Australia-China Huang Xiangmo Chinese lobbyist blocked communist party
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

WAR CRIES

Following weeks of war-drum-beating by Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that one of Australia’s top military commanders, Major-General Adam Findlay, told special forces last year that China is engaged in “grey zone” warfare against Australia — i.e. through cyberattacks and/or political influence — and urged them to plan for the “high likelihood” this may spill over into physical conflict.

Findlay has since stepped down but still advises the Australian Defence Force, and The SMH emphasises how the April 2020 briefing presents insight into the military’s views on China.

The news comes as Dutton vows to speak more openly about China’s aggression after suggesting conflicts over Taiwan could not be “discounted”, and as the Defence Department reviews the Northern Territory’s 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to China-owned company Landbridge, which would likely leave Australia with a multimillion-dollar compensation bill if torn up.

And because it’s just that time of year for the government, Foreign Minister Marise Payne has written an op-ed at The Australian ($) suggestively attacking efforts to “buy influence’’ and “pick off’’ individual countries. Payne is about to begin two weeks of international talks on strengthening global security, first London for G7 Plus talks and then meetings in ­Geneva and the US ($).

PS: Payne is separately set to face demands from her British counterpart ($) that Australia implement stronger climate commitments and contribute environmental funding after the UK lifted its climate pledge to 78% below 1990 levels by 2035 in the lead-up to the US virtual climate summit while the Morrison government sat on Tony Abbott’s 2030 target.

LAW AND BORDER

Speaking of Taiwan, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced overnight that it will help arrange charter flights for Taiwanese nationals who wish to return from India.

Conversely, Guardian Australia reports that chief medical officer Paul Kelly warned the Morrison government that stranded citizens face the prospect of serious illness without healthcare and a “worst-case scenario” of death from COVID-19, although he supported a travel suspension due to Australia’s “limited” quarantine facilities.

The news comes as lawyers prepare for potential legal challenges even as Greg Hunt declares his “absolute belief” the measures are lawful. As Marque Lawyers’ Michael Bradley explained in Crikey yesterday, the move could be challenged on the Biosecurity Act 2021’s requirement that the health minister’s measures be “appropriate and adapted”.

Elsewhere, the Australian Medical Association has slammed the management of Western Australia’s hotel quarantine system, specifically the use of private security guards to look after positive cases in poorly-ventilated conditions and with inadequate personal protective equipment, after genomic sequencing suggested a security guard acquired COVID-19 from a returned United States traveller.

And, as The Mandarin reports, Scott Morrison yesterday announced the end of that bastion of Australia’s COVID-19 response, the COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board. Achievements by the board, which cost taxpayers many millions of dollars across its more than a year of operation, include a secret manufacturing report developed by gas figures and used to help justify the “gas-led recovery”; some business tools; and handing $541,750 for “social policy research” to Jim Reed, a former group director of research and strategy at Liberal/Conservative aligned polling group C|T Group.

PS: In other international news, The New Daily reports that the European Union’s executive has recommended foreign citizens who are fully vaccinated or from countries that have effectively eliminated the virus be allowed to travel into the bloc without additional restrictions.

BEEFING UP BIOSECURITY

In the latest pre-budget spending drop, the ABC reports that Scott Morrison will today announce a $370 million biosecurity package at Beef Australia 2021.

This will include: $67.4 million for a “national surveillance information system” for Australia’s animal sector; almost $100 million for an offshore assurance program to identify freight containers for intervention; $35 million for research about how pests can enter Australia; $20 million for a pre-border passenger screening trial; $30 million to improve biosecurity management of international mail; and a $3.9 million community and business awareness campaign.

The news follows a childcare package announced over the weekend, which will create a 95% subsidy for a family’s second and subsequent children but, news.com.au explains, will not actually kick in until July 2022 — making it more of a pre-election than pre-budget announcement — and will not benefit families with only one child in childcare.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT?

[on why measures against India aren’t racist]: Because this is about health. I mean the same accusations were made against the government over a year ago when we closed the borders to mainland China, and that was one of the most important decisions we made as a government…

There’s no politics or ideology in a pandemic, and I am constantly taken aback by those who seek to inject it into it.

Scott Morrison

The prime minister of Australia explains that it’s not racist to single out one Asian hotspot for punitive COVID-19 travel measures — while doing nothing against outbreaks from the US, the UK, Europe, South Africa etc — because that’s something he already did last year.

CRIKEY RECAP

Banning Australians from returning from India is unprecedented and arguably racist. But is it legal?

“Australia is the only country in the world that has attempted to prevent, by law, its own citizens from coming home — and the legal basis for this is in the act.

The Biosecurity Act gives incredible powers to the government once a ‘human biosecurity emergency’ has been declared. Section 477 gives the health minister power to ‘determine any requirement that he is satisfied is necessary to prevent or control the entry of the disease into Australia’. This can include ‘requirements that restrict or prevent the movement of persons between specified places’.

“The act requires Hunt to be satisfied that the ban is likely to be effective in or contribute to keeping COVID-19 out, that it is ‘appropriate and adapted’ to the purpose, that it is ‘no more restrictive or intrusive than is required’, and that it will apply no longer than is necessary.”


Abuse, neglect and bullying rife in Australian gymnastics

“A review by the Human Rights Commission has exposed a culture of systemic abuse in Australian gymnastics, with allegations of sexual abuse, bullying, and extreme mental and physical abuse revealed by athletes.

“The review, released today by sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, was requested by Gymnastics Australia following the release of the US documentary Athlete A recounting young athletes’ experiences with convicted doctor Larry Nassar who used his position to sexually abuse young girls and women across two decades.”


Morrison’s confusion over ‘identity’ and ‘community’ on display in criminalisation of Indian-Australians

“Are Indian-Australians guilty, in Scott Morrison’s eyes, of identity politics? Of allowing themselves to be defined not as individuals but, as Morrison has put it, by their group rather than by God. Have they got lost in that group and in doing so, lost their humanity?

“If not their humanity, at least, then their rights as citizens — the right to return to their country, Australia. And their freedom, with five years in jail if they try to return to do so.

“Or are they, contrarily, doing exactly what Scott Morrison wants us all to do, to be a community, to pair their rights with responsibilities to one another, to avoid what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks lamented when he complained ‘our rights used to be how we were protected from the state. And now, it’s what we expect from it. What we once expected from family and community, now we contract this to the state and to the market’.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Vaccine shortages blight India’s efforts to contain COVID crisis

Brittany Higgins squares up to Morrison government in stark post

Christine Holgate threatens legal action against Australia Post

Royal commission process changed after veteran concern

Outgoing MP George Christensen seeks to pocket $100,000 ($)

Banks’ human rights record laid bare as expert warns on lending laws

Linda Reynolds says Coalition will keep ‘some form’ of independent NDIS assessments

ABC firm on Christian Porter defence ($)

Macquarie picks up $20b as big banks exit wealth ($)

G7 nations to agree on global plan to help 40m girls into education

Biden moves to reunite migrant families separated at border

Moderna deal, Swedish donation boost COVAX vaccine programme

THE COMMENTARIAT

Cruel India travel ban driven by fear, ignorance and incompetence ($) — Andrew Bolt (Herald Sun): “I hate people playing the race card. But even I must now say I am ashamed of Australia, which is making it a crime for Indian Australians to come back home. To me, it stinks of racism to tell the 8000 Indian Australians trying to come home that they must stay in India, in what Western Australia’s premier admitted was the ‘epicentre of death and destruction’.”

We need Darwin Port back in our hands ($) — Peter Jennings (The Australian): “Defence Minister Peter Dutton has asked his department ‘to come back with some advice’ about the future of the 99-year lease by Chinese company Landbridge of the Port of Darwin. Hopefully, Defence takes this shot at redemption, correcting a dreadful policy error when it concluded in 2015 that the lease was not a problem. Leave to one side that policy snafu and ask what has happened since 2015 that should force a rethink of the lease. The answer is that strategic change is reshaping our region, raising serious risks to stability and forcing fundamental shifts in our Defence planning.”

Paying Australia’s coal-fired power stations to stay open longer is bad for consumers and the planet — Daniel J Cass, Joel Gilmore, and Tim Nelson (The Conversation): “Australian governments are busy designing the nation’s transition to a clean energy future. Unfortunately, in a misguided effort to ensure electricity supplies remain affordable and reliable, governments are considering a move that would effectively pay Australia’s old, polluting coal-fired power stations to stay open longer.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Canberra

  • The National Press Club will host “A Budget for the Times: A Women in Economics Network Pre-Budget Forum” with senior economist at BIS Oxford Economics Dr Sarah Hunter, senior economist at Committee on the Economic Development of Australia Gabriela D’Souza, and Chair of Women in Economics Dr Leonora Risse.

  • Parliamentary inquiries will examine the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge, federal environmental laws, and NDIS independent assessments.

Australia

  • National Mental Health Commission chair Lucinda Brogden, Mental Health Victoria patron Allan Fels and Headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan to discuss mental health support and services and a live-streamed CEDA event.

Peter Fray

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