Thursday, December 10, 2020

Cashless welfare trial extended

The Senate has voted to extend trials of a cashless welfare card for two years, after the federal government failed to secure the numbers to make the controversial scheme permanent. After debate that stretched late into Wednesday evening, the government made last-minute amendments to placate Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff, who abstained from the vote and gave the Coalition sufficient numbers to pass the legislation. The amendments also permit welfare recipients in the Northern Territory to opt into the scheme, short of the Coalition’s original plan to force NT residents onto the cards. The cards quarantine up to 80 per cent of a recipient’s welfare payments so money cannot be spent on alcohol or gambling, with the trials held in towns with large Indigenous populations such as Ceduna in South Australia. The bill, described by critics as a “racist” policy that disproportionately impacts Indigenous Australians, was opposed by Labor, the Greens and independent crossbenchers Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie, but passed with the support of One Nation.

The interim report from a federal parliamentary inquiry has recommended that Rio Tinto pay compensation to traditional owners for destroying the sacred Juukan Gorge caves. “Never again can we allow the destruction, the devastation and the vandalism of cultural sites as has occurred with the Juukan Gorge — never again!” the report reads. The inquiry recommended Rio Tinto work with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners to reconstruct the ancient structure and adjoining water system, which has been used for 46,000 years. It also called for a moratorium on all mining in the Juukan Gorge area, and for the WA government to refrain from considering any new Section 18 applications for consent to damage heritage sites until the state passes new Aboriginal heritage laws proposed for next year.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has flagged he could modify industrial relations legislation that risks leaving some employees being worse off, after the government’s proposed plans were met with fierce opposition from Labor and the unions. Porter said the broader industrial relations bill was “not a ‘take it or leave it’ situation’’, after a proposal to give employers more power to bypass the Fair Work Act’s “better off overall” test dominated question time, with the bill to now be subject to a Senate inquiry. One Nation cast doubt on whether it would provide crossbench support to the bill, which it described as overly complex. The Senate, meanwhile, passed the Coalition’s union demerger bill, which was supported by Labor, clearing the way for the breakup of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union in 2021.

An inquiry into extremism in Australia will go ahead following a push by Labor’s Home Affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally  to look at the rising threat specifically posed by right-wing extremists. The inquiry will look at all forms of extremism in Australia, not just the far right. The inquiry will look at how extremists tried to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic, and examine possible changes that could be made to the Commonwealth’s terrorist listing laws to address current and emerging threats. It comes as an 18-year-old New South Wales man espousing neo-Nazi views was arrested and charged with terror offences on Wednesday after allegedly encouraging a mass casualty terrorist attack. 

Locked up for being sick
The passage of the medevac legislation last year allowed sick refugees in offshore detention to travel to Australia. The legislation was bitterly opposed by the federal government. Now those refugees say they’re being punished as a result.

“The Vatican is one of the stranger institutions on Earth. It once dominated the European world politically as well as spiritually, humbling great emperors who dared to cross it. But the tiny city-state of the Pope is now facing another moral crisis, which is also a financial crisis, because it appears that disgraced cardinals ferreted millions of euros into self-serving investments.”

“Like a waiter handing out overcooked chicken at a wedding, the Morrison government clearly thinks Australians should be happy to get a feed at all. But it is our half a trillion dollars he is spending, not his ... It’s true that spending $500 million on expanding the Australian War Memorial will create jobs, but so would building $500 million worth of crisis accommodation for women fleeing domestic violence. It’s true that spending billions on coal-fired power stations or dams in Queensland would create jobs, but so would building renewable energy ... The question is, what do we want more of?”

“The word on everyone’s lips as they entered was: how? I heard people murmuring behind their face masks, wondering how one actor would do all 26 parts, or how much Kip Williams – director and adaptor – had changed in Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray. My theatre companion and I were sceptical of how it could be done in a way that didn’t feel like a high school drama project. The answer to our questions arrived immediately.”

“Four of the 10 most populous counties in Georgia are reducing the number of locations where people can vote early in the state’s Senate runoff races, prompting outcry from civil rights and voting rights organizations. In Cobb County, the state’s third most populous county with more than 760,000 residents, election officials have announced five early voting locations, fewer than half of the 11 used for early voting ahead of last month's general election. Advocates warned that the reduction of early voting sites will particularly harm Black and Latino voters in the state by making it harder to access the polls.”

“A civil liberties group is warning that hundreds of Aboriginal West Australians will be prevented from voting in next year’s state election because of harsh voter restriction laws … ‘We hear about so-called “voter suppression” in the United States where laws and regulations are passed to make it harder to vote for Native Americans, African-Americans and other minority groups,’ CLA vice president Rajan Venkataraman said. ‘We imagine we have no such rules here in Australia. But when voter restrictions on prisoners affect Indigenous people 15 times more than non-Indigenous people, then voter suppression is exactly what it is.’”

“With the regional death toll still climbing steeply, there is no indication of any significant new spending. This is not merely due to Australia’s sudden domestic needs. Australian aid to South-East Asia was being scaled back long before COVID-19. In the five years to 2019–20, the government cut official development assistance to South-East Asia by 30 per cent, and to Indonesia by 50 per cent.”

“It’s the holiday season, which means ... parents are scouring store shelves in an attempt to find the latest and greatest gaming gear. It also happens to be the year that a pair of brand new gaming consoles have launched, and thieves all over the world are looking to capitalize on the unprecedented demand that follows any new release—including stealing the systems directly from moving trucks in crazy heist operations.”

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