What we learned today, Friday 3 February
That’s where we will leave the blog for today. Thanks to everyone who tuned in. Here’s what made headlines:
The Strengthening Medicare report – a Labor election promise – was released today, committing $750m to implementing its reforms. Health minister Mark Butler admitted healthcare cannot be ‘fixed in one budget’ while the AMA called for urgent increases for doctors.
In a show of unity, the prime minister and state and territory premiers have officially backed an Indigenous voice to parliament after Friday’s national cabinet meeting in Canberra.
Anthony Albanese has flagged a substantial update of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws as he warned of the dangers posed by rightwing extremists and “so-called sovereign citizens”
More than 5,000 Australian aged care residents have died with Covid since the start of the pandemic, with the number of reported deaths increasing sharply since the beginning of the year.
Coles and Woolworths have been ordered to dump more than 5,200 tonnes of soft plastic – currently being stored at warehouses across New South Wales – into landfill.
The NSW government has again announced regulations to allow flood-plain harvesting licences to be granted in New South Wales, despite the Upper House rejecting similar proposals four times previously.
The independent MP Monique Ryan and her chief of staff Sally Rugg have reached an agreement that prevents the political staffer from being imminently sacked.
John Barilaro has been given 24 hours to explain his office’s involvement in a $100m bushfire recovery grants scheme before the New South Wales opposition leader, Chris Minns, refers the matter to the corruption watchdog.
Have a great weekend, everyone.
John Barilaro’s assault charge dismissed by NSW magistrate on mental health grounds
A magistrate has dismissed an assault charge against former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro on mental health grounds, AAP reports.
Barilaro pleaded not guilty to a charge of assaulting a camera operator and damaging their property outside a Manly restaurant in July 2022.
He was leaving a dinner with friends when he saw cameras waiting outside, telling media he did not wish to be interviewed, the court was told.
The matter was due to be heard in September, however Barilaro’s lawyer Danny Eid applied to Sydney’s Downing Centre local court on Friday to have his charges dealt with on mental health grounds.
More on this story here:
Severe thunderstorm warning for north-east NSW
The weather bureau is warning there will be severe thunderstorms in north-east NSW with potentially damaging winds and large hailstones.
The state will get some reprieve on Saturday, however, with a thunderstorm-free day expected across NSW, the bureau said.
Bipartisan support for NDIS despite increasing costs
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is being reviewed to ensure it is operating as intended, but state governments have not confirmed whether they would be willing to increase their funding share, AAP reports.
Projections show the scheme will cost $8.8bn more over the next four years, and by 2025-26 it is expected to cost as much as $50bn a year.
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said while the costs of the scheme were increasing “at an extraordinary rate” there was bipartisan support for it continuing.
There is support across the parliament but we will look at ways … of how it can operate effectively to ensure that the people it was designed to support get the support that they need.
Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said state and federal governments had a shared interest in ensuring the scheme was viable and could continue.
We often talk about costs but we should not lose sight of the benefits of the scheme as well. This is about changing lives and saving lives.
This is not a cost. It’s an investment in [Australia] being a fair place, a decent place.
‘Flood the inboxes of local Liberal MPs’: Uluru statement from the heart organisation
The Uluru statement from the heart organisation is asking supporters to “flood the inboxes of local Liberal MPs” and Peter Dutton, as they seek to persuade the opposition to join the campaign to support the voice to parliament referendum.
The referendum working group met Liberal leader Dutton yesterday, and have hopes of winning him over. The Indigenous Law Centre at the University of NSW has sent an email, signed by Uluru dialogue co-chairs Megan Davis and Pat Anderson, saying “it would be great to head to the referendum with bipartisan support”.
The email reads:
Individual Liberal MPs are out in their communities now, gauging the support of people in their electorates before they head back to Canberra next week. Have they heard from you?
It goes on to suggest people write to their MPs and Dutton, including using a form on the Uluru statement’s website to send emails quickly.
The website reads:
We know the Voice will have the best chance of success if we achieve multi-partisan support. The Liberal party has said they will be making a decision on their support for the Voice in February so now is the time for those who live in Liberal electorates to tell your local MP that you want them to support it.
It also recommends people write directly to Dutton if they don’t live in a Liberal electorate.
Murray flooding breaches levee in SA
The Murray River has breached a levee south-east of Adelaide with a number of homes at risk of flooding, AAP reports.
The State Emergency Services says water is flowing into an area behind the levee at Wellington, affecting at least one street.
It says crews are working with council officials to support local residents.
River levels along the length of the Murray are continuing to drop with more restrictions being eased upstream and flooding falling to minor levels in some areas.
Along the lower Murray, a significant amount of water is still present, and levees remained under pressure, the SES said.
A watch and act warning remains in place for those areas.
The SES said:
Water safety risks continue with strong currents and debris in the water. You should monitor your situation and are urged to remain vigilant.
Murray Valley encephalitis virus detections widespread across inland NSW
NSW Health is warning communities living in the state’s western and southern inland areas to protect themselves against mosquito bites as detections of Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) increase.
Acting executive director of Health Protection NSW, Dr Paul Douglas, said detections in sentinel chickens – used for surveillance of viruses – suggest that virus levels within mosquito populations are high and there is potential for the virus to spread to people.
Only a small proportion of people infected with the virus will have any symptoms, which include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and muscle aches. Among those who get a severe infection, lifelong neurological complications or death can result.
Signs of severe infection include severe headache, neck stiffness, sensitivity to bright lights, drowsiness, confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness.
There is no vaccination or specific treatment for MVE, Douglas said. He urged people to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, which are most active between dusk and dawn.
Avoiding mosquito bites will also protect against other mosquito-borne infections including Japanese encephalitis, Ross River Fever and Barmah Forest virus.
Referendum engagement group meets senior politicians to discuss campaign
The latest communique from the referendum engagement group has been released with senior Indigenous politicians meeting to discuss how the referendum campaign will begin.
The group also discussed combating misinformation, driving up Indigenous enrolment rates, and the experiences from the marriage equality vote in 2017.
Joining the referendum engagement group this afternoon for the meeting were the minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney; federal attorney general, Mark Dreyfus; Patrick Dodson, the special envoy for reconciliation and the implementation of the Uluru statement from the heart; and the assistant minister for Indigenous Australians, Malarndirri McCarthy.
They politicians updated the group on how things are going with the constitutional amendments as well as the proposed referendum question and machinery legislation which will need to be passed.
The yes campaign organisations also gave an update on their work and how they will further build the public’s understanding and support for the referendum during the “Week of Action”, and beyond later this month. The Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers also spoke about how they will be tackling the lower voter participation rates among First Nations people.
Equality Australia also spoke to the referendum group about that campaign’s “resilience” and its experiences during the marriage equality campaign.
The referendum group will be meeting again in March.
Federal failure to mandate recycling targets partly to blame for soft plastics sent to landfill, Peter Whish-Wilson says
The federal greens are frustrated by news that more than 5,200 tonnes of soft plastic are now destined to end up in landfill.
Coles and Woolworths have been ordered to dispose of the soft plastic currently being stored at 15 locations across New South Wales.
The NSW Environmental Protection Authority warned the plastics were being dangerously stored at 15 locations, due to the suspension of the botched recycling initiative REDcycle.
Greens senator, Peter Whish-Wilson, is also placing blame with the federal government:
It’s an inconvenient truth, but the federal government’s failure to hold big companies to account for creating plastic waste, and its failure to mandate recycling targets, is to blame for recyclable soft plastics sent to landfill as a result of REDcycle’s collapse.
The federal government needs to enforce all plastic producers to use a much higher percentage of recycled plastics in their products.
Yet successive governments have allowed big producers of plastic to set voluntary waste reduction targets, without any penalties or threats of regulation. This is infuriating for Australia’s recycling companies, who’ve been calling for mandated waste reduction targets so they have certainty needed to underpin investment in and upgrades to recycling infrastructure.”
The NSW EPA has asked supermarkets to either dispose the waste in landfill, reprocess it, or export it internationally.
But landfill is the only viable option as other nations are unwilling to accept contaminated soft plastic, and that volume of plastic cannot be reprocessed in Australia at the moment.
The National party has effectively hamstrung the will of the parliament: Cate Faehrmann
More on the news that the NSW government has again announced regulations to allow flood-plain harvesting licences to be granted in New South Wales.
The Nature Conservation Council’s chief executive, Jacqui Mumford, said:
It’s clear that the Perrottet government is under the spell of big corporate irrigators. Why else would it ignore the fact that this disastrous regulation has been disallowed in the Upper House more than any other piece of legislation?
Licensing such huge volumes of flood-plain harvesting water, and legislating obscenely generous rules is locking in the rapid downward spiral of the iconic Darling-Baaka River and our internationally recognised wetlands. These rules allow accounts to accrue to 500% of the licence volumes. The approach is completely unsustainable.
NSW Greens spokesperson for healthy rivers and water sustainability, Cate Faehrmann, said:
The National party has effectively hamstrung the will of the parliament by introducing these regulations now knowing that we will have no opportunity to vote on them until well after the election.
We all want to see flood-plain harvesting licensed, metered and measured, but it needs to be ecologically sustainable and within existing legal limits.
The NSW Irrigators’ Council has been pushing for the licensing regime because there is now legal uncertainty about the practice of harvesting flood-plain water. Many farmers have been taking this water for decades, without any charge.
However there is growing evidence of reduced flows of between 20 and 30% in the Murray-Darling River system.
Labor could revoke the licences if it wins the election in March, but this could trigger compensation to large irrigators.
NSW government announces regulation to grant flood-plain harvesting licenses
The NSW government has again announced regulations to allow flood-plain harvesting licences to be granted in New South Wales, despite the Upper House rejecting similar proposals four times previously.
The regulations were gazetted today. Because parliament will not sit again before the election, the regulations cannot be disallowed by a combination of the Labor party, Greens and minor parties.
A parliamentary inquiry found that the licences, which allow farmers to use levees and channels to harvest flood waters moving across the flood plains of north-west NSW, were based on inadequate science about the impact of the practice on the Murray Darling basin.
PM flags overhaul of Australia’s counter-terror laws to combat ‘real threat’ of rightwing extremism
Anthony Albanese has flagged a substantial update of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws as he warned of the dangers posed by rightwing extremists and “so-called sovereign citizens”.
The prime minister said after a national cabinet meeting in Canberra on Friday that the “premeditated, calculated murder” of two police officers and a neighbour in rural Queensland in December showed the need for action to protect community safety.
He also expressed hopes of making progress by the middle of the year on implementing a national firearms register.
Our Josh Butler and Daniel Hurst have more on this story here:
Medicare report contains promising elements, but reform must go further: peak body for GPs
The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has weighed into the Medicare reforms announced by the Albanese government today, warning more action is needed to secure the future of general practice care.
RACGP’s president, Dr Nicole Higgins, said the Strengthening Medicare taskforce report was promising but more investment is needed in general practices to fix the years of underfunding and neglect.
Medicare rebates have not kept pace with the costs of providing high-quality care and the Medicare rebate freeze ripped billions from the sector. General practice is the answer to relieving pressure on the entire healthcare system, including our overburdened hospitals, and improving the health and wellbeing of people in communities everywhere.
The report said the responsibility for caring for patients should be shared across primary health care teams, but Higgins said GPs must be at the centre of caring for patients:
The devil is in the detail here. If the current model is broken and GPs – the specialists in coordinating complex care, with well over 10 years’ training in diagnostics, treatment, and quality care – are no longer at the centre of care management, patient care will be compromised. We need GPs working hand in glove with allied health professionals, pharmacists, and practice nurses, and they should be supported within general practice, with GPs as the stewards of patient care.
Assault charge against Nick Kyrgios dismissed after he admits shoving ex-girlfriend
Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios has had an assault charge dismissed by a magistrate after he pleaded guilty to shoving over his ex-girlfriend in 2021.
The tennis star fronted the ACT magistrates court on Friday where a bid to have the assault charge thrown out on mental health grounds was rejected.
But magistrate Beth Campbell threw out the charge, accepting the seriousness of the matter was “low-level” and indicating Kyrgios was not at risk of reoffending.
Read more here:
Supermarket giants ordered to dump soft plastics into landfill
Coles and Woolworths have been ordered to dump more than 5,200 tonnes of soft plastic – currently being stored at warehouses across New South Wales – into landfill.
The NSW Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that huge amounts of soft plastic are being dangerously stored at a number of locations due to the botched recycling initiative REDcycle.
REDcycle announced in November that it would pause collections at Woolworths and Coles. The suspension came after the Age reported that soft plastic items were being stockpiled by REDcycle, rather than recycled.
The clean up orders, first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, were issued on 31 January. The cost of removing the soft plastic stockpiles is estimated at $3.5m.
Here’s the NSW EPA’s chief executive, Tony Chappel:
Thousands of customers diligently collected soft plastics and dropped them into their local supermarket’s collection bin because they trusted their waste would be diverted from landfill and recycled.
The extent of soft plastic waste sitting in warehouses across NSW is very concerning and I know customers will be disappointed.
These stockpiles are stored from the floor to the ceiling, blocking entryways and preventing adequate ventilation, with the soft plastic estimated to fill about three-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The EPA has notified NSW Fire and Rescue of 11 “high-risk storage facilities” and requested the operators take immediate action to mitigate risk.
Coles and Woolworths have six days to respond to the EPA’s clean up orders.
Change to classification of psilocybin and MDMA to enable prescribing by authorised psychiatrists
Medicines containing the psychedelic substances psilocybin and MDMA can be prescribed for certain mental health conditions from July this year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has announced.
MDMA will be permitted for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression.
Only authorised psychiatrists will be allowed to prescribe the treatments.
The TGA said the decision acknowledges the current lack of options for patients with specific treatment-resistant mental illnesses.
Australia’s gun laws still don’t meet standards agreed 27 years ago: Gun Control Australia
Advocacy group Gun Control Australia says more needs to be done to tighten the nation’s firearms laws, after state and territory leaders agreed to explore options to create a national gun ownership register.
Leaders on Friday agreed to work towards a national firearms register to help police tackle gun violence. The December shooting of two young constables in Queensland has renewed the push for a national register.
But Gun Control Australia has released a statement saying states and territories are still not compliant with a national firearms agreement agreed on in the wake of the 1997 Port Arthur massacre:
Our gun laws still don’t meet standards agreed 27 years ago.
National cabinet must now quickly move to see all agreed safety measures implemented to protect Australian communities and police from gun violence.
The shadowy gun lobby with its undue influence in Australian politics has successfully picked off individual states and territories over time, weakening the agreement.
Medicare reforms ignore the fact that people in prison do not have access to Medicare: Lydia Thorpe
The Greens senator Lydia Thorpe has called for equal standards of healthcare between the general public and people in prison.
Thorpe said on Twitter:
The Medicare Taskforce Report completely ignores the fact that people in prison do not have access to Medicare, at all.
Emergency medicine peak body hopeful Medicare report will lead to ‘desperately-needed’ reimagining
The peak body for emergency medicine in Australia say it is hopeful the Medicare reforms will contribute to wider reforms needed to improve Australia’s struggling health system.
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) said the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report released today provides an overarching direction. But “it is now time to hit ‘accelerate’ on bringing all stakeholders to the table, to develop the detail and implement reforms”.
The college emphasised the important of ensuring the reforms improve links between primary healthcare and emergency departments, adding the promised improvements to My Health Record would help achieve this.
ACEM’s president, Dr Clare Skinner, said:
The entire health system is long overdue for reform, and we are hopeful that the broad principles and recommendations outlined in this report will lead to the reimagining that is so desperately needed to improve health outcomes for all Australians.
We need to see courage from all governments and decision makers to tackle longstanding issues and deliver the healthcare system that communities need and deserve. ACEM is ready and eager to work collaboratively with all governments, our colleagues across healthcare, patients, carers and communities to achieve the necessary reforms.
Monique Ryan reaches agreement with chief of staff Sally Rugg over sacking, court told
More on the news that the independent MP Monique Ryan and her chief of staff, Sally Rugg, have reached an agreement that prevents Rugg from losing her job.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers’ principal, Josh Bornstein, said:
Ms Rugg and I are pleased with the outcome today. The issues at the core of Ms Rugg’s substantive complaints are deeply important to her. She notes that the 2021 Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into commonwealth workplaces and the subsequent Set The Standard report demonstrated that these issues are important to many staff across commonwealth offices of the federal parliament.
In an application to the federal court, Rugg accused the commonwealth of “hostile conduct” and claimed Ryan caused her to be terminated for refusing to work “unreasonable” additional hours.
Rugg also applied to the court for an injunction to keep her job with the member for Kooyong, alleging a breach of the Fair Work Act’s general protections provisions. She had been due to be terminated from the position on Tuesday.
Our Nino Bucci has the full story here:
Sydney family escapes fire caused by e-scooter
Around 15 people were evacuated from a five-storey apartment complex in Sydney’s Liverpool last night after an e-scooter caught fire in one of the units.
According to Fire and Rescue NSW, nobody was injured and the toxic smoke produced by the fire was contained to the apartment.
The emergency comes after five people suffered burns and smoke inhalation after an e-scooter caught fire at a home in Brisbane.
The superintendent of Fire and Rescue NSW, Adam Dewberry, warned people to take care. He said the service is seeing the number of fires caused by lithium ion battery-powered equipment increase.
You need to take sensible precautions, including purchasing reputable brands from proven retailers, always buying equipment that meets Australian standards and always using and charging in accordance with the manufacturer’s specification.
Greens pitch free public transport to NSW voters
All forms of public transport should be free, transport services should be put back into public hands and pets should be allowed to catch a ride too, the NSW Greens say.
AAP reports the party outlined its transport policies on Friday ahead of the NSW election in March, claiming the state’s public transport system needs a reboot.
The Greens’ transport spokesperson, Abigail Boyd, said:
The trains are overcrowded, the buses are slow and the ferries are too expensive. Under the Greens’ plan, public transport would be fast, affordable, accessible and reliable.
The policy proposal includes allowing pets on board on all buses, trains and ferries and fast-tracking accessibility upgrades.
The party is also proposing the winding back of privatisation deals and creating more unionised jobs by supporting electric bus manufacturing.
It’s not enough to say no more privatisation, we need to be actively working to reverse this privatisation and making a clear commitment to not renew a single contract.
293 tonnes of soft plastic discovered in Melbourne warehouses
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has uncovered another four warehouses in Melbourne storing a total of 293 tonnes of soft plastics that was meant to be recycled.
EPA is investigating the suspended soft cycling program REDcycle. There are now 14 confirmed sites storing soft plastics in Victoria.
EPA’s CEO, Lee Miezis, said the discovery of the new sites showed EPA’s determination to prevent risk to our communities and environment from pollution and waste.
If not stored safely, soft plastics can pose a fire risk. Businesses need to manage this risk using controls such as built-in fire suppression systems, storage size limits and minimum separation distances between stockpiles.
Albanese government should put an end to a controversial gas drilling project, Greens say
More on the news that the former prime minister Scott Morrison’s decision to halt a gas drilling project off the coast of NSW could be overturned.
The Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson has taken to Twitter calling for the Albanese government to put a “proper end to this destructive project”.
During last year’s election campaign Anthony Albanese publicly opposed Pep-11, but talk is cheap. Now his government has the power to stop it, he should put a proper end to this destructive project.
The independent member for Mackellar, Sophie Scamps, has also shared her thoughts on Twitter on the potential for the decision to be overturned.
To be clear, the community of Mackellar & the Northern Beaches will NEVER accept drilling for oil & gas off our beaches. Nor do we accept it anywhere in Australian waters. Our focus should be on the future and investment in renewables.
Morrison’s offshore drilling veto could be overturned
A controversial call by the former prime minister Scott Morrison to halt a gas drilling project off the NSW coast could be overturned by the federal court, AAP reports.
The federal government and energy company Asset Energy have agreed to end their legal battle over Morrison’s decision by proposing consent orders to the federal court.
Asset Energy launched a legal challenge to the Pep-11 decision last year, saying Morrison had breached the requirements of procedural fairness and that he was not validly appointed as the responsible minister of the joint authority.
Morrison used additional powers he had gained by swearing himself in as resources minister to intervene in the Pep-11 decision and veto it in 2021.
Petroleum Exploration Permit 11, known as Pep-11, is a petroleum well off the NSW coast between Wollongong and Newcastle, covering about 8,200 square km.
If the court accepts the orders, Morrison’s decision would be overturned and put back to the Commonwealth-NSW Offshore Petroleum Joint Authority for consideration, the federal government said on Friday.
The resources minister, Madeleine King, said she was glad the government was able to reach a resolution with the energy company:
I assure Australians that any decisions that I take as the federal minister for resources will always be based on sound evidence and in accordance with the law.
The decision was criticised by the NSW Greens MP Sue Higginson, who called it an unreasonable project, universally opposed by communities from the Northern Beaches through to Newcastle:
The NSW government must recommit to opposing Pep-11 and work with their federal colleagues to resolve this dangerous gas plan once and for all.
No plans to reform Medicare levy but changes to rebate on the table: health minister
Going back to Medicare, time to clarify something the health minister, Mark Butler, said.
Responding to a question about changing the Medicare levy (the tax that helps fund Medicare), he said nothing was off the table – but after we asked a follow-up question, Butler clarified that he had misheard the question and thought he was being asked about the Medicare rebate for GPs.
To confirm: the minister said there were no plans to reform the Medicare levy, but said the Medicare rebate was on the table.
There should be a retrospective indexation of Medicare rebates, AMA president says
Robson said more money needs to be invested in general practices, but didn’t say how much the Medicare rebate should be increased.
We need to get back to a point where it’s affordable for all Australians and it’s viable for general practices to actually function as businesses.
What we’d liked to have seen today is an announcement that there’ll be a retrospective indexation of Medicare rebates for consultations that would reflect the cost of care, having accounted for the fact that it’s been frozen and hasn’t been indexed for years.
AMA president says medical funding is ‘good starting point’ but surprised at lack of agreement
Robson said $250m per year over three years is a very good starting point, but he said he was surprised there was not more in the report.
We had the most powerful political leaders in the country all in one room. It doesn’t seem they could agree on anything.
In regards the planned expansion of multidisciplinary care, he said there is a need to build a “medical home”.
We think that … other allied health professionals certainly have a role to play and can certainly work at the top of their scope. But the way to do that is to build a team, not a silo.
So having, for example, pharmacy prescribing where a pharmacist is not qualified to diagnose anything at all, in their own silo, prescribing, just doesn’t make sense. There’s a very good reason that there is a natural break between prescribing … and dispensing [and] we don’t think that breaking that silo adds anything. In fact, it just adds another layer of complexity and potential cost.
Nothing in Medicare report will provide immediate relief: AMA president
The president of Australia’s Medical Association Prof Stephen Robson is now giving his thoughts on the Albanese government’s Strengthening Medicare taskforce report:
The problem is there is absolutely nothing in the report as released today that will allow Australians who are struggling to see a GP or struggling to afford to see a GP to see that GP any more quickly, any more affordability, and Australians who are waiting for operations and surgery to relieve pain and so on, to have these procedures any more quickly.
So, while the report is very welcome and certainly has changes that will strengthen the system that we know, there is absolutely nothing in the report at the moment that will provide anything immediate, and that is what we need.
Thanks for your attention this morning, Jordyn Beazley will be taking you through the rest of today’s news. Have a lovely weekend!
Emergency department ‘lightning rod for every failing elsewhere in the health system’, minister says
Coming back to Butler’s press conference, he says:
What’s new about today is the depth of interest by jurisdictions, including premiers and chief ministers, not just in hospital funding, but in how the primary care system is operating, as well as linkages to aged care and disabilities.
Because they understand that those pressures are ending up on their doorstep.
The emergency department ends up effectively as the lightning rod for every failing elsewhere in the health system. If you can’t get care in an aged care facility or in a general practice, too often you end up in an emergency department.
At the opportunity for questions following the national cabinet announcements, our own Josh Butler also asked the PM if could expand on the federal efforts to tackle rightwing extremism and sovereign citizens.
Could I ask for an update on the terrorism law reforms that [home affairs minister] Clare O’Neil has flagged previously? What is your concern specifically with rightwing extremism, sovereign citizens and the Queensland shooting. Do you consider that an act of domestic terrorism?
Albanese says he’s always cautious to speak publicly about the national security issues of the home affairs minister’s portfolio “before they have gone through proper processes.”
That work is certainly underway and is substantial.
… I attended the funeral service of the victims who were murdered. It was one of the most moving things that I’ve done in my life and I think that when you have people who are on the front line every day, our police officers murdered, these young people, young man and young woman. The catastrophic premeditated, calculated murder that occurred there on the basis of a warped ideology, then it requires us to do what we can to keep the citizens we all represent safe.
Hence the report this morning from Mr Burgess, that went into details that I won’t go into here, but we know that the threat is real and tragically, we have seen the consequences of it.
There is responsibility to deliver disaster funding where it’s needed, not politically, PM says
Here’s what the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, had to say on the issue of the auditor general’s report into bushfire recovery grants.
On the audit report into bushfire grants in New South Wales – which are partly federal government funded – do you think that that was the way that disaster relief should be delivered? Or do you trust the states to deliver such money? And do you agree with [the] New South Wales Labor leader, Chris Minns, that the matter should be referred to Icac?
Well, I think that disaster relief should be distributed on the basis of need. That’s my starting point. And, quite clearly, it shouldn’t be politicised.
And my government – in terms of how we’ve worked with all of the state and territory jurisdictions – has done that. We’ve provided support across the board and, I think if you look at where the support has gone – whether it be in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia.
I don’t think I’ve been into a Labor electorate in that entire time federally that I’ve been the prime minister in making substantial announcements except perhaps Bendigo, would be the exception to that. We all have a responsibility to deliver where it’s needed, not to deliver politically.
More on the auditor general’s report here:
Ex-minister ‘incredulous’ at auditor general report into NSW bushfire grants
The former New South Wales Liberal minister, Andrew Constance, is “incredulous” following the release of the scathing auditor general report into bushfire recovery grants.
The former Bega MP said those communities that were still rebuilding following the 2019 and 2020 fires would be devastated and someone needed to answer for the problems outlined in the report.
He told 2GB:
Accountability is really important for fire victims. That’s why I’m speaking now. You’ve got to remember this is against the backdrop of issues with charity money, we had issues with business grants ... and now this.
He said the then deputy premier John Barilaro “100%” needed to explain what had happened in his office.
When this type of report drops, it’s really important to just get an understanding of what’s happened and the explanation behind it.
He said he did not want to see pork barrelling.
Butler says the the third message from the taskforce is the need to do better on digital health. Butler gives a shout-out to GPs he says are using My Health Record well.
We have almost countless different clinical information systems operating at state level, commonwealth level, and in different parts of the private sector. And they generally don’t talk to themselves at all or, if they do, they don’t talk to themselves very well.
My Health Record is now used by 23.5m Australians. But again, the former government did not allocate a single dollar to the My Health Record system beyond June 30. If we’re not able to find new money to continue the My Health Record, you’ll have to dust off your fax machines, because the whole of the e-health system in Australia will fall over.
In addition to having to continue the funding for My Health Record, if genuinely it is going to be the centrepiece of a connected digital health system, we have to improve its functionality.
Currently, it’s pretty outdated, clunky, pdf format system that needs to be able to underpin a real-time, fully integrated digital health system. So we recognise that the commonwealth has the first responsibility to move here and to upgrade the nature of the My Health Record.
But we also need other health professionals to connect to it. General practitioners, pharmacies, are very good at this. About 99% of them or more are connected to My Health Record and upload to it regularly. Only 11% of specialists do. Only about 20% of diagnostic imaging - X-rays and CT scans - are uploaded to My Health Record.
Butler moves onto speaking about the second theme, which he says is to provide more wraparound care from primary healthcare teams. He says the need to employ and use nurses and allied health professionals is “perhaps the most significant recommendation from the taskforce report.”
The needs of patients today are very different to the needs of the 1980s. Back then, most presentations to a GP were episodic, relatively short, and were to deal with a point in time or a short period in time need from a person’s healthcare perspective.
Now we’re dealing with much more chronic disease, ongoing need, and older Australians who tend to have more than one healthcare condition.
The recommendations from this report are firstly the critical need to use our health workforce more fully, and to allow all of our healthcare professionals who are trained at vast community expense to operate at the full scope of their practice, to use all of their skills and all of their training rather than being restricted by outdated regulations and, frankly, too often, turf wars between different groups within the healthcare system.
The task force also recommends much better support for general practices and other primary care businesses to be able to employ and use nurses and allied health professionals - a very clear, perhaps the most significant recommendation from the taskforce report.
Butler says the “key messages from the taskforce report are very clear.” The first message is about creating better access to care.
The first message is we need to improve access to general practice and primary care.
We need to improve access after usual office hours. The former government did not allocate a single dollar to support general practice operating beyond 6:00pm after June 30. All of the after-hours programs that for many, many years have allowed general practice to offer patients care after 6:00pm into the night all finish on June 30. Their last budget before the election contained not an additional dollar. So we will obviously have to respond to that.
The report also recommends better access for Urgent Care.
It recommends the ability for GPs to be able to bill for longer consults - particularly reflecting the more complex, chronic nature of so many presentations from their patients. Sometimes in the area of mental health, but we know from advocates who’ve talked to us over so long that particularly women dealing with family violence and a whole range of associated health issues often need to spend more time with their general practitioner than just 40 minutes. Longer consults is a clear recommendation of this report.
Sustainable models of care for rural and regional Australia that have really been at the pointy end - those communities have been at the pointy end of the crisis in general practice. As happens in so many government service areas, they experience those shortages and those gaps in services that are now afflicting big parts of our major cities as well.
And finally in the area of access, the need to strengthen the relationship between patients and their primary care team - really strengthening and, in many ways, formalising that relationship - is a key recommendation from the taskforce.
The health minister, Mark Butler, has now stepped up for the press conference giving details about how $750m that the government had allocated to the taskforce’s recommendations will be allocated:
We have $220m in infrastructure grants to strengthen general practice - practices that work so hard to keep us safe and healthy over the last few years of the pandemic, but deserve, frankly, more than just the thanks of their government - they deserve some investment to ensure that they can deliver modern healthcare, particularly in the area of modern digital health.
We’ve got 50 urgent care centres that will be rolled out over the course of this year.
And in the October budget, we’ve already announced $160 million in additional investment to strengthen rural and regional - particularly remote - general practice as well.
This report and the recommendations contained in it will guide the deliberations of government between now and budget to frame particular investments needed to deliver our commitment to rebuild general practice and, more broadly, strengthen Medicare.
Circling back on Medicare - health minister Mark Butler welcomed the Strengthening Medicare report as a key component of the commonwealth’s health reform agenda, backing its recommendations of “patient centred care” and “an expansion of multidisciplinary care”.
The report doesn’t address, however, the spending of the $750 million that the government had allocated to the taskforce’s recommendations. The minister is holding a presser at 12.30 and we expect he’ll be asked about that detail.
Butler said in a statement:
The report recommends supporting this with new blended funding models, integrated with the existing fee-for-service model, allowing teams of GPs, nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals to work together to deliver the care people need.
The taskforce found that strengthening primary care with a greater range of health professionals working to their full scope of practice will optimise use of the health workforce across a stretched primary care sector. This will deliver increased access to healthcare and improved equity of outcomes in rural, regional and remote areas.
In addition to giving health bodies the power to work to “their full scope”, Butler said it also calls for “a greater role for primary health networks, including to commission nursing and allied health services to bolster general practice teams” in rural areas.
Butler said the $750 million would be allocated through the budget process in May.
Police say they detained three people outside the funeral of George Pell on Thursday.
The event drew protests, including a march by LBTQ+ campaigners and a silent protest by clergy abuse survivors. Despite a heavy police presence, the scene quickly turned ugly with Pell supporters shouting abuse at protesters.
Police said in a statement that they detained two men and a woman. They were moved on and not charged.
Police did not say whether the detained individuals were anti-Pell protesters or Pell supporters.
Three people were detained during the operation for breaching the peace; the two men and one women were moved-on from the area and no charges were laid.
Police said they also seized one offensive sign from a woman.
Treasury releases consultation paper on regulating crypto market
We brought you the news earlier about the federal government’s first step towards regulating the cryptocurrency market.
The treasury department today released a “token mapping” consultation paper that will be used to determine where the different pieces of the cryptocurrency market fit under existing laws – and where the gaps might be.
It’s just the first step. The paper notes there will be another consultation in the middle of the year before the government will embark on any policies and consumer protection measures.
That will offer small comfort to the tens of thousands of customers caught up in the collapse of exchange FTX and subsequent administration of Digital Surge.
Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has said the consultation paper amounts to a “new pamphlet” when urgent licensing is needed for the sector.
This is needed to protect consumers and promote investment.
He said the government should use the existing consultation the former Morrison government did in March 2022 to release a draft bill for consultation instead of starting again and “putting Australia in the slow lane”.
On Monday, we reported that the regulator - the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) had been looking into FTX in the months up to its collapse, and is currently investigating potential breaches of corporation law.
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet told the press conference he is satisfied with what’s been achieved at the national cabinet meeting today.
We know bulk billing is on the decline, people are sometimes paying up to $100 just to see a GP. Will you consider increasing the rebate and Premier Perrottet? You said this morning you wanted today’s meeting to culminate in a road map to a better health system. Do you feel satisfied that you have achieved that today?
I do … at the next national cabinet, there will continue to be a substantive discussion on the practical measures in relation to better integrating the primary care health system and the public health system run by the states and territories. Areas like pharmacies and giving greater opportunities for medications and prescriptions, urgent-care clinics.
I agree with the prime minister and it is not about dollars and cents, it is about what is the best health system possible? Let’s put patients at the centre of that system, integrate the networks better and in a more efficient way and work out the funding arrangements off the back of it.
If you start with funding you won’t get an outcome. Today we discussed a range of issues in respect of that. Everyone is on the same page and going forward, with the fact that health care will be the number one issue for national cabinet for the next 12 months.
Here are some of the recommendations from the Strengthening Medicare taskforce report:
Support general practice in management of complex chronic disease through blended funding models integrated with fee-for-service, with funding for longer consultations and incentives that better promote quality bundles of care for people who need it most.
Strengthen funding to support more affordable care, ensuring Australians on low incomes can access primary care at no or low cost
Improve access to primary care in the after hours period and reduce pressure on emergency departments by increasing the availability of primary care services for urgent care needs.
Modernise My Health record to significantly increase the health information available to individuals and their healthcare professionals (as per our story this morning)
Work with states and territories to review barriers and incentives for all professionals to work to their full scope of practice (this is in the context of, for example, a push for nurse practitioners and pharmacists to take on some of the duties currently exclusively for GPs)
Taking questions, Albanese told reporters he would “take action” on the report, not just sit on it until April when national cabinet will be considering further health measures.
Strengthening Medicare taskforce recommends expansion of multidisciplinary care
The Albanese government has released the Strengthening Medicare taskforce report, which sets out a recommended pathway for significant reforms to strengthen Medicare and rebuild general practice.
Patient-centred care is central to the recommendations of the report, supported by an expansion of multidisciplinary care as the key to managing the health of an older population with more complex and chronic disease, according to a statement released by the health minister, Mark Butler.
The report recommends supporting this with new blended funding models, integrated with the existing fee-for-service model, allowing teams of GPs, nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals to work together to deliver the care people need.
The taskforce found that strengthening primary care with a greater range of health professionals would improve access to healthcare and equity of outcomes in rural, regional and remote areas.
The government has committed $750m to deliver the highest priority investments in primary care, in line with the recommendations of the report, which will be included in this year’s May budget.
Our government has committed $750 million to the Strengthening Medicare Fund, which will be the start of a major revamp of the primary care system.
This is an important foundation for the work to come in modernising and improving Medicare.
The improvements they have identified are aimed at making sure every Australian can get the high quality care they deserve.
You can read the report for yourself here.
Albanese says national cabinet also discussed mobilising superannuation funds into housing supply.
We also had a discussion about housing, and first ministers discussing the national housing accord that has been agreed to by the commonwealth, state and territory governments, the Master Builders Association and other organisations, including how we mobilise funding, including of superannuation funds into the supply of housing. We all know that supply is something that needs to be addressed. In addition, it is noted the improvements that are being made, and will continue to need to be done on issues such as affordable and social housing, as well as emergency housing.
Pat Turner, the lead convener of the Coalition of Peaks, talked to national cabinet about Closing the Gap.
It was a really constructive discussion.
All of the state and territory jurisdictions agreed that Pat Turner would address their cabinets respectively around the country this year to talk about whole of government at the state and territory level responses, to closing the gap in service provision.
Also as well, we agreed to re-sign the national agreement that was signed in 2020.
National cabinet agrees that a firearm registry is ‘necessary measure’, PM says
The Queensland premier led the discussion around a national approach to firearms following the Wieambilla shooting incident late last year.
Albanese says the national cabinet has agreed that a national firearm registry is a “necessary measure.”
Following the tragic events in Queensland, that we saw with the murder of the police officers, we heard from Premier Palaszczuk firstly about the circumstances there.
As a result of a discussion we held last night agreed to invite the director general of Asio, Mark Burgess, along, to talk about the rise of right-wing extremism in particular, the so-called sovereign citizens and other issues as well, and we had a high level national security briefing on that for the premier and chief ministers.
I reiterate that the commonwealth will always make available our senior national security advisers to state and territory governments, to deal with the challenges that are there of keeping people safe and protecting our internal security issues as well, right around the country.
It is clear we need to do better with jurisdictions when it comes to fire arms was that as part of the issue that has been identified in Queensland and we agreed we would report back by the end of the year. The attorney general has my counsel on the options to implement a national firearms register, and it is agreed that would be a necessary measure.
The key going forward is to better integrate health systems, PM says
Albanese says the national cabinet has agreed that health reform is a “first priority issue for 2023”.
On health reform, the national cabinet has agreed that this is a first priority issue for 2023.
We will meet again in late April and consider further measures on top of what we already have been doing as a national cabinet, and the work that different jurisdictions are doing, along with the Commonwealth, including noting the $400m investment in primary care pilot program that we have begun to roll out, and the urgent care clinics that will be up and running by the end of this year.
We also noted an update by the Australian health practitioner regulation authority on their work being undertaken by Robin Crux, looking at health professionals and how we can get more efficiency in the system.
We all understand the challenge that is there for improving our primary health care networks, how that interacts with the hospital system, and there is absolutely a commitment to work on policy outcomes as the starting point. What is the right policy, what is the right structure, rather than looking simply at allocation of funds.
We know that the key, going forward, is to better integrate the systems, so that patients are what it is all about, better healthcare, and we know that the earlier the care is provided, the cheaper that care will be as well, and that is a common position, which we have, and will be prioritising that throughout 2023, again, with the next meeting being in late April.
Today, we received the Strengthening Medicare task Force report that has within it really practical measures going forward as well.
PM addresses media following 'collaborative' national cabinet meeting
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, is speaking in Canberra following the national cabinet meeting which he said was “very collegiate and collaborative.”
He starts off giving more details about the statement of support for the voice, which the state and territory leaders have signed:
Today, all first ministers, in recognition of our commitment for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s first Peoples, and also with a voice to parliament being enshrined in our constitution, recommitted and signed up to a statement of intent to secure a successful referendum in the second half of this year.
State and territory leaders commit to working collaboratively to support voice
A short time ago, all state premiers and territory chief ministers signed a statement of intent committing “to working collaboratively to support a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament”, as flagged by my colleague Paul Karp earlier this week.
They include the Liberal premiers of NSW and Tasmania. The statement describes this as “a significant opportunity to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia in our Constitution”.
NSW records 88 Covid deaths, 1,031 people in hospital
There were 6,567 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and 19 people are in intensive care.
The numbers are trending downwards from 7653 cases and 94 deaths last week.
Tale of two cities…
Sydney and Melbourne are experiencing very different summer days, with a fourteen degree difference in temperature.
While Sydney is a sunny 31C , it’s a grey and rainy 17C in Melbourne.
PM to speak shortly following national cabinet
We’re expecting news out of national cabinet shortly on potential changes to Australia’s Medicare system. The Prime Minister will hold a press conference in Canberra with state and territory leaders soon (we’re hearing after 11.30am), where we expect to learn about the recommendations of the federal Strengthening Medicare inquiry, and what governments plan to do about it.
The Australian Medical Association is also scheduled to hold a presser around 12.30pm to respond to the announcement.
We’ll bring you all that as it develops.
Gun database on national cabinet agenda
A national gun database coordinating weapons registers across the states and territories will be pushed at national cabinet, AAP reports.
The discussion followed the fatal Queensland shootout which claimed the lives of two police officers and a good samaritan. Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, is leading the discussion, with the backing of other state premiers, on increased information-sharing between law enforcement agencies across jurisdictions.
Arriving at Parliament House before the talks, Palaszczuk said she was a “really keen” supporter of a national firearms register.
I’ll be raising it at national cabinet especially after the tragic deaths of (Constables) Matthew (Arnold) and Rachel (McCrow) that were felt right across Australia.
The national firearms registry will absolutely help - it will give agencies that opportunity to be able to log in and see who owns firearms.
Palaszczuk said she expected the support of her counterparts to get the database up and running.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said he backed the move, and that the establishment of a national register “has to happen”. He told reporters in Canberra:
We have to have fewer guns in our community and we have to have more easy tracing and tracking of guns across our community ... it’s a no-brainer.
For some background on this story:
Victoria records 70 Covid deaths, 144 people in hospital
There were 3,056 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and seven people are in intensive care.
This week’s stats mark fewer than half the 156 deaths recorded two weeks ago and nearly 2000 fewer cases than the 4912 recorded a fortnight ago.
Ambulance union backs expansion of pharmacists’ role in healthcare
The Victorian ambulance union has backed a proposal to allow all Australian pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics for urinary tract infections and other medical treatments.
At a crucial national cabinet meeting today the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, will push to expand a state trial for pharmacists to prescribe antibiotics. But GPs have warned it could result in over-prescription and worsen medicine shortages.
Danny Hill, secretary of the union, said he believed there was a need to consider the proposed plan:
There’s a place for it. We have 24-hour pharmacists so why wouldn’t you let them have an ability to prescribe an antibiotic and save someone a trip to hospital or a doctor down the track?
But it shouldn’t replace the work doctors are doing. It should be complementary ... if it’s late at night and someone can’t see their GP, then a pharmacist might be the way to go because it will save someone needing to call an ambulance or going to hospital.
Talks between Australia and UK end on a caffeine high
In the great tradition of sharing your coffee run with your bestie on social media, the foreign minister, Penny Wong, and her UK counterpart, James Cleverly, are ending their Aukmin talks declaring themselves the “best of mates.”
Brisbane reaches 30C before 9am as Queensland heatwave continues
The Bureau of Meteorology says the heatwave conditions will extend over much of eastern Queensland today and tomorrow. Brisbane reached 30C before 9am. The current temperature is 34.5C.
Father released by police after boy’s death in car
The father of a three-year-old Sydney boy who died after being left alone in a hot car has been released from police custody, AAP reports.
The boy could not be revived after being found in the car on Railway Parade in Glenfield in the city’s southwest on Thursday afternoon.
Police were told the child had been in the car throughout the day.
The vehicle’s owner, the child’s father, broke the car’s window to retrieve the boy before sitting nearby wailing and banging his head, the ABC reported.
The 45-year-old man was later taken to Campbelltown police station to be interviewed.
Today, police told AAP the man had been released from custody while officers continued investigating the death. He has not been charged with any offence.
Campbelltown, near Glenfield, hit a top temperature of 33.4C at 4.30pm Thursday, according to Bureau of Meteorology data.
Super tax concessions on par with entire aged pension and greater than NDIS, research shows
A new report from the Australia Institute today shows the cost to the federal budget of generous superannuation tax concessions ($52.6bn) is now on par with the cost of the entire aged pension ($55.3bn), and greater than the cost of the entire NDIS in 2022-2023.
You can read more about that report from Paul Karp:
The findings come as the government is preparing legislative reform to narrow the purpose of superannuation.
The assistant treasurer and financial services minister, Stephen Jones foreshadowed limits on generous tax treatment for multimillion dollar accounts on ABC News Breakfast this morning:
From our point of view, superannuation was established to provide retirement income for Australians, and we’ve had a look at it and we can see that there are a relatively small but significant number of accounts with, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars, some of them with tens of millions of dollars, in their superannuation.
…. The purpose of superannuation is to provide for retirement income. If people have got superannuation balances in excess of $100m or even $50m, I think it’s pretty hard to argue that that’s about retirement income. It might be about estate management, it might be about tax management, but it’s not about retirement income, and that really is not the purpose of superannuation.
While some in the industry are calling for the cap to be as low as $5m, Jones says the government is not going into the stakeholder consultation with a preconceived outcome.
But I’ve gotta say, you know, $5m is a lot closer to the purpose of superannuation than $100m. So, we’ll look at what could be the right number but it’s definitely something that we are considering.
Jones says the government will be launching a paper “very, very soon on the objectives of superannuation.”
The joint statement, issued by the Australian and the British governments after the meeting, also includes strong language about Iran:
Ministers reaffirmed their opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances for all people. The UK and Australia condemned in the strongest possible terms the actions of Iran in its politically motivated execution of British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari. Ministers called on Iran to cease the execution of protestors and the continued suppression of protests. Ministers committed to tackling Iran’s provision of weapons which are aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This provides further evidence of the role Iran plays in destabilising global security. Ministers agreed to continue to work with international partners to hold Iran to account, including through multilateral fora and targeted sanctions.
Other highlights from the joint statement - issued after the meeting in Portsmouth - include a pledge to “refresh the UK-Australia Humanitarian Partnership Agreement over the course of 2023, to strengthen our engagement in responding to future humanitarian crises”.
Ministers also “agreed to enhance collaboration on countering disinformation, including state-sponsored disinformation, given its impact on national security interests”.
And they recognised “the profound security implications of climate change” and “committed to reducing and mitigating the climate impacts of our respective defence activities”. That work will include a senior defence officials’ meeting this year to identify meaningful action.
Malinauskas welcomes Strengthening Medicare taskforce
Here’s what South Australian premier, Peter Malinauskas, told reporters about the state of Australian healthcare heading into the national cabinet meeting today:
It’s important to realise the size of the challenge when it comes to hospitals around the nation. Almost every single public hospital throughout the country is experiencing unprecedented pressure and there continues to be a growth and escalation on the cost of that service delivery.
We need to have a plan from the federal government about what is occurring at the front end, what is happening in Medicare, to prevent people ending up in the hospital system.
I’ve got to welcome what the Albanese government is doing in respect of the Strengthening Medicare taskforce, we think it’s a step in the right direction. But we do now need to see a degree of urgency to translate that into practical actions that the system can rely on.
CBA introduces new anti-scamming technology
The Commonwealth Bank (CBA) has announced it is introducing stronger measures to protect customers from scammers, becoming the first financial institution in the country to set up NameCheck technology.
It comes after Guardian Australia published calls for banks to better protect customers by introducing mechanisms that reduce accidentally misdirected payments, by checking the name of the payee’s account against other details given by the payer.
CBA’s Group Executive Retail Banking, Angus Sullivan, said:
Scammers are attempting to cause harm to our customers and the community every day and we are working hard to utilise our technology and customer insights to help keep their hard-earned money safe.
Consumer Action CEO Stephanie Tonkin welcomed CBA’s move and called on all Australian banks to quickly follow the CBA’s lead in enhancing protections against scammers for customers, but noted that more needs to be done.
Australians lost a staggering $4 billion to scammers last year and everyone in the country is being targeted by increasingly sophisticated scams - some of which could be stopped by the introduction of more robust customer identification systems.
It is completely unfair that individuals bear the full losses associated with scams when scammers must have access to bank accounts to succeed. The current lack of financial incentive for the banks to fix this has meant that improvements like this are too slow to be implemented across the sector.
As more Australians lose money to scammers the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) said they were seeing an increase in complaints.
In 2021-22, AFCA received 4,131 complaints in relation to scams, an average of around 340 a month. That was up 28 per cent on the previous year.
In the current financial year, this has increased to an average of 400 scam-related complaints a month.
AFCA’s chief ombudsman and chief executive, David Locke, said:
It’s not just the volume of complaints involving scams that is increasing, but also the sums involved. People are losing home deposits and retirement savings. We know that vulnerable people can be just as devastated by the loss of money they’d set aside for bills. This mustn’t continue, and we encourage all banks to consider what further steps they can take.
The joint statement issued by the Australian and the British governments overnight also includes some familiar language on China.
The ministers said they “re-iterated their strong opposition to any coercion or destabilising actions in the South China Sea, including the militarisation of disputed features” and “underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues without the threat or use of force or coercion”.
They also repeated a commitment to work together “to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international organisations, as a member where statehood is not a prerequisite and as an observer or guest where it is”.
The Australian and British ministers “reiterated their will to continue deepening relations with Taiwan in the economic, scientific, trade, technological and cultural fields”. The joint statement raised “grave concerns about severe human rights violations in Xinjiang” and “deep concern regarding the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights and freedoms”.
Minns calls for Barilaro to explain bushfire grants
New South Wales opposition leader, Chris Minns, will give former deputy premier, John Barilaro, 24 hours to explain why his office meddled in a $100m bushfire recovery grants scheme, before referring him to the corruption watchdog.
Minns told 2GB the former Nationals leader needed to explain why his office created new rules for the black summer scheme that saw Labor electorates miss out entirely.
If we don’t get answers today, and I mean in the next 24 hours, I do believe it needs to be referred to the Icac to determine what happened here.
It’s a basic fact of Australian life that if you’re in a disaster zone, and you need help from your own government, it will come - it doesn’t matter which party you voted for at the last election.
A report from the state’s auditor general found the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery program lacked transparency and Barilaro’s office had made decisions beyond its remit.
The Department of Regional NSW gave the then deputy premier’s office a list of 35 projects to be funded in a fast-tracked first round in 2020, listing their electorates, but the threshold effectively ruled out projects in areas held by the Labor party, the audit found.
The report said it was unclear why the department listed the electorates, as they did not form part of the selection process and that Barilaro’s office’s role in implementing a threshold “deviated from the guidelines”.
Aukus ‘will change Australia’s international personality’: Marles
The deputy prime minister and defence minister, Richard Marles, is heading from the UK to the US for further talks focused on Aukus, as part of preparations for an announcement next month. Marles will meet with the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, on Friday US time, following concerns raised by some US congressional figures about America’s own already-strained submarine production line.
The three countries have always been working to a March deadline to reveal exactly how Australia intends to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. The governments insist they remain on track to meet that timeframe – and the ABC reports that it could involve Anthony Albanese and the UK’s Rishi Sunak travelling to the US for a joint announcement with Joe Biden in March.
Marles made some comments about the significance of the project, after he and Penny Wong met their British counterparts Ben Wallace and James Cleverly in Portsmouth overnight. At their joint press conference, Marles said:
As I’ve said previously, this is a huge moment in our country’s history. This will change Australia’s international personality. It will dramatically build our capability and with that it will build our sovereignty. But the significance of Britain and America working together to help us have that technology is one which in international terms is also highly significant. And what it really means is that for us, our oldest relationship, a relationship which is characterised by deep people-to-people links, by a significant presence of Brits in Australia and Australians here in Britain. Through this, is now being given a contemporary expression and a very full agenda as we look to the future.
A journalist asked Wallace about his previous comments that the submarine build would be a truly collaborative project between the three countries. The journalist asked about the possibility of “a whole new class of submarine and something that will be common to all three nations” (something that has been a persistent topic of speculation). In response to the question, Wallace replied:
Well, I think you’ll have to wait for the Australian cabinet to make its final decision on their proposals and I think then, it is for Australia to reveal what options it settled for. Whatever the options are, and there are a range of them, you know, it is a joint endeavour. Whether that is the sharing of technology and the understanding of how to do it, the sharing of the build, or the sharing of the design. So, whatever option is chosen by Australia, it will be collaborative and that statement stands. But what those details are for the Australian government to set out at a time that it’s appropriate to do so.
Police float new anti-bikie laws in wake of major gang bust
Victoria Police have floated a ban on outlaw motorcycle gangs wearing club colours after multiple charges were laid against an alleged major organised crime scalp, AAP reports.
Fifteen people will front court on Friday after being charged by the Echo Taskforce as part of a probe into a large-scale Middle Eastern organised-crime syndicate operating in Melbourne.
Since launching an investigation in October 2020, police allege the group laundered money through property, companies and high-end vehicles.
Police raided more than 75 properties and seized more than $40m in assets, including about $2.2m in cash, a stolen $400,000 Porsche, five firearms and large quantities of heroin, ice and cocaine.
A 52-year-old Roxburgh Park man is alleged to be the head of the syndicate and has been charged with a multiple offences related to dealing with the proceeds of crime. He and a 32-year-old Broadmeadows woman have already fronted court.
In all, 24 people linked to the syndicate have been charged with a range of Commonwealth money laundering offences, including the 13 men and two women who will face Melbourne magistrates court today.
It comes as police push for new laws to crack down on bikie gangs wearing patches and badges with their insignias in public, bringing Victoria into line with Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.
The Victorian government is considering the move, alongside a number of recommendations as part of a review into criminal organisation laws.
A government spokesman said:
We commissioned the stage-two review of Victoria’s criminal organisation laws to ensure the laws on organised crime in Victoria are as strong as possible.
We’ll continue to work through the recommendations with Victoria Police to give them the tools they need to continue to deal with criminal behaviour.
Fire aboard cruise ship contained
The fire aboard the Viking Orion cruise ship docked at Sydney’s White Bay Terminal has been contained, according to Adam Dewberry from Fire and Rescue NSW:
Firefighters have boarded the ship. There was a fire in an accommodation cabin on level five of the ship.
The ship’s crew have contained this fire with firefighters from Fire and Rescue NSW, confirming that there has been complete extinguishment, and that the fire has not spread to those adjoining cabins.
As a precaution, levels five and level six of the ship have been evacuated. The remainder of the ship is maintaining its normal operation, that includes passengers disembarking to go on their scenic tours of Sydney throughout the day.
Two passengers were assessed by ambulance paramedics for smoke inhalation but they had not been transported.
We’ll continue to work with the ship’s captain and crew throughout the morning to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.
Australia, UK to update security treaty
Australia and the United Kingdom have vowed to update their existing defence and security cooperation treaty.
The plan to update the 2013 treaty is expected to lead to an “increased engagement by the UK in Australia and across the region”.
The idea is one of the outcomes of the meeting in Portsmouth overnight between Australian ministers Penny Wong and Richard Marles and their British counterparts, James Cleverly and Ben Wallace.
The joint statement issued after the meeting said the ministers “agreed to undertake a comprehensive refresh” of the treaty for the first time in 10 years because they recognised “that the complex and changing strategic environment requires an ever-closer security relationship“. The new agreement would “set the overarching conditions for our evolving defence relationship”, the statement said.
Meanwhile, the ministers also discussed the Aukus security partnership (which also includes the US). The statement said the ministers “commended the significant progress Aukus partners have made on developing the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability at the earliest date.”.
They confirmed that Aukus partners were on track to announce a pathway forward soon. They reaffirmed their commitment to setting the highest non-proliferation standards and to continue to work transparently with the International Atomic Energy Agency towards an approach that will strengthen the non-proliferation regime. They further welcomed efforts through Aukus to accelerate the trilateral development of advanced military technologies to meet our requirements to enhance capability and increase interoperability in the near term.
SA premier on poaching Sydney’s new year Test
South Australian premier, Peter Malinauskas, says he would support any proposition from his state’s Cricket Association to poach the New Year’s Test match from Sydney.
This is what he told reporters as he was arriving at national cabinet in Canberra:
In South Australia, we’ve got an amazing record of people turning out to sporting events.
I think we had double the crowd at the Adelaide Test that we saw in the Perth Test. We often have bigger crowds than in Sydney. And that’s despite having a far smaller population.
So, South Australians are passionate about their sport, they love their cricket, myself included. So, we stand ready to work with Cricket Australia to improve their product to more people around the country.
Cruise ship evacuated in Sydney after fire in three cabins
Approximately 850 crew members and passengers are being evacuated off a cruise ship docked in Sydney’s White Bay, after a fire has broken out in three cabins, Channel 7 is reporting.
Voice engagement group finalising educational materials
The government’s 60 member voice referendum engagement group meets in Canberra today. The group is in the process of finalising educational materials it will release during the national “week of action”, from 18 to 25 February.
Selwyn Button, a group member and chair of the Lowitja Institute, says they will soon release fact sheets and information in “very plain language” to help Australians understand the voice, the referendum and the timeline of the process.
Button, a Gunggari man, said “the opportunity to have the conversation more intensely about treaties will come up”.
Button says the Albanese government has committed to treaty processes after the voice referendum is successful.
What we have now is a significant opportunity for structural reform in the Australian Constitution, and that that opportunity of structural reform will inform what treaties look like.
Not just a single treaty, what treaties look like for First Nations people across the country.
And that structural reform is the piece that we’ve got an opportunity to create, and to get in the Constitution at the end of the year.
So we need to focus on that opportunity first, and then treaties will follow.
Button says questions will need to be resolved about whether there is one or multiple treaties, who will negotiate those, and on whose behalf.
It is very, very clear from the people that have been involved, that those conversations are about treaties. Because it’s about a treaty between government and a nation of people. It’s not a collective of people.
So in my case, as a Gunggari man from western Queensland, the conversation would be among Gunggari people about what a treaty looks like, not the collective Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander population.
Gas market volatility kills off $590m gas terminal
A significant project that could have supplied more than twice NSW’s annual gas consumption has been killed off over economic concerns, AAP reports.
A major gas import terminal project at the Port of Newcastle, that was said could one day supply up to 80% of NSW’s gas needs, is no more.
Energy Projects and Infrastructure Korea (EPIK) has declared the $589m project “economically unfeasible” and ceased development activities in September.
After an inquiry from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for its gas inquiry, EPIK said the “volatility of the international LNG market and high LNG benchmark pricing” had “placed a downward pressure on the economics of the project”.
It previously described the Newcastle terminal as its flagship project. The terminal was declared critical state significant infrastructure in August 2019 by then-planning minister Rob Stokes, and was expected to add 110 petajoules to NSW’s domestic market.
John Barilaro said in 2019 as acting premier:
The terminal could be operational by 2022-23 and provide supply for gas-fired power stations, helping to manage energy security during the period in which the Liddell power station is scheduled to close.
But EPIK never made it over the second planning hurdle - the filing of an environmental impact statement.
The ACCC warned the risk posed by conditions in the international LNG markets was not unique to EPIK. It said in its January report:
Rather, all the proposed LNG import terminals are exposed to this risk. It is possible therefore that other proposals could be abandoned, or delayed until conditions improve.
Victorian premier wants Medicare ‘fixed’ and greater role for pharmacists in patient care
State and territory leaders are starting to arrive at the national cabinet meeting.
Here is what Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said about how he believes one option is to allow pharmacists to provide more basic care, despite push back on this from the Australian Medical Association.
Some of this is not about money, it’s about better connecting systems, better connecting services, and making sure that we’ve got the right people with the best skills, and we make the best use of those skills. For instance, expanding the scope of practice, allowing community pharmacists to do more, to treat more patients and provide them with more care is one example.
Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, we’re all leading the way on that. And we think that, despite some opposition from some vested interests, it’s very important that we make the best use of the best skills.
Andrews also spoke about the need to recruit more overseas GPs and funding arrangements:
We need to work as a country rather than individual states and territories to recruit more overseas-trained GPs to come and work in our primary care system, and, yes, there will be more money needed, but the most important thing here is that good ideas, common-sense reform drives this first and foremost, and then we can fund it appropriately after that.
In terms of 50-50 funding for hospitals, we remain committed to that, but that’s not up for negotiation now. The federal government is exclusively responsible for Medicare, and unless and until we fix Medicare and get it back to what it used to be … then we will always have more pressure than we otherwise would have on our hospital system.
Assistant treasurer says further crypto regulation necessary to protect consumers
The federal government is looking at new steps to regulate cryptocurrency, with the release of a paper aiming to help the government decide which crypto assets are financial products and therefore require financial regulation.
The assistant treasurer and financial services minister, Stephen Jones, told ABC News Breakfast that crypto needs further regulation to protect consumers, to protect financial systems and to avoid criminal activity in the space.
We want to ensure that Australians investing in, or using, cryptocurrency can do so safely.
We want to ensure that the system is stable and that any problems in the cryptocurrency area doesn’t flow over into other areas of our financial markets.
And, thirdly, we want to ensure that cryptocurrency is not an easy avenue for international criminals to use to hide their nefarious activities. So, protecting consumers, protecting our financial system, and cracking down on criminals.
Dutton accuses Albanese of withholding voice detail for political gain
The government has been accused of deliberately withholding detail on its push to enshrine an Indigenous voice in the constitution for political reasons.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton and shadow attorney-general Julian Leeser were briefed by the referendum working group after calling for more information on the proposed voice’s make-up and function.
Dutton accused the prime minister of withholding details of the voice as a deliberate political strategy. He has told Nine’s Today program:
Like all Australians, we want to see a better outcome for the Indigenous people of our country.
We are willing to look at any measure to do that. There are lots of questions around the voice and lots of detail that hasn’t yet been provided.
The pressure continues for him to put it out so people can make an informed decision. Some models will work, others can’t.
Joyce defends turnbacks as proof of high safety standards at Qantas
The CEO of Qantas, Alan Joyce, has told the Today Show that the national carrier’s recent turnbacks reflect the company’s safety culture.
It’s not the airlines that do the turn backs that you should be worried about. It’s the airlines that keep on going to the destination and don’t make that turn back.
This is what happens with aviation across the world. And it’s an important part of the safety management system. I would rather there be not, but again I encourage our pilots to do this. I applaud them when they do it.
It shows that Qantas and the aviation industry in Australia is one of the safest in the world because this happens.
Read more about this issue from our transport reporter, Elias Visontay:
Leeser says government wants to see local and regional bodies ahead of referendum
RN Breakfast host Patricia Karvelas tries to call Leeser up on what more he needs to know when he was so heavily involved in the co-design process under the former Morrison government.
You co chaired the Joint Select Committee with Senator Patrick Dodson. In that joint committee, you listened to many hours of evidence and read the submissions and you recommended a pathway forward. The voice co-design process was one of your recommendations. And of course, the referendum Council led to the Uluru statement from the Heart. It was all appointed under Malcolm Turnbull’s government. What more could you possibly seek to try and understand Julian Leeser, when you were actually a co author of the process we’re currently in?
That Joint Select Committee that Pat Dodson and I chaired recommended a process of care design that happened and reported in the in the middle of 2021. And they had some recommendations for a local, regional and national voice. In government, the Morison government adopted the proposals for the local and regional voice. We lost the election, Anthony Albanese became prime minister, and instead of adopting the local and regional voice, he said we would have a referendum on this and adopt a voice to Parliament.
But he’s never spelled out the detail of what that will look like. He’s never responded to the work of the Calma Langton report. And this is a point we’ve made many times. The reason we’re making this point and I say this is a supporter, as somebody who wants this to succeed, is because the idea of having a few words in the Constitution and providing the detail later is losing supporters. And the idea that if you go to a referendum campaign, people will stop asking questions about what what this body will look like, I just think is wrong.
The last two years we’ve had a process of consultation, it’s the Calma Langton report, they they basically went around had 9,500 people that made submissions to the Calma Langton inquiry, and they put forward a proposal for the design of a national body. They also said that the national body should be drawn from the local and regional bodies. We accept the recommendations of the Calma Langton report for in relation to the local and regional bodies which was the first step and had we won government we will be rolling out those local bodies now. The government’s got the information it needs. It is it is time for them to make some choices about that information.
Because they’re being advised by the people this would affect the Aboriginal people this would affect that they don’t want to just go down the road of that they want to do another consultation with Aboriginal people in the parliament after a yes vote. Is that a deal breaker for you?
Leeser will not say whether this is a deal breaker for him:
As a supporter of the of the voice, who wants this to succeed, I think the best way to ensure that more Australians vote for this than not, is to provide the detail.
The shadow attorney general and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Julian Leeser, spoke to ABC Radio this morning following his attending the Indigenous voice to parliament working group meeting yesterday along with opposition leader Peter Dutton.
Leeser said Dutton’s request for more information was a “generous offer” and called on the government to answer those questions.
We noted that this had been a very strange and unusual process that the government had adopted here. In most previous referenda, there’s been a committee that deals with deals with these issues that’s public, there’s been more things like the Constitutional Convention. We didn’t call for either of those things. We just noted that those things hadn’t been present here.
We also contrasted the processes that had occurred under Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, and Scott Morrison, where basically, there had been box step processes across the parliament working together. And that just hasn’t happened at the moment.
And that’s despite the fact that Peter Dutton since he’s been leader has said you have an open mind and has been asking for detail. So we accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation. We’ve made him a generous offer as well to answer our questions and the Prime Minister says this is about courtesy and good manners. We want to see him accept our offer and and answer the reasonable questions of Australians that Peter Dutton has put forward.
How to solve a problem like the health system?
Prime minister Anthony Albanese will meet with state and territory leaders to consider a plan to solve challenges within Australia’s healthcare system.
Premiers and chief ministers will meet Albanese in Canberra today for the first national cabinet meeting of the year, after he hosted dinner at the Lodge on Thursday night.
At the top of the agenda will be the findings of a review by the Medicare taskforce on measures to improve healthcare affordability and accessibility, support Australians with chronic health conditions and take pressure off hospitals.
Leaders will also be updated on Closing the Gap measures, energy priorities, national firearms reform, local government and housing.
Health minister Mark Butler said the Medicare advisory group had recommended measures to improve access to health care and deliver better patient support.
Australians deserve access to a primary care system for the 21st century.
A system that reflects the disease profile of an older population, including a population that has more complex chronic disease.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners called on leaders to put patients first in Medicare reforms. The college’s president Nicole Higgins said improving costs and access to medicines must be on the table, as well as reforming anti-competitive pharmacy laws.
The Medicare task force review is about improving access to care for patients and we need to consider everything as part of this.
Australia’s pharmacy ownership laws are anti-competitive and this inflates the cost to consumers, makes it harder for people to access medicines and reduces choice.
– via AAP
Total fire ban for Moree Plains, Narrabri, Walgett and Warrumbungle LGAs
The NSW rural fire service issued a total fire ban this morning for several local government areas in north-west NSW.
Medicare reform up for debate at national cabinet
Natasha May on deck with you. The prime minister Anthony Albanese will meet with state and territory leaders at the first national cabinet meeting of the year where healthcare will be at the top of the agenda.
The federal leader will share the findings of the review by the Medicare taskforce on measures to improve healthcare affordability and accessibility, and take pressure off hospitals.
Many, including the NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet have been calling for a blended care model. Perrottet told reporters yesterday:
The first thing is we need to better integrate the primary care, GP network with the public health system … right across the country.
Whether it’s pharmacy reform, telehealth, extra bulk-billing rates and GPs, these are the types of measures that will make a real difference and that’s what I’ll be discussing with the premiers, chief ministers and the prime minister.
All public transport should be free and allow pets, NSW Greens say
All forms of public transport should be free, transport services should be put back into public hands and pets should be allowed to catch a ride too, the NSW Greens say.
AAP reports that the party outlined its transport policies on Friday ahead of the NSW election in March, claiming the state’s public transport system needs a reboot.
“The trains are overcrowded, the buses are slow and the ferries are too expensive,” Greens transport spokesperson Abigail Boyd said.
“Under the Greens’ plan, public transport would be fast, affordable, accessible and reliable.”
The proposal includes allowing pets on board on all buses, trains and ferries and fast-tracking accessibility upgrades.
The party is also proposing the winding back of privatisation deals and creating more unionised jobs by supporting electric bus manufacturing.
“It’s not enough to say no more privatisation, we need to be actively working to reverse this privatisation and making a clear commitment to not renew a single contract,” Boyd said.
An inquiry last year by the NSW upper house transport committee, chaired by Boyd, found privatising bus routes had been a disaster and recommended they be returned to public ownership.
Some have taken matters into their own hands:
Key robodebt defender set to face royal commission
A Social Services department official who others claim insisted the robodebt scheme was legal will front the royal commission on Friday, AAP reports.
Former deputy secretary Nathan Williamson will give evidence a week after former payment integrity worker Allyson Essex claimed he told her it was “really clear” the scheme was lawful despite external legal advice suggesting the opposite was true.
“I told (Williamson) about the … advice and said we have got advice that says it’s not legal,” Essex told the commission last week.
“His response to me was ‘it’s legal, it’s really clear that it’s legal. By all means, if we have a robust advice, let’s evaluate the situation. But it’s legal’.”
The Centrelink debt recovery scheme operated between 2015 and 2019 but continued well after significant concerns were raised about its legality.
It recovered more than $750m from more than 380,000 people and several people took their own lives while being pursued for false debts.
A partner at a leading auditing firm will also face the royal commission on Friday.
Shane West from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) will give evidence about an external review former minister Alan Tudge commissioned the firm to perform in 2017.
Good morning and welcome to our rolling coverage of everything newsworthy in Australia today. I’m Martin Farrer, bringing you some of the headlines before my colleague Natasha May takes the helm.
It’s been another busy night with Penny Wong and Richard Marles discussing the Aukus defence pact with their UK counterparts. James Cleverley, the British foreign secretary, also responded to Wong’s criticism of what she said was Britain’s failure to recognise its colonial sins by pointing out the diversity of his government. Back home, Malcolm Turnbull says the government must answer questions about whether it will have control over the planned new nuclear submarines or whether the agreement with the UK and US compromises Australian sovereign capability, as claimed by others including Paul Keating.
Anthony Albanese has revealed in an exclusive interview with Guardian Australia that he will proceed with the referendum to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament even if he suspects the proposal will fail because of a lack of political consensus. The PM said delaying or abandoning the referendum would be like “worrying about winning a grand final, so therefore you don’t run on the field and forfeit. That is essentially what it is. It would be forfeiting the opportunity for recognition in the form in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are asking for.”
Tax breaks for superannuation will cost the federal budget $52.5bn this financial year, according to analysis by the Australia Institute out today, which argues that since super tax concessions cost almost as much as the $55.3bn spent on the pension, Australia has “two classes of state-funded retirees”.
Looking ahead, the Robodebt royal commission continues today, where a former senior social services department official, who others claim insisted the robodebt scheme was legal, is due to give evidence.
And national cabinet is due to meet with healthcare funding and reforms on the agenda. We report this morning that the under-utilised and much-maligned My Health Record will be at the centre of a push to modernise the system.