Berejiklian declines Morrison’s offer

Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian will today announce her decision to end her political career in favour of a private sector role, rejecting Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plea to enter the federal arena.

What we know:

  • Berejiklian informed Morrison on Thursday that she would not accept his offer to parachute her into the contest for the federal seat of ­Warringah (The Australian); 
  • The former premier, who resigned in September amid an ICAC ­investigation disparaged by Morrison, was considered the party’s best shot at returning the seat to the Coalition;
  • Coalition politicians first lobbied her to contest the next federal election, before backgrounding against her because she was taking too long to decide (SMH); 
  • Morrison, who had personally intervened to extend the deadline for the preselection process, said he respected her call (7News); 
  • “At the next election, the Liberals will be fielding a strong team of female candidates across the country, all of whom would have been inspired by Gladys,” he said;
  • The Coalition is facing a wave of female independent challengers at the upcoming election (The Saturday Paper); 
  • Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese criticised Morrison for undermining confidence in ICAC as part of his pitch to get Berejiklian to join federal politics (SMH); 
  • “The fact is conservatives used to stand up for institutions and this country. This prime minister does not stand up for institutions, he just knocks them down,” Albanese said.
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Senate calls for media probe

The final report of a Senate inquiry has called for a royal commission-like probe into media diversity and the Murdoch press.

What we know:

  • The probe would assess whether a new independent media regulator was needed to “harmonise news media standards and oversee an effective process for remedying complaints” (The New Daily); 
  • “Large media organisations have become so powerful and unchecked that they have developed corporate cultures that consider themselves beyond the existing accountability frameworks,” the Labor and Greens-led inquiry report said;
  • “The evidence that the Murdoch media empire is indeed a dangerous monopoly was heard loud and clear … the impact of both concentration of media ownership and a failing regulatory system was obvious,” said Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (The Guardian); 
  • Hanson-Young won support for the inquiry following former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s petition for a royal commission into the Murdoch media;
  • “Australians know in their guts that it’s wrong for one man to wield so much political power, whether it’s a far-right American billionaire or anyone else,” Rudd said;
  • In a dissenting report, Liberal senator Andrew Bragg said the inquiry is a “shameless political stunt which should not be taken seriously”;
  • News Corp outlets slammed delays by the year-long inquiry, elevated Bragg’s minority report, and avoided mentioning that Murdoch was a particular focus (The Courier Mail); 
  • Labor senators on the committee backed the call for a proposed judicial inquiry, but the party’s communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland said Labor would not take the proposal to the next election (The Age). 
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ADF switches to US choppers

The Morrison government will spend $7bn to replace its entire fleet of Australia-assembled Taipan military helicopters with US-made alternatives.

Australia has applied to the US to buy up to 40 Blackhawk helicopters for the army and 12 Seahawk helicopters for the navy (ADBR). 

The federal government will scrap its 47 Taipan army and navy helicopters more than a decade earlier than planned in the move (The Australian). 

The European-designed Taipans have been plagued with poor availability and a number of fleet-wide groundings in Australian service due to a lack of spares and configuration management issues.

It follows Australia joining the AUKUS alliance and dropping a French submarine program for US nuclear subs, as it doubles down on US reliance for military procurement needs (Aviacionline). 

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Third of companies paid zero tax

The number of Australian public companies that paid no tax in 2019–20 has risen during Covid-19 lockdowns, while the tax office battles corporations over unpaid taxes.

In total, 782 (33%) of companies paid zero tax, according to the ATO’s latest corporate tax transparency report (ABC).

The ATO said there was a rise in companies paying no tax in service industries, transport and financial asset investing sectors badly impacted by Covid-19 lockdowns.

It comes as the tax office chases large companies over unpaid taxes, with 122 having assessments raised against them during the 2021 financial year to the value of $3bn.

Of that, $2.5bn is being disputed by 15 companies.

ATO deputy commissioner Rebecca Saint warned that companies were mispricing loans and shifting income into low-tax jurisdictions.

"We are concerned where we see cross border dealings between related parties that result in excessive amounts being shifted offshore and not subject to tax in Australia," she said.

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New Zealand plan to ban cigarettes

New Zealand has unveiled a plan to ban young people from buying cigarettes for life.

Health authorities plan to make it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone aged 14 and under from 2027, with the ban to remain in place for the rest of the person’s life (stuff.co.nz). 

The plan means a person aged 60 in 2073 will be banned from buying cigarettes, while a person aged 61 would be allowed to do so (Reuters).

In a phased approach the country will also limit the number of shops that can sell cigarettes, and lower the level of nicotine in cigarettes.

Health authorities say smokers typically take up the habit during youth, with four in five New Zealanders who smoke beginning by age 18.

Vaping would be excluded from the ban.

The plan targets high smoking rates in Māori communities in particular, at 31.4% in 2019-20 compared with the 13.4% national rate.

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I’m more worried about being in a room by myself to be honest.

Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce isolates after testing positive for Covid-19 during a visit to the US. His symptoms include tiredness, mild pain, and sheer terror at the prospect of being left alone with his own thoughts (ABC).

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Postscript: Dozens of camels barred from Saudi ‘beauty’ contest over Botox

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have launched their biggest-ever crackdown on camel “beauty” contestants that received Botox injections and other artificial touch-ups with 40 dromedaries disqualified from the annual pageant (Al Jazeera).

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