Michael McCormack
Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

RORT OUT AGAIN

A 7.30 investigation has found a ministerial panel chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack intervened in the selection of more than a third of projects funded in a $200 million round of the national Building Better Regions Fund.

Those 112 of 330 projects, which like the sports rorts and community safety scandal, were announced in the lead-up to the 2019 election, were eligible for funding but not among those recommended by department officials. An explanation provided by the panel listed the regional spread of projects relating to current and future government investments as “a key factor in the selection process”.

Analysis by The New Daily in January found that the BBRF overwhelmingly benefited Coalition electorates, including “regional” seats such as the Gold Coast.

Additionally, a series of other letters obtained by the ABC reveal at least $44 million in grants have been approved by Coalition ministers contrary to their department’s recommendations since 2017.

PS: In the latest from maybe the only government scandal that resulted in someone losing their job, former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate has alleged in a Senate inquiry submission that she never agreed to resign over her gift of Cartier watches to senior executives. Holgate also argued that company chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo “unlawfully” stood her down and repeatedly lied about the decision, and that Scott Morrison “humiliated” her in question time.

COVID COMPLEXITY

A 77-year-old man from Papua New Guinea has died in a Queensland hospital from COVID-19 complications, after being flown in to Redcliffe in late March for treatment as PNG continues to face daily caseloads in the hundreds after recording just dozens in February.

The news comes as Australia and New Zealand prepare for a two-way travel bubble beginning April 19 and, as Guardian Australia reports, after Scott Morrison rejected claims the vaccine rollout has been delayed by the batch testing of 2.5 million domestically-manufactured AstraZeneca doses. Morrison instead blamed international supply issues, although he refused to provide an average on how many vaccines CSL is producing in Melbourne each week.

An Australian government source alleged to Reuters yesterday that the European Union — which is facing yet another surge in cases — had blocked the export of the 3.1 million AstraZeneca doses, although an EU spokesperson has denied the claim.

PS: According to ABC News, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the European Medicines Agency Marco Cavaleri says there is a causal link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare cases of blood clots, but that the benefits of the drug still vastly outweigh the risks. The agency is preparing to make a more definitive statement on the topic this week.

CALLS FOR INQUIRY FOLLOWING DEATH OF 7-YEAR-OLD

Following the death of 7-year-old Aishwarya Aswath after a two-hour wait time at Perth Children’s Hospital’s emergency department on Saturday, the Australian Nursing Federation says nurses warned hospital management in December that understaffing was compromising patient safety and that it would take a “catastrophic incident” to spark change.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is calling for an independent inquiry into the incident, the ABC reports, which would go beyond an urgent review demanded by Western Australia Health Minister Roger Cook.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

This Christian Lobby with their full-page ads basically are wasting their resources and money because there is no application.

There are a lot more things in life that they could be lobbying for, like [an end to] poverty and inequality and all those sort of things, rather than this.

Peter V’landys

The Australian Rugby League Commission chairman points out that an advertising blitz by fringe anti-LGBTIQ group the Australian Christian Lobby to reinstate Israel Folau doesn’t make much sense when none of the teams want him. Although a culture war is a culture war is a culture war…

CRIKEY RECAP

Avoid pay rises if you want to help women’s economic security, government reckons

“The government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review symbolises everything that is sneaky, visionless and economically ignorant about this government. It also makes a mockery of the government’s recent pretence of focusing on women.

“It was only last week that Scott Morrison reshuffled his cabinet — an act described by Australian of the Year Grace Tame (showing more political smarts than many press gallery journalists) as a ‘superficial distraction’ — and claimed a Damascene conversion on the gender issues he had been hoping would go away since February.”


Saints preserve us: what Pell’s Easter homily gets wrong about the holiday

“If bullshitting was a cardinal sin, George Pell would be in trouble.

“In an Easter column in The Australian the cardinal waxed lyrical about the Eternal City. He lauds Italy for having ‘at least’ two government-sponsored television stations (although there’s really only one that matters, and Italy ranks below Australia in Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index).

“The thumbs-up to Italy, though, is just a little device to allow Pell to have a crack at the ‘Gramscian’ ABC, a reference to the trope of ‘cultural Marxism’, a debunked conspiracy theory that has been found to be anti-Semitic.”


Can you teach for leadership? Yes, and it’s high time we made a start in school

“As lockdown closed schools in Brisbane last week, we saw the return of a familiar refrain: ‘What about Year 12 students? What about their ATARs?’

“The ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is the chief way students access the nation’s public universities. Each university and course has a minimum ATAR rank (or cut-off) which decides whether a 17- or 18-year-old “earns” a place in the university course. Last year exemptions were made and universities changed entry procedures, recognising the unforgivable slog that goes into the final years of high school.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Man who partially destroyed Victorian Aboriginal site near Lake Bolac sorry for ‘huge mistake’

Malcolm Turnbull dumped from role on NSW government clean energy board after ‘media backlash’

Tech industry revolt against Porter’s appointment grows ($)

Pacific Island farm workers arriving in Victoria will boost harvests, but they ‘won’t be enough’

Lawyer Josh Bornstein apologises for likening female union official to a dog ($)

Australian economy roaring back from virus, says IMF

Application to break up Sanjeev Gupta’s Australian coal and steel businesses lodged in NSW court

WA Liberal state director Sam Calabrese resigns from top job in wake of devastating 2021 State election loss ($)

Corporate taxation back on agenda as Joe Biden pledges major hike

Six doctors, CNN correspondent detained outside Alexei Navalny’s prison

Vienna talks: Iran and world powers begin nuclear negotiations

THE COMMENTARIAT

View from The Hill: Morrison to ministers: don’t stir the states Michelle Grattan (The Conversation): “When your back’s against the wall, attack is not necessarily the best means of defence. With this in mind, the word from Scott Morrison to his ministers is, lay off the states. The federal government’s instinct is to avoid acknowledging its failures; when things are not going as promised, the reaction of some ministers is to kick the states if they are in line of sight.”

I’m a critic but George Pell really was treated unjustly ($) — Frank Brennan (The Australian): “Pope John Paul II’s biographer George Weigel, writing the introduction to Cardinal George Pell’s Prison Journal, describes me as one who ‘had previously held no brief for Cardinal Pell (and) a severe critic’. I plead guilty. Nevertheless, having attended parts of his two criminal trials and having studied all the publicly available transcript, I am convinced of Pell’s innocence of the criminal charges he faced. I am convinced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse failed to accord him natural justice in its pursuit of a necessary big scalp for media delectation.”

Glenn Greenwald took on the authoritarian right in Brazil — and wonKeith Danner (Jacobin): “Imagine this counterfactual: In 2016, a judge presiding over the corruption trial of Hillary Clinton secretly corresponds with the prosecutorial team, strategising to assure she is found guilty and that the judgment will hold on appeal. He then subjects her to ‘preventative detention’ ahead of the trial verdict, nullifying her ability to run for the presidency. Or, as long as we are telling stories, imagine the same fate for 2020 nominee Bernie Sanders. This, in rough analogue, is what happened to Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2018 in Brazil.”

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The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Australia

  • The Australia Institute will hold a webinar discussion on the latest issue of Australian Foreign Affairs, titled “The March of Autocracy”, with two contributors: ASPI senior analyst Dr Huong Le Thu, and professor of politics at the University of Sydney John Keane.

  • Stan Grant will discuss his new book With the Falling of the Dusk in a digital Readings event with store managing director Mark Rubbo.

Peter Fray

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