What we learned: Wednesday 15 March
And that is all for this evening. Here is a wrap of today’s big news:
Power prices are set to increase as much as 23.7% from July in NSW, south-east Queensland and South Australia.
Naplan kicked off for 1.3 million students across Australia, being held online and in March instead of May for the first time since federal government reforms.
Federal and South Australian governments signed a cooperation deal on Aukus, with deputy prime minister Richard Marles saying the “massive endeavour” will introduce both new jobs and 800 university places to SA over four years. Here is a summary of what both governments have agreed on in preparation for Aukus.
Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating called the submarine agreement Labor’s “worst international decision” since conscription.
And opposition leader Peter Dutton added to the day’s Aukus ruckus, calling for Labor to rebuke Keating’s “unhinged” comments.
Climate protestor Violet Coco successfully appealed her imprisonment for blocking one lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a truck.
And ABC staff plan another walkout after union members rejected a revised offer from management.
Queensland Greens MP accuses committee of trying to ‘bury’ submission on youth crime
Queensland Greens MP Michael Berkman has accused a parliamentary committee of attempting to “bury” a whistleblower’s submission during a heated debate on the state’s controversial youth crime laws.
Watch house officer Steven Marshall’s submission to the state’s economic and governance committee detailed “human rights breaches” he claims he witnessed at Brisbane City watch house between 2018 and 2019.
The submission – which was quickly removed from the parliament website – outlined shocking allegations such as “illegal strip searches”, adults exposing themselves to children and staff wrapping towels around prisoners’ heads to avoid spit hood protocols.
Guardian Australia unsuccessfully sought a statement from the committee about why the submission was removed.
Berkman tabled Marshall’s submission to parliament on Wednesday as he claimed the committee had chosen to “bury” it rather than “shining some light” on it.
“I now table a copy of that submission so that it’s at least on the record in this debate,” he said.
Queensland police confirmed on Tuesday they were reviewing claims outlined in the submission, noting it was published by the committee “very briefly and then withdrawn”.
A police spokesperson said “an enquiry was made to the committee regarding the existence of submission 58 due to the QPS noting a discrepancy when cross-checking submissions against the list”.
The state parliament is debating the youth crime bill this week, which includes making breach of bail an offence for children and expanding an electronic monitoring trial for children as young as 15.
During the debate, Berkman was asked to leave the chamber before accusing the government of driving “a baseless, media driven response that suspends the Human Rights Act on four occasions to deny children their rights.”
This is a disgraceful piece of legislation and I hope each and every one of these members of the government feels shame.
Health minister Yvette D’Ath defended the government’s response, saying the laws were specifically targeted towards serious, repeat offenders.
The Greens’... position, it ignores all of the investment [the] government has made and continues to make to try to change the direction of the young kids’ lives going forward.”
What is really important is not just the time they spend in detention, but what we do to support them through the process ... and [that] wraparound support.
David Pocock: money in housing future fund ‘won’t even touch the sides’
Labor’s housing future fund is the backdrop of debate as Senate crossbenchers and independents demand more ambition to tackle Australia’s housing crisis.
Though the $10 billion proposal passed the lower house in February, Greens and independents in the Senate worry it doesn’t go far enough, AAP reports.
The allocated money will finance 30,000 social and affordable homes in the first five years. But as a parliamentary committee examines plans for the fund’s implementation, independent senator David Pocock says the allocated money is “not going to even touch the sides”.
He says the fund was on track to provide just 540 homes when there were 3,100 people on his jurisdiction’s social housing waiting list.
It sounds like a lot of money but when you break that down into available payments to build and maintain social homes, that money runs out pretty quickly.
The government will require the Greens’ vote to pass the bill – but they are calling for the removal of a $500 million annual spending cap, and for a minimum $5 billion to be invested every year.
In a submission to the committee, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing Association also called on the government to clarify the rationale behind the $500m annual limit.
Community Housing Industry Association chief executive officer Wendy Hayhurst recommended some tweaks but suggested the fund could be easily upscaled.
While the initial housing targets are modest, the HAFF can be scaled over time with regular top-ups and this could become the source of ongoing dependable funding needed to make inroads into the shortfalls in social affordable rental housing.
Workers in Australia’s Antarctic Division ‘left out of pocket’
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has lodged a dispute with the Fair Work Commission arguing many Antarctic expeditioners are owed thousands of dollars in unpaid meal allowances.
Expeditioners from across the country are required to stay in hotels while they complete pre-departure training in Hobart. This usually takes two to four weeks, but shipping delays meant some staff stayed in hotels for three months late last year.
Due to a housing shortage in Hobart, some expeditioners were given accommodation without kitchen facilities. The union said some staff received meal allowances while others did not. It alleges one person resorted to boiling eggs in a kettle.
Here’s the statement from the CPSU’s Tasmanian regional secretary, Zac Batchelor:
Workers in Australia’s Antarctic Division have been left out of pocket because of delays to expeditions that are out of their control, and their own employer’s refusal to appropriately support them during that time.
If an expeditioner is recruited to do a job that requires training in a different location and the department organises and funds that travel, then that person is, as far as the union is concerned, travelling and entitled to the allowances that come with that.
In the midst of an emerging recruitment and retention crisis, the last thing the AAD can afford to do right now is drain its own candidate pool.
A Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water spokesperson declined to comment “as the matter is subject to legal proceedings”.
The union said 301 expeditioners and head office staff have signed a petition calling on the department to pay uniform meal allowances to expeditioners.
Another class action to be launched against AFL over concussion-related injuries
AAP reports lead plaintiffs in the action include former Melbourne star Shaun Smith, Adelaide Crows premiership player Darren Jarman and the family of the late Shane Tuck.
Griffins Lawyers will file legal papers in Victoria’s supreme court by Friday seeking damages after eight years of working on the case.
Managing partner Greg Griffin says up to 300 players could join the action.
Through no fault of the players, they’ve been damaged in many respects.
There are many stories to be told, a lot of them aren’t very happy or pleasant, but they need to be told.
An AFL spokesperson says the health and safety of its players is a top priority.
The AFL takes concussion and the protection of the brain health of all those playing our game extremely seriously.
The AFL has made more than 30 changes to tribunal guidelines and on-field rules over the past two decades to further protect the head and annually updates the concussion guidelines to improve the response to head knocks in our game in accordance with current and evolving science.
Just a day earlier, Margalit Injury Lawyers lodged action seeking up to $1 billion in compensation from the AFL for players who sustained concussion-related injuries between 1985 and March 14 2023.
ABC staff will walk off the job for two hours next week
The move comes after union members rejected a revised offer from management.
The Community and Public Sector Union and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance held meetings on Wednesday and resolved that the sticking point is inadequate career pathways for ABC employees.
ABC employees will stop work for an hour at 7am and 3pm on Wednesday 22 March.
A planned strike was called off last week after ABC managing director David Anderson put forward a revised offer.
Queensland Greens introduce climate transition bill
A Greens proposal would see Queensland fossil fuel exports end in less than a decade in an effort to cut the state’s carbon emissions, AAP reports.
MP Michael Berkman tabled a bill in state parliament yesterday to set up an independent authority to work on a transition plan with coal and gas workers, including a job-for-job guarantee and free re-skilling.
Berkman says the state government doesn’t account for exported fossil fuels in its emissions data, but they still contribute to climate change in Queensland:
When we take into account our coal and gas exports, Australia’s absolute carbon footprint is among the highest in the world, roughly equal with Russia.
It’s a great shame that Queensland, identified as a potential leader in green steel manufacturing by experts ... is already falling behind on this.
NSW fire weather warning
The NSW Bureau of Meteorology has issued an extreme fire danger forecast for the Southern Ranges and Central Ranges districts going into Thursday.
Full points for ‘credibility and transparency’
New misinformation firm NewsGuard gives the ABC, the Australian and Guardian Australia full points on “credibility and transparency”.
The marking criteria included gathering and presenting information responsibly, regularly correcting errors, responsibly handling differences between news and opinion, avoiding deceptive headlines, and clearly disclosing ownership.
Search on for youths who allegedly mistreated penguins
Authorities are investigating claims several young people mistreated little penguins on the foreshore of Burnie in Tasmania, AAP reports.
An onlooker called the police at 6:30pm on Sunday after witnessing the incident.
One penguin is being cared for by a vet and will undergo surgery due to its injuries.
The Burnie foreshore is home to colonies of penguins, and holds dusk tours between October and March as the birds return from feeding at sea.
In 2018 a man bludgeoned six little penguins to death at Sulphar Creek, just ten minutes away from Burnie. He was sentenced to 49 hours of community service.
Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service is investigating the recent incident, and Tasmania Police sergeant Ben Elliot said police are “seeking public assistance”:
Police are seeking public assistance to identify those involved, particularly a young female who was carrying a distinctive, brightly coloured backpack.
We are urging anyone with information about the incident, including the identity of the youths, to contact police.
Safeguard mechanism explained
For anyone wanting to catch up on what the safeguard mechanism is – and don’t we all – this explainer is a place to start:
This piece gives some more up-to-date information about the sticking points in the negotiations between the government and the Senate crossbench:
Greens back independents’ push for fixed cap on emissions
Adam Bandt is backing a push by independent MPs for the Albanese government to introduce a fixed “cap” on carbon dioxide emissions under its planned changes to the safeguard mechanism to ensure industrial pollution does not keep increasing.
In a speech to the Australia Institute tonight, the Greens leader will say that Allegra Spender, Zali Steggall and other crossbenchers were right to call for steps to ensure emissions under the scheme came down. Spender and David Pocock have backed a limit. Steggall has backed introducing an explicit legal objective that emissions should decline.
The government says the scheme will avoid 205m tonnes by 2030 by requiring most major polluting industrial facilities to cut emissions intensity by 4.9% a year, starting in July.
Critics say this is not guaranteed because the government has not proposed limits on how many new coal and gas developments can open or the number of carbon offsets that companies can buy to meet their emissions obligations.
Bandt’s speech largely focuses on the Greens’ campaign for new coal and gas projects to be banned. He will say his party is “not asking for the perfect, just the bare minimum”.
We’re not going to get everything we want, we understand that ...
If Labor wants our support then they need to decide how desperate they are to keep opening up new coal and gas mines. Simple as that.
Speaking at a media conference earlier today, the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, said he and the Greens were talking about the safeguard mechanism design, but he was “not in discussions with the Greens through the media”.
As I’ve indicated many times, I’m more than happy to have good faith discussions ... Those discussions have been, and will be, in keeping with our mandate and our agenda, and they’ll continue in coming days.”
The legislation will be back before parliament next week.
Queensland MP Rob Katter says $180 handouts for flood victims ‘almost an insult’
As river levels peaked and monsoon rains drenched Katter’s north-west electorate of Traeger, homes, businesses, farms, roads and ports are left with damage costing millions. Residents airlifted to safety earlier this week are still unable to return to their homes, with police telling locals to avoid floodwaters after crocodile sightings, AAP reports.
The QLD state government is offering up to $180 grants for individuals or $900 for families, but Katter says that amount is “almost an insult”.
We’re used to looking after ourselves in the gulf, and if the government’s not gonna look after us we’ll have after ourselves.
It’s a shame it’s come to that but people are crying out for help up there. There’s a lot of mental distress at the moment because you’ve lost everything and 180 bucks is not even gonna buy groceries for the week.
Paul Keating on Aukus – video recap
Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating savaged his own party for signing up to the Aukus submarine deal at the National Press Club today.
He called the Aukus press event held in the US with Anthony Albanese, Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak “kabuki theatre,” said one of the “principle problems” of the deal was that “defence has overtaken foreign policy” and attacked foreign minister Penny Wong for “running around the Pacific Islands with a lei around your neck handing out money”.
Here’s the video recap if you missed his zingers in the blog earlier today:
How would you spend Australian tax dollars?
Government spending is always contentious – every choice is highly political. Australia has unveiled a plan to acquire a fleet of up to eight nuclear-powered submarines, to cost up to $58bn over the next 10 years. But what else could the money be spent on?
Nick Evershed, Andy Ball and Amy Remeikis have an interactive that lets you play treasurer. Test out your spendings and savings measures here:
Violet Coco’s successful appeal ‘vindication’, Greens MP says
Greens MP Sue Higginson says the successful appeal of Violet Coco – a climate protestor imprisoned for blocking one lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a truck – is a “victory and vindication” that the law was “unjust and cruel”.
The personal costs borne by Violet and other peaceful activists like her are extreme.
The cost to our democracy is now in full view and we should all be concerned.
Higginson said both the NSW Coalition and Labor created a “moral panic” in response to climate activist protests and “rushed anti-protest laws through parliament”.
Moral panic in response to the fundamental right to protest is dangerous to democracy. It causes unrestrained police and magistrate behaviour and that is what we have experienced. It is straight from a criminology textbook; it is dangerous and it is not the mark of a mature democracy.
The Greens will challenge the next parliament to review and repeal these anti-protest laws and to ensure that members of the community who engage in peaceful protest and nonviolent civil disobedience are not sentenced to prison terms.
Nearly a third of 107 homeless people who died in Perth last year were Aboriginal
One hundred and seven people died while homeless or after recently experiencing homelessness in Perth last year, nearly a third of whom were Aboriginal people, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.
Advocates fronted the ongoing inquiry into the financial administration of homelessness services in Western Australia this morning to speak about their work helping people experiencing homelessness or dealing with the public housing system.
In the hearing today, longtime advocate Dr Betsy Buchanan and campaigner Jesse Noakes from House the Homeless WA revealed the new data from Home2Health, the first organisation to comprehensively track homelessness-related deaths in the state, beginning in 2020.
The 107 deaths are an increase on the previous two years, and focus only on the Perth metropolitan area. Fifty-six people in Perth died while homeless in 2020, and 70 people the following year.
The matter of evictions of Aboriginal people from public housing, which Guardian Australia has written about previously, was also raised, with new data released by the WA department of communities showing that more than half the households evicted from public housing in WA are Aboriginal families. Of the 256 evictions that took place last year, 129 involved Aboriginal tenants.
Last year, the Guardian revealed that Noongar man John Abraham had made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission against the WA Housing Authority after he received a “without grounds” termination notice, commonly called a no-grounds eviction notice from his public housing property.
The WA Department of communities claimed this morning that a reduction of 90% in public housing evictions had occurred during the McGowan Labor government’s time in office, with housing minister John Carey saying people who left public housing properties following termination notices or court orders were not evictions “as they are not final”.
Right up until the point where there is an eviction, and the locks are changed, tenants still have the opportunity to change their behaviour and engage with the Department of Communities to sustain their tenancy.
That 90% figure and characterisation of the eviction data is rejected by advocates.
Three-year-old dies on NSW south coast
A three-year-old has died after being struck by a ride-on lawn mower on NSW’s far south coast on Saturday, the ABC reports.
The child was taken to Pambula District hospital with severe injuries. Police were called to the hospital at about 12:30pm, but said the toddler could not be saved. NSW Ambulance has confirmed paramedics attended the incident.
Both the South Pambula property and hospital are now crime scenes. A report is being prepared for the coroner, and investigations re ongoing.
Albanese in Fiji
On the way home from Aukus talks in the US prime minister Anthony Albanese drops into Fiji to visit prime minister Sitiveni Rabuka for the first time.
The trip is one of many in the Asia-Pacific as Albanese assures regional leaders that Australia joining the nuclear-powered submarine deal is not a “serious proliferation risk” as put by China.
Thanks Natasha May for carrying today’s blog!
If you spot something you don’t want us to miss this evening, you can Tweet it my way @At_Raf_
Thanks for following what continued to be a very busy day on the blog following the big Aukus announcement. That’s it from me, Rafqa Touma now has the blog!
Dutton: We do not need to ‘cannibalise defence’ to pay for Aukus
Dutton says he does not want money taken out of the defence budget to pay for Aukus, in a move he says would be tantamount to “cannibalising” defence:
The final point is that the last thing we should allow Labor to do is to cannibalise the Australian Defence Force like they did when they were lost in government.
They forget that in the 2014 budget only a decade ago Labor decide to cut defence spending in real terms by 10.5 %. It reduces spending back to 1.56% GDP, which is the lowest level since 1938.
When we were in government we restored integrity to the defence budget. Many women in uniform recognise that stop me constantly to thank me for it. There were defence families who lost their jobs and missed out on opportunities when Labor was last in government.
We need to fund but we do not need to cannibalise defence to do it. The government needs to be upfront about how they going to pay for the Aukus commitment so it is essential that we get that capability and we are strongly supporting the government in that regard.
The government needs to answer questions about how it is they going to pay for it and I do not want to see money ripped out of army or air force or navy to pay for the Aukus deal. If there are problems in programs or monies not being spent appropriately, that is the government’s claim, then make that public.
But if you’re just going into defence, taking billions of dollars away from the men and women in uniform to try and fund the Aukus program and as the treasurer says this could be a cost-neutral program, no one believes that. It is not credible. The Labor party will have to detail that in the budget in May.
Dutton asked if there should be changes to the NDIS to pay for this 100bn, $200bn
The report of quotes in relation to aged care – my argument was more money needs to be spent in aged care and if there is a structural change that requires legislation to make our aged care system more sustainable, getting more money to the system to give people greater dignity, then that we would support that.
In relation to the NDIS, the NDIS is an important system for the people with disabilities and we need to make sure that there is a sustainable system. Bill Shorten has spoken about lots of money has been misspent within the NDIS. I don’t want to see that. I want to see the money spent on people most in need, those the most profound disabilities …
My argument is if there is a waste, and the Labor party is arguing that there is waste elements to different programs, then it is the responsibility of any government, of any treasurer, to make sure that the taxpayers money is being spent efficiently. In helping those families who are most in need, stopping rorts where they are happening across every government program, and by doing that, they can provide support to the money that they are spending on defence.
Dutton: ‘how is it all going to be paid for?
While Dutton says he’s entirely behind the Aukus deal, he still wants Australians to question Labor over the price tag:
So there will be lots of questions reasonably that Australians will have to ask Labor over the coming months, right up to the budget and beyond, how is it all going to be paid for?
If you are seeing an increase in your electricity bill it is because of the policy that Labor has in place. If you are seeing an increase in your interest rates, higher than what they otherwise need to be, it is because Labor’s policies have been fuelling inflation which feeds into high interest rates. If you have a look at all sorts of bills that you pay when you go to the cafe, doesn’t matter whether it is the local restaurant, doesn’t matter whether it’s the local IGA, all those input costs under Labor goes up.
And this is what happens we have a Labor government. They mismanage the economy, the pull the wrong levers. Families and small businesses end up paying the price and there is a big price to pay when there is a Labor government.
It is very similar to what happened in the 1980s and is very similar to what happened with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, it is history repeating itself. When we get a change of government and Labor is elected, people get that you change the country, as Paul Keating once said and he is exactly right, and under Mr Albanese you are paying more for every item in your grocery basket, you pay more for your electricity, certainly, more than you need to and that is a real problem.
Dutton says Labor needs to rebuke Keating for ‘unhinged’ Aukus comments
Asked about whether Keating’s comments reveal if Aukus could be driving a wedge between Labor’s left and right factions, Dutton says there is division in the Labor party. But he is calling on the defence minister, Richard Marles, to publicly rebuke the former Labor prime minister’s comments.
There is clearly division within the Labor party, there is no question about that. There is on nuclear waste – on that element of the Aukus deal that undercurrent has always been there.
The hard left with the Labor party which Mr Albanese led for years and years, they have a real hesitation, a real doubt and no doubt that has been expressed by Paul Keating.
There are of course people, including Jim Chalmers and Richard Marles himself, who make great claim to the relationship, the mentoring relationship that they have with Paul Keating. They busily meet with him regularly. If Paul Keating is prepared to say this in public, what is he saying to senior Labor members in private?
And I think it is incumbent upon Richard Marles and others to come out today to rebuke the unhinged comments of Mr Keating because they should be taking the advice of the military and intelligence chiefs as opposed to Paul Keating.
Dutton is asked if Keating’s comments are a threat to national security
I think most Australians will look to the advice of those experts who are contemporary, who understand the intelligence and who are acting on it, and the government is acting on the advice of intelligence and the military chiefs, the advice they have from their partners, and this is a necessary investment for us.
Mr Keating loves a wild phrase but in the end our job is to keep Australians safe and I think we give our country the best chance of peace and security and our region the best chance of peace into the decades through the deal.
Peter Dutton on Aukus: ‘We went with the advice of defence chiefs and the intelligence agencies, not Paul Keating’
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, is defending the Aukus deal following comments from Paul Keating at the National Press Club labelling it Labor’s “worst international decision” since conscription.
Speaking in Melbourne in front of posters for Roshena Campbell, the Liberal candidate in the Aston byelection, Dutton says:
The deal between United States and the United Kingdom is a coalition that we had in mind that nuclear subs would be a great deterrence to any attacks on our country – that is the advice of the chiefs of the intelligence agencies as well.
We went with the advice of defence chiefs and the intelligence agencies, not Paul Keating.
The Aukus deal was possible because of the negotiations …
The best chance that we have of preserving peace in our region, which is what we all want, is not to be in a position of weakness but to work closely with our partners, and we do exactly that through Aukus.
Curtin Uni to meet with union to discuss new enterprise bargaining agreement
Curtin University will meet with the union on Thursday to discuss a new enterprise bargaining agreement following industrial action this week.
Hundreds of staff went on strike for three hours at the Western Australian university on Tuesday, in an escalation of a long-running campaign for better pay and conditions.
A spokesperson for the university’s management said it had already advised staff they had recommended the bargaining process after their latest agreement was overwhelmingly rejected.
[We] will provide fresh offers to the NTEU on a number of issues, including salary. These will be discussed when we meet this Thursday. The University remains committed to good faith discussions and a quick and positive resolution to the renewed process. Curtin University supports those staff who are NTEU members exercising their legal rights to take protected industrial action.
Following the action, which resulted in dozens of classes being cancelled or postponed, union staff committed to more strike action in coming weeks unless management improved its current offer.
Negotiations began in July 2022, with staff rejecting an offer for a 2.2% pay rise over five years, below WA’s inflation rate of 7.8%. The union has requested a pay increase of 5% per year.
In a video, National Tertiary Education Union Curtin branch president, Scott Fitzgerald, said the offer was an “insult” to staff, citing a $113m surplus recorded by the university last year.
Major issues have emerged around manageable workloads ... salaries, secure employment ... students are wise enough to know that their learning conditions are based upon staff working conditions. They know if their lecturer is insecure, doesn’t have time to prepare, is concerned about meeting cost of living pressure, they’re not going to have the learning experience they desire and deserve.
Billionaires Cannon-Brookes and Forrest face rival bidders for Sun Cable
The voluntary administrators of the company billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest set up to power Singapore, Darwin and points in between with a giant solar farm say they have enticed “strong interest” for the struggling venture.
The sale process for Sun Cable has indeed received interest from multiple parties. The administrators now intend to finalise a list of bidders by the end of May.
“The shortlisted bidders include a range of potential buyers including parties that are not existing Sun Cable shareholders,” they said, implying that MCB and Twiggy have some competition.
The sale process has advertised Sun Cable “as a complete development”, including the undersea AAPowerlink to stretch from the Northern Territory to Singapore with a stop or two likely in Indonesia - should it go ahead.
Here are more details on the ambitions of the project before it went into voluntary administration:
Guess we’ll have to see if Sun Cable is unsinkable.
The press club interview with Keating has wrapped up now and the opposition leader Peter Dutton is speaking in Melbourne. I’ll bring you some updates from my colleagues before letting you know what Dutton is saying (hint: he doesn’t agree with Keating).
Keating: ‘No mandate inside Labor party’ for Aukus
Keating goes on to say the Albanese government has “no mandate” for the Aukus deal:
I think that there will be a big reaction to what the government is doing.
There’s no mandate inside the Labor party. No mandate for what Prime Minister Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Richard Marles are doing. No mandate.
Keating asked about Labor’s normalisation of relationship with China despite Aukus
Guardian Australia’s Paul Karp asks:
Despite the Albanese government’s support for Aukus, it does appear to have made progress normalising the relationship with China. Could I please ask is that worth anything? And does that show that a productive, economic and political relationship is possible despite Aukus?
Mate, you’d have to be naive to be thinking that, wouldn’t you. Look, what I said in the speech I’ll try to find it. I said ...
‘No mealy-mouthed talk of stabilisation or resort to soft or polite language will disguise from the Chinese the extent and intent of our commitment to the United States hegemony in east Asia with all its deadly portents.’
So in other words, they’re not going to be as rude as Scott Morrison. They’re not going to be as rude as Marise Payne. They’ll talk softly. But by the way, we’ll put the last shackle in the chain to contain you. And China will say - Oh, thanks. Thanks for that, I’m glad you’re speaking to us more nicely.
Keating asked about China’s treatment of Uyghurs
Matthew Knott from the Sydney Morning Herald asks:
You have a tremendous skill for invective and criticism. Could I ask you to turn some of that to the Chinese Communist party and its treatment of Uyghurs, for example? Its treatment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong? Will you be similarly critical of them as you are of people in your own party and journalists?
Keating responds being highly critical of the Sydney Morning Herald’s reporting but when Laura Tingle directs the former PM back to the question of the Uyghurs he has this to say:
I’m not going to defend China about the Uyghurs. There’s disputes about what the nature of the Chinese affront to the Uyghurs are. There’s dispute about that.
What if the Chinese said - what about deaths in custody of Aboriginal people in your prison system? Wouldn’t that be a valid point for them? Wouldn’t it be a valid point? In other words, great power diplomacy cannot be about reaching down into the low social entrails of these states any more than they can with us.
Keating: ‘I’m not doing super today’
Jess Malcolm from the Australian attempts to ask Keating about his view on the changes to super, but he’s not going there.
This is all about Aukus. I’m not doing super today. I mean, I’ve done super since I was a kid.
Keating: What would be the point of China wanting to occupy Sydney and Melbourne?
Olivia Caisley from Sky News has this question for Keating:
You’ve described foreign minister Penny Wong and defence minister Richard Marles as seriously unwise in this nine-page document. Unlike present players, you haven’t received a briefing on the issue since the mid-1990s.
Could you be out of touch on this issue? And given you didn’t foresee the military build-up from China, as well as intimidation of neighbouring countries, when you were in office, what makes you so sure China isn’t a military threat to Australia?
To which Keating produces this zinger:
Because I’ve got a brain. Principally. And I can think. And I can read. And I read every day. I mean, why would China want to threaten ... What would be the point? They get the iron ore, the coal, the wheat. What would be the point of China wanting to occupy Sydney and Melbourne? Militarily? And could they ever do it? Could they ever bring the numbers here? It would be an armada of troop ships to do it. So you don’t need a briefing from the dopey security agencies that we have in Canberra to tell you that. I mean, I know you’re trying to ask a question, but the question is so dumb, it’s hardly worth an answer.
Keating on threat of Chinese cyber-attacks: ‘Who in the world is not into cyber-attacks?’
Probyn goes on to ask Keating about the threat of a cyber-attack and the former PM’s response turns up a great Keatingism warning that all “security agency ning-nongs” participate in cyber-attacks.
He cites the example of the Indonesian phone tapping incident, which was an exclusive Guardian Australia’s editor Lenore Taylor along with Ewen MacAskill brought to you in 2013.
You think that the Americans and the Russians are not into cyber-attacks? Who in the world is not into cyber-attacks? Or do you think that we are not?
Just remember this - the best friend we had in Asia was a former president of Indonesia, Yudhoyono. He was the best guy we had barracking for us. Those dopes in Asis tapped his telephone and that of his wife. Tapped his phone. I mean, this is what states get up to if you let these security agencies, ning-nongs, take control.
But you can’t impute, as your question imputes, that tariffs on wine or barley is equivalent to an invasion of the country. China does not threaten Australia. Has not threatened Australia. Does not intend to threaten Australia.
You can have all of the commercial rows you like - we can have diplomatic. Remember, this all happened after Marise Payne – you know, the great non-minister of our time - went on the Insiders program and said we were going to have weapons-type inspections of Wuhan to find out what was the cause of the virus. It was out of that came all of this.
So you can’t put a question without contexting it, mate! I mean, contextualisation may not be your long suit, but that’s what you should be doing.
Keating: ‘You can’t impute threat meaning invasion from putting a tariff on wine’
Keating is saying Chinese tariffs on Australian products constitute “friction of international politics” but cannot be considered a threat.
ABC’s Andrew Probyn:
You said before that China has not threatened Australia. But how do you reconcile that with the fact that they have issued sanctions on coal, timber, wine, lobster, barley, Australian products. That there has been a debt diplomacy employed among the Pacific neighbours. An encroachment of the South China Sea. An effective annexation of some islands. A huge military ramp-up that Laura asked you about. How is this not, as one Biden official said this week, undeclared economic and commercial boycott of Australia?
A threat to Australia is a military threat. A military threat. It’s a threat for the army of the People’s Republic of China to come and occupy Australia. That’s what a threat is. Like, for instance, a similar threat would be if someone went to occupy Tasmania on us. That’s what a threat is.
Commercial reactions on things like you mentioned - they’re not strategic. They’re not a threat. I mean, look what we’re doing to them in the WTO and all of steel dumping and all the rest of our stuff. I mean, in the friction of international politics, these things turn up. But they’re not threats.
You can’t impute threat meaning invasion, with putting a tariff on wine. Or maybe you’re silly enough to think that? Do you think that you are silly enough to think that?
Keating: ‘If it all turns badly, it will be just like Afghanistan and Iraq - the Americans will pull out and leave the mess behind’
The Chinese don’t want to attack anybody. They don’t want to attack us and they don’t want to attack the Americans and they don’t want to attack the Indonesians.
What is all of this? It is about one matter only. The maintenance of US strategic hegemony in Asia.
If the US has no continental land in east Asia, how does it suspect or argue that it can remain the strategic superpower?
Because if it all turns badly, it will be just like Afghanistan and Iraq - the Americans will pull out and leave the mess behind. They will just go back to San Diego, 10,000km, and leave us with the consequences. That would be the outcome.
“An 8,000t submarine is going to be visible in a second”
As the floor is opened for questions, Phil Coorey from the AFR is the first up:
Richard Marles, perhaps in anticipation of your comments today, in defending yesterday’s announcement said, “we have witnessed in the region, single biggest conventional buildup anywhere in the world since the end of the second world war. To not respond to that is to be condemned by history.”
Can I ask you to clarify? Do you think that we should not respond to it at all? Or we’re responding in wrong way?
We’re responding in the wrong way. The Collins class boat which are, which I built with Kim Beazley, was a boat designed in the defence of Australia. It was designed to protect the continental lands of Australia and to repel any invasion of us.
What these boats are, and this is what I don’t think the defence minister is telling you, is that these boats are designed to sit off the continental shelf of China and sink American nuclear weapons capable submarines.
Let’s make this point. About 100 miles off the Chinese coast, there’s a plateau. A very shallow plateau. Very shallow plateau. Any American nuclear armed subs have got to get across the plateau before they get into deep water.
So the Americans said – ah, we could have like ducks in a shooting gallery, we will shoot them out before they can get to the deep water. But, in the Chinese shallow water, the Chinese have it absolutely loaded with sensors and with equipment to detect large submarines.
An 8,000t submarine is going to be visible in a second when the Chinese come across it. So our submarines are going to be susceptible. Our submarines are going to be in the peripheral waters of China, where the platforms and sensors are most concentrated. So while the Americans think that they can shoot Chinese submarines like ducks in a barrel. The Chinese can also shoot our submarines because we’re in the shallow water and we are detectible.
So this is a strange way to be defending Australia have your submarines sunk on the Chinese continental shelf, chasing Chinese submarines, whereas in fact, with the Collins model, you had, and if the numbers are right, 45 or 50 conventional submarines around the coast of Australia saying – put a step over here and we’ll punch your lights out.
That’s the better defence policy for Australia than joining with the Americans up there in the shallow waters of the Chinese coast.
Keating: China is more intent on expanding its influence west than east
What’s your view of China’s ambitions to the west in the Stans given the incredibly rich payload?
I told you this on our last program, last time we met here. China’s interests are not in the east. See, Australia and the US think – ‘oh, the Chinese, they’re going to muck around with the Philippines. They’re interested in the east.’
No, no, what they’re interested in the east is to keep the front doormat clean.
They’re really interested in the west. The west of China and into the Stan countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and these countries, which I believe they’ll have major influence in all the way up to Istanbul.
Developed countries like Australia are about 90% urbanised – Germany, France, US. China is 55%. It’s got another 35 to go. And it’s got the Stan countries.
So China’s growth is just going to keep on coming. And as you know, they’ve got an agreement to take railways and roads up to Poland.
So here’s the Americans … I mean, they’ve always been protected by the two oceans. But now, for the Americans, the Pacific and Atlantic are a corset. They’re a corset on them. They’ve got nowhere to go. They’re protected, but they’ve got nowhere to go. But the Chinese have got lots of places to go.
“They’re not attacking anyone”
But you have said, nonetheless, that China doesn’t have any territorial ambitions. Why do you need such a big land army, such a big navy?
The land army of China is really part of the police force of the place, really. It’s like a paramilitary type. Same as Indonesia.
China is locked into a bowl. They’ve got Siberia to the north. The Himalayas to the west. Indo-China to the south.
They don’t go anywhere. They’re not attacking anyone. All they’ve done is militarised the shores in the South China Sea but that’s all about, as the American Defence Department says, “Restricting the United States from having a presence in China’s periphery.”
In other words, until this happened, the US Seventh fleet used to patrol up along the territorial sea of China six miles off the coast.
The Chinese said, we’re not having this any more. We don’t want to be rude, but we don’t have to put up with this any more.
China’s defence spending to GDP ratio only 40% of US, Keating says
Tingle asks Keating if he has been surprised by the way the Chinese have developed their military in the last five years? It’s been an exponential growth in the spend.
Their defence spending to GDP is only a third of that – 40% of that – of the United States.
They are bigger, so 40% of bigger is more. But it’s nothing like the United States. The United States spends more than the next 10 countries behind it.
Why are they doing it?
Why are they? They are doing it because A – they have a huge economy which is internationally dependant.
And because, they have this sort of pressure from the US. And so, like every state, the IMF says on the purchasing power basis, China is 20% larger than the US.
So what do they want them to do? Have little toy destroyers in the bath. Like little boys in the bath. They could muck around little boats in the bath. Would that suit the Americans?
Keating denies having any commercial interests in China
Keating says he wants to address accusations that he has had commercial interest in China, denying any commercial interest “whatsoever”:
They talk about me on China development. I was on China development. By the way, I left five years ago. I was on the China Bank Development Bank board for 13 years, and ten years as chairman with Henry Kissinger and with Paul Vaulker, and the former director of the IMF.
And you know what our fee was? $5,000 a year. $5,000. They didn’t even call it a fee. They called it an honourarium. I have no commercial interest in China whatsoever.
In other words, I sat as an Australian representative … hoping I was doing a great thing for Australia. And taking it back to the Central Bank here.
Disposal of nuclear waste is a “minor issue” – Keating
Keating says the issue of Australia being responsible for a nuclear dump is a “minor issue” with the bigger issue being the influence of the US over the Aukus decision.
One of the things that we weren’t expecting out of yesterday’s announcement which we did get was the revelation that we’re going to hold on to the uranium and have to find a storage for it after the submarines, the hypothetical submarines reach the end of their life. What is your take on that? And in particular, what the imputation is for non-proliferation?
I don’t think that burying spent fuel rods is proliferation. And Australia is big enough for that. It’s a minor issue.
The bigger issue is this – I’ll read this to you.
Every year, the United States Department of Defence has a statutory responsibility of a report to the Congress. And in November of 2022, in its report, the Defence Department said this:
“The People’s Republic of China aims to restrict the United States from having a presence in China’s periphery.”
In other words not having our ships run up and down their coast. That’s what it really means.
“This says something about the left in Australia”
Keating goes on about how Labor has continued the Coalitions’s relationship with Aspi (the Australian Strategic Policy Institute).
Because Morrison made clear and the Australian newspaper made clear at the weekend, the foreign minister wasn’t consulted. The people consulted were the [Office of National Assessments] people and Aspi.
Wouldn’t you think the first thing a Labor government would do is knock all their heads off? … They’d been brought in.
I mean, this says something about the left in Australia. Politically in the Labor party, I fought the left most of my life. Always mostly on behalf of the United States. But the two principle people on the left in Australia are now Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong.
And what they’ve done – they have essentially accommodated the strategic wishes of the United States, uncritically. Uncritically. This is the left.
Labor was too quick to back Aukus, says Keating
So, how do you think this came about? You’ve talked a bit about the fact in your statement about the fact that Labor came out and supported the Morrison Government’s proposition 24 hours after it of made. Is this because Labor doesn’t feel that it can move on national security?
Keating gives us his take on how it is Labor came to support the Aukus policy in the first place:
What happened, Penny Wong got the job five or six years ago and she decided that with Bill Shorten at the time that there should be no opening for the Liberal party to attack Labor on strategic policy.
So, she folded in with Julie Bishop and then subsequently Marise Payne. There wasn’t a bit of difference with them … She was not going to rustle one leaf or see Labor go into an election campaign with strategic issues banging about. So it was the smallest small target policy.
What happens after five years of this, finally, that wilful Morrison comes up, run by all the spooks in Canberra … says we have a better idea and let’s get rid of the French submarines and why don’t we get the US ones?
And so, with no notice to the Labor party, they call them in, at 4.00pm one afternoon and see Albanese, Wong and Richard Marles and at 10.00am the following morning, they’ve taken the policy in its entirety in its board.
And the prime minister was saying recently I was very proud to take that policy in 24 hours. Well, how would you take a policy which is going to cost this much money, have these consequences for our relations A – with China, with the region. B – in terms of our industrial base. How would you do this in 24 hours? You can only do it if you have no perceptive ability to understand the weight of the decisions you’re being asked to make.
Keating says eight submarines for $360bn is ‘worst deal in history’
Keating expounds why he believes the value for money is the “worst deal in all history”:
Look, I’d say for the cost – $360bn – for $360bn, we’re going to get eight submarines. It must be the worst deal in all history.
But let’s say $360bn. If we were buying Collins class replacements, we’d get at least 40 to 50 of those submarines. 40 to 50 for the same price.
Now, no navy has ever done better than having one-third of their boats at sea at any one time. So we would have … Let’s call it 45 to make it simple or something like that. We’d have a third of them, say 15, at sea. 15 at sea, against three nuclear boats. Fifteen against three!
Now, remember, the nuclear boats [are] only firing a traditional torpedo. It’s not firing a nuclear torpedo, just like the other boats. And because it’s 8,000 tonnes – that’s big – they’re discoverable. They’ll be discoverable from space. And what’s more, they are too big for the shallow waters of Australian coast.
A 4,000t boat like the Collins worked perfectly in the Australian coast because it was designed to protect Australia. It wasn’t designed to sit off the Chinese coast seeking Chinese submarines. So now we’ve got a big 8,000t clunker. We get three instead of 15.
Keating: Defence pact with UK is ‘deeply pathetic’ for Australia
Laura Tingle puts it to Keating that the Albanese government has improved the relationship with China since it has come to office.
Keating says that as the UK attempts to put together a global Britain in the aftermath of Brexit, it has taken advantage of Australia’s accomodating stance:
Look, they’ve decided not to speak rudely or loudly, but at core, you can see what the outcome is. There’s Anthony Albanese signing up with the American and the British.
Let’s remember about the British – they pulled their grand fleet out of east Asia in 1904. They witnessed the capitulation of Singapore in 1942. They then announced their east of Suez policy in 1968. In other words, you’re all on your own, you Australians, we’re leaving!
… And then in 1973, just to make sure we got the message they said, bugger you we’re going into Europe so no wheat, no wool.
After the great problem of Brexit … destroyed their place in Europe, it took two world wars to drag Britain to the centre of Europe to sit beside Germany as a second major power.
So they’re going to put together global Britain. So they’re looking around for suckers. Suckers! … And they found – oh, here’s a bunch of accommodating people in Australia.
An accommodating prime minister, a conservative defence minister, a risk-averse foreign minister. Let’s put a proposition to them!
So here we are, 230 years – 230 years – after we left Britain, we are returning to the Cornwall where Morrison did this deal, and now Rishi Sunak, for Australia to find our security in Asia. I mean, how deeply pathetic is that?
Defence has overtaken foreign policy, Keating says
Keating says one of the “principle problems” of the Aukus deal is that “defence has overtaken foreign policy.”
I mean, you don’t see Penny Wong out there. You see Richard Marles out there, not Penny Wong.
So what’s happened is that the military have overtaken the foreign policy, as a consequence, we’re not using diplomacy.
Let me just make this point. Running around the Pacific Islands with a lei around your neck handing out money, which is what Penny does, is not foreign policy. It’s a consular task.
Foreign policy is what you do with the great powers. What you do with China. What you do with the United States. This government, the Albanese government, does not employ foreign policy.
“China is a lonely state”
Keating says the problem with China is manufactured:
China is a lonely state. That’s the truth of it. They would fall over themselves having a proper relationship with us. Fall over themselves.
We supply their iron ore which keeps their really industrial base going. And there’s nowhere else but us to get it. You know, we’ve provided them We provide all sorts of things and investment and what have you.
They are 12 flying hours from us. We have a continent of our own. A border with no one. No border disputes with them. Perfect! No, no, we’ve manufactured a problem.
You know, don’t let the sleeping dogs lie. We’re giving the old dog a kicking!
“It is not the old Soviet Union”
Keating says China is not like the old Soviet Union and should not be treated as such:
So you’ve got to remember this about China. We’re speaking of it as though it’s almost like the old Soviet Union. It is not the old Soviet Union.
It is in the IMF. It’s in the World Bank. It’s in the WTO. It’s in the WHO. You know, Xi Jinping, at Davos five years ago talking in favour of globalisation.
This is not a state which wishes to overturn the west. But there’s a whole lot of difference between not wishing to overturn the west and copping the nonsense from the Americans that the Chinese should live forever under their strategic command.
Keating says land invasion from China is impossible
Keating is speaking about why he believes the idea underlying threat from China has to be untrue because it can only apply to a land invasion, which he says is “impossible.”
The only way the Chinese could threaten Australia or attack it is on land. That is, they bring an armada of troop ships with a massive army to invade us. This is not possible for the Chinese to do. Because you would need an armada of troop ships and they’d need to come with 13 days of steaming, 8,000km between Beijing, or Shanghai and Brisbane, say. In which case, we’d just sink them all.
See, the moment they leave their port, they are visible straight away. Remember this - the allies succeeded in Normandy because, as a maritime assault, because there was an industrial state 21 miles away - Britain. There were no radar. And there was cloud cover. So in bad cover, we slipped those wharfs on to the beaches of Normandy and got away with it.
It is impossible today with satellites. It is impossible with this sort of coverage. So what would happen is, we wouldn’t need submarines to sink an armada, and an armada of Chinese boats, ships, troop ships. We’d just do it with planes. And missiles. You know, the idea that we need American submarines to protect us, if we buy eight, three are at sea. Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really! I mean, the rubbish of it, the rubbish.
In other words, let me say this - China has not threatened us, and despite five years of this China threat appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald … it’s untrue.
“The Chinese have never implied that they would threaten us”
Why does Keating believe the Aukus deal “breaks” Labor’s winning streak on international decisions?
Because underlying all of this stuff about the need for nuclear is the idea that China has threatened us or will threaten us. Now, this is a distortion and it’s untrue.
The Chinese have never implied that they would threaten us or said it explicitly.
But what “threaten us” means is an invasion of Australia. It doesn’t mean firing a few missiles off the coast like the Japanese submarines did in 1943, firing a few things into the eastern suburbs of Sydney. It means an invasion. All great battles are fought on land.
Paul Keating makes Aukus criticism in National Press Club speech
Our chief political correspondent, Paul Karp, already brought you the statement from Paul Keating ahead of his address to the National Press Club.
He’s called the Aukus submarine deal the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government since the former leader Billy Hughes sought to introduce conscription in the first world war.
He’s now taken to the podium at the national press club explaining why he believes Aukus is a mistake:
Labor has gotten all of the big ones basically right in the 20th century.
They got it right knocking Hughes off over conscription. Curtin got it right in knocking Churchill over the troops in Burma back to Papua New Guinea, back to Kokoda. Arthur Caldwell got it right when he opposed the Vietnam war.
Simon Crean got it right when he said, we shouldn’t be sending troops to Iraq and went to the wharf and waved them away while saying they shouldn’t be going.
So, Labor has had a knockout set of rights against the Coalition. But this one is where we break the winning streak.
Chinese state media responds to Aukus announcement
As reported overnight, China’s foreign ministry has renewed its longstanding criticisms of the Aukus arrangement, including its impact on nuclear non-proliferation and “cold war zero-sum mentality”.
Those lines have been backed up, with flourishes, in Chinese state media coverage.
This morning, the Global Times published an editorial under the headline “Nuclear submarines will turn Australia into a ‘haunted house’”. It said Australia was “at best a cat’s paw which helps the US to get chestnuts from the fire, and it can be regarded as one of the most representative chump in the history of international relations”. The editorial said:
In order to obtain the US’ nuclear-powered submarines, Australia may have to spend nearly $250 billion. Does Australia have too many mines and is too wealthy? …
Australia’s inexplicable sense of insecurity when facing China is basically the result of being spiritually controlled for many years by the US. Australia thinks that it is the “deputy sheriff” of the Asia-Pacific region under Washington, but not to mention that it has no salary, even its police uniforms and firearms have to be bought from the US at a high price. The Aukus agreement is actually a big trick of the US on Australia.
The China Daily’s editorial was titled “Aukus nuclear submarine ‘cooperation’ reckless acceleration on a dangerous road”. That editorial said the deal “only serves to make Australia the vanguard in the proxy war that the US seems intent on waging against China on the pretext of the Taiwan question, as several US officials have already openly taunted”.
Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, yesterday took aim at China’s immediate response to the Aukus announcement, telling Guardian Australia that criticism was “not grounded in fact”. Wong told ABC Radio National today that Australia did not believe China’s assertions about the non‑proliferation treaty reflect the text of the treaty.
The federal opposition’s defence spokesperson, Andrew Hastie, said today:
China’s response to it overnight is becoming more typical. There’s a lot of disinformation out there and we have made a modest investment into our military capability relative to theirs. They are undergoing the biggest peacetime military expansion since the second world war, which includes nuclear weapons. So to lecture us, I think is rather ironic.
Perrottet accuses Labor of scare campaign on Sydney Water
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, has accused Labor of running a “scare campaign” after its claim the government considered privatising Sydney Water.
On Tuesday leaked confidential documents emerged showing the Coalition sought advice on a possible sale of the water agency while Perrottet was treasurer.
“The shareholders have shown a preference for maintaining or increasing returns to government and asset recycling,” a board level briefing note generated by the utility revealed.
During a leaders’ debate airing on the Nine Network today, the opposition leader, Chris Minns, has repeatedly referred to the document as evidence the government has considered selling the agency.
But Perrottet said the government had “ruled out” privatising the agency, and insisted the government had “never conducted a scoping study” on a possible sale. He said:
We’ve never directed the public service in relation to Sydney Water. We’ve completely ruled it out.
Keating calls Aukus Labor's 'worst international decision' since conscription
Former prime minister Paul Keating has called the Aukus deal Labor’s “worst international decision”:
NSW energy minister’s job a tough one no matter which party wins government
It’s unusual these days to get many record days of demand for electricity from the grid in part because of the spread of rooftop solar panels.
Last week, NSW hit a record load for March on a day when a brief heatwave passed through, with the market operator surprised by how much demand spiked.
Later this week, we might well see a repeat with an extended hot spell settling in, particularly for western Sydney with as many as six days forecast to top 33 degrees in a row. (Tomorrow may be the hottest, with 37 degrees forecast for Penrith.) Unlike last week, there will also be some warmth in Queensland, with Brisbane headed for a top of 35 on Friday.
Anyway, it’s a good thing AGL Energy won’t start turning off the remaining three units at its Liddell power station until 20 April. By about 29 April, 1260 megawatts of capacity will have been lost to the grid for good.
With the election just over a week away, the Coalition government will be hoping there won’t be the need to ask companies (such as the Tomago aluminium smelter) to power down to avoid “unserved” energy, or blackouts.
It’s a good opportunity, though, to look forward to what challenges the next energy minister faces in NSW in coming years, whether that person is the high-profile incumbent, Liberal Matt Kean, or Jihad Dib, Labor’s energy spokesperson. (Or someone else).
We look at the issues here (and why the state may be “stuffed” without some big renewable energy plants and storages projects coming on line in a timely manner):
Malaysia warns against 'any provocation' after Aukus deal
Malaysia issued a statement overnight in which it said it had not shifted its position on Aukus.
Indonesia and Malaysia were vocal after Aukus was first announced in 2021 in raising nuclear non-proliferation concerns and also warning against moves that could trigger an arms race. Indonesia’s response yesterday was relatively warm.
But Malaysia has signalled it remains concerned. Malaysia’s ministry of foreign affairs began by saying it appreciated the consultation in advance of the announcement yesterday. It noted Australia, the US and the UK’s readiness “in engaging with Malaysia at various levels and in sharing the latest updates and future outlook of Aukus prior to the announcement”.
The statement went on to say Malaysia “acknowledges the needs of countries in terms of enhancing defence capabilities taking into account respective requirements and concerns”. It added:
Nevertheless, Malaysia’s position on Aukus remains. Malaysia reiterates as a matter of principle the importance of all parties within and beyond this security partnership to fully respect and comply with … Malaysia’s national regime in relation to operation of nuclear-powered submarines in our waters, including those under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, and the Asean Declaration on the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN).
Malaysia further underscores the importance of promoting transparency and confidence-building among all countries, and refraining from any provocation that could potentially trigger an arms race or affect peace and security in the region.
Readers will notice the call to avoid provocations that could trigger an arms race was directed at “all countries” rather than any in particular. Euan Graham, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Australian newspaper there was “nothing in UNCLOS or the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone that outlaws the passage of nuclear-powered subs”.
Queensland announces power bill rebate
The Queensland government has announced it will deliver a rebate on household power bills in the next financial year
The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the “cost-of-living relief” provided to Queenslanders would be higher than the $175 rebate provided last year.
Palaszczuk said the government would determine the amount of the final rebate based on power prices and the support provided by the federal government in the May budget.
Once these rebates are locked in and we see the final energy prices in May, our government will go further.
Our government is only able to provide cost-of-living support to households and to deliver on the Queensland energy and jobs plan because Queenslanders own our power assets.
Power price rise is ‘problematic’, Victoria Energy Policy Centre chief says
As seen in the earlier post, Victoria’s standard offer power prices are likely to leap by almost a third from July if a draft recommendation from the Essential Services Commission gets up.
Bruce Mountain, head of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre, has called on the commission to “think again” about its “problematic” recommended price increase in the Victorian Default Offer.
They average contract prices over a 12-month period and so their calculation reflects the surge in contract prices from around June to October last year.
But there is little evidence to suggest that these contract prices represent the costs that retailers will incur over the coming 12 month period.
The result is that the increases – if maintained in the final decision – would “needlessly deliver large windfall profits particularly for Victoria’s large retailers, at customers’ expense”. “This is contrary to the government’s stated objective in introducing the VDO.”
What the governments have agreed to do to prepare for Aukus
That press conference after the signing of the cooperation agreement between the Albanese government and the Malinauskas government to support the construction of the Aukus submarines has wrapped up.
To summarise, the agreement “establishes a genuine partnership between the Commonwealth and South Australia” as part of which the federal and state government will work together to realise the following:
An exchange of land as soon as possible to facilitate development of the new submarine construction yard and a skills and training academy campus in Osborne, South Australia.
The construction, establishment and operation of a skills and training academy campus in South Australia, to be co-designed by the commonwealth and the state, and developed in consultation with industry and unions.
An increase in commonwealth supported places to South Australia universities over the next four years, focused on STEM disciplines in professional engineering (mechanical, electrical, chemical), computer science, mathematics, chemistry, physics, psychology and management. The commonwealth will allocate an additional 800 places to South Australia universities over the next four years, with the first 200 places starting next year.
Investment in research capability and infrastructure in priority disciplines in South Australia to generate a workforce close to the submarine construction yard at Osborne.
Progress consideration of options for defence-related science and technology facilities in Adelaide.
A potential land exchange as well as appropriate easement and access arrangements in relation to Department of Defence owned and leased land at Cultana.
More jobs under Aukus than from cancelled French contract, Conroy says
The defence industry minister, Pat Conroy, gets his two cents in before the press conference wraps up. He’s providing context around the number of jobs created by Aukus compared to the cancelled French Attack class:
This project will create around 20,000 jobs and importantly, in the dockyard, right here, this project will deliver around twice as many jobs as the Attack class project would have delivered.
So it’s really important to have that context: 20,000 jobs nationwide, 8,000 jobs on building and sustaining the platform, 5,500 jobs building the submarine itself, twice as many as would have been delivered under the cancelled French Attack class.
Marles speaks about budget pressures
On the eyewatering $368bn cost of Aukus, Marles is asked how much money in the defence budget will have to find to pay for these submarines:
We’ve been upfront that defence budget will need to grow over the medium to long term. We’ve made a really important statement that over the forward estimates, over the next four years, defence will cover the costs associated with this program.
That’s a really big statement, I think, to government and to the nation in general that defence is going to play its part in terms of facilitating the cost to this and we’ll have more to say about that in the lead-up to the budget in May and with the announcement of the defence strategic review in April.
There are measures that we can take, but we’ve been completely clear about the fact that a growing defence budget is one of the pressures on the federal budget and that is driving the big defences that we’re making. In our first budget, we returned 99% of the revenue upgrades to the budget. No one does that but we’ve done it because we understand how important it is to have sensible fiscal management given the pressures on the budget and also given that we inherited $1tn of debt from the former Coalition government.
‘No government has done what this government is doing’
The foreign minister, Penny Wong, takes the mic to speak about what the Albanese government is delivering for her home state of South Australia, which Wong says no other government have been able to deliver to date.
I’ve been coming down here for many years … And each time we’ve been down here with workers, with industry, with the community demanding local jobs, demanding certainty.
No government has done what this government is doing. No government has not only set out an optimal pathway for decades, but no government has come down here and recognised that we need the partnership between federal, state, academic sector, the tertiary sector, the training sector, to deliver the workforce.
And I said yesterday in the press conference with the premier and the deputy premier, this investment will do for South Australia what the car industry did, but much more.
It will change the nature of our economy. We know that key to that is workforce and skills. That’s something no government has had a plan for. We have a plan and we are committed to delivering it.
Marles: Submarine construction ‘before the end of this decade’
Taking questions, Marles says the construction of the shipyard is the starting point and emphasises the importance of stewardship when it comes to nuclear-powered submarines:
The starting point here is the construction of the yard and that really happens immediately, which is why this land exchange is so important, to be able to facilitate access to the land immediately.
I mean one of the things that’s become very apparent for me as we’ve been walking along this journey is just how significant is the requirement for Australia to be a nuclear steward in terms of managing our nuclear enterprise in the safest possible way. That requires building buildings and security around here of a different order of magnitude than we would have seen before.
We are very focused on doing that, getting access to the land straight away and as we’ve said, the construction of the submarines themselves will happen before the end of this decade.
Building submarine construction yard will generate thousands of jobs, O’Connor says
O’Connor says government and industry will be working very closely with universities:
We have to work very closely with universities in South Australia and beyond and minister Jason Clare, of course, is very much focused on the need to supply skills from universities.
This is something that, of course, will be, as I say, we’ll be working across government, working with the defence minister, the defence industry minister, and ensuring that we can get this right.
It really does start today. A roundtable of South Australian industry representatives and other representatives that we are discussing the matters with today.
The first, of course, investment decision will be to commence the construction of the submarine construction yard, which, of course, amounts to thousands of construction jobs.
$8bn upgrade for HMAS Stirling naval base in WA
O’Connor flags there will be an $8bn upgrade flagged for HMAS Stirling naval base in WA:
Of course there’s no doubt that this decision will provide for South Australia a remarkable investment in the economy a remarkable opportunity for workers to get into very high-skills, secure, long-term employment.
And that’s the case too for those in we’re Australia with the upgrade of HMAS Stirling, where we’re going to see a very significant investment in that state as well.
But I want to make it also very clear, very much like the automotive industry, there will be the efforts of other companies in other states that will be in a supply chain, providing opportunities for those businesses too.
Because this is a national effort of significant scale, as the deputy prime minister has made clear, probably the most significant decision in the defence realm for many a decade.
Aukus means ‘many, many jobs’, says Brendan O’Connor
The minister for skills and training, Brendan O’Connor, steps up to speak after Marles:
This is an important decision, first and foremost a national security decision. But it’s also a decision that means many, many jobs for South Australians, for Western Australians and indeed for workers around the country.
This is about ensuring that we have a capacity to provide a greater likelihood of stability and peace in our region but to do so we need to invest in skills in order to provide the capability and the capacity for the defence industry to produce these remarkable defence assets.
And for that reason, there has to be not only a whole-of-government approach to this but, indeed, working with other governments and work being industry, employers and unions, to make sure we get this right.
‘This is happening right now’
Here is what Marles has to say about those announcements Dan mentioned which will enable South Australia to develop the capacity to build those submarines:
There are three important practical initial steps in terms of that cooperation:
The first is a commitment to an increase of 800 university places here in South Australia over the coming four years in areas which are critical to the building of nuclear-powered submarines, particularly in areas of engineering and mathematics.
The second is the establishment of a training academy right here at Osborne, which will provide for apprentices and the trade-level training which is so particular to the building of nuclear-powered submarines and my colleague, Minister O’Connor, is going to speak more to that in a moment.
The third is a land exchange which is going to provide South Australia with really important land at Keswick in urban Adelaide, land at Cultana which is important but from the defence point of view is going to provide in exchange the land right here at Osborne necessary to put in place the construction yard which will ultimately build these submarines. I want to emphasise that our intent is to build this capacity as soon as possible which will see the construction of the yard happen immediately and this land exchange today forms the beginning of that. This is happening right now.
Marles talks up cooperation agreement
You’ve just witnessed the premier and I sign a cooperation agreement between the commonwealth of Australia and the state of South Australia.
The most important aspect of that is a headline commitment between our two governments to work cooperatively together to deliver this project and that’s really important because that’s going to need to happen not just during the life of our governments but a cross commonwealth and South Australian governments over the coming decades.
It is a profoundly important statement of intent because unless that is in place, and unless that cooperation is enduring, we will not be able to deliver this capability for our nation.
Federal and South Australian government sign cooperation deal on Aukus
The Labor premier of South Australia, Peter Malinauskas, has joined senior Australian ministers at the Osborne naval shipyard in Adelaide.
After the signing of a cooperation agreement between the state and the federal governments, Malinauskas said there was no longer a question about where the work was going to come from in South Australia. It was, instead, a question of how build up the required workforce:
The fact that the commonwealth sees in South Australia the ability to build the most complex machines that have ever been produced in the history of humanity says a lot about where South Australia is going.
The acting prime minister, Richard Marles, said the agreement included a headline commitment to work cooperatively together to deliver this project. They were also planning an increase of 800 university places in South Australia over four years, the establishment of a training academy “right here at Osborne”, and a land exchange to allow for a larger construction yard.
Yesterday’s announcement commits Australia to developing the capacity as quickly as possible to build nuclear-powered submarines here in South Australia right here at Osborne. This is demanded of us by our international partners. It is a massive endeavour.
‘This is going to be building the most complex machinery known to humanity’
Acting prime minister and defence minister Richard Marles is speaking at the Osborne shipyards in Adelaide about – you guessed it – Aukus:
Marles says building submarines in Australia “right here at Osborne, this is demanded of us by our international partners”:
This is a massive endeavour. It is of the same order of magnitude of the Snowy River scheme in the 60s. It’s going to transform our national economy but it is going to transform the South Australian economy. Thousands of jobs, a lifting-up of the technological capability of the broader economy.
What this will see across the three countries of the United States, the UK and Australia is the fourth production line to build nuclear-powered submarines, adding to Huntington’s in the United States and BAE in the United Kingdom.
This is going to be building the most complex machinery known to humanity, which means this site will become one of the centres of highest technology industry in the world. And it is absolutely a vote of confidence in Australian industry but a vote of confidence in South Australian history.
As La Niña ends, El Niño watch begins …
Straight off the back of three consecutive La Niña periods, the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting an El Niño weather event could be in store during Australia’s winter and spring.
Sarah Scully, a senior meteorologist at the bureau, is speaking to ABC News about when the big wet of the past three years is predicated to end:
La Niña predominantly affects eastern and northern Australia. It officially ended yesterday and it is driven by sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
So as we became very familiar with over the last three years, we had above-average sea surface temperatures off north-eastern and northern parts of the country and that provided a whole lot more moisture available for increased rainfall, increased cloud cover that resulted in lower temperatures as well.
As you mentioned, La Niña has ended and we’ve moved into the El Niño watch with a 50% chance of going into an El Niño later this year.
Naplan kicks off for students across Australia
Loathed amongst children, loved amongst statisticians, the annual Naplan assessment is kicking off today for 1.3m students.
This is the first year the test is being held in March instead of May following reforms by the federal government to provide earlier access to results. It’s also taking place fully online, excluding the year 3 writing test which will be on paper.
Ceo of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority David de Carvalho said the decision to push the test forward required an “enormous effort” amongst teachers and schools.
Ministers agreed to moving Naplan into Term 1 so the results would be available earlier in the year to inform teaching and learning programs. It will give teachers earlier insights to support their professional judgment about how their students are progressing against the new proficiency standards and consider what support they might need in the coming year.”
The national assessment is the only major scale of progress in critical literacy and numeracy skills among students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 - testing reading, writing, numeracy, grammar, punctuation and spelling.
It doesn’t measure overall school quality. It’s not meant to tell us everything about a student or their achievement. Naplan tests literacy and numeracy skills that are being developed in the classroom everyday with questions based mostly on what students have been taught from previous years of schooling.
The results will also be streamlined into four levels of achievement, replacing the previous 10-band structure. Parents will be able to track their children under the categories “exceeding”, “strong”, “developing” and “needs additional support”.
Assessors will be crossing their fingers this year is more successful than the last Naplan, when secondary student participation experienced the steepest declines on record. Remote, educationally disadvantaged and low-performing children were least likely to complete the tests.
Pocock highlights ‘enormous’ $368bn Aukus price tag
Senator David Pocock was also asked about the $368bn price tag of the 30-year Aukus nuclear submarine acquisition plan, and whether this makes a mockery of government claims about a tight budget.
We’ve heard so much about how tight the budget is, and it is. We have some huge challenges we’re facing. And we’ve heard that we can’t spend money on things that are really important to our communities and to our country.
And this [Aukus] is a massive spending commitment for decades to come. Clearly, that money has to come from somewhere. So I’m certainly pushing and would welcome a conversation about where that comes from.
We’ve got stage three-tax cuts, $250bn, slated to come in to effect and we’ve got the major parties who won’t touch things like revisiting negative gearing, capital gains tax discounts on investment properties. All of these things that I think a lot of Australians are starting to question and particularly when it comes to this enormous commitment of spending for decades to come. That money’s going to have to come from somewhere. If we are going to be responsible with the budget, then there’s some very tough conversations ahead for the for the major parties.
On Tuesday the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said despite the need to pay for Aukus there was no change to Labor’s policy on stage-three tax cuts.
Victorian power prices to jump almost a third, government agency says
As we saw in an earlier post, default power prices are likely to lift by more than 20% from 1 July for customers in New South Wales, South Australia and south-east Queensland, according to a draft decision by the Australian Energy Regulator.
Victoria sets its own default market offer and that is going to increase even more, according to draft decision for consultation. The state’s Essential Services Commission is proposing average annual bill for domestic customers will rise 31.1%, with small business customers facing increases of 33.2%.
The commission says:
The draft decision proposes an increase of around $426 for residential customers, with typical bills increasing from $1,403 to around $1,829 per year.
For small business customers, typical bills would increase by around $1,738, from $5,620 to around $7,358 per year.
As with the AER, the commission blames “significant increases in wholesale electricity costs” for the higher prices.
The offer affects about 400,000 households and 55,000 small businesses that are on standing offers. That’s about 15% of households and 19% of small firms.
Victoria has tended to have lower wholesale prices than other states so it’s curious the state’s default prices have risen more – at least according to the draft decision. A final decision on the increase will be made on 24 May.
David Pocock and CFMEU want 'more ambition' in Labor housing bill
The incoming national secretary of the construction union, Zach Smith, and senator David Pocock have held a press conference in Canberra to discuss building company insolvencies at which both called on Labor to up their ambition on the housing Australia future fund bill.
The pair were responding to the collapse of PBS Building, with creditors owed an estimated $250m. They called for the government to do more to ensure “security of payments”, ie ensuring workers and other creditors are not out of pocket.
Pocock said more “political will” was needed to enact solutions such as the proposed developers register in the ACT. Smith cited solutions including statutory trusts (requiring companies to pay progressively into a pot of money reserved for their creditors), and greater action from regulators such as the Fair Work Ombudsman and Tax Office.
Asked if these demands were forming part of negotiations with the government, Pocock said Labor had committed to reforms recommended by the Murray review so he “shouldn’t have to use” his vote on bills like the future fund as a “negotiating tactic”.
On that bill, Pocock said he wanted “more ambition” because the plan (to invest $10bn in a future fund that will pay out up to $500m a year) “is not going to touch the sides when it comes to dealing with the scale of the housing crisis that we’ve seen in the ACT”.
Pocock said there were 3,100 people on the social housing waiting list but it looked as though the government bill “at best will provide 540 additional homes in the ACT”:
That’s not enough.
Smith echoed these comments and said the CFMEU was not just concerned about lack of new builds but lack of maintenance of existing housing stock.
Nurses to sue NSW government over staff numbers
Nurses and midwives are launching legal action against the NSW government over staffing ratios they say are leaving patients without adequate care, AAP reports.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association revealed plans today to file a case in the supreme court which accuses the government of repeatedly breaching award conditions.
It says widespread non-compliance with staffing levels has resulted in patients not receiving more than 100,000 hours of nursing care at multiple public hospitals.
Nurses and midwives have held repeated industrial action over the past year calling for mandated “safe” staffing ratios, along with better pay and conditions.
NSW has fallen behind other states in implementing legally mandated ratios, with Victoria, Queensland and the ACT already introducing them, while South Australia and Western Australia are both progressing measures, according to the association.
The union says it will provide evidence of inadequate staffing at major public hospitals including Royal Prince Alfred, Gosford, Wollongong, Westmead, Liverpool and Nepean.
General secretary Shaye Candish says the government’s nursing hours per patient day staffing system is not delivering safe care to patients at their most vulnerable.
Asked about whether it could be time to reopen the discussion about nuclear power in Australia, Chris Bowen says the opposition’s plan is a “fantasy” because nuclear is the most expensive form of energy available and Australia would be starting from scratch without the infrastructure and resources necessary:
Well, it would be a particularly bizarre discussion. It would be particularly bizarre conversation to say that the answer to high power prices is to introduce the most expensive form of energy available – nuclear. That’s the Liberal plan.
Mr O’Brien, my shadow minister, takes himself off doing little videos in in Japan, “Nuclear: what we can learn from Hiroshima” and “Nuclear: what we can learn from Fukushima”. Particularly bizarre little intervention but bizarre in policy substance. The cheapest energy is renewable energy.
(You can read about that from Josh Butler:)
We’re working to get our energy grid to 82% renewables by 2030. We will. Right around the world, experts recognise that nuclear is very expensive. Particularly expensive in Australia, because we don’t have a nuclear industry to start with.
We’d be starting from scratch without the infrastructure and the resources necessary to underpin a nuclear industry. Nuclear power plants are very expensive. They run over budget. They run over time.
Mr Dutton can go off on the fantasy frolic if he wants. We’ll remain focused on the job of introducing more of the cheapest form of energy, the cheapest form of energy, which is renewables.
‘I’m not about to give up for working for lower power prices’
Chris Bowen is asked about the election promise to lower power bills by $275 by 2025, which the opposition keeps bringing up (without mentioning the fact that the Coalition delayed news that electricity prices were set to rise until after federal election).
But the energy minister is indicating he’s not giving up on lowering power prices.
Given the ongoing price rises, will you be able to achieve the $270 price cut?
Of course, we indicated that that would be there. I’m not about to give up for working for lower power prices.
Chris Bowen throws back to Coalition on energy price rises
The energy minister is borrowing a turn of phrase out of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech when asked about the Coalition’s suggestion that capping coal and gas prices will, in the longer run, increase prices.
I invite the Coalition to have a look in the mirror. I mean, he had the independent energy regulator this morning pointing out that without the intervention, the price rises would have been closer to 50%.
An intervention that Mr Dutton opposed, like he opposes everything. You can’t complain about higher energy prices and then vote for higher energy prices.
We’ve carefully calibrated the interventions and worked through them carefully. Mr Dutton and his bunch of irrelevancies put themselves out of the process and opposed the package and did not enter into discussions with the government.
Bill relief will come in the budget, Bowen says
Acoss is calling for emergency payments for debt relief, for people who can’t afford to pay the increased costs. Can you provide any direct relief to consumers who need it?
Direct relief is exactly what will be in the budget in relation to the energy price relief that the treasurer is working through with his state and territory colleagues. We outlined, if you like, the guidelines, the contours for that last year but obviously there’s a lot of detailed negotiation to go into that. And that is exactly what we’re working on, and which he will deliver in the budget. We had a two-step process, intervening to cap coal and gas prices. Not universally popular with coal and gas companies but had to be done. Not supported by the opposition, but had to be done. And, of course, the bill relief that will be in the budget.
Angus Taylor hid last year’s increases, minister says
Chris Bowen makes the point my colleague Amy Remeikis highlighted on the blog this morning – Angus Taylor, the former energy minister knew power prices would be increasing (as reported here and here).
This is the default market offer. It happens every year. The equivalent was hidden by Angus Taylor last year.
Angus Taylor, in the most cynical move I’ve seen in a long time in politics, changed the law to hide the default market market increases from a short time before the last election to just after the last election. He actually issued a law change to keep the increases last year, which were similar to these, hidden and secret until after the election.
We’ll deal with them. We dealt with them in the intervention. We’ll be honest with the Australian people about the pressures in the system, pressures on energy prices on Australia and around the world, and we will also deal with them by the sorts of interventions that we have announced and we’ll anticipate continue to work on.
Chris Bowen says “there is more relief yet to flow”.
The Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, is negotiating with all of his state and territory colleagues, the rebates that will be in the federal budget. Those rebates will provide further relief over and above the package of interventions that we announced last year.
Liberal party voted against energy market intervention, Bowen says
Chris Bowen goes on to speak a bit more about the energy market intervention the government recalled parliament before Christmas to pass:
This was an intervention that was controversial. Mr Dutton and the Liberal party voted against it. If they had their way, the Liberal party, if they had their way, these increases would have been 50%, not 20%. They walked into the parliament and voted against these interventions. They walked into the parliament and voted for even higher price rises. That’s what the Liberal party wanted.
Chris Bowen press conference
The energy minister, Chris Bowen, has stepped up to speak in Sydney after the energy regulator predicting power price increases in NSW, south-east Queensland and South Australia:
Firstly, these are big increases. That should be acknowledged and they will hurt for many families.
Secondly, these increases would have been much, much higher without the intervention of the Albanese government last year working with the governments particularly of New South Wales and Queensland.
These interventions last year were absolutely vital as the regulator, herself, has made clear this morning.
In the absence of intervention, these sorts of increases would have had potentially a five in front of it, not a two. These increases of 50% that the government was looking at last year would have crippled many businesses and been a crushing blow to Australian families. Hence we took the intervention we did last year.
Air pollution in NSW causes 603 premature deaths and costs $4.8bn a year, study finds
Air pollution in New South Wales is estimated to cause 603 premature deaths and increase health costs by $4.8bn each year, according to a long-term government study.
Published online the day before the Perrottet government went into caretaker mode before this month’s state election, the Sydney air quality study suggests most people in the city’s greater metropolitan region are exposed to air pollution at levels considered unsafe by the World Health Organization.
Illicit drug trade immune from cost-of-living pain
Illicit drug consumption has dropped in Australia but cost-of-living pressures have had no impact on demand, with the country’s most popular drug also the most expensive, AAP reports.
More than 14 tonnes of methylamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and MDMA were detected in wastewater systems between August 2021 and 2022, according to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s latest wastewater snapshot.
That’s a reduction of about 10% compared with last year but the commission attributes the fall to drug busts rather than financial pressures.
The commission’s principal drug adviser Shane Neilson said:
Those drugs had an estimated street value of $10bn, which is a real concern at a time when household budgets across the country were stretched.
More than 83% of that haul was methylamphetamine, which can be turned into highly addictive drugs ice and speed.
Opioids are a growing concern, with heroin the second most used illicit drug nationally, and consumption of oxycodone and fentanyl also on the rise.
MDMA usage fell 41% and cocaine has dropped by almost one-third.
According to the report:
The median national street price of a cocaine “deal” is less than the price for a crystal methylamphetamine “deal”, so price does not appear to be a factor in the decreased consumption of cocaine.
It’s estimated 600kg of cocaine were seized in 2022, which was about double the amount thought to have been ingested.
SA premier pushes back on nuclear waste
In the unveiling of the Aukus deal, it was revealed that Australia will be responsible for any nuclear waste generated by the submarines.
South Australian premier Peter Malinauskas believes just because his state is set to benefit the most economically with from the lion’s share of the jobs, doesn’t mean the waste dump should be in South Australia:
Ultimately it should be somewhere safe. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in South Australia.
I think the work that we’re doing in South Australia isn’t a labour demand creation exercise for our state. It’s about which state is best equipped to meet the security needs of our nation and this is the heart of naval shipbuilding in Australia – fact.
Now, where the nuclear waste goes, a similar case should be applied and that is – not what is in the best interests of a parochial argument – rather, what is in the best interest of the nation’s security and that should inform the federal government’s judgment.
Malinauskas talks up South Australian skills
SA premier Peter Malinauskas is heading off to the UK later today where he will visit the skills academy in Barrow where they build nuclear-powered subs. Before leaving, he’s told ABC Radio about the challenges around the technical complexity of building nuclear powered submarines:
The single biggest challenge for SA and indeed the nation in undoubtedly workforce. We’ve got a lot of work to do to build up the skills base that is required to build what will be the most complex machines ever built in our country …
What we’ve always needed is a continuity of work, a continuous demand for naval shipbuilding expertise that gives the industry but also workers the confidence to plan their lives around. We’ve now got that in South Australia …
It’s important to understand the level of complexity building a nuclear submarine over and above a conventionally powered submarine. Everything about it is more technical, and more complex and more demanding on our skills base …
Production will take a long time on that first nuclear submarine. But once that first one is in the water, we can expect them to be produced every three years from there on in.
Malinauskas says the first of the Aukus submarines to be produced in Adelaide, which will come into active service with the navy in 2042, will be produced throughout the 2030s.
‘Stabilisation still means acting in our national interest,’ Wong says
China (and Russia) have both reacted quite strongly to the Aukus agreement – that was expected. All three countries were prepared for some harsh language and disgruntlement from the two powers in response to the agreement that will see Australia’s strategic defences in this region boosted through nuclear-powered submarines (as well as increased US and UK presence in Australia).
China was offered a briefing on the plan, which it was understood not to have taken up (but, as you read on, that might not be correct).
Australia’s diplomats (and ministers) have done a lot of work to brief countries in the region, with Richard Marles mentioning yesterday they had made more than 60 phone calls to do what they could to allay any concerns about the announcement.
Penny Wong, speaking to ABC radio RN Breakfast, said stabilising the relationship with China didn’t mean just kowtowing to China:
I always made clear that stabilisation still means acting in our national interest.
I always said we wanted to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must and we will engage in our national interests. And we will continue to do that.
Wong said she believed China would be briefed on the Aukus plan:
We’re always happy to be very transparent about our plans.
We believe that one of the ways we can deal in the region openly clearly and be clear to demonstrate our motivation, which is stability and peace, is to be very transparent about our plans.
Wong said she had offered her counterpart a briefing when she met him in Delhi and China would be offered “further briefings” from the department.
What does “further” briefings mean?
We are having a general diplomatic corps briefing and I understand China will be attending.
Along with many other countries and that is a good thing and in that briefing, this issue around submarines and Australia’s military spend will be central.
Wong said briefings of that nature were normal in the course of diplomacy.
Acoss urges intervention to lower power bills
The Australian Council of Social Service is calling on the government to intervene and make the energy regulator lower its retail margins.
The Australian Energy Regulator this morning released a draft decision that household energy prices in some states are likely to surge by 19.5% to 23.7%.
Acoss is calling on the federal government to follow Victoria’s lead and update its guidelines to the regulator urging it to lower retail margins and set the direct market offer at a better price for consumers.
Its chief executive Cassandra Goldie said:
In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, today’s announcement of another increase to electricity prices by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is a blow to people across Australia, most of all those on low-incomes, who experienced average 20% rises last year.
While the projected increase of between 20 and 22% to the Default Market Offer by the Australian Energy Regulator could have been an even higher increase if not for the Albanese Government energy price cap at the end of 2022, it is still far too high for people on low incomes already struggling with cost-of-living crisis.
People on the lowest incomes do not have anything left in their budgets to cut back on and are at breaking point. We are worried about what consequences this leaves for people, including further debt, disconnection, or homelessness. These are unacceptable choices to be made in such a wealthy country.
As well as calling on the government to update the regulator’s guidelines, Acoss is repeating calls to lift jobseeker to at least $76 a day and to increase commonwealth rent assistance by 50% to reduce rental stress.
Acoss also wants to see the government provide energy debt relief of up to $2,000 a customer in energy hardship, as well as federal government coinvest with state and territory governments in energy efficiency, electrification and solar retrofits for low-income housing and institute mandatory energy performance rental standards.
How will we pay for Aukus?
Natasha has covered off some of shadow defence minister Andrew Hastie’s interview on RN Breakfast there. There were lots of interesting bits in there, including that he agrees that there needs to be some other cuts to defence to pay for it.
The total estimated cost is $368bn – but that is obviously not due immediately. It’s staggered over the next 30 years.
Over the next four years (the forwards) the government needs to find $9bn to pay for the first parts of the bill. Jim Chalmers says that is cost neutral as $6bn is coming from scrapping the French deal and $3bn is coming from other cuts within defence.
Peter Dutton yesterday was against cutting from elsewhere in defence. He said on Tuesday:
It’s not credible for the government to say that there’s no net impact even over the forward estimates.
We can’t allow Labor to cannibalise the defence force to pay for Aukus – it’s not an either or option.
Hastie though, says there is room for cuts in defence. He told ABC News Breakfast:
I think there’s waste in every government department and what we want clarity on is what cuts are going to be made.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in defence industry. There’s existing programs which have a lot of Australian content. We’ll know next month with the defence strategic review. But we’re calling on the government to be transparent about where the cuts will be, what programs will be affected, what services will be affected. At the moment there is no clarity.
Opposition call power bill news a ‘broken promise’
As you would expect, the opposition has seized on the energy market default market offer, with shadow energy minister Ted O’Brien calling it a “broken promise reconfirmed”.
He is referring to Labor’s promise to lower power bills by $275 by 2025. Labor won’t repeat the commitment now, that is true. It made it during the election, based on modelling showing what adding more renewables to the grid would do (and the rewiring the nation plan).
But it is also a bit rich for the opposition to be lumping all of this at Labor’s feet, given that Angus Taylor, the former energy minister (minister for lowering power prices, as Scott Morrison used to call him) KNEW power prices would be increasing (as reported here and here).
But O’Brien is leading the opposition charge against the government on this:
Winter is on the way and I have grave fears that senior citizens and families doing it tough won’t turn on the heater for fear of their energy bill.
The human impact of Labor’s failure to manage Australia’s energy market should not be underestimated.
In terms of “managing the Australia’s energy market”, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and supply chain issues have had a pretty big impact – but never let facts get in the way of a good political line.
As we mentioned a little earlier, we are all waiting on national cabinet to deliver the targeted relief for the east coast states – and hopefully that will take away at least some of the sting.
The opposition voted against that plan when it went to the parliament in December.
‘New strategic disorder’
On the breaking news that a Russian fighter jet has hit a US drone, Richard Marles told ABC News Breakfast it was yet another example of Russia “not playing by the rules”.
Marles said he had no information that wasn’t already in the public domain but said it was a “very worrying development”.
Andrew Hastie says it came as another example of the “new strategic disorder”:
I think it’s priced in with Russia. They’re an authoritarian regime. They’ve started an illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Thousands have died in the past year …
We hear the news this Russian fighter has flown into a US drone. It sort of seems normal, sadly. But this is the new strategic disorder that we are facing, not just in eastern Europe, but also in our region and that’s why we support the government in taking action to acquire these submarines for the Australian navy going forward.
‘Funding Aukus will require sacrifices’
The leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton, has said the Coalition would support NDIS cuts to pay for Aukus submarines.
Andrew Hastie is asked why shouldn’t there be other savings found in the defence budget to pay for the submarines.
As the assistant defence minister, I saw a lot of waste. And this is there is always there are always savings to be made. So we’re not arguing that there should be no cuts. We just want to make sure that these are done in a considered way if they are done and we also want certainly.
Defence industry in Australia wants certainty. And they’re waiting for the defence strategic review to be handed down because they want to know which programs will be cut. They want to know which businesses will be affected. And the Australian public needs to know as well.
Asked about Dutton’s comments about the NDIS, and where he would want to find savings, Hastie says:
Peter mentioned NDIS as an example – he was referring to having a conversation with the government about finding efficiencies across government, because that’s the reality that we face. We can’t allow costs to balloon, we can’t live beyond our means.
Now, the NDIS is a really important program for vulnerable Australians and the Coalition has supported it from its inception. I want to make that very clear.
But funding Aukus will require sacrifices and I think the government needs to be upfront about how they’re going to fund it.
‘We are supportive,’ Coalition says
Andrew Hastie has reiterated the opposition’s support for the deal but says the the opposition will question the timing and budget:
We are supportive. I want to make that very clear that the Coalition supports the Albanese government’s move to acquire their submarines. I think this is an excellent and prudent decision.
Now we do have questions as an opposition. We have questions about the timing, and our sequencing of the acquisition of these submarines. And of course, the cost to our bottom line because this is a massive spend – $368bn over the life of the project.
It is going to require sacrifice and that’s an important point. So we’ll be holding them to account as you would expect us to in the best traditions of the Westminster system.
Hastie labels Chinese accusations ‘ironic’
The shadow defence minister, Andrew Hastie, is speaking to ABC Radio about the Aukus deal.
He’s critical of the accusations from China:
China is undergoing the biggest peacetime military expansion since the second world war. So it’s it’s a bit ironic for them to give us a lecture about a modest increase in our military power relative to this …
Certainly we don’t want to create any issues with with China. We just want to make sure that we will be able to defend ourselves in the future.
‘You’re talking about 20,000 direct jobs being created’
Richard Marles is asked about that enormous price tag which comes with protecting the national interest and the global rules based order. He’s defending the fact that any program that is designed to last several decades was always going to have a big price tag and that the investment will also deliver an economic dividend for Australia:
We’ve been very upfront about the fact that we see the defence budget growing over the medium to long term and one of the pressures that we’re dealing with in respect of a budget where we’ve been making very significant decisions.
We returned 99% of the revenue upgrades in the first budget that we handed down to the budget bottom line.
They’re the kind of sensible budgetary decisions that we are making, given that we’ve inherited a budget with $1tn of debt. But we’ve been upfront about the fact that defence will be one of those pressures on the budget.
But I’d make the point, you can extrapolate any particular government program through to the mid-2050s and you’ll get a large number.
This is 0.15% of GDP we’re spending on submarines in a context where our defence spend is 2% of GDP, growing to 2.2%. This transformation of the capability and potency of the Australian defence force.
The other point I make is the vast bulk that will be spent in the Australian economy itself. You’re talking about 20,000 direct jobs being created by virtue of the spend in respect of the submarines.
So there will be an economic dividend associated with this and it will see an enormous increase in the technological capability of our broader economy.
Power bill relief plan
Hello from Canberra on this Wednesday morning.
Just popping in with a little reminder that we are expecting the power bill relief plan to be signed off from national cabinet this month. That can’t come a moment too soon given what Peter Hannam has reported on electricity prices.
You may remember the parliament was recalled in December last year to deal with power prices. The first step was market intervention – the government capped coal and gas prices. Prices were always going to go up (and obviously, they have) but they aren’t going up by as much as they would have without the intervention.
Still, that’s cold comfort for people who are struggling to pay their bills.
The next step of the plan was a $1.5bn direct relief plan, which will be jointly funded by the states and the commonwealth. The national cabinet is to sign off on that plan this month and each (east coast) state will explain how they plan on getting that money to their residents (without increasing inflation).
Given the news today, that power price relief is needed more than ever and people will be anxiously waiting for details. We will bring it to you as soon as we can
'We would be condemned by history' for not acting in Australia's interest, Marles says
Acting prime minister and defence minister Richard Marles has spoken to ABC News Breakfast this morning after the $368bn announcement of the Aukus deal yesterday.
In response to the reaction from China accusing Australia, the US and Britain of embarking on a “path of error and danger”, Marles defends making a decision that is in Australia’s national interest:
We are seeking to acquire this capability to make our contribution to the collective security of the region and the maintenance of the global rules-based order.
And one of the issues within our region we are witnessing the largest conventional military build-up that the world has seen since the end of the second world war. And it’s not Australia who is doing that, but that shapes the world in which we live.
We would be condemned by history if we don’t put ourselves in a position where we can be able to guide Australia through that difficult set of strategic circumstances and maintain our national interests into the future.
The decision we are making is going to hand to our kids and our grandkids a much more self-reliant country and a country which we will be able to keep safe.
UK dismisses China’s claims
The UK’s foreign secretary has dismissed China’s claims the Aukus submarine deal poses a nuclear proliferation threat.
When the deal was unveiled yesterday, China’s foreign ministry said the pact would stimulate an arms race and “sabotage” the international nuclear non-proliferation system.
China’s mission to the UN denounced that “two nuclear weapons states who claim to uphold the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard are transferring tons of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear-weapon state”.
The UK foreign secretary James Cleverly has told the ABC there’s been no breach of the non proliferation treaty:
We’re completely confident these are in complete compliance with non proliferation.
Cleverly said there was no reason for China to believe that Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines was directed towards it.
Power prices set to increase in NSW, south-east Queensland and SA
Households in three states will face increases in the power bills of as much as 23.7% from 1 July if the Australian Energy Regulator’s draft determination is confirmed.
The increases in the so-called default market offer were outlined in a media release from the regulator this morning.
The electricity price safety net is in intended to mark the maximum increases for households and small business customers on standard retail plans in South Australia, New South Wales and south-east Queensland. Victoria is likely to release its own default over later today.
Residential customers on standard retail plans could face price increases of 19.5% to 23.7% depending on their region, the regulator said. Small business customers could face price increases of 14.7% to 25.4% depending on their location.
Clare Savage, the chair of the AER, told ABC’s Radio National this morning that while the increases were “significant” they could have been as much as 40% to 50% prior to the federal government’s intervention to cap domestic gas and black coal prices.
It’s still an increase so it’s not as bad as it could have been. The default market offer isn’t meant to be the cheapest rate out there – quite the opposite. It’s meant to be the maximum price that retailers can charge on default contracts.
After consultation, the AER will issue its final default offer for the year.
Penny Wong seeks International Atomic Energy Agency negotiations on Aukus
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, has written to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to formally request negotiations on oversight of the Aukus nuclear-powered submarine plans, amid ongoing pushback from China.
In a statement issued overnight, the IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, noted the announcement by the leaders of Australia, the US and the UK “on Australia’s acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines”.
In addition to Wong’s letter, Grossi said he had received separate communications on this matter from the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, as well as from the US and the UK, all reaffirming that “maintaining the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and Agency safeguards remains a core objective in relation to Aukus”. Grossi said:
I also note Australia’s previous declaration to the Agency that it does not intend to pursue uranium enrichment or reprocessing in relation to Aukus and that it has no plans to undertake nuclear fuel fabrication as part of this effort.
Grossi vowed to navigate the serious legal and complex technical matters “in an independent, impartial, and professional manner” and said the IAEA “must ensure that no proliferation risks will emanate from this project”.
He explained that article 14 of the IAEA’s existing comprehensive safeguards agreement “allows Australia to use nuclear material which is required to be safeguarded under the CSA in a nuclear activity, such as nuclear propulsion for submarines, provided that Australia makes an arrangement with the Agency in this regard”. He added:
Foreign Minister Wong has formally requested the Agency to commence negotiations on an arrangement required under Article 14 of Australia’s CSA. In accordance with the applicable norms (modified Code 3.1 of its Subsidiary Arrangements), Australia has also provided to the Agency preliminary design information related to this project.
Grossi promised to keep the IAEA board of governors and member states informed of the work, and to submit a report on this matter to the next regular session of the board in Vienna in June.
Good morning! Thanks to Martin for kicking things off, Natasha May on deck with you now.
Woodside board face climate activist fight
Institutional shareholders angry at Woodside Energy’s approach to climate change will take their fight to its board for the first time at next month’s AGM, Australian Associated Press reports.
They are targeting three longstanding directors up for re-election – Queensland Resources Council chief executive and former federal resources minister Ian Macfarlane, Singaporean oil and gas executive Swee Chen Goh and American former oil boss Larry Archibald.
The non-executive trio are up for another stint on the 10-member board (not including chairman Richard Goyder and managing director Meg O’Neill) and were expected to be rubber-stamped at the annual general meeting.
But shareholder advocacy group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, alongside institutional investors – industry superannuation fund Vision Super and fund manager Betashares – said today they had lost faith in the directors.
In statements relating to the re-election of directors sent to Woodside, they call for all three to be held to account for repeatedly failing to have a credible climate strategy and continuing to allocate the bulk of Woodside’s capital to developing new oil and gas projects.
The activist shareholders are also concerned carbon offsets continue to dominate Woodside’s strategy to cut emissions at production sites, according to the statement filed with Woodside before the 23 April AGM.
Shareholders across the Australian market are increasingly demanding climate accountability and sustainability competence at the board level, and many boards – including Woodside’s – have acknowledged climate change to be an issue that will affect their business.
Woodside confirmed that members’ statements have been received from ACCR. A spokesperson said:
These statements were not compliant with the requirements of the Corporations Act, and so will not be included in the upcoming notice of meeting.
In response ACCR said it was deeply concerned at the apparent denial of shareholders’ ability to voice concerns about governance at the AGM.
Robodebt scandal 'totally regrettable', Morrison says
Also on 7.30 last night, Scott Morrison was grilled about the robodebt scandal, which he was inextricably linked to through his time as social services minister, treasurer and prime minister.
The welfare compliance program, ruled to be illegal and the subject of a royal commission, was conceived during his timee as social services minister and later ended under his prime ministership when it was found to breach the law.
Asked about the program, Morrison responded on 7.30:
It is totally regrettable and it is a very sad thing that has occurred.
He said “there was a lot learned”but defended the intent behind the scheme.
The idea of ensuring that taxpayers’ money, which is paid, is done properly is the principle and I think that principle is right. But clearly how this was executed on an industrial scale failed that test.
7.30 host Sarah Ferguson repeatedly asked Morrison if the program was immoral.
He declined to answer specifically, but said:
I think the outcome, not the intent, but the outcome was very different from what was intended.
Baby dies two days after crash that killed mother and brother
A baby girl has died two days after she was pulled from the wreckage of a car crash in Sydney’s south-west that killed her mother and brother, Australian Associated Press reports.
NSW police said the three-month-old, named in media reports as Ivy Prahastono, died in the Children’s hospital in Westmead on Wednesday morning.
Her 34-year-old mother Katrina Prahastono was driving a Mazda SUV on Monday morning when it was involved in a crash with a cement truck.
Prahastono and her two year-old-son Kai died at the scene, while critically injured Ivy was taken to hospital. The 48-year-old truck driver was not injured.
Police are investigating the crash and have urged anyone with dashcam vision in the area at the time or anyone with further information to come forward.
Morrison says China threat was ‘top’ reason for Aukus subs
Former prime minister Scott Morrison has admitted that China’s rapid military expansion was “at the top of the list” of reasons why the United States gave Australia access to closely guarded nuclear submarine secrets under the Aukus pact.
In an interview with the ABC’s 7.30 program last night, Morrison said his reasoning for pursuing the nuclear subs deal was to prevent war with China.
“It was a combination of events but that was certainly at the top of the list,” he told host Sarah Ferguson, when she asked if China’s rapid rise was the reason the United States finally shared their nuclear secrets.
Asked if he was contemplating a future war with China when planning the Aukus deal in 2021, Morrison responded:
No, not necessarily. It was more about planning the situation that we would prevent such an outcome and to prevent such an outcome you needed this capability.
You needed the counter-balancing influence within the Indo-Pacific that this would produce. The goal here ... was providing an enduring strategic counter-balance. To achieve that, you need these capabilities.
Morrison also confirmed reports he had initially kept the Aukus pact secret from even his own cabinet ministers, besides defence ministers Linda Reynolds and Peter Dutton, and foreign affairs minister Marise Payne.
Morning. I’m Martin Farrer and welcome to our rolling coverage of the day’s news. I’ll bring you some of the best overnight breaking stories before my colleague Natasha May takes over.
The fallout from the Aukus submarine deal is very much top of the news agenda this morning, with China describing the scheme as a “path of error and danger”. The comments by the Chinese foreign ministry highlight the increasingly clear divide across Asia-Pacific with the US, Australia and UK recalibrating western defence capabilities in the region to counter what is seen as Beijing’s bellicose stance on Taiwan. Former prime minister Scott Morrison told ABC’s 7.30 that the threat from China was “top of the list” of reasons for buying the nuclear subs. We’ve got more on what he said coming up.
Climate activists have been stepping up action against Woodside Energy, including defacing its Perth offices in protest against the alleged destruction of ancient First Nations art in the Burrup Peninsula. Now three members of the board face a fight for re-election at next month’s AGM after shareholder advocacy group the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, alongside institutional investors – industry superannuation fund Vision Super and fund manager Betashares – said this morning they had lost faith in the directors and would hold them to account for lacking a clear climate strategy.
Financial analysts reckon that the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank has slashed the chances of the RBA raising the cash rate next month for what would be the 11th month in a row. The bank’s demise has forced a sharp selloff in banking shares across the world, including in Australia, and appears to have clouded the outlook for western economies. Shares rallied on Wall Street but the markets are jittery and the ASX could be in for a rocky ride today after dropping 1.4% yesterday. Into the bargain, Facebook parent Meta is sacking a further 10,000 workers.
With that, let’s get going for the day …