Billions earmarked for swing seats

The Morrison government has carved out a potentially enormous election war chest in its midyear budget update, as it continues to attract criticism for splurging cash on marginal seats.

What we know:

  • Coalition pet projects in marginal electorate have been offered another $2.3bn in the mid-year budget update (The Guardian); 
  • Projects include funding for the inland rail from Toowoomba to Gladstone, which environmentalists warn would unlock a “carbon bomb”;
  • The budget update includes a record $15.9bn in expenditure “decisions taken but not yet announced and not for publication” (The Conversation); 
  • It is believed roughly half of this could be earmarked for election promises, with key seats such as Eden-Monaro, Lindsay and Robertson likely to be targeted (The Conversation); 
  • The federal government tipped an extra $175m into discretionary grants programs, which were this week revealed to be pouring three times more money into Coalition-held seats than Labor electorates (The Age); 
  • “Where we have made commitments, we meet them. That’s the electoral process and we have been very transparent about that,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison;
  • In new revelations, the three most marginal government-held seats in WA were the biggest recipients of grants handed out across Perth in the lead-up to the 2019 election, including $49m for Liberal-held Swan (SMH); 
  • Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he expected “further buckets of money” would flood marginal seats ahead of the next election.
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Experts call for outdoor Christmas

Experts have called for people to hold their Christmas gatherings outdoors, as Covid-19 surges in NSW and Victoria.

What we know:

  • ANU infectious disease physician Prof Peter Collignon recommends keeping parties small and holding them during the day, to avoid indoor settings with limited ventilation (The Guardian);
  • “I think you’d get some protection, especially for your older relatives, if you tried as much as possible to hold your gatherings outside,” he said;
  • Tasmania’s public health director Dr Mark Veitch agrees, and emphasises anyone who is ill should stay away from Christmas events (Examiner); 
  • It comes as NSW reported a record 1742 new cases on Thursday, and Victoria 1622, as both states ease restrictions;
  • NSW's virus reproductive rate is the highest seen, probably due to the Omicron variant, with every infected person on average passing the virus on to two other people (ABC); 
  • At least 97 people caught the virus at a Taylor Swift-themed dance party in Sydney (SBS); 
  • Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is in isolation as he awaits the result of a Covid-19 test, after coming into contact with a positive case last week (7News). 
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Five children die in jumping castle tragedy

Five children have died and four are in critical condition after the jumping castle they were playing on blew into the air in Tasmania.

Hillcrest Primary School students in Devonport were celebrating the end of the school year when the tragedy occurred (CNN). 

“Nine grade 5/6 Hillcrest Primary School students fell from a height of around 10m after a significant local wind event caused a jumping castle and several inflatable ‘zorb’ balls to lift into the air,” Tasmania Police said in a statement.

Emergency services, including helicopters, were dispatched to the school to treat the injured and transport some to hospital.

“Our hearts are breaking for the families and loved ones, school mates and teachers of those children taken too soon,” said Commissioner Darren Hine.

Police will prepare a report for the coroner in conjunction with WorkSafe Tasmania.

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Regional chorus for Indigenous Voice

The Morrison government will form 35 regional and local groups as part of a reboot of its long-delayed plans to establish an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

The final report of the voice’s senior advisory group recommends regional and local groups should be established first (The Australian). 

These groups should be designed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities they represent and begin their work by next July, the report authors add.

The advisory group is led by Marcia Langton and Tom Calma.

The final report notes that public consultations indicate significant support for constitutional recognition of the Indigenous Voice, which the Morrison government has to date refused to back. 

“We heard many practical and principled reasons supporting the enshrinement of an Indigenous Voice in the Australian Constitution, including that it would be the best way to protect an Indigenous Voice against abolition,” the report states.

After regional bodies are established, the federal government will be obliged to ask a 24-member national voice for advice on proposed laws and policies that overwhelmingly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (The Age). 

The decision to start with local groups ensures Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt will fall short of his goal to legislate a voice in this term of parliament.

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Australia and UK sign FTA

Australia and the UK will today sign a free trade agreement, with 99% of goods sent from Australia to the UK having tariffs removed.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan and British Trade Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan will sign the agreement on Friday (The West Australian). 

Tehan says the deal, worth $10bn, will save Australian households $200bn on imports.

Under the deal the age limit of working holiday visa holders will be increased from 30 to 35 for up to three years in each country.

The agreement comes despite NGOs warning UK consumers could eat Australian beef linked to widespread deforestation (The Guardian). 

Australia is the first country to sign up to an FTA with the UK post Brexit.

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Most surfers don’t want their beaches destroyed for a polluting fuel we no longer need. It’s clear the tide is changing and we will continue kicking gas out of our line-ups.

A wave of community momentum crashes through plans to drill for oil and gas off the NSW coast, much to the delight of Surfers for Climate Action co-director Belinda Baggs (SBS).

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Postscript: 2021 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar

This image of the Helix Nebula shows a fine web of filamentary "bicycle-spoke" features embedded in a colourful red and blue gas ring. The portrait offers a dizzying look down what is actually a trillion-mile-long tunnel of glowing gases sitting about 650 light years away. The fluorescing tube is pointed nearly directly at Earth, so it looks more like a bubble than a cylinder. A forest of thousands of comet-like filaments, embedded along the inner rim of the nebula, points back toward the central star, which is a small, super-hot white dwarf (The Atlantic).

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