Sunday 31 May 2020

News Corp goes digital & withdraws from print media in the NSW Northern Rivers region - with small print 'community' mastheads disappearing entirely

Last year News Corp told its shareholders that: "In addition, the Company has divested and may in the future divest certain assets or businesses that no longer fit with its strategic direction or growth targets."

It seems that such an event came to pass in May 2020, not quite four years after News Corp purchased so many of those print newspapers it is now closing down entirely or reinventing as purely digital news platforms.

Perhaps the clue to this restructuring is in the fact that this multinational media corporation mentioned "loss" or "losses" at least 223 times in its Annual Report 2019.

With News Corp owning 150 print newspapers, at the end May 2019 its readership across all mastheads only appeared to reach a weekly average of est. 7.7 million out of a nation of over 25 million people.

However, the Northern Rivers is the only NSW region being completely restructured - losing five small print 'community' newspapers entirely and six of its print news mastheads becoming digital news platforms only from Monday 29 June 2020.

News Corp Australia, media release, 27 May 2020: 

News Corp Australia announces portfolio changes 

The Executive Chairman of News Corp Australasia, Mr Michael Miller, today announced significant changes to News Corp Australia’s publishing portfolio. 

Mr Miller said that over recent months News Corp had undertaken a comprehensive review of its regional and community newspapers. This review considered the ongoing consumer shift to reading and subscribing to news online, and the acceleration of businesses using digital advertising.  

“COVID-19 has impacted the sustainability of community and regional publishing. Despite the audiences of News Corp’s digital mastheads growing more than 60 per cent as Australians turned to trusted media sources during the peak of the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, print advertising spending which contributes the majority of our revenues, has accelerated its decline,” Mr Miller said. 

“Consequently, to meet these changing trends, we are reshaping News Corp Australia to focus on where consumers and businesses are moving and to strengthen our position as Australia’s leading digital news media company. This will involve employing more digital only journalists and making investments in digital advertising and marketing solutions for our partners.” 

Mr Miller said News Corp’s portfolio review highlighted that many of our print mastheads were challenged, and the double impact of COVID-19 and the tech platforms not remunerating the local publisher whose content they profit from, had, unfortunately, made them unsustainable publications. 

He said the portfolio changes being implemented would mean that from Monday June 29 the bulk of News Corp’s regional and community titles would move to purely digital publishing. 

“More than 375 journalists will be specifically covering regional and community news and information. They will continue to serve, and live in, their local communities with the majority in regional Queensland where we have most of our titles,” Mr Miller said. 

“More than 640,000 Australians, our latest figures show, are currently subscribing to News Corp’s digital news content and subscriptions are growing at an annual rate of 24 per cent. 

“Much of this growth is from local news, where subscribers have more than doubled in the past year. In regional Queensland more than 80,000 people have digital subscriptions and this number has grown by more than 40 per cent this year. 

“I’m confident that these numbers will accelerate through dedicated and constant digital publishing and continuing to serve the local communities whose trust and community commitment the mastheads have developed over decades. 

“Over the past 19 months News has launched 16 new digital only local mastheads. In total we will now publish 92 digital only regional and community mastheads, each offering readers rolling coverage, electronic alerts and newsletters, richer audio and video content and deeper local sport coverage and community debate. 

“At the same time, News Corp’s major mastheads in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – The Courier-Mail, The Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and The Advertiser – will now become more state focused with increased regional content and will partner with our regional and community local titles in their states to ensure we deliver compelling journalism to Australian consumers regardless of where they live. 

Subscribers wherever they live will now have access to the best of News Corp’s local, regional, state, national and international news, sport, features and columnists.” 

Describing the changes being announced today, Mr Miller said: “These initiatives are significant. They will involve fundamental changes to how we operate our business but they are necessary. Together with senior executive and editorial appointments announced recently, they will enable us to be more effective in driving further success in the growth areas News Corp is excelling in such as digital advertising products, solutions and subscriptions and will embed a more collaborative way of working to maximise our sport and news coverage, hyper local digital subscriptions and the success of our all-important weekend editions.” 

Today’s announcements to News Corp’s publishing portfolio will mean some job roles will change and regretfully, will lead to job losses. Mr Miller said that for those employees impacted by the changes, he wanted to thank them personally for their professionalism, dedication and contribution. 

“They have provided News with invaluable years of service. Their passionate commitment to the communities in which they live and work and their role in ensuring these have been informed and served by trusted local media has been substantial,” he said. 

Commercially, these portfolio changes will make News less complex for its partners to leverage and will build on the innovations it already has in place. 

This includes: 

  • News Xtend which is now Australia’s top digital marketing agency for small and medium enterprises; 
  • News Connect data platform which ensures businesses reach the right consumer segments wanting to pay for their products and services through its specialist ability to access two billion consumption signals from 12 million Australians; 
  • Australia’s number one digital publisher for news, real estate, business, sport and fantasy sport, food, fashion, health and beauty, parenting and women’s lifestyle; 
  • Digital powerhouse which has increased its audience more than 30 per cent in the past two months to more than 12.2 million monthly users; 
  • A leader in audio and video with News’ data now showing award-winning podcast downloads of more than five million monthly and digital video views topping 100 million monthly, up 45 per cent in a year; 
  • Monday’s launch of BINGE entertainment streaming service which joins Foxtel and the Kayo sport streaming service as the nation’s premium subscription broadcasters; 
  • REA Group which is Australia’s clear leader for real estate digital services and investing in Asia and the United States, through its 20 per cent stake in Move, Inc. 

In conclusion, Mr Miller said: “News Corp remains committed to Australia’s regions and communities and the initiatives we are implementing today represent a detailed, considered strategy to ensure we will better serve our journalism to Australians who live outside its major cities. 

“News Corp and its employees also will retain at their creative core their passion for championing, and advocating for an ever improving Australia. As our country emerges in coming weeks from the lockdown enforced on us by the threat of COVID-19 into a ‘new normal’, we will ensure these values that separate News Corp from other media companies are even stronger than ever.” 

Consequently, News Corp Australia is announcing today that: 

Our major regional titles – The Hobart Mercury, NT News, Cairns Post, Townsville Bulletin, Gold Coast Bulletin, Toowoomba Chronicle and Geelong Advertiser – will continue to publish both in print and digitally. 

The following regional titles will become digital only: Queensland – Mackay Daily Mercury, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, Gladstone Observer, Bundaberg News Mail, Fraser Coast Chronicle, Gympie Times, Sunshine Coast Daily, Queensland Times, Warwick Daily News, Central and North Burnett Times, Central Queensland News, Chinchilla News, Dalby Herald. Gatton Star, Noosa News, South Burnett Times, Stanthorpe Border Post, Western Star, Western Times, Whitsunday Times, Whitsunday Coast Guardian and Bowen Independent, news from the towns covered by the Atherton Tablelander, Northern Miner, Post Douglas & Mossman Gazette and Burdekin Advocate will continue to appear, as it does currently, under the regional sections of the Cairns Post and Townsville Bulletin; 
NSW – Tweed Daily News, Ballina Advocate, Byron Shire News, Coffs Coast Advocate, Grafton Daily Examiner and Lismore Northern Star; Northern Territory – The Centralian Advocate. 

The bulk of titles in our community groups – NewsLocal in NSW/ACT, Leader in Melbourne, Quest in Brisbane and Messenger in Adelaide – will become digital only. Community print editions were suspended early in April because of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. 

The community titles to be digital-only news services are: Melbourne Leader titles – Stonnington, Mornington Peninsula, Knox, Whitehorse, Monash, Northern, Whittlesea, Maroondah, Moorabbin, Mordialloc Chelsea, Moreland, Lilydale and Yarra Valley, Frankston, Bayside, Caulfield Port Phillip, Cranbourne, Greater Dandenong, Moonee Valley, Maribyrnong, Wyndham; 

NewsLocal in NSW and ACT – Fairfield Advance, Penrith Press, Macarthur Chronicle, Blacktown Advocate, Canterbury Bankstown Express, Central Coast Express, Hills Shire Times, Hornsby Advocate, Liverpool Leader, Manly Daily, Northern District Times, Parramatta Advertiser, Inner West Courier, Southern Courier, Illawarra Star, Wagga Wagga News, St George Shire Standard, Canberra Star, Newcastle News, Blue Mountains News, Central Sydney, South Coast News; 

Quest in Queensland – Albert and Logan News, Caboolture Herald, Westside News, Pine Rivers Press, Redcliffe and Bayside Herald, South-West News, Wynnum Herald, North Lakes Times, Redlands Community News, Springfield News; 

Messenger in SA – Messenger South Plus; Messenger East Plus, Messenger North, Messenger West, Messenger City, Adelaide Hills and Upper Spencer Gulf. 

Three Sydney community titles, Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times, which are distributed in the city’s most affluent suburbs, will resume print editions. 

Some small print newspapers will cease publication, but the local journalism coverage of their area will continue, feeding into the digital masthead for their regional community. The regional titles to cease publication are: Queensland – Buderim Chronicle, Caloundra Weekly, Capricorn Coast Mirror, Coolum News, Nambour Weekly, Ipswich Advertiser, Kawana/Maroochy Weekly, Gold Coast Sun, Hervey Bay Independent, Maryborough Herald, Balonne Beacon, Surat Basin News, Herbert River Express, Innisfail Advocate, Central Telegraph; NSW – Coastal Views, Northern Rivers Echo, Richmond River Express Examiner; Tasmania – Tasmanian Country; Specialist – Big Rigs, Rural Weekly, Seniors. 

Additionally, we will streamline our community titles and will publish local stories under their regional or city-based masthead. The community titles which will cease publication are: Leader titles in Victoria – Manningham, Preston, Diamond Valley, Heidelberg, Sunbury Macedon, Progress and Northcote; NewsLocal in NSW – Rouse Hill Times; Quest in Queensland – Northside Chronicle/Bayside Star, North-West News, South-East Advertiser, Southern Star, Bribie Weekly; and South Australia – Messenger Coast Plus. [my yellow highlighting]

Australia 2020: the curious case of premature purchase of a dangerous drug for use during the COVID-19 pandemic

First in was US President Donald Trump on 19 March 2020 talking up a so-called miracle drug to treat COVID-19 infection, called hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine

In Australia  hydroxychloroquine is registered by the Theraputic Goods Administration (TGA) for use in rheumatoid arthritis, mild systemic and discoid lupus erythematosus, as well as the suppression and treatment of malaria.

 However such was its enthusiasm, by 2 April 2020 the Morrison Government exempted hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine from having to meet TGA registration benchmarks for the lawful supply of medicines in this country. 

In early April 2020 the general public also learned that Federal Health Minister & Liberal MP for Flinders Greg Hunt ‘struck a deal’ with suppliers to bring hydroxychloroquine into Australia to treat hospital patients infected with COVID-19

Later that same month Queensland mining blowhard Clive Palmer paid for full page newspaper advertisements telling Australia he had purchased 32.9 million doses of the drug in early March for use by ill Australians. 

 All the while the World Health Organisation (WHO) was warning that this drug was untested for use in COVID-19 infections and might be dangerous. 

Nevertheless a number of nations (including Australia) still supported trialing the drug with a view to using it as a treatment during the pandemic and, globally there was widespread use of hydroxychloroquine often in combination with a second-generation macrolide as a treatment of COVID-19, despite no conclusive evidence of their benefit. 

Eventually WHO itself began a clinical trial of the drug. 

On 22 May The Lancet published a multinational registry analysis of the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19. 

The registry comprised data from 671 hospitals on six continents. Included were patients hospitalised between 20 December 2019 and 14 April 2020, with a positive laboratory finding for SARS-CoV-2. 

A total of 96,032 hospitalised patients were included in the analysis. 

The findings were clear cut: “We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19. Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for treatment of COVID-19.”  [my yellow highlighting]

On 25 May 2020 WHO suspended its clinical trials of the drug on safety grounds. 

Hopefully Morrison & Co will no longer flirt with the use of this drug in treating active COVID-19 infections.

Saturday 30 May 2020

Finally Twitter starts to fact check Donald Trump with a live link below two tweets. Trump responds by threatening to create a punitive executive order if any social media platform dares to fact check his egregious lies. Then Trump is faced with the reality of the Internet

This is a snapshot of a May 2020 tweet posted by Donald J. Trump on a Twitter account he created in March 2009, seven years before he received the Republican Party presidential nomination which eventually saw him elected 45th President of the United States of America in November 2016.

It is one of only two Trump tweets under which social media platforn Twitter inserted a low key active 'fact check' link.

Trump's reaction was to threaten to create an executive order designed to punish any social media platform, website or search engine which factchecks the est. 16,000 egregious lies he has told in the last four years.

A draft of this six-page executive order has been released.

This draft executive order describes fact checking or the removal of inappropriate content under terms of service as "selective censorship". 

It also seeks to establish a right of the Trump Administration to monitor and create watch lists of those fact checking conservative politicians or using/interacting with any general search engine, social media platform or individual account (by way of likes, follows, time spent) allegedly employing this "selective censorship" and, to monitor all other online activities of such people.

On 28 May 2020 the White House press Public Pool noted that an executive order had apparently been signed*:

From: Thomas Howell 
Sent: Thursday, May 28, 2020 4:01 PM 
Subject: In-town #14 — EO signing remarks 

Trump is at his desk in Oval for EO signing ...Bill Barr is here 
“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,” referring to tech ‘monopoly’ 
Says “They’ve had unchecked power” to censor and restrict human interaction “We cant allow that to happen” 
He says these tech companies have “points of view“ 
Sees bipartisanship, says Democrats are saying ‘this is about time something is done’ 

Says Twitter is acting as an editor ‘with a viewpoint’ 
Complains about fact check, calls it ‘political activism’ 
Says tech platforms have more reach than newspapers and other media 
Notes Twitter et al get liability shield based on neutral platform 
EO would 
-Looks to regulate Section 230 to remove liability shield if companies act to censure or edit content 
-Says AG Barr will work with states on own regs
- will Develop policies to make sure tax dollars don't go to companies that suppress free speech 

Trump predicts lawsuit, wants legislation though 
‘We’re fed up with it’ 
Asked why not delete his account, Trump says: 
‘The news is fake’ 
‘If we had fair press in this country I would do that in a heartbeat’ 

Barr says tech companies are acting as ‘publishers’ after amassing huge power Says EO would return section 230 to intended scope 
Will draft legislation for Congress 
‘A bit of a bait and switch that’s occurred in our society”
Referring to networks that were supposed to be free forums, but now flexing power 

Tom Howell Jr. White House correspondent 
The Washington Times 240-xxx-xxxx (mobile)

Donald Trump - lacking insight or adequate impluse control - then upped the ante on 29 May 2020 with another two tweets. The second of which threatened use of lethal force against U.S. citizens. 

This caused Twitter to restrict viewing so that a reader had to make a concious decision to look at that particular tweet by clicking on "View":

At 10:17pm on Friday 29 May 2020 an official White House Twitter account @WhiteHouse retweeted Trump's tweet which threatened lethal force and Twitter restricted viewing on the retweet as well.

What is happening here?

A social media company hosting realtime micro-blogging is firmly insisting that it has a right to enforce its rules of service on all 45 million of its accounts world-wide without fear or favour.

Trump may be finally crossing the social media Rubicon and is now fated to metaphorically die in a few inches of muddy river water before reaching the other shore.

* Final text of Executive Order signed on 28 May 2020 not yet released

Cartoons of the Week

Matt Wuerker

‘Yes man to one, liar to all’ 
Luo Jie

Friday 29 May 2020

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Will Scotty From Marketing's pet National COVID-19 Coordination Commission recommend lifting the Coal Seam Gas Moratorium in place across the NSW Northern Rivers region?

"Nev Power: The Prime Minister 'rang me ... and said your country needs you.' "  [Financial Review, 3 April 2020]

On 20 March 2020 Australian Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison created the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) to “ coordinate advice to the Australian Government on actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic” and “advise the Prime Minister on all non-health aspects of the pandemic response”.

This is a list of NCCC commission members and key staff for the period 23 March to 22 September 2020 with remuneration for their services where known:

Neville Power, Deputy Chairman of Strike Energy Ltd an oil and gas exploration company – remuneration by PM&C contract $294,079.50. Power has announced he is temporarily stepping aside from his position at Strike Energy to avoid perceptions of conflict of interest. However, he appears to be retaining 12,612,885 fully paid Strike Energy shares (worth in the vicinity of $2.4 milllion) & options on 6 million more held by his own Myube discretionary investment trust.

Deputy Chairman
David Thodey, Chairman CSIRO – paid expenses only

Greg Combet, consultant, Chairman of IFM Investors and Industry Super Australia - remuneration by PM&C contract $118,800
Jane Halton, board member ANZ, Clayton Utz, Crown Resorts, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, US Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation and
chairman of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, COTA, Crown Sydney and Vault Systems - remuneration by PM&C contract $118,800
Paul Little, property developer, Chairman and Founder of the Little Group, Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation and Skalata Ventures - remuneration by PM&C contract $108,000 for 2 days per week
Catherine Tanna, Managing Director of EnergyAustralia, board member Reserve Bank of Australia and Business Council of Australia – remuneration by PM&C contract $54,000 for 1 day per week

Key Staff
Peter Harris, public policy adviser, CEO of NCCC – remuneration N/K
Executive Assistant to Chairman NCCC – remuneration by PM&C contract $73,000 paid into the same Myube discretionary investment trust as the remuneration received by NCCC Chairman.

Andrew N. Liveris, special advisor to NCCC, board member IBM, Worley Parsons, Saudi Aramco, on advisory board of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and NEOM, controversial former Chairman & CEO of Dow Chemical and Trump supporter– remuneration N/K

For the more than $885,479 in taxpayer dollars spent on this commission over a six month period, Australia gets a website of sorts along with a Twitter account NCCCgovau and, what is shaping up to be a lack of transparency and accountability concerning advice this commission gives behind closed doors to government.

According to The Guardian on 21 May 2020:

A leaked draft report by a manufacturing taskforce advising the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) recommends the Morrison government make sweeping changes to “create the market” for gas and build fossil fuel infrastructure that would operate for decades.

Its vision includes Canberra underwriting an increased national gas supply, government agencies partnering with companies to accelerate development of new fields such as the Northern Territory’s vast Beetaloo Basin, and states introducing subsidy schemes for gas-fired power plants.

It says the federal government should help develop gas pipelines between eastern states and the north, and potentially a $6bn trans-Australian pipeline between the east and west, by either taking an equity position, minority share or underwriting investments.

The taskforce, headed by….Saudi Aramco board member Andrew Liveris, positions lower-cost gas as the answer to building a transformed manufacturing sector that it says could support at least 85,000 direct jobs, and hundreds of thousands more indirectly.

But it does not consider alternatives to gas, or what happens if greenhouse gas emissions are cut as promised under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Gas is usually described as having half the emissions of coal when burned, though recent studies have suggested it could be more.

The Liveris report does not mention climate change, Australia’s emissions reduction targets or the financial risk, flagged by institutions in Australia and overseas, of investing in fossil fuel as emissions are cut.

While several assessments have found renewable energy backed by storage is now the cheapest option for new electricity generation, the report says gas is “key to driving down electricity cost and improving investment in globally competitive advanced industry”.

Its focus is consistent with the NCCC chairman, Nev Power, a former Fortescue Metals chief and current board member at gas company Strike Energy, who has said in interviews that cheap gas would be critical to Australia’s future. Gas has been strongly backed by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, who has argued for a gas-fired recovery from the pandemic.

According to Friends of the Earth Australia the leaked document also suggests lifting the coal seam gas moratorium in New South Wales, which is an issue I’m sure the Northern Rivers region will be keeping a close eye on. 


The Guardian, 5 June 2020: 

Officials from Scott Morrison’s department are refusing to release conflict of interest disclosures from members of the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission so they can be scrutinised by the public because the declarations are provided “in confidence”. 

The departmental pushback has come in responses to questions on-notice from the Senate committee examining the government’s response to the pandemic. 

Controversy has been escalating about the potential for conflicts of interest among the commissioners handpicked by the prime minister to provide advice at the height of the coronavirus crisis. 

The high-powered coordination commission, headed by the former Fortescue Metals chief Nev Power, has a broad remit, advising the government on all non-health aspects of its pandemic response. 

But concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency of the group’s deliberations, and the absence of a conventional governance framework for a taxpayer-funded enterprise. 

The NCCC has a budget of more than $5m.... 

The Guardian, 3 May 2020:

When the Daily Telegraph reported last week that a fertiliser plant in Narrabri being advanced by a West Australian businessman had topped the list of the projects being promoted by the National Covid Coordination Commission, there was some surprise. 

Vikas Rambal and Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilisers are not exactly household names, and the controversial Narrabri coal seam gas project – which would provide the cheap gas that the fertiliser project depends on – is yet to be approved by the New South Wales government.... 

Rambal has not yet sought planning approval of the $1.9bn project and the only tangible signs are press releases promising 700 jobs and a non-binding agreement with the coal seam gas project’s owner, Santos..... 

The Daily Telegraph, 24 April 2020:

Mr Rambal’s plant would create up to 800 jobs during construction and 70 to 80 permanent­ roles in Narrabri, supplying farmers in a 300km radius. “It’s a huge project,”  Mr Rambal, who is also advancing a $4.5 billion fertiliser plant in WA, told The Daily Telegraph. 

He said Mr Power’s Commission could help by picking up the phone to politicians to remove roadblocks and speed up approvals. 

Mr Taylor said making more fertiliser was a “cracking opportunity” for Australia and would help achieve the government’s goal of growing agriculture to a $100 billion-a-year industry by 2030. 

He said he was focused on making more gas available. 

“I like to think of the other side of COVID-19 as being a gas-fired recovery,” Mr Taylor said. 

“We want to see the NSW government get on with (the approvals process for the Santos project).”  In January, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wanted a final decision on the proposal by June 30. 

That now looks unlikely. The Independent Planning Commission is yet to receive a referral from the NSW Department of Planning. The IPC will take 12 weeks to make its ruling. 

It is unclear if the COVID-19 Commission is now attempting to hurry up the Department­ of Planning.....

Australia 2020: distrust of Trump appears to be growing

In Australia's case, the country responsible for the greatest number of infections happened to be the United States, not China. We closed our borders to China as soon as we appreciated the risk; just as Trump himself did in late January. But the Americans weren't testing for the virus, and Australian health officials drew false comfort from their apparent low number of cases in February. The virus almost got away from us because of a failure to anticipate the threat of community transmission from Australians returning from winter holidays in the US.” [The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 2020]

Scott Morrison might owe Donald Trump a strategic apology. Australia's success in suppressing the first wave of the coronavirus doesn't sit well with the US President's latest attempt to avoid responsibility for the American death toll now approaching 100,000.

Because if Trump is to be believed, no one could have stopped the plague. How else should the Prime Minister read the tweet Trump sent on Wednesday, directed at "some whacko in China" who was "blaming everybody other than China for the Virus which has now killed hundreds of thousands of people"?

"Please explain to this dope that it was the 'incompetence of China', and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing!" the President tweeted.

By that reckoning, the roll call of nations that have avoided the worst of the pandemic so far, including Australia and New Zealand in the Asia Pacific, South Korea and Taiwan in Asia, and Denmark and Greece in Europe, must have been lucky. All were in the direct line of transmission from Wuhan, but somehow the plague didn't bother knocking on their door.

This is patently absurd. In Australia's case, the country responsible for the greatest number of infections happened to be the United States, not China. We closed our borders to China as soon as we appreciated the risk; just as Trump himself did in late January. But the Americans weren't testing for the virus, and Australian health officials drew false comfort from their apparent low number of cases in February. The virus almost got away from us because of a failure to anticipate the threat of community transmission from Australians returning from winter holidays in the US.

It was only after we shut the border to the US in late March, and enforced a 14-day quarantine for all Australians coming home, that the virus was suppressed. But that detail is best avoided between friends, because it would only draw Morrison into the cross-hairs of Trump's digital grievances…..

Australia should pause and reflect. There has been a tendency lately for the Australian and Chinese governments to trade cartoonish insults. Who started it tends to get lost in the mutual indignation. The danger for Australia is that we validate Chinese invective by accepting it as the normal way to do business. The risk beyond the immediate commercial relationship with China is that the rest of the world sees us as a smaller version of Trump's America, and stops taking us seriously.

Obviously, the values of Trump's America don't align with ours. Trump divides his country by political reflex. This wouldn't be unusual if he understood where to draw the line between robust debate and vilification, and between the scrutiny of his opponents and the criminalisation of their public service. But he doesn't. The race baiting at home, and abroad, isn't a tactic; it comes from deep within. So do the calls to lock people up. It is who he is. The bully that is supposed to have our back, Washington, is often indistinguishable from the bully who now threatens our economy, Beijing.

And Trump's economic interest in promoting an America First international order undermines our interest in a global trading system in which all nations continue to do business in good faith.
Australia's two-way trade with China represents 26 per cent of our total trade with the world. Last financial year, that relationship was worth $235 billion, which almost equalled the combined value of our two-way trade with Japan ($88.5 billion), the United States ($76.4 billion), South Korea ($41.4 billion) and Singapore ($32.7 billion), our trading partners ranked second to fifth….

If Trump took the time to ponder these numbers he might just advise Morrison to play nice with the Chinese because they let us screw them. He'd also be grateful that Australia allows itself to be ripped off by the Americans.

On the other hand, if the Chinese continue to pick off our second-tier exports to teach us a lesson for speaking out, perhaps Trump might want to open up his economy to Australia to compensate us for our losses? For example, Australia is the world's second-largest exporter of beef. But the Americans only bought $1.1 billion from Australian farmers in the year to March, while the Chinese imported more than double that amount – $2.8 billion. The Americans would surely want some Aussie wine to go with their Aussie steak. Australia is the world's fourth-largest exporter of wine but once again, the Chinese have been more willing to buy alcohol from us than the Americans – $1.2 billion versus $450 million.

But this is not how Trump sees the world. He'd like Americans to buy local, and to sell their surpluses to the rest of the world. A world where China cuts out Australia, and leaves us to bargain with a protectionist US, is not one that serves our interests.

Thursday 28 May 2020

Morrison Government's political backers have spoken and plans for biosecurity levy are abandoned

ABC News, 20 May 2020:

After more than a year of lobbying by cement, minerals and freight industry groups, the Federal Government has abandoned a promise that would raise hundreds of millions of dollars to protect Australian farmers from pests and diseases.

In 2018, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced the Government would raise $325 million over three years through a biosecurity levy.

The Budget outlined a proposed $10.02 biosecurity charge per 20-foot container, and a $1 per tonne levy on bulk imports coming via the sea to be imposed from July 1, 2019, with the funds raised used to detect and screen for exotic pests and diseases.

The 2019 Budget saw that deadline postponed until September 2019, but legislation for the levy was never introduced.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment said the levy could not be implemented without significant impacts on industry and proposed levy payers.

"A levy will not be progressed and this decision will not impact on the overall biosecurity budget," it said.

The statement thanked the industry working group that consulted on the levy, and said the decision had been made "in consideration of the impact of drought, bushfires and COVID-19 on the economy"….

The Cement Industry Federation was part of a consortium of industry groups including the Minerals Council of Australia, Australasian Railway Association, Australian Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturing Australia, the Australian Logistics Council, and Gas Energy Australia that rejected the proposed levy....

The levy on freight was first proposed by a review of Australia's biosecurity services in 2017, which found widespread agreement that biosecurity was underfunded in Australia.

The decision not to introduce the levy comes as Australian farmers face uncertain trading conditions following years of drought and recent pest incursions, which could cost industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

This year alone, Australian farmers have found new worrying detections of the fall armyworm and banana-destroying Panama disease, while Queensland prawn farmers expected to lose millions to an outbreak of white spot disease.

Meanwhile, the pork industry still fears it could experience an outbreak of the pig-killing African Swine Fever.

The disease spread through Asia, wiped out a quarter of the world's pig population and was recently detected in Papua New Guinea.

If it were to reach Australia, the pork industry estimates it could cost the Australian economy $2 billion.

National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the decision to axe the levy was a "blow to Australia's farmers".

"The uncertainty this levy proposal has created — particularly given the current circumstances — is a poor look for government," Mr Mahar said.

The Department of Agriculture Water and Environment did not make a spokesperson available, but said Australia's biosecurity systems underpinned $60 billion in agricultural production, $49 billion in agricultural exports and $42 billion in inbound tourism.

Mr Littleproud's office has been contacted for comment.

So far in 2020 an est. 5 women are dying violently each month in Australia

By 21 May 2020 21 women had been killed violently in Australia.
Five days later on 26 May the count went up to 22 women.

ABC News, 23 May 2020:

When news of the coronavirus shutdowns began to break, Joan* says she felt sick.

"He was going to be here 24/7, it was a nightmare," she told the ABC.
Joan had been in an abusive relationship but felt she could access help when she needed.

"He would go to work and there was time for myself," she said.
But the lockdown meant those moments of privacy were gone.

She had been planning on leaving her partner. Now, that felt impossible.

"It is like being stuck, in the worst way possible. I felt hopeless. And then the beatings started," she said.

Joan, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, ended up seeking help through an online chat function late one night.
"Hopping on the phone and calling wasn't an option," she said.

In living rooms, hallways, bedrooms and kitchens across Australia, people have been increasingly using an online chat tool to seek help amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

The national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service 1800 RESPECT said between March and April, the use of its online chat tool had increased by 38 per cent.

The organisation said the increase represented close to 1,000 people, with more than 4,000 people overall seeking help through its webchats in March and April.

The organisation said for online chats, March and April in 2020 had been the second-busiest two-month period in the organisation's history.

"Between April 2019 and April 2020, we have seen a 20 per cent rise in the use of the tool overall," a spokeswoman from 1800 RESPECT said.

The national hotline said it had also seen a spike in phone calls, but mostly after midnight while partners were asleep.

"Counsellors are now taking more calls from people who at the time of contact are in the same house as someone who uses violence," the spokeswoman said.

"More people are calling the service late at night, closer to midnight. This may be when the person using violence is asleep or the conversation cannot be overheard."

People were getting in contact for three primary reasons: experiencing violence while in isolation, being more fearful due to being in isolation with a violent partner, and concerns that escape was no longer an option.

The spokeswoman said callers would often arrange for a special code word to be used if the caller felt they were at very high risk and needed police called to their home…...

Read the full article here.