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Crown chairman Helen Coonan admits casino 'facilitated' money laundering - The Guardian
The former Howard government minister insists, however, that Crown didn’t turn a blind eye to illegal activity
The Crown Resorts chairman, Helen Coonan, has admitted the company facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne casino but denied it was turning a blind eye to criminal activity instead blaming it on ineptitude. The concession was made at the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authoritys inquiry into Crowns suitability to hold a Sydney casino licence. Coonan was asked on Tuesday about Crowns relationship with SunCity, a high-roller junket partner with alleged criminal links. She was challenged on why Crown did not shut down SunCitys private room in Melbourne after evidence emerged of money laundering. Isnt this a quintessential example of Crown Resorts turning a blind eye to the prospects of money laundering occurring at its casino? the counsel assisting the inquiry, Naomi Sharp SC, asked. It may have been ineptitude or a lack of attention, I dont think it was deliberately turning a blind eye, I do think thats a different adjectival conclusion, Coonan, a former Howard government minister, replied. Among the evidence presented to Coonan who became chairman in January was an internal audit that found $5.6m in cash was stored in a cupboard in a private room in 2018 in breach of the casinos $100,000 cash limit. Sharp on Tuesday revealed Austrac in June 2017 emailed Crown informing it SunCitys Macau-based boss Alvin Chau was a foreign PEP, or politically-exposed person, and alleging he had a substantial criminal history. The financial crimes regulator queried why Crown would continue to associate with SunCity given the alleged links and given its purported support for Australian anti-money laundering rules. Chau is currently banned from entering Australia due to his alleged criminal links. It would be appreciated if you could provide us with documentation evidencing Crowns consideration of the appropriateness of continuing to provide designated services to Mr Chau, the Austrac email stated. Coonan said she was not made aware of the email but most definitely should have been. Crowns chief legal officer, Joshua Preston, had been made aware of the email, Sharp said, but his response to Austrac was not disclosed. The Nine media group last year aired allegations Crown turned a blind eye to money laundering by organised crime figures and the attempted sale of 19.99% of its stock from mogul James Packers private company to Melco Resorts. Melco was run by the son of the since-deceased Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, with whom Crown was banned from associating by the NSW government. In late July 2019, the Crown board including Coonan who was not yet chairman issued a statement to the stock exchange arguing it had a robust process for vetting junket operators and SunCitys parent company was regulated and listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. This was not correct. Crown also placed the statement in the pages of several Australian newspapers as a full-page advertisement. In her evidence on Tuesday, Coonan said that it was difficult to agree that Crown was facilitating money laundering. The inquirys commissioner, Patricia Bergin SC, said even assuming the failure was a result of ineptitude Crown still failed the community because people would know they could launder money there. The community loses because youve got money laundering in your casino and Crown loses because its seen as an inept company lacking in attention, Bergin said. And the bystander could reasonably conclude that this conglomerate of ineptitude, lack of attention and failing to intervene facilitated money laundering. Would you not agree with that? Yes, Coonan replied. It was the turning the blind eye that I didnt agree with, which I think is a different degree of understanding. Coonans evidence comes a day after watchdog Austrac announced it was investigating potential non-compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws at its Melbourne operation. Crowns board will front a virtual annual general meeting of shareholders on Thursday. with Australian Associated Press
Scott Morrison's office says it has found no correspondence from Daryl Maguire - The Guardian
Prime minister says police should investigate all issues associated with government’s Leppington Triangle land purchase
Scott Morrisons office says preliminary searches have not located any correspondence from the disgraced New South Wales MP Daryl Maguire during Morrisons time in the immigration portfolio, or while he has been prime minister. During a hearing last week in the NSW independent commission against corruption, Maguire admitted to receiving thousands of dollars in cash to his parliamentary office from a former business associate, Maggie Wang, in relation to a cash-for-visa scheme the two established. With controversy persisting on Tuesday about the role of commonwealth officials in a controversial land sale at Leppington Triangle related to the second Sydney airport, Morrison was also asked by Labor during question time whether Maguire had made any representations to the government about visas. Immigration ministers are flooded routinely with appeals from stakeholders and members of the public, and Morrison left open the possibility of contact with Maguire in his parliamentary answer. The prime ministers office later issued a non-definitive statement saying the home affairs department had advised that a first, complete search of its database did not identify any correspondence from Daryl Maguire or the business G8wayinternational Pty Ltd in his former role as immigration minister. The statement said additional searches carried out by the office indicated the prime minister had not received any such correspondence in his current role. Morrison told parliament on Tuesday police should investigate all of the issues associated with the governments controversial Leppington Triangle land purchase a transaction that has been excoriated by the Australian National Audit Office absolutely thoroughly. The Australian federal police has indicated it will contact the NSW Icac and review more than 800 files supplied by the audit office, as part of its criminal investigation into the purchase of a block valued at $3m for $30m. Explaining the planned outreach to Icac at a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, the AFPs deputy commissioner, Ian McCartney, said the AFP would seek to satisfy itself that Maguire did not have any role in the purchase. That would be our primary focus of engaging Icac at the minute, McCartney said. The AFP is not the only federal agency engaging with Icac: the Department of Home Affairs is also in contact with the corruption watchdog over the visa matters. The head of Home Affairs, Michael Pezzullo, said on Monday he had ordered a review of records related to the visa matters, and he believed Maguire had made representations to federal MPs or Home Affairs. Labor targeted Morrison and his ministers over the land sale issue in question time on Tuesday. The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, was asked to explain his observation that the purchase in time would be seen as a bargain. McCormack on Tuesday acknowledged the infrastructure department had paid way over the odds for the parcel of land for future growth of the western Sydney airport, but he came close to repeating his previous claim that time would render the purchase more favourably. In time, people will look back at this moment and say, thankfully the commonwealth instigated that in 2020, McCormack said. Paul Fletcher, who previously served as cities and urban infrastructure minister, told parliament he stood by his answers to questions at the National Press Club month. Fletcher had argued last month the briefing material provided to the deputy secretary and himself over the land purchase was deficient, because it failed to disclose key pieces of information that would have allowed them to assess whether what was paid was reasonable. The AFP disclosed on Tuesday that the ANAO had provided the AFP with 256GB of information and police were now working their way through the material. The investigation began in July but only publicly disclosed last week. When the Labor senator Kristina Keneally asked whether the investigation would look at possible breaches of divisions 134 and 135 of the Criminal Code, which criminalises obtaining property by deception or other fraudulent conduct, McCartney, said: Correct. McCartney said the AFP was also focusing on division 142 of the Criminal Code, which is corruption of public officials its an offence that well assess. Icac has been exploring a different, proposed major land sale worth $330m involving racing heir Louise Raedler Waterhouse and a large plot near the proposed Western Sydney airport, known as SmartWest but this is not currently part of the AFP investigation. Three federal infrastructure department officials and federal MP Angus Taylor separately met with Waterhouse in 2017 while she lobbied for changes to her vast landholdings near the airport, according to public documents. Reece Kershaw, the AFP commissioner, confirmed he was first approached by the auditor general, Grant Hehir, about the Leppington Triangle land purchase by telephone on 10 July. They discussed what the auditor general had discovered and what the process of a [formal] referral would look like. The auditor generals report found the price of land to build a second runway after 2050 was inflated by $26.7m above its fair value by a decision to include the lands speculative industrial rezoning potential. On Monday evening, Hehir told Senate estimates he had contacted the AFP because he couldnt explain the infrastructure departments approach to the purchase and the material was suggestive that the commonwealth may have been defrauded. Kershaw confirmed he then received a letter from Hehir around the 13 July, with attachments outlining the valuation approach, the comparison of the price paid against nine valuations, and some other material. McCartney said the AFP had made a decision on 27 July to initiate an investigation, focused on the discrepancy between the sale price and the valuations. He said he would still describe the investigation as being at an early stage, and the AFP was yet to identify any criminality. Pressed on whether the AFP could rule out a focus on officials, ministers or ministerial advisers, McCartney said: We cant rule anybody out but we cant rule anybody in either. The AFP said it had informed the office of the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, on 22 September, when the ANAO report was released, that a police investigation was underway. But it did not inform the current infrastructure minister, McCormack, or his office. When the infrastructure department contacted the AFP on 8 October about the possibility of referring the matter to the police, the department was informed that police already had an active investigation based on the ANAOs referral. Officials from Morrisons department were rebuked by Labor during a separate estimates hearing for mixing up the date they learned the Leppington controversy had been referred to the AFP.
Hundreds of Victoria hotel quarantine guests must be screened for HIV over blood testing contamination fears - The Guardian
Authorities reveal blood glucose test devices were incorrectly used on 243 people, necessitating screenings for blood-borne diseases
More than 200 people who went through hotel quarantine in Victoria must be screened for HIV amid fears of cross-contamination from incorrect usage of blood glucose test devices. Several such devices were used on multiple people in quarantine between 29 March and 20 August, necessitating screenings for blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV. These monitors, which take a small sample of blood from a fingertip, are intended for repeated use by only one person. While the needle is changed between usages, microscopic traces of blood can remain within the body of the machine, creating a low clinical risk of cross-contamination and infection. Safer Care Victoria, the states healthcare quality and safety agency, has assured the public there is no risk of Covid-19 spread as the disease is not transmitted by blood. These devices have since been taken out of circulation. In a statement, a spokesman for the agency said they have identified 243 people who had been tested by one of the shared machines during the timeframe in question, and will be contacted for screening. Everyone who had conditions or episodes that may have required the test will also be contacted as a precaution. The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, labelled the incident a clinical error that was made some time ago. Safer Care Victoria have made some announcements in relation to a clinical error that was made some time ago, very low risk, but you cant take any risks with these things. You have to follow them up properly and thats exactly what has happened,he said at a press conference on Tuesday. The health minister, Martin Foley, noted there was currently no evidence of anyone being infected, but the breach was identified and flagged by nurses at the Alfred hospital in August. He said Safer Care Victoria and the Department of Human and Health Services then went through 28,000 medical records to find all those potentially at risk, a process which took several weeks. I need to stress that this is, according to all the clinical advice, a very, very low risk of cross-contamination but, out of an abundance of caution, Safer Care Victoria and the Alfred are doing precisely the right thing, he said. He said 141 people had already been contacted and 71 have been tested so far. Victorias hotel quarantine system has been plagued by infection control issues, with an independent inquiry hearing that upwards of 90% of the states second wave of Covid-19 cases stemmed from an outbreak in the hotels. Two senior government figures have already resigned over the systems handling, former health minister Jenny Mikakos and the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles. The Safer Care Victoria chief executive, Ann Maree Keenan, said there would be a full review into how and why this device came to be in use. The health of past quarantine residents is our immediate concern, so arranging screening for them is our absolute priority. The clinical risk is low. But if you are at all worried you had this test and we have not contacted you yet please call us, she said. Right now, we wont be able to answer the many questions people will have about how this happened I hope that we will be able to bring peace of mind through getting people in for testing and through the findings of our review. Blood glucose tests are most commonly used by people with diabetes, but those with this medical condition are more likely to have been using their own personal device. Instead, Safer Care is concerned that the shared devices may have been used on pregnant women, people who fainted or people who were are generally unwell during their stay in hotel quarantine. Everyone one who went through hotel quarantine who had a blood glucose test, or had any medical episode that may have required a test, is being asked to call 1800 356 061 to arrange a time for a screening.
SAS Australia: we are all Schapelle Corby crying at Merrick Watts getting punched in the nose - The Guardian
The Australian franchise of the gruelling reality TV show gives armchair endurance enthusiasts a vicarious dose of celebrity suffering
Seventeen celebrities, athletes and reality stars are challenged to complete an SAS selection course, while being cursed at by ex-special forces soldiers, launched backwards out of helicopters into freezing lakes and forced to poop in a dunny with half a door. Channel Sevens no-brainer hit, SAS Australia, is based on the UKs equally brutal SAS: Who Dares Wins(which the Guardian UK called a sadistic PE lesson), and I only get seven minutes in before I exclaim my first [Expletive] this [expletive]! in empathy with the recruits. We are all Schapelle Corby trying not to vomit in a helicopter. Just as there are armchair athletes, so are there hordes of us who enjoy endurance tourism. The Japanese were on to it first, with their gameshows that married ordeals and humiliation in front of a live studio audience (one of the most famous, in the 1980s, was Za Gaman, which translates as The Endurance), but now everyones reading David Goggins and listening to Joe Rogan for the lowdown on turbo-supplements and talking about grit. Goggins, for those not in the know, is a former Navy Seal who wrote the wildly popular (among endurance tourists) memoir Cant Hurt Me; and if that title isnt the howl of an inner child, I dont know what is. Hes so hardcore, hes basically putting Bear Grylls and Andy McNab into early retirement, and I feel sure the special forces vets in this program will have beadily eyed the sales figures of his book. Basically, most of us think we ought to get out of our comfort zone including glamorous Sydney publicist Roxy Jacenko, who tells the Seven camera crew shes never failed in life before and is game to give it a whirl. But even though there are gruelling trials ahead in this episode, such as an impromptu fight club (Toto, I have a feeling were not in Australian Ninja Warrior any more), I suspect the biggest battles of the series will be with ego. Here, in this unidentified no-mans land, your reputation in modelling, acting or in the swimming pool counts for naught, and frequently, recruits are hooded, shoved and interrogated. When an eye roll or smirk is literally the only power you have, a full-scale emotional meltdown must surely only be seconds away. So far though, nobody is foolhardy enough to let their shellshocked expression tauten into outrage (though actor Firass Dirani cant resist a few cheeky gestures that get the special forces guys hating his guts). In fact, its hard not to feel 50 shades of Stockholm syndrome just watching episode one. I find myself searching for the tiniest scrap of kindness, such as when Schapelle Corby weeps as she watches comedian Merrick Watts get punched hard to the ground by cricketer Mitchell Johnson, and is duly advised by SAS chief instructor Ant Middleton to weaponise that emotion during her own imminent slugfest. Comforting. Oh, and a sidenote on the one-on-one punch-ups between the recruits: massive kudos should go to AFLW player Sabrina Frederick for picking former rugby union player and Bachelorstar Nick Honey Badger Cummins as her boxing opponent; though I use the word boxing only in reference to the fact that there are gloves provided. Its fairly obvious that a few recruits on the show have been picked to serve a rock-bottom-to-redemption narrative. Most prominently, Corby served nine years in Balis Kerobokan prison for drug smuggling; and swimmer Shayna Jack was pulled from the 2019 World Aquatics Championships when the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority detected a prohibited substance in her system. Given that Reputation Rehab is also about to air on the ABC next week, it seems theres an appetite for simultaneously crowing at celebrities while deigning to give them one last chance. But will those recruits whove already been through the wringer find their experiences have given them the upper hand? Certainly, the SAS fellas agree out of earshot that theyre impressed by Corbys resilience (which is interesting, as she is the recruit filmed crying the most. Is crying irrelevant to resilience?). There is some evidence that adverse experiences can teach the skills of emotional severance and compartmentalisation. David Goggins constantly preaches to his 1.9m Instagram followers about the way he managed to callous the mind, and a 2016 study on super-elite-level athletes found that all of them had experienced foundational negative critical events. But there can be a dark side to compartmentalising your life in this way, like a Venn diagram in which the circles never overlap. Pick up any biography of a notorious athlete and youre guaranteed to read about a double life that escalates in scale extramarital affairs, dodgy business dealings, drug use fanned by praise and accolades, until theres an inevitable crash and burn. Still, that makes for fabulous material for any of the recruits here who have yet to publish their memoirs. Near the episodes close, one recruit announces their VW voluntary withdrawal after just half a day. I cant do it, Roxy Jacenko says. Its not comfortable. We may mock on Twitter, but we can surely privately sympathise. Theres nothing like learning how fragile you really are than testing your physical and mental strength, only to have it crumble at the first hurdle. Perhaps the best these recruits can hope for over the coming episodes is hypertrophy, a process found in weightlifting: you put the muscle tissue under stress and cause damage. Its only in gaining and repairing these micro-tears that the muscle grows. SAS Australia is showing Mondays and Tuesdays at 7.30pm on Seven
Gladys Berejiklian accused of breaching code of conduct after admitting she hoped to marry MP - The Guardian
Under the code, NSW ministers must disclose potential conflict matters with anyone in an ‘intimate personal relationship’
Legal experts have warned that Gladys Berejiklian is likely to have breached the states ministerial code of conduct by failing to disclose her secret relationship with the disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire. In the witness box of the Independent Commission Against Corruption last week, the New South Wales premier defined her involvement with Maguire as a close personal relationship but said it had not been of sufficient status to disclose. But on Sunday, Berejiklian said in an interview with Sydneys Sunday Telegraph she had been in love with Maguire and thought they could eventually marry. Labor says the disclosure, made in a soft-ball interview with the celebrity and gossip columnist Annette Sharp, contradicts the careful wording the premier has previously used to describe the relationship she maintained with Maguire since at least 2015. The distinction is vital because under the NSW ministerial code of conduct the definition of a family member includes any person with whom the minister is in an intimate personal relationship. The code falls under the purview of the Icac Act, which states that a minister, including the premier, must disclose potential conflict matters that involve a family member. A breach of the act would leave it open to the commission to make an adverse finding against the premier. The former head of the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, told Guardian Australia that because the word intimate is not further defined in the Icac Act, the words carry their ordinary English meaning. What is an intimate personal relationship? I dont think it requires sexual connection, he said. The ordinary meaning is: closely acquainted, familiar, private, personal. The premier has used the expression close personal relationship and has reportedly said she was in love with Maguire and had an idea of marriage to him. They spent a lot of time together. We know they discussed some of Maguires business dealings. The relationship was kept secret from the world for five years or more. I think that amounts to an intimate personal relationship. That brings Maguire under the definition of family member in the regulation. That means that if a potential conflict of interest had arisen, the premier should have disclosed it. He seems to have disclosed to her a conflict of interest between his public duty and private interests in the business dealings. Geoffrey Watson SC, a former counsel assisting the commission, told Guardian Australia it was clear the premier had to do something about her relationship with Maguire. It does seem to me as though a question arises in setting an anti-corruption culture that it is set at the top, he said. If you set it at any level lower than no tolerance, youve failed. To my mind theres no relationship exception to that, she had to do something about it. What she had to do about it, legal minds may differ, but she had to do something. Stewart Jackson, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney, told Guardian Australia it appeared Berejiklian was splitting hairs in her definition of the relationship. What does intimate mean under the act? Does it have to be some form of betrothal and future plans for an engagement? This is the problem with trying to define it. At what point do you cross the line? At some point its splitting hairs and you could argue the premier has breached the ministerial code of conduct, he said. My next question would be, What are the sanctions? The Icac could make an adverse finding, but I think the real question is the politics, and what the party room decide to do. Berejiklian told reporters last week after giving evidence at the commission she had at all times kept her private and public interests apart. At all times Ive acted in the best interests of this state. Had I known any wrongdoing was done at any stage I would have not have hesitated to act and I have acted very swiftly when I needed to, and I am the first to put up my hand and admit, but I havent done anything wrong, she said. At all times I have maintained a distinction between my personal and private life and the public office I hold. The Labor leader, Jodi McKay, stepped up her attack on the premier on Monday, saying it had been incumbent on the premier to disclose the relationship. What we saw over the weekend was an admission from the premier that she was in a relationship that should have been disclosed under the ministerial code of conduct, McKay told reporters on Monday. There is no grey here. The premier can play with words as much as she likes, she should have disclosed that relationship. On Monday, the premier again insisted she had not needed to disclose her ties to Maguire, telling Sydney radio station 2GB that it wasnt a normal relationship and insisting that she had never suspected Maguire was acting improperly. It did not cross my mind that there was anything untoward, she said. He wasnt my boyfriend. He wasnt anything of note. I certainly hoped it would be [but] because Im not the sort of person whod been in a long-term relationship, I didnt want to introduce him to my social circle. But McKay accused Berejiklian of using weasel words. Whatever the case was, she was having discussions with someone that she was in a relationship with about Badgerys Creek [and] a $1.5m [land] deal that would clear [Daryl Maguires] debts and allow them to be in a relationship. Yet at the same time shes in discussions with her ministers about Badgerys Creek, a strategic site for the government. The conflict of interest just shouts out here. The commission heard last week that Maguire, who had admitted to seeking to monetise his parliamentary office and use his status as an MP for financial gain, had raised his outside business dealings with Berejiklian on a number of occasions. Maguire told Icac he had sought to limit the information he gave the premier but had sought guidance from her over the $1.5m personal debt he was seeking to pay off.
'If it wasn't for lockdown': lives that changed for the better - The Guardian
From a new couple buying a house to a diagnosis that helped a family reunite, five people share their positive life changes
Buying a house together For Rose de la Font and Aagash Vadera from Altrincham, Greater Manchester, lockdown has been a really good acid test for their 11-month relationship. We figured out how to live together and resolve all the things you encounter when two lives become one, said Vadera, 28. The couple met on a dating site last November and were matched when both were in the same pub in London even though Vadera, a doctor, lived in Manchester and De la Font, a singing teacher, in London. After two months of speaking every day, they met in person in Stratford-upon-Avon. We wanted to meet somewhere that was new for both of us, and it ended up being really nice, said De la Font, 26. Their long-distance relationship was cut short when De la Font stayed with Vadera in Manchester during lockdown. The pandemic meant choirs were impossible, so I thought Id focus on one-to-one teaching. We got on so well that I thought I should just leave London for good. It was a lot easier than I expected. I was super excited and in disbelief that things had moved so fast, added Vadera. De la Font felt really lucky that they met. So many people at this time have experienced loneliness. Aagash is very supportive and if we didnt have lockdown I dont think wed be together. Were now looking at buying a house. The dog that staves off depression When he first arrived all I felt was love and tenderness for the poor wretch, said Karen Mitchell, 53, from Kendal, Cumbria, of her dog Sidney. At first he was scared but within 30 minutes he was sleeping on my lap. Before lockdown Mitchell, the chief executive of a sustainability charity, was commuting 20 miles a day to an office in Penrith. She had wanted to get a dog but felt she couldnt because of work. In June a friend sent her a photo of Sidney from the Facebook page of an animal shelter in Spain. I was instantly energised and inspired, she said. I now work from home, live alone, Im single with no children and knew that I needed another living thing in my house besides spiders. The process was remarkably easy. I sent a video of my house to the shelter and within an hour I was told I could have him. Transport was organised and two weeks later he arrived at her doorstep. Weve been inseparable ever since. Mitchell has recently been diagnosed with depression and said she felt she would be worse off without Sidney. I have to look after myself in order to look after him, and whatever happens were in it together. Hes the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Studying for another degree Rachel, a cinema worker in Leeds, has decided to return to university to study part-time. Lockdown made me realise I need to keep focused on something productive for the foreseeable future instead of worrying about things I cant control, she said. Rachel, who is in her 30s, was furloughed for most of lockdown. She is now back at work and studying for a masters in psychology of sport and exercise. Ive struggled with anxiety throughout my life but with uncertainty over the future of the cinema industry, I thought it would be a good time to focus on myself. Theres a growing sense of anything could happen and studying again opens up the possibility of taking on another career. I feel really motivated to make the most of what I can right now. A belated diagnosis that provided clarity For Paul Fowler, a 51-year-old IT worker from Sheffield, working from home during lockdown was difficult. I was struggling to complete even the simplest tasks, he said. Six weeks into lockdown he decided to try something different. It was like an erectile dysfunction of the mind, he added. I tried exercising more, going to bed early, and making sure I was getting more than my five-a-day. I even stopped drinking for over a month but it had no effect. Fowler was confused but when he started reading about ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) he felt he may have found the answer. I recognised I had the symptoms. I think I had developed coping strategies to get by but lockdown was the straw that broke the camels back. Shortly afterwards Fowler was diagnosed with ADHD and has been prescribed medication. I was kind of elated that the diagnosis would have a positive impact on my life, he said. It was like flipping a switch. Overnight my ability to work and function improved massively. If it hadnt been for Covid I wouldve just continued to muddle along. Most importantly Im rekindling my relationship with my ex-wife. Its painfully obvious that many of the problems we had in our marriage were a direct result of my undiagnosed ADHD. We went on a family holiday for the first time in a long time we have another one planned. Its a work in progress, but its been illuminating.
Hold on one more week Victoria – Daniel Andrews is correct to take a cautious approach - The Guardian
If in the next week daily Covid cases are fewer than five per day with few or no mystery cases, we will be the first to protest if there is no step 3 opening
On Sunday the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced some opening up of Covid restrictions, given Victorias progress to single digit daily case numbers. Great. But this was still not good enough for many in the business sector, and indeed many epidemiologists and public health experts in Victoria. What has gone on here? The answer can be understood at many levels. First, the Victorian government is Labor, and the federal government is the Liberal-National Coalition. The friendly we are in it together from the early days of the pandemic is over, so there will be political shots fired which we should all do our best to ignore. What about substance? There are genuinely informed and contested views as to how best to manage this pandemic. Consider Europe. They mostly use what we would call loose suppression, aiming for around five to 25 notified cases per million per day. Fair enough this is one way to do it. In Victoria, that would be something like having 30 to 150 cases per day, in which case we should have opened a few weeks ago. But large swathes of Europe and the UK are heading back into lockdown keeping numbers under control with loose suppression is not easy. In Australia and East Asia we do tight suppression or even aggressive suppression. What does this mean? Tight suppression is keeping the daily case numbers between one and five per million or about five to 30 cases per day in Victoria. Given the trick is to keep the reproductive rate at about 1 (that is, each new case infecting on average about one other person), the level of restrictions needed to do this will still end up being the same as loose suppression it is just that you need to get the numbers down lower before you open up. And it is easier for contact tracing to keep these lower numbers in check. Aggressive suppression is the official national policy adopted across Australia. Here one goes a bit harder, pushing for an elimination of community transmission. But you do not stay in lockdown to achieve it. Rather, you release restrictions at the same kind of level as tight suppression, and trust your contact tracing resources to perhaps win each local street-fight but concede you are not going to win the war with the virus, which is almost certainly likely to pop up again. Just like Voldemort, we seldom mention elimination. There is still a chance of eliminating community transmission from Victoria, and its higher if we hold on one more week. Wouldnt it be great if we got lucky and had a Covid-free Christmas? Sure, the virus would pop up again from time to time, but achieving periods of elimination would have economic and quality of life advantages. And if we are not so lucky as to eliminate for a while, fine, we will have a Covid-normal Christmas with (hopefully) fewer than 10 cases a day with more restrictions on for group gatherings. So, what is Victorias strategy? If you look carefully at the roadmap, it includes elimination of community transmission. The last two steps are clearly those on the way to elimination. But it also originally said we stay in step 2 until 26 October, till case numbers are fewer than five per day on average for two weeks, and mystery cases in the past two weeks are fewer than five. While many, including one of us, have commented that the rolling average of five per day was ambitious, it may still be achievable. But the fact that we still have 15 mystery cases in the past two weeks is concerning. Why? Because there are possibly 50 or more people out there in Victoria mostly in metro Melbourne infected with the virus right now that we do not know about. If we had opened up more on Monday, the chance of these infections taking hold and driving numbers up again was real. People seem to be forgetting that just a week ago numbers were stubbornly above 10 per day. It is almost as if wishful thinking and business impatience has overtaken us. Look again at what Andrews said on Sunday: If through the course of this week we see further low numbers and a sense of certainty in the stories and circumstances that sit behind each of those case numbers, there is an opportunity that we could bring forward the things that are scheduled for the first of November. As long as numbers stay mostly in single digits this week, and there are no or only a handful of mystery cases, we predict we will fully open to step 3 next week. For these reasons, we support the cautious approach taken by the Victorian premier and chief health officer. If in the next week the daily cases are regularly fewer than five per day, and we have few or no mystery cases, then we will be the first to protest if we do not open up fully to step 3 on Monday 26 October the exact date that was in the original roadmap. Professor Tony Blakely, Population Interventions Unit, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne Dr Jason Thompson, Transport Health and Urban Design Lab, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne Modelling by the authors was used to help prepare Victorias roadmap out of lockdown.
'Senator, I agree': $30m Western Sydney airport land deal 'looks like' a cover-up, says infrastructure chief - The Guardian
Penny Wong leads grilling of department secretary Simon Atkinson at Senate estimates
The head of Australias infrastructure department has agreed that it looks as though officials attempted to cover up an inflated valuation for a controversial land sale connected to the second Sydney airport and insists that hes embarked on a clean-up exercise. Simon Atkinson, the secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, faced hours of questions on Monday before Senate estimates about a decision by officials to spend $30m on a parcel of land near the Western Sydney airport worth just $3m an acquisition that has been excoriated by the Australian National Audit Office. The controversy stems from a decision in 2018 when officials on behalf of the commonwealth agreed to pay a Liberal donor, the Leppington Pastoral Company, 10 times the fair value of 12.26 hectares of land that, after 30 years, will serve as a second runway for Sydneys second airport. The Australian National Audit Office found departmental officials had acted unethically by failing to advise ministers and other senior decision makers how much they proposed to pay the landowner, and for not providing accurate answers when the audit office investigated the acquisition. Atkinson confirmed during Mondays hearing that the land sale was the subject of an investigation by the Australian federal police as well as separate investigations he had initiated. The former inspector general of intelligence and security Vivienne Thom is leading one probe, the former Fair Work commissioner Barbara Deegan another. The secretary said one member of staff had been stood down pending the outcome of the investigations and a second official was also under investigation for potentially failing to manage a disclosed conflict of interest. Atkinson said the department had referred the acquisition to the AFP on 8 October, and discovered during the attempted referral that the audit office had already initiated the same course of action. Labors Senate leader, Penny Wong, led the questioning at estimates on Monday, and put it to Atkinson that it looked as though these people, meaning departmental officials, had tried to cover it up when the audit office came asking questions about an unusual adjustment to the land valuation. Atkinson who arrived as departmental head well after the controversial transaction concurred. Senator, I agree with you, he said. I am trying to clean it up. Wong asked the secretary whether there was any merit in an observation by the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, that the Leppington acquisition in time would be seen as a bargain a statement that earned the Nationals leader a rebuke from Scott Morrison. Not that Im aware of, senator, Atkinson said. Having contradicted McCormack, Atkinson softened his observation by noting: I believe the deputy prime minister was talking about the long-term importance of having the land as part of the airport. Wong asked Atkinson how the transaction had been uncovered internally. The secretary said a potential problem with the valuation was flagged in the accounting space as part of auditing the departments financial statements which is a regular procedure. The accounts section then asked the group that had presided over the transaction, the Western Sydney Unit, to explain what had occurred. Wong was scathing about the process, noting that section should not have adjudicated its own conduct. So the Western Sydney Unit said nothing to see here? Wong asked. Atkinson replied: Correct. Wong also asked about a meeting between the racing heir Louise Waterhouse and officials in 2017 about road access for land near Badgerys Creek. It has emerged during hearings of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption that Waterhouse met with officials and separately with Angus Taylor to lobby for changes to her vast landholdings near the new airport. Atkinson confirmed that the meeting had taken place but noted that the conversation was appropriately minuted, and the department had rejected the Waterhouse pitch. The secretary said the meeting had been requested by the state government. Wong asked whether the disgraced Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire had sought to facilitate the meeting. Atkinson said not to his knowledge, and as far as he was aware there had been no dealings with Maguire at the commonwealth level. Atkinson could not confirm whether a meeting with Taylor had proceeded because Taylor is not one of his portfolio ministers. I certainly cant speak for every minister in government, he said. I have no knowledge.
If Facebook and Google limit services in Australia, could the ABC run a social network? - The Guardian
A new paper suggests a publicly funded replacement could be form part of the government’s response if the tech giants limit access
A publicly funded social network run by the ABC has been proposed as one possible response if Facebook and Google limit services in Australia when the mandatory news code becomes law this year. Facebook has warned it will block Australians from sharing news if the landmark plan to make digital platforms pay for news content becomes law. Google has been running a public campaign against the code and launched an international campaign targeting YouTube users when the government announced it would force the company to pay news publishers for content. Googles public campaign has included videos using a comedian in an attempt to simplify the issues. The proposal for a platform hosted by the ABC is among a raft of risk mitigation proposals in a report commissioned by the Centre for Responsible Technology, Tech-Xit: Can Australia survive without Google and Facebook? The proposed platform would connect the community without harvesting data in the way Google and Facebook do, and could rely on the wide reach of the ABC across local, regional and national communities, as well as the trust the invested in the institution by the public. An ABC platform which engages the community, allows for a genuine exchange and influence on decision making, and applying principles of independent journalism and storytelling would provide real value to local communities starved of civic engagement, the report says. [We should] develop viable alternatives to Google and Facebook, such as national online social platform hosted through the ABC. This could build on existing ABC digital capabilities and projects such as Australia Talks, the discontinued ABC Open and Triple J Unearthed. The government has been urged to urgently develop a stronger consumer data privacy act ahead of the likely removal of Facebook functions and the less likely scenario of Google withdrawing Google Search from the country, the report by the centres associate fellow Jordan Guiao says. If Facebook refused to allow Australians to share news, the site would be flooded with misinformation and fake news, the report warns. To prepare consumers for the impact of the removal of services provided by powerful foreign-owned technology companies, the government should invest heavily in Australian technology and startup companies, the report says. Despite known harms and rampant disinformation, Facebooks stickiness and network effect create an environment that many users would find difficult to leave behind, the report says. A curtailing or removal of Facebook services would therefore likely affect Australians negatively as they lose connections and the vault of content they have invested in the platform. This reliance is a risk for Australians should Facebook follow through on removal of their services. The mandatory news code has been backed by all the major media companies including News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment and Guardian Australia, as a way to offset the damage caused by the loss of advertising revenue to Facebook and Google. The report argues the arrival of the mandatory news code is a chance to push back against the profit or surveillance imperative of the tech giants and look for alternatives. Google and Facebooks response to the ACCC mandatory news code has placed in stark relief our national over-reliance on them, the director of the Australia Institutes Centre for Responsible Technology, Peter Lewis, said. This analysis shows that two global corporations that play a dominant role in our civic and commercial institutions are prepared to threaten to withdraw those services to protect their own commercial self-interest. The Australian governments attempt to curb the market dominance of Google and Facebook is one of several similar moves across the globe, including legal action in France, an antitrust suit against Google in the US and the possibility of another in China. Google and Facebook have become such a dominant part of our online experience that its hard to imagine the internet without the two tech giants, the report says. For many Australians, Google and Facebook are virtually synonymous with the internet. The report also urges a forensic investigation into how tech companies such as Google have become all powerful in core public sectors including education, health and government administration.
US power in Asia Pacific falls amid mishandling of Covid, Australia's Lowy Institute finds - The Guardian
The United States remains the top power in the region but China is on track to match it by the end of this decade, the Asia Power Index says
The United States remains the top power in the Indo-Pacific but has suffered the biggest relative fall in its standing in the region over the past year, partly because of the loss of prestige over the mishandling of Covid-19, according to the Lowy Institutes Asia Power Index. Releasing the latest annual results on Monday, the Australia-based foreign policy thinktank said while Chinas standing had stalled, the rising power remained in second place and was believed to be on track to match the US by the end of this decade. Australia, meanwhile, was one of the few countries to gain in the scores of comprehensive power this year, overtaking South Korea as the regions sixth most powerful country, helped by growth in its regional cultural influence and expanding defence cooperation. Vietnam (ranked 12th) and Taiwan (14th) were also on the rise. This year weve seen an acceleration in power shifts, but driven really more by under-performance than than anything else, the project director, Herve Lemahieu, told Guardian Australia. Thats as a direct consequence of the pandemic. The competent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic by Vietnam, Australia and Taiwan was a necessary, but not sole condition for improving their regional standing, according to the Lowy Institute report. In a separate section, Japan, Australia, Singapore and South Korea are classed as the top overachievers, meaning they have more influence than their raw capabilities would indicate suggesting skill in working collaboratively with other nations to pursue their interests. The annual index aims to provide a snapshot of the shifts in influence in the fast-changing Indo-Pacific region, ranking 26 countries and territories by the overall power they wield. It takes into account hard power factors such as military capability and defence networks, along with soft power levers like diplomatic and cultural influence. But according to the latest report, the once-in-a-century pandemic means governments and societies now face a perfect storm of public health, economic and strategic challenges in ways few could have imagined a year prior. While power shifts happen only slowly outside of wartime, the pandemic has triggered a race to the bottom, with 18 states in the IndoPacific region experiencing significant downward shifts in their relative power in 2020. Americas standing has waned in all but one of the eight main measures covered in the index. The top-ranked powers remained the US, followed by China, although America has seen a halving of its 10-point overall lead over its rival in the past two years. Japan, India and Russia were next in the rankings list, but those three countries also suffered falls in their scores. The report warns that of all countries in the IndoPacific, Indias economy has lost the most growth potential as a result of pandemic-inflicted damage meaning its position as a future peer competitor to China has become less certain. The Lowy Institute points to the Trump administrations unilateral instincts as one reason why the US underachieves against its ability to wield broad-based power in Asia. America has suffered the largest reputational hit in the region for its domestic and international handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the report says. The result is a powerful reminder that legitimacy and leadership on the world stage start with the capacity of leaders to govern well at home. With Chinas economy predicted to bounce back faster than any other major economy, the country is set to entrench its economic centrality in its region, while the relative importance of the American economy in Asia is tipped to decline. The report notes China has boosted its military capability by spending on weaponry that could threaten American and allied bases in the region, but it suffers from a lack of trust among neighbours. While China now has 229 of the worlds 500 most powerful supercomputers, compared with 117 in the US, the report says America has launched three times more satellites into space as China in the last three years. China is on track to close its overall power gap with the US within 10 years, but according to the report is unlikely to pull ahead by a meaningful margin because of projected declines it its workforce, leading to social and economic challenges. Meanwhile, the one-party state still spends more on projecting power inwards, on internal security challenges, than it does on projecting it outwards, on military spending. Australias 1.1-point gain in its comprehensive power score helped the country to leapfrog South Korea, with its greatest improvement being in cultural influence, where it moved up four places. This can be partly explained by the addition of Papua New Guinea to the latest edition of the Asia Power Index, registering more of Australias influence in its immediate neighbourhood. Despite being a middle power and having a far more modest military capability, Australia ranks second behind the US when it comes to defence networks. The finding comes amid rising tensions between Australia and China. Were a far nimbler player than the US is we carry less great power baggage, Lemahieu said of Australia. But at the same time, our foreign policy has become much more securitised and China driven, and south-east Asia isnt necessarily all on board with that. Lemahieu said even some of Australias closest partners, like Indonesia, were not necessarily likely to commit to becoming part of this military and a strategic counterweight to Chinas military adventurism. The Lowy Institute scores are based on 128 indicators across themes such as military capability and defence networks, economic resources and relationships, diplomatic and cultural influence, and resilience and future resources. The thinktank said it had added three new indicators this year in order to track perceptions of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, major ecological threats, and defence dialogues.