SPY HUNT

Australia’s “catch and deport” system of dealing with spies could be overhauled as police and intelligence chiefs discuss teaming up to prosecute on matters of foreign interference.

Fairfax papers report that ASIO Chief Duncan Lewis and AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin met this month to discuss a new law enforcement regime that would both change how Australia treats alleged spies, and increase police responsibility in the area.

Rather than prosecute under Australian espionage laws, intelligence agencies have previously tended to deport people suspected of spying or foreign influence. Police have also not historically been involved directly, however the new joint-agency taskforce, reportedly being considered by the Home Affairs Department, would have police investigating matters of espionage.

The revelations come as the government considers controversial new anti-treason laws aimed at exposing foreign spies and influencers, with representatives from the Australian Catholics Bishops Conference ($) and even ideologically opposed groups the IPA and GetUp! speaking out against the laws ahead of today’s public hearing.

‘COMEDY OF ERRORS’

A $31 million Australian roads project in Vanuatu has been criticised as one of the worst aid projects in the South Pacific, woefully behind schedule, and, according to frustrated locals, a “comedy of errors”.

The Australian ($) reports that the The Port Vila Urban Development Project, a major roads upgrade launched by then-foreign minister Bob Carr in February 2013, was due for completion in May 2017 but remains largely unfinished, millions of dollars over budget, and of very poor quality.

Envisioned as a much-needed resurfacing of 21 kilometres of roads and 33 kilometres of new roadside drainage along Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, the project is reportedly still in shambles even after cost blowouts and inefficiencies brought those figures down to 13 kilometres and 12.5 kilometres respectively.

Half-built footpaths, crumbling kerbs along damaged roads, large cement drains lying unused on the side of the road, and no new construction at all along Port Vila’s main street are listed as some of the largest criticisms.

The Australian did not receive comment from Townsville-based contractor RMS Engineering & Construction, but does note the report could prove embarrassing for International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who called out China’s foreign aid for creating “roads to nowhere” and delivering “white elephants” within the South-Pacific earlier this month.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

“He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody saw him coming, and the food was safely premade”

Hillary Clinton, “auditioning” for a spoken-word version of the Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House at yesterday’s Grammy awards.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Daniel Andrews lashes power companies over blackouts

Formal endorsement for Keneally to replace Dastyari in Senate ($)

Company linked to Chinese political donor Huang Xiangmo scoops Circular Quay apartment project

Wholesale energy prices double in a year in Victoria and South Australia ($)

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Canberra: Opposition leader Bill Shorten will address the National Press Club.

Canberra: Public hearings into both the Skilling Australians Fund and new foreign interference and espionage laws.

Lismore: The opening of Australia’s largest floating solar farm. Seventy local councils will make a joint pledge to tackle climate change.

Sydney: NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman will officially open the Surry Hills Children’s Court.

Sydney: NSW ICAC will give evidence as part of public inquiry into political donations.

Victoria / NSW: 2018 school year starts.

CRIKEY QUICKIE: THE BEST OF YESTERDAY

Do we need to renegotiate the language of sex and consent for the #MeToo era? — Matilda Dixon-Smith: “As #MeToo discourse continues to ripple out, well past the hashtag, we’re hearing a lot of discussion about a “grey area” of consent. From the viral New Yorker story Cat Person to Babe’s controversial reporting of an unnamed woman’s date with comedian/TV auteur Aziz Ansari, coerced (though not technically unlawful) sexual encounters have been thrust under the spotlight.”

If the rail workers can’t do it, when can we actually strike? — Charlie Lewis: “The most immediate impact of the decision last Thursday by the Fair Work Commission to suspend all industrial action relating to negotiations between the New South Wales government and Rail, Bus and Tram Union for six weeks, was that a 24-hour strike meant for today cannot go ahead. More broadly, according the Australian Council of Trade Unions, it has the effect of demonstrating that the right to strike in Australia is “nearly dead”. How true is that?”

LEAKED: Matthew Guy’s ‘Australian values’ school curriculumBen Pobjie: “Module 3: Casual Racism: Study of multiculturalism and the ways in which it has gone too far. Comparative studies of the various ethnic groups making up Australian society with emphasis on what nicknames they need to lighten up about. Designed to instil within students an appreciation of different cultures’ inferiority to our own. Includes excursions to local mosques, temples and Immigration Museum to see who can take a joke and who can’t.”

THE COMMENTARIAT

Patchwork abortion laws a lottery for women — Tanya Plibersek (Fairfax): “In 2016, the only private practitioner performing surgical terminations in Cairns retired. The clinic had serviced all of northern Queensland, so women are now flying to Brisbane and Sydney, often at great expense. For some women, this would be the first time they had left their remote communities, and their first time on a plane.”

On starting anew, I’m with Kennedy — Amanda Vanstone (Fairfax): “It’s called a deal and it shouldn’t have the unquestioned pejorative status under which it now labors. We criticised, rightly, prime minister Tony Abbott’s self-indulgence in captain’s picks. But there are some who would like Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, because they like his views, to do just the same. That is, ride roughshod over the party room and cabinet in order to do just as he thinks best. The party room and cabinet could be sent packing.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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