Good morning. Political ructions in South America, frustration over aged care vaccination schedules, and praise for Australia’s resistance to China dominate the national and international headlines this Thursday. Here are your top stories.
The federal government has faced criticism for failing to vaccinate aged care staff, while only half of Australia’s care residents have received priority vaccinations, despite a plan for both groups to receive their shots in the first six weeks of the rollout. The Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, condemned the apparent lack of a “clear strategy” from Canberra, saying, “there’s no clarity around the timetable and process for the vaccination of aged care workers”. Yates also emphasised that staff could potentially be vectors for the virus, and that their prompt vaccination was critical to the safety of care residents. Despite missing its original target of 4m vaccinations by the end of March, the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said the national program was now “accelerating as intended”.
Leading opposition figures in Brazil have called for the immediate removal of besieged president Jair Bolsonaro. One congressman claimed the drastic measure was required due to the far-right leader’s “coup-mongering, authoritarian delusions”. The world’s fourth largest democracy descended into a political crisis on Tuesday after the sacking of the defence minister, and the subsequent resignations of the heads of all three branches of the nation’s military. An impeachment order has been brought to Congress by parliamentarians accusing the 66-year-old former army captain of illegally attempting to co-opt the nation’s armed forces. Bolsonaro’s administration has also been heavily criticised for its “ruinous response to the Covid-19 pandemic”, which has killed a reported 320,000 Brazilians.
The Biden administration has praised Australia for its resistance to China’s “economic coercion” via the top US diplomat in Canberra, who expressed “enormous respect” for Australia’s stance and said “we have their backs”. Amid concerns over China’s increasing belligerence towards Taiwan, the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Michael Goldman, outlined fears that the strategically vital island nation could face “overt crude military intervention” from its dominant neighbour. Australia has been locked in trade standoffs with China in recent months, something China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, claimed stemmed from “Australia’s wrong words and deeds on issues concerning China’s sovereignty, security and development interests”.
The prosecution of lawyer Bernard Collaery and Witness K is undermining confidence in the Australian justice system, the former NSW director of public prosecutions has warned, saying the duo are being hounded for exposing the “harm the government did in our name”.
A senior EU environment commissioner has expressed severe concerns over threats facing the Great Barrier Reef, cautioning that without a change in behaviour, the “rapid degradation of these beautiful and essential underwater worlds” would continue.
Foxtel’s production of Australian drama is set to halve under a government broadcast bill that reduces the streaming giant’s obligations from spending 10% of its drama budget on local content, to 5%.
A bipartisan report on domestic and sexual violence has tabled more than 100 recommendations, including greater funding for frontline services and the appointment of a new women’s safety commissioner.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has gone on hunger strike, claiming he has been repeatedly denied urgent medical treatment while inside a Russian prison colony. The survivor of a poisoning attack in August has reportedly been suffering an “aggressively progressing” pain and numbness in his back and legs.
France’s president Emmanuel Macron has announced a four-week national lockdown, as the nation experiences its worst intensive care admission rates since October. Much of Europe remains gripped in either third or fourth waves of Covid-19 infections, with German regional leaders also agitating for tougher restrictions.
Alarming levels of toxic chemicals, lead and arsenic have been found in US drinking water, following an extensive nine-month investigation by Consumer Reports and Guardian US. One in three households tested returned higher than recommended toxic chemical levels.
NZ herpetologists are heralding the “incredibly significant” rediscovery of an elusive lizard, as the rediscoverer of the Cupola gecko, Ben Barr, claimed the experience was one of pure “euphoria”, similar to “having a baby”.
“Why do people discard me when I am no longer of use to them?” That’s the question posed this week to advice columnist, Eleanor Gordon-Smith, prompting an inquiry into how much meanness is appropriate or even necessary in friendship. “People choose who to have in their life because they want their life to feel nice; enough cantankerousness and they’ll wonder why they keep you around. The trouble is some level of cantankerousness just feels factually fair.”
The construction sector is not unusual in “downing tools” over the Christmas period, but, as Greg Jericho explains, in 2021 the work never came back for many builders. With growth in public administration papering over some bad job figures for the sector, could there be a role for investment in public infrastructure to boost a flailing economy? “Work in construction always drops over Christmas, but this year it has failed to recover, and the number of jobs in the industry is some 3.8% below what it was a year ago. That’s not great given the government has been crowing about the success of its homebuilder program.”
“For decades, seeking help is something that people who are struggling have been urged to do.” For mental health advocate, Jill Stark, it is positive to see male politicians such as Andrew Laming or Christian Porter being publicly supported to receive professional assistance. But with both facing serious public allegations, Stark warns: “It would be profoundly troubling if the public’s take-home message from these events is to draw a direct line between mental illness and antisocial behaviour.” And with those experiencing mental illness more likely to be victims of crime, we must be careful to ward against dangerous misconceptions about mental health, Stark argues.
Australia’s Covid-19 rollout. It was the public policy that had one GP telling Guardian Australia that they felt like beating their head “against a wall”. So having set a target of 4m vaccinations Australia-wide by the end of March, how did the federal Coalition’s scheme come to deliver just 670,000 vaccinations? Christopher Knaus explains.
Matildas’ skipper Sam Kerr has fired Chelsea through to the Women’s Champions League semi-finals, scoring another goal and an assist to set up a 5-1 aggregate win over Germany’s Wolfsburg.
The New York Mets’ portly 42-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colón smashing his first ever home run was one of the great moments of the 2016 season, writes Bryan Armen Graham. But it could be the end of watching pitchers flail around with the bat, due to rule changes.
The Great Barrier Reef could soon “cease to exist”, the Sydney Morning Herald writes, according to the author of a report that found between 70-99% of corals on the World Heritage Area are set for destruction without “transformative action”. The political struggles of Scott Morrison has breathed life back into Anthony Albanese’s leadership hopes, the Financial Review claims, with the Labor leader enjoying a relative lift in the polls. And, the NSW government faces losing its Legislative Assembly majority, reports the ABC, after National MP Michael Johnsen’s resignation prompted a byelection for the seat of Upper Hunter.
Australia’s Twenty20 international series with New Zealand comes to a head today with the decider in Auckland. Follow the action with our live blog, from 1pm AEST.
From George W Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney, to Barack Obama’s beloved Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny, having a dog in the White House has often brought elusive media positivity. And while it’s normally Joe Biden’s mouth that gets him into trouble, this time it’s his presidential pooch Major: allegedly involved in “a second biting incident” inside his first month at the White House. The German shepherd may or may not have also doubled down with a “little accident” in the Diplomatic Room.
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