Barrier Reef challenge to WA gas field

Fossil fuel giant Woodside is being taken to court over its plans to develop the Scarborough gas field, which environmental groups warn will jeopardise the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

What we know:

  • The Australian Conservation Foundation launched proceedings in the Federal Court in an attempt to halt the Scarborough project off the coast of WA (The New Daily); 
  • As an offshore project, Scarborough is exempt from federal environmental laws, and is instead subject to regulation by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority;
  • ACF will argue that Scarborough should be assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, as the offshore exemption does not apply to projects that threaten World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef;
  • The organisation said the case could establish a precedent for all new fossil fuel developments to be assessed for the climate damage they would cause (The Guardian); 
  • Climate Analytics estimate the development could release 1.37bn tonnes of carbon dioxide over 25 years — more than three times Australia’s annual emissions;
  • “We must not fall for the accounting trick that suggests these emissions won’t affect reefs in Australia simply because the gas will mostly be burned overseas. The reef is not concerned with the source of the greenhouse gases that damage it,” said ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy;
  • Greenpeace meanwhile published new modelling of the potential spill risk from the project, showing a spill event could devastate WA’s coastal ecosystems (Renew Economy); 
  • The project has backing from federal and state Labor, which argue Scarborough will help lower global emissions by displacing coal-fired power — although no specific evidence has been provided for this;
  • WA Premier Mark McGowan last year threatened to legislate against a separate challenge to Scarborough’s approvals in the WA Supreme Court (The Saturday Paper). 
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NSW delivers big teal deal

The NSW budget has been hailed as the country’s first teal budget, as the Perrottet government seeks to learn from the defeat of its federal Coalition counterparts.

What we know:

  • Analysts suggest NSW Treasurer Matt Kean made sure to invest in women, climate and integrity, after the federal Coalition lost inner-city seats to the teal independents on those issues (SMH); 
  • The budget includes $16.5bn in spending for women, including measures to increase workforce participation, improve safety, support women in small business, lower the cost of fertility treatments and open menopause hubs (The Guardian); 
  • There is $5bn over 10 years to create 47,000 private childcare places, and a pilot program for pre-kindy;
  • There is also a major reform for first home buyers, who will be able to elect to pay an annual land tax instead of stamp duty, with some eligible for a $780m shared-equity scheme (ABC); 
  • Climate is also a priority, with a previously announced $1.2bn in funding to accelerate the construction of new transmission infrastructure to support the creation of the state’s Renewable Energy Zones (Renew Economy). 
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Mental health boost for Queensland

The Queensland government will impose new levies on big business to help boost funding for mental health services.

The state government will lift payroll taxes on big business, as well as new taxes on coalminers and gambling firms (InQueensland). 

The taxes will help raise $5.7bn over four years to fund an extra 2509 hospital beds (Brisbane Times). 

$1.64bn is reserved for mental health, including targeted measures for perinatal and eating disorders and 1400 new staff.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Maria Boulton acknowledged the record spend in health, but said the increase of 5.6% was only keeping up with inflation.

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Rape trial delayed after Logies speech

A speech at the Logies has prompted another delay in the trial for the man accused of raping Brittany Higgins at Parliament House.

ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum agreed “through gritted teeth” to delay the trial of Bruce Lehrmann due to publicity around the speech (ABC). 

Journalist Lisa Wilkinson made the speech after accepting an award on Sunday night for an interview she did with Higgins last year.

Lehrmann’s barrister argued the speech and surrounding commentary could jeopardise his client’s chance of a fair trial.

McCallum agreed, saying much of the material had obliterated the distinction between an allegation and guilt.

The court heard there had been a briefing between Wilkinson and the prosecutors last week, where she was warned that the defence might use anything she said.

McCallum said instead Ms Wilkinson openly referred to Higgins, praising her courage.

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Russia threatens Lithuania after trade block

Russia has threatened to punish Lithuania with measures that would have a “serious negative impact” for blocking some shipments by rail to Moscow’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.

Kaliningrad is separated from the rest of Russia by Lithuania, which has shut the route for transport of steel and other ferrous metals, claiming it is required to do so under new EU sanctions (Reuters). 

Russian officials say other basic goods have been blocked too.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council, warned a response is being prepared with consequences that “will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania”.

The EU sought to deflect responsibility from Lithuania, saying the sanctions, which relate to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, was collective action by the bloc.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said it was ironic to hear Russia complain about alleged violations of international law, given that it had violated “possibly every single international treaty”.

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As a result, the bureau’s … outlook status has moved to La Niña watch.

The good news is that the La Niña weather system bringing endless rain to Australia’s east coast has officially ended. The bad news is there is a 50% chance it will return for a third summer in a row (ABC).

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Postscript: An Election Fraud Conspiracy Theorist Has Been Elected to the Australian Senate

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party has delivered precisely one representative to government, after Ralph “Deej” Babet — a real estate agent and election fraud conspiracy theorist — snagged the final spot in the Australian Senate for the state of Victoria (VICE).

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