States split on reopening plan
National cabinet will today seek to bridge a growing divide between states on reopening plans, as Covid-hit NSW eases restrictions while Covid-free Queensland commits to building a new quarantine centre.
What we know:
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison will present to the premiers updated Doherty Institute modelling that forecasts “slight” increases in eventual cases and deaths if Australia reopens with high numbers of infections (AFR);
- He will also discuss opening up the vaccine rollout to children aged 12 to 15 (ABC);
- Morrison will push for states to stick to the plan to reopen when the adult vaccination rate reaches 70%;
- WA Premier Mark McGowan wants to include children in the 70% vaccination rate (The West Australian);
- Premiers have been rattled by preliminary moves in NSW to live with the virus, despite notching a record 1029 cases on Thursday;
- The NSW government relaxed outdoor gathering rules for vaccinated people, who also will be eligible for a trial reopening of one-on-one industries such as hairdressing (SMH);
- Queensland meanwhile is moving ahead without federal support to build a new quarantine centre, investing in plans to shut out the virus into the future (Nine).
Powers granted to hack citizens
A trio of national security bills have been rushed through parliament this week granting authorities unprecedented powers, including the ability to hack and modify a person’s online accounts.
What we know:
- The foreign intelligence amendment bill, passed on Thursday afternoon, allows ASIO to obtain intelligence from foreign and incidental domestic communications, and monitor Australians acting on behalf of a foreign power;
- The identify and disrupt bill empowers police to take control of and modify a person’s online account to obtain evidence, even if the target is not suspected of a crime;
- The counter-terrorism sunsetting bill renews powers including the ability to hold suspects in “preventative detention”;
- Independent senator Rex Patrick argued that the foreign surveillance laws could allow ASIO to spy on former PMs Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, as both are listed on the foreign influence transparency scheme (The Guardian);
- “Unsurprisingly, the two major parties are in complete lockstep with each other and are leading us down the road to a surveillance state,” Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said of the bipartisan support for the bills (ZD Net).
Santos greenwashing challenged
Santos is to be dragged to the Federal Court over a landmark legal challenge to its claims that natural gas is a “clean fuel” and that the company will achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
The Environmental Defenders Office, acting on behalf of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, filed a Federal Court case arguing that the company engaged in misleading conduct in claiming natural gas is clean (Bloomberg).
The challenge notes that Santos’s net zero plan relies on unproven and expensive carbon capture and storage technology, and that the extraction of fossil gas involves the release of “significant quantities” of carbon emissions.
It also alleges that Santos failed to disclose plans to increase its greenhouse gas emissions by developing the Barossa, Dorado and Narrabri LNG projects.
Minor parties name checked
Minor parties with names too similar to major established parties could be forced to change their name, under election reform laws passed by parliament on Thursday.
The minimum number of members a minor party needs to register meanwhile will rise from 500 to 1500.
Crossbenchers opposed the changes, arguing that the two major parties were trying to consolidate their stranglehold on power.
Liberal Democrats federal leader Campbell Newman conceded his party may need to change its name after the passage of the bill, along with The New Liberals and the Democratic Labour Party (The Australian).
Ziggy takes over at Crown
Crown Resorts will appoint former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski as its new chairman, with the incumbent Helen Coonan to resign today.
Coonan leaves after the counsel assisting the Victorian royal commission into Crown said she was not the right person to oversee reforms needed for Crown to retain its Melbourne casino licence (AFR).
Switkowski, the chairman of NBN Co and chancellor of Melbourne’s RMIT University, will take on the job as soon as he receives the necessary regulatory approvals.
He committed “to grow value for shareholders by continuing the urgent work to reform the business”.
Switkowski will also face challenges to restore Crown’s reputation in NSW, where its new Sydney casino is yet to open following scathing findings from a NSW inquiry.
The casino has suffered a range of scandals including links to organised crime and money laundering.