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.