Khaki election promise to boost troops

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today announce plans to boost the number of uniformed personnel in the military by a third in response to a world that is “increasingly uncertain”.

What we know:

  • The proposed $38bn expansion would increase the ADF by 18,500 uniformed personnel by 2040, with the ramp up to begin in 2024-25 (SMH); 
  • Some of the additional soldiers, sailors and aviators are needed to operate new military capability such as nuclear-powered submarines, Hunter-class frigates and long-range missile systems;
  • Defence will establish a new army regiment for long-range fires and another for information warfare;
  • The Morrison government claims the boost is in line with the direction of the 2020 Force Structure Plan;
  • Within the military there are doubts the new goals will be reached, given current recruitment and retention targets are struggling to be met (ABC); 
  • Despite an increasing reliance on the military to respond to climate change-fuelled disasters, there appears to be no plan to establish a dedicated disaster relief service inside Defence;
  • Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will today pledge that Labor will boost Defence spending and may build new warships if it wins power (ABC). 
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Labor seats miss disaster payments

NSW flood victims excluded from extra disaster payments have lashed out at the Coalition, as the party denies that it is favouring residents in its own seats.

What we know:

  • The northern rivers local government areas of Richmond Valley, Lismore and Clarence Valley were offered extra rounds of disaster payments on Wednesday due to “catastrophic” flooding (The Guardian); 
  • Shires also declared disaster zones including Ballina, Byron and Tweed are however ineligible for the two extra $1000 payments for affected adults;
  • Labor MP Justine Elliot said it was “disgusting” and “astounding” the prime minister had excluded the areas in her seat, which includes Byron, Tweed and some of Ballina;
  • The electorate of Page, held by Nationals MP Kevin Hogan, covers Lismore, Richmond Valley, and the rest of Ballina;
  • Deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said Lismore was “an epicentre” of the disaster, and it was “obnoxious” to infer payments were being withheld from certain electorates because of the way they voted;
  • Labor made similar allegations last week about flood assistance in Queensland seats (ABC); 
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office meanwhile has banned media filming him visiting flood-affected homes in Lismore, amid local anger about the speed of the federal response (7News). 
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Mariupol maternity hospital bombed

A Russian airstrike devastated a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday, as troops encircled the besieged Ukrainian port city, cutting food and water from residents.

What we know:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said people were trapped under the wreckage of the hospital, and called on Western leaders to impose a no-fly zone (BBC); 
  • Mariupol, located in the south of the country, has been surrounded by Russian forces for several days;
  • “The whole city remains without electricity, water, food, whatever and people are dying because of dehydration,” said Olena Stokoz of Ukraine’s Red Cross;
  • Workers in the city are burying scores of dead Ukrainian civilians and soldiers in a mass grave (AP); 
  • The conflict is estimated to have already caused the loss of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian lives;
  • A growing number of multinational companies have announced withdrawals from Russia in protest of the invasion, including Nestle, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s (Reuters). 
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Vetoed grants putting off researchers

A Nobel laureate has warned that international researchers are shunning Australia after government vetoes of grants.

A Senate inquiry is under way after acting education minister Stuart Robert vetoed six Australian Research Council (ARC) grants as they “did not demonstrate value for taxpayers’ money nor contribute to the national interest” (The Guardian). 

The vice-chancellor of the Australian National University Prof Brian Schmidt told the inquiry that the “independence of the research grant process is a core part of how liberal democracies work”.

Schmidt said the veto powers made it difficult to attract international researchers, with some expressing “their concerns to the point of saying: ‘I am not going to come to Australia until you sort this out.’”

Of 80 submissions received by the inquiry, only three organisations opposed a bill removing the veto powers: the ARC, the federal Department of Education and right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

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Albanese to lead like Hawke

Anthony Albanese has pledged to govern in the same fashion as economic reformers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

Speaking at a business summit, Albanese said he would emulate Hawke’s approach of bringing together governments, trade unions, businesses and civil society around the shared aims of growth and job creation (SBS). 

The Labor leader also drew on a line used by former Liberal prime minister John Howard, that in the race for economic reform, you never reach the finish line.

“I agree. It's always a race – the race for improvement. But the current Liberal government has abandoned the field,” he said.

Although Albanese did not name Howard, The Australian’s story on the speech carried the headline, “I’ll be more like a Bob Hawke or John Howard” (The Australian $). 

The News Corp paper then followed up with a story headlined, “John Howard tells Anthony Albanese don’t ride on my coat-tails” (The Australian $). 

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Thanks Kerry … I appreciate the support enormously. All the mealy-mouthed tutt-tutting by some people about Palmer’s ‘rights’ makes me sick.

The Federal Court releases texts between WA Premier Mark McGowan and the owner of his state’s only daily metro newspaper, Kerry Stokes — revealing that the two enjoyed a shared passion for sticking the boot into Clive Palmer (ABC).

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Postscript: Ed Sheeran sings Nina Simone during Shape of You copyright case

Ed Sheeran has serenaded London’s High Court in an attempt to prove he did not copy portions of his 2017 hit Shape of You from another artist. The star is accused of lifting his song’s “Oh I, oh I, oh I” hook from Sami Chokri’s 2015 single Oh Why. In court, he sang elements of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good and Blackstreet’s No Diggity to illustrate how the melody is commonplace in pop music (BBC).

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