Antarctic fund unveiled in swing seats

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today announce $804m for Antarctica programs, in a bid to counter China’s influence and shore up support in a marginal Tasmanian electorate.

What we know:

  • The package includes $136.6m for inland travel capability, mapping, mobile stations, environmental protection and other core activities (The Conversation); 
  • $109m will fund drone fleets, helicopters and planes to map “inaccessible and fragile areas of East Antartica”, establishing an “Antarctic Eye” with integrated censors;
  • $3.4m to “support the rules and norms of the Antarctic Treaty System and promote Australia’s leadership in Antarctic affairs” amid concerns China is seeking to circumvent the treaty to expand fishing (AFR); 
  • Australia lays claim to 42% of Antarctica, but only four countries recognise this (UNSW); 
  • $7.4m is slated for research on the Antarctic ice sheet, amid concerns about the collapse of the massive Thwaites Glacier due to accelerating carbon emissions;
  • $17.4m will be committed to marine science in the Southern Ocean and a new state-of-the-art krill aquarium in Hobart;
  • Morrison will announce the package in the marginal Tasmanian seat of Lyons, promising benefits for “Australian businesses, contractors, medical suppliers and providers” (The Guardian); 
  • He started the week touring the marginal Tasmanian seat of Bass, describing local Liberal member Bridget Archer as “fiery” after she crossed the floor over an integrity commission and proposed religious discrimination laws.
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Putin recognises Ukraine rebels

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to recognise the independence of breakaway Ukrainian regions in a televised address, in a move that Western powers say could serve as pretext for an invasion.

What we know:

  • Russian-backed rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk asked Russia to recognise their independence on Monday (BBC); 
  • Putin made the announcement after telling the leaders of France and Germany that he planned to sign a decree recognising the two breakaway regions (Al Jazeera); 
  • The rebels in the two regions have been sporadically fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014, with a “dramatic increase” in recent weeks, analysts say;
  • At a televised meeting of the Russian security council on Monday, senior officials made allegations of genocide against Russians and described Ukraine’s government as puppets of the West;
  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of carrying out a disinformation campaign;
  • US President Joe Biden agreed “in principle” to hold a summit with Putin to defuse tensions, but the Kremlin has downplayed the prospect of it going ahead;
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are, however, set to meet for talks later this week.
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NSW rail shutdown sparks blame game

There could be further disruption to train services in NSW today, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison moved to pin yesterday’s chaos on unions despite the closure of services being ordered by the NSW government.

What we know:

  • Sydney Trains boss Matthew Longland warned people to avoid rail travel for the foreseeable future but said limited services would be operational today (9News); 
  • Longland said the shutdown was his decision and “I stand by that decision”;
  • Unions had only planned low-level industrial action outlined at hearings before the Fair Work Commission at the weekend, and say workers showed up for shifts and weren’t striking;
  • NSW’s Transport department, however, made a call to shut down the entire rail network on Monday over alleged safety concerns linked to the action;
  • NSW Transport Minister David Elliott accused the rail workers of “terrorist-like activity” for taking industrial action (The Guardian); 
  • Scott Morrison tried to frame the issue as “a taste of what you can expect from Labor” if he loses the election (SMH). 
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AEC tackles election conspiracies

Election officials have asked social media platforms to remove posts casting doubt on Australia’s postal voting system, as part of a bid to tackle election misinformation.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has asked companies including Google, Twitter and the owners of Facebook to remove baseless claims about compromised postal voting and rigged electronic voting machines (Crikey). 

The conspiracy theories have been imported from Trump supporters in the US.

“In the last couple of days we have made referrals to social media organisations about content spread suggesting that postal voting is not a secure means of voting,” said AEC spokesperson Evan Ekin-Smyth.

“We’ve received action on some of that. I think Twitter took it down within three hours off the back of our referral and Meta has taken action as well.”

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Families reunite as borders open

International travellers touched down in Australia on Monday with borders reopening to tourists after two years of restrictions.

There were emotional family reunions at Sydney Airport, including Mariana Terzis who flew in from the US and was greeted by her parents Adam and Lauren Carrier, after being separated for more than two years (SBS).

“The feeling is amazing. So exciting to be reunited after such a long time,” Mariana’s father Adam said.

Qantas chief Alan Joyce said bookings had been strong since the federal government announced the country was reopening.

"We're in this position today thanks to the millions of Australians who rolled up their sleeves to get the jab and give the Australian government and state and territory governments' confidence that we can safely reopen to the world," he said.

It comes as a new $10m “national brand” for Australia cops criticism for being weak, predictable and too similar to the Qantas kangaroo (Innovation Aus). 

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Our government is very committed to ensure we sweat those assets for their life.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison promises to fight back against the early closure of coal-fired power plants, as part of his election pledge to deliver a climate hellscape that makes every one of us sweat for the rest of our lives (SMH).

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Postscript: ‘Chinese laser’ actually just glare from Scott Morrison’s welding

An investigation has confirmed that the bright laser-like light seen by an Australian Air Force plane was not from a Chinese vessel and was actually just the glare from Scott Morrison welding nearby. The Australian Air Force jet was flying in the Arafura Sea, just off the coast of the Northern Territory. At the same time, Scott Morrison was visiting SWEL Specialised Welding & Engineering near Alice Springs (The Shovel).

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