Fuel cuts central to budget

A cut to fuel ­excise and $17.9bn for infrastructure projects are among Coalition spending promises leaked to the Murdoch media ahead of Tuesday’s federal budget.

What we know:

  • Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will slash fuel ­excise by between 10c to 20c for six months, in response to soaring oil prices (The Australian $); 
  • Of 98 new infrastructure projects funded in the budget, the key election battleground of Queensland dominates with 43;
  • That includes $2.7bn for rail links from Brisbane to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast (The Courier Mail $); 
  • The home guarantee scheme for first-home buyers will be expanded from 20,000 to 50,000 places a year (Daily Telegraph $); 
  • In return for the cost-of-living assistance, the government is believed to have dropped plans to extend to 2022-23 the low and middle income tax offset;
  • Despite a scathing report by the the auditor-general into the commuter car park fund, an extra $47.5m will go to five car park projects in Victoria and NSW (The Age); 
  • A survey of Australia’s top economists found they overwhelmingly prefer funding climate action and childcare rather than a cut to corporate and fuel excise taxes (The Conversation). 

Kremlin bans Zelensky interview

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered concessions in an interview with Russian media, but the Kremlin has warned local outlets against covering it amid a crackdown on coverage of the war.

What we know:

  • In a 90-minute video call Zelensky told Russian journalists Ukraine could discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal, but it would have to be put to a referendum (Reuters); 
  • Speaking in Russian, Zelensky said security guarantees and the non-nuclear status of Ukraine were up for discussion, but the demilitarisation of the country was not;
  • Russia’s communications watchdog ordered media to refrain from reporting the interview, and launched a probe into the outlets involved (Reuters); 
  • It comes amid a crackdown on independent regional media in Russia, barred from reporting on the “special military operation” in Ukraine (Radio Free Europe); 
  • Russian-language newspapers in Australia, one of which is owned by the Russian government, are also refraining from coverage of the war (The Age); 
  • Communications Minister Paul Fletcher requested tech platforms remove Russian state-based media, but the ban does not apply to newspapers;
  • Australia’s media regulator is investigating a Melbourne-based Russian community radio program after receiving complaints it was broadcasting Kremlin propaganda.

Liberals sidestep NSW preselections

The Liberal federal executive will cancel preselections in key seats, agreeing again to temporarily dissolve the party’s NSW division to install candidates.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and former federal president Christine McDiven have been granted authority to appoint candidates in seats including Eden-Monaro, Hughes, Parramatta, Warringah and Greenway (The Australian $). 

The move could pave the way for NSW Transport Minister David Elliott to contest the federal seat of Parramatta (SMH). 

The cancellation of preselections will further inflame tensions in the troubled NSW division of the party, which have been escalating for months (The Saturday Paper). 


Run-off for Timor-Leste president

Timor-Leste will hold a run-off presidential election after Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta failed to secure more than 50% of the vote.

Ramos-Horta received 46.6% of the vote in last week’s election, well ahead of the 22.1% for incumbent President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres (ABC). 

The two former freedom fighters have traded accusations of triggering a years-long political paralysis.

In 2018, Mr Guterres refused to swear in nine Cabinet nominees from a rival party now backing Ramos-Horta.

The government has been operating without an annual budget and has relied on monthly injections from the country’s Petroleum Fund.

A run-off is scheduled for April 19, and the winner will take office on May 20.


Cystic fibrosis drug added to PBS

Cystic fibrosis sufferers will have access to a ground-breaking drug at a steep discount after it was placed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

More than 2000 people living with cystic fibrosis will be able to access Trikafta on the PBS from April 1 (SBS). 

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the drug, which previously cost more than $250,000 a year, will now be $42.50 a script or $6.80 for concession card holders.

"I am so proud that one of the final treatments listed on the PBS under my watch as Minister for Health is Trikafta," Hunt said.

The drug will be available to Australians aged 12 and over who have at least one F508del mutation in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene.

One in every 2500 children born in Australia will have cystic fibrosis, and some 3500 people live with the disease today.


For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

In exciting news for fans of global thermonuclear annihilation, Joe Biden appears to for the first time back regime change in Moscow. White House officials later claimed the US President meant Vladimir Putin needed to lose power in the region, not in Russia (Al Jazeera).


Postscript: ‘Diana the Musical,’ LeBron James and Jared Leto Dishonored as Winners at 2022 Razzie Awards

The year’s achievements in film will have to wait one more day for the Academy Awards, but the medium’s lows were dishonored on Saturday morning at the 42nd Golden Raspberry awards. Netflix’s “Diana the Musical,” a filmed performance of the much-derided new Broadway musical based on the life of Princess Diana, had a clean sweep across all of its four nominations, winning in the categories of worst picture, worst director for Christopher Ashley, worst actress for Jeanna de Waal and worst supporting actress for Judy Kaye (Variety).


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