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The headlines today

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Thanks for joining me on the national blog. It’s been a pleasure to be your host this afternoon, and I’ve enjoyed following your lively discussion in the comments.

For those just joining us, here is a summary of the key headlines:

  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • There has been a lot of discussion about the proposed Voice to parliament, with prominent Indigenous academic Marcia Langton saying she can’t imagine a better model, and Senator Pat Dodson saying it will be the role of parliament to vote on the detail.
  • NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said it was “pleasing to see” a climate protester who partially blocked the Sydney Harbour Bridge sent to jail, prompting former Greens leader Bob Brown to accuse him of being “under corporate capture”.
  • Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s childhood abuser has faced a Hobart court for allegedly harassing her via social media.
  • The Reserve Bank is expected to raise the cash rate to 3.1 per cent tomorrow.
  • Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has shaken up the cabinet at the start of his third term, with the state getting its first female Muslim minister in St Albans MP Natalie Suleyman.
  • A new report from the Grattan Institute suggests a wholesale overhaul of Medicare and a shift away from its current, fee-for-service arrangements is necessary.
  • The status of Iran’s morality police remains unclear, after reports on the weekend it had been disbanded.
  • Former US president Donald Trump has been rebuked by officials in both parties after calling for the “termination” of parts of the constitution over his lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Prime minister tests positive for COVID-19

By Lisa Visentin

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time.

In a statement this afternoon, Albanese confirmed the result and said he would continue to work from home.

“This afternoon I had a routine PCR test which has returned a positive result for COVID-19,” he said.

“I will be isolating and will continue to work from home. I encourage anyone who is unwell to test and to take any extra precautions to keep their families and neighbours well.”

Albanese previously had COVID-19 during the election campaign, and was forced to isolate for seven days.

Pat Dodson says detail of the Voice will be debated by parliament

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Circling back to the discussion about the proposed Voice to Parliament, Senator Patrick Dodson said the demand for detail missed the point that the referendum was only the start of the democratic process, not the end.

Dodson said more detail on the proposed model would be available before the referendum, but the exact details would be debated by parliament rather than voted on by citizens in a referendum.

Speaking to Rafael Epstein on ABC Radio Melbourne’s Drive program, Dodson said:

The principal matter is a set of words that they’ll be asked to vote upon to say yes or no, whether they agree to it being inserted in the Constitution.

The detail matter is that some details are out there now, and more will probably be provided and people will probably have sufficient [detail] by the time the vote comes around.

But that’s about the model of the Voice, the powers, functions, purposes, how it gets elected, what its capacities are etc and that will be a process to go through by the government and the First Nations peoples.

Ultimately, it’ll be a matter for the parliament, as any legislation in this country is. It’ll be a matter for the parliament and the parties of the parliament to argue and consider and agree upon and ultimately pass or not pass it.

One listener texted in saying that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission with elected representatives had failed, so why would the proposed Voice be different?

Senator Patrick Dodson Says Parliament Will Shape The Exact Model For The Voice.

Senator Patrick Dodson says parliament will shape the exact model for the Voice.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

Dodson said the difference was that it would “have the moral authority of the Australian people behind it” as opposed to being “a policy preference of a party responding to Aboriginal people’s needs or requirements as an act of largesse”.

Another listener asked if the Voice model could be used for other population groups, since federal policy was not always connected to the grassroots.

Dodson said there was merit in making politicians more accountable, and noted that the rise of the teal independents suggested dissatisfaction with the current system and how it was operating.

Bob Brown says NSW premier ‘under corporate capture’, jailing protesters will lead to more protests

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Circling back to the NSW premier welcoming the jailing of a climate protester, environmentalist and former Greens leader Bob Brown has criticised Dominic Perrottet as “under corporate capture”.

Deanna Marie “Violet” Coco, 32, was sentenced to at least eight months in prison for her role in blocking one lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April for about half an hour to raise attention to the climate crisis.

Perrottet said this morning this was “pleasing to see” because Coco had inconvenienced people.

This afternoon Brown told ABC Radio Melbourne’s Drive program with Rafael Epstein this type of crackdown would actually lead to more protests.

It’s like the situation that the Suffragettes faced – as more women went to jail and had their stomachs pumped and the cruelty of that age where people spat on women and quoted the Bible at them, more people joined the protests.

It was a movement whose time had come, and it’s the same with saving the planet – it’s a movement whose time has come. That’s why millions of schoolchildren pre-COVID were out on the streets, and that’s only going to increase as we go into the future because the danger is getting worse, the threat is getting worse.

When it comes to people like the young woman who’s now been put to jail in Sydney, and people who have been threatened with jail or going to jail in NSW and Victoria and Tasmania, right across the country and around the world, in a world in which last year, over 200 environmentalists were murdered by those who want to keep exploiting the planet, then the movement’s just simply going to grow.

I was arrested myself in the forest in Tasmania a fortnight ago, defending the forest against destruction and the Swift Parrot headed rapidly to extinction under Labor and Liberal governments.

We’re going to see strong-minded citizens taking peaceful protests. I went to the High Court over this just a couple of years ago and the High Court upheld and defended the right of peaceful protest in a representative democracy. It’s going to grow, it won’t be suppressed by bigger penalties because it’s still important to people.

Epstein asked Brown what the effect would have been if laws such as the NSW law against protesting on roads and tunnels or the Victorian law against protesting in logging areas had existed at the time of the fight to save the Franklin River in the 1980s.

We were facing a $100 fine for trespass in the forest on the Lower Franklin – nothing like what’s happened since the corporate sectors got the big parties to bring in these draconian anti-protest laws.

If the current laws had been in place back then, the Franklin would now be a dead river. It’d be dammed from end to end.

Tasmania would be burdened with an extra couple of billion dollars of debt but we would have lost one of the great job creators and tourist attractions that we have in our suite of enticements for people to come here.

New Zealand to hold royal commission into its COVID response

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

New Zealand is the country that most closely mirrored Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will hold a royal commission to probe what it got right and wrong.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed Dr Tony Blakely, the New Zealand-born professor of epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, to lead the review.

Ardern announced the commission today, saying “the highest form of public inquiry is the right thing to do”.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Has Announced A Royal Commission Into The Country&Rsquo;S Covid-19 Response.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a royal commission into the country’s COVID-19 response.Credit:Getty Images

“New Zealand experienced fewer cases, hospitalisations and deaths than nearly any other country in the first two years of the pandemic, but there has undoubtedly been a huge impact on New Zealanders both here and abroad,” she said.

“It’s critical we compile what worked and what we can learn from it should it ever happen again.”

Blakely has been asked to begin work in February 2023 and finish by June 2024, meaning the commission will not report back before next year’s election.

The scope of the $NZ15 million ($14.1 million) probe will zoom out to examine broad strategies such as lockdowns and border closures, but not the specific timings and settings.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 in June 2020 after its first case in February of that year. The country remained relatively COVID-free until the Delta variant arrived in 2021, producing long lockdowns, particularly on the North Island.

Ardern’s Labour party won re-election in October 2020 with 50 per cent of the nationwide party vote – the greatest share at a general election of any party for 69 years.

The opposition National Party welcomed the royal commission, while the Greens labelled it disappointingly narrow in scope.

Both parties want a specific inquiry into the economic response, given rollercoaster house prices and spiralling interest rates have been among the pandemic’s tumultuous effects.

With AAP

Reserve Bank expected to raise the cash rate to 3.1 per cent

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

To the economy, and the Reserve Bank is expected to lift official interest rates once again at its final meeting of the year tomorrow.

A rate rise will make mortgages and other loans more expensive and harder to obtain, but boost the incomes of self-funded retirees with cash savings.

The Reserve Bank is trying to combat inflation, and will make the adjustment to the cash rate because of evidence the nation’s strong jobs market is finally swelling the size of workers’ pay packets.

Higher pay can increase inflation because of both the higher costs for businesses on the supply side, and increased spending from consumers on the demand side.

The rise would cap a record eighth consecutive month of rate rises, bringing the cash rate to 3.1 per cent. It was at 0.1 per cent as recently as April.

Our economics correspondents Shane Wright and Rachel Clun have the full story.

Grace Tame’s abuser Nicolaas Bester faces court on fresh harassment charges

Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s childhood abuser has faced a Hobart court for allegedly harassing her via social media.

Nicolaas Ockert Bester, 70, faces three charges of using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence.

The charges relate to social media posts on Twitter related to, and directed at, Tame on April 27, July 21 and August 28 this year.

Grace Tame&Rsquo;S Abuser Has Been Back In Court For Allegedly Harassing Her On Twitter.

Grace Tame’s abuser has been back in court for allegedly harassing her on Twitter.Credit:Adam Gibson

Bester appeared in Hobart Magistrates Court today and did not enter a plea.

His bail was continued, and he will next appear on January 31. Bester didn’t speak in court or to media outside.

Tasmania Police in October charged Bester following a search warrant assisted by Australian Federal Police.

Police said his Twitter account had been suspended by the social media giant.

Bester was in 2011 jailed for two years and 10 months for abusing Tame, who was 15 at the time, and for possessing child exploitation material.

Bester was a teacher at the high school Tame attended.

Tame has advocated for sexual abuse survivors and their right to be heard and was named Australian of the Year in 2021.

Lifeline 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

AAP

Department responsible for robo-debt ‘shaped’ Ombudsman’s report

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Staying with federal politics, the royal commission into the controversial robo-debt scheme is back on today.

The commission is investigating how the scheme, which operated between 2015 and 2020 and falsely accused welfare recipients of owing money, went ahead despite government departments knowing the debt calculation method was unlawful.

The commission heard that senior staff at the Department of Human Services “effectively co-wrote” an independent Commonwealth Ombudsman report on their own department’s shift to an automated debt recovery system.

Former senior Department of Human Services (now Services Australia) official Jason McNamara gave evidence about how the department responded to a request for feedback on the Ombudsman’s report, and readily admitted he sought to influence the report.

One department official told colleagues via email it was “a great opportunity to effectively co-write the report”. That email suggested the Ombudsman could copy and paste their content into the final report.

The report identified a number of flaws in the scheme, but stopped short of declaring its “income averaging” debt calculation process unlawful.

McNamara was shown a number of edits made to the language in the draft report that looked to downplay the negative impact of the scheme.

Asked by counsel assisting the commission Angus Scott if one particular edit was to produce a sentence less scathing of the program, McNamara responded: “Yes, definitely.”

They also had input to the recommendations made by the Ombudsman’s report.

McNamara did not accept department influence challenged the Ombudsman’s neutrality, saying it was free to reject the suggestions and the practice of consultation was “quite normal”.

The commission was shown that when McNamara applied for the position of Treasury’s deputy secretary, he boasted he had “shaped” the Ombudsman’s report.

It also heard evidence former Human Services minister Alan Tudge pointed to the Ombudsman’s report in face of criticism of the scheme through a Senate report.

Earlier, senior counsel assisting the commission Justin Greggery, KC, said relevant former Morrison government ministers including Tudge, Stuart Robert, Christian Porter, Dan Tehan and Paul Fletcher were likely to be called to give evidence.

The human services and social services ministers at the time the scheme was established are already scheduled to front hearings next week – Marise Payne on the Tuesday and Scott Morrison the following day.

Greggery said the other ministers would be called in a subsequent hearing block. The next block of public hearings are set for January 23 to February 3.

With AAP

Betting companies ‘grooming’ children, inquiry hears

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

To federal politics, where a parliamentary inquiry has heard that betting companies are “grooming” children with advertising, and hundreds of thousands are gambling online from a young age.

Parliament is no longer sitting until February, but some parliamentary work continues, including an inquiry into online gambling and its impacts on those experiencing gambling harm.

This morning, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs heard from the Alliance for Gambling Reform and people who had experience of gambling harm, at a public hearing.

The reform alliance told the inquiry it estimated more than 430,000 people under the age of 16 were betting online.

The organisation’s chief executive, Carol Bennett, warned that including the gambling industry at the table to talk about harm reduction would hinder an adequate public health response.

“The gambling industry makes money by making losers, that’s the reality,” she said. “Reducing harms … is at odds with their purpose.”

Reverend Tim Costello told the inquiry the lack of federal regulation on gambling advertising meant operators were able to “groom our kids with impunity” and “the implications will be horrific and lifelong”.

Costello said betting companies had built a myth around mateship, such as through the plethora of advertisements depicting betting with mates.

He said when he began researching the sector, he had the idea that Australians just loved to punt, which is what led to such great gambling losses.

He has now decided that the problem is not cultural but simply due to a lack of regulation.

“The truth is, we’ve had the worst policies, the least regulation of gambling,” he said. “That is why we have the greatest losses.”

While there is some oversight of gambling advertising by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Costello branded the watchdog a “toothless tiger”.

Gambling giant Sportsbet used its submission to the inquiry to acknowledge more solutions were needed to protect minors and people at risk of harm, but said any protections had to be balanced against a company’s legal right to advertise.

With AAP

Status of Iran’s morality police remains unclear

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

In international news, protesters in Iran have called for a three-day strike this week, as it remains unclear whether the morality police are still operating.

On the weekend public prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted saying that the morality police had been shut down.

The force was established in 2005 with the task of arresting people who violate the country’s Islamic dress code.

A Protest In Iran In October Over The Death In Police Custody Of 22-Year-Old Mahsa Amini.

A protest in Iran in October over the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.Credit:AP

In September, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who was detained by the morality police for flouting the hijab rules, died in custody, sparking months of protests.

The Iranian government has repeatedly said there would be no change to the dress code, which includes mandatory hijabs for women.

However, Associated Press has been unable to confirm the closure of the morality police. State media have noted Montazeri is not responsible for overseeing the morality police. There was no confirmation from the Interior Ministry, which has responsibility for the force.

In a report carried by ISNA on Sunday, MP Nezamoddin Mousavi signalled a less confrontational approach towards the protests, and said the people’s demand was “mainly economic”.

Mousavi did not address the reported closure of the morality police.

With AP

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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