Friday, December 04, 2020

Dutton seeks new cyber powers

The Law Council of Australia has warned Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton against rushing through new surveillance powers before Christmas that would allow police to take over online accounts. The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 was introduced into the federal parliament on Thursday, with Law Council president Pauline Wright cautioning that the four remaining parliamentary sitting days is insufficient time for debate. She warned Dutton against repeating the rushed passage of encryption laws, which were waved through parliament in the last days of 2018. The Law Council and Digital Rights Watch are concerned about the legislation allowing the Australian Federal Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to add, copy, delete or alter data in private online accounts. Dutton said the bill would only apply to paedophiles, terrorists, and people trading gun parts, but the legislation extends to investigation of any crimes that carry jail time of three or more years.

On Thursday the United States registered more than 3100 Covid-19 deaths, a record number, while the number of Americans hospitalised with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time. There are more than 200,000 new cases a day as the country faces a difficult winter ahead. Efforts are under way to reduce vaccine hesitancy among the American population ahead of hoped approvals of Covid-19 vaccines, with a recent poll indicating 42 per cent of Americans would refuse to take it. Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are volunteering to get their vaccines on camera to promote public confidence, and Facebook is banning claims about vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts. YouTube and TikTok also said they would remove false claims. US and European authorities criticised the United Kingdom for rushing approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use, insisting on a more thorough assessment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg billed taxpayers almost $5000 to take the prime minister’s private jet on a short trip to Sydney where they attended Lachlan Murdoch’s Christmas party. They left Canberra after 6pm that evening going to the party also attended by Australia’s richest man, Anthony Pratt and the Crown casino boss, John Alexander, before returning to the capital before 9am the next morning. Guardian Australia reports that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also took the flight, although it is unclear whether he attended the event. 

A new report from the Australian Human Rights Commission has found that detainees are spending a record amount of time locked up in Australia’s immigration detention system. The report found the average length of detention in September 2020 was 581 days. More than one in five detainees had been held for longer than two years in 2019. As of September 2020, there were 1534 people in immigration detention. The report makes recommendations, including the release of all parents who have dependent children, ending use of hotels in Melbourne and Brisbane as detention centres, and expediting access to medical treatment for all medical transferees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The federal government rejected 26 of the commission's 44 recommendations.

Scott Morrison feeds the trolls
The growing diplomatic dispute between China and Australia took an ugly turn this week, after a Chinese government official posted an incendiary tweet. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the realities of dominant China, and whether Scott Morrison can navigate Australia through a period of growing tension.

“In 2020, the arts, like every other sector, had to come to politics to plead for help. The irony is that the year of disasters began with the arts community leading the relief effort. Authors collected donations for fireys, and the genres and generations of the music industry gathered in Sydney in February for the national bushfire relief concert, one of the last mass events before lockdown. The pandemic erased the arts so thoroughly that these details seem to belong to another age.”

“Why are there so few babies being born in Australia? If you answered ‘coronavirus’, you’re not wrong, but also a long way from being entirely right, for Australians have been increasingly disinclined to procreate for a long time. The last time Australia’s fertility rate was above 2.1, the generally accepted ‘replacement rate’ necessary to stop the population from declining, was in 1975. And on the most recent figures, for 2018-19, says Peter McDonald, emeritus professor of demography at the Australian National University, it was down to 1.66. ‘That is the lowest in Australian history,’ he says. ‘And that’s pre-Covid.’”

“Increased female participation in parliament reduces the likelihood of human rights abuse and conflict abuse. Increased female participation in peace processes makes peace deals more likely to be implemented and to endure. Equalised access to agricultural resources could reduce global hunger for 150 million people … This is why Canada, France, Sweden, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico and Spain have all committed to feminist foreign or development policies.”

“Premier Gladys Berejiklian oversaw a fund that set aside $5.5 million for a project championed by her then secret partner Daryl Maguire and that he allegedly later tried to profit from. The Restart NSW fund fell under Ms Berejiklian’s portfolio as Treasurer when it reserved the money in December 2016 for the Australian Clay Target Association to build new headquarters in Wagga Wagga.”

“It’s the ultimate conflict of interest: governments accused of corruption in Australia can stop funding the very organisations tasked with investigating said corruption. Such is the funding model for integrity bodies across the country. And it’s a conflict our governments appear to have no problem abusing. Take Victoria. The ombudsman Deborah Glass has accused the Andrews government of not providing enough funding for the integrity watchdog to perform its core duties — something she says could be perceived to be undermining the agency.”

“Salmon farming was for decades a flagship of Tasmania’s ‘clean green’ image but, in more recent years, the industry has come under scrutiny: for its industrial-scale hatcheries; its use of synthetic ‘pink’ dyes to colour the fish and antibiotics to combat bacterial infections; the rate of ‘morts’ (dead fish); the shooting and relocation of Australian fur seals that raid the pens; and the incursion of fish farms in parts of Tasmania’s populated, and popular, coastal areas.”

“COVID has changed all of our lives so radically this year. There are parts I want to forget, but also things I’ve learnt that I want to remember. It’s also going to be super funny to show our grandchildren these tattoos. They’ll spark so many stories, both joyful and horrific.”

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