US ABANDONS UNESCO

The United States will withdraw from the UN’s heritage agency UNESCO, citing the organisation’s “anti-Israeli bias” and troubled financial position. In a statement, the US State Department said the decision had not been taken lightly and that the US would stay on as a non-member observer state.

The news was shortly followed by an announcement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his state would also be splitting from the agency.

UNESCO has angered Israel and the US in recent years by admitting Palestine as a member in 2011 — which provoked the US to cut off funding — and by declaring the West Bank city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site. The agency is pursuing $500 million it says the US owes it.

The US and Israel are also unhappy about the direction of the ongoing election of a new UNESCO director general, with Qatari diplomat Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari leading the race.

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Aside from its famous cultural heritage program, UNESCO also focuses on education, literacy, and equality for women.

The US has previously split with UNESCO during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, only to return in 2003 under George W. Bush.

The news came as US President Donald Trump signed an executive order undermining the signature healthcare policy of his predecessor Barack Obama by allowing small businesses to buy cheaper, less regulated healthcare plans.

HEALTH INSURANCE CHECK-UP

Private health insurance is set to get its biggest shake-up since the Howard era, with Health Minister Greg Hunt expected to officially unveil the changes today.

Among the expected reforms, private insurers will be able to charge higher excesses in a bid to lower premiums, and will also be allowed to offer discounts to young Australians, who are proving hesitant to take out expensive plans. Those aged 18-29 will be offered premium discounts of 2% per year, capped out at 10%. The discounts will then be phased out once they reach their 40s.

Hospital policies will also be given a rating of gold, silver, bronze, or “bronze basic” to help consumers assess them and the government will lower the cost of prosthetic devices, saving insurance companies an estimated $1 billion over four years.

The package is part of an effort to turn around the private insurance industry in Australia, which faces a vicious cycle of lower numbers of participants and higher costs for those who remain or are considering entering. According to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authroity, the number of Australians with insurance declined in June for the first time in 10 years.

SECTION 44 NO SMOKING GUN

Hearings for the “citizenship seven” have wrapped up in Canberra, with the High Court — which is sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns — acknowledging the need for a rapid decision on the fate of the MPs who have had their eligibility to sit in Parliament called into question.

On the closing day, ­Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue QC warned the court not to let section 44 of the constitution be used as a “political weapon”, while representatives for One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts argued the court should not distinguish between “natural born” Australians and those born overseas. The legal argument will no doubt he recalled next time One Nation tries to explain its immigration policies.

According to The Australian, the court’s final decision could have a far greater impact on Nick Xenophon’s team than the Coalition. Because Xenophon signed off on the registration of the federal party bearing his name, his eligibility as a senator could cause a problem for the group’s registration.

The news is better for Barnaby Joyce, with Nationals polling indicating he would comfortably win a byelection over rival Tony Windsor should the court rule his election invalid.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield tells ABC to reveal top salaries by end of November

Julie Bishop says Abbott should explain change of heart in ‘loopy’ speech

Credit Suisse chairman John O’Sullivan withdraws from ASIC race

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Brisbane: Fresh from his brush with the High Court, Senator Malcolm Roberts will host a cost of living summit featuring Mark Latham and Ross Cameron.

Sydney: Final day on which Ten shareholders can challenge CBS’ planned takeover of the company.

THE COMMENTARIAT

Drawing the line in citizenship case is the hard part for judges — Chris Merritt (The Australian $): “There have been good arguments on both sides of the dual citizenship case but [High Court Justice James] Edelman’s question might indicate that the chief criticism of the government’s case has been hitting home.”

Why Australia Post’s CEO was worth every cent of his $5.6 million salary — Jenna Price (Sydney Morning Herald): “While we were all critiquing his remuneration package, he instituted processes that included the removal of employee names from job applications to avoid unconscious bias, and purposefully recruited more women into senior and operational roles.”

Malcolm Turnbull is back at square one on energy and climate — Laura Tingle (Australian Financial Review $): “Despite all the government’s work in recent months to resolve the short-term gas crisis, and this week’s repositioning, there has been very little to reassure people that the cost of the crucial intermediate fuel — gas — is going to fall any time soon.”

CRIKEY QUICKIE: THE BEST OF YESTERDAY

Howard and Abbott are delusional, self-indulgent, climate-denying throwbacks — Guy Rundle: “Call them nihilists, call them self-delusional, self-indulgent, in upmarket settings. But always and everywhere call them what they are: fucking liars who would rather we all burn than they concede.”

Hack of defence firm reveals a cybersecurity framework in chaos — Bernard Keane: “If we had an effective mechanism of parliamentary oversight of intelligence and security matters, we might have some confidence that there would be accountability. But the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is virtually moribund under the ‘leadership”’ of Liberal Andrew Hastie and that committee is hamstrung at the best of times because of limitations on its role.”

Our leave entitlements have dropped to lowest point in years — Alan Austin: “Back in 1993, only 22% of workers were without secure leave. This gradually rose to 26.1% in 1998 and settled back at 25.6% — give or take one decimal point — from 2004 to 2007.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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