What we learned today, Thursday 8 December
That’s where we will wrap up the live blog today on a busy day of news.
Here’s the key points for today:
After a meeting of energy ministers in Brisbane today, Chris Bowen announced an agreement on a “capacity mechanism” which he said would be “keeping the lights on” so there were fewer outages when there was high demand.
This comes ahead of the national cabinet meeting tomorrow where it is expected the federal government will seek an agreement with the states on a cap on coal to lower energy costs across the country.
The NSW energy minister, Matt Kean, indicated NSW was close to an agreement but stressed the state was not seeking compensation for missed royalties, but for the impact it would have on families and businesses.
A former Department of Social Services official told a royal commission he was “directed” to water down legal concerns about the robodebt scheme when the policy was been designed in early 2015.
The federal government announced overhauls to Australia’s environment laws, including plans to establish an environmental protection agency.
The Greens said they would use their boosted numbers in the parliament to push the government to ensure the environmental protection agency is independent and has teeth, while the Coalition expressed concern it would be detrimental to business ahead of a briefing on the plans tomorrow.
The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, announced the government would embark on a new cybersecurity strategy led by three eminent Australians, the former Telstra CEO Andy Penn, Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre CEO Rachael Falk and Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld.
O’Neil also announced two new department-led reviews looking at Australia’s national resilience and democracy resilience.
The federal government is looking at counterterrorism legislation to see whether it adequately covers far-right extremism.
John Pesutto has been chosen to lead the Victorian Liberal party after defeating Brad Battin in a party room ballot.
The NSW government will support an Indigenous voice to parliament being enshrined in the constitution.
Until tomorrow, enjoy your evening.
‘Convivial’ energy ministers' meeting a ‘universe away’ from Morrison times
Energy ministers are heading for Brisbane airport (save Mick de Brenni, Queensland’s minister), generally satisfied with the “team Australia” outcomes today.
What might be surprising is that the issue of coal and gas price caps barely got a mention at the event. Federal, state and territory ministers focused on medium- to long-term issues, leaving the immediate issue of price caps and compensation (if there is any) to the “first ministers” when they meet tomorrow.
Indeed, whether the price of coal will be capped at $125 a tonne and gas at $8-$12/gigajoule (or lower than the $13/GJ being bandied out) remains to be seen. “Numbers were studiously not mentioned” in the chatter on the sidelines of the event, one participant tells Guardian Australia.
The federal energy minister, Chris Bowen, and NSW counterpart (and treasurer), Matt Kean, were “quite convivial” throughout, said our insider. Indeed, the whole meeting was of such a mood. “It’s a universe away from what it used to be,” this person tells us, adding such gatherings during the previous Coalition government of Scott Morrison had been “a complete waste”.
The main achievement was the creation of a capacity investment scheme as noted in earlier posts, which effectively kills off work done by the Energy Security Board to create a capacity market that might have paid mothballed coal- and gas-fired power plants to stay in business.
Other work to watch includes a National Renewable Energy Supply Chain Action Plan (not a very snappy name) that will create job opportunities in manufacturing. It is to be developed by the end of 2023, and is being led by Queensland’s de Brenni.
Landholders petition NSW energy minister over Santos Narrabri gas project
More than 200 concerned landholders have petitioned the NSW energy minister to stop Santos from entering farming land for its proposed 400km underground gas pipeline, AAP reports.
The Hunter gas pipeline would connect the $3.6bn Narrabri gas project on NSW’s northern tablelands to Newcastle and the east coast market.
However, oil and gas giant Santos can’t proceed with land surveys without approval from the energy minister, Matt Kean.
Farmers and environmentalists on Thursday delivered a petition from 215 landholders along the pipeline’s route to Kean’s office.
The petition said the pipeline would disrupt and jeopardise high-value farmland and become a stranded asset as the energy sector transforms.
Victoria Congdon, whose property in the Upper Hunter Valley touches the 30-metre-wide pipeline corridor, said the project would require substantial environmental damage.
“It’s an obscene imposition on landholders, who have to modify their lives for a project that is outdated and not wanted,” she said.
The western Liverpool Plains beef farmer Margaret Fleck said the gas pipeline could upset the delicate environment in the area, particularly groundwater feeding the Great Artesian Basin.
Santos has said the proposed land survey activities would be undertaken by specialist consultants operating under the company’s supervision.
“Before any survey works commence, Santos will meet with landholders to obtain consent on the areas of property to access and on what and when this will occur,” it said.
Victorian Labor claims seat of Pakenham as state election counting continues
Victoria’s Andrews government is set to surpass its 2018 historic “Danslide” on Friday with Labor claiming the seat of Pakenham on Thursday afternoon.
Emma Vulin, Labor’s candidate for the newly created seat, in Melbourne’s south-east, claimed victory on Thursday afternoon. The electorate equals 55 seats in the lower house for Labor – the same landslide victory the party achieved in 2018.
Vulin won the seat on a two-party preferred basis by 307 votes with a margin of 0.39%.
In a Facebook post, Vulin vowed to advocate for the “diverse community” and ensure infrastructure met the area’s needs:
I would like to thank the people of the Pakenham district for putting their faith in me. I will advocate for our community in Spring Street with the same fight that saw me rehabilitate after my stroke.
I am eager to meet everyone and listen to the needs of our wonderful fast growing and diverse community and ensure we have the services and infrastructure that we need as we grow.
Labor is also ahead in the seat of Bass – the final seat to be called – but the Victorian Electoral Commission said the formal distribution of preferences would be finalised on Friday.
Capacity plan would unlock $10bn in new clean energy, Bowen says
As we flagged, the energy ministers have agreed on a capacity investment scheme that will drive as much as $10bn of investment into “new renewable dispatchable capacity” for the grid.
Critics have sought to deride the intermittency of wind and solar energy as meaning they were fundamentally less reliable than “baseload” coal and gas-fired power plants (when the latter don’t break down).
Anyway, under this new arrangement, the commonwealth will open tenders for projects that add storage and even new generation projects themselves. There will be an agreed minimum payment for the winning bidders as a way to underwrite them, and also a “ceiling price” should revenue exceed a certain level (and the profits shared).
Critically, fossil-fuel plants, existing or future, would not be eligible to apply. (No mention of small modular nuclear reactors but presumably that’s a problem to resolve in a decade or later.)
States like NSW and Victoria reckon the capacity investment scheme will be very good for their existing programs to ramp up renewables – as do the other states or they wouldn’t have signed up.
Groups like the Smart Energy Council have applauded the results as finally delivering a national plan for renewable energy generation and storage.
“That means cheaper, cleaner and more reliable power for all Australians,” the council’s CEO, John Grimes, said. He called on governments to turn their gaze now to a small-scale scheme that would roll out batteries for homes, much like a similar program accelerated the take-up of rooftop solar panels that now dot about one-third of Australian homes.
Likewise, Kane Thornton, the CEO of the Clean Energy Council, hailed today’s approval as likely to “unlock the next wave of renewable energy projects”.
“Energy storage will play a crucial role in supporting the massive amounts of new wind and solar needed for the future,” Thornton said. “While measures to accelerate storage rollout are important, we also need to develop the markets and technical frameworks that will enable stable, long-term investment in storage.”
Here is today’s Afternoon Update if you are looking to catch up:
Medibank to go offline this weekend for system overhaul
Medibank is advising it will take its systems offline for Medibank and ahm customers from 8.30pm AEDT Friday 9 December “as we undertake some maintenance to further strengthen our systems and enhance security protections”.
It’s the first major overhaul of the company’s systems since the massive cyber-attack resulted in the personal details of close to 10 million current and former customers being posted on the dark web, including the personal medical claims for 210,000 customers.
Medibank has advised customers this is “a planned operation with Microsoft and is the next necessary phase of our ongoing work to further safeguard our network”.
The systems will be back online by Sunday 11 December, the company has said, but while they are down, customers won’t be able to access Medibank or ahm services online or through the app, and on-the-spot claims won’t be available. Retail stores and customer contact centres will be closed on Saturday and will reopen on Monday.
Amplar Health services will not be affected.
Melissa Caddick’s jewellery and designer clothes a hit at auction
The fraudster Melissa Caddick’s extensive array of jewellery has sold at auction in Sydney for more than $800,000, with some items attracting as much as three times their estimated value, AAP reports.
Buyers overwhelmed Smith & Singer auction house on Wednesday night for a chance to bid on the 53-piece collection once owned by the con artist, as well as a selection of designer clothes and accessories.
Caddick, 49, disappeared in November 2020 after federal authorities raided her home as part of an investigation into a $23m Ponzi scheme she had been running.
With the notoriety likely to have intensified interest in the items, a number fetched far in excess of their reserve.
The most spectacular piece, a Canturi necklace with diamonds surrounding 13 black sapphires, went for $130,000.
Caddick originally bought the Stella necklace for $370,000 in 2015.
The matching Stella ring sold for $14,000, while the accompanying earrings fetched $7,500.
Her 18-carat gold, diamond and emerald Geometric Lace earrings, valued at between $2,500 and $3,400, went for $10,000.
Another pair of white gold Canturi Cubism earrings sold for $8,500, despite a starting price of $2,000.
A matching bracelet, valued at $7,000, sold for $24,000.
Caddick’s artwork, luxury goods and designer clothes have also gone under the hammer with the profits to be returned to her scam victims.
Four artworks alone sold for a total of $48,000.
Victoria’s First Peoples’ Assembly urges Labor to raise the age
Victoria’s First Peoples’ Assembly has urged the re-elected Andrews government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 ahead of a meeting of the nation’s attorneys general on Friday.
Raising the age of criminal responsibility will be on the agenda when attorneys general from federal, state and territory governments meet virtually on Friday.
The assembly – the body democratically elected to negotiate an Indigenous treaty framework in Victoria – says the state government is “now on notice” to move on the law reform.
The co-chair of the assembly, Geraldine Atkinson, says the reform should not wait for the state’s formal treaty negotiations which are due to kick off next year:
I’m bitterly disappointed that there’s been no movement, so the government is now on notice.
Our children will not be used as bargaining chips, the reform needs to happen and it needs to happen now ... Ten years old, that’s so young. It’s like a baby to me. Our children need love and a helping hand, not to be thrown into concrete cells.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, this week said his government backed a nationally consistent approach on changing the age of criminal responsibility. The Northern Territory has become the first jurisdiction to raise the age of responsibility from 10 to 12 but Indigenous and legal advocacy groups say it doesn’t go far enough and still locks children in detention.
State energy ministers hail capacity mechanism agreement
The Queensland energy minister, Mick de Brenni, says the new scheme to underwrite renewables will be the death of “Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison’s CoalKeeper”, and will be sensible market reform resulting in new energy insurance on the grid:
This is about prices, because only when the market is dominated by clean, renewable energy will we see wholesale energy prices come down permanently. Secondly, Australia’s renewable energy transformation is our opportunity to bring back manufacturing to Australia.
The NSW minister, Matt Kean, thanks Bowen for constructive discussions. He says on coal caps that NSW is not seeking compensation for lost royalties, but financial assistance for families and businesses for doing what needs to be done to lower bills.
He says they’re close to landing a deal but will say more tomorrow.
After Kean, there’s the Victorian minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, who says the deal signed today will help Victoria meet its renewable energy targets:
Victoria has always had a strong view when it comes to the creation of a capacity mechanism. That is it was to have no fossil fuels incentivised for a future that has to be carbon emissions free. Today, I am really pleased we have all agreed on a capacity mechanism that will do just that. Thank you very much, Chris, it has been fantastic working with you today, it will enable us as a state to meet our ambitious renewable energy target.
No more coal generation by 2025, but importantly also supporting our nation-leading energy storage targets that we announced back in September.
Tomorrow’s national cabinet to discuss power prices, Bowen says
Bowen adds there will be more coming out from national cabinet tomorrow, where possible ways to reduce power prices will be discussed.
It is no secret we are also engaging with the states. Frankly, particularly with those states with coal production, New South Wales and Queensland, about the right model going forward to ensure the impact of Vladimir Putin’s war does not flow through without a response from Australia’s government on energy prices.
The fact of the matter is we have certain powers at the federal level, states have certain powers, and we have been working together to work out how those powers can come together. It is not the fault of Australians our power prices are so high. The cost of production hasn’t gone up. What is happening, because every country around the world, every government is dealing with these challenges, and we are dealing with them as well, and I look forward to further discussions and announcements tomorrow. It is fair to say that governments are working very closely together.
Energy ministers agree on 'capacity mechanism'
After a meeting of energy ministers in Brisbane today, the federal climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, announces an agreement on a “capacity mechanism” he says will be “keeping the lights on”.
The capacity mechanism, which we will implement in partnership with the states and territories, will see the commonwealth call options, for bids, for the special renewable energy that the commonwealth will underwrite going forward.
This is a sensible, carefully designed mechanism which will unleash investment in clean, dispatchable energy right across Australia. It will firm up our grids, providing extra capacity as more and more power stations leave the power grid, as more and more coal-fired power stations close, we will firm the grid going forward. As we know, in the last decade four megawatts of energy left the system and only one came in.
He says there will be more detailed discussion about the design elements but today is a big step forward.
I’m delighted with the conversation we had around the table, delighted with the support from state and territory colleagues as always. It is one team working together to get the job done.
Environmental law reforms aren’t balanced enough towards business: Coalition
After Hanson-Young, there’s the Coalition’s environment spokesperson, Jonathon Duniam.
He says he is “very concerned” there isn’t enough balance towards business in the environment package, but notes it is light on detail.
At a time when energy prices are going up and you hear all this rhetoric around no new coal and gas, and shutting down certain elements of the economy, that is not good legislative reform. We’ve got to get a balance here, that’s what the minister promised, and I’m concerned that’s not what we’re going to get at the end the process.
He mentions he hasn’t had a briefing yet – but will tomorrow. He is also concerned about an independent agency having the powers to make decisions separated from ministers or the parliament.
It’s a big problem if you don’t design it properly. I don’t know what the minister has in mind. A number of business groups, individual businesses and other sectoral interests have gone to the minister and suggested she look at a better decision process.
A five-year appointment perhaps, this person can only be removed in some the most extreme circumstances. To interpret whatever information they have before them.
Again, at the end of the day, will the green groups and others who are opposed to certain elements of economic activity take this to the courts? We have to find balance. It’s what we’ve been promised and I’m looking desperately for it but yet to find it.
Environmental law reforms ‘a long time coming’: Greens
The Greens’ environment spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young is on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing to discuss the government’s announced plans for a federal environmental protection agency and associated law reforms.
Hanson-Young says the law reforms are “a long time coming” but the devil will be in the detail as to whether the agency will have teeth to act on putting the environment first.
One of the problems we’ve had now is that our environment laws have really been servicing the needs of business and development. Meanwhile our forests, bushland, native animals have suffered. We are now in an extinction crisis, we have to hold that and turn it around, we need to end native forest logging and put a climate trigger in these environment laws to make sure we can put a stop to those damaging, more damaging to loosen from new coal and gas.
She said the timeframes outlined today were too long, and the Greens would be using their power with the balance of power in the Senate to push the government further on it.
We are not rubber-stamping anything, we will use our power in the parliament to make sure we look to push the government to go faster and stronger.
She says the laws need to be strong enough, and enforced, and the agency must be independent, and stresses “the environment is in crisis. We need to go faster sooner”.
This is core business for the Greens. We are in the balance of power, we do have clout, and we want to work with the government, we want to work with the government to fix our environment laws and make sure this package delivers for the environment. They are meant to be environment protection laws, not business protection laws.
Energy ministers’ meeting extended as capacity plan gets nod
The federal, state and territory energy ministers meeting in Brisbane today have added another half hour to their planned five-hour gathering to get through their lengthy agenda.
Guardian Australia understands a plan to provide incentives to accelerate the take-up of new storage has got the nod from the ministers.
Many jurisdictions now have targets to introduce new batteries and other forms of storage to help stabilise electricity supplies when the proverbial “wind doesn’t blow and sun doesn’t shine”.
More shortly, when the ministers turn up for a media conference at 3.30pm local time (4.30pm AEDT). In the meantime, you can follow along here too:
Flood-affected tourism operators open for business
Flood-affected tourism operators along the Murray River are open for business and want to spread the word to holiday-makers, AAP reports.
At Echuca on the Victorian-NSW border, Campaspe Lodge owner David Connally said businesses were facing cancellations and trepidation from tourists.
“People are just unsure,” Connally told AAP.
“If the media could start to give us some positive press that we are open and it’s all good, that would be great.”
The motel owner said road closure notifications were often out-of-date and flood warnings painted a pessimistic picture for tourists.
“You’re driving around and the radio station is saying minor flood warnings for Echuca and downstream from Rochester, which is probably accurate as measurement goes, but not accurate by what is happening,” he said.
Connally, whose motel overlooks the Campaspe River, said bookings were significantly below typical early summer levels.
“We have had cancellations for sure,” he said.
“When people Google you they’re like, ‘Oh gee, they’re right next to the river’.”
Between October and December, floods in Tasmania, NSW and Victoria have led to $477m in insured losses across 17,200 claims, according to Insurance Council of Australia data.
Tourism operators face a third summer without a peak season since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.
A Murray River Tourism Board survey found almost 80% of tourism and accommodation businesses had suffered at least a 40% reduction in bookings for the upcoming high season.
Board acting chief executive Will Flamsteed said tourism businesses no longer had the financial buffers to withstand the disaster and one in five had been forced to stand down staff.
“As many as two-thirds of tourism businesses in the region have only minor infrastructure damage or were not directly inundated,” Flamsteed said.
“But they are severely impacted by the lack of visitors and summer booking cancellations, resulting in an estimated $128m in lost income.”
The board and the Victoria Tourism Industry Council welcomed state government assistance to date, but they have called for more support to cover lost income for cancelled bookings and public events, and to drive the industry’s recovery in 2023.
“If we want a tourism industry along the Murray next Easter, we need to step up and support these businesses,” council chief executive Felicia Mariani said.
Emergency services reported a relatively settled 24-hour period overnight, with 84 requests for assistance, including 55 trees down across Victoria.
Emergency Victoria has issued a final flood warning for the Campaspe River downstream of Rochester, where no further flooding is expected.
Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus have been detected in mosquito populations in Campaspe, Horsham and Loddon local government areas.
The chief health officer has warned people in or travelling to those areas to cover-up, use repellent and remove stagnant water from around the home.
A major flood warning remains in place in northeastern parts of Mildura in northwest Victoria.
Authorities warn it is not safe to return for residents of Nichols Point, Bruces Bend and surrounding areas.
Storms worsening in Queensland
Glenn Alderton, the director of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, told ABC News that they had 40 jobs overnight as a result of mostly wind damage.
He said people should prepare for the coming storms this afternoon.
It is anywhere from I guess Rockhampton through the Central Highlands and down through the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast and out through the Lockyer Valley. So anywhere in the area, severe thunderstorms are probable.
Just outside of that, some possibility of some severe thunderstorms as well. It is quite a large area. Whether the whole area gets affected or not, we will wait and see, but generally if you are in south-east Queensland, even the Sunshine Coast area, urge you to do some preparation this afternoon should we see them tonight.
Calls for Queensland to slash ‘absolute rip-off’ learner’s permit fee
Queensland drivers pay more than any other state or territory for a learner’s permit, prompting calls for the government to slash the $186.55 fee, AAP reports.
Young drivers are slugged more than seven times the permit cost of other states in what Liberal National leader David Crisafulli labelled an “absolute rip-off”.
In comparison, a permit costs $25 in the Northern Territory and $26 in NSW and Victoria.
“Queensland learners pay the highest fee in the country by a country mile to get their learners,” Crisafulli told reports on Thursday.
“These learner drivers are starting out in life ... the learner’s is a key to opening up a future for a young person. It’s the ability to take a step towards getting your own job and your own independence.
“It is time to end this rip-off, and it is time to stop the madness of Queenslanders paying the highest fees in the nation to get their learners.”
Crisafulli said Queenslanders were already feeling the pinch as everyday costs spiral out of control.
“It’s time this government gave these kids a break,” he said.
Transport minister Mark Bailey transport confirmed the costs were being scrutinised.
“A review is now under way into all Queensland licence fees, including C class, R and RE class, P class, L class, and others,” Bailey said.
However, the minister fell short of promising to lower licence fees, saying “I’ll let the department conduct that review and provide an update to any potential changes to licence fees as soon as possible.”
Baggage handlers filmed throwing luggage fired
The ABC is reporting two of the baggage handlers who were filmed throwing luggage and slamming bags onto a conveyor belt at Melbourne airport have been fired.
The men were employees of Qantas subcontractor Swissport, which Qantas uses to perform “ground handling services” at Melbourne airport.
The men were stood down pending an investigation by Swissport, and Qantas would not have allowed them to service Qantas airlines again.
Former social services official voiced robodebt concerns with DHS officials
[continued from previous post]
Whitecross said he had earlier articulated his concerns about the proposal in a meeting with DHS officials including Mark Withnell, who was involved in drafting documents explaining the plan.
I felt very strongly about this issue and I wanted to convey the strength of my feelings [about the lack of quality of the proposal],” he said.
[Withnell] seemed to be particularly unhappy that I was suggesting we wouldn’t be able to realise the level of savings he’d estimated.
I formed the impression there was an attachment at more senior levels to that level of savings.
It was that sort of sense that the [$1.2nbn] number was not a number that had come out of a methodology, but that the number itself was a goal of the process.
Whitecross assumed Golightly had been among those attached to the plan. He couldn’t comment on whether Campbell was also when asked.
But the inquiry heard yesterday the ultimate policy proposal “misrepresented” the nature of the robodebt scheme, apparently paving the way for it to be implemented without legal change.
Halbert will give evidence later today while Withnell is scheduled to give evidence tomorrow.
The royal commission continues.
Former social services official tells robodebt inquiry he was ‘directed’ to water down legal concerns
A former Department of Social Services official has told a royal commission he was “directed” to water down legal concerns about the robodebt scheme when the policy was been designed in early 2015.
Andrew Whitecross, a former mid-level official at DSS, had been involved in commenting on what became the initial plan for the robodebt scheme that was briefed to the then social services minister Scott Morrison.
The royal commission heard Whitecross and a colleague, Murray Kimber, had fiercely criticised the proposal in January 2015, questioning its legality and fairness as well as the estimated budget savings.
But Whitecross said he was told to water down those concerns by his boss, acting deputy secretary, Catherine Halbert, before the feedback was passed onto the Department of Human Services (DHS), which was formulating the plan.
Whitecross claimed Halbert had said she had spoken to her counterpart at DHS, Malisa Golightly, who had “expressed her concerns about the strength of DSS’ comments”.
“She [Halbert] wanted me to tone down the comments that Murray had provided in his response,” Whitecross said.
“I took it as a direction,” Whitecross added. “We had a disagreement in the conversation about that. I believed the policy wasn’t well developed and lacked merit … and we should be fairly forceful in communicating that.”
Whitecross subsequently provided new comments that watered down the advice, though his revisions still noted the robodebt plan would need legislative change.
Those proposals were sent to Morrison in February 2015 after being finalised by Golightly and the secretary of the department, Kathryn Campbell.
NSW ‘almost ready to sign up’ to coal price cap, Kean says
Matt Kean, NSW’s treasurer and energy minister, has told reporters in Brisbane that his state is “almost ready to sign up” to a price cap on black coal.
The comments, made as Kean arrived at an energy ministers’ meeting with his federal counterpart Chris Bowen, came a day before the premiers and chief ministers are due to discuss ways to lower energy prices.
Guardian Australia understands the coal price cap being discussed is still $125/tonne, with a $12-$14/gigajoule price being discussed at the “first ministers” level.
“It’s not about royalties, it’s about consumers,” Kean told the reporters, in comments broadcast by Sky News. “NSW is prepared to take the hit” by not seeking compensation.
Such a move would no doubt be welcomed by the Albanese government – if that is indeed NSW’s position. The Queensland government anticipates it will come under pressure to back down on its compensation claims should its southern neighbour offer concessions.
Separately, the energy ministers’ meeting remains on track to agree to the next steps for a capacity investment mechanism. That scheme is likely to set up a minimum price to support the acceleration of new batteries and other storage to be added to the grid. Related renewable energy may also get added incentives.
Anyway, we’ll get more details at 4pm AEDT (3pm in Queensland) when the energy ministers’ meeting breaks up.
Queensland receives funding for plan to use drones to collect patient samples
Pathology test times would shorten by up to six hours under a plan for drones to collect samples from hard-to-reach patients in south-east Queensland, AAP reports.
The project between Mater Pathology and drone logistics company Swoop Aero has been awarded $1.8m in federal funding to expand operations.
Faster deliveries are predicted to slash times for urgent blood samples and other tests at Mater’s Springfield laboratories, with patients on islands off the Queensland coast among those to benefit.
The new drone fleet is expected to collect more than 80,000 samples a year.
“There’s no doubt that drones can help to improve a range of health services for Queenslanders ... especially those living in remote or hard to access locations,” Mater director of innovation Maree Knight said.
The service will cover patients at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service on Stradbroke Island, as well as other patients across Russell Island, Macleay Island, the Redlands and Hope Island on the Gold Coast.
Mater general manager Deb Hornsby said it would be the first pathology service in Australia to collect samples with drones.
“Drones are safe, reliable and so much faster than ferries and cars, which means we save valuable time in diagnosing and treating vulnerable patients,” she said.
The Emerging Aviation Technology Partnerships funding will also provide end-to-end logistics services to the Darling Downs Health and Hospital Service and Pathology Queensland.
Infrastructure minister Catherine King said the program will improve health services for regional communities, while also enhancing the capability of Australian businesses to deliver more complex aviation operations.
Swoop Aero CEO Eric Peck said the partnership will support “the world’s first and largest fully integrated drone logistics network”.
Australia raises concerns with Indonesia after Bali bomb maker’s release
The Australian government has sought assurances from the Indonesian government that Bali bomb maker Umar Patek will be subject to ongoing supervision and says his release from prison will “deeply hurt” many Australians.
The government also says it has raised concerns about Patek’s release with the Indonesian government numerous times.
Patek, 55, was jailed for 20 years in 2012 after being found guilty of mixing bombs that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, in 2002. He was released from prison in Surabaya yesterday morning.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued the following statement:
Many Australians will be deeply hurt by the release of Umar Patek. Today our thoughts are with the victims and survivors of the Bali bombings and their families.
We have registered our concerns about Umar Patek’s release with the Indonesian Government on multiple occasions.
Umar Patek’s release is a matter for the Government of Indonesia and its domestic legal processes, but we have sought assurances from the Indonesian Government that he will be subject to ongoing supervision and monitoring, in accordance with Indonesia’s approach to de-radicalisation.
Australia condemns acts of terrorism and those who perpetrate violence on innocent victims, and will continue to work closely with the Indonesian Government on counter-terrorism cooperation.
Earlier, the minister for home affairs, Clare O’Neil, told the National Press Club it was a “horrible” day for families of the Bali bombing victims. Australians would be feeling aggrieved by the development, she said.
With those adorable images of Pocock with baby animals, I bid you adieu and leave you in the excellent hands of Josh Taylor.
Pocock supports inclusion of native forestry logging in new environmental laws
ABC’s Ros Childs also asked David Pocock about two of the issues that the Australian Conservation Foundation flagged they wanted to see the government go further on – applying the laws to all industries, including native forest logging, as well as the need for a climate trigger to give the minister the option to block fossil fuel projects.
Pocock is on the same page as the ACF, saying he would support both.
That was very clear in the Samuel review, we have to ensure that our regional forestry agreements are brought under our environmental laws. It is potentially something that can be done relatively quickly while the big consultation and drafting process happens. I would absolutely support that. There is a whole bunch of species that are now endangered that rely on habitat that could potentially be logged.
On a climate trigger:
I’m on the record saying that the minister should absolutely have that ability. So many of our endangered species are heat sensitive. You look at something like the greater glider – climate change is and will affect them. The Great Barrier Reef affected by climate change. Graeme in his review, his view was that a climate trigger or that sort of mechanism could be elsewhere. We currently don’t have it elsewhere so it would make sense even in the meantime to include that environmental law while we do the bigger piece of work drafting environmental laws that are fit for purpose.
We have to be looking after environment for future generations, Pocock says
We brought you the news earlier of David Pocock’s response to the new federal environmental laws, urging the Albanese government to commit enough funds to deliver on the environment minsiter Tanya Plibersek’s promises.
In his interview with ABC News, Pocock said committing funds to stop extinction is an investment in the future.
It’s a sentiment that was underscored for him at a press conference he held specifically on the occasion of the release of the Samuel Review, which featured baby wombats, possums and humans.
Pocock told the ABC:
Seeing the way that kids light up when they see our wildlife up close, we have to be looking after it for future generations.
We are [only] spending about 15% of what we need to spend to halt extinctions.
It’s a bold commitment but it is something that we absolutely should be doing.
Nathalia warned to stay indoors as chemical hazard warning issued
The town of Nathalia in northern Victoria is being warned to stay indoors after a chemical hazard warning was issued by authorities.
‘We stood up to a bully and we won’: home affairs minister on Medibank hacker
O’Neil is asked about the Medibank hacker group’s last upload to the dark web saying it was the final tranche of stolen information.
I think the best evidence that we have at the moment is that the hackers have dumped the remaining data and walked away, seeing that they are not going to get payment out of the attempted situation that they tried to create. But one of the most disturbing aspects of these incidents is that once stolen, the data is gone. And this is the same with Optus.
However, she goes on to praise the way the nation reacted to the attack:
As cybersecurity minister, I felt so proud of how Australia handled that situation.
There was data circulating about Australians that was extremely sensitive and hurtful. I did not see any of it printed in newspapers, didn’t see it circulating on social media, and I didn’t see anyone seriously argue that Medibank should have paid the ransom and then we could have all gone off into our fairyland thinking that would solve the problem.
From my perspective we stood up to a bully and we won.
Labor considering changes to laws to address ‘rightwing terror’
Guardian Australia’s very own Josh Butler asks about rightwing extremism.
Where does this issue rank in terms of threats that you have to address in your portfolio and what work is being done in this area generally and specifically about hate speech and radicalisation online?
One of the trends I just referred to earlier is this proliferation of ideologies that are driving people to violence. We see big groups of people who are still on a religious fundamentalism pathway but now a very large group of people who are of interest who subscribe to various forms of rightwing nationalism, Nazism, those sorts of things and it’s obviously enormously concerning.
We had the Christchurch bombing which was an Australian committing a heinous act of terror in Christchurch and New Zealand and so this is a problem that I do take very seriously.
We are actually looking at the way we think about and manage terrorism in Australia to consider whether it is appropriate for these new forms of terrorism that we are seeing.
There was a lot of legislation passed in the second half of the last decade which was very targeted at a specific type of terrorism and some of the elements or features of the criminal law require features that are not present in the way that rightwing groups organise themselves.
Mark Dreyfus and I are working together to look at some of those laws and see whether there are legal changes that will be needed to capture violent conduct in the rightwing terror world which perhaps isn’t being caught by what is going on in religious fundamentalism.
Albanese government still committed to Redspice cyber security investment
Circling back to the national press club address, O’Neil is now taking questions.
David Crowe chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age asks:
You had some quite alarming figures there on the number of cyber-attacks we are seeing. Can you put, in a budget perspective, because over the last couple of years there has been more money allocated to cyber defence of Australian federal budgets, $9.9bn in this year’s budget. There were projects such as Redspice.
Are you banking that money and repurposing it all and putting it toward other functions? Is any money being returned to consolidated revenue or are you keeping the funding being given there to your department over time, and given the scale of the challenge you have outlined, are we going to need to spend more money on this overtime?
I’m not in the habit of lavishly praising the former government but one important thing they did was make this Redspice investment run through the Australian signals directorate and important thing for the security of our country and our government is 100% committed to it.
We are not spending enough on cyber defence at the moment so one of my challenges is how will we address that problem.
One of the elements of this is that it is going to be expensive as securing government infrastructure.
We talked a lot and thought a lot in the public sphere in recent months about cybersecurity in the private sector, will have to come at that discussion with a bit of humility because government has its problems as well, so part of the cyber strategy, one of the four goals is to establish how we’re going to lift and fund the security of Australian government infrastructure, and it is going to require more money.
Pesutto wants to deliver policies with broad appeal
New Victorian Liberal leader, John Pesutto, is now holding a press conference after he was elected by the party room this morning.
He says his priorities is improving the Liberal party as an organisation and delivering policies with broad appeal:
Organisationally, we will work hard to make sure that we build our membership and our presence across the Victorian community, not just in inner city seats and suburbs but the outer suburbs, the regions and rural areas. We will work hard to make sure we are a strong presence right across our state. On policy, we will take the time that’s available to us to work every day to make sure we present the Victorian people with good constructive alternatives when we face the serious challenges that we have. And as a leader, I will be consultative, and I will work with my colleagues to make sure we push ourselves to be our very best.
RBA review submissions published and some responses from the central bank
The review into the Reserve Bank has generated a lot more interest than when it was formally launched after the May election.
Let’s say the RBA’s popularity – and that governor Philip Lowe – has been on the slide with each interest rate hike, and of this week we’ve had eight in as many months.
The government, which is expecting to receive the review’s final report by March - has today published 78 submissions. (No sign of one from the federal opposition, unless I missed it.)
And as part of the data release, the RBA itself has published an 84-page report of its responses to requests for information. There’s a bit to go through but among the perhaps expected points, the bank remains in favour of maintaining its 2%-3% target range for inflation over time.
“A higher target has been seen as running the risk that inflation will affect decision-making, as occurred in previous decades in Australia when inflation was higher,” it said. “Changing the target (in either direction) could damage long-term credibility if it were not done in an appropriate way.”
Again, they admit the increase in inflation since mid-2021 “has been a very large surprise relative to earlier expectations”. In August 2021, the RBA was forecasting that inflation over 2022 would be 1.75% and it now expects it will be 7¾%.
“Other forecasters have recorded similar forecast errors for inflation, with a similar experience across most advanced economies,” it says (not without reason).
Submissions and comments about the review have stressed the need to examine the make-up of the board and whether the ratio of votes in favour of the monthly rate decisions should be published (as is the case in some other nations).
The bank noted, however, that at “each of its meetings over the past decade the Board has voted in support of the recommendation made by the staff”. In other words, the bank’s own view has carried the day for the past 100-plus meetings (the RBA board meets 11 times a year on rates).
As for the media’s view of the RBA, sentiment has been “largely neutral”, except when it wasn’t, and then coverage was “more negative than positive”. The central bank gets about 3000 enquiries a year from the public with about 6% complaints. Odds favour that ratio rising.
Something else on the rise are global temperatures. To that end, the bank “has recently created a Climate Analysis & Policy section to bring together climate-related streams of work and created two new dedicated positions”. That’s a section likely to be expanded in the future.
O’Neil says Australia needs to stand up for our system of government
We cannot allow the global debate to settle into the lazy thinking of equivalency is where somehow or political systems are morally equal. They are not. People should choose their leaders. To me, to us, that is a truism. But democracy is not just a political system, it is a mindset about community, pluralism, tolerance, rationality, choice and freedom. And yet, trust in democracy is in substantial decline in Australia and around the world, and populism and polarisation are on the rise.
And we cannot stand by and do nothing. I have had many discussions with global democracy experts over the last months. This is a much admired problem. Many can explain the shapes and contours but no one seems to know what to do and in this, I want Australia to lead the way. What can we do, concretely, about the problems our democracy faces so Australia can be the light on the hill.
Home affairs to investigate resilience of democracy
The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, announces two new reviews.
The first review will examine national resilience. That will be the home front implications of the climate and security environment Australia faces.
The second will focus on the resilience of democracy, which O’Neil says is a national security issue.
In our quest to keep Australians safe in the coming decades, our democracy will be our biggest national asset and we need to protect our national asset. And because competitor countries are seeking to undermine our democracy, and we need to fight back.
Their intention is to justify authoritarianism by making it look like democracies are inherently dysfunctional, and to weaken countries like ours and constrain us from responding to global events that our adversaries may create.
The taskforce will be completed in 2025 and will be undertaken in partnership with University of Canberra’s director of democracy, Prof Mark Evans.
O’Neil says foreign interference, misinformation and disinformation are on the rise, and the review will look at what government can do with tech companies to reduce the spread of polarisation and falsehoods.
Australians can get pretty down on our democracy. There are good reasons for that and indeed a bit of Australian scepticism in the world of politics is a very, very healthy thing. But politicians like me need to tell a better story about Australia’s world-leading democratic history. We are the sixth oldest democracy in the world.
We are the great democratic innovator, the inventor of the secret talent, one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote. We have very high participation in our democracy and a strong and independent Electoral Commission and politicians do their part and respect the results.
We have a brilliant independent media which despite its many challenges does a bloody good job.
Disaster management needs to be a well practised function of government: O’Neil
O’Neil says disaster management under the Albanese government is a centralised, well-coordinated function of the Australian government.
It is time for us all to stop feigning shock at supposedly once in a generation floods and fires and storm. The world has witnessed a tenfold increase in the number of natural disasters since the 1960s and this is going to get worse as the world warms further.
We need disaster management to be a routine, seamless, well practised function of Australian government so that when multiple disasters strike, government and the community are not completely consumed by them.
Australia is the developed country in the world most at risk from the warming climate and the former government’s unwillingness to acknowledge this reality of climate change was flawless, dogmatic and reckless.
O’Neil singles out former home affairs minister and current opposition leader, Peter Dutton, for approaching the portfolio he created with “a posture that was reactive to the issues and reactionary and the politics”.
It didn’t make us any safer and I would like to change it. We know a lot about their national security environment we are heading into.
Almost one million unprocessed visas when Labor came to government: O’Neil
O’Neil says when Labor came to government, there were almost one million unprocessed visas waiting while Australia is in the middle of the “biggest labour shortage we have experienced since the second world war”.
The result was large numbers of temporary lower-skilled workers were brought in and churned through the labour market and Australia now has a “large underclass of undocumented migrant workers” who are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, she says.
That is not what a world-class migration system looks like and it’s completely out of step with Australia’s hugely successful historical focus on migration based on permanency, on citizenship and on fair rates for workers no matter where they come from the determining who should be invited to join us in our national endeavours is one of the most important thing is that the Australian government does and we are going to take a run at fixing it through a big piece of work being led by former secretary of the treasury and prime minister and Martin Parkinson.
O’Neil: diaspora communities are best asset in fight against foreign interference
On the topic of foreign interference, O’Neil says the former government’s approach was “overpoliticised and frankly a bit xenophobic, and any security expert will tell you that that approach deeply counter-productive for our national security”.
She says the “loved and loyal” diaspora communities are the best asset in the fight against foreign interference.
My experience in dealing with this problem so far is that for most people who would be targets of foreign interference, albeit that’s all that thought about politicians, community leaders, academics, they desperately want to fight this problem and one of the next phase of a policy response will be to start to open up a bit and focus on arming the people who need to understand this problem with usable information.
So we will do that through a program of direct engagement with possible targets of foreign interference to help them understand what foreign interference looks like – how does it present? What does the playbook look like? – so we can help them understand what they can do to protect themselves so they can help us protect our country.
O'Neil announces new cybersecurity strategy
Turning to cybersecurity, the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, says all businesses and citizens need to change how they engage with the internet.
“The truth is, in cybersecurity, we are unnecessarily vulnerable. We did not do the work nationally over the last decade to help us prepare for this national challenge,” she says.
O’Neil says it was an “absolute shocker” that the former prime minister, Scott Morrison, abolished the cybersecurity ministry, and points to what the Albanese government has done so far – a new joint taskforce between the AFP and Australian Signals Directorate, and passing new data breach penalty laws.
She says she feels for people caught up in the Optus and Medibank data breaches, noting she has family affected by both.
O’Neil announces the Albanese government will develop a new cybersecurity strategy:
The cybersecurity strategy will help Australia bring the whole nation into the fight to protect our citizens and to protect our economy. It will help us strengthen critical infrastructure and government networks. It will help us build sovereign capabilities in cybersecurity, because this is something Australia must be able to do for itself.
And it will help us strengthen our international engagement, so Australia can play a leadership role on the global stage, and work in partnership with our Pacific neighbours to handle cybersecurity across our region.
The project will be led by Andy Penn, former Telstra CEO, Rachael Falk, CEO of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, and Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld.
In addition to this amazing group of Australians, some of the biggest cyber guns from around the world love the scale of our ambition [and] they have agreed to help.
Former UK Cyber Security Centre CEO and … Oxford University professor Ciaran Martin will lead a global cyber-expert panel, who will ensure our work really is world-leading. Across government, finance minister Katy Gallagher will work with me on the government-facing aspects of the strategy and assistant minister Tim Watts will lead our international focus.
We’ve got the platform, we’ve got the mandate for change, we’ve genuinely now got the best minds on the problem, and now it is time to translate that into a more cybersecure Australia.
Treasurer welcomes parliamentary budget office’s report
The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has had a look at the report and he has thoughts:
While these are not the government’s forecasts, we welcome the report from the independent parliamentary budget office and the contribution it makes to the public debate around the long-term sustainability of our nation’s finances.
The report underscores the challenges facing the economy and the budget from high inflation, rising interest rates, an uncertain global environment and mounting structural pressures.
Since coming to office, the Albanese government has been upfront about the challenges facing our economy and our budget.
After inheriting a trillion dollars in debt and deficits as far as the eye can see, our October budget began the hard yards of fiscal repair by making sensible savings, keeping real spending growth flat and returning more than 90% of revenue upgrades to the bottom line.
As a result of our restraint, debt is lower in each year of the forward estimates than under the previous government.
We’ve been clear about the structural pressures weighing on the budget, including the five big growing areas of spending – health, the NDIS, aged care, defence, and the cost of servicing the former government’s debt.
The government will continue its responsible and disciplined approach to economic management in the May budget and beyond.
Which is not exactly an answer, but it is an acknowledgment (if you read between the lines) that someone is going to have to come up with some answers soon.
Global security challenges entering Australians’ everyday lives: O’Neil
The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, discusses the rise of China, and of the rise of “big state politics” and democracies versus authoritarian regimes.
She says Australians are facing the “most dangerous set of strategic circumstances since the second world war:
During past periods of intense global competition, the security of Australians wasn’t really affected until we actively joined a conflict. But today, new tools of statecraft are bringing what would otherwise be global security challenges into the everyday lives and homes of our citizens.
It’s felt in our economy where we are waking from a cyber slumber, it is felt in our private lives where our identities are under threat and personal information is at risk, it is felt in business and research, with Australia’s hard-won innovations are at constant risk of theft.
And it is felt in our democracy, where foreign actors are trying to influence decisions in our parliaments and universities, subjecting Australians to online misinformation and disinformation campaigns which spread like viruses around our communities.
Home affairs minister speaks at National Press Club
The home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, is speaking at the National Press Club.
She says climate change is an increasing national security risk.
When Home Affairs was first created, the discussion about climate change in national security was largely academic and, indeed, derided by the former government.
Five years on, climate change is a … growing part of Australia’s national security picture. Climate change is creating massive movements of people that may become unmanageable. Already, national disasters are forcing about 21.5 million people each year from their homes.
In our region, this, alongside foreseeable food and energy shortages, will be big vulnerabilities that we will need to work with our neighbours to address.
Climate change is creating natural disasters at rolling frequency. For affected Australians, these disasters can be life-shattering, and from a security perspective, their management is a hugely consuming task for government and the community, and this in itself is a national security risk.
O’Neil says what she is most concerned about is “cascading disasters”.
Imagine a future January where we see Black Saturday-sized bushfires in the south-east, a major flood in the north of our country, and then overlay a cyber-attack on a major hospital system on the west coast – government would be fully absorbed in the management of that crisis, and then consider how capable we would be responding to and engaging with a security issue in our region.
Parliamentary budget office says costs of climate change becoming increasingly apparent
The parliamentary budget office has released its report, Beyond the budget, which looks at the economic conditions Australia is headed into.
The PBO is not the government. It is an independent body which uses the Treasury figures and comes to its own conclusions about the numbers. It is used during the election by oppositions to cross-check their budgetary numbers for election commitments, but it also keeps an eye on the forecasts and does a lot of very handy reports looking at the numbers away from government spin.
(If you are not already checking out the PBO reports, you should.)
This report builds on some previous work the PBO has done, and it includes that Australia’s fiscal position is likely to remain sustainable under most circumstances. Huzzah.
It also points out that the costs of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent and makes the point that Australia’s ageing population is a ticking budgetary timebomb.
And most of the revenue increases in 2025/26 are coming from income tax. Which is also not sustainable (although the stage three tax cuts are not the answer, for reasons we have laid out previously in the Guardian).
UK releases first coinage of King Charles III
The UK has released the first coinage featuring King Charles III into circulation but Australia will not see the new monarch on our money until next year.
Across the UK a total of 4.9m 50p coins will be distributed from 9,452 post offices throughout the next month. The coins will be given out as change when customers make purchases and will circulate alongside the Queen’s coins.
Australians should expect to see the face of King Charles on their coins “sometime in 2023” the federal government announced back in September.
The assistant minister for Treasury, Andrew Leigh, said the face will look left, following the UK – which is a change from the Queen’s face looking right.
It will be a remarkable moment when Australia moves from having, not a Queen on the coin, but the King.
It is understood the Royal mint will make an announcement about the coins in the coming weeks.
Gallagher highlights treatment of some women in Senate estimates
Katy Gallagher continued her speech to include the parliament – where she singled out the treatment of some women during senate estimates as an example of where progress still needed to be made.
Whilst estimates is an important scrutiny role to ensure good governance, I don’t believe it should be used as a platform to pursue political campaigns that target individuals – often women outside the parliament, with personal attacks, especially where there is no right for those individuals to reply or defend themselves.
I saw several examples of this just in the last round of hearings.
And whilst estimates is a robust forum – believe me, I’ve had plenty of robust exchanges there – our behaviour as leaders and standard setters is public and on the record for all to see.
We hold privileged and powerful positions.
And with that should come great responsibility and the highest levels of personal conduct about how we choose to use that power.
Perhaps the codes of conduct for MPs and senators will change and improve some of this behaviour.
If not, it’s something the Senate should examine.
There is still a long, long way to go on this issue. But at least we are now talking about it at a national leadership level.
Gallagher made clear she was “not taking aim at the justice system and this is not a reflection of any one individual case”.
Criticisms of women’s experience of the justice system are well documented and understood. The challenge is what can be done about it?
If we continue to see women retraumatised by simply trying to seek justice – the hard work to empower women to report cases will be lost.
The right to a fair trial is fundamental – as is the presumption of innocence – there’s no argument there.
But it is a problem if we are operating in an environment that re-traumatises plaintiffs, victims-survivors and claimants.
We have duty to look at our systems and processes. To understand where and why people who may access those systems see them as a deterrent to seeking justice.
We have a responsibility to ensure that women feel comfortable and supported to report any act of violence against them.
We are clearly not there yet.
Katy Gallagher says more protections needed for women in legal system
Hello from Canberra!
Overnight, the minister for women, Katy Gallagher, reinforced her commitment to help bring about gender equality in Australia. You may have heard some of her comments on ABC radio RN Breakfast yesterday – well, in a speech in Melbourne, Gallagher doubled down, saying Australia had a problem when it came to gender equality and more needed to be done to help protect women in the legal system, as well as through examinations like Senate estimates.
You may remember it was senate estimates which kicked off the Christine Holgate affair. Labor was asking the questions then, but it was Scott Morrison who picked up the baton and ran with it, including with his infamous “she can go” speech in the parliament.
Gallagher says the whole thing needs a review, including what happens when women speak up. In the legal system and beyond.
While increased reporting shows that there is more public awareness avenues and encouragement for women to report, these statistics also show that we are not living up to our responsibility to ensure that when women do speak up.
That they are supported. There are too many stories of women who tell us that when they report violence, particularly sexual violence – they feel abandoned, victimised, put in the spotlight.
Every day, women around Australia are experiencing sexual violence and seeing the justice system as an extension to their trauma, not a response to it.
Brad Battin, who was unsuccessful in this morning’s Liberal leadership ballot, has made a brief statement to media:
It’s obviously a tough time when you come out and you do lose in a selection battle.
Sometimes they can get quite emotional because the fact that we are all friends within the party room – that might bring some smiles to people’s faces, I know – but the one thing that I committed to at the start of this challenge was to ensure that it was kept clean and my integrity stayed in place. Let me assure you, I walk out of that party room today with my integrity in place.
I will back John Pesutto 100%. The party has chosen John Pesutto to move forward and I’ll get behind him. I’m a very proud Liberal. The only message I send to all of my colleagues: Get behind John. Never take the Liberal logo off any of your signs. I don’t care what electorate you’re running. I’m a proud Liberal, I believe in our values, and I believe in our future.
Pesutto ‘humbled’ by Victorian Liberal leadership win
John Pesutto, flanked by his leadership team, has briefly spoken to media following the party room meeting:
We’re very humbled by this result. It means a lot to be given this opportunity by our party colleagues to do the best we can by our party, but more importantly to do the best we can for the people of Victoria. These next four years are going to be really challenging for the people in Victoria and we need a government that is pushed to do its level best.
We’ve just had an election, and although that election has sorted out the results, I want to make it clear that the challenges we face as a state remain. We will be a constructive opposition, but we will apply scrutiny when it’s necessary to do so.
I’ll have more to say to you in a very short while but I might just confer with my leadership colleagues and we’ll schedule a time in the next few minutes for when we can have a bit more of a conversation with you.
Pocock urges PM to back environmental laws with necessary investment
The independent senator for the ACT, David Pocock, is speaking to ABC News following the unveiling of new federal environment laws by the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek.
The legislation will go before parliament next year and the Senate’s support will be crucial to getting the new laws passed. Pocock proved pivotal in getting the government’s industrial reform passed in the last sitting week of parliament.
So what does the senator, known for his strong stance on the environment, make of the government’s proposed reforms?
I’m yet to read all 60 pages, but it’s a great thing to have an environment minister that is committed to turning things around.
Clearly our environmental laws are not working and minister Plibersek has committed to no new extinctions, which is a huge commitment and is going to take reforming environmental law, having an independent agency but then crucially, having the kind of investment in nature, investment in conservation it is necessary to actually deliver on that promise.
We have to ensure that the prime minister and cabinet back her on this and provide the sort of investment that is going to be needed every year going forward.
So of what you have seen so far, you would support this in the Senate?
I will wait for the details – this is a really big piece of work and as the minister said earlier, there isn’t the fine details yet, that will happen over next year – but we have to ensure that we look back on 2023 as a year that we did turn things around when it comes to the environment here in Australia.
Price caps to feature at today’s energy ministers meeting in Brisbane
Energy ministers began sitting at 10am Queensland time this morning for a scheduled five hours’ chinwag about all things energetic.
We expect, among other things, for the federal, state and territory ministers to sign off a plan to provide incentives to accelerate the take-up of new storage in the market.
We previewed the event in this piece, in case you need a primer:
The form of the incentives such a guaranteed base price remains to be seen, but it does seem the states are advancing some big projects as it is, such as a whopping 4000MW-hour battery being considered for WA, as RenewEconomy reported here. (Back in 2017, the Hornsdale battery in SA was considered big with its 129MW-hour size, although that looks almost titchy now.)
While the main horsetrading over a price cap for gas and electricity is likely to sit with the premiers and the prime minister tomorrow, it’s understood the issue will be discussed at today’s gathering. (Probably better to get through the set agenda first in case things get feisty.)
FWIW, it looks like electricity is so cheap this morning it’s being given away with renewables supplying well over half the power – and rooftop solar alone generating a quarter of it.
Those ample renewable supplies are currently (pun!) generating negative wholesale spot prices across all mainland states in the national electricity market.
Looking ahead, we might see some strains on electricity supplies as that huge heatwave builds and bakes northern Australia. (Queensland has the odd electricity shortfall alert for next Tuesday and perhaps more will follow.)
Our colleague Cait Kelly details what’s ahead for some remote communities in this piece:
We’re already seeing the hottest temperatures so far in this warming season in the southern hemisphere and perhaps we’ll collect a few unwanted heat records before the heatwave ebbs.
Flood-damaged roads to cost $3.8bn to fix
With the cost of repairing Australia’s flood-damaged roads estimated at about $3.8bn, there are calls for a new approach to road construction, maintenance and funding.
The president of the Australian local government association, Linda Scott, says thousands of kilometres of local roads across NSW, Victoria South Australia and Queensland have been severely damaged by recent flooding – with some washed away.
The ALGA estimates the damage bill at $3.8bn but Scott says the cost of rebuilding roads to the same standard will only cost more in the long term. She said today:
We can’t simply rebuild our local infrastructure – including roads, footpaths and cycleways – to current standards.
We need a fundamental shift in the way we fund, deliver and maintain these assets.
Councils want an increase in federal roads to recovery funding from $500m to $800m a year to help invest in new technologies and build more resilient roads.
- from AAP
Queensland SES receive 20 requests for assistance after lightning storms in south-east
EPA will be ‘a tough cop on the beat’ operating independently: Plibersek
More from the Plibersek press conference. Central to the overhaul of federal environment law is this plan for a federal protection agency, which will shift responsibility from politicians to this legislated body.
The environment minister gave more detail about the agency taking questions, saying it is important it will operate independently from the government.
One of the reasons that we are establishing it in this way is to make sure that it is transparent, that it is answerable to our democracy; people can see the decisions are being made, and why they are being made, and how they are being made, and have confidence that there is integrity in the system.
The details of the design are, again, something that we will continue to work through with stakeholders over coming months. But this is an exciting Australia first and it delivers on an important promise that we made during the election to have a strong independent EPA, a tough cop on the beat that is operating at arm’s length from the government.
John Pesutto wins Victorian Liberal leadership ballot
John Pesutto will lead the Victorian Liberal party after defeating Brad Battin, sources have told Guardian Australia.
Pesutto, a former shadow attorney general, narrowly reclaimed the inner east seat of Hawthorn, which he lost at the 2018 state election. He has argued the Liberal party needs to develop attractive policies that have broad appeal if it is to be successful come 2026.
He is the Liberal’s fifth leader since Daniel Andrews secured the leadership of the Victorian Labor party in 2010 and it’s the party’s third leadership spill since March last year.
Plibersek says understanding can be reached between forestry and conservation
We just heard from the Australian Conservation Foundation that the native forestry industry needs to be included in national environmental standards, to protect Australia’s animals and forests.
Moving on to questions at that Brisbane press conference, here is Plibersek’s response on the issue of forestry:
That is something that we will be working through very closely with stakeholders, with the forestry industry and environmental organisations.
We want to have a forestry industry here in Australia. We want a strong and sustainable forestry industry, both because we need the products that are produced and because we need the jobs as well.
And we also know that we have some critical areas where there are threatened species and working cooperatively, collaboratively. I am sure that we can come to a common understanding of how we have a strong forestry industry and we better protect our environment, but that is something we will work very closely with the industry on.
NSW Coalition government supports an Indigenous voice to parliament
The New South Wales government will support an Indigenous voice to parliament being enshrined in the constitution.
The state Aboriginal affairs minister, Ben Franklin, confirmed the Coalition’s position on Thursday after his federal Nationals counterparts last week announced they would not be supporting it.
We support in principle enshrining an Aboriginal voice in the Australian constitution. Obviously we want some more information from the federal government about how we work, how it will operate. We know how important it is that Aboriginal voices be heard across the state. We know that it’s critical for Aboriginal voices to be considered at the heart of government and that’s why we’ve expressed our in principal support for a voice to parliament.
Franklin said he expected more details to be revealed by the federal government in coming months.
He said he had not heard from federal Nationals leader, David Littleproud, since making the announcement, nor would he be asking him to reconsider.
I’m not going to comment on the federal National party and the decisions that they’ve made. We’ve made it very clear what our position is. We look forward to having more information about how it will work before we land, of course on our final position when you see all the details, the logistics on the table and then we’ll be able to go forth and continue to consider the issue.
Environmental standards must include native forest logging and climate trigger, ACF says
The Australian Conservation Foundation has welcomed the environment minister’s announcement. Paul Sinclair from ACF also stepped up to speak at that press conference in Brisbane saying “Australian environmental law is busted and mistrusted … failing to protect our wildlife and the habitats they depend on.”
Having a minister willing to fix a broken system is a great thing and we are appreciative of that endeavour.
With national environmental standards, we need to see those standards incorporating all sectors, including the native forrest logging sector. For too many years, that sector has been excluded from national environmental laws at great expense to species and some of the world’s greatest forests.
We are disappointed that we don’t see reflected today a climate trigger in what is proposed. A climate trigger would assess the damage that is being done by burning coal and gas on the amazing places of Australia – from the Great Barrier Reef in the east to Ningaloo reef in the west to the seagrass meadows in the south and the wetlands in the north.
However, Sinclair says he is optimistic these details can be worked through with the potential to create the best environmental law this country has ever had.
There is a heap more detail to work through over the next six month. We are really excited and optimistic that together with the minister and stakeholders like the [Business Council of Australia], that we can work together to create a strong, positive national environmental law, the best that this country has ever had. The test of success of that law is going to be the degree to which you can stop the extinction of species like the amazing koala or the black cockatoo.
Dfat warns Australian travellers of Indonesian penalties for sex outside marriage
Following the sweeping changes to Indonesia’s criminal code, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has updated its travel advice for Australians travelling to Indonesia.
It has warned travellers of the new laws, flagging this includes penalties for cohabitation and sex outside marriage. But noted the laws do not come into force for another three years. It advises Australians to subscribe to the travel advice to stay up to date.
The advice said Australians are subject to Indonesia’s local laws and penalties, including those that seem harsh by Australian standards.
The overall advice for Australians travelling to Indonesia is to exercise a high degree of caution. However, this encompasses a number of other risks for Australians travelling to Indonesia, including the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java on 4 December.
Indonesia is Australia’s most popular overseas travel destination with more than 1m visits a year.
Queensland to focus on urban development, rare-earth minerals and renewables
The Queensland environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, steps up at the media conference after Plibersek.
Scanlon says Queensland called on the former Morrison government to address the Samuels review recommendations – “not just cherrypick recommendations” – and welcomed the Albanese government releasing the report today “to appropriately respond to recommendations”.
She says the Queensland government will be working with the federal government on the recommendation to deliver bio-regional plans.
It works like a traffic light system, it looks at a landscape scale how we can protect, restore and allow sustainable development.
So it looks at that cumulative impact not just projects one by one, but looks at the whole landscape scale. Looks at where we need to preserve wildlife corridors and where sustainable development can occur while not compromising biodiversity.
She says the Queensland government will work with the federal government focusing on three key areas:
The first will be around urban development, particularly in the south-east and the other two areas will be around rare-earth minerals as well as renewable energy.
When it’s incredibly clear that if we are going to preserve biodiversity that we need to take action on climate change. But we need to make sure that doesn’t compromise on biodiversity. This regional planning is about making sure we can do both.
Environment plan will be ‘good news for businesses’ – Plibersek
Plibersek says business will be happy with the plan as it will deliver “more certainty, saving time and money with faster clearer decisions”.
Regional plans will identify the area that we want to protect, areas that can be fast-tracked for development and areas where development can proceed with caution.
Today, I am announcing, that we are kicking off this regional plan in process in partnership with Queensland … Other states are interested as well. That means less red tape, it means easy paperwork, it means less duplication, streamlining and speeding up assessment processes.
Our nature positive plan is a win for business and win for the environment. I’m really looking forward to continuing to work with the business community, with environmental groups, with the First Nations people to give better environmental protection and faster decision-making.
Pesutto arrives at Liberal leadership ballot
Dipping out from Plibersek to head to Victoria …
Liberal leadership hopeful John Pesutto has just arrived at parliament ahead of a partyroom meeting, flanked by supporter upper house MP Georgie Crozier.
It’s his first time back since 2018, when he unexpectedly lost his seat of Hawthorn to Labor.
He told reporters:
It’s good to be back. It’s been a long, four years working my way back and I’m humbled and grateful to the people for the endorsement they gave me as the member for Hawthorn. I’m also grateful to all my colleagues for the time they’ve given me over the last couple of weeks … I’m encouraged I’m feeling positive, but it’s really now up to the party room to make a decision. I want to emphasise whatever the decision, we’re all going to get behind it. We’re going to work hard together in a unified way. We’re going to make sure that the Victorian people see an opposition that holds the government to account and that is ready to govern.
Nature positive plan will deliver stronger environment laws – Plibersek
Plibersek says the government will build legislation on three basic principles:
Clear national standards of environmental protection.
Improving and speeding up decisions.
Building trust and integrity.
Our nature positive plan will be better for the environment by delivering stronger laws designed to repair nature, to protect our precious plants and animals and places.
For the first time, our laws will introduce standards that decisions must meet. Standards described the environmental outcomes that we are seeking, This will ensure that decisions that are made will protect our threatened species and ecosystems.
And of course, a new environment protection agency will make developments decisions and properly enforce them.
‘Environment laws are broken’: Plibersek unveils nature positive plan’
The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, is unveiling the response to the Samuel review right now in Brisbane. Opening her speech, she says:
Australia’s environment laws are broken.
Prof Graham Samuels’ 2020 review into the environment protection biodiversity conservation act found – and I’m quoting now – the EPBC Act is outdated and requires fundamental reform.
Australians do not trust that the act is delivering for the environment, for business or for the community.
Nature is being destroyed, businesses are waiting too long for decisions. That is bad for everyone and it has to change.
Labor today is delivering on one of our key promises by responding to Prof Samuel’s review and announcing our nature positive plan, better for the environment, better for business. We want an economy that is nature positive to holt destruction and repair nature.
New environment protection agency to enforce laws to protect nature
The Albanese government has committed to establishing a new environment protection agency with powers to decide whether or not developments proceed and to enforce laws designed to protect and restore nature.
Releasing the government’s response to a review of national environmental laws, the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, confirmed the government would also introduce new national environmental standards against which conservation, protection and major development applications will be measured.
It comes two years after the former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel delivered his review to the former Morrison government. The Coalition never formally responded.
Plibersek said revamped environmental laws would set standards that decisions about developments must meet and would “describe the environmental outcomes we want to achieve” to ensure better protection of threatened species and declining ecosystems.
Our nature positive plan is a win-win: a win for the environment and a win for business.
Our reforms are seeking to turn the tide in this country – from nature destruction to nature repair.
The response, released at an event in Brisbane, includes proposed changes to conservation planning – formerly known as recovery planning – and a new three tier system to guide where development can and cannot occur.
The government has also proposed applying the new national standards to regional forest agreements, which have been exempt from the current laws and expanding the water trigger – which assesses the impacts of coal and coal seam gas developments on water resources – to include all forms of unconventional gas.
However, the government will not establish a long-called for climate trigger and its response did not provide any detail of additional government funding to meet its aims of environmental restoration and zero new extinctions.
More to come on the Guardian Australia website shortly.
‘The party room is like fight club’: Victorian Liberals arrive for election contest
Liberal MPs have begun arriving at parliament ahead of a party room meeting to elect its new leader.
The contest is between moderate John Pesutto, who recently reclaimed the inner-city seat of Hawthorn for the party, and Brad Battin, an outer suburban MP who has the support of several conservative in the party.
The duo have offered alternative solutions to grow the Liberal’s constituency. Battin said if elected leader he would focus the Liberals’ efforts on “aspirational” voters in Melbourne’s growing outer suburbs and multicultural groups, while Pesutto said the party needed to develop attractive policies that have broad appeal.
Former Liberal leader Michael O’Brien, who is believed to be supporting Pesutto, told reporters the party could not afford to sacrifice any areas:
No, you win government by gaining the trust of more people, you gain government by building communities of support, not by abandoning communities. It should never happen under any party that wants to be a party of government as opposed to a party of protest.
Asked what went wrong at the election, O’Brien said:
We didn’t win enough votes, we didn’t connect with enough communities. And clearly, the message we were putting out didn’t resonate with enough people. And I don’t think the people delivering message were trusted by Victorians.
Rowville MP Kim Wells described the loss as “embarrassing”.
He said he expected Thursday’s ballot to be close.
Upper house MP, Matt Bach, believed to be backing Pesutto but told reporters:
The party room is like fight club and the first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.
Bev McArthur, Richard Riordan and Ryan Smith, believed to be backing Battin, said the future of the party was bright.
The best things to do in Sydney in December
Summer in the City is a new series where Guardian Australia’s culture team put together the ultimate guide to the best arts, gigs and festivals around the country.
Today the highlights for Sydney in December is out! Other cities’ guides will be following.
You can also view the full interactive list across the country here.
Four emergency flood warnings in place in NSW
The New South Wales SES has clocked more than 20,000 requests for assistance since record flooding commenced across inland NSW, almost three months ago.
These areas include central western NSW, along the Lachlan River which received more than 3,000 requests (Forbes and Condobolin) and northern NSW, along the Namoi (Wee Waa) and Mehi (Moree) rivers which received more than 1,600 requests.
UN biodiversity summit ‘vastly more important’ than Cop27, researchers say
Yesterday the Cop15 UN biodiversity summit kicked off in Montreal, and no biggie, but it’s where leading scientists say the “fate of the entire living world” will be determined.
The gathering of the world’s nations is “vastly more important than Cop27”, the recent high-profile UN climate meeting, according to researchers. They said:
We say this because of the many dimensions of anthropogenic global change … the most critical, complex and challenging is that of biodiversity loss.
It comes as closer to home, the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, will respond to a review of national environment laws by the former consumer watchdog Graeme Samuel (see Lisa Cox’s earlier post). The report was handed to the Morrison government two years ago but the Coalition never formally responded.
You can read the full story on the Cop15 from Guardian’s environment editor, Damian Carrington, here:
More than 100,000 lightning strikes in six hours in south-east Queensland
The Bureau of Meteorology says it amounted to roughly seven strikes a second, with the risk of severe thunderstorm persisting into the afternoon.
Merri-bek council votes to no longer hold citizenship ceremonies on 26 January
A Melbourne council has voted to abandon holding citizenship ceremonies on 26 January, arguing the national celebration must be “inclusive” to all.
In 2017 Merri-bek in Melbourne’s north became the city’s third local council to cease referring to 26 January as Australia Day and stopped holding celebrations on this day. But citizenship ceremonies were still held on this date.
On Wednesday night the council passed the motion to stop holding citizenship ceremonies on the national day. But one councillor attempted to overturn the decision, meaning a final position will be reached later this month.
The motion will ramp up pressure on the Albanese government to reverse a decision by the former Morrison government that requires local governments to hold citizenship ceremonies on 26 January.
Queensland senator denies claims in Niki Savva’s book
The new book from journalist and commentator Niki Savva, Bulldozed, has made some big revelations about the Morrison government – including that the former prime minister’s close confidante Alex Hawke thought he was “addicted to executive authority” and that Josh Frydenberg was “staggered” by the multiple ministry scandal.
But one Coalition member has pushed back on a claim in the book. Queensland senator Susan McDonald has denied reports that she was planning to cross the floor on the then government’s religious discrimination bill earlier this year (which passed the house, but never made it to the Senate after a moderate revolt where several Liberal MPs crossed the floor to oppose it).
McDonald claimed in Twitter and Facebook posts that the claim she would have voted against the bill in the Senate was “categorically untrue” and said it was an “important issue”.
The new Labor government has pledged to make their own religious discrimination reforms in this term of parliament.
Program bringing Pacific workers into aged care homes praised
About 100 workers from Fiji and Samoa have gained aged care qualifications in the past year under a pilot program being trialled by the government, ABC’s 7.30 program reported last night.
The new program is intended to meet the shortfall in the aged care sector by recruiting workers from Pacific island nations. After the success of the trial, a further 500 workers will be placed in aged care jobs next year.
The minister for international development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, praised the scheme:
It’s a scheme that fills skills shortages here and it’s a scheme that’s critical to deepening relationship between Australia and the Pacific.
On average a worker will send home $15,000 a year, and that’s in a context where more than a third of Pacific Islanders live on less than $1,000 a year.
Despite historical problems of exploitation within the broader Pacific Labor Scheme, Conroy says there is “strong” oversight when it comes to this new program:
That’s a key focus of the Australian government is lifting the paying conditions for Australian aged care workers. It’s early days with this trial but I am confident we’ve put in place a good system. They have to be paid as Australians do in the job, there’s random audits, the employers are pre-screened and really a strong oversight is put in place.
‘Difficult day’ for Australians after Bali bomb maker release, Marles says
The Australian government is seeking assurances from its Indonesian counterparts that a man convicted of making the bombs used in the 2002 Bali terrorist attacks will continue to be monitored after his release from prison.
Overnight, Indonesia released Bali bomb maker Umar Patek from prison on parole after serving little more than half his sentence.
The attacks killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
The deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, said the news would bring a “difficult day” for Australians and families who lost loved ones in the Bali bombings.
He told ABC radio the government had advocated against Patek’s early release and would urge the Indonesian government to ensure he had “constant surveillance” while on parole.
The energy minister, Chris Bowen, said the development was concerning but the government respected Indonesia’s legal system.
He said it was important to keep dialogue open between the two nations, telling ABC News:
Indonesians and Australians were killed by these terrible murders, Indonesians and Australians went through this terrible ordeal together.
Now we are dealing with the ramifications together, understanding and respecting that Indonesia has their own legal system … [which] does tend to lead to long sentences with early release.
– from AAP
Battle for Victorian Liberal leadership on a ‘knife-edge’
The Victorian Liberal leadership ballot will be taking place later this morning (around 10am). The contest is between Brad Battin and John Pesutto following Matthew Guy’s stepping down after the party’s election loss.
My colleague, Guardian Australia’s Victorian state correspondent, Benita Kolovos, describes the contest on a “knife-edge” with both men confident they will emerge from the ballot successful:
The ballot has been described by several Liberal MPs as the “fight for the soul of the party” following its crushing loss at last month’s state election.
The Liberal party went to the election hoping to improve its lower house representation after the 2018 “Danslide” but its total number of seats will probably remain unchanged. Its primary vote has also dropped below 30% for the first time since the 1950s and there are fears demographic shifts could see this further deteriorate.
Both Battin and Pesutto have argued the Liberal party struggled to articulate its values at the election, though they have offered alternative solutions to grow its constituency.
Battin said if elected leader he would focus the Liberals’ efforts on “aspirational” voters in Melbourne’s growing outer suburbs and multicultural groups, while Pesutto said the party needed to develop attractive policies that have broad appeal.
Read the full preview here:
Australia, US and UK vow to be transparent with Pacific about Aukus
Australia, the US and the UK say they will be open and transparent about Aukus, in an apparent bid to answer concerns from some countries in south-east Asia and the Pacific islands.
A joint statement issued after a meeting of defence ministers and secretaries at the Pentagon today said the three countries “committed to continued openness and transparency with international partners on Aukus”.
They further emphasised that Aukus is a strategic partnership focused on enhancing regional stability and safeguarding a free and open Indo-Pacific where conflicts are resolved peacefully and without coercion. They confirmed that Aukus will complement Aukus partners’ engagement with existing regional architecture, including Asean and the Pacific Islands Forum.
A lot of the focus of public debate has been on Australia’s plan to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, but the Aukus partnership also includes collaboration on advanced technologies.
Today’s statement said the Aukus countries wanted to “accelerate near-term delivery of technologies that will meet our militaries’ requirements to enhance capability and increase interoperability”:
These include initiatives for advanced trilateral maritime undersea intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and use of each country’s autonomous systems to enhance maritime domain awareness. They further noted the role recent exercises have played in demonstrating and testing advanced capabilities, and approved plans to pursue additional demonstrations of several collaborative initiatives – including hypersonic and autonomous systems – in the 2023-2024 timeframe and beyond.
As part of this work on advanced technologies, Australia, the US and the UK plan to intensify targeted engagement with defence industry and academia next year.
‘Expect a big softening of the economy next year,’ treasurer says
After the release of GDP figures yesterday, the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said there were “some really pleasing aspects in yesterday’s national accounts” including wages growth. But he says the figures don’t capture all the pressures, particularly when it comes to the global economy.
These global economic challenges aren’t behind us. They’re ahead of us. And our prospects next year will be largely determined by some combination of the war in Ukraine, the Chinese economy what happens in the US to UK and Europe when these interest rate rises bite in our economy because they hit repayments immediately, but they hit the economy sometime after.
And also we’ve got to be conscious about the prospects for the weather and natural disasters as well. Do expect a big softening of the economy next year, partly as a consequence of these rate rises, but also because the global economy is slowing considerably as well.
Government yet to cap wholesale coal price, but still aiming to land ‘before Christmas’, treasurer says
The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, is speaking to ABC Radio. RN Breakfast host Patricia Karvelas asks him:
Has the government resolved to cap the wholesale coal price at $125 a tonne and the gas price at $13 a gigajoule?
There hasn’t been a concluded view reached yet, and that’s because this is a challenge of such complexity and such consequence for industry and for Australians around the country, that it needs to be a genuine partnership between governments and that requires all sides to come to the table in a reasonable and a constructive way, which recognises that one level of government can’t fix this all on its own.
He says the government is still aiming to “land something before Christmas”.
First Aukus defence ministerial meeting takes place in Washington
The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, has hailed “great progress” in talks on Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. He also reiterated a pledge to ensure Australia “acquires this capability at the earliest possible date”.
This morning Austin joined the Australian defence minister, Richard Marles, and the UK defence secretary, Ben Wallace, at the Pentagon for the first Aukus defence ministerial meeting.
The meeting comes a day after annual high-level talks between Australia and the US.
Austin told today’s meeting that Australia, the US and the UK’s trilateral security partnership was an “historic endeavour”:
The need for Aukus is even clearer today. More than ever, our three countries share of similar outlook on the key challenges and opportunities confronting our world. Aukus will enhance our shared ability to sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and since creating this trilateral security partnership our defense forces, industries, and scientific communities have been hard at work. Over the past 15 months we’ve made great progress toward identifying a pathway for Australia to acquire conventionally armed and nuclear-powered submarines. Today on behalf of President Biden, I want to reaffirm the US commitment to ensuring that Australia acquires this capability at the earliest possible date, and in adherence with the highest nonproliferation standards.
Marles told the meeting Aukus reflected “a shared mission between our three countries to work together to pursue advanced military capability, and do so at a time where the strategic circumstances faced by the world are as complex and precarious as really we’ve seen since the end of the second world war”:
And central to that is Australia being able to acquire a nuclear-powered, highly capable submarine and we are deeply grateful for the work that we’ve been able to do with both the UK and the US to enable Australia to acquire that capability. And it’s not lost on us the significance of the US and the UK, working together and transferring this technology to Australia. And there has been an enormous amount of work being done by our officials to bring this about, and obviously to bring today about. I think as we talk today, we’re all going to speak to the fact that we’re on track to be able to make this announcement in respect of what will be the optimal pathway for Australia to take in the first part of next year, which is what we have always intended to do.
Wallace said the UK would “do everything we can in our capability to help support you, get you that capability, to bring to the best Australia’s skills and its workforce to do so”.
Government will not ‘stand by’ as energy companies profit off war: Bowen
ABC News Breakfast’s Madeleine Morris asks Chris Bowen more about the truth of those news reports on energy:
As you say, it is largely down to the invasion of Ukraine that we have seen this spike in energy prices, as you say. There are other factors as well.
If what is being discussed, which is compensation, in some sense to states, but also to fossil fuel companies, as we understand.
Why should the taxpayer be compensating fossil fuel companies who haven’t seen their input costs go up, it’s just the prices they can get on the wider international market are going up. Why should we pay for that?
I have seen lots of stories written about what we have been discussing.
Is that untrue?
Some of them have had truth to it and some of them haven’t. That is the way of the world. That doesn’t worry me.
I will say this: you’re right, it is not acceptable simply for some companies to make massive profits because of the invasion, make profess off a war situation and for other Australian businesses, heavy industries relying strongly on gas and energy costs to pay the price and in some cases have their viability threatened.
Governments cannot and will not stand by and let that happen.
Energy ministers to discuss ‘capacity mechanism’, Bowen says
Chris Bowen is speaking to ABC from Brisbane where he is meeting with the state and territory energy ministers to try to bring down energy prices. He says there is a “spirit of cooperation around the table, recognising that we must work together on these big challenges”.
As they attempt to secure an agreement to cap coal and gas prices, he says there are “two processes under way”:
Our main job today is to settle something that has been in the too-hard basket for too long, what is called a capacity mechanism to keep the lights on and ensure our transition to renewables happens more quickly and in a more orderly fashion … I will be looking to take that agreement to the next step with my colleagues today.
Separately, the prime minister and premiers are meeting tomorrow. … The prime minister will be talking to the premiers, particularly the coal state premiers about sensible interventions and responses.
I have read various things in the newspaper, most of which haven’t been accurate about where the discussions are at. They will continue over the next 24 hours because it is our job as governments to work together to ensure that the worst impacts of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on the world energy markets don’t flow through to Australian industries and business without a response.
Indonesia needs 'protections' in place after bomb maker's release, Chris Bowen says
‘Australians have every right to be disappointed’ but dialogue with Indonesia important, Bowen says
While he says “strong representations” from the Australian government are necessary, Chris Bowen does not believe Umar Patek’s early release will have repercussions for our relationship with Indonesia:
I think it is important that Australia maintains strong dialogue with Indonesia, so we can have those discussions and that is exactly what we will do. These issues do come up in the relationship, between all countries but particularly between Australia and Indonesia with different legal systems.
It is appropriate that the Australian government makes strong representations to the Indonesian government which we have done and will continue to do.
Australians have every right to be disappointed and concerned by this news. We understand and respect the differences with the Indonesian system so therefore it is best we just engage in that dialogue with them to ensure all the necessary protections, all possible protections have been put in place.
Bali bomb maker Umar Patek released after serving 20 years of sentence
Hello, Natasha May now on deck with you.
Indonesian authorities have released the chief bomb maker behind the Bali bombings, Umar Patek, after only serving half his 20 year sentence. It comes despite lobbying from Australia to keep him in jail for his full term. The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has said his impending release would cause further distress to bomb victims.
Authorities deliberately postponed his release until after the bombing anniversary and last month’s G20 summit in Bali. But he has now been released on remission for good behaviour with authorities saying they no longer have the right to detain him as he has fulfilled the conditions for parole.
The federal energy minister, Chris Bowen, is appearing on ABC News Breakfast and asked about the early release:
I think all Australians would be concerned about this and the Australian government is concerned about this on their behalf. We have made, as you would expect, appropriate representations to the Indonesian government. Early release is not uncommon in Indonesia. Our particular representations have gone to seeking reassurances that he will continue to be monitored and appropriate protections will be in place. We have made appropriate representations through the normal channels and that dialogue with our friends in Indonesian government will continue.
Government likely to consult on threatened species
The Albanese government’s approach to developing new national environmental standards is likely to be done in stages.
The highest priority standards, such as a standard that would apply to matters of national environmental significance including threatened species and world heritage sites, are expected to be consulted on first.
It is also expected Tanya Plibersek’s announcement in Brisbane will outline the government’s proposed timeline for introducing a package of legislation for reform.
Regional planning approaches have been discussed as a way to potentially deal with the cumulative environmental impacts of development.
The Coalition proposed a shift to regional planning this year and had been considering locations for a pilot project. But its preferred model attracted criticism for being too focused on fast-tracking development in certain areas and not enough on conservation.
Documents released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws show the Albanese government has been in talks with the Queensland state government about the potential for a regional plan for south-east Queensland, an area where koala habitat and sites such as the Moreton Bay wetlands are under development pressure.
Emails from federal environment officials in July this year state Queensland’s environment department was “keen to explore a regional plan approach for their future planning of SEQ (south-east Queensland)“ and was undertaking “preparatory work” for further discussions with the commonwealth later this year.
A note from a meeting in July with the Places You Love Alliance of environment groups states Plibersek was “interested in how regional approaches, offsets, and natural capital markets could reinforce each other”.
Tanya Plibersek to respond to national environment review
The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, will give the first insight into how the Albanese government plans to rewrite the national environment laws this morning as she makes a major announcement in Brisbane.
Plibersek will respond to a review of national environment laws by the former consumer watchdog Graeme Samuel that was handed to the Morrison government two years ago. The Coalition never formally responded.
The response will include what the government plans to do on introducing uniform national environmental standards to guide conservation protection and the assessment of major development proposals – a key recommendation of the Samuel review.
The minister is also expected to reveal the government’s preferred structure for a new national environment protection agency – an EPA – and to outline a proposal for regional approaches to environmental planning, which would guide where development can and cannot occur.
The Australian Conservation Foundation’s chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said the country needed strong national standards and an EPA that was independent, had decision-making powers, and was properly funded.
The national campaigns director at the Wilderness Society, Amelia Young, said community appetite for major environmental reform had never been higher.
The natural world needs a lot more attention than governments have been giving it and the time to rectify this is now.
Infrastructure Australia to be relaunched
Infrastructure will be one of the themes of the day, with the federal minister for infrastructure, transport, regional development and local government, Catherine King, due to unveil the revamped Infrastructure Australia body later today.
The minister will also attend the Boomtown property and infrastructure summit in Sydney today with the New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet. The summit is seeking to promote the development of western Sydney.
Amy Remeikis reports:
Infrastructure Australia is dead. Long live Infrastructure Australia.
The creation of the body by the Rudd government in 2008 forms part of the prime minister, Anthony Albanese’s legacy.
Albanese has long had a love of nation-building infrastructure projects, and Infrastructure Australia was designed while he was in the portfolio, as a way of identifying and fast-tracking projects which would add value, help future-proof communities, or provide missing links within existing infrastructure frameworks.
At the time, Albanese described it as “replacing neglect, buck-passing, and pork-barrelling with long-term planning where governments predict and anticipate infrastructure needs and demands, not merely react to them”.
But the body set up to help identify and see through nation-building projects became increasingly sidelined, an independent review ordered by the new Albanese government found, and was seen as “reactive” rather than proactive.
That has led to projects languishing, or the states moving forward without all the pieces.
One of the first acts of the Albanese government was to review Infrastructure Australia. King had signalled an overhaul would be a priority of a Labor government ahead of the election, after former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce appointed the retiring mayor of Tamworth to chair the body.
The review having been returned, King will unveil the revamped IA at an event later on Thursday.
The government plans on overhauling the body, giving it a clear and legislated mandate, which will define its responsibilities and role, as well as shift from an advisory body governed by committee, to a new governance model.
Good morning and welcome to our live blog. Natasha May will be along soon to take you through the day but before then here are a couple of stories making news overnight.
The Australian Medical Association has blasted “weak political leadership” for what it sees as the premature relaxation of anti-Covid measures, saying that the health system is “not prepared” to deal with long-term issues stemming from the pandemic. The peak doctors’ body is so concerned about the lingering impact of long Covid on the population and the health system that it thinks governments should reconsider mask mandates to address the problem. One expert thinks long Covid could affect as many as 1 million Australians by next year.
Australia’s energy ministers are expected to sign off on a scheme to accelerate the take-up of giant batteries to support the decarbonisation of the grid when they gather in Brisbane today but are unlikely to make a decision on any Albanese government proposal to impose price caps on coal and gas. There were reports last night that the government was pushing the states to cap the price of coal at $125 a tonne, less than half the market rate, but Guardian Australia understands no decision is expected before Friday’s national meeting between the prime minister, premiers and chief ministers.
Also today the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, is due to make a major announcement on new national environmental standards, which will include Australia’s own environment protection agency. It is in response to a review of national laws that was handed to the Morrison government two years ago.
Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, will use a speech in Washington today to urge China to embrace US plans to prevent growing tensions from spiralling into war, while rejecting claims that Australia’s plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines is driving a regional arms race. She will urge China to take up a US offer to put in place “guardrails” to prevent growing tensions from spiralling into war and suggest both sides learn from diplomacy spurred by the Cuban missile crisis.