Crossbench alarm over corruption bill

Labor’s assurance that its proposed national anti-corruption body would typically hold hearings in private has secured the in-principle support of the Coalition, but provoked alarm among crossbenchers.

What we know:

  • Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus introduced legislation to create the new National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to parliament on Wednesday (APH); 
  • The NACC’s default position would be to hold hearings in private but the commissioner would be given power to hold public hearings in “exceptional circumstances’’ in the public interest (The Guardian); 
  • Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who had expressed concern about the prospect of “show trials”, said the ­Albanese government got the “balance right” and offered in-principle support (The Australian $); 
  • Crossbenchers expressed concern that the bill does not define “exceptional circumstances” and are worried a defendant might be able to test the definition in the High Court (ABC); 
  • "This is really problematic, in that it’s not clear what exceptional circumstances are and why we need to have that additional hurdle to jump,” said independent MP Helen Haines;
  • Integrity experts have praised the proposed model for its capacity to investigate not only public officials but also “any person”, including private individuals or businesses that seek to corrupt public decision-making (The Conversation). 
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AGL accelerates coal closure

AGL is set to announce the closure of a major coal-fired power plant in Victoria by 2035, as Queensland targets an end to reliance on coal by the same year.

What we know:

  • AGL is expected to announce on Thursday that its Loy Yang A plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley will close in 2035, a decade earlier than previously expected (SMH); 
  • It comes as tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes moves to back four new members to the board of AGL, in the major shareholder’s latest bid to reduce the company’s emissions (The Guardian); 
  • Cannon-Brookes has said he wants AGL – the country’s biggest carbon polluter – to exit all coal by the mid-2030s;
  • Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk meanwhile announced her heavily coal-dependent state would end its “regular” reliance on coal by 2035 (Renew Economy); 
  • Palaszczuk announced a new 80% renewables target for 2035 and plans to attract $62bn in public and private investment in green energy over the next 13 years.
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Albanese says Optus should pay

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called for Optus to pay for replacement passports for customers who had sensitive data stolen in a hack of the telecommunications company.

Albanese said he was stunned by suggestions from the opposition that the government should pay for new passports for customers who had their passport details stolen (SMH). 

“We believe Optus should pay, not taxpayers,” Albanese said, adding the breach was “caused by Optus and their own failures”.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong wrote to Optus chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin on Wednesday calling for the company to pay for new passports for affected Optus customers.

Albanese added there needed to be “clear consequences” when companies fail to appropriately secure customer data, indicating fines for major data breaches will form part of the government’s response to the data breach.

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Pumps run dry as fuel discount ends

Motorists formed lengthy queues outside service stations across the country on Wednesday, as the end of the fuel excise discount prompted a wave of panic-buying;

Queues of vehicles drained service stations dry of fuel, as drivers sought to fill their tanks ahead of the lifting of the discount last night (ABC). 

The government-imposed fuel tax was halved for six months to help ease cost of living pressures.

The end of the discount will see the tax on fuel increase by 25.3 cents per litre, according to the ACCC.

Cairns petrol station owner Michael Salerno said people had been filling up 1000L containers and 200L drums.

Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association chief executive Mark McKenzie said the full price hike would not be felt at the bowser for another five to seven days.

Global oil prices are in any case dropping due to efforts to increase supply and a deteriorating global economic outlook suppressing demand (The Conversation). 

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EU claims Nord Stream sabotage

The EU said leaks in two major gas pipelines from Russia to Europe were caused by sabotage, and vowed a “robust” response.

Seismologists said they registered two powerful blasts on Monday in the vicinity of the leaks, which are spewing vast amounts of gas into the Baltic Sea (Reuters). 

It is unclear who is responsible for any sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, with the damage inhibiting the capacity for Russia to export gas to the EU.

The UN Security Council will convene on Friday at the request of Russia to discuss the crisis.

Ukraine has accused Russia of causing the leaks in what it described as a “terrorist attack”.

The chairman of the European Parliament’s EU-US delegation Radek Sikorski meanwhile implied the US, which has long opposed the Nord Stream pipelines, was behind the sabotage (UnHerd). 

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For every question I answered, the major would reply: ‘Great! We need you in the army!’ ... ‘Where do you work?’ I’m a painter-decorator. ‘Great, you’ll paint our shoes!’

A young Russian explains his experience being questioned on the way out of his homeland, after joining a vast exodus of men fleeing the country to avoid the threat of being conscripted to fight in Ukraine (Al Jazeera).

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Postscript: A mysterious voice is haunting American Airlines’ in-flight announcements and nobody knows how

Here’s a little mystery for you: there are multiple reports of a mysterious voice grunting, moaning, and groaning on American Airlines’ in-flight announcement systems, sometimes lasting the duration of the flight — and nobody knows who’s responsible or how they did it (Waxy).

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