As the bushfire crisis spreads to southern states this week, hospital visits have spiked from the smoke enveloping cities and towns across the country. With record spring temperatures and wild winds fanning fires across the country, Sydney and Adelaide were shrouded in a haze of smoke on Thursday, while south-east Queensland’s air quality has been at levels dangerous to health for nearly two weeks, with six times as many microparticles in the air as is usual. Although healthy people should not suffer serious problems unless in close proximity to fires, authorities have warned that children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory, heart and neurological conditions should exercise caution in smoky conditions. As more than 60 bushfires swept through Victoria on Thursday, the smoke as well as a combination of thunderstorm activity and high grass pollen levels prompted asthma warnings. The news comes as the ABC reports that the Department of Human Services has apologised to members of a New South Wales family who were ordered by Centrelink to immediately return a disaster recovery payment that was initially granted after they lost everything in a bushfire.
Energy ministers meet: Power bills and Australia's future electricity sources are expected to be top of the agenda at the Council of Australian Governments meeting of energy ministers in Perth today. Chief scientist Alan Finkel will present Australia's National Hydrogen Strategy, with debate expected about whether to generate hydrogen from green energy or fossil fuels, against the backdrop of a release of a report by the Australia Institute that suggests the potential value of hydrogen exports has been vastly overrated. Guardian Australia reports that Queensland energy minister Anthony Lynham is expected to demand federal backing for gas infrastructure in return for its co-operation with the federal government’s rebooted emissions reduction scheme. The Australian Council of Social Service and dozens of other community groups have argued in an open letter to the nation’s energy ministers that governments need to act to protect low-income households from severe weather conditions.
Westpac scandal fallout: Attorney-General Christian Porter told the Australian Financial Review ($) that the money laundering offences Westpac is accused of were “off the charts”, and said the bank could expect a fine well over Commonwealth Bank’s $700 million penalty for similar breaches. The company is connected to 23 million breaches, including payments linked to paedophillia and terrorism, with the ABC reporting Westpac could technically face a maximum penalty of between $17 million and $21 million per offence. The Australian reports that the Westpac board will meet today to discuss the controversy and potentially determine culpability.
China warning: Former ASIO boss Duncan Lewis has claimed the Chinese government is seeking to “take over” Australia's political system through foreign interference operations. Foreign intrusion into Australian politics was "something we need to be very, very careful about", he said in an interview for the forthcoming Quarterly Essay, Red Flag: Waking up to China's challenge, to be published on Monday.
Netanyahu charged with bribery: Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu has become the first sitting prime minister in the country’s history to be charged with bribery and fraud. Netanyahu is alleged to have accepted gifts and offers of positive press coverage from wealthy businessmen and media moguls in exchange for enacting favourable regulations. The announcement comes in the wake of two indecisive general elections this year, with a third potentially on the way, and at a time when the United States is the target of criticism for changing its position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which it now no longer regards as “inconsistent” with international law.