Albanese does not rule out Labor legislating voice in event of vote loss

Paul Karp

Anthony Albanese was asked last night on Sky News and again on 2GB Radio this morning whether Labor would legislate the Indigenous voice if the referendum to entrench it in the constitution fails.

Albanese told 2GB Radio:

Well, one of the things that I’m not doing is leading with a position that assumes a loss of a referendum. That would not be a very sensible thing to do. And I am determined to do what I can, along with so many other Australians who will be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote from across the political spectrum. And that is my focus.

Responding to the suggestion if it were legislated anyway this would mean the vote in the referendum doesn’t count for anything, he replied:

It does count. The whole point of a referendum is that you change the constitution. And that will do just two things.

One, it will recognise First Nations people, Aboriginal Australians, in our constitution, in our nation’s birth certificate. That is something that’s been spoken about for decades, but never achieved.

And secondly, it will say that there needs to be a consultative body, not a body that makes determination or makes funding decisions, but one that enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be asked about policies that will directly impact them so that we can close the gap in education, in health, in all of those issues.

That is what is being asked. Now, the issue of legislation for the voice comes after that, because the voice is subservient to the parliament. It’s not seeking to be above it, or even beside it. It’s just a body where the parliament will continue to be the decision-making body in Australia.

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Households and businesses are unlikely to see lower power bills immediately from the federal government’s intervention in the energy market, AAP reports.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, said intervening in the energy market would prevent increases higher than those estimated in the budget, but energy users can still expect elevated prices for a while yet.

Predictions in the October budget showed electricity prices likely increasing by 56% over two years and gas prices by 20% annually in the same period.

Cass-Gottlieb spoke to ABC RN this morning:

Treasury has forecast an estimated 20 per cent increase this year as a result of the increased prices flowing through post the Ukraine invasion and the significant global disruption.

This intervention is seeking to mitigate it such that there are no greater increases over 2023, and to see reductions flow through.

She said the price caps should eventually work to reduce prices at the top of the supply chain, which would prompt competition between retailers to lower prices.

The federal government intervened in the energy market late last year, implementing a temporary 12-month price cap on coal and gas.

Gas retailers say they have been struggling to lock in new contracts with producers since the price cap came into force. In response, the ACCC provided guidelines yesterday to help gas companies better understand their obligations, while also confirming it would investigate producers trying to avoid supplying gas below the price cap under the cover of confusion.

You can find more on the gas price caps here:

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam

China is one of Australia’s ‘major challenges’, Chalmers says, but that’s not news

China’s economy is critical for Australia’s future, as we know, since it dominates our exports, accounting for about a third. Our next most important markets, such as Japan and South Korea, also have their economic wagons hitched to their giant neighbour.

Yesterday we had China’s GDP figures for 2022, with growth coming in at its second-slowest since the mid-1970s (when the nation started opening up):

China’s stats carry various qualifiers, as we noted, not least the suspiciously speedy compilation of figures so soon after the year has ended.

But still, they did surprise generally on the upside, particularly for how little retail sales slumped (1.8% v 9% forecast) in December. That was when the tight Covid-zero tolerance policies suddenly became Covid-max, throwing workplaces and families into mayhem.

Cue the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who opted not to accentuate the positives, warning instead: “We see China’s slowing growth as one of the major economic challenges facing Australia at the start of 2023”.

“The global economy is a volatile place right now and developments in China are a big part of that,” Chalmers said.

It seems likely that China is unable to play the role it did in 2008. Then, faced with the global financial crisis, it switched on a massive investment binge that helped the world avoid a much deeper slump (and kept Australia out of recession).

But that’s not exactly news, having been flagged widely in the past year. Here’s one stab, from August:

The other big story from yesterday – China’s population shrinking for the first time in 60 years – is also not so newsy. The decline was widely seen coming.

The scary projection, though, is the People’s Republic is on track to have half the people by 2100, slumping from 1.4bn now to 587m. (Some think even that 1.4bn figure is exaggerated.)

What then to make of this data deluge?

Well, GDP is just a number and doesn’t necessarily imply “quality” growth, as China-based economists like Michael Pettis has been highlighting for years.

And also, beware of averages that mask underlying trends. Adam Tooze, a prominent economic historian, has lately drawn attention to an interesting study by McKinsey that looked into the role of microregions in driving economic growth.

“Bao’an, a district of Shenzhen, for instance, had comparable GDP per capita to Queens, New York, in 2019,” the report said. “Inhabitants of Karaikal in the Union Territory of Puducherry in India, lived on average with a GDP per capita equivalent to that in Pasco, Florida. Several districts in Beijing had GDP per capita similar to Baldwin, Alabama.”

In other words, economies are complex – and that’s even before issues of inequality arise from having pockets of plenty when many others miss out.

Christopher Knaus

Christopher Knaus

Canberra is today marking the 20-year anniversary of its deadly 2003 bushfire disaster, which destroyed at least 470 homes, killed four people, and injured 490 others.

The bushfires were the most destructive in the ACT’s history.

Fires that had been burning in the mountains in the territory’s south-west for more than a week spread into suburban Canberra largely without warning to residents, causing mass destruction and loss of life.

The ACT government is holding a 20th anniversary commemorative event at Stromlo Forest Park, in the city’s west, later this evening.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Canberra bushfires. My thoughts with those who suffered on that day.

The Stromlo memorial is open for those who wish to leave a sprig of rosemary, and the service will be livestreamed from 6.30pmhttps://t.co/9NKVm4lFcU

— Andrew Leigh (@ALeighMP) January 17, 2023

The disaster exposed a series of failings in the ACT’s preparation and response. Earlier this month, an independent body set up to monitor the territory’s bushfire management and preparedness said the ACT remained underprepared for a similar disaster, because it had not properly accounted for the added risk of global heating and the city’s greatly expanded urban fringe.

The United Firefighters Union, which represents urban firefighters, issued a statement earlier this morning, saying that systemic failures involved in the 2003 fires remain unaddressed. The union criticised a lack of funding, inadequate firefighting resources, and a poor culture within the ACT’s emergency services agency.

Flood cleanup efforts set to begin in north Queensland

Hopeful news on the flooding front: residents in Mackay, north Queensland, are ready to start a big cleanup after days of heavy rain and flooding, AAP reports.

Mackay regional council mayor, Greg Williamson, said things were looking a lot brighter this morning and the weather was clearing.

“The system looks like it’s going to clear away from the coast today, then the big cleanup starts,” he told Nine’s Today program.

The highway to the north of us is in pretty bad condition, but, look … we’ve got our crews out ready to go out.

We’ve had a lot of water around, and now we’ll just get back to life as normal, hopefully.

Williamson also said he expected the highway would reopen around midday.

About 50 roads in the area are still flooded, and the SES responded to more than 70 calls for help, mostly for leaking roofs.

Federal public servants no longer required to take 26 January off

Federal public servants are now allowed to work on 26 January – the day viewed by many as Invasion Day – if they don’t want to mark Australia Day.

The decision by Katy Gallagher, minister for finance, is a reversal of the former Coalition government’s directive, which forced public service staff to take off the date as a public holiday.

Now they can now substitute a day off for Australia Day and other public holidays.

Defence minister says ADF training given to Ukraine forces ‘will save lives’

More from Richard Marles, the deputy prime minister and defence minister, on ADF personnel heading to the UK to train Ukrainian troops.

Marles tells ABC News this morning the training revolves around “basic infantry tactics” to “give these Ukrainian soldiers the skills they need to equip them on the battlefield”.

“The Ukrainian army right now is really a reservist army, it is citizen soldiers, people who are giving up their day jobs to help fight for their country and the heart is very much there,” he says.

“The training that will be provided by the Australian troops … it will save lives, and it will keep Ukraine in the fight which is really important.”

Good drivers in NSW to get one-off reprieve on minor traffic fines under Coalition election pledge

News for drivers in NSW – if you have a three-year clean driving record, you could dodge fines for minor driving offences in a newly announced election policy from the NSW government, AAP reports.

Good drivers will be given a one-off chance to escape a fine for offences including low-range speeding, disobeying no left or right-hand turn signs or driving in a bus lane, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Those drivers will save $124 on fines where the speed limit was exceeded by less than 10km/h, $275 for ignoring a no left or right-hand turn sign, and up to $2200 for driving in a bus lane under the government’s plan.

The promise from the government comes one day after NSW Labor revealed its own election promise to reward NSW motorists, offering to remove a demerit point after 12 months of good driving.

Barty is back … in a way

Ash Barty has returned to Melbourne Park to launch First Nations Day at the Australian Open this morning.

2022 #AusOpen champ Ash Barty is back on Margaret Court to launch First Nations day with legend Yvonne Goolagong. So good seeing Barty back PLAYING 🎾 getting tested by the First Nations ball-kid squad. Sadly it hasn’t inspired a return, but the next gen is getting ready @abcnews pic.twitter.com/CygR3MUT0I

— Zalika Rizmal (@Zalika_R) January 17, 2023

A year after breaking the country’s 44-year Australian Open singles title drought, Barty is back – hitting with the First Nations ballkid squad, AAP reports.

The retired champion is pregnant and awaiting the birth of her first child this year with golfer-husband Garry Kissick.

Albanese does not rule out Labor legislating voice in event of vote loss

Paul Karp

Paul Karp

Anthony Albanese was asked last night on Sky News and again on 2GB Radio this morning whether Labor would legislate the Indigenous voice if the referendum to entrench it in the constitution fails.

Albanese told 2GB Radio:

Well, one of the things that I’m not doing is leading with a position that assumes a loss of a referendum. That would not be a very sensible thing to do. And I am determined to do what I can, along with so many other Australians who will be campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote from across the political spectrum. And that is my focus.

Responding to the suggestion if it were legislated anyway this would mean the vote in the referendum doesn’t count for anything, he replied:

It does count. The whole point of a referendum is that you change the constitution. And that will do just two things.

One, it will recognise First Nations people, Aboriginal Australians, in our constitution, in our nation’s birth certificate. That is something that’s been spoken about for decades, but never achieved.

And secondly, it will say that there needs to be a consultative body, not a body that makes determination or makes funding decisions, but one that enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be asked about policies that will directly impact them so that we can close the gap in education, in health, in all of those issues.

That is what is being asked. Now, the issue of legislation for the voice comes after that, because the voice is subservient to the parliament. It’s not seeking to be above it, or even beside it. It’s just a body where the parliament will continue to be the decision-making body in Australia.

PM hints at new funding for National Library

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, hinted that “national institutions” like the National Library and Archives may get new funding in the federal budget on ABC Radio Sydney this morning.

Big hint National Library, Archives (Trove) etc will get $$$ in budget

Albanese: “We will deal with this as part of budget … but you’re right the national institutions have been starved of funds. They’re national assets that are a very important part of our fabric” #auspol

— Paul Karp (@Paul_Karp) January 17, 2023

This comes after the arts minister, Tony Burke, told the Woodford Folk Festival in December that funding for institutions such as the national museum, gallery, archives and Trove will not be contained in the national cultural policy to be released later this month. But Burke did promise “major decisions” to correct “systematic underfunding” – suggesting these would be contained in the budget.

Paul Karp has written about that here:

And you can read more about the National Library’s woes here:

Sign up to Guardian Australia’s Morning Mail

In today’s morning mail wrap: Philip Ruddock’s Sydney council is challenging the legality of GST levies on local government, almost two-thirds of sharks and rays that live around the world’s coral reefs are at risk of extinction, and Greta Thunberg was among climate activists carried away by police during a protest against the demolition of a German village to make way for a coalmine.

Read the full wrap up by Imogen Dewey here:

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