Prominent Liberals are at odds over the review into religious freedom’s recommendation that religious schools be allowed to turn away LGBT students. Prime minister Scott Morrison defended the recommendation, saying on Wednesday that the government was “not proposing to change that law to take away that existing arrangement”. Special minister of state Alex Hawke went further, saying a backlash to the recommendation was “a manufactured issue that the left is raising to try and circumvent religious freedom”. The Liberal candidate for this month’s Wentworth byelection, Dave Sharma, disagreed, saying he “would be opposed to any new measures that impose forms of discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation”. The federal opposition has sought to capitalise on the proposal, with deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek calling it a “disturbing proposition”.
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton has claimed security and intelligence agencies need new powers to fight international terrorism and organised crime. Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Dutton urged tech companies to back legislation allowing government agencies a “back door” into phones and other devices, as “terrorists and criminals are using encrypted communications to avoid detection and disruption”. Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has warned against a proposal for expanded powers for security personnel at airports, saying “deliberate or de facto ethnic profiling is an obvious risk” and that “with each successive tranche of security legislation, there is an incremental but profoundly significant change in the relationship between citizens and government operatives”. Dutton’s speech came after revelations that federal court justice Tom Thawley criticised Dutton for repeatedly ignoring requests to transfer a seriously ill family from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt has apologised to women affected by the transvaginal mesh scandal. A Senate inquiry into transvaginal mesh implants found many women suffered “debilitating pain, physical limitations, social isolation and financial and emotional stress” from the procedure, often compounded by being forced to wait “extensive periods, sometimes years, to receive recognition and treatment” from doctors who doubted or dismissed their symptoms. The government accepted 12 of the inquiry’s 13 recommendations, including adopting guidelines that “transvaginal mesh implantation should only be undertaken with fully informed consent and as a last resort”, and the establishment of information hotlines, counselling services and financial support programs for women who have suffered from transvaginal mesh procedures. In a statement, Hunt praised “the strength of the women who spoke at the public hearings, recounting deeply private and often traumatic experiences”.
And in the United States, Hurricane Michael has made landfall in the Florida panhandle. The Category 4 storm came ashore with winds of up to 250 kilometres an hour, making it the strongest storm to hit the mainland US since 1992. Florida governor Rick Scott said he was “scared to death for people that chose not to evacuate”, while Apalachicola police chief Bobby Varnes estimated “50 per cent” of locals stayed in their homes, despite it being “too dangerous” to provide emergency services. Houses in the town of Mexico Beach have been destroyed or submerged. Michael is projected to head northeast toward Alabama and Georgia.