Coral Bleaching on the Great Barrier reef

$1 BILLION FOR THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to announce $1 billion over nine years for the Great Barrier Reef when he visits today, The Conversation reports. He says the billion-dollar payday would be on top of the Reef 2050 Plan, bringing the total kitty to $3 billion. An extra $252.9 million will be divvied up between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, The Brisbane Times continues, and some will go towards caring for our crown of thorn starfish and also Indigenous programs up there.

Writing in The Australian ($) this morning, Graham Lloyd says the PM has one eye on the election and the other on the looming UNESCO inspectors heading out here to decide whether it’ll be officially declared “in danger”. Cast your mind back to last year and you might remember the government’s frantic work to delay the “in danger” label being applied. We lobbied the World Heritage Committee to get more time (over fears it would damage tourism bucks) but environmentalists were livid the UN group buckled to our demand. The reef has suffered three mass coral bleachings since 2016 alone, as Al Jazeera reports, and two-thirds of the 2300km-long ecosystem is damaged.

Of course, as with everything at the moment, the upcoming election is also part of the billion-dollar picture: outgoing Liberal and Great Barrier Reef envoy Warren Entsch has been a loud advocate, as Guardian Australia reported (though admittedly hasn’t always got it right) — no doubt the Coalition is hoping that $1 billion will be sexy enough to keep the Cairns-based seat on election day. Labor’s pledged $163 million towards the Great Barrier Reef as the parties battle it out for several north Queensland seats that have tourism-based economies. As long as we save the reef along the way.

EARTHQUAKE OFF THE COAST OF TONGA

An earthquake has struck off the coast of Tonga measuring 6.2 in magnitude — but there has been no tsunami threat reported, ABC says. The quake rumbled 219km off the coast at 7.40pm local time, an incredible 14.5km under the water. It comes amid the small Pacific archipelago’s recovery from the underwater volcano that erupted earlier this month, with a resulting 15m tsunami causing mass damage. At least three people died, UN News says.

Fortunately, the ash-covered airport has been cleaned up, so humanitarian aid is expected to start pouring in. The Australian navy’s largest warship docked on Wednesday to offload humanitarian supplies — but nearly two dozen crew are infected with COVID-19, Guardian Australia reports. The government says it’ll be “an entirely contactless delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies” to avoid any transmission. Tonga has been barely touched by the pandemic, reporting just one case, while 61% of the population are fully vaccinated according to Our World in Data. The drinking water supply has been restored, so now the priority is fixing power and communications.

Speaking of natural disasters — more locally, flooding in South Australia has damaged the nation’s Trans-Australian railway, one expert says. News.com.au reports that massive flooding last week saw some places get more than half their yearly rainfall in one day — a once in 200-year-event. And yesterday, more than 20,000 people in Melbourne and Victoria were left without power after heavy rain, damaging winds, thunderstorms, and hail pelted the state, The Age reports. And yet, January 27 — yesterday’s date — has been found to be the country’s deadliest day for heatwaves, the SMH reports. Australian heatwaves threaten more lives than any other natural hazard, including bushfires and floods, and will increase with climate change.

COVID-19 IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY

COVID-19 is “out of control” in the Northern Territory, three Indigenous organisations have told Guardian Australia, and it’s the NT government’s fault. NT chief minister Michael Gunner received a furious letter from The Central Land Council, Congress Aboriginal Health Service and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory — they accused him of a “catastrophic failure” to protect Indigenous Australians, considering “many of the issues we are facing were foreseen”. The groups listed the issues as slow contact tracing, a too-slow mask mandate, and not removing cases from households, as ABC reported on earlier this month.

Meanwhile WA Governor Kim Beazley has been left red-faced after incorrectly claiming that up to 10% of kids who get COVID-19 “face death”, The West ($) reports. Beazley made the comments at an Australia Day citizenship ceremony, but a spokeswoman apologised afterwards. What Beazley meant to say, she says, was long COVID is experienced by about 5-10% of people, and an inflammatory illness linked to COVID called MIS-C can be experienced by 1% of kids. Speaking of long COVID — the SMH has an interesting story about a study that suggests four things could make people prone: the viral load, certain auto-antibodies (they attack body tissue), a dormant Epstein-Barr virus, and type 2 diabetes.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

The year is 1996. Liberal hopeful John Howard beats incumbent Paul Keating to become PM, Germany sensationally wins the UEFA European Championship, a new gaming console called the Nintendo 64 is released, Braveheart wins Best Picture at the Oscars, and rocket Ariane 5 (with no one aboard) explodes after takeoff after European governments spent $7,500,000,000 on it. But another, much less remarkable thing happened that year — a little girl named Joanna Buchan put a note in a bottle and cast it out to sea in Scotland.

Fast-forward to 2022 and the note has, incredibly, been found. A woman named Elena Andreassen Haga came across it in northern Norway, some 1287km away. She came across the green bottle and carefully removed the note, where Joanna had written freely about her love for sweets, her dog, and Blu Tack. “By the way I hate boys,” it ends. Through the miracle of social media, Elena simply punched in the little girl’s name on Facebook and there she was — Joanna, now 34, actually lives in NSW now and works as a doctor. “When I read it I just died laughing”, Joanna told the BBC.

Hope you have a good laugh today too, and have a restful weekend ahead.

SAY WHAT?

Of the 4.5 million people [living with disability in Australia], only 54% of them are employed. That number hasn’t moved in 30 years … It’s you who need to start changing your unconscious biases and leave the negative stigmas in the past.

Dylan Alcott

The new Australian of the Year threw some much-needed light over the ongoing issues facing those living with a disability, urging more access to healthcare for the community and a better-funded NDIS. He urged employers to overcome their preconceived notions to welcome more disabled people into the workforce.

CRIKEY RECAP

Grace Tame’s side-eye, the PM and Peter van Onselen

“It came in from all the usual suspects, but most notably political academic and journalist Peter van Onselenwho wrote that Tame was ‘ungracious, rude and childish’, and that if her disdain for Morrison was so great she shouldn’t have gone. Yes, because that would have played out really well.

“Later that day, van Onselen was co-hosting The Project with Carrie Bickmore and was ripped a new one by Bickmore and guest commentator Amy RemeikisGuardian Australia’s political reporter.”


Morrison’s Summer of Sophistry: the false industry demand about RATs

“As rapid antigen tests disappeared from view and attention turned to how the government had yet again stuffed up a key procurement moment in the pandemic, the prime minister was pressured on whether they should be made free, with the Omicron variant spreading like, well, a plague, and given the collapse in PCR testing over the holidays.

“Turns out, Morrison wasn’t having a bar of that. Why not? Because it would undercut private suppliers. And they’d told him that, he claimed.”


Sadness and pride fill the morning air as dawn rises on Survival Day

“It exposes the irrelevant sophistry of the “Be grateful it was the British” argument put forward this week in The Australian (“The greatest failing of Australia’s founders was naivety …”). But as Milera said earlier, ‘we’re moving closer to being honest about that history, which is really important’.

“And it is true that the usual heat appears to be slowly draining out of the debate around Australia Day. When a site like news.com.au is arguing the date is not one to celebrate, something has shifted.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Ash Barty advances to Australian Open final after defeating Madison Keys in straight sets (ABC)

Biden commits to nominating a Black woman to [replace retiring] SCOTUS justice (CNN)

New Chinese ambassador to Australia signals willingness to repair tense relations (SBS)

Russia sends medical units to Ukrainian front (The Wall Street Journal)

Honduras swears in Xiomara Castro as first female president (Al Jazeera)

A conversation with the woman behind a viral video attacking Jacinda Ardern (NZ Herald)

Ukraine crisis: Nord Stream 2 pipeline could be axed, US warns (BBC)

US economy grew 1.7% in 4th quarter, capping a strong year (The New York Times)

Orcas recorded killing and feeding on blue whales in brutal attacks (The Guardian)

Whipped, gang-raped: LGBTIQ+ people under ‘grave threat’ in Afghanistan, report reveals (SBS)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Labor will tackle wage stagnationAnthony Albanese (AFR): “But right now, wages are going backwards. The small pay rises we get are more than wiped out by inflation driving up the cost of living. None of this will surprise anyone who manages the family budget or spends any time in supermarkets and petrol stations. It really does seem that everything is going up except our wages …

“However, the government has wasted scarce infrastructure funding by rorting grants funds to curry favour in marginal seats. We’ve had Sports Rorts and Carpark Rorts — both condemned by the Auditor General. And the government put aside $16 billion for decisions made but not yet announced, funding people could reasonably expect given Mr Morrison’s form, will be used for pork barrelling in the coming election.”

Let’s give the four-day working week a try in VictoriaFiona Patten (The Age): “Recent research suggests as many as four in 10 workers — from blue-collar to C-suite — are mulling quitting their jobs. The Great Reassessment is leading to The Big Quit. This fuels the compelling case for change, that here is a light in the COVID-19 gloom, for there is clearly need and scope for getting the work/life trade-off in better shape.

“I am calling for a trial, in line with governments and businesses the world over. Reason Party took this policy to the last election. Again, it is an idea whose time has come, albeit it in terrible circumstances. International evidence shows pretty much everyone wins from a four-day working week, and at the expense of none. It often boosts productivity and profits. It benefits employers, employees and customers. It gives people freedom and control.”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Online

  • Beyond Animal founder Claire Smith will discuss animal-friendly policies and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in a webinar.

Yuggera Country (also known as Brisbane)

  • World Science Festival Brisbane kicks off today, with interactive art and science installations, conversations with leading scientists and experts, and a curated program of free and ticketed events over five days.

  • Authors Claire Christian and Michelle Law are in conversation about the latter’s new book, Asian Girls are Going Places: How to Navigate the World as an Asian Woman Today. Catch this one online too.