Labor to reboot Pacific partnerships

Labor will today unveil a package of reforms to boost Australia’s relationships with Pacific nations, as it doubles down on criticism of the Morrison government’s efforts in the region.

What we know:

  • Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong will announce in Darwin a boost to foreign aid for the Pacific and more money for climate adaptation (ABC); 
  • The plan would also expand Australian broadcasting in the region, including an additional $30m over four years for the ABC’s international programming budget (AFR $); 
  • Australia’s $12m in annual funding would be doubled for aerial surveillance activities under the Pacific Maritime Security Program, which helps the region combat illegal fishing (The West Australian); 
  • Labor will commit $6.5m over four years to establish a Pacific defence school to train its neighbours’ armed forces (SMH); 
  • Labor has accused the Coalition of losing influence in the region due to cuts to foreign aid, inadequate climate policies and a failure to engage diplomatically, leading to the Solomon Islands signing a pact with China;
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison meanwhile said China building a military base on the Solomons would be a “red line” for Australia, but declined to say what the consequences would be (ABC); 
  • It comes as 2017 comments from deputy Labor leader Richard Marles have been unearthed praising China as a “force for good” and asserting that Australia should stay out of contested disputes in the South China Sea (The Australian $); 
  • The latest Newspoll and Ipsos poll meanwhile show Labor maintaining its solid two-party lead over the Coalition (Pollbludger). 
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Musk to buy Twitter for $61bn

Twitter has agreed to a buyout offer from Tesla boss Elon Musk, handing control of the social media platform to the world’s richest person.

What we know:

  • Twitter accepted Musk’s offer of US$44bn ($61.4bn), after abandoning efforts to fend off a takeover when large shareholders pressured the board to accept due to the company’s struggling stock value (Forbes);  
  • The deal includes US$25.5bn in loans, which could cost Twitter as much as $1bn a year in servicing fees, or roughly 20% of the company’s annual revenue (The Verge); 
  • “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” said Musk, who flagged open source algorithms and authentication of all users;
  • Musk has expressed concerns about the policing of speech and removal of users from the social media platform;
  • There are worries that Musk’s free-speech absolutism will see a windback of moderating hate speech, and thus suppress the speech of vulnerable users (The Conversation); 
  • The buyout has sparked speculation that Musk will end former US President Donald Trump’s ban from the platform (NY Times). 
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Anti-trans billboard draws legal fire

The Australian Olympic Committee and Swimming Australia have threatened legal action over images of elite female swimmers used to campaign against trans women’s participation in sport.

A moving billboard deployed in Sydney by conservative activist group Advance featured photos of Olympic stars Emma McKeon, Emily Seebohm and Dawn Fraser, who have previously  raised questions about transgender athletes (The Age). 

The AOC will today send a legal letter to Advance alleging that the billboards, which declare ““women’s sport is not for men”, use its intellectual property without permission.

That includes use of the Olympic rings, which feature on the swimming suits of both McKeon and Seebohm.

Fraser said she was furious with being associated with the campaign to unseat independent Warringah MP Zali Steggall and had engaged her own solicitor on the matter.

Eugénie Buckley, the chief of Swimming Australia, said the body “strongly condemns” the use of the athletes’ imagery and has issued a legal threat over the matter (The Guardian).

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First paying astronauts land home safely

The first private astronaut team ever to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has departed the orbital lab and returned to Earth.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying a four-man Axiom Space team undocked from the ISS to embark on a 16-hour return flight, before splashing down off the coast of Florida (CBS). 

Axiom charges customers $50m to $60m a seat, with the team including a real estate-technology entrepreneur and an investor-philanthropist (Reuters). 

The quartet took with them equipment for science experiments, biomedical research and technology demonstrations to conduct in orbit.

Axiom, NASA and SpaceX have touted the mission as a turning point in the expansion of space commerce, constituting what the industry has dubbed the “low-Earth orbit economy”.

It comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine threatens government-funded collaboration between Moscow and Washington for space exploration (The Monthly). 

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Macron wins second term

World leaders have congratulated French President Emmanuel Macron on his reelection, after the pro-business centrist defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Macron secured 58.5% of the vote in the runoff election, making him the first French leader to be reelected in 20 years (CNN). 

The result nevertheless marks a continued strengthening of the far right, with the anti-EU, pro-Putin candidate Le Pen securing her best-ever result of 41% of the vote (Vox). 

“Bravo Emmanuel, in this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union,” tweeted European Council President Charles Michel (France 24). 

US President Joe Biden said he looked forward to “defending democracy” with Macron.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who Macron last year labelled a liar over an abandoned submarine partnership, tweeted “we wish you & France every success, in particular your leadership in Europe and as an important partner to Australia in the Indo-Pacific”.

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The only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war and be strong as a country. Not to be on bended knee and be weak.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton marks Anzac Day in his usual way: stoking tensions for a new world war that future generations can hold memorials for (SBS).

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Postscript: Autistic child ‘blessed’ he wasn’t born as Scott Morrison

Saying he couldn’t begin to understand what the Prime Minister’s friends, family and colleagues have had to go through, an eight-year-old Sydneysider on the autism spectrum has revealed that he feels “blessed” he was born as absolutely anyone other than Scott Morrison (The Shovel).

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