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Australia news live: senator says WeChat no-show at election interference hearing shows ‘contempt’; WA wins back AAA credit rating | Australian politics

Australian pro-democracy activist released from Vietnamese jail

Australian citizen and pro-democracy activist Chau Van Kham has been released from a Vietnamese jail, AAP reports.

The retired Sydney baker was arrested in 2019 on terrorism charges. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison over his membership of the overseas, pro-democracy political party Viet Tan.

Deputy prime minister Richard Marles thanked the Vietnamese government for its action.

Marles told reporters today:

They’ve done this on the basis of humanitarian grounds and in the spirit of friendship, which exists between Australia and Vietnam.

This is a result of careful advocacy which has been undertaken by the Australian government with the Vietnamese government over a number of months now.

Key events

NAB business survey points to economy’s resilience despite cost pressures

Peter Hannam

If consumers are in a funk, companies aren’t there – yet.

The last monthly survey of business by NAB shows conditions remained steady at above-average levels.

Not all is going swimmingly, though, with the retail sector weakening, business confidence at “zero” and forward orders now negative.

Capacity utilisation has also dropped to 83.5%, or the lowest level since April 2022 (just prior to the RBA starting its rate-rise cycle). A bit of slack in the economy is what the central bank wants to see.

Employees may be happy to see labour cost growth picking up to 2.6% in the June quarter alone, but the central bank won’t be so keen. Input costs overall rose 2.3% for the quarter.

NAB’s chief economist Alan Oster said:

Overall, the survey suggests the economy remained resilient and price pressures continued through the end of Q2, despite warning signs that growth is slowing.

Consumer confidence perks up a bit but remains subdued

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam

There are a couple of sentiment surveys out today tracking the mood of households and businesses.

First up, there’s the monthly Westpac/Melbourne Institute survey of consumer confidence, which showed a pickup of 2.7% to 81.3 in July.

Westpac’s Bill Evans said:

Sentiment remains at the deeply pessimistic levels that have prevailed for just over a year now.

Consumer confidence picked up in the past month, helped by the RBA’s decision to pause on rates and the recent drop in the inflation rate. Still, sentiment remains in the pits. (Source: Westpac/Melbourne Institute. pic.twitter.com/EMxoTsoIdA

— @phannam@mastodon.green (@p_hannam) July 11, 2023

The main drags on sentiment throughout this period of depressingly low consumer sentiment have been the surging cost of living and sharply higher interest rates.

Still, the drop in monthly CPI inflation to 5.6% in May was one positive. Interestingly, the Reserve Bank keeping its cash rate unchanged in July didn’t help buoy confidence. (Presumably it would have tanked if they had lifted it.)

ANZ and Roy Morgan run a separate weekly sentiment survey, and that found a 0.8% decline, too, even with the RBA pause.

Their gauge also tracks inflation expectations, and those retreated in the past week, a trend the central bank wants to see.

We’ll have the business survey shortly. Stay tuned…

Greens call for free abortions after TGA changes

Greens senator Larissa Waters says today’s Therapeutic Goods Administration amendment to allow more medical practitioners and pharmacists to supply the abortion pill is a step forward in improving access to reproductive choice, but urges the government to make the abortion pill free of charge.

Today’s decision to allow all doctors and nurse practitioners to prescribe the pregnancy termination pill, and all pharmacies to stock it, will improve access for women and pregnant people, particularly in regional and remote parts of the country.

This announcement will go a long way to improving access, but financial barriers remain and the Greens want to see zero out of pocket costs for abortion, whether medical or surgical.

This announcement will go a long way to improving access, but financial barriers remain and the Greens want to see zero out of pocket costs for abortion, whether medical or surgical.

— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) July 10, 2023

Waters also says “it is disappointing to see midwives not included in today’s announcement”.

She calls the government to implement all recommendations made by the multipartisan Senate inquiry into Universal access to reproductive healthcare.

Industry super body wants 30-hour threshold removed

Teenage workers could forgo more than $10,000 from their super balances because of a rule that bars them from automatic contributions.

Hundreds of thousands of young workers are missing out on super from their employers because of a law asserting under-18 workers are not entitled to compulsory super contributions unless they work 30 hours a week for the same employer, AAP reports.

Industry Super Australia revealed teenage workers are heavily penalised by the rule, with the average young worker forgoing an extra $885 a year.

This amounts to a $10,200 hit to their final super balances upon retirement and after years of compound interest.

The industry super body wants the 30-hour threshold law removed.

Industry Super Australia chief executive Bernie Dean said modernising the rules would also benefit employers.

Removing the 30-hour threshold wouldn’t just be fair for young workers, it would be good for the employers who have to face the administrative nightmare of keeping track of the weekly hours of a highly casual workforce.

Australia joining ‘climate club’ puts pressure on fossil fuel action at home

Australia’s entry into a “climate club” is expected to increase pressure on the government to improve action to cut emissions, AAP reports.

While prime minister Anthony Albanese was meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, he confirmed that Australia had been invited to join the initiative.

The club includes countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States, and aims to increase international collaboration on climate action.

Albanese said:

Australia and Germany are now united in our deep commitment to tackling climate change, and I commended chancellor Scholz on his development of Germany’s climate club and was pleased to confirm that Australia will join that high ambition initiative.

Climate Council research director Simon Bradshaw said it was an important initiative to decarbonise industry and pursue net zero emissions, “but (it) must be backed by stronger steps at home to phase out fossil fuels and build the clean industries of the future”.

International collaboration is key to achieving the emissions reductions we need to combat the climate crisis.

But we need to see any new international partnerships backed with real action.

From 21 August, Australians will be able to ban themselves from all online gambling companies using “BetStop” – a national self-exclusion register that will replace systems in the states and territories that have been criticised as ineffective.

You can read the full story from Henry Belot here:

WeChat’s no-show at election interference hearing shows ‘contempt’

Josh Taylor

Josh Taylor

Ahead of the hearing on foreign interference on social media later this morning, the chair of the committee, James Paterson, has tweeted a letter from Chinese app WeChat.

He has been seeking to have the company appear before the committee alongside TikTok, Meta, Google and Twitter. However, in a response to the committee, the company has said it is unable to attend due to not having any local representatives in Australia.

WeChat did say however that it would be responsive in writing to the committee and would answer any questions the committee has.

WeChat has replied to my letter – and continues to show contempt for the parliament of Australia with their ongoing refusal to assist the work of the Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media: pic.twitter.com/6uxw8rWtxz

— James Paterson (@SenPaterson) July 11, 2023

Paterson said the company is continuing to show contempt for the parliament.

Unlike TikTok, WeChat is not covered by a blanket restriction from federal government devices, despite similar concerns over the data collection and security on the app.

WA’s credit rating reinstated to AAA

For the first time since 2014, Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded Western Australia’s credit rating to AAA – that is the highest possible rating.

S&P Global, a private banking company, upgraded WA to AAA credit rating in June last year.

WA is the only state or territory with this rating from Moody’s and S&P Global– highlighting its strong financial management, as put in Moody’s statement.

Their financial performance is “an outlier to its domestic and international peers”, with sustained budget surpluses and material easing in the State’s debt burden under the current Government, according to the statement.

Moody’s AAA rating was lost under the Liberal National government in 2014. S&P’s rating was lost in 2013 under the same government.

It is now reinstated under the Cook Labor government.

Premier Roger Cook says of the rating:

Under my government we continue the focus on strong financial management, invest in what matters, pay down debt, diversify the Western Australian economy and create jobs for future generations.

Commuters send more than 1500 sexual harassment incidents to Victoria police

In the 12 months since the launch of a text service to stamp out sexual harassment, commuters have sent police more than 1500 alerts about incidents on Victoria’s public transport, AAP reports.

The service, STOPIT, was launched on 11 July 2022. More than half the users are women and girls. The service is the first of its kind in Australia, which enables victims or witnesses to text a dedicated police transit team with details about incidents.

Police urges anyone who has witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviour on Victoria’s public transport network to contact STOPIT. More than 40% of notifications sent in are about threatening and offensive behaviour, including verbal abuse and harassment.

Police have arrested 13 people attached to incidents reported to the service.

Victoria Police Transit Safety Division Insp Mark Zervaas thanked all those who used the service.

Every piece of information received has helped us make the network a safer place for all commuters.

Rental crisis shows modest signs of easing

Some good news for renters (finally).

The search for a rental property is now a little less competitive in most Australian cities as vacancy rates finally start ticking up, AAP reports.

Vacancies edged slightly higher again last month, reaching 1.45%, with renters finding it easier to secure a new home in every capital city except Brisbane, as measured by property firm PropTrack.

Vacancy rates still remain at around half their pre-pandemic levels, however.

PropTrack senior economist Paul Ryan said demand was slowing but from elevated heights.

It remains difficult to find a rental across the country and we expect rents to continue to grow quickly, placing additional financial pressure on renters.

Read more from Peter Hannam and Tamsin Rose here:

Survey shows ecologists reportedly facing gags on publicly releasing work

Researchers warn suppression of science by governments and corporations is hampering efforts to address the global biodiversity crisis, AAP reports.

James Cook University professor Bill Laurance points to a survey of Australian ecologists who reported facing gags on the public release of their information.

He says:

Imagine someone who’s done years of work on a subject and has more or less been told not to talk to the media.

Of 220 people interviewed by the Ecological Society of Australia, about 50% of government experts and 40% of industry respondents said they had been banned from publicly sharing their work.

Laurance says the suppression of academic work was inherently dangerous in Australia – the result is poor policy outcomes, impacts on threatened species and delayed action on climate change.

It often happens in situations where the stakes are high, when it’s an important issue causing controversy.

Reward of $1m to solve 1980s murder mystery

More on the $1m reward being offered by police in a bid to solve the murder mystery of Robert Richardson, known as Jack.

Police believe several people helped arrange Richardson’s murder, including his friends. They are searching for who fatally shot Richardson, and anyone who helped plan the murder – likely including people formerly associated with the Painters and Dockers Union.

The $1m reward will be paid at the chief commissioner of police’s discretion for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the person or people behind Richardson’s murder.

The 49-year-old was on bail and living with his girlfriend at St Kilda before his death.

He also had a young daughter, who grew up never knowing who killed her father and why.

Victoria Police Detective Insp Dean Thomas said:

Given Jack’s significant criminal history and associations, we also believe there is a strong likelihood that people with information were afraid to come forward at the time of his death because they feared significant retribution.

We’re hoping that some of those people may now be able to speak to us without those fears or concerns.”

The director of public prosecutions will consider granting indemnity to anyone who leads them to the perpetrators.


‘All the hallmarks of an underworld execution’

Feel like an unsolved murder with your morning news and coffee? Because police are offering a $1m reward in a bid to solve a decades-old underworld mystery, AAP reports.

On 31 March 1984, Robert Richardson, known as “Jack”, was found dead in bushland in central Victoria – off King Parrot Creek Rd near Strath Creek.

He was shot in what police believe was an execution-style killing.

The 49-year-old was last seen with two unknown men at St Kilda between 1.20am and 2am on 4 March – the day before he was due to go to trial at Melbourne County Court with two co-accused charged with conspiring to traffic heroin.

His killing was two years to the day after police first made arrests over the heroin trafficking investigation.

Victoria Police Detective Insp Dean Thomas said it was no coincidence Richardson’s death was the day before the trial was due to start.

The investigation involved a high-level Melbourne organised crime syndicate connected to the notorious Painters and Dockers Union, the police believe.

It was also linked to an attempted hit on a NSW Police undercover operative, who was a prosecution witness.

Thomas said:

Jack’s death had all the hallmarks of an underworld execution, and the evidence suggests he probably had no warning he was going to be killed and trusted the person who did it.

Ultimately, his fatal mistake may have been trusting the wrong person.

Australia plane to aid Ukraine in European airspace

Australia will deploy a surveillance aircraft for logistical support to Ukraine, but it will not enter the country’s airspace, AAP reports.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese is set to meet the leaders of New Zealand, Japan and South Korea in a special session with Nato leaders in Lithuania to discuss global security.

Ahead of the meeting, he announced a Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail aircraft would be deployed to Europe to help protect multinational logistics hubs.

The aircraft would ensure the uninterrupted flow of military and humanitarian aid into Ukraine. It will be deployed for six months, based in Germany, and will operate within European airspace – but will avoid the territory of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

Albanese said the deployment would include up to 100 crew and support personnel from Australia.

This demonstrates Australia’s commitment to upholding the rules-based international order.

Marles focuses on building Nato relationship not Keating’s comments

Policing what Paul Keating says is “the last thing I’m going to do,” deputy prime minister and minister for defence Richard Marles said after the former prime minister labelled the head of Nato a “supreme fool”.

Marles said on ABC TV this morning:

The last thing I’m going to do is to suggest what Paul Keating should or shouldn’t say. I also know that whatever I suggested is not going to have much influence anyway. Paul will have his say. That’s fine.

The principal message … in terms of Australia’s position in the world, is that articulated by those governing Australia right now. We’re very focused on building our relationship with Nato. It’s important, and the prime minister is attending the summit as I said.

Marles also said the government is focused on “our relationship with the countries within our region”:

We brought down the defence strategic review and the government’s response to it a month or two ago … We made clear that one of the key tasks of the Australian Defence Force now and Australia’s strategic policy is around providing for the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region. At the heart of that is building our own relationships with the countries within the Indo-Pacific. And that’s our focus as we see it in terms of providing for Australia’s security.

Government welcomes more future abortion access through health professionals

The TGA’s decision to remove restrictions on health professionals who prescribe and dispense MS-2 Step – medical abortion pills – has been welcomed by the government.

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney says “we welcome these changes that remove red tape and improve equitable access to healthcare for all Australians,” in a statement.

We know that women experience structural barriers trying to access the health care that they need, particularly in regional and rural areas. That’s why it’s so important that all health practitioners can perform the care that they are already trained to provide.

These changes recognise the importance of health practitioners that women see regularly – their GP, their nurse practitioner and their community pharmacist.

The TGA’s decision will take effect from 1 August

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/live/2023/jul/11/australia-news-live-anthony-albanese-germany-nato-climate-club-indigenous-voice-support-falls-robodebt-scheme-rental-crisis Australia news live: senator says WeChat no-show at election interference hearing shows ‘contempt’; WA wins back AAA credit rating | Australian politics

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