Court artist sketch of Julian Assange (Image: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire)

ASSANGE EXTRADITION BLOCKED

A London court has found that Australian journalist and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the US, the ABC reports, on the grounds his mental health would place him at suicide risk.

In her full 132-page judgment, Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected almost all other arguments put forward by Assange’s lawyers, including their position that the charges of espionage are politically motivated, and that he would not receive either a fair trail or First Amendment protections in the US.

However Baraitser found that Assange — who lives with severe depression, has been in custody since April 2019, and whose solitary isolation throughout COVID-19 warranted a call from the UN for his release — would be at risk of suicide if issued an extradition order and placed in “near-total isolation” in the US.

The decision has been welcomed by supporters such as Edward Snowden, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Assange’s mother Christine Assange, while Amnesty International declared it, “does not absolve the UK from having engaged in this politically-motivated process at the behest of the USA and putting media freedom and freedom of expression on trial”.

The US is expected to appeal, while Assange’s legal team will make a bail application on Wednesday.

Lifeline: 13 11 14.

CLUSTER HEADACHE

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW government does not intend to alter COVID-19 restrictions this week after two cases were identified yesterday, the crowd size was halved for Thursday’s Test cricket match, and the state’s list of exposure sites grew to 63, including the BWS Berala from December 22 to New Year’s Eve.

In Victoria, the ABC notes that three new cases have been linked to the Black Rock Restaurant outbreak — all of whom were in isolation when they tested positive — while the list of exposure sites has grown to include Chadstone Shopping Centre and a McKinnon hairdressers. State health workers are also coming back early from holidays following reports of wait times of up to five hours at testing clinics over the weekend.

Elsewhere, Queensland has boosted its number of clinics, the ACT has ramped up border check points, and South Australia has launched the second round of its tourism voucher scheme.

Finally, the lower-cost, more-easily-storable Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been delivered for the first time in the UK, as the country battles a record-setting third wave that has seen more than 50,000 infections in the past six days.

PS: On the political front, The Australian ($) reports the Morrison government will spend $75 million in taxpayer funds on ads promoting its COVID-19 health and economic programs, which will cover: vaccines, tax cuts, skills training, wage subsidies, mental health, domestic violence, infrastructure, and safe travel.

A WHOLE RENEW WORLD

According to The Australian ($), Energy Security Board (ESB) chair Kerry Schott has warned Australia’s surge in renewable generation is outstripping expectations and could risk grid security without unified national policy and regulatory reform.

Schott’s comments come as the ESB’s latest report on the health of the national electricity market shows AEMO was forced to issue directions to generators at record rates in 2019-20, a figure impacted somewhat by the Black Summer bushfires knocking out transmission lines, and warns the renewables boom could push down energy prices to the point coal plants close earlier than expected.

Elsewhere, The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Morrison government has resubmitted 2030 emissions targets that, when first announced by Tony Abbott in 2015, were slammed as “pathetically inadequate” by climate groups.

RAFFENSPERGER V TRUMP

Finally, ahead of two runoff elections in Georgia on Tuesday that will determine which party controls the US Senate, Brad Raffensperger has acknowledged in an interview with ABC News that Donald Trump could potentially face a criminal investigation for demanding the Republican secretary of state “find” him 11,780 votes.

But Raffensperger — who, unlike the more than 150 federal colleagues who will refuse to certify December’s Electoral College vote this week, has refused to give in to Trump’s demands — said it would not be appropriate for his office to launch an investigation because of the potential conflict of interest.

PS: In a tidy bit of irony, Iraq War masterminds Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have joined several former defence secretaries in urging Trump not to use the US military to interfere with the country’s political system.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

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Tim Wilson

Sneaking in just ahead of the new year, the Liberal MP suggests Australians exploit an early-access scheme specifically designed for those who “have been adversely financially affected by COVID-19” and has subsequently been criticised for allegedly offering “unlicensed financial advice”.

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THE COMMENTARIAT

A decade on, Julian Assange’s fate remains unclearBen Quinn (The Guardian): “Monday’s ruling is not the end of a decade-long struggle by Julian Assange against extradition to the US — but it heralds the beginning of the end. Over recent weeks, supporters and those close to the WikiLeaks founder had lobbied and pinned some hopes on Donald Trump granting him a pardon in the final days of his time in the White House, but no Christmas reprieve came via the US president’s Twitter account or elsewhere.”

Renewable energy policy sparks electricity free-for-all ($) — Judith Sloan (The Australian): “The National Electricity Market — which covers all the states bar Western Australia, plus the ACT — is now a national market in name only. Every state — and the ACT — has decided to dance to its own tune, and the national nature of the market is being held together only by relatively weak interconnectors that link the states’ electricity supplies.”

How the pandemic exposed the failures of capital punishmentLiliana Segura and Jordan Smith (The Intercept): “In the last days of December, as the president played golf while ignoring both the coronavirus pandemic and the bombing of a US city on Christmas morning, federal prosecutors were working overtime to grant him a parting gift in the name of law and order. After 10 executions in five months, the Department of Justice was planning one last round of killings in the federal death chamber. The executions would bring Donald Trump’s tally to 13, more than any president since Franklin Roosevelt.”

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