Thursday, November 21, 2019

Trump envoy delivers bombshell testimony

A senior United States diplomat has testified that he was ordered by President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into political rivals. On Wednesday the US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told the impeachment inquiry that Trump made a White House meeting for Ukraine's president conditional on his willingness to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals, including former vice-president Joe Biden, who is running to become the Democratic nominee for president. He provided further testimony, as well as email and call records, which implicated the Vice President, Trump’s chief of staff, and the secretary of state. “Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said. “It was no secret.” Speaking outside the White House, Trump repeatedly said he told Sondland over the phone “I want nothing” on Ukraine. 

Bushfire threats spread: The Country Fire Service fought more than 45 fires across South Australia on Wednesday, where more than a dozen locations hit record November temperatures. A watch-and-act is in place for at least one Yorke Peninsula fire. Power was cut in parts of the state due to the catastrophic conditions, with more than 6000 properties still without electricity. In Victoria, a “Code Red” fire danger day has been issued for the Mallee and Northern Country districts, the first such warning issued in Victoria in 10 years. Residents were told by Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp to leave last night or early this morning. Dozens of blazes continue to burn in New South Wales and Queensland.  The news comes as the NSW government is to announce the first Level 2 water restrictions for Sydney in a decade, with new limits on watering gardens, washing cars and filling pools in response to stored water levels reduced to new lows.

Nationwide gun amnesty: All states and territories have agreed to launch the first-ever continuous nationwide gun amnesty in Australia, reports the Adelaide Advertiser ($). At a meeting of police and emergency services ministers in Adelaide on Wednesday, it was agreed that gun owners would be able to hand in their weapons, no questions asked from the second half of 2020. The news comes as New Zealand introduces a permanent gun amnesty after the expiry of a gun buy-back scheme implemented in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Westpac scandal: Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer told media on Wednesday that he was "utterly horrified" by AUSTRAC accusations that the bank was oblivious to child exploitation circuits in South-East Asia. Westpac is to be taken to court over allegations the bank contravened the laws when it processed more than 23 million transactions, including the breaching of money-laundering and counter-terror laws, sparking calls for Hartzer and other senior management to go ($).

Prince Andrew interview fallout: Prince Andrew has asked the Queen for permission to withdraw from royal duties because the Jeffrey Epstein scandal has become a “major disruption”. The Duke or York has faced a growing backlash following a BBC interview in which he was questioned about his relationship with the sex offender and victims. Australian universities RMIT and Murdoch have cut ties with Prince Andrew's [email protected] program.

The next fight on Uluru
Scott Morrison’s co-design process rules out the key aspirations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. But there are signs that a new political fight is about to begin.


“Some officials say the changes Morrison is making to processes reflect his inclination to exert strict personal control, with his surprise election victory giving him enormous authority within government, despite only a narrow majority. Others say he is simply returning to the way government has operated in the past, restoring a rigour they argue was lost from policy processes during the leadership instability on both sides of politics during the past decade.”


“It has been a long time coming and it has taken the biggest fire front in Australia’s history to do it, but climate change denial has finally lost its political potency. The pressure is now on Scott Morrison to resolve the fierce resistance in his own government’s ranks and respond with policies that persuade voters – thousands of them victims of this week’s inferno – that the federal Liberals and Nationals get it.”


“It would be impossible to stage Packer & Sons, a play about three generations of Packer power, without the Murdochs. The two competing families have brawled, collaborated and defined themselves against each other. The Murdochs are the Greeks to the Packers’ Roman gods.”


“Countries are on track to produce more than twice as much oil, gas and coal by 2030 than would be compatible with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C. That is the conclusion of a UN Environment report, the first of its kind to assess the gap between government plans to produce fossil fuels by 2030 and global production levels consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement goals.”


“Two of Australia’s richest people, Atlassian Corp. co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and Fortescue Metals Group Chairman Andrew Forrest, are investing in an ambitious project to export solar power from a giant plant in Australia to Singapore via a 4,500 kilometre transmission cable. The project raised tens of millions of Australian dollars that will allow it to undertake development work ahead of an expected financial close in late 2023, according to developer Sun Cable’s Chief Executive Officer David Griffin and a company statement. The plan incorporates a 10 gigawatt solar facility, which the company says will be the world’s biggest, as well as battery storage.”


“To see the Skywhale, 100 feet tall, smiling serenely, was to experience a variety of emotions: wonder, shock, hate, delight – and a not small amount of confusion. The then chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Katy Gallagher, said her eyes ‘nearly fell out of her head’ when she saw the first blueprint ... Skywhale will fly again from March, this time accompanied by her partner: a new, ‘taller and more vertical’, yet similarly knobbly balloon called Skywhalepapa.”

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