Albanese shakes up public service

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has axed a number of department chiefs linked to the Coalition in a shake-up of top public servants.

What we know:

  • Diplomat Jan Adams, Australia’s ambassador to Japan, and former ambassador for climate change under the Rudd government, will replace Kathryn Campbell as Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary (The Conversation); 
  • Campbell, who will be moved to a defence role, had been in the job less than a year, after being embroiled in the Robodebt disaster as secretary of the department of social services;
  • Gordon de Brouwer will be appointed as secretary for public sector reform, after helping lead the Thodey review — largely ignored by the former government — that had recommended changes to make the public service more independent;
  • Jenny Wilkinson, a former head of the Parliamentary Budget Office, will become head of the Finance Department (The Mandarin); 
  • Experienced state public servant Jim Betts becomes secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, replacing Simon Atkinson, who was regarded by Labor as too close to the Coalition;
  • The new Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water will be headed by David Fredericks;
  • Albanese will however keep controversial Coalition appointments including  Department of Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo, and Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy (RiotACT); 
  • Three of the four new secretaries are women, compared to the former prime minister’s 2019 shake-up, when three of five secretaries sacked were women.
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Aviation billions vanish into thin air

More than $5bn in Covid-19 support handed out to the aviation sector was not adequately monitored, a new audit report has found.

What we know:

  • The federal government established a suite of support measures in response to the pandemic to assist the beleaguered sector, which was also eligible for the JobKeeper scheme (The New Daily); 
  • The measures included fuel rebates, airport grants, underwriting flight costs and waiving land tax payments;
  • Qantas received the most financial assistance, including more than $1bn in government support measures and $856m in JobKeeper;
  • The next highest recipient was Virgin Australia, with $330m in support measures and $285m in JobKeeper;
  • The audit found the Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications department overseeing the spending did not adequately monitor its impact;
  • A Transport Workers’ Union survey of 1100 workers found nearly half of those sacked by Qantas during the pandemic are still looking for permanent work two years on;
  • Qantas performance indicators are now plummeting, with the airline now the worst in the country — a decline blamed on outsourcing (The Saturday Paper); 
  • Australia’s air traffic control agency meanwhile is relying on hundreds of hours of overtime as it struggles to fill shifts in airport towers, threatening air traffic services (The Guardian). 
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New laws to criminalise offensive conduct

New laws criminalising grossly offensive conduct have been introduced into Victoria's parliament, prompting concern the proposed new offence could impact vulnerable people.

The proposed laws criminalise grossly offensive public conduct, with penalties of up to five years’ jail (ABC). 

It comes in response to driver Richard Pusey making vulgar commentary while filming the death of four police officers on a freeway, after they had been hit by a truck.

He was sentenced to 10 months’ jail after pleading guilty to drug possession, reckless conduct endangering serious injury, speeding and outraging public decency.

The outraging public decency offence will be abolished in favour of the new offence, which will apply to the conduct of any person in a place where their behaviour can be seen or heard publicly.

Lawyers have warned that the bill could impact vulnerable people, including those with mental illness (The Guardian). 

“If the definition of grossly offensive conduct is too broad, it could unintentionally impact on someone suffering a mental health episode, or a protester who lashes out at police,” said Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson Greg Barns.

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Quantum leap for computers

Australian scientists have joined atomic dots with “exquisite precision” in a breakthrough key to development of a commercial quantum computer.

Quantum physicist Michelle Simmons and her team at Silicon Quantum Computing created a functional quantum processor, in what the former Australian of the Year described as the “most exciting discovery of my career” (Science Alert). 

A quantum computer’s transistor is vastly smaller than a normal computer – down to the size of a single atom (Cosmos Magazine). 

The team successfully tested the processor by modelling a small molecule in which each atom has multiple quantum states — something a traditional computer would struggle to achieve (7News). 

Quantum computers would allow for the modelling of large molecules, which are too complex for normal computers.

They could be used to develop new materials, study artificial photosynthesis and create fertilisers.

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Deadly earthquake hits Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been hit by its deadliest earthquake in decades, with more than 1000 people reported killed and the death toll expected to rise.

A further 1500 people have been injured “in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika province alone”, according to a local official (CNN). 

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the country’s east, with the shallow depth of 10km exacerbating its impact.

Photos from Paktika province show houses turned to rubble with only a wall or two still standing.

The earthquake coincided with heavy monsoon rain in the region — making traditional houses, many made of mud and other natural materials, particularly vulnerable to damage.

The UN reported on Wednesday that heavy rain and wind was hampering rescue efforts “with helicopters reportedly unable to land this afternoon”.

The situation is compounded by the Taliban seizing power in 2021, which led the US and allies freezing much of the country’s foreign reserves and cutting off international funding.

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Areas like this are permanently fouled. We are being deprived of a bit of Country that we can’t go back to. Who wants to bring their family back to walk around in a bunch of carbon fibre.

Kokatha lore man Andrew Starkey would really prefer it if the military would stop firing missiles just metres away from sacred trees that represent a Dreamtime entity (SBS).

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Postscript: One of the world’s largest cruise ships ‘to be scrapped before maiden voyage’

A massive cruise ship is likely to be sold for scrap because no one wants to buy it … The 9,000 person passenger ship — which would’ve been one of the largest in the world — is currently sitting unfinished in a north German shipyard, Christoph Morgen, an insolvency administrator at Brinkmann & Partner, said at a press conference. The vessel’s half-finished keel will be sold for scrap, Morgen said, while its part-finished hull is for sale (Mirror).

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