What we learned: Friday, 28 October
With that, we will wrap the blog for the evening.
Here were the major developments of the day:
A an 11-year-old boy has been rescued from a flooded stormwater drain after being sucked 10 metres under the road in Melbourne.
Western Australia police have announced further charges have been laid against the 21-year-old Jack Steven James Brearley, who is also been charged over the alleged murder of Cassius Turvey. The man is also facing assault and stealing charges over the 13 October alleged attack.
The independent MP Zoe Daniel says she raised concerns directly with the Chinese ambassador about the detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei, particularly the blocking of phone calls to her two young children.
In New South Wales, the anti-corruption commissioner overseeing the inquiry that prompted the former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation has been given more time to finish her report.
Julia Banks, a former Liberal MP, has called the criticisms from her former party about Anthony Albanese’s conduct in question time yesterday a “stunt”, accusing former colleagues of “hypocrisy”.
The energy minister, Chris Bowen, said the government would consider “careful interventions” on energy ahead of an estimated 50% increase in electricity prices by 2023-24.
And more than half of Australia’s local government areas have been hit by natural disasters this year, the emergency management minister has confirmed. It comes as the prime minister and the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, announced a joint buyback scheme for Australians living in flood-prone areas.
Enjoy your Friday night, we’ll be back first thing tomorrow to do it all again.
Study in mice finds bacteria linked to dementia can enter nervous system through nose
The potential link between picking your nose or plucking nose hairs and dementia will be part of a new study, AAP reports.
Griffith University researchers have shown that the Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria that’s linked to late-onset dementia can enter the central nervous systems of mice through the olfactory nerves of their noses.
Prof James St John said mouse brain cells respond to the bacteria by depositing amyloid beta protein, which clumps into plaques disrupting neurons and cells in Alzheimer’s patients.
We’re the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can go directly up the nose and into the brain where it can set off pathologies that look like Alzheimer’s disease.
We saw this happen in a mouse model, and the evidence is potentially scary for humans as well.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that viruses and bacteria can bypass the blood barrier by taking a shortcut directly to the brain via the olfactory nerve.
St John said the team plans another study to show the same nasal pathway exists in humans, who also have the Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria in their brains.
Loss of smell is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, he said, so smell tests could potentially help provide an earlier diagnosis.
Boy rescued from flooded drain in Melbourne
A an 11-year-old boy has been rescued from a flooded stormwater drain after being sucked 10 metres under the road in Melbourne.
The boy, who had been riding his bike with a friend on Thursday afternoon in Altona Meadows, was sucked underwater when he accidentally rode across the submerged drain.
He was washed about 10 metres under the road before managing to grab a metal grate on the other side, his bike helmet catching so he had time to take hold.
A passerby and off-duty SES member rushed to his aid, with police from Williamstown arriving soon after.
The SES member removed bolts from the drain’s grate to get to the boy, now fully submerged in the swiftly moving water.
A police officer prised the grate open, the boy still clinging to the underside before being pulled to safety.
He told rescuers: “I love you all,” later asking about his missing shoes.
Partial good weather news!
The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting calmer, warmer and drier conditions across eastern Australia tomorrow … ahead of the next weather system, to bring “widespread rain and storms across central Australia on Sunday and eastern Australia from early next week”.
The BoM said:
South Australia will see showers and storms increase on Sunday. Rain and storms will move into western New South Wales and western Victoria from Sunday afternoon. Gusty to possibly damaging northerly winds are expected across southern and elevated parts of Victoria on Sunday.
Rain and thunderstorms will spread across much of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania on Monday with moderate to heavy falls particularly on and west of the ranges in NSW and north-east Victoria.
Heavy rainfalls are possible for flood affected areas in NSW, which may prolong or renew riverine flooding.
Expect unseasonably cold temperatures for southern and eastern Australia on Monday and Tuesday, eight to 16 degrees below average.
Snow may fall in areas of Victoria and NSW as low as 900m, and 600m in Tasmania on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. Snow flurries are possible around the NSW Central Tablelands.
Articles in the Australian newspaper on Syria referred to AFP
A referral has been made to the Australian federal police (AFP) to investigate whether there has been a breach of “national security” in the reporting of the alleged repatriation of Australians held in Syrian detention camps.
Articles published in the Australian from early October and today have been referred to the AFP by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet over the potential for a national security breach.
The home affairs secretary, Mike Pezzullo, would not say whether the reporting was correct, or confirm a number of women and children were on their way back to Australia, but said the potential for a leak was being investigated.
He told a Senate estimates hearing:
When operational matters, be they intelligence collection matters, the deployment of our special forces, the deployment of other sensitive operational activities, there might be elements that are true, there might be elements that are completely misleading.
The better course is for the relevant agency or department or the most, the most convenient one to make a referral so that the competent investigative authority the Australian Federal Police can make an assessment as to whether indeed, there has been a disclosure of national security information contrary to the provisions of the Criminal Code.
And I think I’m right in saying that such a referral has been made.
Pezzullo said the accuracy or not of any reporting was not considered in referrals.
The guidance I’ve received clear, very clear direction from government from the prime minister himself, from the minister of home affairs is that in such matters, whether or not the report itself is true, in such matters, operational secrecy is to be respected and preserved at all times. And if there’s a purported breach of that security, then that should be dealt with as a potential crime and therefore, to be investigated by the competent authority, which is the federal police.
Pezzullo did confirm a number of Australian women and children remained in Syrian camps.
Asked in general about how the situation was being monitored, Pezzullo said Asio remained the primary agency and was working with international partners to monitor what was happening.
The conditions on the ground, including the permissiveness or otherwise of our ability to access, physically access, those camps and the autonomous area of northeast Syria has been kept constantly under review.
Queensland police officer suspended after domestic violence allegations
A Queensland police officer has been suspended from the service following allegations of domestic violence.
The 36-year-old male constable was arrested in Canberra and extradited to Queensland.
Police charged him with five counts of assault occasioning bodily harm, one count of stalking and two counts of breaching a domestic and family violence order.
The police officer appeared in the Southport magistrates court on Friday, where conditional bail was granted.
He is expected to appear in the Southport magistrates court on 16 December.
SA Liberal party suffers membership data leak
The South Australian Liberal party has been hit by a data breach with someone gaining unauthorised access to a number of its membership lists, AAP reports.
The party said the material contained the addresses and phone numbers of about 2000 members but no financial details were accessed.
It said affected members had been informed directly and expert advice had indicated the information was unlikely to create a risk of serious harm to individuals.
“As a party, we take these matters seriously and have reported the matter to the relevant authorities, including police,” the Liberals said in a statement on Friday.
Police said the breach was first reported on 25 October.
They said detectives had begun an investigation into deception offences.
The incident follows major data breaches involving telecommunications company Optus and health insurer Medibank.
Report on Great Barrier Reef mission expected ‘quite soon’
The official report of the UN-backed monitoring mission to the Great Barrier Reef is expected to be published by Unesco “quite soon”, according to Australian government officials.
Unesco’s report from the 10-day monitoring mission, carried out in March, was expected to be released in April before a meeting of the 21-country World Heritage meeting in July.
But that meeting, scheduled to take place in Russia, was cancelled after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The mission was requested by the former Morrison government after it lobbied members of the committee last year not to place the reef on its list of sites in danger.
The monitoring mission was carried out while the reef was suffering its sixth mass coral bleaching event - the first on record to unfold during a usually cooler La Nina year that scientists hoped would give the reef respite from climate heating.
James Larsen, deputy secretary in the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, told a senate hearing this afternoon that the government had received a draft of the UN report at the end of July and sent a response on 13 September.
He said it was now up to the World Heritage centre in Paris to publish the report, but said he expected that could happen “quite soon”.
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority takes Gunlom case to high court
The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has filed an application for special leave to the high court of Australia to appeal a decision made by the the supreme court of the Northern Territory.
The court found the Director of National Parks (DNP) can’t be prosecuted for offences under section 34 of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989.
Under the act, work can’t be carried out on a sacred site without an authority certificate, issued by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).
The AAPA CEO, Dr Benedict Scambary, said the principles relied on by the supreme court – that the commonwealth and its statutory corporations is presumptively immune from criminal laws of general application – has no place in modern times.
The AAPA chair, Bobby Nunggumajbarr, said custodians across the Territory are angry:
Our Aboriginal sacred sites and cultural heritage is important to the people of the Northern Territory and the nation. No one should be above the law. All people, all corporations and all government entities, should work with custodians to respect and preserve our sacred sites.
BoM boss waves off claims of minimising climate change discussion
The Bureau of Meteorology’s chief executive, Andrew Johnson, has waved away questions that he asked staff to cut the coverage of future climate change in a key national climate report.
Former and current bureau staff and scientists have criticised the bureau for “cowering in the corner” on climate change, saying that under Johnson’s leadership any public mentions of climate change are tightly controlled.
At a senate hearing, senator David Pocock asked Johnson if he had ever asked staff to remove material related to future projections on Australia’s climate from the biennial State of the Climate report. Johnson said:
I don’t believe so. I have tried with colleagues at CSIRO to find a place for the core intent of the report that we pay attention to, and pay respect to the future climate issues.
On the public criticisms, Johnson claimed there had been “some ill-informed and inaccurate commentary” and said the bureau “largely focusses on the weather” and other agencies and institutions focussed on longer-term climate issues.
He said it was his job to “discharge my responsibilities under the Meteorology Act 1955 and climate dimensions for part of that” and said he had done that diligently.
Earlier this week, a former bureau chief executive, Rob Vetessy, said that 1955 act needed updating to give the bureau a clearer mandate to work and communicate on climate change.
The criticisms of the bureau’s enthusiasm for talking public about climate change came after the agency last week had requested media outlets no longer use the phrase “BoM” to describe the agency.
That request, sent out while large parts of regional Victoria was flooding, prompted a rebuke from the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek. On that, Johnson said:
With the benefit of hindsight clearly the way we went about giving effect to our intent there will be some significant learnings for us and I’ve apologised in my opening statement to this committee and the community if that’s caused any uncertainty and angst and that’s a sincere apology.
Senator criticises government intervention on whistleblower protections
Greens senator David Shoebridge has criticised an intervention by the federal government that effectively prevented former army lawyer David McBride from using whistleblower protections to shield himself from prosecution.
McBride faced the ACT supreme court on Thursday, hoping to use Australia’s whistleblowing laws to protect himself from prosecution over a leak of documents to the ABC. Those documents were later used as the basis for a 2019 series on alleged special forces’ war crimes in Afghanistan.
But in a late intervention, the Commonwealth indicated it would prevent the use of expert evidence in support of McBride’s whistleblower case on the grounds that it would be contrary to the public interest. The prospect of the claim, known as a public interest immunity claim, forced McBride to drop his bid for whistleblower protection.
Shoebridge wrote to the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, on Friday saying the outcome was a “failure of justice”:
While I recognise that the case includes sensitive materials, there are alternative procedures in place to allow you to seek to mitigate these concerns to prevent any sensitive material from becoming public. However none of these actions were taken and the decision was instead taken to prevent any of this material being admitted in the proceedings.
The result is Mr McBride’s PID Act claim has now concluded without a substantive merit assessment of his claims. This is unquestionably a failure of justice.
Shoebridge has joined calls from the Human Rights Law Centre and others for the Commonwealth to intervene and end the prosecution, much like it did with the case against Bernard Collaery.
Further charges laid against man charged with alleged murder of Cassius Turvey
Western Australia police have just finished a press conference in Perth relating to the alleged murder of 15-year-old schoolboy Cassius Turvey.
They announced further charges have been laid against the 21-year-old Jack Steven James Brearley, who is also been charged over the alleged murder.
WA police commissioner, Col Blanch told reporters that the man is also facing assault and stealing charges over the 13 October alleged attack, after another boy who was present, aged 13, was allegedly struck with a pole in the face.
It alleged that the 21-year-old man struck the 13-year-old boy across the face with a metal pole. The circumstance of aggravation relates to the age of the victim and the allegation that the assault occurred in the presence of other children.
The young boy was already injured and was walking on crutches with three other boys who were on their way home from Middle View High School in Perth’s north eastern suburbs.
It’s further alleged that the 21-year-old man stole those crutches. A charge of stealing relates to the theft of the crutches.
Blanch said the authorities are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the attack but the nature of the probe was complex with multiple young witnesses.
The homicide squad investigation is continuing, as is the court process. I want to be very clear, justice for Cassius is my first priority.
The investigation is ongoing. I want to be very clear about this. The investigation is ongoing. There may be further charges, but we do have a lot of evidence to be going through and we will continue to do that.
Brearley is due to appear in the Stirling Gardens magistrates court on 9 November for the alleged murder.
Normal times happening in Victoria.
Government says it received briefing on Optus leak before interview, despite telco claims
The secretary of the home affairs department has confirmed minister Clare O’Neil had received a briefing from Optus before a 7.30 interview where O’Neil refuted the telco’s claim that the data breach came as a result of a “sophisticated attack”.
Optus’s CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin later claimed the minister had been briefed after that interview, but the home affairs department secretary, Michael Pezzullo, told Senate estimates that the first briefing was given on 24 September - the Saturday before the interview.
What the CEO might classify or categorise as a briefing might be different from what I understand it to be but there were officers from her management team speaking in terms I would consider to be providing factual updates to the minister... I have no idea why either the CEO or her management team at Optus would say that.
Guardian Australia understands O’Neil was given a further briefing after the interview by Optus, but she has stood by her language used in the interview.
Pezzullo says the department would have records of what was said in that interview, and said he would look into it, and declined to respond when asked by Liberal senator James Paterson whether the Optus CEO had misled the public.
Key department not consulted on Israeli capital policy shift
The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet says it was not consulted about the change in policy regarding the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Katrina Cooper, deputy secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, was asked at a Senate estimates hearing this afternoon what involvement, if any, it had in the profess to revisit the recognition issue. She said it was “a matter handled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade”.
Asked by the Coalition’s Simon Birmingham whether the department was consulted, Cooper replied:
Birmingham wanted to know whether normal cabinet consultation processes were followed (ie a cabinet submission was circulated to any relevant departments so that ministers could take any feedback into account):
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, didn’t go into detail:
We don’t discuss cabinet processes but I’ve confirmed it was a decision of cabinet.
The Senate estimates committee heard a little about the rush to update government talking points after Guardian Australia revealed on Monday last week that the Dfat website had been quietly updated to remove the language recognising West Jerusalem.
Craig Chittick, first assistant secretary of the international division at the department, recounted:
Following our awareness of the Guardian article … staff from the international division rang Dfat to enquire about changes to the whole-of-government talking points and those were provided by Dfat on the following morning.
Chittick said those talking points “reflected the statement the minister for foreign affairs gave to the media on the evening of 17 October, on the Monday night” that the government had not made any change in policy.
That comment prompted the following riposte from Birmingham:
So on the Tuesday morning you got the talking points that were probably out of date moments after you got them.
The foreign minister, as I recall, made a statement after cabinet on the Tuesday and I would think that the talking points would have been updated by Dfat following that statement.
Bowen says the energy ministers are “one team” working together to face what he calls the most profound global energy crisis since the 1970s.
Russia is the world’s largest energy supplier and that withdrawal from the world market will of course have an impact right around the world and that is what we are seeing being fermented … state and territory ministers agreed today together with me that we will not stand by and watch this flow through to the Australian people without taking action.
We have agreed we have levers at our disposal and we intend to carefully, methodically use those levers wherever it puts downward pressure on prices, that we work closely together.
He says the transformation to become a renewable economy is “more important than ever” in light of spiking prices – a change of tune from what the opposition leader argued in his budget reply speech yesterday.
The cheapest form of energy is renewable energy and the faster we get transmission built, the storage belt, the better our country will be and we are all one in that endeavour and we noted collectively, the progress we have made.
Tasmania and Victoria and the commonwealth working together and there will be more to come and commonwealth will partner with each state and territory wherever possible in rewiring the nation in the same cooperative spirit. Everything has to be on the table. We have committed to consider all options on stronger action, on stronger regulation as a matter of urgency.
The first step was to identify clearly the issue and be upfront with the Australian people about the challenges and pressures. The second step is for the commonwealth to look at all levers at our disposal … the other step is state and territories co-ordinate and consult with each other and the commonwealth and the Australian people need to know that we are one team, on their side, ensuring they are not paying any more for energy than they need to in the face of the most urgent and pressing global energy crisis since the 1970s.
Bowen says other agreements were made in relation to hydrogen:
The federal budget this week has allocated a good deal of money to ensure the things we have agreed on get implemented including $57.9m to facilitate priority work on the national energy transmission partnership bringing together all the works of the states and territories, the federal government, into one document, the ISP on steroids is what I call it for a drive to a renewable economy with cheaper and cleaner energy.
Bowen says the meeting came at a “very important time” and Labor was “clear in the budget” about the pressures on prices:
In every single instance, we have been clear about that as well. We have an update from the Australian energy regulator, the security board and they were clear. Energy markets right around the world are of course having an impact in Australia.
State energy ministers convene in Melbourne
Energy minister Chris Bowen is fronting the media alongside state and territory energy ministers following a meeting in Melbourne.
He says an amendment has been made to the national gas law which will allow AEMO – the market operator – to have powers to ensure the supply of gas over “the coming winter and beyond”:
This was an issue identified during the height of the crisis a few months ago. We agreed amongst us that this had to change and we authorise the law to change today.
New judges for Victoria
In Victoria, four new judges have been appointed to the state’s justice system.
They include supreme court judge Leslie Taylor, Aine Magee KC, Barbara Myers KC and John Kelly SC – barristers at the Victorian Bar. They’ll be filling the role of retiring judges.
Also, 10 new magistrates have also been appointed.
Attorney general Jaclyn Symes:
I congratulate our new judicial appointees, who each bring diverse experience and a strong commitment to serving the Victorian public.
I would also like to thank judges William Stuart, Robert Dyer and Phillip Coish for their significant contributions and dedicated service to the county court of Victoria.
Western Australia records 19 Covid deaths in past week
Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan, has released the state’s weekly Covid update.
There have been 19 deaths recorded in the past seven days and there are 3,537 active cases.
There are 140 people being treated in hospital with the virus including eight people in ICU.
Australian and Israeli PMs have not spoken since Jerusalem decision
Anthony Albanese has not spoken directly with Israel’s prime minister,Yair Lapid, since making the decision to revoke the recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, officials have told a Senate estimates hearing.
The Coalition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, pointed to the strongly worded public criticism by Lapid, and asked whether Albanese had called his Israeli counterpart to apologise for the manner in which last week’s decision was handled.
Katrina Cooper, deputy secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, said:
No, senator, the prime minister has not received any request for a phone call with the Israeli prime minister and nor have we sought one.
On Tuesday last week, Albanese’s cabinet signed off on plans to reverse the former prime minister Scott Morrison’s decision in 2018 to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
It followed a Guardian Australia story the previous day revealing the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had quietly dropped language recognising West Jerusalem from its website, something that initially triggered denials of any change in policy.
While Labor had promised in 2018 to undo the Morrison-era move, the cabinet decision ignited tensions with the Israeli government, which summoned the Australian ambassador, Paul Griffiths, to protest the “hasty” reversal. Israel’s election is due to be held on 1 November.
Cooper confirmed that Albanese and Lapid had spoken by phone soon after the Albanese government was elected - but the exact matters discussed in that call have not been disclosed.
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, said she had engaged with the Israeli ambassador about the matter.
Many thanks to Natasha May for keeping us up to date today. I’ll be with you for the rest of this fine afternoon – wearing sunscreen for the first time in a long time.
Thanks for your attention today! Hope those of you in Sydney are enjoying the (newsworthy) sunshine and have a great weekend. You’re in the excellent hands of Caitlin Cassidy for the rest of the afternoon.
Government working to resolve legal issue of ‘third category’ between citizens and aliens
The Labor government is considering how to solve the legal issue of people who fall into a “third category” from the landmark Love and Thoms decision – which left people unable to apply for citizenship, but also not considered “aliens” (in the legal sense).
In February 2020, the high court ruled that Aboriginal people cannot be aliens, putting them beyond the reach of the immigration minister’s powers to detain and deport non-citizens.
The Morrison government had been appealing the decision, a move which Mark Dreyfus dropped upon taking up the attorney general’s mantle.
But to date, there has been no solution for the 18 or so people caught up in the decision. They cannot be deported, but they are also without visa rights, meaning they don’t have work rights, leaving them in limbo.
The Greens senator Nick McKim questioned home affairs officials over the status of the people caught up in the decision and whether or not the government was considering a fix, including changing legislation.
Murray Watt, the minister representing Clare O’Neil in estimates (house ministers are always represented by Senate ministers in Senate estimates) said he didn’t have the detail, but work was underway.
Obviously, as the representing minister, I’m not fully across the details of this, but I can only agree with what the [home affairs] secretary has said, which is that this is something that is under consideration by the government. I don’t have a timeframe for that, but it’s under consideration.
National responses have not kept pace with listing of threatened species, biodiversity conservation head says
Cassandra Kennedy, the department’s division head of biodiversity conservation, said the new environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, “has a much more ambitious agenda in terms of reform of the EPBC Act”.
Rather than continuing on with the public consultation and reconsideration around those recovery plans for those tranches, that is now part of a broader process looking at how we can do that conservation planning better.
Peter Whish-Wilson asked whether this signalled an end to the general trend of moving away from recovery plans seen under the previous government.
Kennedy responded that more species were being listed for protection every year and that conservation responses under national laws had not kept pace with this.
This sounds like a signal that we will see some further changes in this area but the government is considering its direction through the law reform process.
Something to watch for when Plibersek delivers her response to the Samuel review before the end of the year.
Federal government halts process that could have scrapped recovery plans for hundreds of threatened species
The Albanese government has hit pause on a process commenced by the previous government that was reconsidering recovery plan requirements for more than 600 threatened species.
You might remember Guardian Australia revealed in June that one of the last acts of the former environment minister, Sussan Ley, was to scrap recovery plan requirements for 176 listed plants, animals and ecological communities.
That decision followed a public consultation process, with the scrapped plans for the 176 just the first of three proposed tranches. A total of 676 plants, animals and communities were to have their legislated requirement for a recovery plan reconsidered.
The Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson asked about this today.
Earlier this morning the Tasmanian senator wanted to know whether the new government would reconsider Ley’s decision to scrap the recovery plan requirement for the endangered Tasmanian Devil.
We didn’t quite get an answer to that but later in the session Whish-Wilson asked for an update on the process as a whole and whether the Albanese government planned to conduct public consultation for the remainder of the 676 plans that had been under review.
Officials told the hearing the government was taking a different course, with recovery planning now being considered as part of its response to Graeme Samuel’s review of The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Greens welcome NSW decision on Glendell coal mine
We brought you the news on the blog earlier that the Independent Planning Commission had refused Glencore’s proposal to expand its Glendell coal mine in the Hunter Valley.
The Greens senator for NSW David Shoebridge has welcomed the decision, saying “all credit goes to the amazing work of the Wonnarua Traditional Owners”.
MP urges Chinese ambassador to help detained Australian Cheng Lei
The independent MP Zoe Daniel says she raised concerns directly with the Chinese ambassador about the detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei, particularly the blocking of phone calls to her two young children.
The member for the Victorian seat of Goldstein sent a statement to Guardian Australia today in response to questions about her meeting with China’s ambassador, Xiao Qian. (Daniel posted an image of the meeting to her Facebook page this week, as did the Chinese embassy.)
I met the Chinese Ambassador this week at his invitation.
Our discussions encompassed the various differences between our two countries as well as areas where we might be able to find common ground.
I reiterated concerns already expressed to the Embassy about the plight of the Australian citizen Cheng Lei, particularly about her inability to communicate with her two young children in Melbourne.
I thanked the Ambassador for the invitation to meet and passed on greetings from the Goldstein Chinese community.
The former and current Australian governments have accused China of a lack of transparency regarding the national security-related accusations against Cheng, who was detained in China more than two years ago.
In September, Xiao told the ABC he was “trying to see” if he could help facilitate access between Cheng and her family “based on humanitarian considerations”.
Xiao has been active in meeting politicians, political figures, business figures and academics since arriving in Australia at the beginning of the year.
A search of the Chinese embassy websites shows that he has also met with the Coalition’s spokesperson on foreign affairs, Simon Birmingham, the Labor party’s national secretary, Paul Erickson, and the former prime ministers John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating since June.
Keating has been outspoken in criticising the Australian government’s China policies – but Turnbull was the prime minister who brought in tough new laws against foreign interference and espionage that he publicly linked to concerns about China’s activities in Australia.
Proposal for Glendell coal mine refused due to heritage impacts
The NSW Independent Planning Commission has today refused Glencore’s proposed extension to its Hunter Valley Glendell coal mine.
The commission found that the project “is not in the public interest, despite its likely benefits” as the mine would have “significant, irreversible and unjustified impacts on the historic heritage values of the Ravensworth Homestead complex”.
The complex, including the main house built in 1832, would have needed to be relocated for the project to proceed.
The project would also harm Aboriginal cultural heritage values, the commission said. The Plains Clan of the Wonnarua People describe the Ravensworth Homestead and surrounding land as “hallowed ground” of the Wonnarua people as it was the site of a series of massacres from the 1820s onwards.
Maria Foot, a member of the local Wonnarua clan, told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2021 that the relocation would have been tantamount to “moving a graveyard”.
However, the mining company had previously contested the location and date of the massacres.
The commission heard evidence from a wide range of stakeholders, including Glencore, the Department of Planning and Environment, Heritage NSW, the NSW Heritage Council, Singleton council and representatives from local Aboriginal groups, as well as conducting a site inspection and holding a public hearing in March this year.
In its Statement of Reasons for Decision, the commission found that the Ravensworth Homestead complex, comprised of colonial buildings and gardens and located approximately in the centre of the proposed mine site, has “high to exceptional heritage value” in its existing historic location and setting.
The commission said:
The removal of the Ravensworth Homestead complex and associated heritage from the Site would constitute a significant loss to future generations.
It acknowledged the positive employment, economic and social benefits the project would bring but said that the heritage impacts meant the project “is not in the public interest.”
The commission found that greenhouse gas emissions, as well as water and biodiversity impacts, could have been appropriately managed in the event that the significant and irreversible impacts to historic heritage could have been avoided.
Thomson Dam spilling for the first time in 26 years
The Thomson dam in Victoria’s West Gippsland, which holds half of Melbourne’s water supply, has spilled for the first time since 1996.
Thomson is the third-biggest reservoir supplying a major city behind Warragamba and Wivenhoe.
The size of two Sydney Harbours, when it was officially added to Melbourne’s water storage system in 1984 it more than doubled the city’s storage capacity overnight.
It’s been full three times before now: 1992, 1993 and 1996.
River Murray communities warned to prepare for flooding
NSW SES issued two advice messages for the upper and lower River Murray areas.
Invasive roundworm pest detected in Northern Territory
A highly pathogenic and aggressive worm that targets fruit and vegetable crops has been detected in the Northern Territory, AAP reports.
Biosecurity officers found the invasive microscopic roundworm – known as guava root-knot nematode – in four Top End areas, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade said today.
Test results from horticulture properties in Middle Point, Jingili, Palmerston and Malak suggest the parasite could have arrived in the Darwin area about a year ago.
Biosecurity staff have started working with infected properties and the agriculture sector to stop its spread, but it will be tough to eradicate.
The pest was found on sweet potato, cucumber, capsicum, butternut pumpkin, snake bean, zucchini and chilli plants.
Investigators have not found a link between the infected properties and testing continues to find out if the worm, which has a scientific name of Meloidogyne enterolobii, has contaminated other areas in the NT.
It spreads in soil attached to machinery, tools, footwear and plant products, and affects crop yield of several vegetables, fruit and agricultural fibres.
Infected plants can be identified by several symptoms including stunted growth, wilting, yellow leaves and deformation.
Queensland records 18 Covid deaths and 105 people in hospital
There were 4,447 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and two people are in intensive care.
Former Liberal calls Landry’s bullying allegations a ‘stunt’
Julia Banks, the former Liberal MP, has savaged as a “stunt” the criticisms from her former party about Anthony Albanese’s conduct in question time yesterday, accusing former colleagues of “hypocrisy”.
Coalition MPs have continued their attacks on the prime minister today, after the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, was said to have left the parliament “in tears” following Albanese’s response to her question yesterday afternoon. Landry claimed it was “bullying”; Albanese repeatedly denied the allegation this morning, saying he was yelling in the direction of opposition leader Peter Dutton, who was interjecting.
The speaker of the house, Labor MP Milton Dick, said he did not believe the PM had been disrespectful.
Banks, the former Liberal member for Chisholm, left the party after Scott Morrison’s unseating of former PM Malcolm Turnbull in 2018. She moved to the crossbench and made public claims about bullying and intimidation inside the Coalition.
On Friday, Banks tweeted a photo of Landry with a number of Coalition women who attended a press conference to criticise Albanese. Banks tweeted:
A political performance stunt of faux outrage, reeking of hypocrisy.
More a reminder of their usual group behaviour of being complicit to the patriarchy.
At his Sydney press conference earlier, Albanese told journalists to “look at the footage” of the question time exchange with Landry, pointing out that she was laughing during an earlier part of his answer.
‘Too late to leave’ flood warning for Barmah and Lower Moira
Victorian emergency services have delivered a flood warning at midday for residents of Barmah and Lower Moira that it is too late to leave the area.
Greens MP ejected from Queensland parliament for koala interjection
The Greens MP for South Brisbane, Amy MacMahon, has been ejected from the chamber of Queensland parliament for the entire day following a fiery interjection during the premier’s speech.
Annastacia Palaszczuk was about to announce that Queensland’s new fossil emblem would be the Muttaburrasaurus langdoni, which was discovered by Doug Langdon in Muttaburra in central Queensland.
Palaszczuk then mentioned one of the state’s emblems, the koala, when MacMahon screamed out angrily from the back of the chamber that “koala habitat is being cleared right now in Deebing Creek”.
Palaszczuk retorted that the Greens were “all talk and no action” before the speaker, Curtis Pitt, warned MacMahon about the interruption and said she should direct comments through the chair.
MacMahon rose again to explain the interjections, prompting the speaker to order her to leave the chamber for an hour, later advising MacMahon would not be permitted from returning for the entire day.
The speaker explained MPs could not use “personal explanations” to talk about issues on their agendas.
First Nations people consider the Deebing Creek Mission site, west of Ipswich, to be culturally significant and have fought to protect the land from development, as they believe it harbours the unmarked remains of ancestors.
Book may reveal cabinet secrets, says PM's department
In Senate estimates Labor is investigating the alleged leak of cabinet material to the authors of Plagued, the book by Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers.
The book reveals details from the National Security Committee of the Morrison government’s cabinet, including its approach to dealing with China, the decision-making process behind closing Australia’s borders in early 2020, and discussions around Australia’s defence posture.
The first assistant secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC), John Reid, said:
We’ve reviewed the book and what information is in it, to determine its accuracy or otherwise. We’ve referred that information to the attorney general’s department ... Our conclusions were it certainly appears to reveal information that was, until it was revealed, cabinet material, and would ordinarily have been protected under the principle of cabinet confidentiality.
Reid said he was “not aware” if other agencies are investigating the matter, but explained it had been referred to the attorney general’s department because it administers the “relevant criminal provisions” relating to disclosure of protected information.
Any action taken in relation to this would be within their purview.
Asked if PMC would cooperate with any criminal investigation, he said “absolutely”.
We’ll see, when AGD [attorney general’s department] and Australian federal police officials are up at estimates, whether a referral has been made.
Funding for saving native species program ‘not enough’: Hanson-Young
A little more from environment estimates where senators have been asking about the level of funding for conservation work.
The assistant minister for climate change and energy, Jenny McAllister, has said the government is taking the decline of the country’s wildlife seriously but the challenge is unlikely to be addressed through public funding alone.
She said this was why creating a new biodiversity market had been such a focus for the new government.
You might recall the environment and water minister, Tanya Plibersek, announced the scheme in August, describing its potential as a “green Wall Street”.
The government seems to have moved on from that framing, with McAllister now referring to the proposed scheme as “the nature repair market”.
The scheme remains under development, with the minister working through key issues identified through recent public consultation.
McAllister said the government “will use every tool in our kit to get to our objective” of no new extinctions.
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the point being raised by senators was that $224.5m in funding for a saving native species program (about $56m per year), “is not enough”.
There are a range of tools available to government and we’re determined to use all of them.
She said there were “resource constraints on the budget” but the government was working on “rebuilding capability in a part of government that was not (made) a priority by the previous Liberal National party government”.
‘We will have to do more’ on energy prices, treasurer says
Finally, Jim Chalmers is asked about energy prices, due to rise in the coming two years as forecast in the budget.
He says what we are seeing is “absolutely caused by the war in Ukraine” and the government has been frank with the public about what’s to come.
Right around the world, countries are dealing with some skyrocketing power prices and unfortunately, we are no exception to that …
[The energy] minister Chris Bowen has done a lot of work already with the state and territory counterparts in the budget. I funded and empowered the regulators to do more in this area but we’ve levelled with people and said that our expectation is that we will have to do more here.
PM says he was responding to Peter Dutton in question time, not Michelle Landry
Albanese is asked about accusations of bullying during question time from Coalition MP Michelle Landry.
Landry fronted the media with a group of women who, incidentally, didn’t attend the national march for justice.
He asks the reporter to take a look at the footage themselves.
Peter Dutton was interjecting, I had the exchange with Peter Dutton …
He was interjecting and yelling across the chamber as he does … every time I get asked a question by those opposite. I responded because he didn’t seem to know the difference of where Rockhampton roads were given the question was about Rockhampton roads.
Albanese on repatriations from Syria: ‘We will always act in a way that keeps Australians safe’
Albanese is asked about the women and children, including sick and vulnerable individuals, to be repatriated from Syrian detention camps.
The opposition leader called this a “national security risk”.
Albanese says the party will continue to act on the advice of national security “which is what we have done up to this point and what the former government did as well”.
We will always act in a way that keeps Australians safe …
The former government did bring back some children from that area … and I’d say to my parliamentary colleagues who are aware of the national security implications here, of information being in the public arena, that the national security agencies would prefer to remain out of the public domain at this point in time. I don’t intend to add to it.
PM condemns fatal attack on 15-year-old Cassius Turvey
Now to questions.
Albanese is asked about Cassius Turvey, the fifteen-year-old Indigenous boy killed in an alleged violent attack in Perth.
He says it is a “terrible tragedy”.
This attack that was clearly racially motivated just breaks your heart, we are a better country than that and my heart goes out to the family and the friends.
Albanese turns to the new initiatives in the budget, primarily on housing and the housing Australia Future Fund to build 30,000 social and affordable housing units, as well as $100m for emergency housing and women escaping domestic violence.
We had the increased funding for remote housing for Indigenous Australians and we had the development of a national homelessness strategy and a housing supply and affordability council being created. But one of the things that I said during the election campaign and I’ve said since, it’s important not just what you do but how you do it.
He says Labor is prepared to work with state and local governments as well as local industry and investment funds.
Anthony Albanese says budget ‘was right for the times’
The prime minister is up and he sure brought the weather with him! What a sunny day we’re having in Sydney.
He thanks Chalmers for handing down his first budget and says it’s “great to be here” in Parramatta with “our friend Andrew Charlton”, the local member. This is Albanese’s first time back in Parramatta since the election.
Tuesday’s budget was about implementing our future. We went through the commitments that we gave to the people of Australia in May and have ensured that we delivered on them.
From the youngest Australians receiving support through childcare, from families getting support with increase paid parental leave to businesses and new industries getting support through our national reconstruction fund, to people being able to connect with each other in the world through the upgraded national broadband network, through to our investment in productivity boosting infrastructure right through to looking after Australians who are on aged care plans. And our plans, of course, to get wages moving again.
This was a budget that was right for the times, it was responsible … 99% in the first two years, of the revenue gains that have been received by the increased prices that are out there, we returned to the budget’s bottom line. Because we understand that responsible economic management means fighting inflation.
Housing package aimed at communities like western Sydney, Chalmers says
Chalmers says global pressures are felt “most acutely around the kitchen table”.
That is why the budget that we handed down this week was all about responsible cost of living relief, all about investing in the drivers of growth and investing in our people and it was all also about repairing the economy so that we can spend less money on waste and rorts and more money on priorities.
Turning to housing, Chalmers says gaps in supply and rising rental prices will be a government focus, and western Sydney is “in so many ways” the epicentre of Australia’s housing challenge.
Here in western Sydney, we’ve got very low vacancy rates, fast rising rents and a large proportion of communities like this are renters and … every 10th worker in western Sydney works in construction.
He says western Sydney was the “sort of community that we had in mind” when putting together the government’s housing package.
Rates are low and rents are higher, it’s harder and harder for people to live near where job opportunities are. So what we have done is we’ve brought together superannuation and and other investors, state and local government and the building industry to do something meaningful about affordable housing. The lack of affordable rental properties is one of the big challenges that we have in our economy …
The budget was the beginning of laying the foundations for a better future, the budget was all about making our economy more resilient and our budget more responsible. It was an important start … The hard work has begun.
Treasurer to meet local employers in western Sydney amid economic challenges
The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, is appearing in front of the media now in Parramatta, in western Sydney.
He says he will be spending time in the area today talking with local employers about the challenges western Sydney’s economy is facing.
We recognise that if we want the Australian economy to be stronger and more modern and resilient, we need local economies to be stronger, more modern and more resilient as well.
Turning to the budget, he says it was “responsible, right for the times and … readies us for a better future”.
In uncertain global conditions it recognises that the best defence we have is a responsible budget here at home.
The ACT has provided its weekly Covid update.
There have been 731 new cases in the past week, and no lives lost to the virus.
There are 43 people being treated in hospital with Covid-19 including one person requiring intensive care.
David Pocock questions whether proposed $225m spending to stop new extinctions is adequate
In environment estimates this morning, the government has been asked a lot of questions about whether it has provided enough funding to achieve its goal of zero new extinctions.
The independent senator David Pocock asked if the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water had done any modelling to calculate how much funding would be needed to reach this target.
The answer to that question was no.
However, later in the session, the threatened species commissioner, Fiona Fraser, acknowledged an academic paper led by scientist Brendan Wintle.
That 2019 paper found it would take $1.7bn annually to recover all of Australia’s threatened species. The scientists have since increased that figure to $2bn due to the catastrophic black summer bushfires.
The budget has allocated a fraction of this: $224.5m over the forward estimates for a saving native species program.
We hear that $100m of that $224.5m is redirected funding from money allocated to the environment portfolio by the previous government’s budget in March.
Officials told the hearing a portion of the $1.1bn for the natural heritage trust would also be directed toward conservation programs.
Pocock asked if the government was spending enough:
Do you accept that $225m over four years is significantly less than what some of our most eminent scientists have calculated is necessary to deliver on a commitment for no new extinctions?
Jenny McAllister, the assistant minister for climate change and energy, said the new environment and water minister, Tanya Plibersek, had “been very clear that the scale of the challenge before us is immense”:
She has also indicated that it is unlikely to be met exclusively by public funding.
Gladys Berejiklian Icac probe deadline extended
The anti-corruption commissioner overseeing the inquiry that prompted the former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation has been given more time to finish her report, AAP reports.
Ruth McColl SC had been due to depart the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption at the end of October but the integrity agency on Friday said it still needed her work.
Icac said in a statement today:
Ms McColl’s services are required for the purpose of her finalising the Operation Keppel report, including participating in the review and editing process of that report.
McColl was appointed in July 2020 to oversee Operation Keppel, which began as an investigation into Berejiklian’s former partner, former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, over his use of public office for private gain.
But when the then premier sensationally revealed their clandestine relationship, it sparked a further investigation into her conduct.
Berejiklian, who has denied any wrongdoing, resigned as premier in October 2021 and now works for Optus.
No ‘knee-jerk reactions’ on energy interventions: energy minister
The NSW treasurer and energy minister, Matt Kean, has said he’s going to use today’s meeting with Bowen to demand relief for households, following his criticism of the lack of cost of living support in the budget.
ABC Radio asked Bowen if he will have anything to offer Kean. Bowen said:
We’ve got to make sure all our actions are complimentary at the start point, commonwealth going off and doing something if it’s contradicted by something the state does and vice versa. We’ve agreed to keep in close contact in relation to particular ideas.
As I said, one of our policy objectives at the federal level is to ensure that anything we do is working in tandem with Reserve Bank’s concerns about the economy. I want to deal with the causes not symptoms, if at all possible. I think that is a key criteria for us – careful consideration of what is causing these elevated prices – is the best way.
Asked about the timing of whether any mechanism decided on could be implemented within weeks, Bowen said:
Not a day longer than it would take for us to be sure that the policy settings are right and not a day earlier than we need to ensure that the policy settings are right.
We’re working on this at a considerable pace. But under this government, you don’t have sort of knee-jerk reactions.
Twenty per cent of energy price rise ‘already baked in’, Bowen says
Will government intervention stave off the energy costs expected to hit Australians, or is the 50% energy price rise inevitable?
20% of it is already occurring, that was the price rise at the previous government before the election – by changing the law to delay the the annual reporting of the default market offer – and so that’s that’s already baked in.
However, he acknowledges “those pressures are continuing” and the collaboration between state and federal governments will continue to try to bring down energy costs with both short- and long-term measures.
We’re working very closely on those medium- and longer-term trend changes [and] transitions … those big investments, but we’ll continue to talk about short term as well because there’s a role for all governments and the most important thing for us to ensure is that our actions are working in tandem and complimentary to each other.
'We will consider careful interventions', says Chris Bowen on energy
In the budget this week, the government estimated a 50% increase in electricity prices by 2023-24.
The energy minister, Chris Bowen, spoke to ABC radio this morning ahead of a meeting of state and federal energy ministers today.
He spoke about the global pressures, including the decision of Vladimir Putin to “weaponise energy prices”, and confirmed the meeting would be considering interventions in the market as a short-term measure.
I like to look at this in two ways. There’s a medium and longer term in which, of course, the obvious course of action is to continue with drive towards more renewable energy and storage and transmission because it’s good for emissions and the cheapest form of energy by far. And call me old-fashioned, but I think the answer to higher prices is to use more of the cheaper form of energy, together with transmission and storage to go with it.
But to be very clear, in the short term, the world including Australia faces ongoing pressure. And of course, our federal government isn’t gonna sit by and watch that just simply through a flow through the households.
We will consider carefully and in consultation with my state and territory colleagues, but we will consider careful interventions to ensure that the energy market is working as best as it can for Australian consumers, industrial and residential, in a lot of these very real and significant international pressures, which were being very upfront and honest about.
‘Crazy stuff’: Labor criticises Dutton’s nuclear reactor proposal
The debate on energy rages on, as the Albanese government and federal opposition take hits at each other’s solutions to tackling the crisis.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton revealed in his budget reply speech last night that he believes Australia should consider zero-emissions modular nuclear reactors.
Members of the Labor government including the education minister, Jason Clare, and the member for Macnamara, Josh Burns, have criticised the proposal.
Clare told Seven’s Sunrise program:
They think the solution is to build 80 nuclear power stations right across the country. Come on, that is crazy stuff.
Burns has taken to social media with a series of tweets criticising the proposal:
Dutton also talks about Small Modular Reactors as the type to build. But they aren’t cheaper. In fact, they don’t actually exist yet. There’s no SMR being rolled out anywhere in the world, only prototypes in their early stages.
We have roughly a decade to replace and build enough energy to meet demand as most of the coal power comes off our grid. The best estimates show that 1 nuclear reactor would take between 10-15 years to build.
Short-cutting that timeline would mean risking safety, and put huge pressure on acquiring the expertise required to manage nuclear energy production that we just don’t have in Australia.
Elective surgery waitlists shortening in Victoria
The number of Victorians waiting for elective surgery has fallen in the September quarter, as Covid pressure on the state’s hospitals eased.
The report comes ahead of Victoria’s state election next month, where health and hospital funding is a key battleground.
The Victorian Agency for Health Information’s latest quarterly report shows there are 84,955 people on the elective surgery waiting list, down from 85,999 at the end of June.
Victoria’s health minister, Mary-Anne Thomas, will be addressing the media later this morning when she opens a new surgical centre in Blackburn.
Former head of recovery agency received severance payout after restructure, senate hears
Officials have confirmed that the former head of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, Shane Stone, received a severance payout after the new government restructured disaster recovery structures.
In September, the Albanese government merged two bodies to form a new organisation called the National Emergency Management, Resilience and Recovery Agency. Stone – whose contract was not due to expire until 2024 – lost his job in the process.
Murray Watt, the minister for emergency management, acknowledged that he had called for Stone’s resignation prior to the election. In March, Stone attracted criticism over comments appearing to blame people who “want to live among the gum trees” for the cost of recovering from catastrophic floods. More history on that can be found here.
Watt said today that he believed it was important to treat Stone with dignity during the restructuring process in September.
Effectively, Mr Stone’s position was redundant … You won’t find any media comments from me around that time bagging him.
Michael Pezzullo, the secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, said Watt had asked him to engage with Stone “to explain to him the employment repercussions” of that restructuring. Pezzullo said that with the cessation of the role, “severance for the balance of the term were honoured”:
They were honoured to the dollar and I’ve made sure that and we worked that through our personnel area, and I acquitted that by reporting back to the minister that that had been done.
John Lonsdale appointed next chair of banking regulator
The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has announced some new appointments this morning to the board of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority which he says will bring “fresh thinking” and promote more women to key positions.
John Lonsdale has been appointed to be the next chair, Margaret Cole to become a deputy chair, and Suzanne Smith and Therese McCarthy Hockey to become members.
The appointments will mean four of the five members of the regulator’s board are women.
Lonsdale has been a deputy chair of Apra since 2018 and, prior to joining Apra, was a deputy secretary in the Australian Treasury.
Cole, currently an Apra member, was previously PwC’s UK chief risk officer and general counsel and worked for the UK Financial Services Authority.
The appointments will commence on 31 October 2022.
Chalmers thanked Wayne Byres, the outgoing chair, for his dedication and leadership over the past eight years on behalf of the government. Chalmers said:
Mr Byres has made an outstanding contribution to Australia, including through his work to help ensure the stability of the financial system during the Covid‑19 pandemic.
More than half of Australia's local government areas hit by natural disasters this year: emergency chief
The minister for emergency management, Murray Watt, has given an update to Senate estimates on the response to disasters in several states.
He says that in the time since he was appointed as minister, Australia has experienced devastating loss of life and the impacts of storms and floods. He acknowledges people in Victoria and NSW currently sitting in relief centres or cleaning up homes as rivers continue to rise.
In the past month alone, we have had 106 activations of commonwealth state disaster recovery funding arrangements – 43 in New South Wales, 17 in Tasmania, and 46 in Victoria, and that gives you some idea of the scale of the current disaster and of course, there’s been many more before that for the previous floods this year.
Watt says there are about 350 ADF personnel currently working Victoria and 150 in NSW.
The government will always step up and do the right thing standing with communities through the crisis and through recovery.
Australia’s first coordinator general for national emergency management, Brendan Moon, is also at the Senate estimates table. Moon gives a sobering update:
Since the start of this year, the nation has experienced 41 natural disaster events that have impacted over 280 local government areas. This constitutes more than half the local government areas of Australia. Our system is under pressure from consecutive concurrent natural disasters.
Moon says in recent years it seems like many communities “have been in a constant state of response and recovery”.
Intelligence watchdog is ‘not making any complaints about resourcing’, inspector general says
At Senate estimates, the Greens senator David Shoebridge draws attention to the Asio’s big budget increases, and contrasts it with the watchdog, the inspector general of intelligence and security.
Shoebridge asks whether the office of the inspector general has the resources it needs to perform its role.
The inspector general of intelligence and security, Christopher Jessup KC, replies:
I suppose that’s like a Dorothy Dixer, senator.
(Meaning that any agency will always ask for a budget increase.)
We’re not making any complaints about the level of resourcing. The difficulty is getting resources for which we have appropriations.
That’s a reference to the earlier evidence about the office’s difficulties recruiting and retaining skilled staff and the wait of 12 to 18 months for security clearances.
The office investigates complaints made by the public, or by a current or former staff of an intelligence agency, about the activities of an intelligence agency.
It said in its annual report:
The Office received 80 complaints during the year [2021-22] that fell within the jurisdiction of the IGIS Act. In addition, the Office received 141 complaints about visa and citizenship matters which are reported separately. The Office also considered more than 400 additional pieces of correspondence to determine whether they fell within the Inspector-General’s jurisdiction …
In the same year, the office received 10 disclosures of suspected wrongdoing by intelligence agencies under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
NSW records 16 Covid deaths in past week, with 820 people in hospital
There were 10,050 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and 25 people are in intensive care.
Victoria records 51 Covid deaths and average of 172 people in hospital in past week
There were 8,537 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and six people are in intensive care.
‘We are in awe of Jaala’s strength’: Andrews pays tribute to retiring minister
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, released a statement acknowledging Jaala Pulford’s achievements, including as the state’s first female agriculture minister, and her work to legalise locally manufactured medicinal cannabis for use in exceptional circumstances.
He also reflected on the duo’s announcement for $35m to research children’s cancers. It was personal for Pulford – her daughter, Sinead, died three months after she received her diagnosis, right after the Victorian state election in 2014. She was 13 years old.
Andrews said of Pulford’s loss:
We all were, and still are, in awe of Jaala’s strength. To see her continue to manage her ministerial responsibilities with such heart, while holding on to that pain, was nothing short of remarkable. She made the Victorian parliament a kinder, more thoughtful place. She gave us all cause to reflect, and to garner a little perspective. She will be sorely missed by many on both sides of the aisle.
Victorian minister for innovation not seeking re-election
The Victorian government minister Jaala Pulford has announced she will quit from politics, four weeks out from the state election.
Pulford, who currently holds the portfolios of employment, innovation, medical research and the digital economy, small business and resources (it’s a long list) says after 16 years as an MP, “it’s time to seek new challenges”
Here’s some of her statement:
Representing the people of Western Victoria has been an extraordinary privilege. Serving the people that rely on Labor governments has been a tremendous honour. While it is amazing to pass a law, design a program or fund a project, the best thing about being a politician is the people we meet.
The publican fighting for his business. The parents fearing their 18-year-old was being lost to them because a law lacked nuance. People whose lives were forever changed by illness, injury or death and who then raise money for science, or visit schools to talk to teenagers about road safety. The First Nations leaders delivering economic prosperity for their people. The grandmother in the farm shed that took me aside, put her hand on my arm and said: “it’s about time we had a woman in the job ...
I’m conscious that I’m making this decision on the eve of a state election but I’m absolutely confident that the time is right for me, and for the government. In premier Daniel Andrews, our talented and energetic cabinet, and the magnificent Labor caucus, Victorians have a group of people with a vision and plan to make Victoria fairer, safer and stronger.
Planned expansion of intelligence watchdog stalled by security clearances
Australia’s intelligence watchdog has had difficulties recruiting and retaining staff amid delays with security clearances.
The inspector general of intelligence and security, Christopher Jessup KC, is answering questions at the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee this morning.
His office’s annual report stated:
More generally, although the Office had many new staff join it over the year, the planned expansion to the Office’s full complement of staff has not yet been reached for a number of reasons, including those related to the necessary but lengthy security clearance process. The Office, like many public sector agencies, continues to feel the challenges of recruiting and retaining subject matter experts across a range of skillsets.
This passage relates to difficulty finding technical experts.
Jessup said the office – which plays an oversight role in monitoring the work of Australia’s intelligence and security agencies including Asio – was expected to increase staffing levels to 57 within a year but “we’re nowhere near that at the moment”. He said it was currently in the high 40s.
He said some people recruited to the office already had the necessary security clearances – but for those who did not, there could be a lengthy wait:
The security clearance process these days – 12 months is a good outcome from what I understand. A more average outcome is getting towards 18 months.
Jessup said during this vetting period, some recruits became interested in a different job elsewhere and “disappear out of the pipeline”.
We’re at a much greater risk of losing people when they happen to be, for example, a specialist in IT … because they are in high demand.
Virus-infected cruise ship to dock in WA
A cruise ship with Covid-19 cases on board is set to dock near Perth but authorities are confident the outbreak can be safely managed, AAP reports.
The Coral Princess has an undisclosed number of infected passengers and crew as it prepares to arrive in Fremantle today. Its operator, Carnival Australia, says most of the ship’s 2,000 guests are unaffected and those who return a negative rapid antigen test will be allowed ashore.
The Carnival president, Marguerite Fitzgerald, said:
We continue to monitor closely a small number of guests who tested positive to Covid-19 and who are isolating and are being cared for in their stateroom by our medical and support staff.
All cases on board have been asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic. Case numbers remain relatively steady.
There are also reports of cases being detected aboard the Quantum of the Seas, a ship expected to dock in Brisbane next Tuesday.
The Coral Princess left Broome earlier this week, bypassing a scheduled stop in Geraldton due to bad weather.
WA Health said it was aware of the ship’s outbreak but had not been asked for help in managing passengers. It said all cruise ship operators visiting WA were required to report cases, abide by the national protocols and have their own Covid-19 plans.
People who contract Covid-19 while aboard vessels are advised to isolate for five days.
Large cruise ships have been allowed back in WA waters since 1 October after being banned in 2020.
US and China must create ‘political space to resume global climate collaboration’: Rudd
The former prime minister Kevin Rudd has shared the Guardian’s reporting on key UN climate reports which warn urgent and collective action is needed as the world nears “irreversible” climate breakdown.
Rudd said it’s critical the US and China, as the world’s two largest emitters, manage the strategic competition between them in order to resume global climate collaboration.
Labor set for Victorian win despite poll decline
Labor remains on track for a crushing victory at Victoria’s state election despite a rise in support for the Coalition over the past month, AAP reports.
A Resolve Political Monitor survey for the Age newspaper showed primary support for the premier Daniel Andrews’ party was at 38%, down from 41% in mid-September. The poll, published today, also revealed backing for the Liberal and National parties was up to 31% from 28% in the previous survey.
Despite the rise, the results still point to an overwhelming victory for the Andrews government when Victorians cast their ballots on 26 November.
On a two-party-preferred basis, Labor was well ahead at 59% to 41% for the Coalition. Primary support for the Greens, independents and other minor parties was steady at 30%.
The Resolve poll of more than 800 voters was taken from October 20 to 24, a period that coincided with Labor releasing an ambitious plan to speed up the state’s transition to renewable energy.
The Andrews government set a 95% renewable energy target for 2035, the highest of any Australian state. Labor also pledged to re-enter the energy market with the revival of the State Electricity Commission.
Meanwhile, the state opposition has recently pitched legal protection for religious schools and other employers to hire staff who share their values and beliefs.
The latest Resolve survey gave Andrews a growing lead over the opposition leader, Matthew Guy, as preferred premier at 49% to 29% with the remainder undecided. The previous survey gave Andrews a 46-28% lead.
Perrottet calls for greater infrastructure funding
Perrottet also used the press conference to call for greater infrastructure funding for NSW from the federal government, as he has done many times in recent weeks.
Standing beside Albanese, he said that no matter who was in charge in Canberra, NSW was always punished for its development “success”.
He challenged other states to do the same.
There are other states who aren’t doing the heavy lifting, and I say to them, start building as much as we are in our great state.
We should continue to get more funding from a commonwealth government. I’m always going to stand up for the people of NSW.
The deputy NSW premier, Paul Toole, says there will be information sessions for local government areas, and that the government wants to build back the Northern Rivers “better than what it was before”.
State MP Janelle Saffin affirms that the support the government is offering Northern Rivers residents will be tailored on a “case by case” basis.
‘We are a traumatised community’: Kevin Hogan
The federal member for Page, Kevin Hogan, says the Northern Rivers community remains traumatised. Even the rain event last week “triggered everyone again”.
We are a traumatised community. That’s why today is important.
Perrottet to lead discussions around flood plain planning at national cabinet: PM
Albanese says he has asked the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, to lead discussions at national cabinet about “planning to do better to make sure that we’re not building on flood plains”.
To make sure that we’re not building on flood plains … I’ve asked the premier to lead discussion at the national cabinet about how we make sure that planning gets better right around our country.
Prime minister announces Northern Rivers flood buyback scheme
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, are addressing the media from Lismore, announcing the joint buyback scheme for Australians living in flood-prone areas.
The $800m plan will see residents in Ballina, Byron, Clarence Valley, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed LGAs able to apply for grants to help cover the costs of having their houses raised, retrofitted or repaired.
We need to do better, all levels of government. We need to do better on planning but we also need to do better than thinking that we can do just the same thing over and over again, because we’ll get the same results.
And that’s why I am so proud of today’s announcement … an $800m commitment with $700m of that commitment shared between the two levels of government on a 50/50 basis. $520m to be available for buybacks, so that people like Brian can move to somewhere that is - makes more sense than just trying to retrofit here.
But up to $1,000,000 to raise some homes in the northern rivers area as well. And up to $50,000 for retrofitting. In addition, we have agreement about planning. To do better.
Albanese also acknowledges that the announcement about the Northern Rivers comes as the east coast states continue to be affected by flooding.
This current event, weather event, has impacted particularly the east coast states right up and down it. New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania have been really harshly affected. But Queensland was under threat and we remain vigilant for weather events in coming weeks and indeed, perhaps even months.
‘Diverse range of opinions’ on Voice in regional communities: Dutton
Peter Dutton did not mention the Uluru Statement from the Heart in his budget reply speech, as opposed to the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who began his speech Tuesday night backing it.
ABC Radio asks Dutton when he will reveal how he’ll vote on the Voice to Parliament?
I was up in Alice Springs last week and Thursday Island the week before, so we’ve been speaking with local elders and women in particular in many of those communities.
I’m listening to their voices at the moment and having an understanding of what they believe the Voice is about and what they want from a Voice and in fact whether or not they support a Voice.
There’s quite a diverse range of opinion across the Indigenous communities as you get away from Canberra and Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane and you move into the regional communities.
Dutton backs government's paid parental leave extension
In his budget reply, Dutton backed in Labor’s childcare changes. Karvelas asks Dutton what changed his mind?
There is a lot more to do to provide support and to remove some of the barriers for [women] go back into work. If you’re a family with three young kids in childcare, you’ve probably got for your, for one of the partners to return to work – normally to the mother in a relationship – you end up having to earn probably, you have to gross about $120,000 a year before you’re at a break even point.
Dutton didn’t state a position on the extension of paid parental leave from 20 to 26 weeks in his budget reply but tells ABC Radio he supports the measure:
Yes, I think that’s reasonable. And we’ve just got to be careful about what’s happening in the industrial relations space at the moment, because if we price ourselves out of competitive market, where we’re up against other countries that don’t have industrial relations system that Labor’s about to introduce this as a throwback to the 1980s.
Asked if he regrets the former government didn’t implement any of these policies he is now supporting, Dutton says the problems on issues such as childcare and women was the Coalition’s marketing.
One of the things we don’t do well in the Liberal party is we don’t market well what we did. We’re good at governing and we often clean up Labor’s messes … but we don’t market well enough what we did.
‘We should have a discussion about the zero emission modular nuclear reactors’: Dutton
Dutton has proposed small modular nuclear reactors as a possible solution to the energy crisis.
If you don’t like coal, you don’t like gas, hydro is probably a decade away, you’ve got limited options. All I’ve said is we should have a discussion about the zero emission modular nuclear reactors.
RN Breakfast host Patricia Karvelas asks the opposition leader about what Australia does in the nearly 10 years before these modular nuclear reactors exist?
All of us are in favour of renewable energy of course, the fact is we need to firm the system up of a night-time.
Dutton says budget failed on cost-of-living relief
Opposition leader Peter Dutton delivered his official budget reply address last night, and is now speaking with ABC Radio, saying cost of living relief for families is what is missing from Labor’s budget.
Families know they are going to experience a very significant increase their electrify costs, petrol prices their mortgage repayments.
I think they thought there was going to be some offering through the budget for some support and I just don’t think there was.
First Nations lawyer, academic and activist Noel Pearson last night delivered his first speech in the ABC’s Boyer Lectures, saying “racism will diminish” with recognition from the Indigenous voice to parliament.
Pearson said, of all the claims he will make in these lectures, “the boldest” is that:
Racism will diminish in this country when we succeed with recognition. It will not have the same purchase on us: neither on the majority party that has defaulted to it over two centuries, nor the minority that lives it, fears it and who too often succumb to the very fear itself.
Let me point out what is incontrovertible: Australia doesn’t make sense without recognition. Until the First Peoples are afforded our rightful place, we are a nation missing its most vital heart.
However, he said Australians still do not have the same empathy on the issue as they had when it came to the plebiscite on same-sex marriage because they do not see Aboriginal people “within their circles of family and friendship”:
Unlike same-sex marriage, there is not the requisite empathy of love to break through the prejudice, contempt and, yes, violence, of the past. Australians simply do not have Aboriginal people within their circles of family and friendship with whom they can share fellow feeling.
Later today, energy ministers will meet and look at a gas price cap at about a third of current market offers to help ease inflation threats. My colleague Peter Hannam has the full story:
Let’s get going!