Women rise up in Liberal heartlands

A former Liberal who claims she was ignored for preselection after ending an affair with a married former minister will run as an independent in the seat, as the Coalition scrambles to contain an electoral backlash from women.

What we know:

  • Former Liberal Natalie Baini claims she was ignored for pre-selection in the Sydney seat of Reid, after she ended an affair with the incumbent MP Craig Laundy, who retired in 2019 (The Guardian); 
  • Baini, then the vice-president of the Reid branch, claims Laundy had told her that he was effectively separated from his wife, but ended the relationship when she found out this was not true;
  • When Baini complained about the former minister for small and family business to senior party leaders and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office, she says she was ignored and sidelined;
  • Baini has since quit the party and will run as an independent in Reid;
  • It comes after education minister Alan Tudge was stood aside from the ministry as a former Liberal staffer claimed she was in an emotionally, and on one occasion, physically abusive relationship with him (ABC); 
  • In the marginal electorate of Wentworth, independent candidate Allegra Spender is being backed by former Australia Post chief Christine Holgate, who accused Morrison of bullying (The Conversation); 
  • Federal Liberals are in turn pushing to preselect gender equality expert Libby Lyons for the WA seat of Pearce (AFR); 
  • Lyons will contend with city councillor Nicole Robins to replace Christian Porter, who is retiring from politics following rape allegations made earlier this year that he denies.
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WA closes border to SA

A Covid-19 outbreak in SA prompts WA to close the border to its eastern neighbour, as NSW confirms an eighth case of the Omicron variant.

What we know:

  • SA recorded 18 new cases of Covid-19, in the first signs of local transmission since the state reopened its borders to states where the virus is circulating (ABC); 
  • The news has prompted WA to close its borders to SA, requiring travellers to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival (WA Today); 
  • Free travel into WA without any quarantining is now only possible from Queensland and Tasmania;
  • WA authorities are however awaiting health advice on Queensland, which has recorded 11 community cases since November 25;
  • NSW Health meanwhile confirmed an eighth Omicron case, a traveller who arrived from Singapore on November 28 (7News);
  • Earlier in the day the state confirmed a seventh Omicron case in a child, with genomic sequencing under way on the Covid-positive parents to determine if they too have the new variant.
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Morrison rejects nepotism claim

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it is a “disgraceful slur” for Labor to claim he had any role in the Home Affairs Department awarding an almost $80,000 quarantine contract to two of his close friends.

The limited tender contract for a private quarantine system was given to former deputy NSW Liberal Party director Scott Briggs, who is also the president of Morrison’s federal electoral conference in his Sydney electorate (ABC).

Briggs founded Quarantine Services Australia with the aim of bringing up to 160,000 foreign workers and students a year into Australia via private hotel quarantine.

Two weeks earlier, another company linked to Briggs and former Liberal Party candidate David Gazard was awarded the “limited tender” contract by the Home Affairs Department to provide “consultancy services” for the proposal.

Labor has seized on claims from business leaders that Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo told them the private business venture was “a really important project for the Prime Minister”.

Morrison hit back at any suggestion he helped Briggs obtain the taxpayer funds to set up Quarantine Services Australia.

"I've always fully disclosed any interests where they are relevant to any matter that I may be considering and the suggestion otherwise is a disgraceful slur by a grubby opposition," Morrison said.

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Crossbench backs Victorian pandemic bill

Victoria’s upper house has passed Australia's first state powers to introduce specific laws for managing a pandemic.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill passed the upper house 20 votes to 18 on Thursday (SBS). 

Transport Matters MP Rod Barton, Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick, Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Greens leader Samantha Ratnam voted with the government.

The lower house approval is set to be a formality, with the Andrews government enjoying a commanding majority.

Under the legislation, the premier and health minister will have the power to declare a pandemic and enforce orders such as lockdowns, mask-wearing, vaccination mandates and quarantine.

“In order to protect the vulnerable, in order to keep us safe and keep us open, we have to recognise this is not over, there are still things that have to be done, rules that need to be in place,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said he was disappointed the bill passed and reaffirmed his commitment to scrap it if he wins the 2022 election.

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Overtime catches out Coles

Coles will be taken to court by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) for allegedly underpaying employees as much as $115m.

The FWO said on Thursday that Coles had underpaid 7812 staff in its liquor and supermarket businesses over three years between 2017 and 2020 (The New Daily). 

Most of the underpayment relates to overtime for managers on annual salaries – an issue that has also caught out Woolworths.

The allegedly underpaid employees were typically responsible for managing a department or function within a Coles supermarket, such as bakery, customer service, delicatessen, dry goods, fresh produce, meat and night-fill.

At least one worker was underpaid by more than $471,000, while 45 Coles managers were each out of pocket by more than $100,000.

The FWO will also claim Coles underpaid public holiday rates and a range of other entitlements. Record-keeping breaches are also alleged.

Coles faces a fine of up to $63,000 for each breach of workplace laws, which means penalties may run into the tens of millions of dollars.

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The Digital Transformation Agency appears to be trying to argue that we can’t learn the truth about just how big a lemon the Covidsafe app is because then people might know it’s a lemon and act accordingly.

Electronic Frontiers Australia chair Justin Warren, who is embroiled in FOI actions over the federal government’s contact tracing app, says Covidsafe is going so well that apparently knowing the number of people actually using it will harm its reputation (The Guardian).

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Postscript: Parliament promises to reduce incidence of workplace sexual harassment by only working 10 days a year

The Government has taken swift and decisive action in response to a damning report that found Parliament House was rife with sexual harassment and bullying, agreeing to work for no more than 10 days per calendar year ... The two-week parliamentary calendar received unanimous support across both houses, after which MPs decided to call it a day and hit the pub to “bring the chances of us groping someone today down to zero, at least on the Hill,” (The Shovel).

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