Friday, February 12, 2021

Crown executives run out of luck

Crown Resorts chief executive Ken Barton and director Andrew Demetriou will both step down in the wake of a damning report into the casino giant’s dealings. Barton is expected to formally step down today, in the wake of the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority finding the company was unsuitable to hold a gaming licence in the state. Demetriou on Thursday tendered his resignation over the matter. Both men have come in for heavy criticism by the NSW and Victorian gaming regulators in the wake of the report on Tuesday that found Crown enabled money-laundering by criminals at its Melbourne casino. The scandal has also prompted the federal Labor Party to consider banning political donations from Crown, sparked calls for a new national casino watchdog, and may lead to a $400 million tax revenue hit in NSW.

Victorian government advisers have been ordered to draw up plans for a snap lockdown, as  Melbourne’s Airport Holiday Inn cluster grows to 13. The restrictions, which may resemble the recent five-day lockdown in Western Australia although they have not been confirmed, could come in as early as tonight, the Herald Sun reports. A lockdown would put an end to crowds at the Australian Open, although it is not clear whether the grand slam itself could continue. The further two cases recorded late on Thursday are both household primary close contacts of positive cases. State authorities are working under the assumption that all 13 cases are of the highly transmissible UK strain of the virus, after six of the cases were confirmed as such. Positive virus fragments detected in wastewater in Melbourne have added to concerns that there is undetected spread, and there are worries a new exposure site at the airport could have seeded interstate spread.  

Labor has referred Peter Dutton’s controversial handling of the Safer Communities Fund to the Auditor-General. It follows revelations Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton hand-picked projects against official advice, reducing funding to the top 19 projects recommended for round three of the program to free up funding for projects, some of which were in marginal seats or linked to Liberal donors. Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said Auditor-General Grant Hehir must examine why Mr Dutton had chosen to reject funding recommendations made by his own department. “This is rorting on an industrial scale – this is Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton treating taxpayer money as if it is Liberal party money,” Keneally said.

The Australian Tax Office says it has not conducted any analysis of companies receiving JobKeeper that have also made large profits and paid out executive bonuses and dividends. The ABC reports that ATO Second Commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said the priority instead during the recession had been ensuring that eligible companies received the JobKeeper payments under the rules. However, he said around 10 companies were in discussions with the ATO about handing back $50 million in JobKeeper payments.

The Coalition’s climate standoff
The Prime Minister is trying to calibrate his climate policy to better fit into a post-Trump world, but he faces a conservative revolt on his own backbench. On the other side, Australia faces trade sanctions if it doesn’t implement serious emissions reduction targets.

“The federal government has scrambled to revise eligibility for its Covid-19 vaccination program after initially excluding refugees, asylum seekers and foreign nationals with expired, cancelled or no visas … The about-face came after The Saturday Paper asked the Health Department early last week which categories of foreign nationals would not be eligible for the vaccine and whether these groups would be excluded, based on public government documents that suggested some visa-holders would be ineligible.”

“The suffering has been intense. No costumes, no theatre, no crowds, no greasepaint. Barristers have been beside themselves for months as Covid-19 cancelled performances in courtrooms throughout the land. To have one’s stage so cruelly confiscated is a bitter pill for legal thespians who spent the best years of their life perfecting special flourishes and routines.”

“In the opening essay of Growing Up Disabled in Australia, poet Andy Jackson relates how Marfan syndrome causes his spine to curve like ‘a kind of question mark’. While he never questions his body, there are others whose stares are like ‘sparks of light, which tickle or singe our skin … To be physically different is to be continually assailed by these missiles of looking.’ This collection of accounts by people with disability opens a door to a varied and engaging world – one without the stares that can cause the book’s authors to, as Jackson writes, ‘doubt ourselves, our beauty’.”

“One of the few economic positives expected to emerge from the pandemic in 2020 was a fall in house prices, with banks forecasting a 10 per cent decline in prices as lockdowns began, with gloomy scenarios bandied about of a 30 per cent decline. Coupled with interest rates cut to the bare minimum, this would have represented a significant boost to housing affordability …  the government's fiscal support for the economy helped propel property prices to a national average rise of 1 per cent, according to CoreLogic, compared to before the pandemic — not a decline.”

“Labor has savaged the Coalition for a massive shortfall in delivery for a federal affordable housing program, which has paid out just $370,000 of a $1 billion funding pool. That’s just 0.037 per cent, according to federal figures released late last year … The program in question is the National Housing Infrastructure Facility (NHIF), a $1 billion program offering concessional loans, grants and equity finance for infrastructure that supports the building of affordable housing.”

“The forced resignation of Bridget McKenzie has failed to avert further scrutiny of the controversial grants, which now face a senate inquiry after Labor and the crossbench used their combined numbers in parliament to establish it. The inquiry will seek to scrutinise the grants in detail and any role played by other ministers, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his staff. One Liberal observed to The Saturday Paper this week: ‘Bridget was following orders. There’s no doubt about it.’”

“Fishermen are to rename two of their biggest exports in a bid to attract British consumers after post-Brexit difficulties selling to the EU. Megrim sole is to be sold as Cornish sole, with spider crab being rebranded as Cornish King crab. It is being driven by the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) after research with chefs and consumers ...  Trade has been disrupted this year by the extra paperwork and border checks required after Brexit. Mr Trebilcock said: ‘Our investigation revealed that simply by calling it Cornish sole, straight away more people were willing to to try it and were more interested in finding out where it came from.’”

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