Friday, March 19, 2021

Sports rorts inquiry calls for fair share

An inquiry into the sports rorts scandal has concluded that all projects that unfairly missed out on grants the Morrison government used as a “pre-election slush fund” should be immediately funded. The Labor-controlled Senate committee tabled its final report on Thursday evening, determining there was “overwhelming evidence” the federal government used the program to gain political advantage in the 2019 election. The report found that “the Prime Minister’s office, and likely the Prime Minister, were aware of the use of electorate information to identify projects in marginal and targeted electorates well before the first grant recipient was announced”. The committee urged for all projects recommended by Sport Australia for the $100 million Community Sports Infrastructure Grant Program but rejected by then-minister Bridget McKenzie to receive funding. To make this happen the committee urged the Senate to adopt a resolution requiring the release of Sport Australia’s legal advice on decisions and an unredacted list of grant applications. The report also recommended development of a policy framework to streamline sports grants.

A contentious industrial relations reform bill has had almost all measures stripped out of it in order to clear the Senate, after the Morrison government failed to win over Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff. The only element successfully passed was to legally define casual work in a bid to avoid leaving businesses liable for potentially billions of dollars in back pay. Employers will be compelled to offer casual employees either permanent part-time or full-time work after 12 months of regular shifts, although unions warn this is unenforceable. The original bill sought to overhaul wage theft regulations, enterprise bargaining, and awards. The wage theft elements of the bill enjoyed broad cross-party support, but the Coalition decided to drop them once it became clear the bulk of the changes would not pass. Griff slammed the federal government for removing the wage theft provisions. “Shame on you all for trashing such an important amendment,” he told the Senate. The bill must now return to the House for final passage.

Former Commonwealth solicitor-general Justin Gleeson, SC, will head the legal defence of the ABC against the Federal Court defamation suit filed by Attorney-General Christian Porter. Gleeson served in the federal government’s second most senior legal advice role — after the attorney-general — during the Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and Turnbull governments. Porter’s statement of claim alleges the ABC article falsely conveyed defamatory claims including that he raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988, despite the public broadcaster not naming him. The defence team also includes Victorian defamation barrister Renee Enbom, SC, and Sydney barrister Clarissa Amato. The court appears to be fast-tracking the case. The ABC is to file its written defence by May 4, with Porter’s lawyers due to respond by May 11. The case is listed for a preliminary hearing in court on May 14. 

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has concluded that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is “safe and effective”, after a safety review that followed a wave of European countries suspending distribution over unconfirmed reports of links to blood clots. The EMA committee “has concluded that there is no increase in the overall risk of blood clots with this vaccine,” said chair Dr Sabine Straus, who noted that while a link could not be definitely ruled out, there were just 25 blood clot cases of concern out of 20 million vaccinated people. Italy responded to the findings by announcing a restart of its AstraZeneca vaccinations. An additional 6.14 million Australians will be eligible to receive a vaccination from Monday, although a botched launch of the booking website this week has left clinics scrambling to handle bookings.

Christian Porter goes back to parliament
Christian Porter is still facing calls for an inquiry into allegations of sexual assault levelled against him, allegations he denies. But Porter has announced he will return to parliament in his role as the nation’s first law officer.

“People who use social media platforms that others may use for crime, such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, could be deemed part of a criminal network and have their bank, email and other online accounts disrupted or seized under sweeping proposed police powers. The new legislation creates three new kinds of warrants that would give the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) sweeping disruption and surveillance powers.”

“You hear Robert’s group before you see them: the cacophony of barking rings out through Sydney’s Centennial Park. If you follow the sound, past the willow fronds on the lake, up the sandy dunes towards the pine grove, you find his swarm of canines chasing one another with primeval zeal. And amid the apparent pandemonium stands Robert Zarauz, serene, like the dog philosopher-king that he is.” 

“The cognoscenti are often scathing about ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions, calling them little more than promotional bling. That doesn’t include museum directors and financial officers, of course, who rely on them to boost income. It’s an elitist attitude. Most people don’t have the wherewithal to visit major galleries worldwide to get an overview of art history and they may not have the art education to remember, contrast and compare what they see over time. And nothing beats seeing pictures in the flesh: being awestruck by what philosopher Walter Benjamin called the ‘aura’ of the real thing.”

“Corruption is on the rise in Australia. In 2020, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index showed Australia, once comfortably in the top 10 least corrupt nations, now equal 11th having lost eight points since 2012. Anti-bribery group TRACE has Australia at 12th, well adrift of New Zealand, on its bribery risk matrix. Australia is lower still on the Basel Institute of Governance anti-money laundering list.”

“Since 2017, Australia has slipped out of the top 20 countries in the world press freedom index and managed just 26th spot in 2020 ... Since 2015, the number of FOI requests refused has increased from less than 10 per cent to 15 per cent, and ones granted in full — including requests for people’s own personal information — have fallen below 50 per cent. In some agencies, outright refusals have increased by half.”

“Few other kinds of contracts operate like those implicit in mutual obligation: the terms are not negotiable, duties can increase even as payments decline, and one party must fulfil its duties on pain of poverty and homelessness. Its political appeal causes strange ideological inversions: even dry conservatives suddenly become fans of the statist nudge of behavioural economics. But its most eerie power is to make its adherents, of whatever political stripe, junk all the modern information we’ve accumulated about unemployment in favour of conceptions that are centuries old.”

“Sanctuaries of Silence is an immersive listening journey into Olympic National Park, one of the quietest places in North America.”

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