Thursday, May 21, 2020

Leaked plan for huge gas subsidies

A leaked draft report for the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission details plans for a taxpayer-supported investment into new gas fields and pipelines that would operate for decades. It recommends helping companies develop the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin and a $6 billion pipeline to connect Western Australian gas markets to the eastern states, according to Guardian Australia. The report was drafted by a manufacturing taskforce headed by the Dow Chemical executive Andrew Liveris, for a federal government-appointed commission dominated by fossil fuel executives. Other recommendations include that states subsidise gas-fired power plants to support a manufacturing sector that it says could support at least 85,000 direct jobs. The report does not mention climate change or the financial risk of investing in stranded fossil fuel assets. It comes as the Morrison Government unveils its “technology investment roadmap”, with Energy Minister Angus Taylor claiming gas would play an important part in “balancing” renewable energy sources.

A Federal Court court ruling on Wednesday found that “casual” workers who completed regular and predictable shifts with a firm advance commitment to work were not actually casuals, and therefore entitled to paid annual, sick and carer's leave. Mining union national secretary Tony Maher welcomed the finding, telling The Age “employers must now stop with the nonsense that calling a worker a casual makes them so”. The Australian Industry Group said the decision would discourage employers bringing on casual workers. The ruling bolsters class action lawsuits seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from employers.

Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, has backed Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on state border closures, warning they may remain shut beyond September. The state’s tourism minister Kate Jones said it depended upon when New South Wales and Victoria showed that community transmission was under control, reports The Courier Mail. Federal deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly warned Queensland authorities to “take into account” that their benchmark of four weeks without a case was unlikely to be reached soon. Senator Pauline Hanson posted on Facebook that she had engaged a pro bono constitutional lawyer to represent Queenslanders whose business had been impacted in a court challenge over the “unconstitutional” closure. West Australian Premier Mark McGowan compared NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to a bully for calling on other states to scrap travel restrictions. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is considering the introduction of a four-day working week to help boost domestic tourism, productivity and employment. According to The New Zealand Herald, Ardern suggested a three-day weekend would boost domestic tourism to help tourism and hospitality sectors suffering from lockdown measures, which the country is beginning to ease, and the ban on international travel. Meanwhile, Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced the country would open up to tourists again on June 15, as he announced financial support measures to revive the tourism sector. Greece has contained Covid-19 far better than its European neighbours, recording a total of 166 deaths as of Wednesday.


“The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Lawyers Alliance questioned both the new bill’s timing and its contents. The council’s president, Pauline Wright, is concerned about removing the right to remain silent, subjecting 14-year-olds to ‘a coercive questioning regime’, having police arrest people on ASIO’s behalf, and the approval process for tracking devices. ‘If they slip it into your handbag or attach it to your car, they don’t need a warrant or the attorney-general’s approval,’ she said.”


“He got pissed off with me. He got very pissed off with me, then he walked out. And everybody went silent and one of the guys, he turned around and told me, ‘Jenny, see what you did?’ I said, ‘No, I’m talking for the better of the crew. We have to have some privileges here. They’re not going to treat us like our forefathers, our grandfathers that were here as slaves, during the blackbirding. No, we’re not going to be like that.’”


“Australia led the initial call for an inquiry, and the strong support for it from the WHO’s decision-making body should have been a victory for Australian diplomacy. Instead, the resolution was ultimately drafted by the European Union, which, unlike Australia, avoided blowback from Beijing. Unfortunately, Canberra’s push for an inquiry was completely mishandled. The problem began with Marise Payne’s announcement of the inquiry proposal in an interview.”


“Australia has been in various forms of isolation for a couple of months, and that has been enough time for some people to get used to the decrease in social interaction. Jayashri Kulkarni, a professor of psychiatry at Monash University, said ... human beings are creatures of habit. ‘While we can adapt to change, it takes time and effort to shift long-standing habits. Initially, there was considerable concern about isolation – and there still is – but over the past few weeks, we got used to having a “smaller world”,’ Kulkarni said.”


“It’s OK to slowly ease back into doing things you used to do. Take a step-by-step approach, doing one activity at a time, so you feel safe, while slowly building up your confidence.”


“Among the many, many hurdles restaurants are facing in their attempts to reopen in a COVID-19 world is the issue of face masks … But if people need to wear masks to keep other patrons safe, how are they supposed to eat? An Israeli company has developed a possible solution: a mask with a remote-controlled mouth hole.”

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