Monday, May 25, 2020

Bushfire Royal Commission hearings begin

The first hearings for the bushfire Royal Commission begin today, with the initial two weeks to focus on climate change, the impact on communities, and Commonwealth responsibilities. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements will today hear from experts from the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, and from financial and risk management organisations. Because of social distancing restrictions, all hearings will be held electronically and streamed online. The commission has also begun compiling material for its 2019-20 Bushfire History Project, with the public encouraged to upload photos and videos of the bushfires and recovery efforts. A group of 33 former fire and emergency services chiefs want the inquiry to record as fact that climate change was the main driver of the 2019-2020 bushfire season.

Hong Kong Police used water cannons, tear gas, and pepper spray to disperse thousands of demonstrators on Sunday, more than a hundred people arrested as residents filled the streets to protest new national security laws under consideration by the Chinese government. A group of 20 Australian politicians, including Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, joined 166 other international figures in signing a letter decrying the new national security laws as a “comprehensive assault on the city's autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms”. Meanwhile, the United States embassy in Australia has walked back comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the superpower would “simply disconnect” with Australia if Victoria’s decision to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative impacted telecommunications. A Victorian government spokeswoman said the state would not engage in telecommunications projects under the plan. Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said the state government should never have signed the agreement.

Western Australia will today experience a second day of wind gusts of up to 130km/h and falls of up to 100mm of rain, as the remnants of ex-tropical cyclone Mangga combine with a cold front to unleash wild weather across more than half of the state. The West Australian reports that homes were ripped apart and debris sent flying into cars in the state’s mid-west. About 50,000 households were left without electricity after power network outages across the state, including about 37,000 homes and businesses in Perth. Tides are predicted to swell before reaching a peak of eight metres tomorrow. The state on Sunday was also battling three bushfires, which have now been brought under control.

A large number of Australian students return to school today, with all children at public schools in NSW and Queensland back in the classroom. Tasmanian kindergarten to Year Six students, along with Year 11 and 12 students, will also return, with students in Years 7 to 10 join them on June 9. In the ACT, Years 3, 4 and 10 go back to school, with Years 5, 6, 8 and 9 to return on June 2. In Victoria children in prep to Year 2 and Years 11 and 12 go back tomorrow, with the rest due back on June 9.


“International student income has subsidised research, helping our leading universities rise in the international rankings, which in turn attracts more students, particularly from China’s prestige-conscious market. Changes to migration policy ... meant students from poorer countries could access the Australian labour market, and gain the chance of permanent migration. The result is either a virtuous circle, or a vicious one, depending on your point of view. In the wake of the borders closing, it looks more vicious.”


“One could be forgiven for thinking the Energy minister conducts himself with a certain carelessness, given the string of scandals that trails him. But Taylor is a political animal; he couldn’t have lasted this long if he wasn’t. He understands the power of sticking to one’s talking points and has a preternatural ability to shrug off legitimate questions without an iota of self-consciousness.”


“Among the many memorable whale-related majorae and minutiae collected in this astonishing, desolating, exasperating, utterly original debut by Australian nature writer Rebecca Giggs is her description of the late-19th-century health treatment known as the whale cure. This gruesome therapy, pioneered by a hotel in Eden on the New South Wales coast, involved bathing inside the still-warm carcass of a freshly killed whale.”


“The NSW government has announced it will provide $50 million in funding to arts companies in the state. The rescue package will be rolled out in two stages, and is intended to ameliorate the severe financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures on the creative arts and culture sector.”


“NSW Government ministers have been accused of ignoring expert recommendations and pork barrelling $44 million in arts funding into Coalition electorates ... experts had in 2018 been appointed to assess more than 150 applications for the Regional Cultural Fund grants and ranked the 116 successful projects in the order they should be funded. Documents obtained by the ABC under freedom of information laws reveal their advice was largely ignored and instead all but $3 million was spent on projects in Coalition seats.”

To work on an episode with Keating speechwriter Don Watson was a real privilege. Don really got at the heart of what feels like a public disquiet when it comes to genuine leadership in Australian politics.
— Atticus Bastow, producer

Favourite episode:
The prime minister and the dung beetle


“Aritra Sarkhel met Sharon online and they started chatting. Soon he was blown away by her overwhelming empathy: Sharon was inquisitive, talkative, and emotional. ‘She would ask me questions about my daily life,’ Sarkhel says. ‘She texted with a child’s curiosity. She gave me space. And one day, she asked to see me.’ It was an odd request, because Sharon wasn’t human.”

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