AIR OF RESIGNATION
Christian Porter has resigned from federal cabinet, resisting growing pressure to reveal more information about the source of the funds in the “blind trust” used to pay for part of his legal fees. At a hastily called press conference on Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Porter’s decision to step down was, in fact, upholding the ministerial standards that he had been accused of breaking.
Shortly after the presser, Porter released a 1600 word screed — err, statement — explaining his decision to step down. In it, he takes aim at the ABC and the “Twitter mob” for promoting an allegation he denies while also arguing that he has met the requirements of his office.
Angus Taylor will temporarily take over Porter’s science and industry portfolio, but the Member for Pearce maintains that he will re-contest his seat at the next federal election.
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The fallout from Australia’s nuclear sub deal continues. A jilted France recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the US for the first time ever, Bloomberg reports, although the UK was spared. The BBC says that France was informed about the deal “only hours” before the public announcement was made. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian slammed the decision saying “You can’t play that way in an alliance”. Defence Minister Peter Dutton, for what it’s worth, reckons Australia has been “upfront, open and honest” throughout the whole proceedings, according to The Australian.
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Meanwhile, the ABC reports that Trade Minister Dan Tehan will go to France in the next fortnight to try and mend fences as the government fears that France’s snubbing will harm trade talks with the EU. Indonesia, however, is off the government’s itinerary as Sky News says that Morrison will cancel a planned meet-and-greet with President Joko Widodo, who has raised concerns about Australia’s nuclear submarine intentions.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews released the state’s roadmap out of lockdown on Sunday, giving dates and targets for the lifting of public health restrictions and the granting of freedoms to the vaccinated. “Make no mistake, we are opening this place up. There is no alternative,” Andrews said, dispelling the beliefs of those few still holding onto the idea of a COVID elimination strategy. But there is still quite some darkness to go through yet. Such a strategy will have a better than one-in-two chance of exceeding the state’s hospital and ICU capacity and could lead to the deaths of more than 3000 people, Nine reports.
This brings Victoria more or less into line with NSW which is going full speed ahead toward its own re-opening plans. On Friday, updated Doherty Institute modelling warned that medium measures — which, in the past, meant stay-at-home orders for anything than work, study, and other essential purposes — would be “prudent” until Australia hits 80% vaccination if there’s high case numbers, according to Guardian Australia. Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid told AAP that this updated modelling shows a need for patience: “When implementing the national plan we must be realistic, careful and test each change and the impact of measures before moving to the next phase, given that there are thousands of COVID-19 cases in the community.”
Since I’ve wrestled control of this newsletter for one edition, I wanted to put my own spin on it by adding a tech news kicker. And boy, do we have a whopper: The Wall Street Journal dropped the Facebook Files, an incredible series of pieces that delve into the dark side of the Mark Zuckerberg-led company.
Drawing on never-before-seen internal documents from the company, the WSJ lays out the devastating impact of the tech giant. The company’s top accounts are exempted from many of the rules (like when international soccer star Neymar posted naked images of a woman who accused him of rape to the platform, he suffered no consequences). Vaccine misinformation is so rife on the platform that a fifth of all vaccine-related posts were found to be anti-vaxx. Internationally, sex trafficking rings allegedly use Facebook to organise their efforts with impunity — and when Facebook found this out, they reportedly removed the content but failed to inform law enforcement. Taken in full, the investigation shows a company that prioritises growth above all else — even their users’ safety.
OK, talk to you on Tuesday.
Friday’s official figures showed we have so far stuck 34,911,907 testing strips up people’s noses, to discover around 80,000 positive cases. That means 34.8 million of those tests were unnecessary; so at more than $100 each, we’ve spent $3.5bn on literally nothing.
There were a few heads being scratched when the Commercial Editor for The Australian Steve Waterson weighed into the debate about the economic expense of lockdowns. In a wide ranging piece — that at one point compares the public health measures to the Nazi Germany regime, before conceding that this broke Godwin’s law — Waterson makes the case that COVID-19 tests are only useful when they detect the virus. Hey, maybe we should start screening people for the virus before we test them…
“Pastor Brian Houston, whose name is synonymous with the Hillsong megachurch, has stepped aside from virtually all his directorships in Hillsong entities in a major corporate overhaul before he is due to face criminal charges of concealment early next month.
“A friend and mentor to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Houston has been a fixture on the boards of Hillsong entities — in some cases for more than two decades. Over that period Hillsong has grown exponentially from its base in Sydney’s north-west to become a global phenomenon.”
“Is the talent pool in Canberra getting smaller? The latest company with plans to cash in on the pandemic has ties to the Morrison government — and some familiar names are popping up again.
“There are also questions about whether the group’s close political ties create a conflict of interest. All business ventures benefit from good political connections, and QSA has them in spades.”
“The accounts, while partially locked down, reveal information about Morrison and his close contacts, making them a potential national security issue.
“He’s lashed out at Facebook before, saying its decision to temporarily ban news — or ‘unfriend Australia’ as he called it — was arrogant. Despite this, Morrison is an avid user of it and Instagram to promote himself and his political causes. Now we know he continues to use it personally as well.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
El Salvador’s Bitcoin law is a farce (Foreign Policy)
Australia’s foreign policy is getting clumsy and arrogant — Anthony Galloway (The SMH): “Australia’s actions right now have serious implications on the world stage and there are questions about whether our diplomacy has been strong enough to support our strategic intentions.
“Any criticism of the government’s handling of these announcements is always met with astonishment. It’s like the government is playing chess and the rest of us are playing checkers; we shouldn’t have the temerity to question their brilliance. Increasingly, other countries are questioning it.”
AUKUS alliance: French submarine fury is a farce — Greg Sheridan (The Australian) ($): “Their reaction, in fact, is so over the top and ridiculous, so full of petty insult and juvenile foot-stamping that it probably confirms just what a mistake it was ever to get so deeply involved with the French in strategic matters in the first place.
“The French shoulder a large share of blame for not keeping their customer happy. On the other hand, they found our Defence Organisation slow, liable to change requirements and difficult to deal with in numerous other ways. The Australian performance at every stage of this submarine saga has been woeful … but the French reaction remains absurd and does them no credit.”
HOLD THE FRONT PAGE
WHAT’S ON TODAY
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will travel to the US ahead of Quad leaders’ summit.
New York, London
Vigils for Australians stranded abroad are being held as organisers say there has been a failure to protect citizens abroad and at home through lack of fit quarantine facilities and a slow vaccine rollout.