Home » Australia News Live Update: Record Fine For Origin Energy; Cabinet To Finalise 2050 Net Zero Deal; Victoria Records 1,461 Covid Cases, NSW 294

Australia News Live Update: Record Fine For Origin Energy; Cabinet To Finalise 2050 Net Zero Deal; Victoria Records 1,461 Covid Cases, NSW 294

03:01

Labor’s Penny Wong is asking the government Senate leader, Simon Birmingham, about a UK Telegraph report that Australian government sources described the UK high commissioner, Vicki Treadell, as a “sanctimonious bore” who was “haranguing” Australia about climate.

Birmingham said he is “not accepting the proposition” that anyone in the government said that, because it is an unattributed quote. But he said “of course if someone were to have said that, the prime minister would condemn it” because Scott Morrison values the close relationship with the UK and its high commissioner.

Earlier, James Larsen, the climate coordinator in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, confirmed that Morrison had indicated he would go to Glasgow Cop26 climate conference on 15 October, the last day for registration.

Wong was annoyed at Larsen for not being able to reveal who is travelling to the conference, besides Morrison and the energy minister Angus Taylor.

Larsen said he couldn’t recall which MPs were going, but confirmed Warren Entsch was among them when prompted by Wong. Wong asked him to get the draft list he had seen.

The British high commissioner to Australia Vicki Treadell. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Updated

02:55

And in environment estimates there is one piece of information we have learned. We don’t know what the Nationals have received, what the climate deal is, or what it will cost, but we do know that there is an advertising plan coming!

Under questioning from Labor’s Nita Green, the environment boffins have conceded there will be a $13m marketing plan on the climate policy, including market research – which you should start seeing from this week.

Updated

02:48

Back in the house (the Senate is all estimates-focused this week) and Adam Bandt has reintroduced the Greens’ coal prohibition bill.

Here was part of his speech:

We need to do what we have done in other industries that we know don’t have a sustainable future.

It is not the fault of the workers or communities in coalmining towns or towns associated with coal-fired power stations. They have worked to help us keep the lights on and to power this country for decades.

These communities should be in charge of their own future. They should be provided with the support, expertise and financial resources they need to transform and diversify their local economies in the way that they choose, so that their children can have stable, good-quality jobs in the new global economy.

If we don’t stop mining and burning coal, we will be extinguished. If we don’t start now, before the change is thrust upon us, we will see deep, localised recessions and dismantled communities.

This is a bill whose time has come. We need to join the rest of the world in making a plan to get out of coal and gas.

We don’t have a minute to lose.

Updated

02:40

The Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee has heard details of the Australian federal police’s investigation into the Leppington Triangle land purchase.

Last month the AFP said it had finalised its investigation into the commonwealth’s purchase of land for the development of the Western Sydney airport, “with no evidence of criminal conduct identified”.

During the AFP’s appearance before a Senate estimates hearing this morning, the committee heard that 11 investigators had been involved in the Leppington investigation.

The Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick asked what evidence had been provided by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) as part of the investigation.

The AFP deputy commissioner, Ian McCartney, told the Senate committee:

The original referral matter indicated that fraud may have occurred and subsequent to that the auditor general provided a significant amount of digital material to the AFP as part of the investigation … It was a range of documents in terms of financial transactions, valuation agreements, a range of documents related to the transaction.

Rennick: “And no evidence was found of any wrongdoing?”

McCartney: “We have put out a statement saying we identified no criminal wrongdoing in relation to the matter, senator.”

The Western Sydney airport site. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

Rennick: “So do you know why, if there was no evidence of any wrongdoing … why the auditor general would think there was evidence of wrongdoing?”

McCartney:

Well I think you’d have to ask the auditor general, but in the letter he provided to Australian federal police he indicated the suspicion of fraud in relation to the transaction. We received that matter, we decided to undertake an investigation, and as a result of that investigation we haven’t found criminal offending in relation to the matter, senator.

Rennick: “Did you have to conduct raids on the the staff’s houses to get all possible records?”

McCartney:

I think we’ve said before at Senate estimates [that] we don’t conduct raids, we conduct search warrants. We conducted two search warrants, but I’m not prepared to say in terms of the open hearing what they related to, senator.

Rennick made a general statement that included the question: “Where’s the accountability with the auditor general?”

(The ANAO is due to face Senate estimates tonight.)

The hearing continues.

Updated

02:27

Labor’s Tony Burke sought to suspend standing orders to move a motion relitigating the issue of the House failing to refer Christian Porter’s legal fees being part-paid by a trust with funds from unknown sources to the privileges committee.

The government moved that Burke no longer be heard, and won the vote, so he didn’t get further than the attempted suspension.

A copy of the motion, seen by Guardian Australia, indicates that Burke was seeking to move that the House note:

Last week, the Morrison-Joyce government voted down a privileges motion given precedence by the speaker for the first time since federation; media reports that ‘Liberal backbenchers were completely horrified’ by that vote, which protected the member for Pearce from having to disclose the sources of donations; this renders the register of members’ interests completely meaningless; and those same backbenchers now have the chance to put things right and restore basic standards of transparency and integrity to this parliament.

It also sought leave for Burke to move once against to refer Porter to privileges. But Burke didn’t get that far. So, another vote on government members’ record refusing to refer the Legal Services Trust issue to the privileges committee.

Updated

02:25

2030 target ‘not changing’

Over in energy estimates, senators have been putting pressure on the department about Australia’s 2030 targets.

Remember that for all the government’s focus on 2050, it is 2030 targets and urgent cuts to emissions in the next decade that are the focus of the Glasgow climate talks.

My colleagues flagged in this piece last week that there was no appetite in the government to take a stronger 2030 target to next week’s summit.

There have been some confusing exchanges about Australia’s 2030 plans during this morning’s hearing, with department officials seemingly unwilling to confirm if updating the target had been ruled out.

But that now appears to have been confirmed in this exchange between the Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Jo Evans, a deputy secretary in the department of industry, science, energy and resources department.

Hanson-Young: The NDC (nationally determined contribution) does require commitment, doesn’t it? Not just aspiration.

Evans: Well we have already taken that and there is a commitment in our existing NDC and that is the target that has already been communicated.

Hanson-Young: The Tony Abbott target?

Evans: The target of the Australian government that was set under Paris in 2015.

Hanson-Young: So that won’t change?

Evans: That target, which was set at 2015 and which is for 2030, is not changing.

Updated

02:24

Nationals MP Anne Webster has lodged a private member’s bill to regulate social media companies.

The bill gives the communications minister power to “make determinations about the basic expectations of a social media service”.

These can then be followed up by the eSafety commissioner, which can demand social media companies report on how they’re meeting the expectations or publish their own conclusions about contraventions.

The bill also creates a process for members of the public to complain to the eSafety commissioner about defamatory material on social media platforms.

According to the explanatory memorandum:

The commissioner [has] the power to issue defamation notices to a service provider in circumstances where a complaint regarding defamatory material has been made to the commissioner, and the commissioner is satisfied that it is reasonably likely that the material defamed or defames the complainant … Service providers can be liable for defamation if that service provider is issued with a defamation notice by the commissioner and the defamatory material is not removed within 48 hours.

Webster as been at the forefront of efforts to hold social media giants liable as publishers after successful defamation proceedings against a conspiracy theorist who used Facebook to call her “a member of a secretive paedophile network”.

Nationals MP Anne Webster. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Updated

02:23

Labor MP Julian Hill has also introduced this bill (as a private member’s bill) which aims to “Protect Pensioners from the Cashless Debit Card Bill”.

This has been a campaign Labor has been ticking away at in key electorates for the last couple of months. The thing is, there is no plan to put pensioners on the cashless debit card. The government has been ruling that out for months – but don’t be surprised if this starts to play out as part of an election campaign (much like the fake death-tax campaign run against Labor at the last campaign had an impact, and Mediscare had an impact before that).

Updated

02:16

Over in the house, Tony Burke has attempted to suspend standing orders but that has been gagged very quickly by the government and the procedures move on.

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02:07

NSW Covid update

Earlier today, New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet welcomed the return to school for hundreds of thousands of students, and said the government was “always revisiting” its reopening plans.

His comments came after he was asked about his counterpart in Victoria, Daniel Andrews, announcing eased restrictions from Friday, and again from 24 November.

Perrottet said the Covid and Economic Recover Committee revisited the state’s restrictions each week, with changes due on 1 November and 1 December.

He said:

There’s a sense of positivity and confidence we haven’t seen for sometime.

What we need to do is have that strong health response, which we’ve made some substantial investments in, but then ultimately open up as safely as possible so we get [people] back into work and provide for their families.

We’ve always had a balanced and measured approach here in NSW. We’ll continue to have that approach as we move forward.

‘There’s a sense of positivity’: Dominic Perrottet at a press conference today in Sydney. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Perrottet was asked if the state had “dodged a bullet” considering it had avoided forecasts of cases and hospitalisations spiking in October. He said:

This pandemic is not over. We are opening up and as we open up, case numbers will increase and hospitalisations will increase.

I think it’s a long journey. The success here has been our vaccination rate, and we’ll obviously continue to look at the data as it comes through.

All school students returned to face-to-face learning today, after years 1, 12 and kindergarten returned last week. State education minister Sarah Mitchell announced school sport would resume from 1 November.

Sixteen schools across NSW are closed today for cleaning and contact tracing, after members of their school communities tested positive.

Updated

02:00

The head of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission says the recently released Pandora Papers only confirms the group’s past findings about the risks posed by offshore service providers.

The Greens senator Nick McKim pointed to a 2017 ACIC report that said serious and organised crime groups “engage the services of professional facilitators to launder the proceeds of crime, conceal illicit wealth and enhance their criminal activities”.

The report said:

As seen with the release of the so called Panama Papers in April 2016, criminal groups may employ offshore service providers to conceal their illicit funds.

Michael Phelan, the ACIC chief executive, told Senate estimates today:

I think with the release of the Pandora Papers and what we know about them … all it does is confirm the original assessments that were made in 2017 that offshore enablers does cause us a problem, both from a revenue protection position in terms of our tax revenue but also potential money laundering and obfuscating of funds that may well have been derived illicitly from activities in Australia.

Phelan said the assessment in 2017 “has been confirmed”.

He said he “wouldn’t necessarily say we are a favoured destination for money laundering”, adding: “Generally the money goes the other way.”

I would not say that Australia is a popular destination for laundered funds – popular in a sense of relativity, senator … So if I was going to hide my money it would be in an offshore tax haven, it certainly wouldn’t be here.

McKim pursued the issue of including professional facilitators – such as accountants, lawyers and real estate agents – within the scope of money laundering laws. Phelan said the gap was “a vulnerability and I’m not going to step back from that” but added it was “a matter of government policy” as to what they choose to regulate.

Updated

01:59

Labor’s Penny Wong is grilling the finance minister, Simon Birmingham, about a report from Michelle Grattan suggesting that Scott Morrison could have gone to Glasgow promising net zero even without the Nationals’ support.

Birmingham said the prime minister had “respectfully engaged” in a process with the Nationals and it was “hypothetical” whether he could’ve gone to Glasgow promising net zero without their support.

Asked if there was any discussion of him doing so, Birmingham replied:

No – the prime minister was always intent on running a proper cabinet process.

Wong said the Nationals could’ve been out-voted at cabinet, and noted Barnaby Joyce’s public comments about it being within Morrison’s remit to promise net zero. Wong argued that all this meant whatever Morrison had agreed to amounted to “taxpayer funds to purchase political peace with the National party” for a decision he could’ve imposed if he wanted.

Birmingham rejected that. He said Australia was “best served” by keeping Australians together and negotiations within the government were a “function of representatives democracy” to ensure that diverse interests were represented.

Birmingham said he hadn’t seen the Nationals’ letter but “we work through the different issues that are raised”, confirming he had been briefed on them.

James Chisholm, a first assistant secretary at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, said he hadn’t prepared advice on the demands, nor seen the list.

Stephanie Foster, the deputy secretary, said this likely meant the department hadn’t seen it.

Wong questioned how the government could claim the document was cabinet in confidence if the department that administered cabinet hadn’t even seen it.

The call has now moved to Coalition senators.

Updated

01:44

Victoria Covid update

In Victoria, a woman in her 20s is among the seven Covid deaths announced today, as health minister Martin Foley said more than 800 people were in hospital with the virus.

The deaths also included a man in his 40s, a man in his 60s, two women and a man in their 80s and a man in his 90s.

It came as Foley and the Covid-19 commander, Jeroen Weimar, both urged people to continue to get vaccinated and to remain cautious of restrictions and of symptoms.

Weimar also announced a series of pop-up vaccination clinics aimed at communities with “lower levels” of vaccine take-up, and he pointed out that many of the new cases were unvaccinated people.

He said:

What we’ve seen now with a new case in the last week, two-thirds of the new cases every single day are not vaccinated. Not the first dose, not fully vaccinated, they’re just not vaccinated…

Some of the local government areas of concern, in Wyndham, 96% of those new cases under the age of 40 were vaccinated. In Hume, 97% of new cases under the age of 40 were not fully vaccinated. Please, for your protection and the possession of those you love around you, get the vaccination job done over the coming days.

Weimar welcomed the drop in case numbers today but said it was imperative people remained vigilant about symptoms and getting tested across the metropolitan Melbourne.

Testing numbers across metropolitan Melbourne were slightly down at 94,000 over the weekend, he said.

Updated

01:33

Cabinet isn’t scheduled to meet until tonight, so don’t expect any updates from the coalition on climate. There will be a lot of back and forth on rhetoric in question time, but no answers.

Party room doesn’t meet until tomorrow – after cabinet has signed off on the deal.