stores, munitions, and fuel in support of US capabilities in Australia and to demonstrate logistics interoperability through joint exercises.

To support enhanced air cooperation, Australia and the United States committed to codevelop agile logistics at nominated airfields –including at bare bases in northern Australia – to support more responsive and resilient rotations of US aircraft.

Further, to strengthen US land presence, the principals decided to expand locations for US army and US marine corps forces, to enable exercises, activities, and further opportunities for regional engagement, including in the context of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support to the region.


Australia and US encourage PRC to promote ‘stability and transparency’ around nuclear weapons

Australia and the US also repeated “serious concerns about severe human rights violations in Xinjiang, the human rights situation in Tibet, and the systematic erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, democratic institutions, and processes undermining the commitments made by the PRC before the handover”.

However, the joint statement includes this key passage about trying to avoid tensions spiralling into war (the four principals refers to the US secretary of state and the defence secretary as well as the Australian foreign affairs and defence ministers):

The four principals emphasised the importance of all countries managing strategic competition responsibly and committed to work together to ensure competition does not escalate into conflict.

The United States and Australia look to the PRC to do the same and plan to engage Beijing on risk reduction and transparency measures. The principals encouraged the PRC to take steps to promote stability and transparency in the area of nuclear weapons.

They also affirmed the importance of cooperation with the PRC on issues of shared interest, including climate change, pandemic threats, non-proliferation, countering illicit and illegal narcotics, the global food crisis, and macroeconomic issues.

The principals committed to enhancing deterrence and resilience through coordinated efforts to offer Indo-Pacific nations support to resist subversion and coercion of any kind.


Australia and US call for peace and stability across Taiwan Strait

Australia and the US have vowed to “work together to ensure competition does not escalate into conflict” and have urged China to “do the same”.

In a joint statement issued after the talks in Washington DC, Australia and the US have also called for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The two countries said they “reiterated their strong opposition to destabilising actions in the South China Sea, such as the militarisation of disputed features and dangerous encounters at sea and in the air”. They also “expressed concern about other actions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including it asserting excessive maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law”.

In language similar to last year’s Ausmin statement, Australia and the US said they reiterated Taiwan’s role as a leading democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, an important regional economy, and a key contributor to critical supply chains. They said they “further committed to working together to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations and enhancing economic, social, and people-to-people ties with Taiwan”.

Work starts on nation-first mRNA facility

Works have begun at the site of Moderna’s first Australian mRNA vaccine facility in Melbourne’s southeast.

The site at Monash University’s Clayton campus has a 2024 completion date and will be capable of producing 100m vaccine doses a year.

It will be the first facility of its kind in the southern hemisphere, providing Covid-19 booster shots as well as mRNA vaccines for other respiratory viruses like influenza.

The federal health minister, Mark Butler, joined the Victorian treasurer, Tim Pallas, to oversee the commencement of construction at the Clayton site this morning.

Pallas said his government led the way on mRNA technology, and the site would give the country an advantage in future pandemics:

Victoria will produce mRNA vaccines for Victoria, Australia and the world.

This project provides hundreds of construction jobs right now and will support hundreds of medical manufacturing jobs for decades to come.

BioNTech in October also agreed in principle with the state government to develop a clinical-scale mRNA manufacturing facility in Melbourne.

The arrangement would see BioNTech deliver mRNA therapeutics and vaccines for research and clinical trials, including infectious diseases, cancer medicines and personalised cancer treatments.

- from AAP


US and Australia release joint statement on ministerial talks

The United States and Australian governments have just released a joint statement following the annual Ausmin talks that took place in Washington DC today.

The minister for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, said:

We want a region which is peaceful, stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty. US engagement in the Indo-Pacific makes an indispensable contribution to this.

The full statement can be read online.

Honoured to join @SecBlinken @SecDef and @RichardMarlesMP for the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.

We have an enduring commitment to our Alliance – and evolving the Alliance to deepen collaboration is central to our security, and to the security of our region.

— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) December 7, 2022


Australians need to be advised of Bali extramarital sex ban, Dan Tehan says

The shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, this morning warned Australians to be aware of the new Indonesian law banning sex outside marriage.

He called for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to update advice for Australians travelling to Indonesia, particularly to Bali.

He told 2GB radio:

We need to make sure everyone is aware of this new law, because the last thing we would want to see is people caught doing something that by Indonesian law they shouldn’t be doing when what they’re doing is perfectly legal, for instance, here in Australia.

Travellers [need to] beware and we need to make sure that travellers are fully advised of these new laws because otherwise we could see some very unfortunate situations where we have to provide consular help to people who unwittingly or unknowingly have done the wrong thing when they didn’t know they were doing it.


GDP momentum starts to wilt as consumer spending shores up economy

If the September quarter’s growth rate came in at 0.6%, we should thank consumers. Household spending rose 1.1%, alone contributing a neat 0.6 percentage points of GDP, the ABS said.

Within that, transport services rose almost 14% – perhaps buoyed the higher fuel prices – while purchases of vehicles jumped just over 10%.

It’s the fourth consecutive quarter of growth as Australia shrugged off Covid variants and opened up.

Consumption was paid for in part by a reduction in savings, also for a fourth straight quarter. It dropped to 6.9% from 8.3%, moving back towards pre-pandemic levels, the ABS said.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said the Australian economy was “performing solidly in the face of steep headwinds from overseas as well as considerable and compounding pressures on Australian families and businesses”.

Our economy has withstood the challenges facing it so far, but we know there are bigger challenges to come.

Despite these solid headline figures for September, we know Australian households are feeling the strain of the combined impact of the global energy crisis, cost-of-living pressures and rising interest rates.


GDP soars but decline is under way

The annual jump in the September quarter growth rate was made more pronounced because of the lockdowns a year earlier.

But the quarter numbers will be looked at more closely. As expected, inventory buildup helped lift growth in the July-September period alone, while a smaller trade surplus was a drag.

The 0.6% quarter on quarter number was slightly disappointing, but attention will focus on wage growth given that underpins private consumption.

Compensation of employees increased 3.2%, the strongest rise since December quarter 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

The ABS said:

Tight labour market conditions, with the unemployment rate being at a multi-decade low, and job vacancies at high levels, were key to the rise.

The Fair Work Commission’s 2021-22 minimum wage decision, and the increase in the superannuation guarantee (10.0% to 10.5% from 1 July 2022), also contributed to this growth, the ABS said.

More to follow.


Australia's annual GDP at 5.9%

Australia’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 5.9% in the September quarter, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. At a quarterly level, GDP grew 0.6%.

The annual pace was made more impressive because of the low base a year earlier. Economists had pencilled in a growth pace of about 6% annually and 0.7% for the quarter alone.

More to follow.


Twiggy Forrest's company takes over renewables giant CWP

As noted earlier and now confirmed, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, has taken over CWP Renewables, expanding the billionaire’s clean energy portfolio to 2.4GW.

A statement from his family-owned Squadron Energy firm said the acquisition brings the company’s pipeline of projects in Australia to a huge 20GW (or about six times Australia’s biggest coal-fired power plant, Origin’s Eraring, for context).

The company said:

Once fully operational, Squadron’s portfolio will provide enough electricity to power 8.5m homes, more than double the number of homes in New South Wales.

Forrest said:

It means that Squadron has the renewable energy critical mass to help Australia step beyond fossil fuels.

We share a vision of Australia and the world, looking back on the dark era of fossil fuel as an aberration in humanity’s history.

One that could have ended with that fuel, but is now powered by cheap, pollution free, democratic inexhaustible energy.

No price on the takeover, but the AFR put it at more than $4bn.


GDP growth peak expected but decline could be rapid

We’ll shortly get the national accounts data for the September quarter from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and expect some nuance in the resulting tale.

Firstly, we should expect an impressive year-on-year GDP growth number, perhaps about 6%.

Last year’s base was artificially low because of the tough lockdowns affecting New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

The June quarter growth rate was 0.9% and some economists expect it to slow to 0.7%, and that is really a more useful indicator of where things are headed.

We’re rapidly nearing the end of the December quarter, and we have now had three more rate rises from the Reserve Bank of Australia to add headwinds to the economy. Still, the broad snapshot will be interesting even if we have to glance into the rearview mirror a bit to see it.

Stay tuned for the release.


Five year anniversary of marriage equality in Australia

Labor MP Peter Khalil has shared this throwback to the historic day five years ago when marriage equality was made law in Australia.

Today is the 5 year anniversary of marriage equality in Australia!🌈I was a relatively new MP when it finally passed in the House of Representatives, it was a historic moment and everyone even broke out into song! See the video here:

— Peter Khalil MP (@PeterKhalilMP) December 6, 2022


Uber admits misleading or deceiving customers in two instances

The first related to Uber Taxi, a service offered only in Sydney where customers could arrange a rideshare service with registered taxi providers.

Uber admitted that between June 2018 and August 2020 it represented to customers that rides would fall within a displayed fare range, when the actual cost was lower than the lowest estimate.

The judge found:

It is important to estimate that Uber overestimated the fare at the time of booking and the consumer ultimately paid a lower fare.

The fare estimate was an overestimate approximately 89% of the time.

He reduced a proposed $6m penalty for that contravention to $3m.

Between December 2017 and September 2021 the company also mislead customers who opted to cancel trips during a period of free cancellation by telling them that they may be charged a small cancellation fee, when no fee was ever charged.

Customers using Uber X, Uber Comfort and Uber Premier received the cancellation fee notice nearly 7.4m times over that period, while Uber Pool customers received it nearly 75,000 times.

In each case, only about 0.4% of customers chose not to go ahead with cancellation.

Justice O’Byran agreed the $18m penalty proposed for that contravention was within the range available to him.

In addition Uber will pay $200,000 toward the ACCC’s cost of prosecuting the case, and must publish corrections and implement a compliance program in respect of the Australian Consumer Law.

The company has 30 days to pay the penalties.

- from AAP

Uber fined for overestimating fare prices

Rideshare company Uber will pay a $21m fine after admitting it overestimated fees for services and advertised a possible cancellation fee that it never charged.

The fine is $5m less than the one proposed by Uber and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which took the rideshare company to the federal court over misleading and deceptive practices.

The suggested $26m penalty “greatly exceeds any amount I consider to be appropriate”, justice Michael O’Bryan said in handing down his thoughts on the case today.

Longstanding tradition is that the penalty is agreed by the parties and approved by judges, provided they’re satisfied it’s appropriate.

But he said the evidence he had been given to back up the proposed fines was grossly inadequate.

It left the court in the position of speculating whether any harm was suffered [by consumers] and if so, whether it was significant or trivial.

– from AAP


Caravan park evacuated as more flooding expected in South Australia

An evacuation order has been issued in South Australia for residents of a caravan park at Renmark as flood waters continue to flow down the Murray River.

A possible levee failure has prompted the order from the SA State Emergency Service leading to the relocation of six people from the Riverbend Caravan Park, which is now closed.

The SA SES chief officer, Chris Beattie, said engineers assessed the private levee built at the park today and identified “a number of significant defects which puts the levee at risk of failure”.

If the levee fails, there is a risk of flooding which may impact anyone in the park behind the levee.

– from AAP


Thanks Natasha! Hi everyone, I’ll be with you for the rest of the morning on the blog.

Earlier today Natasha brought you the latest on the talks in Washington DC, where the defence minister, Richard Marles, and the minister for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, gave a joint press conference with their US counterparts.

Wong has just shared a photo of that meeting with the secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

The US is Australia’s vital security ally and closest global partner.

Terrific to meet with @SecBlinken ahead of AUSMIN.

Together we are committed to strengthening coordination to deliver for the Indo-Pacific region.

— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) December 6, 2022


Thanks for your attention this morning. The lovely Emily Wind is now taking the helm of the blog.

Trees koalas feed on missing from NSW’s protected list, former MP says

Catherine Cusack, a former Liberal MP who has twice crossed the floor to stand up for koalas, has turned koala advocate since leaving politics.

Cusack has taken to social media this morning to say there are koala feed trees in the Hunter and Northern Rivers regions which are missing from the New South Wales environment department’s shortlist of trees to be protected in the region.

This will be putting koalas, which were officially listed as endangered at the start of this year, at risk if local government is overruled by the state.

The NSW Environment Dept has listed Koala feed trees for Hunter/Northern Rivers. Many are missing from the short list of trees actually protected by NSW Planning’s Koala SEPP for these regions

— Catherine Cusack (@katieqs) December 6, 2022

This was Clarence Valley Council’s late submission to Parliamentary Inquiry into Koala Habitat. It begs Koala Plan accreditation, tree species list update, funding for mapping and access to biodiversity funding for koalas/emus. Nationals MP for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis opposes.

— Catherine Cusack (@katieqs) December 6, 2022

Note Clarence Valley Koala Plan of management was rejected by the NSW Government because the tree species used by their koalas are not listed in the NSW Planning SEPP.

— Catherine Cusack (@katieqs) December 6, 2022


Commonwealth needs to lead reforms of sexual assault law, Gallagher says

Circling back to Katy Gallagher’s interview on ABC Radio this morning. Gallagher is also the minister for women as well as being responsible for finance.

RN host Patricia Karvelas asked Gallagher about the fact that majority of sexual assault claims don’t result in a charge following the announcement last week that the ACT prosecutor dropped charges against Bruce Lehrmann, who has denied all allegations put by Brittany Higgins.

Gallagher said she “certainly won’t be commenting on any individual matter” but that the system does need reform:

We do have a duty to look at our systems and processes I think, to make sure we are doing whatever we can to ensure that women and it is predominantly women, feel comfortable and supported to report any act of violence against them. I don’t think we are there yet.

I think as we learn more and more about women’s experience with the justice system, particularly as it relates to matters of violence and sexual violence.

I do believe we have a responsibility to look at reform where we can.

Gallagher said reform is on the agenda for the women’s ministers meeting with many states and territories looking to reform their laws. However she says it’s vital that the federal government provide leadership:

I fundamentally believe as a commonwealth government we need to be providing leadership in this space.

Gallagher highlighted that many of the policies the government has already worked on implementing including the national plan to end domestic violence were “building blocks … changing a culture where violence against women is so prevalent and at unacceptable levels in our community”.


Melbourne plans for more statues of women

Only nine out of 580 statues in the city of Melbourne are of women, prompting a council decision to put up more that depict women to restore gender balance in public art.

The deputy lord mayor, Nicholas Reece, moved a motion at Tuesday night’s council meeting for at least three new statues of significant Victorian women to be built in the Melbourne CBD.

Reece told the council:

It’s a gender gap that’s beyond absurd. It’s actually a moral hazard for Melbourne.

We hope to send a signal to the next generation that all genders and cultures have a place in our society and are capable of greatness.

The motion was carried, with the lord mayor, Sally Capp, saying it was important to have stories of important women shared publicly. Capp said:

Growing up, I absolutely accepted that whoever I saw literally on a pedestal around our city, all of those men, I automatically assumed that they deserved respect and admiration for their contribution.

The same opportunity and privilege is not given to the same extent to women who have made contributions and been leaders in our city.

Capp said she was confident there were plenty of women who could be immortalised in statues, which would bridge the significant gap.

– from AAP


Global methane levels continue to rise

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just released the figure of global methane levels for August 2022, which shows levels continue to increase.

Methane Update:

The August, 2022 methane number was just released, at 1908.62 ppb. This makes the 30th straight month that the annualized amount of new methane entering the atmosphere has increased (or methane sinks have decreased).

The orange line is the COP-26 Glasgow Pledge.

— Prof. Eliot Jacobson (@EliotJacobson) December 6, 2022


Twiggy Forrest in multibillion-dollar renewables bid, AFR says

Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, one of Australia’s richest people, is set to expand his business empire further into clean technology today, with a $4bn-plus takeover of the owner of CWP Renewables, the AFR is reporting.

Forrest, who made most of his fortune digging up iron in the Pilbara, is likely to sign the deal this morning. (We’re trying to confirm.)

The Perth-based businessman (and holder of a doctorate in marine biology) has been an outspoken advocate of hydrogen as the fuel source to decarbonise the planet. It’s not good making it from fossil fuels so renewables are the way to go, and Forrest has just launched his biggest move in this space by the looks of it.

More to come.


Angus Taylor calls on government to put downward pressure on energy prices

The shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, also weighed in on the potential energy deal being struck with the states. He said new ideas were being “leaked” almost every day and the states had no idea what the actual proposal was.

He told ABC News:

It’s very hard to comment on something that is as amorphous and chaotic as what we’ve seen in recent weeks from the government. Every minister is running in a different direction.

Taylor called on the government to put downward pressure on energy prices but would not say if he supported a coal price cap.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has flagged any energy price relief from the commonwealth would be limited to “responsible” payments, with the states expected to take on a greater share in the solution.

Chalmers said the government was considering all options ahead of a national cabinet meeting on Friday, in a bid to help Australians with soaring energy bills before the end of the year.

National cabinet will be held virtually on Friday after the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, tested positive to Covid-19, but energy ministers are due to meet before then in Brisbane tomorrow.

They will discuss long-term strategies to drive down power prices and reduce emissions and the next steps in Australia’s transition to renewables.

– with AAP


States asked to step up on power prices

States and territories will be asked to use all the powers available to them to help shift energy prices when leaders meet with the prime minister this week.

The energy minister, Chris Bowen, said the federal government had been looking “very, very carefully” at all the options to help ease pressure on households and businesses.

Bowen told ABC Radio:

[We’ve] methodically worked through, come up with options and ideas, which mean that the various jurisdictions use the powers best available to them for the most impact.

There are some areas where the commonwealth clearly has effective powers [and] other areas where the states might have more effective responses available to them, hence we’ve sat down … to talk those issues through in a very good faith manner.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, reportedly issued a list of demands to the New South Wales and Queensland governments to impose their own coal price caps, and recall parliaments to enact them.

A proposal from the prime minister’s office and Bowen was provided to the states late on Tuesday calling on them to enact a coal price cap, The Australian newspaper reported.

– from AAP


Northern Australia’s heatwave not going away any time soon

Scale and longevity of the heatwave roasting northern Australia looks significant. This for the latter end of next week...and it's not the end. (Source: @BOM_au )

— (@p_hannam) December 6, 2022

Tanya Plibersek to launch Biodiversity Council

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, is this evening launching a new Biodiversity Council modelled on the Climate Council.

The lead councillor for the scientist-led thinktank based at the University of Melbourne, Brendan Wintle, says:

There are twin crises that we face – the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis – and one of them gets a hell of a lot more attention than the other.

My colleague Lisa Cox has the full story:


Chaos at Melbourne airport as Virgin experiences bag drop issues

Good morning from the chaos of T3 at Melbourne airport.

Virgin Australia has a problem with its bag drop system and it’s pandemonium as people try to check their bags through just a couple of operating terminals.

If you are travelling Virgin from Melbourne this morning, give yourself plenty of time.

T3 at Melbourne Airport
A problem with Virgin’s bag drop system has caused some delays in Melbourne airport terminal three. Photograph: Amy Remeikis/The Guardian


US-Australia press conference on defence and foreign affairs ends

That’s a wrap on that press conference now. Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin have all walked off the stage.


US will ‘not allow’ Australia to have capability gap, defense secretary says

A question comes from an Australian Sky News reporter about the capability gap and whether there is any appetite to sell B21 bombers to Australia under the Aukus framework.

Lloyd Austin takes the question.

We set out on this project 14 months ago, we dedicated 18 months for a period of consultation.

During that period our goal is to design the optimal pathway for Australia to get a nuclear powered conventionally armed submarine as quickly as possible

We recognise where Australia is and when its capability begins to diminish. We will address all of that … We will not allow Australia to have a capability gap going forward.

Austin says there have been no discussions to sell any B21s to Australia so far.


‘No unilateral change to status quo’ on Taiwan, Wong says

Wong says she echoes Blinken’s sentiments on China-Taiwan tensions:

We – we collectively- have a strong stake in preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

She says there is “no unilateral change to the status quo”.

We value our longstanding unofficial relationship with Taiwan.

She says Australian will continue to engage with Taiwan through its “people to people ties”.

Penny Wong speaking in front of US and Australian flags at a press conference
Australian foreign minister Penny Wong speaks in Washington. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images


They are now taking questions at the press conference.

Blinken on China-Taiwan tensions:

We have a strong stake in preserving peace and security across the Taiwan Strait.

This has been the status quo for decades and we’re committed to preserving it.


Japan to join more defence exercises with US and Australia

Richard Marles is up next and “posture” is the operative word.

He says the talks have seen “real steps forward” in “greater defence force posture cooperation between our two counties”.

He welcomes the US commitment to have more troops in Australia is a “huge step” which will “transform Australia’s strategic posture”.

He says there will be “increased activity across all domains … enhancing capacity of facilities in Australia”.

Marles also says that Japan will participate in more exercises with US and Australia.


More US forces to be present in Australia

The US secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, is up next.

Austin says there will be an increase rotational presence of US navy and army troops in Australia. It will see more US air, land and sea forces in Australia.

He says US and Australian “mateship” is important for global security.

Our mateship will stand as a bedrock of future peace and security.

Richard Marles, Penny Wong, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin stand behind podiums at a press conference
Richard Marles and Penny Wong are in Washington for talks with their US counterparts Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images


Penny Wong follows Blinken.

She says the US is our “vitalist security ally and closest global partner.”

Wong says there are three areas the talks have focused on, all of which the Albanese government has stepped up Australia’s commitments since May: climate, Asean and the Pacific.


US committed to delivering nuclear submarines ‘as early as possible’

Blinken is first up and speaks about some of the joint initiatives between the two countries:

He says the urgency of the challenge of climate change demands a global response and welcomed Australia joining the US’s clean energy initiative earlier this year.

Blinken highlights Australia and the US’s shared interest in an “inclusive and prosperous Pacific”. He says both have committed to humanitarian supplies allowing Pacific nations to respond to disaster.

There are also joint efforts to counter Putin and help Ukraine’s energy supply, he says.

Blinken also affirms the importance of partnerships such as Asean, the Quad and the Aukus security partnership.

On the timing of getting the nuclear submarines as part of Aukus, Blinken said the US was “committed to delivering on this promise as early as possible.”

Blinken says when it comes to China both countries want to ensure that “competition does not veer into conflict”.


US secretary of state Antony Blinken welcomes Marles and Wong

The defence minister, Richard Marles, and minister for foreign affairs, Penny Wong, have this morning met with their US counterparts – the US secretary of defence, Lloyd Austin, and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, for the annual Ausmin talks in Washington DC.

Marles is making the final decisions on whether Australia will sign up for a US or UK nuclear submarine design under the trilateral Aukus alliance, which is set to underpin the nation’s security for decades.

They’ve just begun a joint press conference following this talk and we’ll bring you what they have to say.

It’s the first talks under the Albanese government. Blinken kicks off the press conference saying that Marles and Wong were very welcome.

Richard Marles, Penny Wong, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin walk to the podiums before a press conference
Defence minister Richard Marles and foreign minister Penny Wong have been in talks with US secretary of state Antony Blinken and US secretary of defense Lloyd Austin. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA


Finance minister highlights energy as part of inflation challenge

The finance minister, Katy Gallagher, spoke to ABC Radio this morning following the Reserve Bank pushing up interest rates for the eighth time this year to 3.1%.

Gallagher has stuck to the same line as Chalmers, emphasising the central bank makes its decisions independent of government.

I would say the government believes tackling the inflation problem we have in our economy is the major priority.

Gallagher also highlighted that “energy is a big part of the inflation challenge”.

So it makes sense that we are involved and discussing with states and territories the ways we can work together to reduce those forecast energy increases.

It’s certainly not a blank cheque situation from the commonwealth but we do acknowledge we’ve got a role to play, as do the states and territories.


Public hospital system in 'logjam', AMA says

Public hospital performance is at a record low, according to Australia’s peak medical body.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) today released concerning new data which shows patients are waiting longer due to a system that is in “logjam.”

Data from the Australia Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) for the 2021–22 financial year reveal emergency department and essential elective surgery performance has continued to deteriorate with access to timely healthcare out of reach for many Australians.

Nationally, close to 40% of patients had to spend more than four hours in an emergency department, the worst emergency department performance recorded in 20 years. ACT and Tasmania are the worst performers, with almost one in two patients having to spend more than four hours in an emergency department.

The AMA president, Prof Steve Robson, said that this latest data indicates the system is now at breaking point.

Prof Robson said:

This week we have seen reports of children waiting up to 12 hours for emergency care and patients dying while ramped at hospitals, and we know that these are not isolated instances.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg … there are hundreds of stories of patients waiting for hours on end in hospital emergency departments, or in the back of an ambulance outside the hospital.

Robson said the solution needs to be reform of the nation’s public hospitals.

Clearly the way in which we fund our public hospital system is broken when we are forced to rely on the private system to treat our public patients. This is not a sustainable solution, and a new funding agreement is needed to support public hospitals to improve their performance, expand their capacity, and reduce their wait times.


Good morning! Natasha May now on deck with you.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has been speaking with ABC News Breakfast this morning following the reserve bank’s decision yesterday to rise the cash rate by another 25 basis points – with the possibility of more increases not ruled out by the bank.

Chalmers says he still has confidence the RBA governor, Philip Lowe, is the right person to head the central bank.

We do have an inflation problem in our economy at the same time as we want to make sure that it can continue to grow strongly. These decisions are taken independently by the Reserve Bank.

The thing about these interest rate rises is that impacts are felt immediately by people with mortgage repayments but the impact on the economy does take a little longer to flow through.

Chalmers is avoiding making any criticism of Lowe, saying the RBA is independent of government institution, but he does mention the review under way into the reserve bank.

The shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, follows Chalmers on News Breakfast. He also emphasises the independence of the RBA and that the opposition supports the review into the RBA. However, he believes the government missed the opportunity in the budget to take pressure off the central bank:

We do need to have a strong Reserve Bank but we need a government that makes it easier for the Reserve Bank to do its job. And sadly this last budget was a missed opportunity for the government to take pressure off the government to take pressure off the Reserve Bank. With a senior labour economist saying it’s left the Reserve Bank carrying the can. I think that missed opportunity by the government is enormously important.


RBA rate rise puts ASX under pressure

The ASX200 is expected to drop 1.15% at the opening this morning after the Reserve Bank of Australia’s decision yesterday to raise the cash rate by another 25 basis points – with the possibility of more increases not ruled out by the bank.

The benchmark index dropped 0.47% yesterday afternoon after the RBA noted that inflation was “too high” and rate hikes were needed to bring it under control. But the prospect of further rises has caused some jitters.

A man is standing in front of the indicator board at the Australian Securities Exchange
The RBA raised the cash rate for the eight time in a row. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

While most economists had predicted the RBA’s 25 basis point rate rise yesterday, some market-watchers had held out hope for a pause, especially after recent statistics showed retail sales fell for the first time this year in October.

“It looked like it was supporting the RBA taking a slower pace but they didn’t do that, so that disappointed the market,” IG market analyst Hebe Chen said.

Read our economics editor Peter Hannam’s take here:


China's foreign ministry responds to Australian politicians' trip to Taiwan

China’s foreign ministry has offered a relatively muted response to the visit to Taiwan by six Australian politicians, urging Australia to “stop all forms of official interaction with the Taiwan region”.

Mao Ning, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said the Australian side should not embolden Taiwanese independence forces, according to a transcript of the daily press conference in Beijing that was published late last night.

In response to a question from an Agence France-Presse reporter about the visit by six federal politicians, she essentially repeated Beijing’s longstanding policy positions:

Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The one-China principle is a universally recognised norm in international relations and the prerequisite and political foundation for the development of friendly relations between China and other countries. The Australian side should earnestly adhere to the one-China principle, stop all forms of official interaction with the Taiwan region and stop sending wrong signals to ‘Taiwan-independence’ separatist forces.

Illustration of Taiwan and Australia flags on a table
Barnaby Joyce, who is among the delegation to Taiwan, told Sky News he supported the “status quo” on Taiwan. Photograph: Kagenmi/Getty Images/iStockphoto

However, Australia’s one-China policy is not the same as China’s one-China principle.

Since 1972, Australia has recognised the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, but merely “acknowledged” the PRC’s position that Taiwan is a province of the PRC.

This means while the Australian government does not recognise the authorities in Taiwan as having the status of a national government, it “strongly supports the development, on an unofficial basis, of economic and cultural relations with Taiwan”.

The Global Times, a Chinese state media outlet known for its nationalistic takes on international affairs, published an article earlier in the week warning Australia against “playing with fire” with the visit to Taiwan.

Barnaby Joyce, the former deputy prime minister who is among the delegation to the self-governed democracy, told Sky News this week that he supported the “status quo” on Taiwan and signalled his focus on economic ties.

The trip comes at a time when the Australian government has been seeking to “stabilise” the rocky relationship with China, but it has been at pains to say its policy positions remain unchanged. On Saturday Anthony Albanese played down the Taiwan trip, saying it was a resumption of bipartisan visits by MPs that were suspended after 2019 because of the pandemic.



Good morning and welcome to the live blog. Natasha May will be along shortly but before then here are some of the stories making news this morning.

Our top story this morning is that the Department of Home Affairs has overturned a decision to cancel the citizenship of a former Sydney man on death row in Iraq after it ruled the law used to strip him of his Australian citizenship was invalid. Ahmad Merhi lost his citizenship in 2018 after he was accused of terrorism in Iraq and has been in jail on death row there ever since. But now he has hope of fighting his case. Almost 20 other similar rulings have been reversed as well.

An exponential growth in Australians donating or selling breast milk online is putting infants at risk of disease, a bioethicist says, calling for human milk to be defined as a “tissue” and regulated in the same way as blood. Concern has built that the trade in breast milk – driven by people including cancer patients in the mistaken belief that it will treat their disease, and by athletes and bodybuilders who believe breast milk enhances performance and muscle growth – means it should b e properly regulated to prevent health risks.

Two senior Australian ministers are holding high-level security talks in Washington as Canberra looks to seal the deal on a nuclear-powered submarine design. Defence minister Richard Marles and foreign minister Penny Wong will meet their United States counterparts this morning for the annual Ausmin talks. Marles is making the final decisions on whether Australia will sign up for a US or UK nuclear submarine design under the trilateral Aukus alliance, which is set to underpin the nation’s security for decades.

And the Australian Medical Association says new figures showing a slump in elective surgery in the previous financial year is evidence of a “system that is in logjam”. The Australia Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021–22 data on emergency department and essential elective surgery performance showed close to 40 per cent of patients had to spend more than four hours in an emergency department, the worst emergency department performance recorded in 20 years. It has been attributed to the effects of Covid but the AMA president, Prof Steve Robson, said the health system is in crisis, has been for many years, and is now at the breaking point.


Josh Taylor, Emily Wind and Natasha May (earlier)

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