Coalition’s building watchdog muzzled

Unions have lauded the Albanese government’s winding back of a federal construction watchdog's powers, but are less enthused by its openness to negotiating the better-off-overall test.

What we know:

  • Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke on Sunday stripped back the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission to the “bare legal minimum” (ABC); 
  • Its workplace safety role will be delegated to “appropriate health and safety regulators”⁣, and responsibility for enforcing the Fair Work Act will be handed to the Fair Work Ombudsman (AFR $);
  • Burke, who pledged to abolish the body later this year, said its record proved it had been “more concerned with pursuing and punishing workers than tackling rampant wage theft and compromised safety standards”;
  • Unions celebrated the move to minimise the powers of the ABCC, set up by the former Coalition government;
  • “The code was one of the ideological projects of the previous government who spent nearly a decade attacking unions and suppressing wages," said Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus;
  • In one instance, ABCC inspectors sanctioned a construction site because a union put up posters in the lunchroom (The Monthly); 
  • The chief of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, said the changes were “a backwards step for the fight against bullying and intimidation” and would add “costs and delays to vital community infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and schools” (The Conversation); 
  • Unions were less enthused with Burke signalling he will put the better-off-overall test on the table for discussion at the Albanese government’s jobs summit in September (The Guardian); 
  • The test is a provision that requires any new enterprise agreement to leave workers better off, compared with basic award conditions (The Conversation). 
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Russia blows up grain treaty

Russian missile strikes on a Ukrainian port have sparked global outrage, coming just one day after Ukraine and Russia agreed to the resumption of vital grain exports.

What we know:

  • Ukrainian authorities say two Russian missiles hit the southern port of Odessa, and two other missiles were intercepted (CNN); 
  • It comes one day after Ukraine and Russia signed a UN-brokered agreement to end a Russian blockade of Black Sea ports aimed at easing skyrocketing global grain costs fanned by the conflict;
  • Russia and Ukraine together export nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley, more than 70% of its sunflower oil and are big suppliers of corn (Al Jazeera); 
  • “Striking a target crucial for grain export a day after the signature of Istanbul agreements is particularly reprehensible and again demonstrates Russia’s total disregard for international law and commitments,” said the EU’s Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell;
  • Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday the strikes had destroyed a naval vessel and arms delivered by Washington (The Guardian); 
  • Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who is in Cairo trying to shore up support in the region, reassured Egyptian authorities that grain exports would resume.
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Grants plan frozen by Labor

Companies awarded grants under the Coalition’s $1.3bn modern manufacturing initiative have had their funding frozen by the Albanese government.

The funding is on hold until Labor completes its “value for money” review of manufacturing grants handed to firms across the defence, space, medical, food and heavy manufacturing sectors (The Australian $). 

“The minister is evaluating the assessment and decision-making processes surrounding manufacturing grants to ensure that they will deliver value for money for Australian taxpayers,” a spokesman for Industry Minister Ed Husic said.

Opposition industry and skills spokeswoman Sussan Ley said “alarm bells are ringing across Australia’s manufacturing and skills sectors as Labor’s razor gang looks to gut their funding”.

Labor last year criticised the fund for granting former prime minister Scott Morrison the power to personally authorise grant allocations, being “structured in such a way as to streamline pork-barrelling” (The Guardian). 

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‘Mad cow’ blood ban dropped

People who were in the UK during the mad cow disease outbreak can donate blood in Australia from today, after a nearly two decade ban.

The bovine spongiform encephalopathy outbreak in the UK prompted Australia to ban blood donations from potentially affected people in December 2000 (ABC). 

The ban on donations from people who lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 was lifted by the Therapeutic Drugs Administration in April, and those people will be eligible to donate from today.

"We have a rough idea of numbers but we're really looking forward to seeing all the people who have been interested in giving blood," said Red Cross Lifeblood’s Cath Stone.

The lifting of the ban on UK donors is set to heighten calls for other blood bans to be done away with, including a recent push to allow bisexual men, gay men and trans women to donate.

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Monkeypox declared a health emergency

The World Health Organization has formally declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency, with the body’s chief overruling a divided committee to make the call.

The declaration came after a second emergency WHO meeting as confirmed cases since May reached 16,000 in 74 countries including Australia, with five deaths (The New Daily). 

WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus took the decision into his own hands after the committee was unable to reach consensus.

“We have an outbreak that has spread around the world rapidly through new modes of transmission about which we understand too little and which meets the criteria in the international health regulations,” Dr Tedros said.

The monkeypox virus is a member of the same family of viruses as smallpox, and can be spread when someone is in close contact with an infected person, monkey, rat or squirrel (BBC). 

The WHO this week said that 99 per cent of all the monkeypox cases beyond Africa were in men and that of those, 98 per cent involved men who have sex with men.

Some experts have questioned the declaration, arguing the disease isn’t severe enough to warrant the attention and most people recover without needing medical attention.

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Update: just got home. It’s 6am. The sun is UP.

An all nighter at Splendour in the Grass might sound good on paper, but attendees who had to wade all weekend through a roiling pit of mud before waiting in a six-hour queue just to leave might beg to differ (news.com.au).

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Postscript: Bridesmaids Go Professional

At a wedding, Xie usually pretends to be the bride’s best friend or a classmate. The couple generally cover the travel and accommodation costs ... When she’s working, Xie gets up at 4.30am, gets dressed, and does light makeup for herself. Then she goes with the bride to take photos, change clothes, provide entertainment, and toast guests until the banquet ends at around 8pm (Sixth Tone).

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

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