Wednesday, December 09, 2020

China-Victoria deal faces federal veto

The Morrison government will immediately examine whether to scrap Victoria’s Belt and Road infrastructure agreement with China, after the federal parliament passed powerful new foreign veto laws on Tuesday. The Foreign Relations Bill gives Victoria three months to explain to the federal government why the deal is in Australia’s national interest. The laws grant the federal government the authority to cancel state, territory, local council and public university deals with other countries. Independent senator Rex Patrick failed to get enough support for the upper house to insist on an amendment making the foreign minister’s decisions subject to judicial review. It comes as a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry referenced China in consideration of new proposed laws giving the federal government the power to ban human rights abusers from entering or investing in the country. Chinese state media criticised the proposal, with the Global Times pointing to Australia’s immigration detention camps as evidence it is in no position to judge other countries on human rights.  

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will unveil industrial relations legislation today that includes changes allowing the Fair Work Commission to disregard the “better off overall test” when considering enterprise agreements for businesses hit by Covid-19. Agreements that leave some workers worse off would be allowed if it’s in the “public interest” to do so. A two-year time limit will apply for such agreements. Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus described the proposal as “dangerous and extreme”. It comes as the Transport Workers Union today launches a Federal Court action over moves by Qantas to outsource more than 2000 jobs.

The Independent Planning Commission of New South Wales has approved Wollongong Coal’s application to expand its mining operations above Sydney’s water catchment. The expansion of Russell Vale colliery is predicted to generate approximately 1.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The approval comes despite the company recently voting to delist from the Australian Securities Exchange as it struggles with more than $1 billion in debt. It comes as ICRA Rolleston, a coal company controlled by the brother of former Federal resources minister Matt Canavan, has gone under after mining giant Glencore called in receivers over a $24 million dispute at the Rolleston thermal coal mine in Queensland.

Human Rights Watch director Elaine Pearson has written to prime minister Scott Morrison urging him to meet Australia’s obligation to compensate Afghan victims revealed in the recent Brereton war crimes report. In the letter Pearson says she is “troubled” by the federal government indicating it is not currently considering reparations for Afghan families allegedly victimised by Australian soldiers. She also called for the Attorney-General’s Department to drop the prosecution of war crimes whistleblower David McBride, and to probe the potential criminal liability of senior commanders for the alleged atrocities.

The plot to undermine the NDIS
After years of careful manoeuvring, the Coalition government is laying the groundwork to make radical changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The revised system could make it harder for people to get the support they need. Today, Rick Morton on the Coalition’s bid to reshape the NDIS.

“Australia’s military leaders may retrospectively amend eligibility for the meritorious unit citation awarded to special forces members who served in Afghanistan so that only those suspected of war crimes lose the honour, not all 3000 recipients as originally announced. The Australian Defence Force is believed to be considering the move after Prime Minister Scott Morrison effectively overrode a decision of the chief of the Defence Force … The prime minister had not read the unredacted version of the Brereton report when he made the decision.”

“Diplomats have been sidelined as Morrison tries to score domestic political points against our largest international trading partner. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade budget has been slashed this year, as has foreign aid ... Our approach to China has always been that of the carrot and the stick – the promise of shared economic prosperity in a stable and flourishing region; the visible threat of Australia’s close military ties with the US. This delicate balance has been disastrously mismanaged by a government that has no idea what it hopes to achieve.”


In Progress is a new weekly column written by Maddee Clark and Kate Holden, in which they talk to artists about work they are in the process of making, rather than the work they have completed … Playwright and performer Kate Mulvany is working on her next play in an unusual space – under quarantine in a Brisbane hotel room.”

“The Christchurch mosque terrorist was able to plot, amass an arsenal of weapons, and execute his deadly attack without drawing the attention of security agencies which had deployed ‘an inappropriate concentration of resources’ probing Islamic extremism, a Royal Commission of Inquiry has concluded … The report makes 44 recommendations which cover five key areas relating to the counter-terrorism effort.”

“The royal commission’s findings have prompted Labor’s shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, to call on the government to establish a parliamentary inquiry examining the threat of rightwing extremism in Australia. She said the parliament should investigate whether ‘our proscription laws to list groups as terrorist organisations are fit for purpose and whether our counter-terrorism programs and our preventing of radicalisation will work when it comes to rightwing extremism’.”

“We seem to have here an intractable problem, the irresistible force of the tech giants meeting the immovable object of Australia’s big media players and their political agents. And, you know, this is bad news. I mean that not just figuratively, but literally bad news.”

“Breakdancing cleared its final hurdle to feature in the Paris 2024 Games on Monday, bringing the wholly original, electric art form to sport’s biggest stage … Power moves are explosive displays such as spins, while freezes are when a performer sticks a pose. In a blend of artistry and athleticism, competitors — known as ‘b-boys’ and ‘b-girls’ — are evaluated not only on technical skill but also creativity and style, with strength, speed, rhythm and agility providing an edge.”

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