Matt Canavan Sam McMahon Gerard Rennick
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

CROSS AND BOTHERED

Three Coalition senators have broken ranks to side with Labor (and the crossbench) in questioning the government’s pandemic approach, Guardian Australia reports. Nationals Matt Canavan and Sam McMahon along with Liberal Gerard Rennick are backing a royal commission or inquiry into the Coalition’s handling of COVID-19 (incidentally, those three also crossed the floor to vote against vaccine mandates, as Sky News reported). Independent Rex Patrick wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week to ask for one, while independent Zali Steggall is working on draft terms of reference.

It comes amid warnings that the rapid antigen test shortage could stick around for “many months” — industry heavyweights told the SMH this morning that we could make two million of the RATs a week by spending $20 million — chump change for the government — on production lines. Pathology Technology Australia’s boss added that 99% of RAT kits sold here are imported, even though Australian companies Ellume, Lumos Diagnostic, and AnteoTech have all developed tests (which are sold overseas).

Also this morning the National Retailers Association says staff are only trickling back into work amidst the relaxed close contact rule for essential workers, The Australian ($) says. Employees are returning to distribution centres at a rate of 2% a day, while about 30% of staff at meat processing centres remain absent at the moment. National cabinet is meeting today to discuss supply chain issues, as well as the country’s rate of hospitalisations and deaths.

WUGULORA

Walk together as “WugulOra — one mob” — that’s the uniting message from NSW Governor Margaret Beazley yesterday as we marked Australia Day a few ways. Police say tens of thousands turned out for Sydney’s peaceful Invasion Day march, ABC reports, with crowds initially staying silent in respect of what is, for many, a gut-wrenching day in history. To that end, a statue of Captain James Cook was defaced in Melbourne, too, as the Daily Mail reported. In Darwin, more than 150 Survival Day protesters were outside the Berrimah Prison blocks where 43 children, some as young as 10 years old, are detained, NT News says.

About 16,000 people became Australian citizens yesterday too, hailing from more than 150 different countries. Prime Minister Scott Morrison told them they “don’t come to our national story empty-handed … you add your threads to Australia’s rich tapestry”, as Sky News reports. A gorgeous artwork from Pitjantjatjara man Yadjidta David Miller threw earthy shades of green, yellow, blue, orange and red over the sails of the Sydney Opera House too, with the day ending in a big fireworks display.

There was plenty of chatter around about former Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s facial expression while being photographed with the prime minister. Some said the backlash was somewhat of a double standard — journalist Julia Baird pointed out on Twitter that Josh Frydenberg’s photo with a scowling Kenneth Hayne was not subject to the same scrutiny. Paralympian Kurt Fearnley added that a photo of former US president Donald Trump and an unsmiling Pope also didn’t attract a drama.

JUST JOSHING

Remember the Australian politics dual-citizenship crisis of 2017-18? A tiny line in our constitution called Section 44(i) toppled no fewer than 15 sitting politicians — among them, then-Greens deputy Scott Ludlam (who resigned), Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce (he was disqualified but re-elected) and Senator Matt Canavan (he resigned but was later given the all-clear). Well — a climate activist named Michael Staindl accused Treasurer Josh Frydenberg of being a Hungarian citizen, and filed a high court petition over it. Frydenberg’s mum was Hungarian-born, but the Federal Court says Staindl provided no evidence — plus, the Hungarian government confirmed Frydenberg wasn’t a citizen, Guardian Australia reports. So judges told Staindl to pay Frydenberg’s legal fees, but Staindl says he can’t afford the $410,000 plus interest, The Age reports this morning.

So why bring the case if there’s no proof? Well, Staindl says he “felt betrayed by my representative” over climate inaction, the paper continues, (he’s from the treasurer’s electorate of Kooyong) but acknowledged he was a bit naive about the possible outcome of paying Frydenberg’s bill. Staindl also says his star witness disappeared two weeks before the case — but didn’t elaborate on who that was or what they were set to say. Staindl apologised to Frydenberg last year and asked him to “look into your heart” over dropping the whole saga, but says he didn’t get a reply. Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the legal action as “despicable” and “anti-Semitic”, something Staindl denies.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

We are one step closer to discovering the mysteries of the universe, NASA says, after the James Webb Space Telescope reached its destination. Quick recap — scientists spent the better part of 25 years building a telescope that can look back in time — all the way back to the beginning of time, in fact — some 13.7 billion years ago. The James Webb Space Telescope is seven times more sensitive than the noble Hubble Space Telescope, and about triple the size. Its price tag was hefty — some $10 billion — so you can imagine how stressed out everyone was that the telescope wasn’t going to make it, which was further exacerbated by the complex yoga-like manoeuvres it needed to make, unfolding itself like some sort of gold-plated origami.

Everything went smoothly and the telescope is currently nestled in a stable pocket between the gravity of the Earth and the sun called the second Lagrange Point. So what next? It’ll hitch a ride along on Earth’s orbit around the sun (saves on fuel), and during the next six months, the telescope will settle in (an algorithm will help it correct itself to one 10,000th of a hair) and calibrate (the engineers will tinker with this). Then — scientists will “study the first stars and galaxies that twinkled alive in the dawn of time” by studying ancient light from the outposts of the universe. Fascinating stuff. “The best is yet to come,” NASA’s Keith Parrish says.

Hope something makes you feel a little awe today.

SAY WHAT?

I don’t know if people gonna [sic] like it, but I told myself ‘What Novak would do?’

Daniil Medvedev

The world number two admitted he channelled the recently deported tennis anti-hero as he came from two sets down to win a five set thriller yesterday at the Australian Open.

CRIKEY RECAP

Happy workers are more productive, right? The case for a four-day week

“Victorian unions and crossbench MPs have called for a trial in the state’s public sector. The ACT has opened a parliamentary inquiry into the idea. Meanwhile, in the US, a key group of Democrats recently backed a four-day work week bill.

“The average Australian full-time employee worked around 42 hours per week prior to the pandemic. That’s 4.5 hours over the standard legal maximum and three hours over the risk point for developing mental health issues — and most aren’t paid for this overtime. No wonder 26% of Aussies want to work less.”


Morrison’s Summer of Sophistry: caught out on Novax

“In any event, somewhere along the way, Morrison became confused about why Djokovic was deported. It had nothing to do with any ‘increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community’ apparently, but it was because ‘this is about someone who sought to come to Australia and not comply with the entry rules at our border.’

“Morrison might have been forgetting that in fact the Federal Court had overturned the government’s decision to refuse entry to Djokovic because the government itself admitted it had acted unreasonably when it stopped him from entering.”


The road to reelection: Morrison needs to discover integrity

“If Morrison wants barnacle-scraping before the election, here’s the easiest of all: a revamped federal ICAC model with real powers that treats politicians on the same level as federal police and public servants is straightforward, and unlike his current model — dictated by News Corp to Christian Porter — would be quickly legislated.

“… this is the man who as treasurer embraced the banking royal commission that he spent years demonising as a threat to the nation’s financial stability. Consistency, famously, means nothing to him.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Interview: Guinean PM defends record following military coup (Al Jazeera)

What happens if Russia cuts off Europe’s natural gas? (The New York Times)

Rollout of China’s digital e-yuan currency could pave the way for a truly cashless society (The Australian) ($)

Focused Russian attack on Ukraine seen as more likely than full-scale invasion (The Guardian)

Lebanon inks deal with Syria, Jordan to address power crisis (Al Jazeera)

New Zealand ranked top country in world for financial freedom, safest in Asia/Pacific (NZ Herald) ($)

An extraordinary iceberg is gone, but not forgotten (The New York Times)

Hong Kong penalizes Tianhe executive in long-running IPO scandal (The Wall Street Journal) ($)

Kurdish-led forces say they have retaken Syrian prison seized by IS (BBC)

Indian opposition figure Rahul Gandhi says his Twitter following was restricted (The Wall Street Journal) ($)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Grace Tame: If your disdain for the PM is so great why go?Peter Van Onselen (The Australian, published January 25) ($): “The footage of Grace Tame meeting the prime minister at his residence in the nation’s capital for a reception today was embarrassing, for her that is. She was ungracious, rude and childish, refusing to smile for the cameras, barely acknowledging his existence when standing next to him. The footage tells the story free of overstatement …

“If your disdain for the man is so great (understandable perhaps) that you can’t even muster basic and common courtesy, then just don’t go … It would cause a stir, but justifiably so given her criticisms of the PM. But acting like a child displaying a lack of basic manners when coming face to face with him in a meet and greet was unbecoming and unnecessary. That’s the case whether she was caught by surprise or deliberately played up to the cameras, hoping for attention such as this. To excite the mob on social media, for example. Before the dogs bark and the caravan moves on to the new Australian of the Year.”

Thank you, Grace Tame. Smiling doesn’t start national conversationsChanel Contos (The SMH): “When Emmanuel Macron, the French President, was outwardly unimpressed with Morrison at the G7 summit, there was no such uproar. Handshakes were avoided and even with a mask on it was clear no smile was reciprocated. Is this because Macron is a man? Or because we perceive Macron as more powerful so he is ‘allowed’ to be ‘rude’? Or because, as a society, we see more validity in being upset about inaction and false promises surrounding submarines than about sexual violence against children and women?

Grace Tame is one of the most genuine people I have ever seen in the Australian media. Her advocacy has been absolutely enthralling because it is defined by consistency, passion, empathy, and authenticity. It would have been completely out of step for her to smile and greet the prime minister given her opinions of him, which she has made so public. Her blank face is only so shocking to the public because it is an act of honesty: one so seldom seen in our political landscape.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Ngunnawal Country (also known as Canberra)

  • Head along to a talk on decolonisation and First Nations’ self-determination at Albert Hall, with Ghillar Michael Anderson to speak — he’s one of the four founders of the Aboriginal Embassy.

Larrakia Country (also known as Darwin)

  • International students can learn about their legal rights in Australia and how to express them through painting at this free workshop run by NTLAC Community Legal Education.

Whadjuk Noongar Country (also known as Perth)