Australia prepared for possible Russian cyber-attacks after troops sent to train Ukraine soldiers – as it happened

Last modified: 07: 17 AM GMT+0

The day that was, Tuesday 17 January

That’s where we will wrap up the live blog for today.

Here’s what made the news today:

  • A Qantas flight from Auckland has landed safely in Sydney after issuing a mayday call mid-flight due to a reported engine failure.

  • Peter Dutton has accused Anthony Albanese of being “very tricky” for dead-batting questions about whether Labor might legislate the Indigenous voice to parliament in the event the referendum to constitutionally entrench it fails.

  • A three-metre saltwater crocodile has been spotted lurking near a popular swimming hole on an island off the coast of Brisbane.

  • Ribbons tied on the fence of St Mary’s Cathedral in support of victims of clergy abuse are being removed ahead of a planned requiem mass in Sydney for Cardinal George Pell.

  • The federal government will acquire 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian army.

  • The minister for defence personnel, Matt Keogh, has said Australia is prepared for possible cyber attacks from Russia in the wake of the decision to send troops to the UK to help train Ukrainian soldiers.

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


The chair of a parliamentary inquiry into the controversial ParentsNext program has described the suggestion that in some cases single parents may be required to check in with the agency daily or risk having their welfare payments suspended as “bonkers”.

The Labor MP Julian Hill was questioning representatives of the National Employment Services Association (Nesa) and Jobs Australia, the peak bodies for commercial and not-for-profit companies that facilitate Australia’s billion-dollar outsourced welfare-to-work system, Workforce Australia.

Qantas incident ‘extremely rare’, pilots’ union says

The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the engine failure that saw a Qantas flight from Auckland to Sydney issue a mayday call.

In a statement, AIPA said:

This type of incident is extremely rare. We are pleased the expertly trained and professional Qantas pilots took all the right steps to deal with the incident and were able to safely land back in Sydney.

The priority of any pilot is the welfare of our passengers and crew.


The Indigenous affairs minister, Linda Burney, has welcomed the statement from Tennis Australia in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Thank you, @TennisAustralia, for supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It is a generous invitation from First Nations people to walk with us in the journey towards a better future for all.

— Linda Burney MP (@LindaBurneyMP) January 18, 2023

Rafael Nadal knocked out of Australian Open by unseeded Mackenzie McDonald after injury

Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open title defence has come to a dramatic end, with the legendary Spaniard hit by injury during a shock second-round loss at Melbourne Park, AAP reports.

Nadal grabbed at his left hip during the eighth game of the second set of his clash with American Mackenzie McDonald, immediately going off court for medical attention.

The 36-year-old resumed playing on Rod Laver Arena but was clearly in pain and struggling to run as McDonald closed out the biggest win of his career, 6-4 6-4 7-5.

Nadal’s box, including his wife, Maria, who wiped away tears, was left shattered by the injury as the 22-time major winner seemingly approaches the end of his glittering career.

Even before the injury, Nadal was rattled by McDonald, who broke serve in the opening game of the match.

Nadal became frustrated, arguing multiple times with the chair umpire.

The apparent hip problem marks the sixth time in his grand career that either injury or illness has cruelled his Australian Open campaign.


Testing begins for NSW's new intercity train fleet

The New South Wales government is testing its new intercity Mariyung train fleet between Sydney’s Central station and Springwood station in the Blue Mountains.

The tests will be focused on mechanical and electrical systems ahead of modifications to the fleet as agreed in a signed deed with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) in November last year.

The fleet will be for people travelling between Sydney, the Central Coast, Newcastle, the Blue Mountains and the South Coast.

The NSW transport minister, David Elliott, said the fleet is the first new intercity train in more than 50 years and will be introduced later this year:

Following several months of protected industrial action and inconvenience to commuters in this state, I am very pleased to see testing of these state-of-the-art trains is underway after we reached agreement with the unions to make modifications to the new intercity fleet.

Trains will run between Eveleigh, Central and Springwood this week before testing routes between Eveleigh and Newcastle and Eveleigh and Hornsby in coming weeks.

The fleet will have doors that automatically open if objects are trapped and trains don’t move until the doors are closed, two-by-two seating, and better options for people with prams, wheelchairs and bicycles. The fleet will also have USB ports and power points.

Sydney’s Central station.
Sydney’s Central station. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


Severe thunderstorm warnings issued across NSW’s west and south

The Bureau of Meteorology is now warning there is a risk of heavy rain and damaging winds over western and southern NSW.

#SevereThunderstorm #Warning updated to include the risk of heavy rain along with Damaging Winds over western and southern #NSW. Locations include #Parkes, #Forbes, #Condobolin, #Cowra, #Orange, #Young. Activity is moving east. Updates here:

— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) January 18, 2023


Australia prepared for possible Russian cyber attacks after Ukraine help, minister says

The minister for defence personnel, Matt Keogh, has said Australia is prepared for possible cyber attacks from Russia in the wake of the decision to send troops to the UK to help train Ukrainian soldiers.

Keogh today attended a farewell ceremony in Darwin for up to 70 Australian defence force personnel who are heading to the UK this week.

At a press conference afterwards, Keogh was asked whether the Australian government had assessed the risk of potential blowback from Russia, such as cyber attacks.

Keogh replied:

Australia has been assisting Ukraine in its defence efforts now for nearly a year. And we’re very conscious that that can result in cyber activity as a consequence, some targeted at Australia.

But Australia is strong in its resolve that we will assist Ukraine as a sovereign, democratically elected government and country to defend itself. We stand for a global rules-based order. We support that – that’s why Australia is contributing to support the defence of Ukraine.

And while there may be things that occur in terms of cyber activity as a consequence of that, we are not stepping back in our resolve to support Ukraine in the face of what is an existential threat to Ukraine.


Government names ‘energy sector leader’ as head of troubled Snowy Hydro

The Albanese government has appointed Dennis Barnes as the new managing director of Snowy Hydro, about five months after the previous one, Paul Broad, resigned abruptly.

Barnes brings a CV packed with experience from the energy sector, including as the former head of New Zealand’s Contact Energy for a decade up to 2020. (He describes himself as a “senior Australasian energy sector leader”, on his LinkedIn page.)

He replaces Roger Whitby, who has served as acting CEO of Snowy since August, “following a comprehensive recruitment process” by Snowy’s board. Barnes starts work on 1 February.

Snowy Hyrdo has been providing electricity to Australia for more than 70 years and plays a pivotal role in Australia’s energy security through supporting the renewable energy transformation.

The climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, said Barnes’ appointment comes at a pivotal time for the organisation.

The work of Snowy Hydro over the next few years is crucial to Australia’s efforts to reach net zero by 2050 and its operations and strategic direction align with Mr Barnes’ previous experience leading development of renewable energy projects.

He’ll be tasked with overseeing key projects, such as Snowy 2.0, its connection with HumeLink and the Hunter Power Project. Snowy Hydro operations are crucial to Australia’s transformation to a cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy system.

There are a slew of problems for Barnes to work on. The Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project is still slated to come on line by the end of 2026 but that date is likely to be set back at least until 2028. The recent collapse of one contractor, Clough Group, didn’t help.

Whether Barnes changes Snowy’s behaviour as the dominant player in the peak power market in the eastern states will be closely watched. As a commonwealth-owned entity, the company could help lower wholesale prices if profits were not quite so much its focus.

The Tumut 3 power station – part of the Snowy Hydro Scheme.
The Tumut 3 power station – part of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP


Man dies in custody in northern Queensland

A prisoner has died in his cell at a prison in northern Queensland, prompting an internal investigation.

Queensland Corrective Services found the 57-year-old man unresponsive in his cell at the Townsville Correctional Centre about 7am on Wednesday.

Officers immediately began CPR and paramedics were called, but the prisoner died at the scene, a QCS spokesperson said.

An internal investigation into the man’s death is underway, and a report will be prepared for the coroner.

– via AAP


Threat of thunderstorms in northern Queensland

⚠️⛈️Severe thunderstorm #warning just issued for heavy rainfall over inland parts of the North Tropical Coast District, with slow-moving thunderstorms. Locations include #Mareeba, #Atherton, #Chillagoe Details and updates:

— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) January 18, 2023

⛈️Thursday 19th TS outlook: Severe storms with damaging winds, large hail and heavy rainfall are possible in the southern interior of #QLD. Locations include #StGeorge and #Cunnamulla. Thunderstorms are also possible in #SEQLD. Warning if needed:

— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) January 18, 2023


Tennis Australia pledges support for Indigenous voice during Australian Open

Tennis Australia’s support for the Uluru statement from the heart has been welcomed by leading Indigenous voice to parliament campaigners.

The Australia Open launched First Nations Day at Melbourne Park today, a celebration of Indigenous art, culture and sport. The former world No 1 Ash Barty, and her idol Evonne Goolagong Cawley, joined the event at Margaret Court Arena.

Dean Parkin, the director of From the Heart, hopes the event will build support for the upcoming referendum on Indigenous constitutional recognition.

Being able to walk side by side with such legends as Evonne and Ash on this journey for a constitutional recognition is huge for our campaign.

Millions of people are watching the tournament around the world and today’s First Nations Day celebrates Indigenous culture and history as an intrinsic part of the Australian identity in what will be an important year.

We’re taking the campaign supporting Indigenous constitutional recognition to the world stage, and reflecting on how we can appropriately acknowledge and celebrate the longest continuous culture both on the tennis court and in our constitution.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Ash Barty speak to reporters at Melbourne Park today.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Ash Barty speak to reporters at Melbourne Park today. Photograph: Kim Landy/Getty Images


Maribyrnong River flood inquiry won’t look at emergency warnings

An inquiry into the Maribyrnong River flooding in October last year, which inundated more than 500 properties in Melbourne’s north-western and western suburbs, will not assess emergency flood warnings.

Melbourne Water’s managing director, Nerina Di Lorenzo, said the warnings were outside the organisation’s remit.

Instead, the inquiry will look at the impact of the Flemington Racecourse levee and whether flood modelling needs to be approached differently in the future.

Di Lorenzo told AAP:

What we’re doing in this review is the critical first step. It would be very difficult to form a set of policy solutions or responses if the information and the review we’re doing isn’t done first.

We can’t speak for every agency but what Melbourne Water can do is provide this really important next step and make sure community voices are heard.

The scope of the flood inquiry is outlined on Melbourne Water’s website here.


Our reporter Ben Doherty is on the scene at Sydney airport.

QF144 on the tarmac at Sydney @GuardianAus

— Ben Doherty (@BenDohertyCorro) January 18, 2023

Transport minister relieved after QF144 lands: ‘Well done to the highly experienced crew’

The transport minister, Catherine King, says she is relieved by the news QF144 landed safely after issuing a mayday call on its way to Sydney from Auckland.

A relief to know that QF144 has landed safely.

Well done to the highly experienced crew for getting the plane safely home.

Australia’s aviation industry is among the safest in the world because of the dedicated staff working on planes and behind the scenes.

— Catherine King MP (@CatherineKingMP) January 18, 2023


A slightly rough (but safe) landing for QF144 – video

Smooth landing for @Qantas flight #QF144 at Sydney Airport after earlier issuing a mayday call reportedly due to engine failure en route from Auckland.

— Tyson Whelan (@tyson_whelan) January 18, 2023


The Qantas flight from Auckland to Sydney has now landed safely at Sydney airport.

We will hear more from Qantas soon, once the plane has been assessed by engineers.


Qantas flight QF144 mayday call downgraded

We have a slight update on that Qantas flight, which is set to land in Sydney shortly. While a mayday was initially issued, this has now been downgraded.

A Qantas spokesperson said the flight “experienced an issue with one of its engines about an hour from its destination”.

It is now due to land in Sydney at around 3:30pm and, in line with standard procedure, will be met by emergency services.

While a mayday was initially issued, this has now been downgraded to a PAN (‘possible assistance needed’).

We will share more information about this incident once the aircraft is on the ground and has been assessed by our engineers.

QF144 the world's most tracked flight as it is cleared to land in Sydney

Qantas flight QF144, which has suffered a reported issue with one of its engines, is currently descending to 5,000ft and has been cleared to land at Sydney international airport.

There are more than 41,000 people monitoring the flight on FlightTracker. More than any other plane in the sky around the world right now.

Ready for emergency landing of #Qantas flight #QF144. Fire trucks in position on runway@SamChuiPhotos @7NewsAustralia

— Ted Perton 🛩 (@tedperton) January 18, 2023


Here’s our full report on the mayday call issued on the Auckland to Sydney Qantas flight.

We will bring you more updates when we have them.

Qantas flight QF144 suffered mechanical issues

The mayday call from the Qantas flight QF144 from Auckland to Sydney was issued after the flight suffered mechanical issues, AAP reports.

It was due to land at Sydney airport about 3pm.

A mayday call is issued when a flight is in grave and imminent danger and needs immediate assistance, according to Airservices Australia.

Once the call is issued controllers alert aviation rescue, firefighting and emergency services with details on how to respond. They also provide assistance to pilots.

#Breaking: Qantas flight QF144 are squeaking the emergency code for mayday for 1 engine out.737-800 has 2 engines and can fly on 1 engine. Crew will be doing checks. Cabin crew will be issuing brace instructions passengers won’t notice a thing it would feel like a normal landing

— Glen Coddington (@GlennCoddington) January 18, 2023


Qantas flight from Auckland to Sydney issues mayday call

Emergency services are responding after a Qantas flight travelling from Auckland to Sydney issued a mayday alert.

“NSW Ambulance paramedics are responding to a mayday alert issued by flight QF144 from Auckland,” NSW ambulance said on Wednesday.

“The plane is due at Sydney Airport.”

Flight Radar indicated the flight, QF144, is currently over the water.

– via AAP


That is all from me today – I’m off to bask under the 30C Sydney sun.

Handing over to Josh Taylor, who will roll the blog through to the evening.

Sydney records first 30C day in more than 330 days

Sydney is finally sweltering under the sun of its first 30C day in almost a year – just nine days off its longest streak of 339 days below that level hit in 1883.

Sydney finally clocks a 30C day at its Observatory Hill location. The last one was on February 21, 331 days ago. That leaves the 1883 tally of 339 such sub-30C days intact. La Ninas and all those extra clouds helped cap those maximum temperatures. (Source: @BOM_au )

— (@p_hannam) January 18, 2023


A family of quolls who took an accidental (and very long) journey of 5600km to Melbourne in a pumpkin carriage (yes, really) have finally made it home.

The mother and her four babies were found in a pumpkin box at the Melbourne Wholesale Market in Epping on December 13, AAP reports.

It is believed the endangered northern quolls entered the pumpkin container while at a farm in Far North Queensland – unintentionally joining the vegetables on a trip down south.

Officers from Victoria’s Conservation Regulator found their original habitat near Cairns in Far North Queensland. The quolls were flown back home to the sunshine state on January 5, where they were safely released back into the bush.

The endangered marsupials were lucky to survive the 5600km journey to Victoria, Queensland senior wildlife officer Dinouk Perera said.

Northern quolls are native to tropical and sub-tropical climates across Australia and have adapted to thrive in warmer conditions, which means they are not built to live in a typically colder place like Melbourne

These quolls are very lucky to have been rescued and taken into care, as they had travelled a long way without food or water.

Saltwater crocodile sighting at North Stradbroke Island swimming spot

A three-metre saltwater crocodile has been spotted lurking near a popular swimming hole on an island off the coast of Brisbane, AAP reports.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers are installing crocodile warning signs in the area of the sighting at Myora Springs, just north of Dunwich on Stradbroke Island, also known as Minjerribah.

Rangers are also sweeping the area in boats and using drones after the crocodile sighting was reported by the local Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation.

“Visitors and residents on Minjerribah are urged to stay away from Myora Springs for safety reasons, and to allow rangers to complete their investigation,” an environment department spokesperson said in a statement today.

Crocodiles don’t usually frequent such southerly climates, but sea temperatures have topped 26C in south-east Queensland in recent days.

Warning signs will be installed in the area after a reported sighting of a three-metre crocodile.
Warning signs will be installed in the area after a reported sighting of a three-metre crocodile. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP


Specifics on cashless gambling system to come ‘very shortly’: Perrottet

Dominic Perrottet was quizzed on the details of his proposed cashless gaming system, including the daily cap that would be imposed as part of it.

He said the cap was important otherwise the system “won’t work” but would not specify further details.

We cannot be in a situation where people are putting their life savings down the pokies.

He said the government would have more specifics on their plan “very shortly”.


Albanese says gambling regulation ‘a matter for states and territories’

Albanese repeatedly refused to say if he supported the state Coalition’s plan to implement cashless gaming cards.

He said it was a matter for state and territory governments.

I have a lot of responsibilities – climate change, international affairs, our national economy, national transport issues.

He denied that the federal government was ruling out trying to address the issue of problem gambling but said it was not his issue.

He said:

Problem gambling is a problem that’s been identified by everyone. It’s a scourge. I’m someone who [places a bet] once a year at the Melbourne Cup. That’s the extent of my engagement, but the regulation of these issues is a matter for states and territories.

Albanese says problem gambling is a ‘scourge’ but regulation is not a federal responsibility.
Albanese says problem gambling is a ‘scourge’ but regulation is not a federal responsibility. Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images


Gastro cases 'at some of their highest levels of the last decade' in NSW

NSW Health have released a public health alert, warning of viral gastroenteritis on the rise.

Rotavirus is one common cause of viral gastroenteritis and can be particularly severe in young children.

Rotavirus notifications are at some of their highest levels of the last decade. In the first two weeks of 2023, 197 cases of rotavirus were identified, compared with about 40 cases during the same period usually.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, abdominal pain, headache and muscle aches. They can take up to three days to develop and usually last between one or two days, and sometimes longer.

The virus can be spread when cleaning up body fluids, during person-to-person contact, sharing of contaminated objects and inhaling airborne particles when people vomit.

Director of NSW Health’s One Health branch, Keira Glasgow, said reducing the spread of gastro before schools returned in the next few weeks was important.

The message to the community is clear – simple measures can help stop the spread of gastro. Maintaining good hand hygiene and keeping children at home when they are unwell will give us a good chance to slow the spread before February, when children will all be back together at school.

Advice from NSW Health includes:

  • Keep children experiencing gastroenteritis home until 48 hours have passed since their last symptom.

  • Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning up bodily fluids like vomit.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and running water.

  • Immediately and thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant.

  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linen that may be contaminated with stool or vomit, using hot water and detergent.


Anthony Albanese dismisses suggestion of federal Labor endorsing NSW Liberals

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and the New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, have just wrapped up a joint press conference in the Blue Mountains.

The leaders announced $100m in federal funds to improve safety on the Bells Line of Road which has been heavily affected by extreme weather.

Asked if the joint appearance could be seen as a federal Labor endorsement of Perrottet ahead of the state election in March, the prime minister insisted he would be campaigning for the opposition leader, Chris Minns.

He said:

I get on quite well with this bloke but I want Chris Minns to win the election in March. That should come as no surprise to the premier, but I will work with governments of all persuasions in the national interest. That is my job.

He advised the premier to stand beside the federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, “as much as possible” in the lead-up to polling day.


PM addresses Black Hawk fleet purchase and ADF training of Ukraine forces

Albanese has addressed recent defence decisions in a presser, including the replacement of a European-made Taipan helicopter fleet with US-made Black Hawks.

You have already seen some decisions announced regarding helicopters and missiles. You will see further updates in coming months about submarines going forward as well.

We want to make sure that Australia [uses] every single dollar that goes into the defence [in] the most effective way possible. And we think that this decision on Black Hawks is a positive one that will make a difference for supporting the defence of our nation.

On increased support to Ukraine, he says “we are already doing more than any other non-Nato country”.

Today, of course, there is the news that our commitment to send 70 ADF personnel to the United Kingdom to train Ukrainian forces in combat will be a substantial contribution.

That comes on top of the Bushmasters and other support that we have provided on the ground. I myself visited President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the capital last year and I made that visit to clearly convey to the government and the people of Ukraine that Australia stands with them in defending their national sovereignty.

Understand the struggle is not just about Ukraine and Russia. It is a struggle for the rule of law, whether sovereign borders should continue to be respected, whether a bigger nation can just invade a smaller nation without any consequences.


PM rejects calls for gas market intervention overhaul

In a presser, Anthony Albanese has dismissed calls for the government’s gas market intervention to be overhauled, after claims it has contributed to supply issues and price hikes.

We will see the benefit flow through and indeed we are already seeing some benefit. When you look at what the projected deals are down the track, just our statements that we made at the end of last year in the months leading up to the announcements of both gas and coal had an impact on futures, when it comes to energy prices, on lowering those prices.

In spite of the rhetoric … about a gas-led recovery, what other projects began under the former government? … Not a single one commenced or built or opened during that decade in office, because the market is speaking.

And that is why we have worked with New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, all state governments to make a difference in the medium and long-term … The price caps, on gas and coal, have not held us back from making those medium and long-term investments.


Airbus releases statement regarding Black Hawk fleet purchase

Airbus has responded very cautiously to the announcement that the Australian government will buy 40 Black Hawks from the US as a replacement for the Airbus-backed MRH90 Taipan fleet.

The French government part-owns Airbus.

An Airbus spokesperson said in a statement:

Airbus acknowledges the decision by the Australian Government. We remain fully committed to providing our full support for the MRH90 fleet in Australia for as long as it remains in service.

We recognise the air crews and support staff from the Army and Airbus who have ensured the fleet has operated safely and completed important missions. We will work with the Australian Government and our employees to provide assistance for the impacted workers to remain within the country’s aerospace industry.

Australia remains a key market for Airbus across its businesses, including commercial aircraft, helicopters, defence and space. We are fully committed to building on our significant presence in the country, together with our customers, partners and government stakeholders.


Dutton claims Black Hawk helicopters were ‘handed to’ Richard Marles ‘on a silver platter’ despite no signed contract

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has labelled the acquisition of 40 US Black Hawk helicopters as “a great thing” – but also accused the defence minister, Richard Marles, of moving too slowly to finalise the deal.

Dutton told reporters at his press conference earlier today:

This was handed to him on a silver platter. I don’t know what’s gone wrong in his office.

Dutton also made the claim:

The Black Hawks were ordered when we were in government.

While it is true it was foreshadowed by Dutton in late 2021 when he was still defence minister, officials have said contracts were not signed. People within the Labor government are today pointing to this exchange from Senate estimates in November 2022:

Australian army chief Lt Gen Simon Stuart:

I won’t comment on Mr Dutton’s public remarks, but I can confirm that there is no contract in effect for Black Hawk.

Labor senator Nita Green:

And no contract was signed before caretaker period?


That’s correct.


So to say the deal was done is incorrect?

Vice chief of the Australian defence force, Vice Adm David Johnston:

The department would have needed authority to approach the US to have gained the price and availability assessment, so that would have been a decision of the government to authorise us to make that request.


But the helicopters haven’t been ordered and there’s no contract signed?




Queensland government defends ongoing maternity bypass

Queensland’s health minister Yvette D’Ath blames a lack of doctors for a maternity bypass preventing mothers from giving birth in Gladstone, AAP reports.

The Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service has already been on maternity bypass for more than six months, with the government saying that that will continue until another four obstetricians can be recruited, which will likely be mid-2023.

This is preventing most local women from giving birth in the hospital, unless by elective caesarean. Alternative, they have to drive more than 100km to Rockhampton when they go into labour – that is a 1hr and 20min drive.

D’Ath says it would be unsafe to restart full birthing services at Gladstone until all 10 obstetrician positions are filled at the central Queensland facility.

“What would be unacceptable is if we sought to bring those services back online in an unsafe way, we cannot do that,” she told reporters today.

Local health authorities have been trying to recruit obstetricians but face intense competition due to shortages of specialist doctors both domestically and internationally.


Chris Bowen says energy bill relief is coming

There is more back and forth over the federal government’s price caps on wholesale gas and coal, AAP reports.

The government says the caps will eventually drive down energy bills despite reports retail gas prices have surged by around 20%.

The energy minister, Chris Bowen, says “the price rises will be a lot less than what they would have been without the intervention”.

“They have come down substantially, and that will flow through to the price increases we would have seen otherwise,” he told ABC radio.

But the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, says the gas price cap was not working as intended.

“We warned it would be a disaster, and we said it shouldn’t be done,” he told reporters today. “They did it, and what are we seeing now? An increase in prices.”

The industry minister, Ed Husic, said Australian gas companies were “addicted” to huge war-driven profits.

“There might be some that are addicted to the Putin profits that they were making, and they’re going through withdrawal symptoms. But they should be under no illusion about the determination of the government to get the balance right in terms of pricing,” he told Sky News yesterday.

Industry minister Ed Husic.
Industry minister Ed Husic. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Dutton said Husic had “gone rogue” and his words were not conducive to a good outcome. The opposition says increasing gas supply is the only way to drive down prices.


Albanese says Australia’s position on Assange ‘very clear to our friends’

In his morning round of interviews, Anthony Albanese was also asked for the latest on Australia’s call for proceedings against WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange to be brought to a close.

The prime minister alluded to “a concerted effort diplomatically” and said the Australian government’s position was “being made very clear to our friends”.

Assange, an Australian citizen, remains in Belmarsh prison in London as he fights a US attempt to extradite him to face charges in connection with the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as well as diplomatic cables.

The ABC Radio Sydney host James Valentine brought up the topic on behalf of his listeners, saying “we had three or four texts on this, people saying, ‘Could you put pressure on the US to ask them to stop trying to get the extradition? Why can’t the UK just release him? Isn’t he Australia’s issue now?’”

Albanese at first resisted that framing, relying on the technical details of the case:

Well, he’s not Australia’s issue, because it’s the US seeking to extradite someone under US law from the UK under UK law.

But when Valentine pointed out that Assange is an Australian, Albanese repeated his longstanding position on the matter:

Yes. And I agree that enough is enough. It’s time this issue was brought to a close. And I’ve made that very clear to the US administration and to the UK government as well, that my view hasn’t changed from the view I had when I was opposition leader, which is that it’s time that this was brought to a close.

This is similar to what Albanese has said many times, including in parliament in late November (when he said he had raised the Assange case “recently in meetings” with US representatives and he vowed to continue to press for it to be brought to a close).
In today’s ABC interview, when pressed specifically on whether there was any progress in those diplomatic efforts, Albanese replied:

Well, Australia’s is acting diplomatically. And the way that these issues are often brought to a close isn’t through, with due respect, isn’t through radio interviews, it’s by a concerted effort diplomatically. And the Australian government’s position is clear and is being made very clear to our friends.

An person holds up a sign in support of freeing imprisoned journalist Julian Assange at a rally outside the British consulate in New York on 10 December 2022.
An person holds up a sign in support of freeing imprisoned journalist Julian Assange at a rally outside the British consulate in New York on 10 December 2022. Photograph: Laura Brett/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock


Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce retires from AFLW

Pearce, one of the biggest stars of the AFLW competition since its 2017 inception, will join the coaching ranks of AFL premiers Geelong, AAP reports.

She says leading the Demons to the AFLW premiership last November is the perfect note on which to finish her playing career.

“I’m closing a chapter on my playing career with a very full heart,” she told reporters today. “I will miss the whole program and players and staff ... this has probably been the hardest thing in making this decision.

“It has been an emotional time.”

A pioneer. A premiership captain. A legacy unmatched. ✨

Daisy Pearce has called time on her AFLW playing career after 55 games, six seasons + an unrivalled impact on the game. ❤️

📝 |

— Melbourne AFLW (@MelbourneAFLW) January 17, 2023

Pearce, 34, took a season off to give birth to twins but returned to action in 2020 and, along with Adelaide and Port Adelaide’s Erin Phillips, was the highest-profile player in the AFLW.

Her retirement comes after captaining Melbourne for six seasons and winning three club champion awards and three All-Australian selections.

Daisy Pearce speaks with media during the Melbourne Demons AFLW press conference announcing her retirement at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday.
Daisy Pearce speaks with media during the Melbourne Demons AFLW press conference announcing her retirement at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday. Photograph: Michael Willson/AFL Photos/Getty Images


China’s car exports to Australia are just beginning to accelerate

It wasn’t that long ago that China was known abroad as merely a maker of car parts rather than an assembler of vehicles for exports.

The country has been the world’s biggest market for autos for about a decade. One consequence of a slowing domestic economy has been to nudge China-based carmakers to explore exports. Last year, China’s auto shipments jumped by more than half to top 3.1m, according to Caixin, a Chinese news service.

We asked the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries to share their numbers on how quickly sales of Chinese vehicles into Australia have been growing.

Those shipments, in fact, jumped 61% in 2022, the most of any country, as we wrote about here:

At just over 122,000 vehicles, Chinese-built vehicles are catching up on South Korea‘s sales of almost 160,000 (up 9.8%). Thailand-sourced autos numbered almost 246,000 (up 6.5%) and Japan’s 330,000 (down 5.9%) are the higher-ranked nations.

An interesting aspect of the Chinese sales is the role of electric vehicles. Australians buying Teslas or Polestar (AKA Volvo) will be purchasing a Chinese-made car.

Then there are MG and BYD (‘Build Your Dreams’, backed by US billionaire Warren Buffett) that are among Chinese brands offering EVs in the $40,000 range.

More than five years ago, this correspondent lunched in Beijing with a local academic who regularly advised Chinese carmakers. His message was simple: ditch petrol- or diesel-powered cars as soon as you can (2025 was his goal) and accelerate into EVs.

Of course, China doesn’t have the EV market all to themselves. But just as the country has come to dominate various renewable energy technologies, we shouldn’t be surprised if they aim to repeat that feat in EVs.


Queensland drops Covid protections in high-risk indoor settings

The Queensland government has ended its recommendations to wear masks indoors or on public transport.

Masks are also not required in healthcare settings, crowded indoor spaces or in ride-share services, ending the protections in place since early November.

The acting premier, Steven Miles, told reporters today “Queenslanders can still wear a mask if they choose to do so” and they should follow the advice of health professionals.

The state’s chief health officer, Dr John Gerrard, said Queenslanders must not forget that the virus is still here.

We’ll keep the traffic light system going as long as there are frequent waves,

If you are unwell, please stay at home and do a [RAT]. Report that [RAT result]. The data we get from those is invaluable.


Woolies stays on brand as Optus suffers $1.2bn hit

Woolworths is the country’s most valuable brand, while Optus’ reputation took a significant hit following last year’s cyber-attack that exposed millions of Australians to the risk of identity theft and fraud.

The Woolworths brand is worth $16.2bn.
The Woolworths brand is worth $16.2bn. Photograph: Rafael Henrique/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

In its annual analysis, Brand Finance Australia calculated that the telco’s brand was on track to increase in value before the hack, which represented a $1.2bn cost to its reputation, not including the operational fallout.

The Woolworths brand is now worth $16.2bn, up 18%, despite suffering supply strains during the Covid-19 pandemic. Telstra, Coles, the big banks, BHP and Bunnings all have highly valuable brands, with premiums placed on their trademarks and logos.


Queensland lowers Covid-19 pandemic alert level

Some Covid updates coming out of Queensland: the state will lower its coronavirus alert level to green as the state emerges from its fourth wave of Covid-19, AAP reports.

The acting premier, Steven Miles, says the virus alert level will drop after nine weeks of amber-level restrictions under the state’s traffic light system.

This means Queensland is no longer in the grip of a Covid-19 wave, with low rates of community transmission. People are still being urged to stay home if they are sick.

Queensland deputy premier Steven Miles.
Queensland deputy premier Steven Miles. Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP


Fun fact: echidnas blow snot bubbles to stay cool

In searing Australian heat, the furry/spiky/pointy-beaked critters don’t perform the usual behaviours animals rely on to avoid overheating, according to AAP reports on research from Curtin University.

Echidnas don’t have the right glands, so can’t sweat. Nor do they pant or lick themselves. But it turns out blowing snot bubbles can cool a pool of blood at the top of their elongated beaks.

They also perform belly flops on cool surfaces, allowing the escape of heat when their spineless tummies make contact with patches of shady ground or hollowed-out logs.

“They blow mucus bubbles out of their nose and they burst and wet the tip of their snout,” Dr Christine Cooper from Curtin University says.

“That means evaporation can cool the big pool of blood that’s just under the skin at the tip of their nose. When we looked at the temperature of their snouts it was really quite cold.”

Blowing snot bubbles can cool a pool of blood at the top of echidnas’ elongated beaks.
Blowing snot bubbles can cool a pool of blood at the top of echidnas’ elongated beaks. Photograph: Heather Markland


Prime minister Albanese remembers Granville train disaster in speech at memorial service

It is a solemn honour to be with you today. Even with the passage of 46 years, the anniversary of the Granville train disaster sits so heavily in the soul of the nation.

Six years after the NSW parliament made its apology to the victims, survivors and first responders, I am grateful to have this moment to extend my sorrow and regret to everyone whose life was changed utterly and tragically that day.

For the people boarding train No 108 on the morning of 18 January 1977, it was, of course, just another day … That morning they walked out of their front doors, in all likelihood barely even giving a thought to how – like clockwork – they would return home that evening. It wasn’t to be. For so very many of them, so close to where we are gathered now, the clock stopped … And for those who lived to see the light again, life would never be the same.

For most of us, what remains of Granville nearly half a century on is a collection of distressing images and written records … For those who were there on the 18th of January – the survivors and the first responders, and for the family, friends and communities of the victims – the words and images that remain are precious artefacts of those who died.

Today is about those we lost, and those who live on with their memories. The 84 who tragically died that day. The hundreds broken in body and wounded in spirit. The first responders and volunteers who worked in heat and dust and danger to assist the injured and comfort the dying.

Responders arrived to scenes that no one should ever be subjected to. But they were there, their compassion, their courage and the sheer power of their humanity driving them to do everything within their power to save life. To save limb. To help their fellow human beings in their moment of greatest need. Fighting through exhaustion in the hope of being able to soften the horror. In the darkness of that distant morning, they were shafts of light.

Nearly half a century on, we think of them still. The years not lived, the dreams not realised. And the great promise of those lives unfulfilled … We think of the families and the loved ones and friends, whose own lives were changed forever. Grief may be softened by time, but it does not fade. And we think of those who survived, and all they endured – in so many ways.

We hold them all in our hearts, and we carry them with us. They are part of us still, and always will be.

Friends and family of those who lost their lives in the Granville train disaster are reflected on a memorial in Sydney in 2008.
Friends and family of those who lost their lives in the Granville train disaster are reflected on a memorial in Sydney in 2008. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP


Albanese is being ‘very tricky’ by not being clear on legislation of voice: Dutton

Dutton has accused Anthony Albanese of being “very tricky” for not saying whether the government will legislate the Indigenous voice if the referendum to constitutionally entrench it is defeated.

Dutton said:

If the constitutional question goes down, if Australians say, “I just don’t have the detail, I don’t understand what the prime minister is talking about,” and they vote against it, the prime minister can legislate in the parliament in a heartbeat. I’ve made this point with my letter to him a couple of weeks ago. The prime minister has control, an absolute majority in the lower house. He can pass whatever bill he wants when parliament goes back in a fortnight’s time. He has control of the Senate with the Greens and he could get this bill through immediately if that’s his want.

Is he saying to the Australian public, if you vote no in the referendum, that he will legislate the next day to bring it in? If that’s the case, well, pass the legislation now and demonstrate to Australians how it can work.

Leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton.
Leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton. Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP


Dutton: PM ‘didn’t know what he was talking about’ in interview on Indigenous voice

In a presser, opposition leader Peter Dutton slams prime minister Anthony Albanese’s interview on 2GB this morning on the Indigenous voice to parliament as a “train wreck”:

As you would have seen, the prime minister on 2GB, on the Ben Fordham show this morning, had a train wreck of an interview with Ben. It was just a shocker.

So I’d just say to the Australian public, if Anthony Albanese … doesn’t understand how the voice will operate, how can Australians be expected to understand how the voice will operate without the detail?

There’s enormous goodwill within the Australian public to make sure that we address the concerns of Indigenous Australians, but if the prime minister wants a model which is enshrined in the constitution, which is a very big deal in our country, then he needs to explain the detail.

The prime minister didn’t know what he was talking about.

It’s no wonder Australians are confused. And if Anthony Albanese can’t explain it to you, why would you vote for it?

(We covered the 2GB interview earlier in today’s blog - read about it here.)


Energy users should expect higher prices for some time yet, ACCC boss says

Households and businesses are unlikely to see lower power bills immediately from the federal government’s intervention in the energy market, AAP reports.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, said intervening in the energy market would prevent increases higher than those estimated in the budget, but energy users can still expect elevated prices for a while yet.

Predictions in the October budget showed electricity prices likely increasing by 56% over two years and gas prices by 20% annually in the same period.

Cass-Gottlieb spoke to ABC RN this morning:

Treasury has forecast an estimated 20 per cent increase this year as a result of the increased prices flowing through post-the Ukraine invasion and the significant global disruption.

This intervention is seeking to mitigate it such that there are no greater increases over 2023, and to see reductions flow through.

She said the price caps should eventually work to reduce prices at the top of the supply chain, which would prompt competition between retailers to lower prices.

The federal government intervened in the energy market late last year, implementing a temporary 12-month price cap on coal and gas.

Gas retailers say they have been struggling to lock in new contracts with producers since the price cap came into force. In response, the ACCC provided guidelines yesterday to help gas companies better understand their obligations, while also confirming it would investigate producers trying to avoid supplying gas below the price cap under the cover of confusion.

You can find more on the gas price caps here:


China is one of Australia’s ‘major challenges’, Chalmers says, but that’s not news

China’s economy is critical for Australia’s future, as we know, since it dominates our exports, accounting for about a third. Our next most important markets, such as Japan and South Korea, also have their economic wagons hitched to their giant neighbour.

Yesterday we had China’s GDP figures for 2022, with growth coming in at its second-slowest since the mid-1970s (when the nation started opening up):

China’s stats carry various qualifiers, as we noted, not least the suspiciously speedy compilation of figures so soon after the year has ended.

But still, they did surprise generally on the upside, particularly for how little retail sales slumped (1.8% v 9% forecast) in December. That was when the tight Covid-zero tolerance policies suddenly became Covid-max, throwing workplaces and families into mayhem.

Cue the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who opted not to accentuate the positives, warning instead: “We see China’s slowing growth as one of the major economic challenges facing Australia at the start of 2023”.

“The global economy is a volatile place right now and developments in China are a big part of that,” Chalmers said.

It seems likely that China is unable to play the role it did in 2008. Then, faced with the global financial crisis, it switched on a massive investment binge that helped the world avoid a much deeper slump (and kept Australia out of recession).

But that’s not exactly news, having been flagged widely in the past year. Here’s one stab, from August:

The other big story from yesterday – China’s population shrinking for the first time in 60 years – is also not so newsy. The decline was widely seen coming.

The scary projection, though, is the People’s Republic is on track to have half the people by 2100, slumping from 1.4bn now to 587m. (Some think even that 1.4bn figure is exaggerated.)

What then to make of this data deluge?

Well, GDP is just a number and doesn’t necessarily imply “quality” growth, as China-based economists like Michael Pettis has been highlighting for years.

And also, beware of averages that mask underlying trends. Adam Tooze, a prominent economic historian, has lately drawn attention to an interesting study by McKinsey that looked into the role of microregions in driving economic growth.

“Bao’an, a district of Shenzhen, for instance, had comparable GDP per capita to Queens, New York, in 2019,” the report said. “Inhabitants of Karaikal in the Union Territory of Puducherry in India, lived on average with a GDP per capita equivalent to that in Pasco, Florida. Several districts in Beijing had GDP per capita similar to Baldwin, Alabama.”

In other words, economies are complex – and that’s even before issues of inequality arise from having pockets of plenty when many others miss out.


ACT ‘failed to learn lessons’ 20 years after Canberra fire

Canberra is today marking the 20-year anniversary of its deadly 2003 bushfire disaster, which destroyed at least 470 homes, killed four people, and injured 490 others.

The bushfires were the most destructive in the ACT’s history.

Fires that had been burning in the mountains in the territory’s south-west for more than a week spread into suburban Canberra largely without warning to residents, causing mass destruction and loss of life.

The ACT government is holding a 20th anniversary commemorative event at Stromlo Forest Park, in the city’s west, later this evening.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Canberra bushfires. My thoughts with those who suffered on that day.

The Stromlo memorial is open for those who wish to leave a sprig of rosemary, and the service will be livestreamed from 6.30pm

— Andrew Leigh (@ALeighMP) January 17, 2023

The disaster exposed a series of failings in the ACT’s preparation and response. Earlier this month, an independent body set up to monitor the territory’s bushfire management and preparedness said the ACT remained underprepared for a similar disaster, because it had not properly accounted for the added risk of global heating and the city’s greatly expanded urban fringe.

The United Firefighters Union, which represents urban firefighters, issued a statement earlier this morning, saying that systemic failures involved in the 2003 fires remain unaddressed. The union criticised a lack of funding, inadequate firefighting resources, and a poor culture within the ACT’s emergency services agency.

After the Canberra bushfires destroyed nearly 500 homes and took four lives, the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency has still failed to learn the lessons of 2003.


Flood cleanup efforts set to begin in north Queensland

Hopeful news on the flooding front: residents in Mackay, north Queensland, are ready to start a big cleanup after days of heavy rain and flooding, AAP reports.

Mackay regional council mayor, Greg Williamson, said things were looking a lot brighter this morning and the weather was clearing.

“The system looks like it’s going to clear away from the coast today, then the big cleanup starts,” he told Nine’s Today program.

The highway to the north of us is in pretty bad condition, but, look … we’ve got our crews out ready to go out.

We’ve had a lot of water around, and now we’ll just get back to life as normal, hopefully.

Williamson also said he expected the highway would reopen around midday.

About 50 roads in the area are still flooded, and the SES responded to more than 70 calls for help, mostly for leaking roofs.

Significant rainfall has meant Mackay has been experiencing some localised flooding, but in good news no homes have been inundated.

Several road closures remain in place, with land slips and debris on roads and bridges.#BackItUp #IfItsFloodedForgetIt

— Queensland Reconstruction Authority (@QReconstruction) January 17, 2023


Federal public servants no longer required to take 26 January off

Federal public servants are now allowed to work on 26 January – the day viewed by many as Invasion Day – if they don’t want to mark Australia Day.

The decision by Katy Gallagher, minister for finance, is a reversal of the former Coalition government’s directive, which forced public service staff to take off the date as a public holiday.

Now they can now substitute a day off for Australia Day and other public holidays.


Defence minister says ADF training given to Ukraine forces ‘will save lives’

More from Richard Marles, the deputy prime minister and defence minister, on ADF personnel heading to the UK to train Ukrainian troops.

Marles tells ABC News this morning the training revolves around “basic infantry tactics” to “give these Ukrainian soldiers the skills they need to equip them on the battlefield”.

“The Ukrainian army right now is really a reservist army, it is citizen soldiers, people who are giving up their day jobs to help fight for their country and the heart is very much there,” he says.

“The training that will be provided by the Australian troops … it will save lives, and it will keep Ukraine in the fight which is really important.”


Good drivers in NSW to get one-off reprieve on minor traffic fines under Coalition election pledge

News for drivers in NSW – if you have a three-year clean driving record, you could dodge fines for minor driving offences in a newly announced election policy from the NSW government, AAP reports.

Good drivers will be given a one-off chance to escape a fine for offences including low-range speeding, disobeying no left or right-hand turn signs or driving in a bus lane, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Those drivers will save $124 on fines where the speed limit was exceeded by less than 10km/h, $275 for ignoring a no left or right-hand turn sign, and up to $2200 for driving in a bus lane under the government’s plan.

The promise from the government comes one day after NSW Labor revealed its own election promise to reward NSW motorists, offering to remove a demerit point after 12 months of good driving.


Barty is back … in a way

Ash Barty has returned to Melbourne Park to launch First Nations Day at the Australian Open this morning.

2022 #AusOpen champ Ash Barty is back on Margaret Court to launch First Nations day with legend Yvonne Goolagong. So good seeing Barty back PLAYING 🎾 getting tested by the First Nations ball-kid squad. Sadly it hasn’t inspired a return, but the next gen is getting ready @abcnews

— Zalika Rizmal (@Zalika_R) January 17, 2023

A year after breaking the country’s 44-year Australian Open singles title drought, Barty is back – hitting with the First Nations ballkid squad, AAP reports.

The retired champion is pregnant and awaiting the birth of her first child this year with golfer-husband Garry Kissick.


Albanese does not rule out Labor legislating voice in event of vote loss

Anthony Albanese was asked last night on Sky News and again on 2GB Radio this morning whether Labor would legislate the Indigenous voice if the referendum to entrench it in the constitution fails.

Albanese told 2GB Radio:

Well, one of the things that I’m not doing is leading with a position that assumes a loss of a referendum. That would not be a very sensible thing to do. And I am determined to do what I can, along with so many other Australians who will be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote from across the political spectrum. And that is my focus.

Responding to the suggestion if it were legislated anyway this would mean the vote in the referendum doesn’t count for anything, he replied:

It does count. The whole point of a referendum is that you change the constitution. And that will do just two things.

One, it will recognise First Nations people, Aboriginal Australians, in our constitution, in our nation’s birth certificate. That is something that’s been spoken about for decades, but never achieved.

And secondly, it will say that there needs to be a consultative body, not a body that makes determination or makes funding decisions, but one that enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be asked about policies that will directly impact them so that we can close the gap in education, in health, in all of those issues.

That is what is being asked. Now, the issue of legislation for the voice comes after that, because the voice is subservient to the parliament. It’s not seeking to be above it, or even beside it. It’s just a body where the parliament will continue to be the decision-making body in Australia.


PM hints at new funding for National Library

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, hinted that “national institutions” like the National Library and Archives may get new funding in the federal budget on ABC Radio Sydney this morning.

Big hint National Library, Archives (Trove) etc will get $$$ in budget

Albanese: "We will deal with this as part of budget ... but you're right the national institutions have been starved of funds. They're national assets that are a very important part of our fabric" #auspol

— Paul Karp (@Paul_Karp) January 17, 2023

This comes after the arts minister, Tony Burke, told the Woodford Folk Festival in December that funding for institutions such as the national museum, gallery, archives and Trove will not be contained in the national cultural policy to be released later this month. But Burke did promise “major decisions” to correct “systematic underfunding” – suggesting these would be contained in the budget.

Paul Karp has written about that here:

And you can read more about the National Library’s woes here:


Sign up to Guardian Australia’s Morning Mail

In today’s morning mail wrap: Philip Ruddock’s Sydney council is challenging the legality of GST levies on local government, almost two-thirds of sharks and rays that live around the world’s coral reefs are at risk of extinction, and Greta Thunberg was among climate activists carried away by police during a protest against the demolition of a German village to make way for a coalmine.

Read the full wrap up by Imogen Dewey here:


Australian Open disrupted by weather

Extreme heat and late night rain has left 22 first-round singles matches cancelled or postponed into day three of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

Australians Thanasi Kokkinakis, Max Purcell and Aleksandar Vukic are among players who will have to finish their respective matches today, AAP reports.

As of last night, 10 matches had been cancelled and another 12 postponed at varying stages. They will all need to be recommenced or started today, when second rounds will start as well.

Thanasi Kokkinakis
Thanasi Kokkinakis’s round one singles match against Fabio Fognini was postponed due to rain. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Three people clear water from an Australian Open tennis court
Rain interrupts play during the first round at the 2023 Australian Open. Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA


Delivery of Black Hawk helicopters to commence this year

Defence has now confirmed the government will acquire 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian army.

The head of land capability, Maj Gen Jeremy King, described it as “an important acquisition which will meet the strategic needs of the Australian army”.

He said in the statement:

The Black Hawk capability will be a crucial element for us to protect Australia’s sovereignty, and deliver foreign policy objectives, including providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The Black Hawk will support the deployment of our troops and their equipment where they are needed in times of crisis. The Black Hawk is a reliable, proven and mature platform supported by a robust global supply chain.

This acquisition will mean we can continue to defend Australia and respond in times of need in a safe and effective way for years to come.

The statement confirms that the Black Hawks will operate from Oakey in Queensland and Holsworthy in New South Wales. It says this effort will be “supported by a highly skilled, blended maintenance workforce including Australian industry contractors”.

Defence says Australian industry “will be involved in logistic support, warehousing services, training development and engineering services, as well in the aircraft’s global supply chain”.

This will not only support the capability, but also maximise Australian industry participation, laying a foundation for future helicopter industry growth across the service life of the helicopter.

Delivery of the Black Hawk helicopters will commence this year.


The background behind Australia’s Black Hawk purchase

Today’s government announcement on the acquisition of US Black Hawk helicopters is not a surprise: it has been in the works for quite some time, starting under the former Coalition government.

In 2021 the then defence minister, Peter Dutton, announced the Australian government had formally requested advice from the US on the acquisition of up to 40 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian army “as an alternative platform to the MRH90 Taipan”. It was presented as a done deal by Dutton at the time: he said the Taipans had been found to be “unreliable” and the government would buy up to 40 Black Hawk helicopters.

But it was still subject to government consideration, a process that continued when Labor took office.

Labor has long been critical of the handling of the original acquisition of the European-backed MRH90 Taipan. Australia bought 47 of the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters for use by the army and the navy, but the Howard government-era acquisition had been listed as a “project of concern” since 2011.

The Australian National Audit Office has previously found “significant implications” from the Howard government’s decision in 2004 to approve the acquisition of the MRH90 aircraft, instead of the initial defence department recommendation for Black Hawks.

In 2021 it emerged that the defence department was spending $37m to hire private helicopters as it grappled with low availability of the trouble-plagued Taipan choppers.

Then, in Senate estimates two months ago, officials said the government was paying to maintain seven Taipan helicopters in a Brisbane warehouse after the navy ceased using them, saying this would ensure the parts still had resale value once the government decided whether to dump the fleet entirely.


Voice will not impede normal process of parliament, PM says

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is now on ABC Radio Sydney talking about the principles behind the Indigenous voice to parliament and the fact the constitution will set out the principle and the detail will be legislated by parliament.

He acknowledges how the voice operates might change in future, just like other federal legislation changes from time to time. Albanese says it is the job of the constitution to set out the broad principles of the way that Australia functions. He says policy and outcomes will be better if Indigenous Australians are consulted on matters that directly affect them.

Albanese says on Peter Dutton’s call for more detail:

There is an enormous amount of detail out there already about how it might operate but it’s not prescriptive because it’s not something that is enshrined in stone if you like.

Albanese suggests there would be an obligation to consult on native title but a preference to consult on other issues – but says none of that would be subject to court challenges. He says the normal processes of the parliament can occur unimpeded:

It has no impact on our democratic system and our parliamentary processes – that remains completely intact. This is just an advisory body.


ADF personnel head to UK to train Ukrainian troops

Back to the deputy prime minister and defence minister, Richard Marles, on ABC RN this morning – this time talking about the 70 Australian defence personnel heading off to the UK today to train Ukrainian recruits.

Marles said:

This is certainly the first training initiative that we will be a part of. It’s a training initiative which is being led by the United Kingdom and is in the United Kingdom. So it’s important to understand – we’re not sending troops to Ukraine, we’re sending troops to Britain, where they will be training those who are going into the Ukrainian.

It forms part of an enduring commitment, really, that we’ve been making to Ukraine as part of this conflict, because we think it’s really important that we stand with Ukraine.

This comes after Ukraine called for more Australian military aid on Monday following a Russian missile strike that killed 40 people in a residential block in Dnipro on Saturday.

“At the time Australia is having a summer vacation, Ukrainians are getting killed in large numbers,” Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, told ABC Radio on Monday morning.

In order for us to advance and to be able to kick Russians out of Ukraine, we need a different armour and tanks … as well as fighting capabilities.

Read more on this from our foreign affairs and defence correspondent, Daniel Hurst, here:


Voice referendum not about ‘whether there will be an office’, PM says

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has spoken to 2GB Radio about the Indigenous voice, rejecting suggestions that it will result in litigation if the parliament does not follow its advice as “not correct”.

In an at-time testy exchange the host Ben Fordham quoted former high court justice Ian Callinan who has written that “stretching my imagination only a little, I would foresee a decade or more of constitutional and administrative law litigation arising out of a voice”. Callinan concluded that sentence “whether constitutionally entrenched or not” but Fordham did not read the full quote.

Albanese said that other high court justices, including former chief justice Robert French disagreed. Albanese revealed the draft words to insert into the constitution came from consultations with experts including former high court judges, but not the solicitor general.

Fordham read quotes from leading lights including Marcia Langton and Bill Shorten about the benefits of legislating the voice first. Albanese replied that Fordham knows “full well” that is not their current position. He explained the comments were made “in the context of a government that refused to hold a referendum and said that they would legislate rather than have a referendum”.

Fordham then tried a series of rapid fire questions in search of detail:

  • Will there be premises in Canberra? Albanese: “There will be an office, yes.”

  • Will members of the voice be paid? Albanese: “There’s no suggestion of that,” although he qualified that this doesn’t necessarily mean no.

  • Will members be appointed or elected? Albanese said the Calma-Langton report spoke of two members from each state and territory and representatives for remote communities.

Albanese said:

The way that Noel Pearson has put it is that you’re making a decision over, whether there will be a Sydney Harbour Bridge or not and then you decide how many lanes it will be, which will go in what direction, what the toll will be some of that detail.

The question before the Australian people is a really simple one … It doesn’t go to our constitution, doesn’t go to whether they’re being office somewhere or not. It doesn’t even have, our constitution, doesn’t have the office of prime minister in it. The constitution is the birth certificate of the nation that has in it the principles all of the detail, all of the detail will be subject of legislation that everyone in the parliament are so the house of reps and the Senate. They’ll be processes to deal with these issues. A whole range of the further serious detail. Not whether they’ll be an office or not.


Defence minister says Australia has spoken to France about replacing European-made helicopters

The deputy prime minister and defence minister, Richard Marles, has said the Australian army’s early replacement of its European-made Taipan helicopter fleet with American-made Black Hawk helicopters was a decision “we’ve spoken a lot to France about” on ABC RN this morning.

The reason we’ve decided to go with the Black Hawks, and have to transition away from the Taipans, is because really over the course of the last decade we’ve struggled in terms of getting the hours out of the Taipans that we would want, both with maintenance of having spare parts available.

It’s obviously a decision that we’ve spoken a lot to France about.

I think obviously the French would have liked us to stay with the Taipans but … really issue with France is about dealing with the French with honesty … and that’s what we’ve done in respect of this decision.

I’ve spoken with my counterpart defence minister Sébastien Lecornu on a number of occasions. They are aware of the thinking that we had about the process that we’ve gone through.

We’ve been completely clear with them and I, you know, I think they’ve appreciated the upfront way in which we’ve gone about making this decision.


Australia to buy US-made Black Hawk helicopters

There are reports the Australian army will replace its European-made Taipan helicopter fleet early with an estimated $2.8bn purchase of 40 American-made Black Hawk helicopters.

#breaking @AustralianArmy will acquire 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to operate from Oakey in Queensland and Holsworthy in New South Wales, with delivery of the aircraft to begin this year

— Andrew Greene (@AndrewBGreene) January 17, 2023

In 2021, the army announced it would ditch the fleet of Taipan helicopters a decade earlier than planned.

We anticipate the federal government’s announcement of the acquisition later today.


Mackay still at risk of flooding

Residents in Mackay, north Queensland, are still at serious risk of flooding after days of heavy rainfall, AAP reports.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicted rainfall over the Central Coast would shift offshore over last night. A severe weather warning remained in place, stretching from Sarina to Bowen in the north. Many waterways in the area also broke their banks after more than 300mm of rain fell in the 24 hours to Tuesday afternoon.

The Mackay Regional Council warned people living in the Sandy Creek, Eton and Kinchant Dam areas they could see more flooding in low-lying parts depending on the amount of rainfall moving into Wednesday.

“Make sure you have enough food, water, medicine and pet food for two days,” it said. “Stay away from rivers and creeks. Stay informed because conditions may change overnight.”

🚧 Reminder: Motorists can check road conditions and closures via council's Emergency Dashboard 👉

🚫 Remember if it's flooded, forget it!

— Mackay Regional Council (@mackaycouncil) January 16, 2023

And storms swept across parts of western Victoria overnight, after the state was hit with a severe thunderstorm warning from the Bureau of Meteorology.

There are reports of trees falling on to powerlines, homes and even a parked car in South Yarra – and the SES received more than 202 calls for help, including 147 for fallen trees. About 10,000 homes are still without electricity.

⚠️A Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issued for damaging winds over parts of western Victoria. Stay up to date at ⚠️

— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) January 17, 2023


Good morning

And welcome to Wednesday’s Guardian Australia live blog.

We wake up to the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, responding late yesterday to data from Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics. China’s economy grew 3% in 2022, well below the country’s official target and the slowest since the mid-1970s (barring 2020).

Chalmers says this is “one of the major economic challenges facing Australia at the start of 2023”, adding that “the global economy is a volatile place right now and developments in China are a big part of that.” Read more on China’s troubled economic weather from our economics correspondent, Peter Hannam, here.

And speaking of weather, it continues to be temperamental across the country. While Sydney is finally forecast to enjoy its first 30C day in almost a year, flooding continues in northern Queensland, isolating thousands in communities pummelled by more rainfall into this morning. And temperatures dropped a sudden 10C yesterday evening in Victoria, followed by a storm that cut power to an estimated 10,000 homes.

I’m Rafqa Touma, taking the blog through the day. If you spot something you don’t want us to miss, you can tweet it my way @At_Raf_.

Let’s get started with the day’s rolling news coverage.



Josh Taylor and Rafqa Touma (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

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