Monday, December 02, 2019

Morrison unveils measures to counter foreign interference

The Morrison government will spend close to $90 million on a new counter foreign interference task force to target those believed to be undermining Australia's national interests. The initiative will for the first time ($) see domestic spy agency ASIO share intelligence with the Australian Federal Police, as well as drawing on the Australian Signals Directorate, aerial and satellite intelligence gathered by the Australian Geo­spatial-Intelligence Organisation, and financial intelligence unit obtained by Austrac. The government said the creation of the task force, which was signed off by cabinet last week, was not ­prompted by recent reports of Chinese interference. “Our security and intelligence agencies have been clear that the threat from foreign interference has never been greater,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement. The move comes at the start of the final parliamentary sitting week for the year, with plans to repeal medevac laws expected to be top of the agenda

FOI request denied: Nationals MP George Christensen has blocked the release of information about a year-long federal police probe into his travels to the Philippines over a four-year period, report The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Between 2014 and 2018 he took 28 trips to the Philippines. The Australian Federal Police has refused to release a key document on the grounds it would “involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information”. The news comes as the former chief of staff to Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, accuses the minister of fostering a culture of bullying.

NSW Bushfires: An emergency warning has been issued for a bushfire north of Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast, as close to 130 fires burn across the state. The NSW Rural Fire Service warned that it was too late to leave the area between Kiola and North Durras, with residents urged to seek safe shelter. Residents in Durras, Pebbly Beach, Depot Beach, Pretty Beach and Bawley Point had earlier been told to evacuate either north towards Ulladulla or south towards Batemans Bay.

Worker underpayment: A class action led by former night manager Cameron Baker against Woolworths estimates the company underpaid workers by $620 million. Woolworths says the proceedings are “without merit” and the true underpayment figure is $300 million. The news comes as The Australian Financial Review reports that Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will today release a discussion paper that seeks to change the conflict-based narrative on industrial relations by proposing businesses embrace employee share schemes, flat accountability structures and giving workers a voice in decision-making.

Torture allegations: Lawyers for Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, who has been held by authorities China for most of this year, say he is subject to daily interrogations, shackled by his wrists and ankles, in a bid to get him to confess to allegations of espionage. The news came as freed Taliban hostage Timothy Weeks spoke publicly for the first time since his release. He said he never gave up hope during three “long and tortuous” years in captivity, and that he formed tight bonds with some of his captors.

Inside the Westpac scandal
As the fallout from the Westpac scandal continues, attempts are already underway to limit corporate responsibility. Michael West on why the story broke and what happens next.


“Why should a successful race of First Nations peoples be such a threat to modern Australians? The most compelling answer to this question is that it removes a psychological shunt in the mind of European settlers and their descendants that this occupation, this invasion of land unceded, was to save Indigenous people from themselves, to bring civilisation to them. Of course, it is uncomfortable to later ask: What if this race of First Australians were civilised all along? Maybe we were the barbarians?”


“For Joe Hockey, the realisation hit him while he was sitting in a traditional thatched hut in Bali. After only two days as treasurer, he was utterly unprepared for his meeting with China’s finance minister ... Chinese officials had shuttled back and forth to the hut for hours finessing every detail, but when Lou Jiwei strode in, sat down opposite Hockey and blithely lit a cigarette, it wasn’t detail that concerned him. ‘So,’ Lou opened by saying, ‘why won’t you let me buy Rio Tinto?’”


“I’m not sure if prison visiting is a hobby or a disorder – I’ve never met anyone else who does it – but my partner is unreasonably tolerant of the pastime. She agreed to a weekend in Maitland, although she didn’t think our kids, who are still at school, should take the tour. Which is how I ended up alone in jail on her birthday.”


“U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Sunday that the world’s efforts to stop climate change have been ‘utterly inadequate’ so far and there is a danger global warming could pass the ‘point of no return.’ Speaking before the start Monday of a two-week international climate conference in Madrid, the U.N. chief said the impact of rising temperatures — including more extreme weather — is already being felt around the world, with dramatic consequences for humans and other species.”


“Australia’s carbon emissions would be more than 200m tonnes lower and electricity prices would be cheaper if the Greens had supported the carbon pollution reduction scheme a decade ago, the Labor frontbencher Pat Conroy says. Speaking on the 10th anniversary of the 2009 parliamentary defeat of Labor’s emissions trading system, Conroy has lashed the political failure to develop a national energy policy as ‘perhaps the most consequential policy failure of the modern era in Australia’.”


“A society dedicated to preserving the correct use of the apostrophe has shut down because ‘ignorance has won’. Retired journalist John Richards, 96, started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 to make sure the ‘much-abused’ punctuation mark was being used correctly ... He added: ‘We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won.’”

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