Cannon-Brookes buys big AGL stake

Technology billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has bought a minority stake in AGL, in his latest effort to fast-track the company’s exit from coal.

What we know:

  • Cannon-Brookes’s Grok Ventures firm bought an 11.5% stake worth about $650m through derivatives trades, making him the single largest shareholder (AFR $); 
  • The Atlassian co-founder will seek to use the stake to block a proposed demerger that would split AGL Energy into one fossil-fuel focused company and a separate clean-energy company; 
  • Cannon-Brookes indicated he would instead push for the company — Australia’s biggest polluter — to close its coal assets by 2030 (Renew Economy); 
  • The renewable energy investor also launched a website to recruit other shareholders in the endeavour, with the demerger requiring 75% approval;
  • The purchase follows a rejected takeover offer for the company Cannon-Brookes lodged earlier this year;
  • It comes as AGL announces the latest outages at the Loy Yang A brown coal power station are expected to cost the company $73m, with one of the plant’s four units to remain offline until August (Murray Valley Standard); 
  • Entrepreneur Saul Griffith, author of The Big Switch, has said transitioning AGL from coal to renewables presents a lucrative business opportunity in addition to ecological benefits (The Saturday Paper). 
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Aspen Medical boss dines out on deal

The former chairman of Aspen Medical has revealed how the company obtained access to the Coalition government by political fundraising and appointing a former Liberal cabinet minister to its board.

What we know:

  • Andrew Walker told Four Corners that former Liberal minister Michael Wooldridge introduced him to Greg Hunt, and arranged “paid access” to a budget dinner with him (ABC); 
  • “It’s paid access. You have a dinner with the minister, or lunch with the minister. I mean, it costs you money, they don’t do it because they like to look at your face,” Walker said;
  • Hunt signed a glowing letter of commendation for the company while it was engaged in negotiations with his department over multimillion-dollar PPE deals (ABC); 
  • Aspen Medical went on to win $1.1bn in government contracts without a public tender;
  • Four Corners also revealed the company is embroiled in numerous scandals, including a money laundering investigation linked to a major hospital project in Sri Lanka (Colombo Page). 
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Long-haul flight plan falls flat

Qantas has unveiled ultra-long-haul aircraft for non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York, but experts have questioned the impact on emissions and mental health.

What we know:

  • Launching in late 2025, the $6bn plan involves new A350-1000 aircraft specially configured with extra premium seating and reduced overall capacity of up to 238 passengers (Reuters); 
  • The 20-hour trip from Sydney to London will be the world's longest direct commercial flight, but the airline plans to charge additional fares in a bet that passengers will pay a premium to avoid a stopover;
  • Qantas claims the planes will be 25% more fuel-efficient than previous aircraft and will feature “wellbeing zones” for passengers to move about in the cabin;
  • Experts said that while not having to take off and land for the stopover will save some fuel, this will be mostly offset by the weight of all the extra fuel needed for such long flights (The Guardian); 
  • They also cautioned that the negative effects of repeated long haul flying on crew members’ circadian rhythms would be more pronounced on the longer flights, and deep vein thrombosis risk would be elevated for passengers;
  • The Transport Workers’ Union was critical of Qantas’s spending on new aircraft after thousands of employees lost their jobs during the pandemic.
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Morrison rejects Voice referendum

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ruled out a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to parliament if he is re-elected.

“It’s not our policy to have a referendum on the Voice, so why would I be doing that?” Morrison said of a referendum to enshrine the body in the constitution (SMH). 

His comments were prompted by a new Indigenous-led campaign to make the referendum an election issue, launched with the backing of corporations and philanthropists (Mumbrella). 

Although the Coalition broke a 2019 promise to hold a referendum on Indigenous recognition during this term of parliament — which it allocated $160m to — its policy is to establish a Voice through legislation rather than a national vote.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese committed to enshrining a Voice to parliament in the Constitution during Labor’s campaign launch on Sunday.

Greens leader Adam Bandt has signalled a preference for Truth and Treaty – two other components of the Uluru Statement – to come before a Voice to parliament.

The formal process for constitutional recognition, launched by former prime minister Julia Gillard, has entered its second decade (The Saturday Paper). 

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Betting companies wager on loyal NT

Sports betting companies threatened to abandon the NT, where many are based, if taxes were increased, new disclosures reveal.

Industry submissions obtained under Freedom of Information law reveal that companies threatened to leave during a review of the Territory's Racing and Betting Act in 2020 (ABC). 

It was sparked by a 2018 review that suggested 20% of labour costs of sports betting companies should be spent in the NT.

The majority of Australian online sports betting companies are registered in the NT, making the territory the primary regulator of the industry in the country.

Licensing NT redacted the names of the companies that made submissions.

The consultation process for crucial betting reform did not include community organisations.

Reform has been under way since 2018 but appears to have stalled.

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To those buffoons who have repeatedly described this commission as a kangaroo court, I would say three things.

Given the lack of a federal anti-corruption body, NSW ICAC commissioners might not wield the power to investigate a certain prime minister, but they certainly can accuse him of being a buffoon (SMH).

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Postscript: Rare ‘Wicked’ bible that encourages adultery discovered in New Zealand

The 1631 “Wicked” Bible ... omits the word “not” from its seventh commandment, informing readers “thou shalt commit adultery”. One thousand copies of the text, which also came to be known as the Adulterous or Sinners’ Bible, were printed, with the error only discovered a year later. Upon discovery of the mistake, the printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were summoned by King Charles I and hauled before the court, where they were admonished for the scandalous typo (The Guardian).

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