(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

MARGIN CALLS

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese are on an election campaign whirlwind this week, popping up in marginal seats in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, and NSW, The Australian ($) reports. Morrison’s leading with a promise of pursuing lower taxes, the SMH reports, (though economists have told AFR more tax cuts would be reckless). Albo’s leading with his hefty $1.2 billion skills pot which’ll fund half a million TAFE and uni places, as The Conversation explains, and analysis from The Oz shows Albo is narrowly the favourite in battleground electorates.

Women are dominating the candidacy for about 35 marginal seats this federal election, according to an analysis by Guardian Australia. Of Labor’s 34 lower house seats, there’ll be 22 women and 12 men running (they’ve got one more preselection to finalise). The Coalition (who have quite a few to finalise) have preselected 15 women and 10 men. Gender parity is a big issue this election — at the moment just 31% of MPs in the House of Representatives are women (to be fair, almost half of all Labor MPs are women), and Canberra is reeling from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ report which revealed a fairly sexist work culture, plus several other scandals.

Incidentally, arts administrator Jo Dyer has confirmed she’ll throw her hat in the ring as an independent candidate in the marginal seat of Boothby, The Australian ($) reports. Dyer shot to national prominence as an advocate for the deceased woman who accused former attorney-general Christian Porter of rape, a claim he denies. Retiring Liberal Nicolle Flint holds a precarious margin of 1.4% in Boothby.

FREEDOM OF JOYCE

Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the US, the SMH reports. It comes after the US government won an appeal on Friday in Britain’s High Court which cleared the way for Assange to face trial in the US, as Reuters says. Assange, who is an Australian citizen, faces 18 serious espionage charges and has been holed up in a London prison for two years in wait. His health is reportedly deteriorating — a London judge said he couldn’t travel in January because he was a suicide risk, and his fiancée says Assange suffered a “mini-stroke” while incarcerated, as Al Jazeera reports.

Joyce added that he’d never met Assange, and somewhat comically continued that “I presume I would not like him”. But, Joyce argued, the whistleblower was not in the US at the time of his alleged offences (check out NPR’s useful timeline to get an idea). “Assange was not in breach of any Australian laws at the time of his actions”, Joyce reasoned, so why would he be extradited to America? WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson says it was an ominous warning to journalists everywhere who “publish material that governments and corporations find inconvenient”, as BBC reports, and Amnesty International agrees, calling the ruling a “travesty of justice”.

THOSE IN GRASS HOUSES…

A company part-owned by Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor illegally poisoned endangered grasslands five years ago, according to a ministerial review, Guardian Australia reports. Jam Land, which the minister owns with his brother Richard via family company Gufee, has been ordered to restore 103 hectares in Corrowong in NSW, after clearing about 30 hectares of it back in 2016.

It’s actually the second time the review has concluded so, following an 18-month review of the original decision. The “Grassgate” plot thickened in 2019, as AFR reported at the time, when it was revealed that Taylor met with Environmental Department officials who were investigating Jam Land at the time. Then the office of the then-environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, reportedly got advice on whether laws protecting the grasslands could be tweaked, as the SMH reported. It’s not a great look for a minister heading up our climate policy — but Richard says they’re considering another appeal.

The Australian Conservation Foundation might not be surprised by the above — new analysis shows the government often doesn’t consider climate change in its plans to save Australia’s 334 critically endangered species. About half of the key conservation documents (like recovery plans and conservation advices) don’t discuss climate change impacts, The New Daily reports. Researcher Annika Reynolds says some documents do mention it but say it’s too hard to solve.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

A group of passionate Germans are lobbying the government to apply for UNESCO world heritage status, but not for some awe-inspiring waterfall or mountain range. They’re actually urging the government to protect Berlin techno music. The German capital is well known for its rave scene, and is home to perhaps the world’s most famous clubs, including Berghain (the club is so hard to get into that GQ actually interviewed a bouncer for his tips to gain entry). But like so many other industries, the techno scene took a massive hit during the pandemic and the industry’s biggest names say UN-backed protection is the best way to see techno live on.

Interestingly, The Guardian explains, techno actually emerged in Detroit back in the ’80s. Then, when the Berlin Wall fell, locals saw it as the perfect anthem for their reunification, and newly vacated bunkers, power plants and factories were suddenly full of clubbers from both sides of Berlin. So what would UNESCO world heritage status actually do? Well, nightclubs like Tresor and Berghain would be protected as cultural landmarks for one, veteran DJ Alan Oldham says. And it would also give the club and creative scene in Berlin legitimacy as a major source of revenue for the city. And is it such a strange idea? Jamaican reggae and India’s Kumbh Mela festival are both protected, writer James Tapper reasoned. Musician Peter Kirn, who was initially sceptical about the idea, has decided it’s fitting. He says brutal, distorted techno is everywhere in Berlin — “it’s totally acceptable to play that over lunch”, he says.

Wishing you a rather more peaceful time today than a sandwich in Berlin.

SAY WHAT?

Sometimes I had to earn extra money. I mean, earn extra money by car, as a private driver. It’s unpleasant to talk about to be honest but, unfortunately, that was the case.

Vladimir Putin

The Russian leader claims he moonlighted as a taxi driver during the ’90s to make ends meet after the fall of the USSR, during a documentary screened on Sunday night. Putin was stationed in East Germany as a KGB agent when the Soviet Union dissolved, and he’s long made his opinion clear about it, once calling the breakup “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. Putin’s revelation about driving a taxi could be foreshadowing his intentions towards Ukraine, a former Soviet republic — right now, about 90,000 Russian soldiers are waiting at the border.

CRIKEY RECAP

Assange press freedom challenge is finally coming home

“It’s not the first time the Espionage Act has been used for things other than, well, spying. Daniel Ellsberg was charged under the act for leaking the Pentagon Papers (the charges were dismissed) and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning was convicted (her sentence was commuted to seven years served by Barack Obama).

“Earlier presidents had pulled back from using the act against journalists. In 1975 under Gerald Ford, the US decided not to proceed against Seymour Hersh for breaking the My Lai massacre story, and Obama refrained from using it against Assange.”


Selling Albo: how does Labor convince an uneasy electorate to take the risk?

“How does Labor convince an uncertain electorate to take another risk? Jess Lilley, creative director and co-founder at The Open Arms, says although Albanese struggles to cut through, one approach could be to emphasise his likeability by targeting the kinds of people Morrison ignores …

“As an antidote to Morrison’s performative blokiness, it might work. It could also reinforce the Morrison government’s very real problems with women, well-documented over the past 12 months. So far, a problem for Labor is it has run a relatively risk-averse line in opposition, burnt after the experience of 2019.”


Will Australia be hit by the great maple syrup drought?

“The warehouse holds the world’s only maple syrup reserve, controlled by a syrup cartel, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (QMSP).

“It is basically the OPEC of a sweeter liquid, and this year — for perhaps the first time since the infamous great maple syrup heist in 2012 — it is in deep trouble. It has been forced to part with half of its vault’s contents — 22 million kilograms of maple syrup — to top up a gaping hole in supplies around the world, including in Australia.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

New facility to be built in Victoria to produce mRNA vaccines (The Conversation)

Sudan police fire tear gas at Khartoum protesters (Al Jazeera)

As US nears 800,000 virus deaths, 1 of every 100 older Americans has perished (The New York Times)

South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa has COVID-19, presidency says (Al Jazeera)

Nassar victims reach $380m settlement with USA gymnastics and US Olympic and Paralympic committee (The Wall Street Journal)

8 Hong Kong activists jailed for up to 14 months over Tiananmen vigil (SBS)

Alan Jones’ live stream crashes minutes into premiere of new online show (news.com.au)

North and South Korea agree ‘in principle’ on formal end of war (The Guardian)

India’s latest religious and cultural flashpoint: eggs (The New York Times)

Two feared dead after cargo ships collide (BBC)

Biden declares federal disaster as hopes rise that death toll could be lower than feared (The Guardian)

Troubled Golden Globe Awards reveal nominations (BBC)

Dominick Dunne, Writer of Wrongs (Quillette)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Moon Jae-in’s welcome visit an act of subtle resistanceGreg Sheridan (The Australian) ($): “The prime minister dropped a heavy hint that South Korea’s Hanwha was now very well placed to win the potential $30b contract to build our heavy infantry fighting vehicle. In fact, such vehicles are a waste of money for Australia, given our security challenge is maritime.

“The government should massively reduce that commitment and devote the resources to maritime capacity that can be delivered quickly instead. The sheer irrational, unchangeable inertia of Defence means that probably won’t happen, so if we are going to waste money on heavy armour for the army, which will never be used, we should at least waste it with a close Asian friend rather than a distant European friend.”

Nepotism was once pretty groovy — it’s meritocracy that’s freaky and newEleanor Robertson (Guardian Australia): “The power of compound interest combined with nepotism produces economic inequality, a material harm; rampant nepotism causes lowered trust in authority and social structures, because it undercuts the value of legal equality. This second harm is a purely modern one. In pre-industrial societies, the bonds and duties of family were how economic and political activity was organised.

“Nobody would think it immoral for the local artisanal chair maker to take his sons as apprentices into the chair-making business — in fact it would be weird if he didn’t … In more recent times, nepotism is apt to manifest as embedded patronage matrices of mates. The most powerful of these, the ones embedded in government, put on a big show of respect for ‘the electorate’ out the front, but you don’t have to peer very far round the back to see that the revolving door is never still … It’s not just high-value altruism when a politician stacks an authority with their allies, it’s quid pro quo.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Australia

  • UNSW Climate Change Research Centre’s Andréa Taschetto, and UNSW Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science Richard Kingsford are among speakers at a background briefing about what La Niña means for our summer, discussing floods, ecosystems and dangers, and held online.

  • US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will speak about the approach his country is taking towards the Indo-Pacific. This will be filmed in Jakarta, but you can catch it online.

Eora Nation Country (also known as Sydney)

  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet at Government House.

Yuggera Country (also known as Brisbane)

  • Brisbane’s deputy mayor Krista Adams and Acting Chief Customer and Digital Officer Andrew Spina will be among panellists discussing whether Brisbane Olympic Games will be digital.

  • UQ’s Peter Varghese and Shahar Hameiri will talk about authors Lee Jones and Shahar Hameiri’s new book: Fractured China: How State Transformation is Shaping China’s Rise, held at Customs House.