Alarm at plan to halt vaccine production

Plans to halt vaccine manufacturing in Australia early next year have been met with disbelief, with the Opposition and aid groups arguing production should instead be ramped up.

What we know:

  • The Morrison government does not plan to renew its contract with CSL beyond an initial order of 51m AstraZeneca doses (ABC); 
  • CSL's Melbourne plant is producing a million doses a week, with up to 800,000 being sent overseas to bolster vaccine rollouts in the Pacific and South-East Asia;
  • Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong urged for the “bewildering” decision to be overturned to help global vaccination efforts;
  • End Covid For All campaign spokesperson Tim Costello said the government should “invest in domestic capability to produce 50-100 million vaccines to sell at cost to South-East Asia”;
  • Two-thirds of epidemiologists believe that failure to vaccinate in the world quickly risks breeding new vaccine-resistant strains of the virus;
  • Globally, 23 low-income countries are vaccinating so slowly they will only hit 70% coverage after 2030 (NYT); 
  • The End Covid For All campaign recommends that Australia contributes an additional $250m in finance and 20m vaccines to the global vaccine enterprise COVAX (Croakey); 
  • Amnesty International warns that the six pharmaceutical companies at the helm of the vaccine rollout are “fuelling an unprecedented human rights crisis” through their refusal to waive intellectual property rights. 
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Extreme weather battering energy prices

Extreme weather events are contributing to a global energy crisis that has seen fossil fuel prices skyrocket.

What we know:

  • Unprecedented flooding in a key coal producing province of China contributed to rolling blackouts across the country, prompting Beijing to ease its ban on Australian coal (Reuters); 
  • Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico devastated offshore oil platforms, denting US production (Bloomberg); 
  • There has been a 600% increase in European gas prices, with gas wells across the continent running dry, while transporting LNG has been affected by a lack of shipping capacity (WE Forum); 
  • Germany’s early closure of nuclear plants has increased its reliance on fossil fuels, as France responds to the crisis by expanding its nuclear energy (Power Technology); 
  • Low winds potentially linked to climate change diminshed the output of wind farms in Europe (Energy Live); 
  • The International Energy Agency warned the energy crisis is serious enough to threaten global climate ambitions by triggering a surge in demand for oil (The Guardian); 
  • IEA executive director Fatih Birol said if the world had moved faster to embrace clean energy “the shocks coming from doubling of oil and gas prices would be felt much less by consumers”.
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Services Australia hacking phones

Services Australia has paid $1.2m to a digital intelligence company for technology to hack into smartphones and copy data to capture “fraud and other criminal behaviour”.

“We continually adapt and evolve our criminal intelligence and investigation capabilities to combat increasingly sophisticated criminal threats, and to protect the integrity of Australia’s system of social supports,” a Services Australia spokesperson said (The Guardian). 

Services Australia refused to reveal how many times it had used the technology, or whether it had been used for JobSeeker, Medicare or the disability support pension.

The Greens pledged to investigate the use of the technology in Senate estimates in late October.

“After the pain and suffering caused by robodebt, it’s horrifying to see Services Australia spend more than $1 million on what appears to be more surveillance of people receiving income support.” said Greens senator Janet Rice.

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Byrne admits to branch stacking

Labor MP Anthony Byrne has resigned from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security but has resisted calls to leave parliament, following admissions he engaged in branch stacking.

Byrne admitted to Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) that he had paid for ALP memberships on behalf of others and used parliamentary staff to create fake branch members (SBS).

The Member for Holt engaged in the practice for years before falling out with former Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek and turning whistleblower, for which the IBAC commissioner commended him (The Conversation). 

Senior members of the federal government have called for Byrne to step down.

State government minister Luke Donnellan resigned on Monday after being implicated in the scandal. 

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7-Eleven ordered to destroy pics

The privacy commissioner has ordered convenience store giant 7-Eleven to destroy millions of photos of customers captured by facial recognition software.

7-Eleven last year rolled out tablets across the country for customers to fill in feedback surveys, with a built-in camera taking photos of respondents (7News). 

“The use of facial recognition within the Rate It tablet is to ensure that the feedback is accurate and valid, and given customer feedback is so important to us we don’t want the system being ‘gamed’,” a 7-Eleven spokesperson said.

Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk found on Thursday that the photos were an invasion of privacy and “not reasonably necessary for the purpose of understanding and improving customers’ in-store experience”.

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It doesn’t feel right if Scott Morrison doesn’t go to the big climate meeting ... he needs to make a change because if he doesn’t, a fire like that could happen again. Things could get way, way, way worse. I don’t want a 50-degree Celsius Earth.

Ten-year-old Jonah, a Black Summer bushfire survivor who will attend today’s School Strike 4 Climate, tries to explain the situation in terms even an Australian prime minister can understand (SMH).

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Postscript: Sheep with five legs spotted among Orroroo lamb flock, with ‘intrigued’ farmer to raise it as a pet

About three weeks ago, when Sam Kuerschner was sitting down taking a break near the pens on his farm in South Australia's Mid North, his father spotted a striking specimen — with an unusual appendage coming from its head — among the flock of lambs. “He had a bit of a second glance and said, ‘That sheep's got five legs’. We all sort of stood up and had a bit of a look and sure enough it did,” he said (ABC).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.