Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Morrison attacks SA border closures

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised the closure of state borders to South Australia over a Covid-19 outbreak, with most states imposing mandatory quarantine requirements on the state. Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania followed Western Australia’s lead on closing borders to SA, with the ACT advising against non-essential travel after the SA outbreak grew to 17 cases. Victoria and New South Wales have stopped short of imposing quarantine requirements. Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Australia needed to learn to live with occasional outbreaks without shutting down travel. A host of restrictions were imposed in SA overnight including the closure of gyms, as SA Health updates a detailed list of 41 locations at risk from contamination from the outbreak believed to have started in hotel quarantine. Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly held an emergency meeting of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on Monday to discuss the rollout of mandatory testing of staff at quarantine hotels, which was not happening in SA.  

Victims of the robo-debt welfare clawback payment scheme have called for ministers and top officials to face questioning at a royal commission, following the Morrison government’s record $1.2 billion settlement of a class action on Monday. The federal government agreed to pay $112 million in compensation, interest and legal costs to up to 430,000 people who were affected by the scheme, in addition to an agreement to drop $398 million in alleged extra debts and a reiteration of its commitment to repay an estimated $721 million taken in through the robo-debt program. Labor, the Greens, and the Australian Unemployed Workers Union also called for a royal commission into what Greens senator Rachel Siewert branded an “abominable action” that "went after the most vulnerable in our community to make savings”.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has warned that risk averse spending could delay Australia’s recovery from recession. Speaking in Sydney on Monday, Lowe said for some time “people will be more cautious in their borrowing and spending decisions”. He noted that the Reserve Bank would be “watching carefully” how people adjusted their investment portfolios as they searched for yield in a low interest rate environment. He added that Australia had to cut interest rates to a record low 0.1 per cent and begin a $100 billion quantitative easing program because the “gravitational pull” of other central bank moves would have had serious implications for the economy and the local currency.

President Donald Trump's National Security Council is readying for “a very professional transition”, as it appears Joe Biden has won the election, national security adviser Robert O'Brien said. The president's top security official made the remarks last week, which were subsequently streamed on the web on Monday morning as part of a global security forum. O’Brien also repeatedly referenced the president leaving office, describing a peace deal Trump helped broker between Israel and some Gulf Arab countries “a great legacy for the president to have as he leaves office”. His remarks stood in stark contrast to Trump’s messaging, who tweeted falsely just before midnight Sunday, “I WON THE ELECTION”. 

Sacked after speaking up
Recent scandals and allegations of workplace bullying have put the spotlight on the treatment of women in Parliament. Today, Karen Middleton on the unique power dynamic between politicians and the people who work for them.

“Sometimes, silence speaks volumes. It certainly did on Wednesday ... when the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young moved in the senate for the establishment of an inquiry into the ‘diversity, independence and reliability’ of Australian media. The government knew perfectly well what she was talking about: providing a forum for the many critics and victims of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire to speak up, under protection of parliamentary privilege. And yet it did nothing to stop her.”

“In the old days, no one called Parliament House a toxic bubble. The more usual term was a smorgasbord, a sumptuous spread for the men hoping to indulge themselves, which was almost all of them. It was generally assumed that the women within the building were available for bonking, and if some resisted, not to worry – there were plenty who didn’t.”

“Some members of the Coalition backbench were echoing Trump’s conspiracy theories ... These are doubts Australia and America’s other Five Eyes partners were determined to quash. Our ambassador in Washington, Arthur Sinodinos, was in urgent talks with his counterparts from Canada, New Zealand and Britain. The leaders of all four countries were quick to accept the election outcome as tabulated by the major American media outlets from results posted by the vote count in all 50 states.”

“A lot is at stake for highly decorated former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith, who was allegedly involved in seven unlawful killings during his time serving in the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) in Afghanistan. Millions of dollars in debt, Roberts-Smith is at the centre of an Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation into the death of Ali Jan, an Afghani villager. He's also fighting a costly defamation suit against the Nine papers, refusing to back down as evidence against him mounts.”

“The matters before us are of an extremely grave nature, and we accept that the impact of the Brereton inquiry may adversely affect former and current serving members and their families, as well as our strategic relationships with other coalition forces around the world. Whatever the outcome, we prefer our regimental history to reflect hard truths over comforting fantasy. If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”

“[Shorten] spoke with Peter Hanks, QC, who had been working with Victoria Legal Aid on robo-debt, and arranged a meeting with Peter Gordon and his team from Gordon Legal. ‘I laid it all out to them,’ Shorten says. ‘I said, “This is worth you taking on as a class action”. ‘And then I wrote that the thing was unlawful – in The Australian, of all places – on the second of September. And then we launched the class action.’”

“Billionaire businessman and Republican political mega-donor Charles Koch has regrets. Charles and his late brother, David, used their collective wealth and connections to wield incredible political influence over the past few decades, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to reshape the American political landscape, push the Republican agenda towards their Libertarian, free-market bend, and give rise to the Tea Party movement ... ‘Boy, did we screw up!,’ wrote Koch, now 85, in his new book, Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World. ‘What a mess!’”

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