Tuesday, May 19, 2020

China imposes barley tariff

China has followed through on a threat to impose an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley imports from today, with the tax set to remain in place for five years. The tariff is expected to wipe out Australia’s trade of the grain with China, worth $1.5 billion in 2018, with half of Australian barley exports typically bound for the country. China argues the product has been imported against trade rules, after an investigation that began in 2018. The move comes amid diplomatic tension between the two countries over Australia’s push for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. On Monday night Trade Minister Simon Birmingham left open the option of Australia appealing to the World Trade Organisation. “We reject the basis of this decision and will be assessing the details of the findings while we consider next steps,” he said in a statement. 

United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping have backed a review of the Covid-19 response, although China wants the inquiry led by the World Health Organisation rather than an independent probe. In a speech to the World Health Assembly on Monday evening, Xi said the review should only begin once the virus is “brought under control”. He pledged $3.1 billion to supporting the effort to fight Covid-19. Trump simply wrote “We are with them!” in a retweet of an SBS News story on Australia and the European Union’s bid for an independent probe. Trump, who withdrew all US funding of the WHO earlier in the year over the body’s handling of the virus, is considering a restoration of 10 per cent of the previous amount. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the World Health Assembly he would initiate an independent inquiry. The EU-Australian motion is expected to pass with the support of at least two thirds of the 197 member nations of the body on Tuesday.

The Morrison government is considering legislative changes to allow clean energy agencies to fund carbon capture and storage from fossil fuel projects, reports The Age. Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor has accepted the majority of recommendations from a panel reviewing the $2 billion Emissions Reduction Fund. The panel, chaired by former Business Council of Australia president Grant King, recommended an “expanded, technology-neutral remit” for the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to encourage private investment in coal or gas-fired power incorporating carbon capture and storage, which has yet to work at commercial scale. 

One quarter of childcare centres say a federal assistance package did not help them remain financially viable, according to an education department report released today. Under the relief package, the government suspended normal childcare subsidies and instead offered to pay 50 per cent of childcare centres’ usual fees, reports Guardian Australia. Centres ineligible for wage subsidies or that did not see a reduction of the number of children in care were unhappy with the scheme, as it prohibited charging families an out-of-pocket fee. The federal government has claimed success on the basis of 99 per cent of about 13,400 services remained operational as of May 8.


“Neville Power, the mining company executive hand-picked by the prime minister to lead the body planning Australia’s recovery in the post-Covid-19 world, was a no-show on Wednesday. And that was a great pity, for the senate select committee ... had a lot of questions that no one else seemed able to answer. Such as … how Power came to be appointed to the commission, and when and why. And how the rest of the NCCC, many of whom have connections to the fossil fuel industry, came to be appointed.”


“Meanwhile, minutes after arcing up under questioning, Bandt apologises for being ‘grumpy’. The suggestion of a slightly thin skin may have some substantiation, but Bandt has shown that he is a better communicator when in combat. His predominantly mild manner obscures his passion, and his anger. He is a fighter.”


“With Jones’s retirement, radio loses an ugly voice. It loses a little of its racism and some of its misogyny. It loses some antique slurs and curious bigotry and graphic rhetoric. Most of this will be replenished or reimagined. Like sunlight, prejudice is inexhaustible. What won’t easily be replaced, and what made Jones different, is his capacity to manipulate power.”


“Virgin Australia and its administrator Deloitte have shortlisted ‘highly credentialed’ parties who could end up being the new owners of Australia's second major carrier. Administrators ... shortlisted a ‘small number of well-funded parties with strong aviation credentials that are being invited into the next stage of the process’.”


Two of the four final bidders vying to take over Virgin Australia are involved in carriers that have recently collapsed or needed government bailouts, raising concerns about whether they have the financial strength to ensure the airline's long-term future.”


“Aroma is the primary language of trees. They talk with molecules, conspiring with one another, beckoning fungi, scolding insects, and whispering to microbes … As you smell trees, try both a deep in-drawing of breath through the nostrils, then short, sharp sniffs. This changes the rate at which aromatic molecules hit your sensory cells: a slow caress or a vigorous rush. The combination opens aromatic layers of experience.”

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