Australia news LIVE: Medibank data hack deepens; Scott Morrison … – Sydney Morning Herald

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Thanks for joining me on the national news blog this afternoon. I’m calling a wrap for the day. For those just tuning in, here is a summary of the headlines:
Back to federal politics, and the idea that the House of Representatives will be called in to sit on Saturday to pass the government’s industrial relations bill.
The manager of opposition business Paul Fletcher said this would impose additional costs in terms of airfares and Commonwealth cars for MPs and parliamentary staff to open the building.
“It’s almost without precedent this notion of the House of Representatives sitting on Saturday,” Fletcher said.
“This should be dealt with in the normal way that these things are dealt with, which is the Senate will take the time it needs, pass the amendments, pass the bill, and it then comes back to the House of Representatives.
“This idea that members should be told to go away and come back on Saturday is inefficient, unnecessary and a waste of public resources.”
Fletcher said if the bill passed the Senate tonight, the House could sit late this evening, or come back tomorrow morning.
“I’ve certainly been here, as have many other parliamentarians, at one or two or three [o’clock] in the morning,” Fletcher said.
In question time earlier today, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke accused Liberal senator Michaelia Cash of trying to delay the vote on the industrial relations bill in the upper house.
Burke said there were 19 amendments and the Senate got through none of them in nine hours, because of Cash’s tactics.
When reporters put to Fletcher that the Senate may require until Saturday to pass the bill, he said the Senate should take the time it required, and he wouldn’t tell the Coalition’s Senate leadership team how to do its job.
Watch his press conference here:
To Victoria briefly, and the Greens have conceded in the tightly fought inner Melbourne seat of Northcote.
Some had counted this as a Greens win on election night, but Kat Theophanous has now retained it for Labor, adding to the Andrews government’s majority.
The seat was briefly held by Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, before her switch to federal politics. Thorpe won the seat in a byelection in 2017 after the former Labor member died.
Theophanous, the daughter of former Labor state government minister Theo Theophanous, won the seat from Thorpe in 2018 by just 800 votes.
Greens candidate Campbell Gome acknowledged his loss on Twitter after calling Theophanous to concede.
News Corp co-chair Lachlan Murdoch is set to appear at his high-profile defamation case against the publisher of Australian independent newspaper Crikey.
The Fox Corporation chief executive is suing Private Media, the organisation behind the Crikey masthead, over an allegedly defamatory June 29 opinion piece by political editor Bernard Keane, which was taken down and then posted back online on August 15.
Lachlan Murdoch arriving at Sydney Airport after visiting Qatar for the FIFA World Cup.Credit:Media Mode
Murdoch claims the article conveys up to 14 false and defamatory meanings including that he “illegally conspired with Donald Trump to incite an armed mob to march on the Capitol” following the 2020 presidential election.
Crikey denies any of the alleged meanings were conveyed. The publisher also disputes that the article satisfied a new serious harm test, aimed at weeding out trivial claims, which requires the person bringing a defamation case to show that the publication “has caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm” to their reputation.
If the court finds at least some meanings were conveyed and the serious harm test is satisfied, Crikey is seeking to rely in part on a new public interest defence that started last year in NSW.
A nine-day trial is due to start on March 27.
Michaela Whitbourn has the full report.
To international news, and the COVID-19 outbreak in China, where the government is still pursuing a zero-COVID strategy and facing rising protests about lockdowns.
As China works to raise COVID-19 vaccination rates among its elderly population, authorities are still facing lingering fears among many old people that the jab could actually do them harm.
Vaccinating the vulnerable has long been seen as a crucial requirement in China’s plans to open up after nearly three years of disruptive and economically damaging zero-COVID restrictions.
China’s health authority said it would aim to improve accessibility and launch targeted programs in nursing homes and leisure facilities as part of a new vaccination drive among the over-60s.
It also pledged to make renewed efforts to publicise the benefits of vaccination, and persuading the old and vulnerable that it is both safe and effective could be the most challenging part of the campaign.
“Concerns about safety and the lack of effectiveness probably are the major reasons why older adults refuse or delay vaccination,” said Florence Zhang, a researcher at the School of Medicine at China’s Jinan University, who has conducted studies into vaccine hesitancy among China’s elderly.
There was little immediate sign of increased take-up rates at local hospitals and specialist vaccination centres in Shanghai, and many elderly residents were still expressing concern about its health impact.
With Reuters
To NSW, and the Perrottet government has made good on its promise of a live site for Sydneysiders to watch the Socceroos in their next match in the FIFA World Cup.
Former captain Craig Foster led calls for a live site this morning, after scenes of crowds at a live site in Melbourne celebrating the Socceroos’ 1-0 win against Denmark left Sydneysiders feeling left out.
Premier Dominic Perrottet promised he would make it happen, and he came through with further details at a press conference this afternoon.
The Australian team has made it to the final 16 – the first time since 2006 for the men’s team – and will play Argentina on Sunday morning.
Perrottet said the government would set up a large screen at Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour from 5.30am, ahead of the match at 6am Sydney time, in an alcohol-free, free public event.
The government urged Darling Harbour retailers to open their doors early to welcome football fans travelling in to cheer on the national team.
Transport will be free Sydney-wide on Sunday from 4am to 12pm to help fans get to and from the live sites.
The Sydney Opera House sails will be lit up green and gold from 8pm on Saturday until dawn Sunday.
Liverpool City Council Mayor Ned Mannoun has also arranged for the big match to be broadcast live from the heart of the Liverpool CBD at Macquarie Mall. The screen will be activated from 5am.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has suggested the NSW, Victorian and federal governments front the cost for a pipeline from her state to ease national power prices.
New rules on coal and gas are set to be negotiated between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state leaders next week, potentially affecting Queensland government-owned coal power revenue.
Palaszczuk has repeatedly lashed out at any plans to cap coal prices this week, warning the Albanese government on Tuesday to keep its “hands off our generators” without full compensation.
Speaking in state parliament, Palaszczuk expanded on limited comments made yesterday about a potential pipeline.
With “an abundance” of gas in Queensland and more to develop in the Bowen and Galilee basins, she said the federal government – in conjunction with NSW and Victoria – should consider the idea.
“If the issue is of supply for energy, for gas, to get to those southern states, there is a solution that I’m putting on the table that is readily available,” Palaszczuk said.
“And they will be able to pay for that pipeline … and we would release that extra domestic gas — that is an option that is very, very conceivable.”
Before question time concluded, Government Services Minister Bill Shorten accused Liberal frontbencher Stuart Robert of pressuring public servants about allegations over his friendship with the joint heads of a consulting firm.
This masthead reported today that Synergy 360 claimed in leaked internal documents that Robert attended meetings to discuss potentially lucrative government projects after becoming a minister.
The files detail several meetings between Robert, as a minister, and Synergy 360, a firm whose shareholders are his close friends, consultant David Milo and political fundraiser John Margerison.
Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert in question time today.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
A new tranche of leaked files show that Robert kept in regular contact with Milo and Synergy 360, as well as its clients, after he was appointed assistant treasurer in August 2018 and then minister for the NDIS and government services on May 29, 2019.
Shorten told question time he had asked Commonwealth agencies a range of questions, including whether the former government services minister ever alerted departmental staff that he was meeting Synergy 360.
Robert has denied he was providing advice and defended his conduct on the basis that he was a backbencher meeting “stakeholders and constituents”.
Shorten told Robert in parliament that, “after an unfortunate development this morning, please come through my office if you have any request of the relevant agencies”.
“Do not do what you did this morning and inappropriately task and pressure public servants who are no longer your ministerial responsibility,” he said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has told parliament it was too late to declare a public holiday after the Socceroos’ win against Denmark this morning, but if they win the World Cup “that might be a different story”.
The Socceroos after scoring against Denmark.Credit:AP
Praising Australia’s 1- 0 win against the Danes this morning, Albanese noted the calls around the country for a public holiday to be declared.
“I’m afraid that at this point in time, it was a bit late at 4am in the morning to call a public holiday, but I reckon if we win the World Cup, well, that might be a different story,” Albanese said.
Even after the upset victory against Denmark, betting agencies rate the odds of Australia winning as extremely low – on par with Senegal, but ahead of Ghana, Japan, Cameroon, South Korea and Costa Rica.
Australia plays Argentina on Sunday morning.
The Coalition says Labor is exposing the Voice referendum to a misinformation campaign by scrapping laws requiring voters to be posted a pamphlet that outlines the arguments for the Yes and No cases.
The Albanese government today introduced legislation to the lower house to modernise laws governing how the referendum will be conducted.
Among the proposed changes contained in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2022, is the ditching of a provision that requires households to receive an official pamphlet outlining the proposed change to the Constitution, comprising up to 2000 words each on the Yes and No cases.
Shadow attorney-general Julian Leeser said the proposed change would compromise the quality of public debate in the lead-up to the national vote and risked creating an avenue for misinformation and interference to circulate.
“This is not about whether you vote yes or no,” Leeser said. “This is about ensuring the government provides information so that Australians can make an informed choice.
“A successful referendum will only occur if the change is clearly explained, and there is transparency and detail.”
Shadow special minister of state Jane Hume said the scrapping of the pamphlet was worrying as misinformation had already played a role in Australian elections.
“But this is more than just an election, this is changing Australia’s governing document – it could not be more important,” she said.
Introducing the bill today, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Patrick Gorman said while the government had decided against publicly funding formal Yes and No campaigns, it would fund a civics education campaign, which would inform voters of the facts around the referendum.
“This information will provide voters with a good understanding of Australia’s Constitution, the referendum process and factual information about the referendum proposal,” Gorman said.
He said the pamphlet requirement was first introduced in 1912 and was an outdated mechanism for informing voters in a digital age.
“As the next referendum will be the first in the digital age, there was no need for taxpayers to pay for a pamphlet to be sent to households,” he said.
“Modern technology allows parliamentarians to express their views to voters directly and regularly through a wide range of sources, such as television, email, and social media that did not exist when the pamphlet was introduced in 1912.”
The bill will be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which will report in early 2023.
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