Sweeping sanctions target Russia

Western powers have hit Russia with a wave of sanctions in response to President Vladimir Putin’s decision to move troops into rebel-held areas of Ukraine.

What we know:

  • Russian troops have surged into rebel-controlled areas that represent about a third of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk;
  • The scale of the conflict could escalate rapidly if Russia decides to help the rebels attempt to seize the regions, which the Kremlin has recognised as independent, in their entirety (Al Jazeera); 
  • Russia’s upper house voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country (AP); 
  • US President Joe Biden said “this is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” and announced sanctions on Russian financial institutions, individuals and sovereign debt (NBC News); 
  • The EU will implement sanctions including blacklists of Russian politicians and officials, a ban on EU investors from trading in Russian state bonds, and targeting imports with separatist entities (Reuters); 
  • Germany halted the certification of the Nord Stream 2 undersea gas pipeline to Russia (DW); 
  • The UK froze the assets of banks and billionaires linked to Putin’s inner circle (BBC); 
  • Australia’s embassy staff in Ukraine, who had already been moved out of the capital to a regional centre, are now being evacuated out of the country (7 News); 
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to impose sanctions on Russia in lockstep with international partners;
  • Australians can expect higher petrol and gas prices and more volatile financial markets due to the conflict, with oil prices hitting seven-year highs (The Guardian). 
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More states to drop mask rules

Victoria and Queensland have joined NSW in announcing eased mask restrictions for most indoor settings.

What we know:

  • From 11:59pm on Friday, the public health recommendation for Victorians to work or study from home will be removed (7News); 
  • Masks will only be required in certain settings including public transport, hospitals and primary schools, and for workers in hospitality, retail and large events;
  • Queensland will also relax the requirement to wear masks in most indoor settings from 6pm on March 4 (InQueensland); 
  • The Sunshine State will also scrap density limits for private homes, weddings and funerals and there will be no limits in food courts, hairdressers, gyms, private venues and universities;
  • NSW last week announced a similar easing of restrictions including indoor mask mandates from this Friday;
  • Australia recorded 37 Covid-19-related deaths on Tuesday, with Victoria and NSW both recording 14 each (SBS). 
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AGL boss says takeover bid ‘unrealistic’

AGL Energy boss Graeme Hunt has dismissed a takeover bid from tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes as underpriced and unrealistic.

Hunt said the $5bn bid at 4.7% higher than the share price value on Friday offered a “ridiculously low” premium (SMH). 

“If you’re going to try to take control of a company ... then you need to go into it the way it would normally happen in the corporate world, and you pay a ‘control premium’ which typically is 30, 40, 50%,” he said.

Hunt added that Cannon-Brookes’ plan to close the energy giant’s coal-fired power plants by 2030 would hit households and businesses with higher energy bills.

Cannon-Brookes said the plan was supported by his consortium partner Brookfield’s renewable energy expertise.

“This is not crazy futuristic technology, this is taking the technologies we have today and deploying them very pragmatically and sensibly at scale to bring that transition here as quickly as we can to bring down prices for power customers, industrial manufacturing all the way down to residential,” Cannon-Brookes said.

Brokers say the Morrison government is likely to intervene if the deal goes ahead (The Australian $). 

A raft of federal Coalition politicians came out against the proposed deal, with energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor warning it would be scrutinised by the ACCC (Renew Economy). 

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Morrison backs anti-trans sports bill

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed a bill that allows sporting organisations to make it easier to exclude transgender women from female sports, sparking criticism from equality advocates.

Morrison on Tuesday threw his support behind Tasmanian senator Claire Chandler’s proposed private members’ bill titled “save women’s sports” while campaigning in her home state (SBS). 

The bill, which was introduced to the Senate earlier this month, would amend the Sex Discrimination Act to “clarify” that the operation of single-sex sport on the basis of biological sex is not discriminatory.

“I think it is a terrific bill … Claire is a champion for women’s sport and I think she has been right to raise these issues in the way that she has,” Morrison said.

National LGBTIQ+ group Equality Australia called for the Senate to oppose the laws, claiming they would “exclude trans and gender diverse kids and adults”.

The group’s CEO Anna Brown accused Morrison of making trans and gender diverse children the subject of “political and media debate” by outlining his public support.

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Maritime union rejects strike crackdown

Shipping companies are pushing for up to 64 days’ ­notice before workers can take any strike action.

Shipping Australia put forward the proposal to a new Productivity Commission inquiry into the waterfront, arguing it would protect supply chains (The Australian). 

“Lengthening the notice ­period for industrial action on the waterfront to 64 days would cover the maximum duration of the longest voyage (Australia to North Europe), six days of staging time, and five days of buffer time,” Shipping Australia said.

The maritime union condemned the proposal to extend the required notice period for industrial action from three days to 64 days as “preposterous”.

The union accused the Morrison government of a politically motivated decision to launch the inquiry ahead of the federal election.

In a separate submission to the inquiry, the Minerals Council of Australia called for further restrictions to be placed on what can be contained in enterprise agreements.

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I remember Person 10 saying ‘bang’ or they shot the ground, to the effect that they had shot the person.

In the latest claim to only be aired publicly because Ben Roberts-Smith decided to take the media to court for defamation, the former soldier allegedly ordered the mock execution of an unarmed civilian during an SAS training drill (The Guardian).

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Postscript: Danish police seek info on apparent escaped kangaroo

Police said on Facebook that a driver saw the marsupial “hopping around” near Øster Ulslev, a village 16 kilometers from the port city of Rødbyhavn where ferries connect to northern Germany ... nobody has reported a kangaroo missing (AP).

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