What we learned, Monday 15 May

That’s where we’ll leave the blog for today – thanks so much for joining us. Here is a wrap of the day’s biggest stories:

  • The financial services minister, Stephen Jones, announced $86.5m in funding for the national anti-scams centre, which Labor pledged to create before the last election.

  • Shine Lawyers announced it reached a $132.7m settlement with the commonwealth to end a class action against the Department of Defence over the spread of PFAS chemicals.

  • PwC Australia has announced the former Telstra chief executive Ziggy Switkowski will lead a review of the global consultancy firm’s governance, accountability and culture.

  • The PM and immigration minister Andrew Giles criticised opposition leader Peter Dutton for his stance on immigration.

  • The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, today began a “budget roadshow” to sell the cost-of-living measures outlined in last week’s economic statement.

  • The Victorian government is set to drop the operator of its problem-plagued Myki system for the state’s train, tram and bus networks, with American company Conduent awarded the ticketing contract.

  • States and territories should be given financial penalties for failing to meet housing targets, according to a new report by the Business Council of Australia.


NSW premier says to ‘have faith’ in 'cutting-edge design' as Sydney housing affordability turns new residents away

NSW premier, Chris Minns, has said that the future of Sydney lies in focusing on higher density housing in urban areas.

Speaking at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Sydney 2050 Summit earlier today, he said that housing affordability and the growing rental crisis were making it more difficult for Sydney to attract new residents, particularly young people.

Forget about owning a home, it has now become impossible to even rent a home.

The implications for the economy are devastating, not to mention the cultural impacts for an entire generation of young people who are saying ‘this city is not for me’.”

Sydney can’t grow by adding another street to the western fringe of Sydney every week … [because] you have to stretch social infrastructure over a bigger and bigger plane.

I think the best way to ensure we protect open space is to have buildings that go up.

[Anti-developer sentiment] is not the reaction to how we build cities around the world. You don’t see the mayor of New York saying: ‘Manhattan is full, we have enough buildings, we’re done.

Have faith that if we get the planning processes in place, and we get world-class developers, and planners … that Sydney in its totality, that we can build beautiful cities, using cutting-edge design tools.

I think we can still do that.


AAP is reporting that a woman has been rescued while the search for a man continues after the pair were reported missing from a sinking vessel in water off Queensland’s Fraser Island.

Two people were on board the vessel of the northern tip of the island, also known as K’gari, when they radioed for help about 8.30pm on Sunday, police said.

Police and volunteer marine services began an air and water search before rescue helicopter crews plucked the woman from the water about 11.30am on Monday.

She will be airlifted to Bundaberg Hospital for treatment.

The search involving multiple aircraft and vessels continues for a missing male.

'Is he just looking for some buttons to press?': PM on Dutton's migration attacks

PM Anthony Albanese has been on a lengthy AM radio interview with the ABC in Melbourne, where he defended the amount of welfare relief being given to Australia’s unemployed and again poured cold water on the idea of amending the controversial stage-three tax cuts.

Albanese, on a post-budget blitz today, has already held two press conferences and a few radio interviews; so he could be forgiven for arriving at the ABC a little later than planned (your correspondent was intrigued by a lengthy talkback segment, aired in the interim, where people talked about near-death experiences).

Asked about opposition leader Peter Dutton’s concerns about immigration numbers, Albanese questioned whether he was truly worried, or “is he just looking for some buttons to press?” – noting the migration figures were the same as those projected under the former Coalition government.

“Peter is looking around for a sense of purpose … trying to create some issues where they shouldn’t be,” Albanese said.

The PM accused his rival of “a history of intemperate remarks”, noting Dutton’s former claims that Melburnians were afraid of going out for dinner on account of a crime wave in that city several years ago.


AAP is reporting that a man’s body has been discovered on rocks along the south-west Victorian coast two weeks after he and four friends were swept out to sea while diving.

Search and Rescue Squad divers found the body at Moonlight Beach, near the Devil’s Kitchen tourist area on Monday morning, before it was retrieved by a police aircrew.

The body is yet to be formally identified, but police believe it is the fifth member of a group of friends swept out to sea while diving on 30 April.

Three were rescued after becoming stranded on a cliff face later that day, while a 30-year-old Sunshine North man lost his life.

Police said the two-week search for the fifth man had been difficult due to poor weather conditions.


Andrew Giles says Peter Dutton 'utterly incoherent' on migration

Immigration minister Andrew Giles was on the ABC’s Afternoon Briefing, celebrating the first approvals for aged care visas for a facility in Perth, but was also asked about the ongoing debate regarding increased immigration.

Giles was asked if he sees a case for increasing international migration in the coming years, and began his response by taking aim at the opposition leader:

I think what we’ve seen from minister Dutton is incredibly disappointing. He has been utterly incoherent in his approach to this issue, both in terms of his vast roles as the minister responsible for immigration and, indeed, as opposition leader.

Last year, he was calling for us to increase the rate of migration more quickly but now he appears to be saying the opposite and doing so in divisive and regrettable language. Language that I think is unworthy of a serious debate that we need to have around immigration policy in Australia and, indeed, one that does not recognise the extent to which our migration system was broken under his watch.

What we need to do is to have a migration system that operates in the national interest, in the interest of our economy and, of course, in the interest of our society.

That’s what our response to the migration review is all about. Making sure that we have got settings that are fit for purpose, understand the complexities of our migration system and its interaction with some of the other almost all of the other policy aspects of government. That’s what I’m focused on. It’s very disappointing but not surprising that minister Dutton once again is seeking to divide rather than to constructively engage with this important issue.


AAP is reporting that a strip of wetsuit material and small pieces of possibly a surfboard have been recovered as the search continues for a South Australian man attacked by a shark and feared dead.

Teacher Simon Baccanello was at the back of a group of about a dozen surfers at Walkers Rock Beach on Eyre peninsula on Saturday morning when he was attacked.

Efforts to find the 46-year-old over the weekend failed and resumed on Monday, with police and volunteers concentrating on areas of the coast near the location of the incident.

They later reported finding what appeared to be a piece of wetsuit material and some small pieces of polystyrene that could be from a surfboard.

The items will be forensically examined.

Police said they would continue the search over coming days.

You can read more on the story below:


Richmond FC backs Indigenous voice

The Richmond Tigers are the latest AFL team to back the Indigenous voice referendum, joining a growing list of clubs and sporting organisations to support the coming vote.

In a tweet this afternoon, the Melbourne-based Aussie rules side came out strongly for the referendum. It comes after the Collingwood Magpies and West Coast Eagles publicly backed the vote in recent weeks.

“We recognise and respect people’s right to form their own views, but the lived experience of our football club means we fully support the proposed voice to parliament and a yes vote,” Richmond said.


— Richmond FC 🐯 (@Richmond_FC) May 15, 2023

The National Rugby League advocated for a yes vote last week.

Both the NRL and AFL have their Indigenous rounds coming up. The NRL will hold its Indigenous round this week, while the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls round will feature the annual Dreamtime at the G match. Guardian Australia understands both football codes will feature referendum material in their Indigenous rounds.


Jim Chalmers begins budget tour

Elsewhere, the federal treasurer, Jim Chalmers, began his charm offensive today, taking to the streets to convince people of his second budget. Chalmers will be crisscrossing the nation, speaking to business and community leaders as well as union representatives about the measures he introduced last week.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers in Sydney today.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers in Sydney today. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

He began in Sydney today, and told reporters he believed it was his job to “tell more people” how the budget will be affecting them:

Our budget sees people through difficult times and sets our country up for the future. It helps Australians doing it tough and makes significant inroads in cleaning up the mess we inherited from the coalition.

We understand that people are under the pump. My job this week is to tell more people how our investments in the budget can help.

We have a broad ambitious agenda to support the legitimate aspirations whether it’s here in north-western Sydney, or right around Australia.

We support tax relief, particularly for people on low and middle incomes


More on Peter Dutton’s ‘thought bubble’ this morning

I just wanted to go back to the PM’s presser in Adelaide this morning, where he addressed the opposition’s proposal to allow people on unemployment benefits to work up to 10 hours without cutting the payment.

Albanese called it a “thought bubble,” but conceded that the employment services aren’t “working to the extent that they should”:

It was thought bubble from Peter Dutton.

They don’t take advantage of the earning capacity which is there now to earn additional money, and then there’s a taper rate which is available.

Clearly, employment services aren’t working to the extent that they should when you have an unemployment rate of just 3.5% – a historic low – but you still have people looking to work.

Some of the system that’s been established by our predecessors is about ticking the boxes rather than providing that support.


Thanks Natasha, Mostafa Rachwani with you this afternoon, to take you through the rest of the day’s news.

Thanks for your attention this Monday. Mostafa Rachwani now has the blog. See you tomorrow!

Ziggy Switkowski to lead independent review of PwC Australia

PwC Australia has announced the former Telstra chief executive Ziggy Switkowski will lead a review of the global consultancy firm’s governance, accountability and culture.

PwC has been accused of a “disgraceful breach of trust” after a now degregistered tax specialist shared confidential information about government policy with colleagues, who would later use it to help clients and make millions of dollars.

Switkowski’s report will be completed in September with key findings and recommendations to be shared publicly to improve transparency.

Here’s the statement issued by PwC a short time ago:

Dr Switkowski will consider all aspects of PwC Australia’s governance, accountability and culture, including how the firm applies its professional values and ethical standards across its work.

The independent review will look at the way in which decisions are made and overseen within PwC, including how financial goals, values and strategic objectives are balanced and prioritised.

It will examine the way in which partners and staff are held accountable for their responsibilities, as well as assess the values and behaviours that exist at all levels within the firm., will lead a review of the consultancy firm’s governance, accountability and culture


Greens ‘failing the public’ by blocking housing fund, PM says

Circling back to the prime minister, Anthony Albanese’s, press conference in Adelaide where he accused the Greens of “failing the public” by blocking the passage of the government’s $10bn housing future fund.

This is a gap that is there with the Greens political party between their rhetoric and their delivery. This is them putting politics before what is needed. You can’t say you support social housing, and then vote against it.

Albanese also questioned the basis upon which the Greens aren’t supporting the bill because it relies upon a future fund:

The truth is that the Greens political party would rather posture than vote for what is before the parliament. They need to explain that contradiction which is there.

And I’ve seen some of their absurd comments speaking about gambling. If that is the case that setting up a fund and you use vested interests to achieve outcomes, they must be horrified at the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and what it does.

They must be terrified about superannuation, which is exactly how superannuation operates for individuals in this country. And I would have thought that compulsory superannuation was something that the Greens party supported.

But if you look at their rhetoric, it is just nonsense. It is just grandstanding and immaturity, and it’s why you need a party of majority government to actually be in charge, because we’re interested in outcomes, and the Greens political party seem to be just interested in playing politics.


Those of us on the east coast won’t be putting our hot water bottles and duvets away any time soon, there’s another cold front on the way.

A cold front will bring a wintery change to south-east Australia over the coming days.

The front will reach western Tasmania later today and will move into the south-east states on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Latest: https://t.co/4W35o8i7wJ pic.twitter.com/h8YuoVSomQ

— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) May 15, 2023

‘We are the caretakers of this land’, Nauo elder says

Elder and native title applicant Jody Miller said the lower Eyre peninsula was a significant place for the Nauo people. She said in a statement:

We are the caretakers of this land where we camp, fish, hunt, gather and share our stories that extend across Australia. This determination is the effort of over 30 years’ hard work, and we now invite pastoralists and businesses to negotiate with us regarding matters on our country.

The Aboriginal affairs minister, Kyam Maher, said he was pleased the state and the Nauo people have been able to resolve the native title claim by consent.

This significant step for the Nauo people, and for reconciliation in this state, is the result of many years of hard work and perseverance, and I commend the efforts of everyone involved.


Nauo people granted native title over 8,000 sq km in SA

The Nauo people have been granted native title over almost 8,000 square kilometres on South Australia’s Eyre peninsula, AAP reports.

The federal court on Monday presented the traditional owners with their native title determination at a special hearing on country.

It includes the towns of Palkagee, Mount Joy, Coolillie, Polda, Sheringa, Kiana, Mitchell, Kapinnie, Coulta, Wangary and Coffin Bay along with the Coffin Bay and Lincoln national parks.


Platypus return to Royal national park for first time in 50 years

When a little platypus wandered into the waters of the Sydney’s Royal national park this weekend it was the first of its species to do so in over half a century.

A platypus moves toward the Hacking River after being released by Scientists back into Sydney’s Royal National Park for the first time in over fifty years.
A platypus moves toward the Hacking River after being released by Scientists back into Sydney’s Royal national park for the first time in over 50 years. Photograph: Jaimi Joy/Reuters

A translocation program is bringing nine platypus from southern NSW to the national park in the hope of re-establishing a self sustaining population after 50 years of being locally extinct.

Scientists Francesca Roncolato, Rob Brewster and Patrick Giumelli from WWF release a platypus back into Sydney’s Royal National Park for the first time in over fifty years.
Scientists Francesca Roncolato, Rob Brewster and Patrick Giumelli from WWF release a platypus back into Sydney’s Royal national park for the first time in over 50 years. Photograph: Jaimi Joy/Reuters

The project is a collaboration between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Taronga Conservation Society Australia, UNSW Sydney and WWF-Australia.

A platypus swims in the Hacking River after being released by Scientists back into Sydney’s Royal National Park.
A platypus swims in the Hacking River after being released by Scientists back into Sydney’s Royal national park. Photograph: Jaimi Joy/Reuters

Five female platypus have been released into the park so far and another four males will be released this coming week once the females have successfully established their territory.


Woman rescued after boat sinks off Qld’s Fraser Island

A woman has been rescued while the search for a man continues after the pair were reported missing from a sinking vessel in water off Queensland’s Fraser Island.

Two people were on board the vessel of the northern tip of the island, also known as K’gari, when they radioed for help about 8.30pm on Sunday, police said.

Police and volunteer marine services began an air and water search before rescue helicopter crews plucked the woman from the water about 11.30am on Monday.

She will be airlifted to Bundaberg Hospital for treatment.

The search involving multiple aircraft and vessels continues for a missing male.


Lehrmann ‘convicted in the media before the trial started’, lawyer says

Bruce Lehrmann’s lawyer has said his client was denied the presumption of innocence because it was widely accepted that Brittany Higgins, who alleged that he had raped her, was a “victim”.

Steven Whybrow said he had a “problem” with Higgins being referred to as “the victim” instead of “the complainant”, as well as the optics of Higgins being accompanied to court by the victims of crime commissioner, Heidi Yates.

Bruce Lehrmann with his lawyer Steven Whybrow in 2022.
Bruce Lehrmann (left) with his lawyer Steven Whybrow in 2022. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Speaking at the ongoing inquiry into Lehrmann’s trial, Whybrow also said the ACT’s director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, stated publicly that there was “a reasonable prospect of conviction” of Lehrmann after the trial was discontinued.

Lehrmann was “convicted in the media before the trial started”, he said.

Lehrmann has consistently denied allegations that he raped Brittany Higgins, a colleague and fellow political staffer, in the office of the then defence industry minister, Linda Reynolds, in March 2019. He pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.


Carroll says he’s very excited for the new technology to be rolled out:

This is the big step change that we’ve needed in Melbourne. Right around the world, we’re one of the few countries that is still using a card-based system.


New Myki system to begin trials in 2024

Some more information on the timeline from Carroll. He says Conduent will take over from Myki’s existing operator – NTT data from 1 December, with trials of the new system to begin in 2024 before a broader rollout in 2025. He says some ticket readers – not all – will need to be replaced:

We think some readers will need to be placed, particularly the most outdated one, obviously with the new technology … but we also don’t know what the future holds or indeed possesses. So we want the modern platform that will be able to use anything that may be devised or indeed innovated going forward.


Asked why Conduent was awarded the state’s public transport ticketing contract, Carroll says:

I won’t go into the detail except to say conduit offered a superior package. They were working very closely with our social enterprise sector, and above and beyond everything else, they showed that they have a very good value for money [and] more than that – a proven track record from Europe to North America and now, Australia.


Carroll confirms the ticketing contract will be worth $1.7bn over 15 years – so roughly about $113m a year.


‘Myki’ name to stay

Unfortunately for Myki haters, the name is staying. Carroll says:

The intention is that it will still be Myki. Myki does have a strong brand awareness, but it will be a completely different company running the system and we will go from a card based system, where essentially all the data and all the information was located on the Myki card to an account based system where all the information is essentially downloaded from the web, and it’s a lot more quicker, and a lot more seamless.


Carroll says there will be a two-year migration over to the new system:

Your myki card will still be applicable for the next two years and slowly over the coming 12 months to 24 months you will then be able to use your credit card, your smart smartphone and digital smartwatch or any other media such as QR codes, Bluetooth devices that we are able to use on this new ticketing system.


Victoria names new operator for public transport ticketing system

The public transport minister, Ben Carroll, has just confirmed US company Conduent has been awarded the state’s public transport ticketing contract:

I’m very pleased to announce the Conduent Business Services that run smart transport ticketing from Montreal to New Jersey to other places all around the world will be now running in Melbourne ticketing system.

This will be a state based system that will also incorporate V/Line, as well as our bus network and all modes of public transport. This is a very important moment for Victoria and public transport.

For the past 16 years we have had a card-based ticketing system under Myki. We will now reach the 21st century, with an account based ticketing simpler and more easier to use, through your credit card, through your smartphone, through your smartwatch.


Baccanello had joined the local Elliston Area School at the beginning of the year.

The education Minister, Blair Boyer, said the department had put support services in place for the teacher’s colleagues and the students.

Principal Chad Fleming said Baccanello was a valued colleague and a true friend to everyone. Fleming said:

With his dedication to education and an enthusiastic and positive approach to learning and life, Simon showed care and respect to everyone.



Search resumes for SA shark attack victim

A few items of interest have been found as the search continues for a missing South Australian surfer attacked by a shark and feared dead, AAP reports.

Teacher Simon Baccanello was at the back of a group of about a dozen surfers at Walkers Rock Beach on Eyre Peninsula on Saturday morning when he was attacked.

Efforts to find the 46-year-old over the weekend failed and resumed today, with police and volunteers concentrating on areas of the coast near where the incident occurred.

Superintendent Paul Bahr told ABC Radio:

We’ll be doing the beaches around Walkers Rock and we’ll be checking for any signs that might point to what occurred. We continued the search along the shore along Walkers Rock yesterday.

We did find a few items of interest that we’ve now collected. We are in the process of putting together a report which will go to the coroner.

Supt Bahr said crews were searching the high-tide marks, with the help of volunteers, for any further debris.


Education sector ‘severely lacking accountability’

Robert Parsonson from the International Student Education Agents Association told the inquiry the sector was “severely lacking accountability” and there was “no cross talk” between providers and departments.

It’s very difficult to get rid of poor agents … it makes for the worst headlines and tarnishes the reputations in Australia. It needs to be sorted out.

The department of home affairs employs less than 20 staff to cover more than 5,000 registered migration agents. An industry-led review taken by the former government failed to reach agreement among peak bodies after two years of deliberations.


‘Lots of good guys and some very bad guys’ in sector, universities say

Peak bodies agree reform is needed to prevent malpractice in the international student sector but are split on what and how far.

Sharon Cooke from Isana said she held large concern for the effectiveness of current regulation and loopholes were being exploited. Providers, who provide commission to educational agents, are responsible to regulate them.

There needs to be greater transparency … there are educational agents and providers not using resources to develop best practices. There needs to be a shift in how education agents are treated by the regulatory bodies – best practice, not minimum standards.

Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said bodies had been “shocked” by reports of exploitation of international students and it had “put a cloud” over the reputation of tertiary education.

International students have been so loyal and so patient and so determined [during Covid] … putting up with things you wouldn’t think are fair enough … There are lots of good guys and some very bad guys.

She said a whole sector approach was needed, tying in departments and providers, but claimed the “vast majority” of problems lay outside the university sector and self regulation was working.


Myki operator loses contract

The Victorian government is set to drop the operator of its problem-plagued Myki system for the state’s train, tram and bus networks, with the Age reporting American company Conduent will be awarded the ticketing contract.

Public transport minister, Ben Carroll, is expected to announce the winning bidder in its long-running tender process for the state’s ticketing system at 1.30pm.

The Age has reported the government decided not to give current operator NTT Data another extension to its contract and will replace it with Conduent.

Victoria first signed a $1bn contract with Kamco in 2005 to develop the Myki system and replace the paper Metcard system. It was rolled out in 2010, more than $500m over budget and behind schedule.

Technical issues have persistently plagued the system. NTT Data, which bought Kamco in 2010, won a seven-year contract extension – worth $700m – in 2016.

Sources have told Guardian Australia that US outfits Cubic and Conduent, French multinational Thales and Hong Kong’s MTR, as well as NTT Data, all had registered interest in the new contract.


More criticism of Labor’s income management smartcard

More on what the parliamentary committee on Labor’s new compulsory income management card has heard.

Sarah Holder, of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service, said the peak body was “really disheartened” the government had “not taken this opportunity to end compulsory quarantining of welfare payments”.

Holder said the legislation appeared to remove impediments that limited the minister’s ability to expand income management.

Sarah Sacher, of Economic Justice Australia, said the bill would “cement” income management in “legislation and enable it to be further expanded”.

Sacher said:

This is not a reform bill. It is a continuation of the status quo.

Labor senator Marielle Smith, who is chairing the inquiry, noted the government’s “policy intent is to move away from compulsory income management”. She said consultation was ongoing.

The inquiry continues.


Manhunt continues in Queensland for escaped prisoner

AAP is reporting that the two inmates who escaped from a south-east Queensland prison are back in custody as the manhunt continues for a third.

The trio escaped from the Palen Creek correctional centre, about 100km south-west of Brisbane, on Sunday.

Two of the men, aged 32 and 20, were apprehended at Northgate in northern Brisbane about 10am on Monday and remain in police custody.

The search for third man Antonio David Mene, 28, continues.

Mene is described by police as being Torres Strait Islander and about 170cm tall with the outline of his last name tattooed on the inside of his right arm.

He was serving three years for vehicular offences.

Police have urged anyone who has seen the men not to approach him but to call triple zero.


Brittany Higgins accused of making ‘false and misleading statements’ by chief of staff

The inquiry into the handling of Bruce Lehrmann’s trial has heard that Fiona Brown – the Liberal senator Linda Reynolds’s chief of staff – accused Brittany Higgins of making “false and misleading” statements.

Brown emailed Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steven Whybrow, and said Higgins’s claims that Brown offered to pay her six weeks’ wages to go to the Gold Coast during the 2022 election campaign, but that “if she went, there would be no prospect of her returning to work after the election”, was not true. Whybrow said Brown had already given evidence, and was “done and dusted” and he would have appreciated the opportunity to ask her about the context of those statements:

She was done and dusted. And so there was no capacity for her to be recalled … this potentially could have been extremely important material for the defence to know about.

Whybrow also denied claims from the ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, that Reynolds had allegedly been coaching him. The initial trial had heard Reynods had texted Whybrow seeking court transcripts and suggested certain texts that might be “revealing”.

Reynolds denied she was trying to “coach” Whybrow and this morning Whybrow said in fact he had shown the text messages to Drumgold to show that they were above board, and that he had advised Reynolds to stick to media reports about the trial.

He was trying to ensure Reynolds was doing the right thing, he said, but Drumgold used it the “opposite way”.


Central Land Council ‘deeply concerned’ about affect of new bill on First Nations people

Dr Josie Douglas, of Central Land Council (CLC), commended the government for abolishing the cashless debit card but was “deeply concerned” about new legislation that could cement income management policies that disproportionately affect First Nations people.

Douglas said the CLC met last month and had reiterated its opposition to blanket broad based income management.

She said the council stated, “How many times do we have to say it until the government listens to our voices?”

This bill suggest that the voices of our delegates along with many other Aboriginal people and their representative organisations across the country continue to be ignored.

Douglas said the CLC did not oppose the new smartcard technology for those who volunteered but said its introduction should be part of a transition to abolish compulsory income management.

Douglas said a sunset clause for the bill would “bring some comfort to Aboriginal Territorians who are disproportionately impacted by compulsory income management”.


Welfare advocates criticise Labor’s income management policies

Indigenous organisations and welfare advocates have blasted a government bill they claim cements income management policies that disproportionately affect First Nations people.

Labor abolished the cashless debit card – which operated in several trial sites – as part of an election promise but has kept in place income management policies in the Northern Territory, where many welfare recipients have been placed on the similar “basics card” since the Intervention.

Labor maintains it is consulting on the future of income management. While this takes place, it has created a new “smart card” – similar in functionality to the cashless debit card – to replace the outdated basics card for those compelled to have their welfare payments managed in the NT and for others who volunteer.

A bill being scrutinised by a parliamentary committee is intended to transition people on to the new smartcard and updates the powers given to the social services minister to set income management policies.


Middle men ‘taking advantage’ of vulnerable international students, inquiry hears

The international student experience has shifted since Covid and China’s lucrative market is questioning the viability of coming to Australia, a parliamentary inquiry into the sector has heard.

Dr Angela Lehmann from the Lygon Group said the drivers for international students to come to Australia had changed since the pandemic and in China particularly, return on investment was “key”.

[There are] live conversations in the Chinese market around is it worth it. A new conversation that’s come out after Covid is about new students having different ambitions towards long term permanent residency that they didn’t maybe have [before Covid].

She said diaspora communities were “taking advantage” of vulnerable offshore students by offering to act as a middle man, facilitated by social media apps such as WeChat, while education agents had also become an “important source of news” about Australia and students would be “shocked” by the rates of commission they were receiving.

The lift in the cap on working rights, recently reversed by Labor, also played a factor, she said, with international students told by agents they could come to Australia and “work as much as you want”.

Lisa Bolton, who directs QILT research and strategy, said international students remained “well behind” domestic students in terms of employment outcomes post study and were less likely to be in managerial and professional occupations, while also citing a drop in the overall international student experience over Covid, including a lack of engagement with staff.


Doctors breaching ethics for international students, inquiry hears

Councillors and GPs are helping educational agents engage in “institution swapping” to gain commission by securing visas for prestigious universities and funnelling students into cheap private providers once arriving onshore.

Labor senator Deborah O’Neill has told a parliamentary inquiry which she is chairing the sector was potentially “rife for exploitation” and posing a reputational risk to Australia.

We are having doctors breach ethics … prevention seems a critical part that’s missing … there’s incredible laxity and people who pay the price are the students as well as our international reputation. We seem so flat footed in our response to this … turning a blind eye cannot be an option.

Varsha Devi Balakrishnan from the Lygon Group said obtaining visas for reputable public institutions had become a “loophole” to swap into the cheaper private sector upon arriving.

They have councillors and gps that can provide letters to progress through institution swapping … we see a lot of students going down that route and having that conversation with agents prior to coming.

They’re hoping Australian education will lead to an Australian work outcome but that’s where they’re finding a lot of hurdles and barriers. You get an Australian degree but you can’t put that into practice in Australia.


International students facing fresh scams, inquiry told

International students are being lured into scams and swapped from legitimate institutions into cheap VET and Tafe courses once arriving in Australia, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

International student enrolment and commencement levels have this year matched or exceeded the pre Covid levels of 2019, primarily driven by south asian countries including India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Jeffrey Smart from the Lygon Group said there was “cause for concern” over the drivers for the huge spike in recent international student arrivals.

I always worry when growth starts to happen very rapidly in different parts of the sector … particularly the VET sector … there is no question in our mind that some of this is going on.

Smart said the accommodation crisis was intensifying as students faced new scams and struggled with the rising cost of living, across “every type of accommodation” and possibly catching up real estate agents in potential scams.

Karen Sandercock from the Department of Education said the demand was mainly concentrated in the higher education sector but noted there’d been an increase in “movements” between universities and vocational providers once students arrived onshore.

The inquiry heard onshore and offshore agents were collaborating to obtain student visas for legitimate universities, before using letters from counsellors or doctors to swap them into cheaper Tafe and VET degrees, gaining additional commission.

Labor MP Julian Hill said “history would tell us we should be suspicious of rapidly fast growth” and question its sustainability.

Those rapid growth figures do ring some alarm bells.


Providers overseeing educational agents a ‘comprehensive’ failure, inquiry hears

Labor MP Julian Hill has told a parliamentary inquiry the current approach of letting providers oversee educational agents has “comprehensively failed” and it’s not a question of whether more regulation is needed, but how.

Speaking on Monday, Hill said the failures have been known by the education and home affairs departments for years and “business as usual” can’t continue.

There’s been growing public concern and frustration, despair from many providers about the increasing rapacious behaviour from agents. They’re basically flogging work rights [with] obscene commissions. We’ve heard evidence of 40 to 50% commission … it’s a race to the bottom.

The current approach of letting providers oversee agents has comprehensively failed. Anyone can be an agent … my dog can be an agent selling Australian education. There’s no way to kick a bad agent out … they can keep flogging the same dodgy product.

Hill said he could “struggle to think of another market” where the consumer had no right to know what commission was being charged.

We’ve got to break this business model of dodgy agents and dodgy providers … they’re not new topics … all of this was known by the department and put to the former government … it was the universities that scuttled the previous efforts at reform that almost got there.

Hill raised a blacklist of bad agents, consistent views on standards and an agent register as immediate areas of possible reform, to happen “sooner rather than later”.


Lehrmann’s lawyer tells inquiry of ‘ongoing battle’ to obtain report

Bruce Lehrmann’s lawyer is appearing at an inquiry today into the conduct of police and prosecutors during the trial of Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

That trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct, and Lehrmann maintains his innocence.

This morning his lawyer, barrister Steven Whybrow, has told the inquiry about an “ongoing battle” to obtain the so-called Moller report during Lehrmann’s trial. The Moller report, by detective superintendent Scott Moller, is critical of Higgins.

ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, said he thought the report would be “crushing” to Higgins and that there was no valid reason to release it.

The report was eventually released after a subpoena from the defence team.

Whybrow said:

I wanted to see everything the police had seen or the prosecution had access to so that we could consider it.


NAB predicts further RBA cash rate hike by July

NAB, one of Australia’s big four banks, has raised its “baseline expectation” of how high the Reserve Bank will lift its cash rate.

They “pencil in” a 25 basis-point rate hike by the RBA’s July board meeting, although adding they see “some risk” the increase to 4.1% won’t come until August.

Perhaps with an eye to discourage twitchy headline writers, they say:

Importantly, our rate call is not a response to the recent federal budget, which we judge to be broadly neutral in terms of its effects on inflation and implications for monetary policy.

Instead, they cite three reasons for returning to their February 4.1% peak forecast: “that inflation would remain well above target in the near term; that the economy was displaying considerable resilience; and that a tight labour market would continue to support a pickup in wage growth.”

NAB, which joins ANZ among the big four in forecasting at least one more rate rise, says a further increase to 4.35% isn’t being ruled out.

It’s worth noting that as of Friday, there was no sign that the federal budget had affected rate rise expectations one way or the other. (Economists are more mixed, ‘though you might not have heard about the market non-move.)

Was the budget inflationary? Not if the markets are any guide. (Investors project the first rate cut will be next February, slightly sooner than pre-budget.) Will #Insiders mention the markets...? (@InsidersABC ) pic.twitter.com/jDDMkfCUzc

— @phannam@mastodon.green (@p_hannam) May 13, 2023

NAB’s timing might look premature or prescient in a couple of days’ time. On Wednesday, the ABS releases March quarter wage price index data and a day later April jobs figures.


Contamination payouts to be decided on a ‘site-by-site basis’

There are about 30,000 claimants but Shine lawyers say it’s soon to be able to say how big a slice of the $132.7m pie each will receive.

We’re confident that it results in a good outcome for all members.

… Each site has a different number of properties, different levels of contamination. So it will be dealt with on a site-by-site basis.


Shine Lawyers, who represented the claimants who have settled their case against the Commonwealth for over $130m for the PFAS contamination of their properties near defence air bases, have told reporters:

It means they’ll get money to compensate them for the loss of the property value. The settlement is still subject to court approval, so the next steps for the parties are to approach the court for the approval of the settlement.

Dutton on jobseeker and work hours

On another tussle that’s come out of the budget, Dutton is accusing the government of sending mixed messages when it comes to his party’s proposal to allow jobseekers to work more hours rather than raise their support payments.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton
Opposition leader Peter Dutton Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

I think the government should consider it. I just note on the weekend that the Treasurer was supporting our proposal but Amanda Rishworth was bagging it. I don’t know who to believe. I presume the Treasurer’s got seniority over Amanda Rishworth, but I just wish which government would get their lines together. Because this is a policy worth thinking about.


Dutton links housing crisis and immigration

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, is speaking in Brisbane and his rhetoric on migration is very similar to that you just heard from the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor.

He’s saying the 1.5 million migrants coming to Australia over the next five years will make it harder to people to find a rental or home.

If you’re wondering where that 1.5m migrant figure comes from and what it means – scroll down three posts and our foreign affairs correspondent Daniel Hurst lays it out for you.


PM acknowledges a ‘range of communities’ have suffered from use of PFAS chemicals

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was just asked at his press conference in Adelaide about his response to the commonwealth settling with 30,000 claimants in PFAS class action, paying out that figure of more than $130m.

Albanese says while it’s a legal matter which the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, will respond to and an action which predates his election as prime minister, his concern is for the health of Australians.

People have, across a range of communities, suffered from the use of this. It’s another example of where we have to get occupational health and safety right. We need to get it right in the first place; that would avoid these sort of actions. The biggest concern that I have with PFAS isn’t, of course, a financial one – it is the health outcomes of people who are affected by it.


PFAS settlement money will go some way but many still stuck on contaminated land, lawyer says

The joint head of class actions at Shine Lawyers, Craig Allsopp, said the settlement with the commonwealth was still subject to approval by the federal court, because the next step was to present the in-principle agreement to the court:

If the proposed settlement is found to be fair and reasonable, the court will approve it …

The settlement money, if approved, will go some way to compensate the seven communities in this class action for their losses, however, many are still stuck on contaminated land.

The statement said Shine Lawyers would “continue to pursue compensation for residents of Wreck Bay in the matter of Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council & Anor v The Commonwealth”. It said the judge had ordered a further mediation in the Wreck Bay proceeding and stood the hearing down until 29 May.


PFAS class action reaches $132.7m settlement with commonwealth

Shine Lawyers says it has reached a $132.7m settlement with the commonwealth to end a class action against the Department of Defence over the spread of PFAS chemicals.

In a statement, the law firm said the applicants in the multi-site class action had reached a confidential settlement with the commonwealth, but without an admission of liability:

Residents in seven communities across Bullsbrook (WA), Richmond (NSW), Wagga Wagga (NSW), Wodonga/Bandiana (VIC), Edinburgh (SA), Darwin (NT) and Townsville (QLD) were set to head to the Federal Court this morning for the start of a trial which would examine the Commonwealth’s alleged responsibility for the spread of PFAS chemicals from military bases across the country into neighbouring communities’ soil and groundwater.


A look at the Coalition’s comments on forecast migration

Let’s take stock of the comment by the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, today that “this budget does add 1.5 million immigrants … most importantly without a plan”.

The budget doesn’t set this as a target or a policy as such – it outlines forecasts for “net overseas migration”.

Net overseas migration is forecast to be 400,000 in 2022-23, followed by 315,000 the next year and 260,000 in each of the following three years. The Coalition has added these together to come up with the spooky “1.5 million immigrants” figure.

But the budget papers explain that these figures are part of a post-pandemic catch-up and are driven by “a rapid recovery in the stock of international students, skilled temporary visa holders and working holidaymakers”. At the same time, the budget says, “very low temporary migrant arrivals during the pandemic now means fewer departures – those who did not arrive cannot now leave”:

It will take more time for departures to return to normal because of the low arrivals during the pandemic. As such, the elevated forecast for net overseas migration in 2023–24 is largely driven by fewer temporary migrants departing Australia than usual, rather than a greater number of people arriving.

The budget explains that the pandemic “resulted in the first net outflow of overseas migration from Australia since World War II”, and the rebound in temporary migration following the reopening of international borders “was initially slow but has recently started to recover at a faster rate”. The budget said:

This has resulted in an upgrade in the forecast level of population, even though the total number of temporary migrants arriving in Australia is not expected to make up for the loss in migration during the pandemic for some time.

The budget says net overseas migration forecasts reflect a “one-off catch up from the pandemic” with migration forecast to largely return to normal patterns from 2024-25. And total net overseas migration “is not expected to catch up to the level forecast prior to the pandemic until 2029–30” and the total population is still expected to be 750,000 people smaller in June 2031 compared with pre-pandemic forecasts.


PM hails budget as ‘biggest fiscal turnaround we’ve seen’

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is speaking in Adelaide; he says the budget was “aimed squarely at fixing the mess that we inherited” and spruiks the budget surplus.


We inherited almost $1 trillion of debt. As a direct result of our turnaround, going from a forecast under just a year ago under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg of $78bn deficit for this year, that’s been turned around to a forecast $4.2bn surplus.

That is the biggest fiscal turnaround that we’ve seen. And today’s backing up of the increased investment in primary healthcare, we were able to achieve whilst achieving that fiscal turnaround.

That’s why it was a responsible budget beginning fiscal repair, but also one that delivers what was needed for Australia at this time.


Immigration a ‘huge part of the success of this nation’ but cannot be ‘unplanned’: Taylor

Taylor continues the opposition’s attack on the uptick in the forecast migration numbers revealed in the budget, which they are worried comes without plan:

This budget does add 1.5 million immigrants. Most importantly, without a plan.

Now, we strongly believe immigration is an important part of the policy mix in this country, it’s been a huge part of the success of this nation, but it can’t be unplanned. It can’t be unplanned.

What we want to see is a plan that makes sure all those complimentary things that are required for successful immigration – infrastructure investment, housing investment, the services – and there was nothing, there was nothing in this budget, that gives us any confidence that that plan is in place or will come into place any time soon.

Migration, and the need for a more nuanced debate around this issue, was the topic of our Friday newsroom edition podcast, if you haven’t already given it a listen:


Coalition wants to give jobseekers incentive to work more by increasing work threshold

Taylor affirms the opposition’s stance that they want to see jobseekers able to work more hours without affecting their payment, rather than raising it:

We have heard respected economists come out very much in support of our approach to this, which is to help Australians into work in the best possible way, to give them the incentive to work more hours in the week and we know the majority of those on jobseeker are more than capable of working up to 30 hours a week, and that’s – that’s what we would like to see, an increase in the hours of people taking up jobseeker.


‘Hardworking families’ to be $25,000 worse off each year under new budget: Angus Taylor

The shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, is speaking in Sydney criticising the budget as the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, sets out today on his tour spruiking the government’s cost-of-living measures across five cities:

He won’t be telling them that he’s added $185bn of spending in this budget versus a year ago. He won’t be telling Australians that amidst a housing crisis and a crisis in getting infrastructure in place when we need it, there’ll be an additional 1.5 million immigrants coming into the country in the coming years. He won’t be telling Australians that their power bills will be going up by $500 a year and he won’t be telling hardworking families with a mortgage that they’re going to be $25,000 a year worse off than they were when Labor got in to government.


The infrastructure minister, Catherine King, says the shipwreck news is a reminder of the dangers faced by Australian maritime workers.

The CSIRO has confirmed the location of MV Blythe Star 50 years after its sinking.
It's a reminder of the dangers faced by courageous Aus maritime workers.
One of its survivors Mick Doleman, served as Dep Nat Secretary of @MaritimeUnionAU for 30 years.https://t.co/6XW8JyA6sY

— Catherine King MP (@CatherineKingMP) May 14, 2023

CSIRO identifies 50-year-old shipwreck off coast of Tasmania

The national science agency have found the location of a shipwreck 50 years after it first disappeared off the coast of Tasmania.

The MV Blythe Star was travelling from Hobart to King Island on 13 October 1973, when it suddenly capsized and sank off the south-west coast of Tasmania.

All 10 crew members were able to escape the sinking vessel into a life raft, but three died; the survivors were rescued 12 days later. But no trace of the vessel itself was ever found.

The CSIRO said they were able to confirm the location of the ship when they were conducting a 38-day research voyage into underwater landslides off the west coast of Tasmania.

It wasn’t a coincidence but a deliberate “piggyback project” using the resources already allocated for the landslide research voyage to investigate an unidentified shipwreck which had been pinpointed by fishing vessels and previous seafloor surveys in the region.

The investigation showed the vessel is intact and sitting upright on the seafloor, with its bow pointing northwest. The visual inspection using the underwater cameras was able to identify key features to confirm the wreck was the MV Blythe Star. This included identifying part of the vessel name – ‘STAR’ – on the ship’s bow.

CSIRO is pleased to be able to assist in providing closure to this 50-year mystery and confirm the final resting place of the MV Blythe Star.

The CSIRO said the mapping and video footage gathered could also help answer questions about what caused the vessel to sink.


Inadequate warning times ‘one of the most common complaints’ in flood-hit communities, Watt says

The emergency management minister, Murray Watt, and environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, are speaking in Brisbane, officially announcing the $236m upgrade to the flood gauge network across the country we mentioned earlier.

Watt says Australians devastated by the past 12 months of floods have consistently said they needed more time to prepare:

I have lost count of the number of communities that I have been to since becoming the minister where one of the most common complaints we received was that people just didn’t have the warning they needed about impending flood waters to save themselves, to save their property, to save their animals

… These sort of investments will go a long way to making sure that we can keep Australians much more safe into the future.


Whitelist of authorised numbers for banks and government agencies to be compiled

Jones says the final third pillar of better scam protections is ensuring consumers are better informed.

The government is working on a caller ID registry, which Jones describes a “whitelist of approved numbers”.

If somebody is calling you and pretending to be your bank, that call or that SMS message will be blocked. An SMS message will be blocked unless it’s coming through from the authorised number, from a bank, from a government agency, and we intend to expand that over time.


Anti-scam centre to bring together experts from various sectors

The announcement will also see “fusion cells” established, Jones says:

Think of them as a hit squad. This is about getting experts together across regulators, across law enforcement, across the finance sector, telecommunications and social media platforms, bringing their expertise together for a short-term action, a hit squad, to go after a particular sort of scams.


Anti-scam centre to share information across organisations: Jones

Stephen Jones is now speaking in Canberra following that announcement of establishing an anti-scam centre. He says the policy is all about “taking the fight up to scammers.”

This … announcement to establish a national anti-scam centre is about taking that fight to the scammers.

.. It’s about ensuring that when reports are made, wherever they’re made, whether it’s to the national anti-scam centre, whether it’s to ASIC or state or federal police organisations, or to a bank or telecommunications company, we are sharing the information so that the people who need to know that there are scammers out there in the field are able to act on it quickly.

As soon as money leaves a person’s bank account, it’s almost too late. So this is all about ensuring that we can knock the scams on the head before they get out there in the field.


Government pledges $86.5m for national anti-scams centre

The financial services minister, Stephen Jones, has announced $86.5m for of funding for the national anti-scams centre, which Labor pledged to create before the last election.

Australians lost over $3bn to scams in 2022 alone, and scam losses have increased nearly five-fold since 2020. The average loss from a scam is about $20,000. The average household has about $34,000 in savings.

The NASC will enable real-time information sharing on scams between law enforcement, government agencies, banks, telcos and digital platforms.

Jones said:

Every day, scammers are ripping money out the pockets of hard-working Australians. The government is fighting back, harnessing new technology to take on scammers in a way that has never been done in this country before.

Scammers are causing devastating financial, social and psychological harm. We can’t leave Australians to fight them alone.

Australia is a great destination for tourists, we want it to be the worst destination for scammers.


BCA’s housing recommendations ‘things we’re already doing’, says minister

We mentioned earlier that the business council has a new paper out this morning recommending the government incentivise states to build more houses.

It proposes that jurisdictions that meet housing targets would get financial incentives, while those that don’t would be penalised for failing to meet it.

But according to the housing minister, Julie Collins, “it’s things we’re already doing”.

They’re doing them through the national housing accord already. I welcome support for measures we have implemented, things like changes to build-to-rent, things like changes to depreciation and working with planning ministers at the state level and state governments about improving the time it takes to get more homes on the ground right across the country. We already started that important work.


Thailand and Turkey election results

Australians are waking up to big election news out of Thailand and Turkey this morning.

In Thailand the opposition have delivered a crushing blow to the military rule junta, while votes are still being counted in Turkey.

However, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has just given a jubilant and energetic speech to his followers. You can follow what’s happening in Turkey here:


Apple launches satellite emergency SOS service in Australia and New Zealand

Apple has launched a new emergency feature on all iPhone 14 models in Australia and New Zealand that enables users to message emergency services and alert family and friends if they’re in strife, even when there is no phone reception.

The Emergency SOS feature works by connecting directly to satellites located more than a 1,000km from Earth.

Read more here:

The Bureau of Meteorology has spotted a horse-shaped cloud over Tasmania using its satellites. Do you see it?

Many people like looking up at the sky and identifying shapes in the clouds; we also enjoy looking down from satellites. Here is a fine example of a #CloudHorse. The horse is coloured green in this satellite enhancement because the cloud is very low (some of it is even fog). pic.twitter.com/d97esqXbVM

— Bureau of Meteorology, Tasmania (@BOM_Tas) May 14, 2023


Assistant trade minister says clean energy to be a focus of PNG trip

The assistant trade minister, Tim Ayres, is leading a delegation of Australian businesses in Papua New Guinea. He’s told AAP before his departure that the trip will be about strengthening trade ties, including in clean energy, agriculture and rugby league.

There are very significant opportunities in clean energy generation itself. We should be doing what we can to assist, lowering the cost of energy, lowering emissions, taking the Pacific off diesel, which is dirty and expensive and constrains economic development in all of these countries. There’s an enormous opportunity for Australian firms to be investing in electricity generation and transmission in PNG.

The mining and processing of critical minerals, another area being targeted for increased cooperation, as is expanding the NRL into the Pacific, Ayres said.


Farrell emphasises raising cases of detained Australians Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun ‘at every opportunity’

Farrell also said he was “as direct as I could be” with his Chinese counterpart about the consular cases of detained Australians Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun.

It’s terrible Cheng Lei was unable to be with her children on Mother’s Day …We want these issues resolved and we want these two Australians back in our country. It’s important, I think, that at every opportunity that we get to talk to one of our counterparts in China, that we raise these issues.


Trade minister will ‘persevere and persist’ in talks with China over tariffs

The trade minister, Don Farrell, says he will “persevere and persist” in negotiations with Beijing to see trade tariffs removed. After returning from his trip to Beijing where he met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, he told ABC Radio:

My objective in this process is to simply persevere and persist, so that at the end of the day, all of the trade impediments are removed, we’re back to a stable relationship with China and we’ve got normal trade.

However, he isn’t putting a date on whether it’ll be weeks or months that those tariffs are lifted. While he says it was a “warm and friendly meeting” he says “problems aren’t solved overnight”.


Current Aboriginal cultural heritage laws ‘exactly the wrong approach’: Plibersek

Plibersek also reaffirmed the government is “absolutely” still committed to reforming Aboriginal cultural heritage laws.

She said discussions are currently taking place to change the way decisions are made to make sure cultural heritage protection is considered at the very beginning of a proposal bieng made:

At the moment, what happens a big project goes for years through environmental assessments. And at the last minute, we sort of say, ‘are there any cultural heritage implications here?’

That’s exactly the wrong approach. We should be identifying potential cultural heritage impacts from the very beginning.

If you missed Lisa Cox’s exclusive last week on Darwin’s Middle Arm hub threatening Indigenous rock, you can catch up here:


NT urged to pause Beetaloo development until water trigger laws amended

The NT news reports this morning the Northern Territory is being urged to halt the development of the Beetaloo sub-basin until the government amends the water trigger legislation, which currently does not apply to the development of shale gas.

On the question of amending those laws, Plibersek says the extension of the water trigger will be part of a package of environmental laws she will take to parliament at the end of this year or beginning of next year.

We are committed to extending protections from – at the moment it’s coal seam gas – to other types of unconventional gas that weren’t really contemplated when those coal seam gas provisions were made.


Newly approved coalmine is a ‘small project’ producing metallurgical coal: Plibersek

Plibersek started to mention the government’s record on doubling renewable energy approvals before she’s drawn back into the specifics of why the case of the Isaac River coalmine project was worth greenlighting:

It met the standards under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as it is at the moment.

This is a small project. It’s next to five other coalmines. It’s been a mining area for decades.

It’s a project that produces metallurgical coal, which is the coal you need for steelmaking. There’s no renewable energy future that doesn’t have steel in it.

… It’ll go for five years versus something like 60 years for Adani.

Plibersek insists “we are absolutely committed to net zero carbon emissions in Australia”, citing the government’s track record so far doubling of renewable projects and electric vehicle roadmap.


Plibersek says new coalmine approved ‘in accordance with the facts’ and law

Circling back to the environment minister’s interview with ABC Radio:

How does Tanya Plibersek defend approving the first coalmine on the Albanese government’s watch, the Isaac River Project, given the latest IPCC report says our emissions from existing fossil fuel projects is enough to push us beyond 1.5C of global warming?


I need to make decisions in accordance with the facts and the National Environmental Law. That’s what I do with every project. That’s what’s happened here.


Manhunt under way for three escaped prisoners

Police have launched a search for three men who have escaped from a Queensland prison at the weekend, AAP reports.

The Palen Creek correctional centre, where the men escaped on Sunday, is located about 100km south-west of Brisbane.

Corrective services officers have joined police in the hunt for Daniel Ian Badcock, 32; Osiah Pilton, 20; and Antonio David Mene, 28.

(L-R) Daniel Ian Babcock, Osiah Pilton and Antonio David Mene, who absconded from Palen Creek correctional centre in Queensland on 14 May.
(L-R) Daniel Ian Babcock, Osiah Pilton and Antonio David Mene, who absconded from Palen Creek correctional centre in Queensland on 14 May Photograph: SUPPLIED/PR IMAGE

Badcock is serving a one-year sentence for possession and weapons charges. He is described as having a medium build, with a diamond tattoo on the left side of his face and the word “Omerta” tattooed over his right eye. He has other tattoos including the word “Outlaw” on his left shin and knuckle dusters tattooed on to his right hand.

Pilton is described as having black hair and eyes with the word “Mum” tattooed on his left arm above the wrist, and a diamond tattoo on his left leg. Pilton was serving one year and nine months for a break and enter offence.

Mene was described by police as being Torres Strait Islander, about 170cm tall with the outline of his last name tattooed on the inside of his right arm. He was serving three years for vehicular offences.

Police have urged anyone who has seen the men not to approach them but to call triple zero.


NSW next in line for flood warning system improvements, Plibersek says

As mentioned, the government is prioritising Queensland in those updates to the flood gauges. Plibersek says that’s because the Queensland state government was “particularly keen” on the partnership, but that NSW will be next because both states were identified by the Bureau of Meteorology as facing the greatest flood risk.

Sadly, three-quarters of the deaths that have happened in flooding in recent years have been in Queensland and New South Wales, and about three-quarters of the economic cost of flooding has been in Queensland and New South Wales.

The Queensland government were particularly keen to partner with us and we’re looking at rolling out to New South Wales, we hope, next, and other high-risk flood areas over coming years.


The environment and water minister, Tanya Plibersek, is giving more details about that flood warning system, speaking to ABC Radio:

We need to be able to read them remotely, particularly [in] dangerous times.

… The better the flood gauges, the more warning we can give to communities and to emergency services personnel about approaching flood waters.

Plibersek says the aim of updating the gauges would be to give people more warning; one of the biggest criticisms from the 2022 Lismore floods was the inadequacy of the warnings people were given.


Flood warning system upgrades worth $236m to prioritise Queensland

Queensland will be given the highest priority in a new federal government program to upgrade flood warning systems, while other states will also be pressed to share the costs.

In the budget last Tuesday, the Albanese government announced it would provide $236m over 10 years to fix high-priority flood warning infrastructure. Under the program, the Bureau of Meteorology will “acquire, upgrade and integrate local and state government-owned rain and river gauges into its existing flood warning network”.

The government today announced more details about the program:

Based on the advice of the Bureau of Meteorology, work in Queensland will be prioritised. This is due to the high flood risk to the community in Australia’s most disaster-prone state and the Queensland government’s prior commitment to share the cost of ongoing operations of the flood gauge network.

The government’s statement said the federal funding would “ensure high priority catchment upgrades can begin in every state and territory across Australia, if successful cost sharing arrangements are agreed to”.

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said severe weather events, including floods, were becoming more extreme and more frequent, and people needed access to the best available information in real time.

The emergency management minister, Murray Watt, said the Coalition had “ignored calls to show national leadership and upgrade and maintain flood gauges in high-risk communities”.

The government is also working on phone alert emergency warning systems, as Josh Butler reported recently:


Opposition accuses Don Farrell of returning from China trip empty-handed

The Coalition has accused the trade minister, Don Farrell, of coming back from China empty-handed.

Farrell said after talks with the Chinese commerce minister, Wang Wentao, in Beijing late on Friday that he was “very pleased to confirm that we agreed to step up dialogue … to resolve our outstanding issues”.

But there were no concrete announcements of breakthroughs for particular sectors that are still suffering from steep tariffs or other restrictions, including Australian wine and seafood.

The Nationals MP Kevin Hogan, who is the shadow trade minister, expressed “deep disappointment that the trade minister’s visit to China has not delivered any relief from China’s punitive, unfair, and illegal trade sanctions on Australia exports”. Hogan said in a statement:

I publicly supported the trade minister’s visit to China as a positive step in the trade relationship thaw but nevertheless, join the many exporters who are disappointed that it delivered no dividend in sanction relief.

Despite the diplomatic dispute reaching its peak in 2020, Hogan said the Coalition government at the time had “never wanted to stop talking to the Chinese government”. China effectively banned high-level talks shortly after the Morrison government’s call for a Covid origins inquiry.

If you missed the news on Farrell’s China trip, see the full story here:


Liberals and Greens ‘should get out of the way’ of Labor housing bill, Collins says

The housing minister, Julie Collins, has warned Liberal and Greens senators to get out of the government’s way as it tries to solve the housing crisis.

Speaking to ABC News this morning after the $10bn housing future fund bill was blocked when parliament met last week, Collins said:

I would say to Liberal senators and Greens senators: we took this to the last election, we’re trying to legislate it and they should get out of the way, because there’s so many people in Australia today relying on those homes. There’s too many Australians doing it tough that need us to get on with the job.


Business council report urges penalties for not meeting housing targets

States and territories should be given financial penalties for failing to meet housing targets, according to a proposal by business groups.

A new report by the Business Council of Australia has recommended national housing targets should be tied to population growth forecasts.

The report said the targets should then lead to actions state or territory governments could take to meet demand.

Under the proposal, jurisdictions that met housing targets would get financial incentives, while those that didn’t would be penalised for failing to meet it. The report said:

This will provide a direct link, with specific incentives and penalties, between the forecast growth of the nation, which is in part controlled by the federal government, and the net additional dwelling targets set by states and territories.

This should take into consideration both greenfield and infill development.



Treasurer kicks off budget roadshow

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will today begin a “budget roadshow” to sell the cost-of-living measures outlined in last week’s economic statement.

Chalmers will launch his post-budget week tour in Sydney and expects to visit five cities in five days. The agenda includes meetings with locals, business representatives and unions, along with several budget-related speeches.

The government says the focus of the budget roadshow this week will be promoting the $14.6bn cost-of-living package. Chalmers will also declare that making Australia a renewable energy superpower is a core part of the government’s plan for growth.

The budget roadshow follows Coalition attacks that the budget “didn’t see much for middle Australia” and that the “working poor” are struggling to get by in a high-inflation environment.

Chalmers said the government understood that people were “under the pump” given the cost of living pressures:

My job this week is to tell more people how our investments in the budget can help.

Whether it’s our energy rebates, bulk billing incentives or our energy efficiency package, I’ll travel right across Australia this week – including from Brisbane to Bennelong, and South Australia to Swan – to explain the broad-based benefits that our budget delivers.


Good morning!

The Business Council of Australia believes states and territories should be given financial penalties for failing to meet housing targets.

A new report by the council has recommended national housing targets be tied to population growth forecasts, and comes as the government’s housing fund is stuck in parliament.

The Coalition have accused the housing fund of being inflationary, while the Greens do not believe the government’s scheme goes far enough.

In Sydney, the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will today begin his post-budget week tour and expects to visit five cities in five days to sell the cost-of-living measures outlined in last week’s economic statement.

The trade minister, Don Farrell, has returned from his visit to China, but the Coalition has accused him of coming back empty-handed. Farrell said after talks he was “very pleased to confirm that we agreed to step up dialogue … to resolve our outstanding issues”.

Meanwhile, the assistant trade minister, Tim Ayres, is heading to Papua New Guinea. He is leading a delegation of Australian businesses to strengthen trade ties, including in clean energy, agriculture and rugby league.

Queenslanders can expect to see better flood warning systems, with the state being given the highest priority in a new federal government upgrade programs. The Albanese government announced it would provide $236m over 10 years to fix high-priority flood warning infrastructure in last Tuesday’s budget.

Let’s get into it!


Mostafa Rachwani and Natasha May (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

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