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(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Let’s be honest: it’s been a distracting week, in what was already a very distracting year.

And just as it was with the initial COVID-19 outbreaks in the first half of 2020, the madness of the US election has provided those in power here at home with great cover to sneak out stories that might otherwise have caused them some trouble.

Here’s a few big ones you might have missed while glued to CNN.

Weakened donation laws

It kicked off last Thursday with an outbreak of bipartisanship, with the major parties putting aside their differences to quietly weaken political donations laws — passing legislation that overrides state-based bans and makes it easier for federal politicians to accept secret donations from property developers.

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Privatisation nation

Though he didn’t go into detail, Dominic Perrottet (who surprisingly is still the NSW treasurer) told The Daily Telegraph that the government was considering expanding their “asset recycling scheme, where it sells or leases the state’s big assets in order to invest in new infrastructure”.

The Tele “understands” that rail assets are among those being considered.

This is despite how unpopular the privatisation of bus services has proved to be, and the fact that rail privatisation was ruled out by NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance just over a year ago.

Hillsong pastor ditched

Brian Houston, Scott Morrison’s favourite dinner guest and head of prosperity gospel evangelicals Hillsong, sent an email to church members this week confirming that Pastor Carl Lentz had been dismissed from the megachurch due to “leadership issues”, “breaches of trust” and “a recent revelation of moral failures”.

Lentz is a muscle-bound, tattoo-sporting “cool pastor” type in his early 40s who hung out with celebs and officiated Justin Bieber’s wedding. Whatever you think his “moral failures” might be is between you and your god.

Academics condemn Victorian government

After copping a fairly relentless battering for most of the year — some entirely fair, some partisan and empty — the Victorian government’s luck has picked up considerably in the last few weeks. As coronavirus numbers fell, eventually to zero, Premier Daniel Andrews announced on October 26 that the state’s long lockdown was being eased.

As the state basked in the euphoria that followed, the Djab Wurrung “directions tree”, which had stood for an estimated 350 years, was felled and taken from the site of a proposed highway duplication, while police were sent in to scatter protesters.

This week over 1000 academics from across Australia penned an open letter expressing their “sorrow and anger at the colonial violence currently being perpetrated by the Victorian government against the Djab Wurrung people, and against all First Nations people in Australia”, and calling on the government to “urgently halt works and protect the remaining Djab Wurrung trees and land from destruction”.

Joyce makes trouble

Former deputy PM and walking pub meal Barnaby Joyce has once again revealed his loathing for the government he’s part of, this week calling on Attorney-General Christian Porter to ditch the government’s toothless proposed anti-corruption body, because… get this… he thinks it goes too far.

“I don’t support this, not ­because I don’t think its powers are not exceptional enough, I think that the whole process is too exceptional,” he said.

Possible actual electoral fraud

The Age reports that Victoria Police’s fraud squad is investigating allegations of vote rigging in recent Melbourne’s council elections. The Victorian Electoral Commission has reported that hundreds of ballot papers in Moreland had been removed from letterboxes, filled in fraudulently and then posted to the commission.

Meanwhile, though there’s no implication of fraud, a recount is happening in Maribyrnong after Labor’s sitting councillor Martin Zakharov was knocked out by a single vote, by an actual socialist, Jorge Jorquera.