border airport
(Image: Unsplash/Yolanda Sun)

MUTATION PREPARATION

Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, is probably already in a number of places within Victoria and NSW, the latter’s Health Minister Brad Hazzard has warned. Hotel quarantine could come back in NSW, the SMH reports, as the global threat is ascertained. So far, we’ve seen two confirmed (and one suspected) cases in Australia — they flew in from South Africa, where it was first detected.

So what is Omicron? Well, without getting too sciency, each coronavirus has about 30,000 letters of RNA — that’s the information the virus uses to force our cells to build more coronavirus, explains The New York Times. But sometimes an infected cell makes a copying mistake — that’s known as a mutation. Omicron has about 50 mutations that we haven’t seen before — but it’s not clear yet whether that makes it more dangerous than Delta.

Nevertheless, Hazzard warned, “it only took three weeks for Delta to get across 53 nations” and urged people to get vaccinated or get their booster. Elsewhere the UK has three cases of the new strain, and Israel has banned all non-Israeli citizens in response, The Guardian reports. The Netherlands has reported 13 Omicron infections, and their health minister said it could “possibly be the tip of the iceberg”, Reuters says.

Meanwhile our economy is bracing for the flow-on effect that a new variant can have, The Australian ($) reports. Australian Industry Group boss Innes Willox says the swirling uncertainty about Omicron puts our economic recovery at risk — investment and confidence is uncertain, he says, and more lockdowns would strangle struggling Australian businesses. Your shares might be plunging too, the AFR adds.

Interestingly, this variant was supposed to be called Nu as per the greek alphabetic naming convention we’re following, but it was skipped, as well as the next one — Xi — to reduce confusion with the word “new” and China’s President Xi Jinping, news.com.au says.

ANTISOCIAL MEDIA

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram would be given an ultimatum — either reveal the contact information for users posting abusive content or pay a hefty defamation payout — under trailblazing proposed legislation taking on social media titans, The New Daily reports. The new changes would force social media companies to provide the phone number or email address of trolls if a defamation litigant wants it.

Interestingly, it would also reverse laws that make media outlets — like Crikey — responsible for the comments of people on their social pages, as the SMH reports, and put the onus back on the social media company. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it would see the “digital shield” some people hide behind come down. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese asked how we’re supposed to police a global industry, as ABC reports — like what if someone registers an overseas ISP so they don’t look like they’re in Australia, he queried. It doesn’t look like any outlet has heard back from Twitter and Facebook yet to get their reaction, and we’ll know more when we see the legislation soon.

DUTTON V CHINA

Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s address to the National Press Club was “the strongest speech by an Australian minister against China for decades”, the AFR reports. Dutton said if China manages to wrangle back Taiwan, the next in line would be the Japanese administered Senkaku Islands, seeing the rising superpower create a series of Communist tributary states out of the Asia-Pacific region, the SMH reports. Dutton also warned “dark clouds” were forming in the region, and countries “would be foolish to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s”, Guardian Australia continues. Dutton also said China’s nuclear warhead stockpile — estimated to be in the 200s last year — was on track to surge to 700-1000.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reckons Dutton is spot on, saying Australia is “a free country and we intend to stay that way”, AFR continues. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said to watch it: he called the China threat theory “groundless, immoral and [something that] will eventually hurt Australia’s own interests”.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

About 28 years ago, Arizona highschooler Jed Mottley was flying high: the teen came from humble beginnings at home but had esteem at the school as a member of the varsity football team. The cincher for such an elevated rank — a personalised varsity jacket — had been specially-designed for him and was waiting for pick up at the local store. But it would never be taken home. Jed’s mother sat him down and told him they just didn’t have the $300 to buy it. He was gutted but not surprised — he described his mum leaving IOU’s under the Christmas tree during the holiday season. But, he says, “she just always made it OK, but she was so loving”.

Fast-forward to earlier this month and Jed’s older brother Josh was browsing the racks at an op-shop nearly 300km from where the brothers grew up. Suddenly he came across a bright red varsity jacket, inscribed with his brother’s name, number and school. The best part? It was now just $25. Plus, the jacket didn’t even look worn yet, still toting a tag. Jed flew in from LA for the jacket, reuniting with his brother after a few years apart in the process. Jed and Josh’s mother passed away in 2012, and they can’t help but wonder if she had a part in it. “It feels like my mom’s been with me this entire week,” Jed says. “It’s just given me this natural high that I hope never goes away”.

Wishing you a little magic on your Monday morning too.

SAY WHAT?

Dutton is like a petulant teenager, spoiling for war with China because he thinks it makes him look tough. Any ape can beat its chest. We need a sober national security strategy to quietly prepare for all China contingencies with our allies, not screeching.

Kevin Rudd

The former PM seemed to liken the defence minister to a primate after Dutton’s fiery speech on Friday, saying the heavy-handed approach taken by Dutton — and supported by Prime Minister Scott Morrison — was only making conflict with the rising superpower more likely, a similar take to Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong last week.

CRIKEY RECAP

Anti-vaxxers are targeting NT Indigenous communities with quarantine and vaccine conspiracies

“One major source of misinformation has been David Cole — who also goes by the name Lurnpa Lurnpa — a NT youth worker who is a leader of the Original Sovereign Tribal Federation … Along with fellow leader Mark McMurtrie, the pair have promoted ‘legal advice’ that laws do not apply in Indigenous communities for more than a decade.

Followers have cited their baseless ideas as defences in court, unsuccessfully. The pair have links to broader conspiracy communities: McMurtrie co-owns a company that tried to develop property in NSW that has a relationship with disgraced celebrity chef Pete Evans.


Morrison works hard to make the case for a Dutton prime ministership

“Even though the polls are moving the wrong direction, there’s time enough for Morrison to turn things around, surely? But Morrison’s problem is that he keeps making himself the issue.

“Whether it’s his lie about Hawaii, or about Sam Dastyari, or dozens of other matters where he has failed to be truthful, or about his inability to control his own party room such that he can’t introduce his own bills for fear of defeat, or his pandering to extremists, or his refusal to even discuss a proper integrity commission, Morrison has ensured the spotlight is on him all the time.”


PM’s war on social media might be just the right pitch he needs to middle Australia

“[The Menzies Research Centre] points to legislation and government action already underway in the USA, the UK and Europe. It argues that the anti-competitive behaviour of the large tech companies is making it harder for parents, and that there is a ‘clear justification’ for the government to intervene on competition grounds to protect against practices that work against the public interest.

“Will it work? For a prime minister looking for an issue which differentiates him from his opponent — one which allows him to sell himself as a conviction politician with values and to portray himself as understanding the anxieties of families — this ticks a lot of boxes.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

[Victoria] to host biggest wind farm in southern hemisphere as turbines win final approval (The Age)

‘Absolute chaos’ in South Africa as flights grounded over Omicron (Al Jazeera)

A cure for type 1 diabetes? For one man, it seems to have worked. (The New York Times)

Barbados grapples with legacy of colonial past as it cuts ties with British monarchy (SBS)

Ghislaine Maxwell sex-trafficking trial finally to begin in earnest (The Guardian)

Biden leads democratic push to block new abortion restrictions (The Wall Street Journal)

Police assessing ‘despicable’ racist rant on TikTok by white supremacist (NZ Herald)

Iraq: Court hearing resumes on marriage of 12-year-old girl (Al Jazeera)

COVID-positive Czech president appointed new PM from plexiglass box (BBC)

Magnitude 7.5 earthquake shakes Peru (CNN)

Taliban covert operatives seized Kabul, other Afghan cities from within (The Wall Street Journal)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Travel bans aren’t the answer to stopping new COVID variant OmicronAnthony Zwi (The Conversation): “Travel bans on countries detecting new variants, and the subsequent economic costs, may also act as a disincentive for countries to reveal variants of concern in future. The WHO does not generally recommend flight bans or other forms of travel embargoes. Instead, it argues interventions of proven value should be prioritised: vaccination, hand hygiene, physical distancing, well-fitted masks, and good ventilation.

“South Africa itself is better off than most countries on the continent, yet only 24% of the adult population are currently fully vaccinated. For the whole of Africa, this drops to only 7.2%. Greater global support is urgently needed to boost these vaccination rates …Yet developing nations face significant barriers to obtaining intellectual property around COVID-19 vaccine development and production.”

You can make any day the best day of the yearLindsay Crouse (The New York Times): “The planned punctuations to life — holidays, job promotions, family milestones — often disappoint … I wondered, could I find a way to know when the best days were coming and really feel them as they happened? So I tried declaring a best day in advance. Even if it felt ridiculous, this effort to make the ordinary feel extraordinary usually worked. Mundane experiences felt special when I marked them as such.

“Staying up talking in a living room until too late at night or going for a weekend run through a park in the sunshine felt as wonderful as I had hoped it would. Designating a regular night as a best night helped me claim that moment. I no longer had to battle my nostalgia for ownership of my experiences. Now that I was looking for them, I caught them before they became memories.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Australia

  • Australian Human Rights Commission’s Rosalind Croucher, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, and Age Discrimination Commissioner Kay Patterson will speak at the Property Council of Australia’s Women in Property event about how to create change at work. Catch this one online.

  • Climate Leaders Coalition’s Lynette Mayne, Climate Change Council’s Amanda McKenzie, and Australian representative at the COP26 Youth Forum Ella Simons will speak about leadership and climate change. Catch this one online.

  • Engineer and podcast producer Corey Green will discuss his new book, The Podcaster’s Audio Handbook: A Technical Guide for Creative People, held online.

  • The Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellows Diane Vu, Ruby Hillsmith, Allee Richards, and Danny Silva Soberano will read some new writings, held online.