Albanese edges Morrison in first debate

The audience in attendance at the first election debate have granted Labor leader Anthony Albanese a narrow victory, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces heat over an answer regarding disabled children.

What we know:

  • Albanese and Morrison faced questions on nursing in aged care, a federal integrity commission, and international relations from a panel of 100 undecided voters on Wednesday (AAP); 
  • Of the voters in the room, 40% backed the Opposition Leader while 35% thought the Prime Minister had the better night, and 25% remained undecided;
  • Asked by a parent of an autistic son about cuts to the NDIS, Morrison said he and his wife Jenny were “blessed” to have two children who weren’t disabled, sparking widespread scorn (news.com.au); 
  • Dismissing criticism of his handling of China’s security deal with the Solomons, Morrison accused Labor of taking China’s side, which Albanese objected to as an “outrageous slur” (ABC); 
  • Albanese appeared lost for words when questioned by Morrison about why Labor didn’t adopt illegal boat turnbacks as part of border security efforts when last in government;
  • Morrison also criticised Albanese’s plan for 24/7 nurses in aged care, warning it would force the closure of regional aged care homes due to insufficient staff;
  • Fact checkers found Morrison exaggerated in describing the pandemic’s economic impact as “30 times worse” than the 2008 global financial crisis, and that Albanese over egged claims that the “cost of everything is going up” (ABC); 
  • The debate may prove largely irrelevant to the election contest, broadcast on little-watched pay-TV channel Sky News as well as News Corp websites rather than free-to-air television (Crikey $). 
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NSW and Victoria drop isolation

Household contacts of Covid-19 cases will no longer need to isolate for seven days in NSW and Victoria, as other states consider following suit.

What we know:

  • Instead of isolating, household contacts will have to undertake daily rapid antigen tests for seven days in NSW or at least five tests in Victoria, wear masks indoors and out, and work from home where possible (SBS); 
  • Unvaccinated travellers no longer need to undergo hotel quarantine in both states;
  • Victoria's rules will ease from 11.59pm on Friday, April 22, while NSW will relax restrictions at 6pm on Friday;
  • Other states and territories including QueenslandSA and the ACT are considering following suit to maintain a nationally consistent approach;
  • WA is yet to indicate whether it will ease close contact rules, while Premier Mark McGowan has been forced into isolation after a family member tested positive (ABC);
  • Although the Omicron variant results in less severe disease, it has infected so many people that Covid-19 deaths in Australia this year are already more than double the toll from 2020 and 2021 combined (The Guardian). 
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Half of Ukraine trapped or homeless

More than 5m people, from a population of 44m, have fled Ukraine since Russian troops invaded eight weeks ago, according to the UN refugee agency.

What we know:

  • A further 7m people have been displaced internally, while some 13m people are believed to be trapped in war-affected areas (AP); 
  • The numbers exceed the worst-case predictions of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi who said “only an end to the war can pave the way for rebuilding their lives”;
  • More than 2.8m refugees fled at first to Poland, while 750,000 escaped to Romania, with host countries calling for international assistance;
  • Tatiana Shulieva,  a retired epidemiologist who fled from Kharkiv, said the night she spent in temporary accommodation for refugees was “like a fairytale” after having sheltered in a basement for weeks to escape constant shelling;
  • About 1000 civilians remain trapped at a steel plant where Ukrainian forces are making their last stand in the besieged city of Mariupol, after a Russian ultimatum to “surrender or die” expired (Reuters); 
  • It comes as Wimbledon organisers announced a ban on players from Russia and Belarus, prompting a backlash from player associations (BBC).
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Weapons sponsor ‘degrades war dead’

The Australian War Memorial is pursuing a controversial new sponsorship deal from weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The move comes in defiance of more than 300 letters from veterans and historians saying such arrangements are “degrading to the memory of our war dead” (The Guardian). 

The letters called on the memorial not to renew its deal with Lockheed Martin, which expired this month after funding a podcast on veterans’ experiences.

Those who have complained say companies that profit from conflict should have “no place” in what should be a solemn memorial, noting Lockheed Martin’s surging share price following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson said he was engaged in “ongoing discussions with Lockheed Martin Australia about future opportunities”.

The memorial has also accepted funding from other arms manufacturers, including Boeing, Thales and BAE.

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UK issues Assange extradition

A UK court has issued a formal order to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to face trial over the publication of secret military files.

Assange joined the hearing virtually from Belmarsh Prison, where he has been held since being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London three years ago (SBS). 

The decision now rests with UK interior minister Priti Patel, although Assange may still appeal within 14 days of any decision to approve the extradition.

The US wishes to put Assange on trial in connection with the publication of 500,000 secret military files relating to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (CNN). 

In January last year, Assange appeared to have won a reprieve on the grounds he was a suicide risk if he was kept in solitary confinement at a maximum security US jail, but the US successfully appealed the decision.

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Are these people fucking idiots? Why are they picking a fight with our largest trading partner?

Party strategists conducting focus groups with Chinese-Australian voters get some colourful responses about how Canberra is managing its relationship with Beijing (The Age).

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Postscript: The Twitter Account That Collects Awkward, Amusing Writing

The account tracks the ways that writers strive to express the same thing differently … take, for example, Adele, who is frequently “the singer Adele” on first mention, and then maybe “the Tottenham soul-pop titan” on second mention. Cheese, if you are saying “cheese” too much, can be “the popular dairy product.” A “pair of armadillos,” who, for some reason, were put on a diet? “The oval-shaped duo” (The New Yorker).

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