Environment gets a mega-department

The Albanese government has unveiled a departmental shake-up, introducing a new mega-department for the environment, and shifting the federal police out of Home Affairs.

What we know:

  • From July 1 there will be a new mega-department of climate change, energy, environment and water, responsible for the new 2030 emissions target and tweaks to the safeguard mechanism (The Guardian); 
  • An early challenge for the department will be dealing with the Coalition quietly scrapping recovery plans designed to prevent the extinction of almost 180 threatened species and habitats (The Guardian); 
  • A new department of employment and workplace relations will also be introduced, responsible for spearheading initiatives on jobs, skills and training (The Mandarin); 
  • Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus will gain responsibility for the Australian Federal Police, which will be moved out of the Department of Home Affairs (SMH); 
  • The Coalition’s controversial inclusion of the federal police in Home Affairs had been criticised by the AFP Association for putting its independence and integrity at risk;
  • In return Home Affairs will take on responsibility for natural disaster response and mitigation;
  • The Department of Finance gains responsibility for data policy, including the Digital Transformation Agency, as well as de-regulation (Innovation Aus); 
  • The Department of Health will be rebadged as the department of health and aged care;
  • The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications will have the arts attached to it.
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Gas crunch as big chill bites

Australia’s market operator has warned of potential gas supply shortages today, as calls grow for the new federal government to pull the “gas trigger” to divert exports into the domestic market. 

What we know:

  • The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has identified a possible shortfall of gas supplies in Victoria, SA and Tasmania on Thursday amid an ongoing burst of cold weather (The Guardian); 
  • Energy prices have skyrocketed due to gas and coal sanctions related to Russia’s war on Ukraine, and outages at ageing coal plants;
  • Origin Energy issued a stock market alert warning of erratic coal supplies to its Eraring power station in NSW;
  • Small energy retailers have told their existing customers to switch to other providers or face a doubling in their bills (Finder.com.au); 
  • Households with solar and batteries could do well in this period by exporting to the grid;
  • Calls are growing for the Albanese government to pull the “gas trigger” — a mechanism that would force gas exporters to divert more of their product into the domestic market (AFR $); 
  • New resources minister Madeleine King backed new gas fields to address the energy crisis — although these could take decades to develop and Australia already produces far more gas than it can use;
  • Price jumps have been less severe in southern states with greater renewables penetration, with wind and large scale solar farms offering relief and setting a new record on Tuesday afternoon (Renew Economy).
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Floods hit insurance high mark

The record floods that swept Queensland and NSW this year were the most expensive in the nation’s history, according to the Insurance Council of Australia.

At $4.3bn, the damage bill from the disaster is nearly double the insured losses of the 2011 Brisbane floods (Insurance Business Mag). 

It is also Australia’s fourth costliest disaster, behind 1999’s eastern Sydney hailstorm at $5.57bn, 1974’s Cyclone Tracy at $5.04bn and 1967’s Cyclone Dinah at $4.69bn.

“Keeping Australia insurable as extreme weather events worsen requires governments to invest in appropriate physical mitigation and adaptation strategies,” said ICA boss Andrew Hall of worsening impacts from climate change.

It comes as the Bureau of Meteorology announces that this year Australia endured its third wettest autumn on record (ABC). 

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Labor MP pushes Assange case

Government MP Julian Hill has urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to honour his promise to pressure the US to drop its extradition of Julian Assange.

As opposition leader, Albanese declared Assange’s incarceration in the UK had gone on long enough and he wanted him freed (SMH). 

On Tuesday night Albanese declined to address the matter, saying “my position is that not all foreign affairs is best done with the loud hailer”.

Hill, a member of the bipartisan Bring Julian Assange Home parliamentary group, on Twitter said he hoped the new cabinet would “speak up for our fellow citizen” without using “weasel words”.

A final decision on Assange’s extradition to the US is due in coming days, where he faces up to 175 years’ jail for publishing classified documents (The Saturday Paper).

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Wong on Samoa and Tonga run

Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Wednesday night was scheduled to fly to the Pacific  for the second time in nine days, stepping up Australia’s engagement with the region.

Wong is set to visit Tonga and Samoa where she will meet with leaders, after a visit to Fiji last week (SBS). 

It comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tours the Pacific region, including a stop in Tonga on Wednesday where he pledged support for sports stadiums and wind power projects, while signing deals on disaster prevention and mitigation, agriculture, fisheries and healthcare (Al Jazeera). 

China released a Pacific Islands position paper on Tuesday covering areas such as security and development, after failing to get regional leaders to sign up to a wide-ranging security deal.

Wong said Australia had its own regional security offer for the Pacific.

“We will increase our contribution to regional security: we understand that the security of the Pacific is the responsibility of the Pacific family, of which Australia is a part,” she said.

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By the letter of the law, this relates to everyone, even if you’ve been married to someone for 20, 30, 40 or 50 years.

2GB radio host Ben Fordham sounds the alarm about NSW’s new affirmative consent laws. Goodness, requiring consent from one’s wife — next thing you know they’ll be allowed to vote, work and drive (Junkee).

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Postscript: Legal logjam — bid to build Australia’s finest public toilet dubbed ‘Cistern Chapel’ runs into trouble

The “Cistern Chapel of Maryborough” was unveiled in mid-May to much fanfare, with its extravagant murals and golden “throne” splashed across TV screens countrywide. But hidden from the glowing coverage of a project, which took two years and cost tens of thousands of dollars to complete, was the increasingly toxic relationship between the small-town organisers and the passionate Hungarian artist who helped bring their dream to life (The Guardian).

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

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