Morning mail: logging of bushfire-hit habitats, PNG fishery threat, working from the beach

Good morning, this is Imogen Dewey bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Friday 27 November.

Top stories

The New South Wales government is planning a review of logging operations in bushfire-hit coastal regions, as tensions mount between the environment regulator and Forestry Corporation. The application of post-bushfire rules by the state’s Environmental Protection Authority has frustrated the industry. The Department of Regional NSW wrote to the agency in September to say forestry believed environmental protections set out in its approval remained adequate after the fires. But MPs and residents of coastal NSW have been dismayed at the logging of fire-affected habitat given the scale of disaster and its effect on threatened plants and animals, including koalas.

A $200m Chinese-built fishery plant planned for a Papua New Guinean island could allow Chinese-backed commercial vessels to fish legally in the Torres Strait, and has raised concerns about unregulated fishing in the same waters, potentially threatening the Australian industry and local PNG fishers. Chinese fishing fleets have devastated local fish stocks in other parts of the world, and a north Queensland MP has said he holds concerns over China’s track record in the region. An organisation representing the area’s traditional owners is also “extremely concerned” by the implications of the plan.

Joe Biden’s foreign policy pitch – that “America is back” at the head of the table – has many diplomats hopeful after four years of Donald Trump. But critics say the idea of a return to a “golden age” is a delusion. As Biden insisted there was “tangible hope” amid the pandemic, the US reported 181,490 new cases on Wednesday alone, as millions defied official advice to travel and gather for Thanksgiving. And after widespread outcry over Trump’s pardon of Michael Flynn, speculation has surged about who might be next for clemency from the defeated president.


Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef
‘The whole world is one degree warmer, so we can’t just relax and say it’s a La Niña and so there won’t be heatwaves. The world is not that simple any more.’ Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo

The cooling influence of La Niña may not be enough to save the Great Barrier Reef from another mass coral bleaching, experts have warned. With the world 1C warmer, modelling shows there’s still a significant risk of heat stress this summer.

A major Brett Whiteley painting set a new Australian art record on Thursday evening. Henri’s Armchair fetched $6.136m at auction, surpassing the 2010 record of $5.4m for Sidney Nolan’s First-class Marksman.

Gladys Berejiklian has conceded that $140m in council grants approved in the nine months before the last state election amounted to pork barrelling, but said there was nothing illegal about it. The NSW premier denies being involved in the approval of the grants.

The Department of Defence has initiated a process that could kick out serving Australian defence force personnel who were the subject of adverse findings in the damning Brereton report last week.

Almost a dozen Queensland police officers have been forced into Covid-19 isolation after they came into close contact with an infected man in hotel quarantine. Victoria, meanwhile, is expected to mark 28 days with no community transmission and the official “elimination” of the virus from the state today.

The world

Covid vaccine vial
AstraZeneca’s share price dropped in spite of the public excitement generated by the announcement that a third vaccine had been successful. Photograph: John Cairns/AP

Critics are questioning the claim that Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s vaccine trials showed it could protect up to 90% of people against coronavirus – and in spite of public excitement about this third vaccine, AstraZeneca’s share price has dropped.

Three French police officers have been suspended after they were filmed beating and allegedly racially abusing a music producer in his Paris studio.

An executive at the manufacturer of foam insulation that burned on Grenfell Tower was so shocked that the firm had set up a fire test to play down the material’s potential combustibility that she scrawled “WTF?” in the margin of the test report, an inquiry has heard.

The economist Yanis Varoufakis has called for a one-day boycott of Amazon on Black Friday as activists plan coordinated actions against the company’s sites and supply chain.

Water shortages are now affecting more than three billion people around the world. New data shows the amount of fresh water available for each person has plunged by a fifth over two decades.

Recommended reads

Kylie Moore-Gilbert
‘The release of Kylie Moore-Gilbert, the British Australian academic, is a bittersweet moment for the relatives across the globe of other Iranian dual nationals still trapped in Iranian jails.’ Photograph: Wana News Agency/Reuters

Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s release shows the dangers of making deals with Iran, writes diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour, who suggests talks over other dual-national detainees run the risk of encouraging Tehran to see hostage-taking as a winning strategy. “The release of detainees following negotiations raises complex moral issues, notably whether Iran is being rewarded for its hostage diplomacy.”

As Sydney teen band Erthlings wait for their higher school certificate results, they reflect on the year they were supposed to take over the world – before it “kind of all crashed”. While 2020 didn’t bring any devastating derailments for the band, as it did for so many others in the music industry, 2021 is a different matter. “It’s put a lot of doubt in our mind,” guitarist Jess Stepto tells Kate Hennessy. “Should we tackle uni? What’s going to happen in the future? There’s a lot of question marks.”

“Working from the beach, holidaying while we work: are we getting the worst of both worlds?” asks Brigid Delaney. “Away last week in Byron Bay with friends, it was hard to tell which pal was on holiday and who was working. Rather than going for a walk after catching up for breakfast, they had to be online for a 10am Zoom meeting, but could meet at the beach during their lunch break – as long as they were able to dial into another meeting at 2pm. This lurching from leisure to work and back again can be discombobulating … So where should we land when things go back to whatever becomes normal?”


The government’s massive $1.2bn dollar settlement over its bungled robodebt scheme sounds like a lot – but for many victims, whose lives were upturned by the mass Centrelink debt collection program, it only amounts to a couple of hundred dollars in compensation. And as Luke Henriques-Gomes explains in this episode of Full Story, there’s been no mea culpa from the government, nor have the scheme’s architects lost their jobs.

Full Story

Justice for Centrelink robodebt victims?

Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.


Diego Maradona’s fans mourn
Maradona’s biggest fans saw someone who came from the streets and who embodied all the idiosyncrasies and contradictions they did: ‘He was just a Scugnizzo Napoletano [Neapolitan for naughty rascal] like us.’ Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

The death of Diego Maradona brought Argentina to an almost complete standstill on Thursday as thousands queued up to file, slowly, reverently and one-by-one, past the renowned footballer’s coffin. Italians took a day of mourning for the “naughty rascal” of Naples, who, though mired in scandal, was venerated like a demigod by Neapolitans, comparable only to the city’s patron saint, San Gennaro. Fans across the world have been in touch to explain what Maradona means to them.

Lewis Hamilton has insisted that Formula One has a “consistent and massive” problem it must address with human rights abuses in countries it visits. The world champion was speaking in Bahrain, which has been accused of sportswashing, torture and oppression this week and is to host the first of two consecutive races this weekend.

Media roundup

The UK has weighed in on growing tensions between Beijing and Canberra, the Age reports, suggesting it will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Australia against diplomatic “bullying” by China. The Courier-Mail has a story alleging the Ipswich hospital at the centre of a Queensland coronavirus cluster was not being cleaned properly. And according to the Herald Sun, V/Line passengers are facing “Christmas chaos” with cuts to Victoria’s regional train services.

Coming up

Victoria’s Covid-19 hotel quarantine inquiry will sit for the tendering of final evidence and submissions, while premier Daniel Andrews will appear at Victorian parliament’s Covid-19 inquiry.

Disability royal commission to hold a public hearing in Brisbane about the experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems.

And if you’ve read this far …

British actors will be barred from auditioning to play Prince William in a forthcoming film – a perhaps unforeseen side-effect of Britain’s forthcoming departure from the EU. A new casting notice asking for boys aged between nine and 12 years old, who could conceivably play William at age 11, stipulates that only European passport holders can apply. “NOT British-European,” warns the note, “due to new Brexit rules from 1st January 2021.”

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