Thursday, October 22, 2020

Border Force faces corruption probe

A corruption investigation is under way into the Australian Border Force over allegations that it funnelled $39 million from national security needs to defence company Austal to prop up its financial position. In early 2019, then integrity commissioner Michael Griffin ordered an investigation over the disregarding of internal advice that the ABF should not pay Austal part of a $44.6 million success fee for delivering patrol boats, as they were plagued with problems, reports The Age. The probe’s targets include a former Border Force official who helped push through the Austal payments, but left the agency in 2017 under a corruption cloud and travelled overseas. The investigation by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity has had key hearings scrapped and counsel assisting removed. The body is a key plank of the Morrison government’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which has been criticised for being weak and ineffective as calls grow for a national anti-corruption commission. Austal, which donated $60,000 to the Liberal Party in the 2015-16 year that the payments were made, is also under investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission over the potential misleading of investors. 

The United States believes Russia attacked two Central Intelligence Agency agents with a mysterious microwave weapon in Australia late last year. The CIA officials reported feeling nauseous and dizzy with a ringing in their ears, consistent with so-called “Havana syndrome”, first suffered by American diplomats in Cuba. According to GQ magazine, mobile phone data revealed agents from Moscow's Federal Security Service were near their hotel room at the time the visitors fell ill. The CIA agents were again targeted when they travelled on to Taiwan. Similar attacks have been reported by US officials in countries including Poland, Georgia, the United Kingdom, and also the United States.

Former Crown Resorts executive chairman Rob Rankin may face prosecution by the corporate watchdog for failing to alert the casino giant’s board in 2015 that there was a “high risk” staff in China could be arrested, reports the The Australian Financial Review. Rankin has refused to appear before the inquiry into Crown from his England home, because of concerns about “an entitlement of natural justice” following “adverse comments” made about him in the inquiry. It comes as Crown Resorts tears up two agreements with major shareholder James Packer that have been criticised in the inquiry, the night before it faces investors at its annual general meeting. Crown Resorts on Wednesday night said that it had terminated a “services agreement” with Packer’s private company, Consolidated Press Holdings, which was paid by Crown executives for consultation services. 

Record numbers of Covid-19 infections have been reported in 20 countries across Europe. The UK registered 26,668 new cases and 191 coronavirus-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, while Italy recorded an additional 15,199 infections, up from its previous record of 11,705 on Sunday. Despite elevated case numbers, the death rate is yet to reach the heights of the first wave, with authorities noting that testing rates are much higher this time round. Still, concerns are growing about the capacity of European hospitals to cope. On Wednesday authorities in Lombardy, the Italian region at the centre of the first wave of the pandemic, ordered the reopening of special temporary intensive care units. 

Short back and emotional asides
After enduring one of the world’s longest lockdowns, Melbourne is slowly reopening and hairdressers are some of the first businesses allowed to welcome customers back. Today, Rick Morton on the return of hairdressers, and the intimate role they play in our lives.

“Some of Australia’s most eminent lawyers are questioning Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s use of federal cabinet conventions to keep secret the proceedings of his Covid-19 national cabinet and the information given by the committee of doctors advising it. High-profile barristers Bret Walker, SC, and Geoffrey Watson, SC, and University of Sydney law professor Anne Twomey variously describe the idea that Morrison’s fortnightly consultation with state and territory leaders amounts to a cabinet as ‘inappropriate’, ‘ludicrous’ and ‘fundamentally flawed’.”

The Herald Sun’s campaign against Andrews preceded the hotel-quarantine nightmare, and I’m still unsure how they’ve reconciled the ‘Dictator Dan’ stuff with the later realisation that he had, in fact, been rather lax in some areas … But Rupert Murdoch’s influence, great as it’s been, does not extend to every corner of every newsroom in Australia; and nor does a journalist’s impatience with this government’s opacity suddenly render them demonic or half-witted.”

“Spring is for plans and preparation, with no shadow yet to fall between the intention and the reality. This week I have harvested the Covid-19 garden that I planted before such things became fashionable. I have cut the cauliflower, consumed the cabbage and am trying to eat the rocket before it goes to seed. Meanwhile, it is time to sow.”

“Murdoch’s 70% control of daily newspaper circulation represents an effective monopoly, granting overwhelming power to influence how political debates are covered elsewhere on television, radio and online. This represents a threat to our very democracy … In the 10 days since we launched this petition, more than 350,000 Australians have backed a royal commission to ensure a strong, free and diverse Australian media.”

“While his demands are almost certainly not going to be met, he’s rebooted a crucial conversation about the company’s pervasive influence over Australian politics ... But despite Rudd’s call being pretty newsworthy, you’d be hard-pressed to read about it in any News Corp publication.”

“For many Australians, these bleaching events marked a turning point, bringing home not just the true cost of climate change but also the urgency of the problem. Yet the juxtaposition of the Reef and Carmichael mine also crystallised disquiet about the wisdom of opening new coalmines at a time when the effects of climate change were ever more obvious.”

“When was a word first used in print? You may be surprised! Enter a date below to see the words first recorded on that year.”

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