Australians urged to flee Ukraine

The federal government has urged Australians in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, as Russian and NATO military forces mass in the region.

What we know:

  • DFAT warned Australians in Ukraine to “leave now by commercial means, where safe to do so” (ABC); 
  • “Australians who decide to remain in Ukraine should review their personal security plans, be prepared to shelter in place if required, maintain heightened security awareness and register with DFAT,” a spokesperson added;
  • Arrangements are being made to get family members of Australian diplomats out of the capital Kyiv, leaving essential staff in the embassy;
  • Australia is also negotiating new measures to help the Ukrainian government defend itself against a wave of cyber attacks (SMH); 
  • An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have massed near the border with Ukraine, but Russia says it does not plan to invade;
  • NATO has troops on standby and reinforced eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets (Reuters); 
  • The US is discussing the deployment of troops to eastern Europe with its NATO allies (NBC); 
  • The US and UK also ordered some staff and families at their respective embassies to leave the country, with American citizens in general advised to depart (Al Jazeera). 
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First day of free RATs flops

The first day of a Morrison government program offering access to free rapid antigen tests was derailed by supply issues, which made it difficult for eligible concession card holders to find any.

What we know:

  • The scheme allows pensioners and concession card holders to access up to 10 free rapid antigen tests over three months through their chemist (ABC);
  • Eligible card holders in rural Victoria, Melbourne and Brisbane reported they were unable to find any tests (The Guardian); 
  • One Newcastle pharmacist reported they hadn’t received any new stock for weeks, while another said it was coming in “dribs and drabs” (Newcastle Herald); 
  • Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce blamed hoarding by businesses for the scarcity;
  • The Australian Retailers Association said businesses had secured their supplies months ago and current shortages were due to the federal government’s failure to plan (The Age); 
  • Advocates have meanwhile warned the shift to at-home testing is inaccessible to vision impaired Australians (InnovationAus). 
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Aboriginal flag free to fly for all

The federal government has paid $20m to secure the copyright licence for the Aboriginal flag, freeing its use for Indigenous community groups and sporting codes.

Groups that had used the flags on clothing and other contexts had previously received cease-and-desist letters from non-Indigenous company WAM Clothing, which was granted exclusive use by Luritja artist Harold Thomas, who designed the flag (The Age). 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the flag would now be managed in the same manner as the Australian flag, where its use is free but must be presented in a respectful and dignified way.

As part of the transfer, Thomas will retain his moral rights over the flag and the Commonwealth has also agreed that all future royalties will be put towards NAIDOC.

It comes as the federal government pressures councils not to boycott Australia Day out of respect for Indigenous sensitivities around the date (The Australian). 

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Staff told to take off Palestine badge

Carriageworks staff claim to have been intimidated by management after wearing badges at work in solidarity with Palestine, as part of a protest against the Sydney Festival.

A $20,000 sponsorship deal with the Israeli embassy triggered a campaign for artists and spectators to launch a boycott in December (SBS). 

Staff at festival venue Carriageworks wore badges in support, but were told by CEO Blair French via email that this was unacceptable for staff who interact with public visitors.  

Workers who continued to wear the badge claim they were told in “intimidating encounters” to take them off or go home and Carriageworks would pay them for a complete shift.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance backed the workers, arguing it is “frequently the case that arts workers express their support for and solidarity with causes that align with their values”.

Seven staff have reportedly cancelled all of their shifts at Carriageworks for the entirety of Sydney Festival as a form of boycott.

More than 40% of the festival’s performances have been disrupted after more than 100 artists and organisations pulled out of the program.

Social media bots and paid accounts have meanwhile appeared to begin enthusiastically posting en masse in support of Sydney Festival. 

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Coalition calls for WeChat boycott

Coalition politicians have backed a boycott of WeChat after the Chinese social media platform hijacked Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s account.

Morrison’s account on the Chinese social media platform was taken over and rebranded to “Australian Chinese new life” this month (The New Daily). 

Liberal chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee James Paterson said “they are attempting to make a partisan intervention by blocking one side of politics getting out a message on there.

It is incumbent on all politicians to get off the platform. No politician should be legitimising their censorship.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese offered to meet with Morrison to discuss any national security implications of WeChat’s tampering.

The new operator of the account, Aipeng Huang of Fuzhou 985 Information Technology Ltd, said he knew nothing about the background of the account.

“I don’t even know who [Scott] Morrison is. I saw the account has a lot of followers, so we bought it,” he said (ABC).  

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Likely to increase, rather than decrease, poor online behaviour.

University of Sydney Law School professor David Rolph suggests that the Morrison government’s proposed anti-trolling legislation is in fact pro-trolling legislation (The Guardian).

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Postscript: ‘I’m heartbroken’ — users mourn the loss of top stolen credit card site

When the admin or admins of illicit dark web marketplace UniCC — which has become a haven for cybercriminals looking to purchase stolen credit card credentials and Social Security numbers — announced on January 12 it was shutting its doors in 10 days, reverberations were felt throughout the world of law enforcement and shady crime alike (Input). 

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