Friday, February 22, 2019

‘Hockey owes me’

Senate estimates has heard that Australia’s ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, attended a meeting with a representative of Helloworld, an ASX-listed travel company in which he owns a substantial stake, as it sought further government contracts. In a statement to Senate estimates, former Helloworld executive Russell Carstensen detailed how Helloworld chief executive and Liberal Party treasurer Andrew Burnes instructed him to fly to Washington, DC in order to meet Hockey to discuss the travel arrangements of Australia’s diplomatic corps in the Americas. Carstensen said Burnes told him he was able to secure the meeting because “Hockey owes me”. Carstensen also said officials overseeing the Whole of Australian Government travel and accommodation contract, and some in the department of foreign affairs and trade, were “uncomfortable” with the meeting, as Hockey owns $1.3 million worth of shares in Helloworld. Attorney-general Christian Porter said on Thursday that the contract has not yet been awarded.

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop has announced her retirement from politics at the next federal election. Speaking in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Bishop said she had decided to retire as she believed the Coalition would be re-elected, and that it was “time for a new member to take my place”. Bishop served as deputy Liberal leader for 11 years under four leaders, gaining 11 votes when she contested the party leadership in August. After announcing her retirement, Bishop left the chamber while prime minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to her in a speech. Bishop holds the seat of Curtin in Perth’s western suburbs by a margin of more than 20 per cent.

Lawyers representing refugee advocacy organisations are organising challenges to the federal government’s plans to send offshore detainees to Christmas Island, rather than the Australian mainland, for medical treatment. Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser told Nine newspapers the HRLC would challenge transfers where “there was medical evidence [treatment] couldn't be appropriately provided on Christmas Island”. Christmas Island Shire chief executive David Price warned last week that the island could not provide adequate medical care for seriously ill people, saying that residents were medivacked off the island “quite regularly here for medical reasons as it's only a small regional hospital”.

And federal government MPs have responded furiously to a pledge from international mining giant Glencore to cap its coal production due to climate change. Glencore, Australia’s biggest coal miner and the 14th-largest company in the world by consolidated revenue, announced on Wednesday that it would “limit our coal production capacity broadly to current levels” and move to “invest in assets that will be resilient to regulatory, physical and operational risks related to climate change”. Liberal-National Party member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, hit out at “the latte-sipping Greens that are trying to destroy the coal industry”. Glencore had been targeted by the investor activist group Climate Action 100+, which is pressuring major mining and energy companies to transition away from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the Australian dollar fell by one per cent on Thursday after the Chinese port city of Dalian banned shipments of Australian thermal coal, likely for diplomatic reasons.


“‘It is not a tax. It is nothing like a tax. It is the removal of a tax rebate for people who pay no tax’, Maureen Chuck said. ‘This is not money that these people have earned. This money comes out of other taxpayers’ pockets in such a large amount that it would cover the funding of public schools all across Australia.’ The audience renewed its groaning at the mention of public schools.”


“Brady Corbet’s new feature, Vox Lux, imagines the rise of a teenage pop star and random gun violence as inseparable strands of modern cultural myth, locked in a dance of violence and escapism, of innocence shattered and reconstructed as a balm for national trauma.”


“Every woman I speak with for this article is afraid. They hesitate before answering. They know that talking publicly about the threats they receive will cause an increase in abuse. It will remind the trolls of their existence. Confirm that they do sometimes read the emails and comments. Reveal they are affected.”


“Security contractor Paladin has broken its silence to attack suggestions of corruption as ‘offensive’, while rejecting reports linking it to a series of bad debts or failed contracts across Asia ... The department of home affairs has attracted significant scrutiny for awarding Paladin, a small and relatively unknown firm, a series of contracts worth $423 million to provide services to asylum seekers on Manus Island.”


“Australian cabinet minister Mick Young relinquished his post today pending the outcome of an inquiry into a scandal over a false Cutoms declaration that has become known as ‘the Paddington Bear affair’ ... Customs officials found that the baggage did contain items requiring import duty, including a large toy Paddington Bear, perfume, dolls, handbags and purses.”


“The Diamond Star plane, operated by Flight Training Adelaide, spent a little over three hours in the air on Tuesday to draw the letters over South Australia. The message was not seen by people on the ground, but was visible to aviation followers watching live flight tracking programs and websites.”


Alex McKinnon
is Schwartz Media's morning editor.