Budget skewed to marginal seats

Analysis of the upcoming budget reveals the Coalition is targeting marginal seats over key infrastructure priorities.

What we know:

  • Just 21 of 144 projects announced so far in the budget have been endorsed as priorities by Infrastructure Australia (The Guardian); 
  • Of $16bn in funding, almost $10bn has been committed for projects not recommended by the infrastructure body;
  • Of the $6.4bn that is allocated to projects within a single electorate, more than half is directed to marginal seats;
  • More than $1.3bn of the $3.3bn for NSW is earmarked for rail and road upgrades in the marginal seat of Dobell on the state’s Central Coast (AFR $); 
  • The marginal seat of Boothby in Adelaide’s south has been offered an additional $2.3bn for the Torrens to Darlington road project;
  • The largest project in Tasmania, a $336m roads package, will straddle the Liberal-held marginal seats of Bass and Braddon;
  • Victoria’s Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, accused the federal government of short-changing Victoria, saying $2bn of the state’s $3.3bn in projects were announced one year ago;
  • Asked whether the infrastructure package was targeting marginal seats, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “it’s targeting the strength of our economy because that’s what Australians need”;
  • Outgoing Liberal MP John Alexander has called for politicians to be stripped of their power to choose infrastructure projects, and an independent authority be established instead (SMH). 
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Crackdown on climate activism

A climate change activist has been jailed for four months, as politicians ramp up a crackdown against protesters.

What we know:

  • Maxim O’Donnell Curmi was hit with the jail term and a $1500 fine after scaling a 60m-high crane at Sydney’s Port Botany and blocking the loading of a docked ship (ABC); 
  • The NSW government last week introduced penalties of up to two years in jail and a $22,000 fine for protesters as a reaction to activism against “economic vandals”;
  • NSW Transport Minister David Elliott had called on the judiciary to “reflect the community’s outrage” when sentencing climate change activists (SMH); 
  • Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has moved to deport two protesters involved in the Blockade Australia actions (The Guardian); 
  • One of five protesters arrested last week was 57-year-old preschool teacher Dominique Jacobs, who said “I’m more frightened of the climate emergency than I am of their harsher penalties”;
  • It comes as an ice shelf the size of Rome broke off Antarctica after a regional heatwave, with temperatures 21C warmer than usual (Gizmodo). 
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More floods for Queensland and NSW

A man has died in Queensland and areas of Lismore have been evacuated as another wave of heavy rain sweeps across eastern Australia.

Forecasts of up to 300mm of rain in six hours led to flood warnings issued from Caboolture, just north of Brisbane, to Port Macquarie on the NSW Mid North Coast (Nine). 

A man was found dead near Toowoomba after reports a couple had become trapped in a ute submerged in floodwaters.

Residents of low-lying parts of Lismore, which has already suffered record flooding this year, were ordered to evacuate again over fears of flash flooding.

Major flooding is possible for the Wilsons, Richmond, Orara and Bellinger rivers from today.

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Alleged poisoning at Ukraine peace talks

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators suffered symptoms of suspected poisoning after a meeting in Kyiv in early March.

Abramovich, who accepted a Ukrainian request to help negotiate peace with Russia, and at least two senior members of the Ukrainian team, were affected at the meeting (WSJ $).

The report, confirmed by investigative journalism group Bellingcat, said that the symptoms included skin and eye irritation and the poison was most likely intended to intimidate, not kill the targets (DW). 

The symptoms of those who reported the alleged poisoning have improved.

Ukrainian and US officials downplayed allegations of poisoning, with a US official blaming an “environmental” reason (Reuters).

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Slap shakes up Oscars

The organisation behind the Oscars has said it “does not condone violence”, after allowing actor Will Smith to accept the best actor award shortly after assaulting presenter Chris Rock during its live broadcast.

What we know:

  • Smith marched onto the stage and slapped Rock after the host joked that he looked forward to the “GI Jane” sequel, in reference to the shaved head of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith (Deadline); 
  • Pinkett Smith has been living with the autoimmune disorder alopecia, which causes hair loss (People); 
  • Shortly after striking Rock, Smith returned to the stage to receive a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Richard Williams, the father of the Williams sisters;
  • “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things,” Smith said in his acceptance speech;
  • “The Academy does not condone violence of any form,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweeted following the ceremony;
  • Other award winners included Jessica Chastain recognised as Best Actress, Jane Campion as Best Director, and CODA as Best Picture (EW); 
  • Before the event Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, wrote that the Oscars have lost their relevance, with even the event’s controversies becoming boring (The Saturday Paper); 
  • The Oscars have suffered declining ratings in recent years, in what some see as a symptom of cinema slipping from its pedestal in popular culture (The New York Times). 
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It’s now the law of the land that established parties have a monopoly on the usage of a certain word.

Liberal Democrats candidate John Ruddick is not thrilled about losing a court challenge against legislation forcing the party to carve out its own identity with a new name, rather than rely on its traditional strategy of hoping voters confuse them with the Liberals (The Mandarin).

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Postscript: His software sang the words of God. Then it went silent.

I first heard it played to me over the phone from a copy that hadn’t yet ceased to function. It was a voice unlike any I’d ever heard: not human but made by humans, generated by a piece of computer code dating to the 1980s, singing words of a text from the Bronze Age in a cadence handed down, from one singer to another, over thousands of years. TropeTrainer was software that had been taught to sing the words of God. Then it went silent (Input).

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