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Nation records 33 Covid deaths as Victoria reports fifth monkeypox case – as it happened

Health minister Mark Butler
Health minister Mark Butler has warned Australians to prepare for a third wave of Covid. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

What happened on Friday 1 July, 2022

With that, we’ll be wrapping up our live news blog. Here’s a summary of the main news developments:

  • Communities in New South Wales hit by heavy flooding earlier this year are bracing for days of torrential rain, as the east coast prepares for an intense wet spell.
  • Australia’s acting prime minister, Richard Marles, has declared the government won’t take any “backward step” in pursuing the national interest, in an interview with Guardian Australia, after Chinese state media said hopes of a diplomatic reset were “diminishing by the day”.
  • At least 33 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded across Australia on Friday, as Australia nears 10,000 deaths from the virus.
  • Kiribati is embroiled in a constitutional crisis after the government suspended its chief justice, leaving the judiciary in disarray as experts raise concerns about the rule of law.
  • Australia has thrashed Sri Lanka by 10 wickets in Galle, bowling the hosts out in a session and claiming their fastest Test victory in 20 years.
  • The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has raised the case of jailed engineer Robert Pether with the Iraqi leader, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as the Australian’s family warns he has become “gravely ill” and is rapidly deteriorating in his Baghdadi jail cell.

Thanks for following along, and for all those observing, I hope it was a happy start to the new financial year.

Have a pleasant evening and weekend.


Sydney and mid-north coast facing heavy rainfall

First up, here’s the area of most concern for heavy rain and possible flash flooding from Saturday along parts of the New South Wales east coast near Sydney.

Here’s the Bureau of Meteorology’s rainfall forecasts for Sydney’s CBD (at Observatory Hill), but the totals are similar inland over three days.

Even though June was very dry – compared with historical levels and the deluges many in NSW have been used to in the past couple of years – dams remain near capacity around Sydney (and most of the state).

In other words, the dams are likely to spill. According to emergency services, Sydney’s main dam, at Warragamba, may “experience a significant spill early next week”, based on the BoM’s forecasts.

As it is, the Bureau is forecasting a warning for possible major flooding on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, which is downstream from Warragamba. (About half of the flows may come from other catchments.)In other words, the region to Sydney’s north and west may be in for another sizeable flood, not long after the last one - just three months ago.

Read more:


A man has been charged by federal police for allegedly attempting to import a gun inside a gaming console.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) said it had charged a Yangoona man with multiple offences relating to the alleged importation of firearms and drugs.

The statement said:

The investigation began on 13 October 2021, when Australian Border Force (ABF) officers at the Sydney Gateway Facility examined a consignment from the US addressed to a parcel collection site in Western Sydney.

A fully operational Glock-style pistol was found concealed with a gaming console.

Further investigations into the matter by the AFP identified the man as the alleged coordinator of the importation, and linked him to the attempted importation of 500g cannabis on 7 August 2021 and 7g cocaine on 26 September 2021.

AFP, ABF and NSW police members executed a search warrant at the man’s home on 5 November 2021, where they seized multiple communications devices, fake identity documents and cannabis.


Australia win the first Test against Sri Lanka

Australia has thrashed Sri Lanka by 10 wickets in Galle, bowling the hosts out in a session and claiming their fastest victory in 20 years.

After starting the day with bat in hand, Australia took 22.5 overs to roll through Sri Lanka for 113 in their second innings with Nathan Lyon and Travis Head taking four wickets each.

David Warner then took four balls to chase down the five required for victory in the fourth innings, handing Australia a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series.

More from AAP:


Australian shares lose steam, dollar hits two-year low

The Australian share market has ended lower after giving up early gains as investors remain jittery over prospects of a global recession, AAP reports.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index dropped 28.2 points, or 0.43%, to 6,539.9 on Friday.

The broader All Ordinaries lost 26.1 points, or 0.39%, to 6,720.4.

Pressure on demand-tracking commodities such as oil and copper resulted in weakness in the mining and energy sectors, which offset gains in financial, tech and consumer stocks.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar hit a two-year low of 68.25 US cents against a strengthening greenback at 1610 AEST, down from 68.82 US cents at Thursday’s close.

Fifth man tests positive for monkeypox in Victoria

Health authorities have issued a fresh alert after a fifth man tested positive for monkeypox in Victoria, reports AAP.

The man in his 40s is in isolation after travelling interstate and the Department of Health has begun contact tracing a small number of people.

Anyone with symptoms is being urged to seek urgent medical care.

Monkeypox became a notifiable condition in Victoria on Friday, meaning doctors, hospitals and laboratories must report suspected cases to health authorities.

There has been an international outbreak of the disease - which is rare outside Africa - in recent weeks.

Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, and exhaustion. Monkeypox is endemic in Central and West Africa and has also been identified in parts of Europe.

It is usually spread through contact with animals or consumption of wild game.


Albanese raises case of jailed Australian engineer with Iraqi leader

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has raised the case of jailed engineer Robert Pether with the Iraqi leader, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as the Australian’s family warns he has become “gravely ill” and is rapidly deteriorating in his Baghdadi jail cell.

Pether has now been imprisoned for more than 14 months following a commercial dispute between his engineering firm and Iraq’s central bank, which had hired Pether’s company to help build its new Baghdad headquarters. Pether’s family say he is innocent and the trial was unfair and compromised.

Australian businessman Robert Pether was arrested after a commercial dispute between his engineering firm and Iraq’s central bank.
Australian businessman Robert Pether was arrested after a commercial dispute between his engineering firm and Iraq’s central bank. Photograph: Supplied by family

His family have become increasingly desperate and have implored the Australian government to do more to secure his release.

Guardian Australia understands Albanese last week raised the Pether case during a discussion with Kadhimi, a move that drew praise from Robert’s wife, Desree, who said it was a marked departure from the former government’s approach.

Read more:


North Korea blames Covid outbreak on balloons sent over its border with the South

North Korea has blamed its Covid-19 outbreak on balloons sent over its border with the South by groups of defectors, in an apparent attempt to shift the blame onto its neighbour.

After two years of insisting that it had not recorded a single case of the virus, the North admitted its first infections on 12 May, sparking fears of a public health disaster in the impoverished country.

On Friday, the country reported that 4,570 people were newly displaying fever symptoms, bringing the total caseload to 4.74 million. Health authorities refer to fever symptoms rather than Covid-19, apparently due to a shortage of testing kits. The North has reported only 73 deaths.

The official KCNA news agency said on Friday an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old child who had touched “unidentified materials” in the eastern county of Kumgang in early April showed symptoms and later tested positive for Covid-19.

“A sharp increase of fever cases was witnessed among their contacts and that a group of fevered persons emerged in the area … for the first time,” it said.

Read more:


Kiribati is embroiled in a constitutional crisis after the government suspended its chief justice, leaving the judiciary in disarray as experts raise concerns about the rule of law.

The move escalates an ongoing controversy over separation of powers in the Pacific nation, after Kiribati’s only other high court justice, Australian David Lambourne, was suspended in May.

On Thursday the chief justice, distinguished New Zealand judge William Hastings, was due to begin hearing a legal challenge brought by Lambourne. The suspended judge was seeking initial orders restoring his salary and facilitating his return to the country, ahead of a constitutional challenge to the suspension.

Yet rather than begin the hearing, Hastings read out a letter from the government stating that he too had been suspended with immediate effect pursuant to the Kiribati constitution. The remarkable development was first reported by the Kiribati Newsroom.

The stated reason for the suspensions of Hastings and Lambourne are allegations of misbehaviour, with a tribunal established to investigate.

Read more:


Labor and union heavyweights issue statement to mark 30th anniversary of Australian superannuation system

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the country’s superannuation system, and four Labor and union heavyweights have released a joint statement commemorating “one of Australia’s greatest assets”.

Former prime minister and treasurer who enacted the scheme, Paul Keating, former Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Bill Kelty, as well as current treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers, and ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, on Friday said that “nothing speaks more powerfully to the reform courage and foresight of the labour movement than the legacy of super”. They said:

Over those three decades, superannuation has grown from around $148 billion to over $3.4 trillion held by around 16 million Australians, helping improve the living standards of Australia’s retirees, broadening and deepening Australia’s capital markets and contributing to the growth of the Australian economy.

This was a transformational moment for Australia and for future generations of Australian workers, breaking the back of the balance of payments, turning Australia into a net capital exporter, and reducing the cost of capital for businesses.

The statement also calls out the Liberal party for its attitude towards super, both during its inception and in recent times.

Their heart wasn’t in it then, and it isn’t in it now.

Australia’s universal workplace right to financial dignity in retirement is unique to our nation and is the envy of the world.

We must never take it for granted and always defend it.


National Covid summary

Here are the latest coronavirus numbers from around Australia today, as the country records at least 33 deaths from Covid-19:


  • Deaths: 1
  • Cases: 1,169
  • In hospital: 138 (with 4 people in ICU)


  • Deaths: 9
  • Cases: 10,930
  • In hospital: 1,558 (with 41 people in ICU)

Northern Territory

  • Deaths: 0
  • Cases: 302
  • In hospital: 17 (with 2 people in ICU)


  • Deaths: 6
  • Cases: 5,313
  • In hospital: 597 (with 14 people in ICU)

South Australia

  • Deaths: 3
  • Cases: 2,781
  • In hospital: 227 (with 7 people in ICU)


  • Deaths: 0
  • Cases: 1,303
  • In hospital: 47 (with 4 people in ICU)


  • Deaths: 12
  • Cases: 8,057
  • In hospital: 472 (with 23 people in ICU)

Western Australia

  • Deaths: 2
  • Cases: 5,072
  • In hospital: 217 (with 10 people in ICU)

Flood-hit NSW regions prepare for torrential rain as BoM issues severe weather warning

Communities in New South Wales that were hit by heavy flooding earlier this year are bracing for days of torrential rain as the east coast prepares for an intense wet spell.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for heavy rainfall for the Sydney metropolitan, Illawarra and central tablelands districts, as a surface trough is expected to remain stationary over the weekend.

Six-hourly rainfalls of between 80mm to 150mm are possible, with the warning of heavy rainfall likely to last into Sunday, potentially bringing with it flooding along the east coast.

It coincides with the start of school holidays in some states, throwing travel plans into chaos. Authorities have warned residents to reconsider any plans.

Members of the public take shelter from the rain under umbrellas in Sydney
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for heavy rainfall for the Sydney metropolitan, Illawarra and central tablelands districts. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

At a press conference on Friday, Jane Golding from BoM said the focus of the weather system will be on Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra, while adding that landslips and flash flooding was also possible:

“So we’re expecting some locations over the next few days and even tomorrow could see what they would normally see in the entire month of July fall in one day.

“We know that the landscape is vulnerable at the moment and the water can move quickly down the slopes and through the waterways, so flash flooding, riverine flooding and landslips.”

Minor to major flood warnings have been issued for parts of the mid-north coast, including along the Colo, Hawkesbury, and the Upper and Lower Nepean rivers.

Minor to moderate flooding could also hit the Goulburn and Upper Hunter rivers, the Shoalhaven River and St Georges Basin.

The BoM has advised residents who live along these rivers to stay up to date with weather forecasts and of any potential flood warnings.


Home Guarantee Scheme’s revised property price caps to apply from today

The expanded property price caps of the federal government’s Home Guarantee Scheme come into effect from today, with about 40,000 first home buyers and single parents expected to benefit from the scheme which allows them to purchase a home with a smaller deposit.

The scheme has been expanded to include 35,000 places each financial year for first home buyers to purchase a home with a deposit of 5%, or, for 5,000 single parents with dependents, a deposit of as little as 2%.

The new property price caps which come into effect today have been updated to reflect surging property prices.

In Sydney and regional centres in New South Wales, the cap has increased from $800,000 to $900,000, and in Melbourne and regional centres in Victoria, from $700,000 to $800,000.

Julie Collins, minister for housing, said the Albanese government is “committed to introducing a suite of policies that will make it easier for Australians to buy a home and deliver more social and affordable housing”.

Further information on the scheme, including eligibility criteria and the full list of participating lenders, is available from the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation website.


Acting PM: we will stand up for national interest amid fading hopes of China reset

Australia’s acting prime minister has declared the government won’t take any “backward step” in pursuing the national interest, after Chinese state media said hopes of a diplomatic reset were “diminishing by the day”.

Richard Marles, who is acting in the top job while Anthony Albanese is in Europe, told Guardian Australia the new government would avoid “chest-beating” about China but admitted there may be limits to what a change in tone could achieve.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday that politicians should “stop making irresponsible remarks”, when asked about Albanese’s comments that China should learn the lessons from Russia’s “strategic failure” in Ukraine.

Read more from Marles’ interview with Daniel Hurst, Guardian Australia’s foreign affairs and defence correspondent:

Qantas ditches Sky News from airport lounges as ABC takes flight on 90th birthday

In what is a fitting 90th birthday present for the ABC, Qantas has inked a new deal with the public broadcaster for ABC news bulletins to screen on Qantas flights and in airport lounges.

The arrangement means Sky News Australia will no longer be screened in the airline’s lounges, a development that will please critics of the divisive pay TV channel.

Read more in The Weekly Beast, including Aunty’s stars party at Ultimo.


Ash Barty swaps the court for the fairway

Ash Barty has started her international sporting comeback – and it’s not a defence of her Wimbledon title.

As the tennis action continues at the All England Club, Australia’s retired world No 1 is on a golf course in New Jersey playing an exhibition tournament over two days.

The Ryder Cup-style Icons Series competition at Liberty National features international sporting celebrities split into Team USA and Team Rest of the World.

Barty, a talented golfer who has impressed the likes of Tiger Woods, is in the latter and has so far paired with Ricky Ponting and Harry Kane against American football names including Reggie Bush and Michael Vick.

After the first day of play, Team USA holds a 10-5 lead over Team ROTW.

Ashleigh Barty hits off the sixth tee during the Icons Series USA 2022 golf tournament, Thursday, 30 June, 2022, at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J.
Ashleigh Barty hits off the sixth tee during the Icons Series USA 2022 golf tournament, Thursday, 30 June, 2022, at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

The teams are thus:

Team USA: Fred Couples (captain), Michael Phelps, Michael Strahan, Ben Roethlisberger, J.R. Smith, Andrew Whitworth, Robbie Gould, John Smoltz, Marshall Faulk, Reggie Bush, Golden Tate, Michael Vick, Brice Butler.

Rest of the World: Ernie Els (captain), Ash Barty, Harry Kane, Canelo Alvarez, AB de Villiers, James Milner, George Gregan, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Yuvraj Singh, Ivan Rodriguez, Gavin Hastings, Alan Smith.


More on Queensland’s landmark report on women’s safety and justice

A major review has called for Queensland to adopt affirmative consent laws among sweeping reforms to the handling of victims of sexual assault and violence in the state’s criminal justice system.

The long-awaited final report of the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce includes 188 recommendations to improve experiences with the justice system.

They include calls for the state government to carry out a “comprehensive” community education campaign to address “rape myths” and for Queensland to adopt affirmative consent laws.

“Victim-survivors told us they want changes to the law about sexual assault so the focus is on the actions of the accused person, not what the victim said, did, drank or wore,” the taskforce’s chair, former court of appeal president Margaret McMurdo, said after the report’s released.

Read more:


I am informed that 500mm is a lot of rain.

Call for Queensland to move to affirmative consent model to tackle sexual violence

Queensland’s Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce has recommended a move towards an affirmative model of consent to bring the state in line with other Australian jurisdictions.

It was one of 188 recommendations included in the taskforce’s second report, Hear her voice, which was handed to the state’s attorney general on Friday.

The taskforce also recommended the government develop and implement “an adequately resourced” community education campaign to improve understanding about consent and sexual violence.

The Queensland government should also establish a victims’ commission as an independent statutory office to “protect the needs of victims of all violent offences”, the taskforce said.

Other suggestions were the development of a strategy to increase the use of the respectful relationships education program across all Queensland schools and to work with survivors and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to develop a model for a professional victim advocate service.


A week after Roe v Wade was overturned in the US, and just days before new abortion laws come into force in South Australia, parliamentarians are set to “mentor” young people at an anti-abortion event.

The Liberal leader, David Speirs – along with three others from his shadow ministry, the Labor minister Clare Scriven and other political leaders – will feature in a training day aimed at activating “a new generation to rise up and fight for the human rights of the unborn”.

The Greens MLC Tammy Franks said the move showed women could never take abortion rights for granted and was “chilling for anyone who believes in bodily autonomy”, while Speirs said he was “not an activist” for change.

The deputy premier, Labor’s Susan Close, said the “majority of the SA community and parliamentarians support safe, legal terminations of pregnancy”:

No one could want the US experience of division and heartbreak over this issue to come to our shores.

Read more about the issue here:

I’m Elias Visontay, and I’ll be bringing you the news for the next few hours.

Happy financial new year to those celebrating!

Off we go ...


And that’s where I’ll leave you this afternoon. I’m passing you over to the capable hands of Elias Visontay who, fuelled by pumpkin soup on this rainy Friday, will take you through the rest of the day’s developments. See you next week!

BoM updates floodwatch alert for NSW:


Queensland records six deaths from Covid-19 with 597 people in hospital

There were 5,313 new Covid-19 cases recorded in the past 24 hours, and 15 people are in intensive care.


The rain in Sydney is going to get worse

The Bureau of Meteorology has just issued a severe weather warning.


Albanese on ‘keeping private conversations private’

The PM says conversations with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, “will stay private” ahead of a meeting in Paris.


Australia’s median weekly rent is $508 – what can that buy you?

Bailey Perceval has been looking for a house in Melbourne’s inner north for six months. The 24-year-old has a budget of $600 a month, making most rentals completely unaffordable:

I’ve seen the median monthly rental price in Melbourne increase very quickly. So much so that most of my friends can no longer afford to live in metropolitan Melbourne.

There is no way Perceval could afford even a single-bedroom unit for that price, so like everyone else with that budget, it will likely be a share house. But the market is tight and finding the right place with good people can be difficult.

Perceval says:

I am seeking accommodation in the northern suburbs, and what I’ve noticed is that unless you’re willing to pay [at least] $800 a month, you’re not going to find somewhere sustainable.

Australia is in the midst of a national housing crisis, and the PropTrack director of economic research, Cameron Kusher, says rents have increased 9% in the past 12 months.

The median cost for an average dwelling nationally is now $508 a week, so let’s take a look at what that can get you:


VicRoads will be partially privatised, Victorian government announces

VicRoads will be partly privatised for a period in a bid to generate $7.9 billion for the state, AAP reports.

A consortium of Aware Super, Australian Retirement Trust and Macquarie Asset Management will run licensing and registration for the next 40 years, while the state government maintains ownership of the service.

The move is the result of a 15-month modernisation program that started last year. Funds raised will go into the Victorian Future Fund to manage pandemic debt.

The state government will continue to manage data, privacy provisions and essential fee prices, and will regain control of all operations after the partnership ends, treasurer Tim Pallas said on Friday:

This is not a privatisation in anybody’s language. We’re always looking to see how we can drive better services, better performance, but we will never divest the ownership of assets.

Independent integrity bodies, including the Victorian ombudsman, will still provide oversight.

Under the changes, learners and probationary licences as well as online testing will be made free.

Drivers who have not incurred demerit points or committed road safety offences in the three years prior to their licence expiring can also receive a 25% discount on their licence renewal.

Road safety minister Ben Carroll told reporters the state was “embedding a culture of road safety in Victoria”.


Women still behind on pay and leadership in NSW legal profession

New data has revealed a glaring pay disparity between men and women in the legal profession. Women are still being shut out of senior positions within legal firms and from the top pay bracket for solicitors in New South Wales, the data shows.

The NSW Law Society on Friday released its annual profile of the profession. It found “female lawyers continue to lag behind their male counterparts, as does the opportunity for women to advance to practice leadership positions”.

President Joanne van der Plaat said:

The Law Society is committed to working with the profession to assist law firms to develop ways of nurturing all their talent. What we as lawyers can celebrate is a younger, more culturally diverse and more gender diverse profession. There’s a way to go yet, but year by year, I think we’re seeing the profession in NSW growing to reflect more accurately the Australian community. That can only be a good thing.

The data shows women make up the majority of the state’s solicitors, yet account for just 33% of private practice leadership roles.

They also earn less in every age bracket. For solicitors aged 30-34, just 34% of women earned more than $150,000, compared with 41% for men.

In the 35-39 age bracket, just 26% of women earn more than $200,000, compared with 33% for men.

For those aged 40-49, only 23% of women earned more than $250,000. The figure was 34% for men.


Chris Bowen announces review into carbon credits scheme

Climate change minister Chris Bowen has officially announced the independent review into the carbon credits scheme.

A panel of four experts, led by Prof Ian Chubb, will review the scheme after experts questioned the integrity of credits used by companies to balance their books on emissions.

The review follows claims by an ex-chair of the federal emissions reduction assurance committee Andrew Macintosh that Australian carbon credits are a “fraud on the environment”.

Chris Bowen said in a statement:

Concerns have been raised recently about several aspects of Australia’s carbon crediting system, including the integrity of its key methods and the Australian carbon credit units issued under it.

The government wants to make sure it remains a strong and credible scheme supported by participants, purchasers and the broader community.

The review will achieve that goal.

You can read the full Guardian report on the review here:


Sydney commuters face ongoing train delays as strike action continues over concerns about safety issues on Transport NSW’s New Intercity Fleet trains.
Sydney commuters face ongoing train delays as strike action continues over concerns about safety issues on Transport NSW’s new intercity fleet trains. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Sydney commuters face ongoing train delays as strike action continues over concerns about safety issues on Transport NSW’s New Intercity Fleet trains.


Just call me Tony ...

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau appears to have forgotten Anthony Albanese’s first name, upon introducing him as “prime minister Albanese” at a media event in Madrid on Thursday.

According to News.com.au, Trudeau then went on to call Albanese “Tony”:

It’s a real pleasure to be meeting with, ah, ah, ah … a … great … progressive leader. We’re really, really excited to have … ah, a … friend in Australia. Australia has been a long-time friend. We’ll be talking lots with, ah …. with Tony and all our friends in Australia.

I mean, look, “Tony” isn’t all that far off the mark – it’s not quite classic Joe Biden, after all:


Telehealth cuts – how will they affect you?

On the cuts to telehealth subsidies, our reporter Caitlin Cassidy is looking for people to speak to who might be affected by this. If this is you, please do reach out to her.


Cross-party statement on 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China

Today marks a quarter-century since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule as a Special Administrative Region of China, and the halfway mark of the promised 50 years of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.

The co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, Labor MP Peter Khalil and Liberal senator James Paterson, have released a statement decrying, in their words, the “direct undermining” of One Country, Two Systems by Beijing.

Australia has long maintained close ties with the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong became a world-leading international business hub because of its openness, its rights and freedoms, its independent judiciary and rule of law. Australians and Australian businesses have contributed significantly to, and benefited from, Hong Kong’s success.

Hong Kong’s success was underpinned by the commitments made by the Chinese government in the 1997 UN-registered Sino-British Declaration which guaranteed the region’s autonomy, through the One Country, Two Systems arrangement.

As we mark this anniversary, we note with deep concern the rapid erosion of Hong Kong’s unique autonomous status since the passage of the national security law two years ago.

During this period there has been a direct undermining of the One Country, Two Systems arrangement including the diminishment of the rule of law, democratic rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary.

We have seen an alarming pattern of suppression; arrests of pro-democracy figures, and their prosecutions under the national security law, as well as the curtailing of Hong Kong’s independent legislative authority.

Hong Kong has held a special place for many Australians as a city of vibrant culture, commerce and civic freedoms.

The people of Hong Kong have shown immense courage in striving to protect and uphold the freedoms that have enabled their prosperity and stability over generations.

We once again urge the Chinese government to uphold and protect human rights and freedoms and fulfil their commitments made before handover.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has issued a statement along similar lines, excoriating China’s leadership for the hastening erosion of democratic freedoms:

It is now evident that Hong Kong and Beijing authorities no longer view democratic participation, fundamental freedoms and an independent media as part of this vision.

In 2019, millions of Hong Kongers joined public protests to oppose controversial extradition legislation. Beijing’s response – the National Security Law – set the stage for an erosion of autonomy and dismantling of the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents over the last two years. Authorities have jailed the opposition, with many imprisoned for more than a year.

Hong Kong’s leaders have raided independent media organisations, shuttered museums and removed public works of art, weakened democratic institutions, delayed elections, prevented vigils, disqualified sitting lawmakers, and instituted loyalty oaths. Government officials have spread disinformation that grassroots protests were the work of foreign actors. They have done all of this in an effort to deprive Hong Kongers of what they have been promised.



There’s a little penguin on Twitter pushing a big idea: Victoria should secede from the rest of Australia.

While Western Australia has always harboured the fantasy of breaking away from federation, going as far as holding a successful but invalid referendum in 1933, the idea of a Victorian secession – “Vexit” to its proponents – recently emerged among a group of friends during the state’s second extended Covid lockdown in 2021.

Together they created the Victorian Independence Movement and its respective Twitter account, which has a modest, albeit engaged, 1,500 followers at the time of writing.

With a straight face, it proposes “breaking free of the failed Australian federation”. It diagnoses “Sydney brane” – a so-called affliction among the political and media class that makes them believe nothing happens in the country until it happens in the New South Wales state capital – and pokes fun at the “treasurer for NSW”, a phrase coined by the now member for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, to describe Josh Frydenberg.

Among its members is Douglas Holgate, the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling children’s series, The Last Kids on Earth, who designed the movement’s penguin mascot.

Read more here about the little penguin that could:


Victoria records 12 deaths from Covid-19 with 472 people in hospital

There were 8,057 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, and 23 people were in intensive care.

NSW records nine deaths from Covid-19 with 1,558 people in hospital

There were 10,930 new Covid cases recorded over the past reporting period, and 41 people are in intensive care.


Shipbuilder Austal working to fix problems in patrol boats supplied to Pacific nations

The company that builds the Guardian-class patrol boats supplied to Pacific island countries has promised to work with Defence to fix problems with the exhaust systems.

In a statement issued this morning, a spokesperson for Austal said:

Austal is working with the Australian Department of Defence to develop both temporary rectification measures and a long-term solution to an emerging issue with the exhaust systems on the Guardian-class patrol boats constructed by Austal. The supplier of the vessels’ exhaust systems is also providing technical advice to both parties.

In addition, Austal is working with its supplier to prevent the issue from occurring on Guardian-class vessels under construction.

Australia has so far given 15 Guardian-class patrol vessels to regional neighbours, starting with the delivery of one to Papua New Guinea in November 2018.

Seven further boats are in the pipeline: one each for PNG, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands and Samoa, and two for Timor-Leste. For more on this issue, see our story from this morning:


Australia’s bushfire season now lasts for 130 days a year

New research has found the bushfire season has lengthened by almost a month in the past four decades.

In the south-east of the country, where forests and communities are still recovering from the unprecedented Black Summer bushfires of 2019 and 2020, there are now 11 extra days where the risk of fire is at its most extreme, compared with the late 1970s.

Even if global heating can be kept to 1.5C – the most ambitious temperature goal under international climate agreements – Australia’s fire season will continue to lengthen, the study published in the Reviews of Geophysics found.

Dr Pep Canadell, a climate scientist at CSIRO and a co-author of the study, said:

These numbers are confronting. We no longer have a stable fire regime.

Read the full story here:


Mark Butler on end of pandemic leave payments

Here’s a little more from health minister Mark Butler’s interview on ABC radio this morning, captured by AAP.

Pandemic leave payments have ended as of today but infected people must still follow directions to isolate at home for a week.

Butler said the federal government does not have the financial capacity to continue funding what were intended as emergency payments. He told ABC radio:

We’re going to have to start to moving towards more normal programs that support the Australian community and people have been on notice about that for some time.

Asked if people without sick leave would go to work with Covid if they didn’t have access to the government support measure, Butler said he “hoped not”.

We can’t continue forever to fund from the budget the gaps in the labour market that exist.


House prices continue to decline nationally

Our intrepid economics correspondent Peter Hannam flagged this week that house prices were going to take a tumble, and so they have.

CoreLogic released its home value index this morning, showing a second consecutive month of value declines in June, down 0.6%, to be 0.2% lower over the June quarter.

That’s been driven partly by Sydney house prices dropping by 1.6% last month (and 2.8% over the quarter) and dropping in Melbourne by 1.1% over the month.

Housing values were also down in Hobart and regional Victoria.

This edition of the index has captured the Reserve Bank’s 50 basis points increase in the cash rate, its second hike in as many months.

Commonwealth Bank’s head of Australian economics Gareth Aird told AAP:

Home prices have begun their descent.

He expects a further 0.9% decline in national home prices for June.

The home value index posted its first fall since September 2020 in May, led by declines in Sydney, Melbourne and Australia’s second most expensive property market Canberra.

Still, over the past year, national house prices were up 14.1%.

CoreLogic’s research director Tim Lawless argues it is not just interest rates that are making their mark. Since prices peaked in May 2021, consumer sentiment has soured, hitting its lowest level since April 2020 and the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Queensland expands plastics ban

The mass release of balloons will be a thing of the past in Queensland and days could be numbered for takeaway coffee cups as the state moves ahead with a ban on plastics, AAP reports.

Polystyrene packing for peanuts, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbeads will all be banished from September 2023 under a new five-year plan.

The balloon ban will target the mass release of lighter-than-air varieties from next year, while new minimum standards will be introduced for heavy plastic bags.

They’ll soon have to be tested for reusability and how they can ultimately be recycled, environment minister Meaghan Scanlon said.

More than 90% of Queenslanders back tightening restrictions on single-use plastics, government survey results show.

The state began phasing out lightweight plastic shopping bags in 2018 and last year outlawed a range of products including straws, stirrers and expanded polystyrene.


It’s great to see so many businesses already taking voluntary measures and going beyond our bans, and it is time to support those voluntary commitments and strengthen our actions in the fight against plastic pollution.

We understand these changes can have an impact on businesses and we will work with them to ensure they are ready.

The roadmap also aims to phase out other single-use plastics, including disposable coffee cups.

An innovation challenge will get under way soon to investigate potential replacements and the state hopes to work with other jurisdictions with an eye to a national approach in coming years.

Potential bans on bait bags, bread bag tags, takeaway containers and sauce sachets will also be investigated.


Blockade Australia calls off Sydney CBD protests

Climate activist group Blockade Australia has called off its organised protests in NSW, AAP reports.

The group spent Monday and Tuesday protesting in Sydney’s CBD, blocking traffic, which resulted in multiple arrests. On Wednesday a picnic held in Tempe by the activists as a “rest and recharge” event was also targeted by police.

Organising activists said on their Telegram channel yesterday:

We have made the hard choice to end the mobilisation and wait until next time when we are bigger and stronger.

We call on people to continue to take disruptive climate action in any way they can.

The group thanked those who had taken part in the disruptions on Monday and Tuesday, saying:

We have endured extreme state repression. It has challenged our plans and further exposed what Australia will do to protect its own interest. We are tired but not broken, and moved by all the solidarity and support.

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has called the activists “bloody idiots”, saying their actions did not aid their cause.

Protesters who disrupt major roadways, ports and railways can be charged with newly legislated penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine of $22,000.

A total of 32 people have been arrested since NSW police set up Strike Force Guard in March to prevent, investigate and disrupt protests.


Australia ‘deeply concerned by continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s rights’

Penny Wong, minister for foreign affairs, released a statement last night saying Australia remains “deeply concerned” by the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s rights.

This came as China’s President Xi Jinping arrived in Hong Kong to attend the inauguration of the city’s new chief executive, and the 25th anniversary of Britain returning Hong Kong to Chinese rule.


Australia remains deeply concerned by the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and autonomy, two years since the imposition of the National Security Law.

The National Security Law has been applied broadly to arrest or pressure pro-democracy figures, opposition groups, the media, trade unions and civil society. The electoral reforms imposed by Beijing in 2021 have further eroded Hong Kong’s democratic governance.

We urge the Chinese Government and Hong Kong authorities to uphold and protect those elements which have been so crucial to Hong Kong’s success, including its high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino-British Declaration, to which Beijing committed.

Many Australians know and love the city of Hong Kong and its people. Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, and we reaffirm the importance of those freedoms that have enabled its prosperity and stability.

Helen Davidson has more on the events that precipitated the statement and the context to Xi’s visit here:


NSW rail union pushes ahead with industrial action

Sydney commuters are in for a “very messy day” as the NSW rail union pushes ahead with industrial action that will take out 70% of the train fleet, AAP reports.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has been locked in long-running stoush with the Perrottet government over a new Korean-made Intercity fleet, which it says is unsafe.

While the government has signalled it could be prepared to spend $264m to modify the fleet, the union says it has refused to sign an agreement confirming it will fix the safety issues raised by train drivers. The union said on Friday:

This will be the fourth time the government has offered to make the changes, announced the changes, and then backtracked as a result of internal politics.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW secretary Alex Claassens said during a meeting with the government yesterday, elements of the modification offer had been taken off the table:

I’m just not sure where we go from here but our members are resolute. We are going to continue fighting to get these trains made safe, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Protected industrial action planned for today is going ahead, which will see train drivers refuse to operate foreign or privately made trains. This means only 30% of Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink services will be operating.


It’s going to be a very messy day. It’ll be a weekend timetable with other trains taken out of it.

Transport minister David Elliott said yesterday that the government had offered railway workers $3,000 bonuses:

The families of the railway workers right now could be having $3,000 deposited in their account, instead of having that money spent on modifying perfectly good trains.

But Claassens described the payments offered to railway workers, to get the fleet on the tracks without modifications, as “bribes”.

Sydney commuters have been advised to expect significant train delays and cancellations. A flow-on effect is likely to impact people travelling to Sydney airport and on buses.


Acting PM on cost of living: wage boost a ‘step in the right direction’

While we were listening to the health minister, the acting prime minister Richard Marles was on ABC News Breakfast, talking about the cost of living. He doesn’t offer much that we haven’t already heard on this issue over the last months, to be honest – it’s a challenging time, wages have stagnated, it’s going to take time to fix. Here’s a sample:

There are a lot of challenges that are facing the nation, as you have articulated. This is a difficult problem to work through. A starting point for the government was to focus on wages because wages had been flatlining over the last nine years under the Liberals. We had flatlining productivity under the Liberal government and the fact that the minimum wage has gone up today, which is a result of the government arguing for exactly that wage increase with the Fair Work Commission, that is a really important step for our lowest paid. It will be the better part of $2,000 a year for those who need that money the most and those people who had worked so hard to get the country through the pandemic.

It doesn’t solve everything and we are not pretending it does but it is a step in the right direction and what you know with a Labor government is we will fight for wage increases and we are going to be doing what we can to address the cost of living challenges.


Mark Butler won’t say if he supports Medicare-funded abortion

Mark Butler is asked whether he supports Medicare-funded abortion. He does not directly answer the question. Instead of yes (or, indeed, no), he says this:

Well, I think you’re right to point out that there are very different arrangements and these services are largely provided for free of charge. And there are differences not only between states, but obviously between regional communities who will always have more difficulty accessing health services than the big cities.

You know, the women’s health strategy that was put in place in 2020 identifies equitable access to reproductive health including termination services, game measurement, and I’m working with Ged Kearney on ways in which we can actually put those words into practice.


Telehealth change

He’s now being asked about the government scrapping Medicare rebates for telehealth consultations longer than 20 minutes. The Australian Medical Association has said this will disadvantage vulnerable Australians.

Mark Butler:

What we’re saying is is a decision of the former government that telephone consults for a very long consult, so over 20 minutes, with your doctor will end on the 30th of June. That was originally intended to end last year but there was a six-month extension granted by the by the former government. Now it’s important to say that if you have a longer consult with your GP remotely, you can still do that over video. There are very clear cases for for a for a better clinical outcome if you can actually see your doctor.


Third wave of Covid coming, minister warns

Mark Butler says we need to prepare ourselves for case numbers to increase again, and encourages people to get a vaccine booster if they haven’t yet (booster rates are still far, far lower than double doses):

If you’ve had two doses, and even if you’ve had a case of Covid BA.1, you are potentially susceptible to reinfection over coming months. All of the health authorities do expect there to be a third wave overcoming months. I think the impact on our hospital system, whether there’s a greater severity, is still not really well known. We’re still trying to understand this subvariant ... But we do need to prepare ourselves for another wave of increased cases.


‘We’re still dealing with a very serious phase of the pandemic’

Mark Butler is asked why he hasn’t requested an investigation into the vaccine rollout. He says:

I want to be looking forward. I want to make sure that we’re prepared overcoming satellite maps for the rest of this year and into 2023. Given what we can at least predict is going to happen with this this virus mutating and what’s going to happen in the vaccine and treatments market. There will of course, come a time, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, to look back and examine. Very broadly, our pandemic response for that time is not now. We’re still dealing with a very serious phase of the pandemic.


Vaccines must be ‘fit for purpose’, minister says

Health minister Mark Butler is speaking on ABC RN about the future of vaccine availability in Australia. He says he wants to ensure that Australia’s arrangements are “fit for purpose”:

I’m absolutely committed to making sure that we remain on the front foot, getting priority access to the newest versions of vaccines and treatments for the Australian people over the coming 12 to 18 months ...

I’ve asked Jane Halton to conduct to make sure that the arrangements of the former government structure to see vaccines and treatments coming into Australia over the coming months are going to remain fit for purpose. As I said, this virus is mutating and also new vaccines are coming on to the market as well.


Good morning

It’s Friday, huzzah! That doesn’t mean the news has stopped, though.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese is in France where he’ll meet with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, later today in an attempt to mend the rift between the two countries after the Morrison government unceremoniously dumped a $90bn submarine deal with France last year. We’ll bring you more on that as it develops.

Back home, Chris Bowen, the climate change minister, is to announce today that Prof Ian Chubb, a neuroscientist and former vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, will lead a six-month review of the carbon credit scheme, after a whistleblower described it as “largely a sham” and waste of taxpayer money.

Pandemic leave payments will cease from today, which means that people who contract Covid-19 or have to miss work to go get tested, care for a loved one or isolate, will no longer be eligible for the $750 payment. The measure was introduced by the previous federal government, who announced last September that it would cease at the end of this financial year – a decision the Labor government has decided to uphold.

Federal health minister Mark Butler will meet with his state and territory counterparts later today, after the government ordered a review into the previous government’s handling of vaccine contracts. They’re also expected to talk about ways for more people to access antiviral drugs, particularly those people in vulnerable groups.

There’s stacks more happening today so stay tuned. As always, if you see something you think needs my attention, you can email me at stephanie.convery@theguardian.com or find me on Twitter: @gingerandhoney.

Let’s get this done.


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