Officials grilled over ‘secret’ nuclear submarine deal

Officials have remained tight-lipped over a submarine deal that caused an international rift with the French.

Taxpayers are no closer to finding out any further details about the AUKUS alliance, as officials were coy about the submarine deal during a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong took up the issue in Senate estimates late Monday afternoon, grilling officials over when the decision to scrap the French submarine deal was made.

The decision to partner with the UK and US for the acquisition of eight nuclear powered submarines caused an international rift with the French, who threatened to block critical EU trade talks with Australia over the diplomatic fracas.

Reporting following the announcement of AUKUS indicated Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the first move to push Australia towards nuclear submarines in March 2020.

When asked, First Assistant Secretary Lachlan Colquhoun said Mr Morrison had requested a review into Australia’s internal defence capabilities.

In the review’s findings, the Secretary of Defence and Chief of the Defence force proposed Australia “investigate the feasibility of nuclear power”.

Asked when that review and its findings was handed to the Prime Minister, Mr Colquhoun could not answer.

“I genuinely don’t know. I was only briefed into this material, very small group of people this year,” he told the estimates hearings.

Senate leader Simon Birmingham later told the hearing high-level discussions were held in March 2020, and more specific discussions began in May 2020.

“March was a high level discussion initiated around submarine capability,” he said.

“May was a more specific request in terms of, okay, the strategic advice and outlook is suggesting change environments in relation to submarine capability, therefore, would it be feasible, possible, to actually look at nuclear powered submarines.”

Asked if the Prime Minister had already decided Australia was going to walk away from the French deal by the time Peter Dutton was installed as Defence Minister in March 2021, Mr Colquhoun said: “I don’t believe so, Senator, to the best of my knowledge.”

Mr Birmingham said he was also brought into the loop by the Prime Minister in March 2021, prior to a Cabinet discussion.

“I had a discussion with the Prime Minister – prior to there being a Cabinet committee discussion,” he said.

When that Cabinet discussion was held, officials could not say.

Much of the questioning put by Senator Wong was referred to either the Department of Defence or taken on notice.

Later, officials told the estimates hearing the Memorandum of Understanding signed to create the AUKUS agreement was “classified”.

“It’s all very secret, isn’t it,” Senator Wong quipped.

Originally published as Officials grilled over ‘secret’ nuclear submarine deal

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Armed forces detain PM and other leaders in Sudan ‘coup’

Sudanese protesters lift national flags as they rally on 60th Street in the capital Khartoum

Armed forces detained Sudan’s prime minister over his refusal to support their “coup” on Monday, the information ministry said, after weeks of tensions between the military and civilian figures sharing power since the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Civilian members of Sudan’s ruling council and ministers in Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s transitional government had also been detained, the ministry said in a statement on Facebook.

Soldiers stormed the headquarters of Sudan’s state broadcaster in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, the ministry said, as patriotic songs were aired on television.

“Civilian members of the transitional sovereign council and a number of ministers from the transitional government have been detained by joint military forces,” the ministry said.

It added that “after refusing to support the coup, an army force detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and took him to an unidentified location”.

“Any changes to the transitional government by force puts at risk US assistance,” Feltman said on Twitter.

“I am calling on security forces to immediately release all those unlawfully detained or put under house arrest,” said Volker Perthes, chief of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan.

“The EU calls on all stakeholders and regional partners to put back on track the transition process,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell tweeted.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions which were key in leading the 2019 anti-Bashir protests, denounced what it called a “military coup” and urged demonstrators “to fiercely resist” it.

Sudan has been undergoing a precarious transition marred by political divisions and power struggles since Bashir was toppled in April 2019.

The ex-president has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for more than a decade over charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.

But the main civilian bloc — the Forces for Freedom and Change — which led the anti-Bashir protests in 2019, has splintered into two opposing factions.

“We renew our confidence in the government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and reforming transitional institutions — but without dictations or imposition,” Arman added.

Protesters took to the streets in several parts of Khartoum carrying the Sudanese flags.

“We will not accept military rule and we are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan,” said demonstrator Haitham Mohamed.

– Rival protests –

Last week tens of thousands of Sudanese marched in several cities to back the full transfer of power to civilians, and to counter a rival days-long sit-in outside the presidential palace in Khartoum demanding a return to “military rule”.

On Saturday, Hamdok denied rumours he had agreed to a cabinet reshuffle, calling them “not accurate”.

Also on Saturday, Feltman met jointly with Hamdok, the chairman of Sudan’s ruling body General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Analysts have said the recent mass protests showed strong support for a civilian-led democracy, but warned street demonstrations may have little impact on the powerful factions pushing a return to military rule.

Originally published as Armed forces detain PM and other leaders in Sudan ‘coup’

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WA police question man over death of person found in Kununurra

West Australian police are questioning a man over the death of an adult whose body was found in bushland on Sunday.

A man is being questioned by West Australian police after an adult was found dead in the state’s far north.

The body was located about 4pm on Sunday in bushland east of Kununurra.

Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the circumstances leading to the person’s death.

WA Police said on Monday that a man was in custody and assisting police with their inquiries, but no charges had been laid.

The body is yet to be identified, but police have confirmed it is an adult.

Police say there is no ongoing threat to the public.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers.

Originally published as Man being questioned by police after body found in remote Western Australia

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Monk’s reappearance brings solace in coup-hit Myanmar

Some claim Myaing Sayadaw’s reemergence has brought calm to the surrounding area even as fighting escalates elsewhere in Sagaing

When dawn arrives in normal times, 80-year-old Buddhist monk Maha Bodhi Myaing Sayadaw emerges from his meditation on the plains of northern Myanmar to silently receive food offerings from a handful of followers.

Now each morning, crowds of pilgrims line his path, hoping for a glimpse of the monk who has become an unwitting embodiment of hope and solace for thousands in the coup-wracked country.

For crowds of the faithful, Sayadaw’s presence provides an antidote to the “three catastrophes”: the military’s ousting of the government, the ravages of the pandemic and an economy ruined by nearly nine months of unrest.

What started as a trickle of visitors when the monk was first spotted at the start of the rainy season has become a massive crowd, swollen by social media posts.

“Our region is stable when Sayadaw receives the pilgrims,” Kaythi, 35, told AFP.

Previously a farmer, Kaythi is one of many to have started working as a motorcycle taxi driver, ferrying pilgrims up the single-lane dirt road to the Nyeyadham monastery.

But the route was peaceful and now his pain is gone, he said.

– ‘We will shoot’ –

Huge demonstrations sparked by fuel price hikes in 2007 were led by monks, and the clergy also mobilised relief efforts after 2008’s devastating Cyclone Nargis and junta inaction.

While monks have joined street protests opposing the power grab, some prominent religious leaders have also defended the new junta.

“He’s serving his religious duty.”

Sagaing has seen some of the bloodiest fighting between junta troops and “people’s defence forces”, with villagers accusing security forces of torching homes and carrying out massacres.

“Do not surround us! … We will shoot,” banners outside local police stations warn any would-be protesters.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” said Moe Moe Lwin, another visitor from Mandalay.

But all the adoration isn’t good for the monk’s concentration, said close follower Khin Maung Win.

“Sayadaw likes silence. It’s really difficult for us to keep everyone quiet.”

Originally published as Monk’s reappearance brings solace in coup-hit Myanmar

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Covid-19 Victoria: Concern growing cases will place strain on health system

A raft of restrictions will ease from Friday in Victoria, but questions have been raised about one concerning issue.

Victoria is bracing to open up further within days, but the new-found freedoms expected on Friday have raised questions about how the state’s hospital system will manage.

With the state set to reach its 80 per cent double-dose vaccination targets, Melbourne will finally come into line with regional Victoria, enjoying no restrictions on travel, no masks required outdoors, bigger outdoor gatherings, hospitality expanding and entertainment and retail to resume.

Despite vaccination rates rising, authorities have repeatedly warned cases will rise along with hospitalisations as the state opens up, placing pressure on the healthcare system.

“Nobody wants to be in intensive care,” Alfred Hospital intensive care unit director Associate Professor Steve McGloughlin told ABC News.

“It is a tough thing to go through for anyone, as much as we try to make it as dignified and caring as possible.

“People that get this disease, it can be pretty brutal. You don’t want to get it.”

He said some patients had been in ICU for as many as 100 days while the pandemic played out.

“Once you are critically ill, your vital organs are being looked after by machines, you have a nurse at your bedside the whole time and it is quite extreme – you can’t imagine how terrifying that is as a patient,” he said.

“Caring for people during that time has been a really challenging thing for our staff, (but) we are constantly amazed by the bravery and robustness of patients that they are able to go through all of this.”

Victorian ICU wards have been flooded with patients in recent months as the Delta variant tears through homes and communities.

There is now a limited number of trained staff who can look after patients, with the problem spanning all corners of the state.

Melbourne’s Alfred Health normally has 46 ICU patients but is taking care of 60 people with the virus following a spike in case numbers.

“While we have good infrastructure and beds it is really tough for the staff and the work that staff have to do to look after those patients,” Dr McGloughlin said.

“I think we have great faith in our public health clinics and the work they are doing, but in Victoria at the moment there are about 150 patients in ICU that are infectious and another 40 or 50 patients that are no longer infectious – that is about half the ICU beds.

“That ever being sustained is a real problem for the health system.

“We hope that vaccination will bring those numbers down and we can control this, but my job and the job of my colleagues is to plan for the worst.”

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton issued a stark warning for people to get vaccinated, saying “everyone will be exposed to the virus”.

Professor Sutton said following Covid protocols such as mask wearing, checking in and physical distancing would be crucial in the coming months as more people enjoyed social outings.

“As we start to reopen, there will be more Covid in the community really than at any other point in time,” he said.

“Many of those people will have mild illness because they‘re fully vaccinated.

“Many of those settings will have fully vaccinated people, but recognising that children will also be in those places and some exempt individuals will be in those places and that getting vaccinated doesn’t mean that you’re absolutely guaranteed not to get the virus.”

Originally published as Covid-19 Victoria: Concern growing cases will place strain on health system

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Unvaccinated players can compete at Australian Open: leaked email

A leaked WTA email says unvaccinated players will be welcome at the Australian Open

Unvaccinated players will be allowed to compete at the Australian Open but must complete 14 days in hotel quarantine, according to a leaked WTA email Monday, although a government official insisted the matter was not yet settled.

The rules would also likely apply to the men’s tour, leaving the door open for world number one Novak Djokovic to defend his title at Melbourne Park in January.

The email said that players fully inoculated against coronavirus would not have to quarantine or remain in bio-secure bubbles, enjoying “complete freedom of movement”.

“We feel the need to reach out to you all to clear up false and misleading information that has recently been spread by other parties about the conditions the players will be forced to endure at next year’s Australian Open,” the email read.

Vaccinated players could arrive any time after December 1, must have a negative test within 72 hours of departing for Australia and test again within 24 hours of arrival. Otherwise, there will be no restrictions, the email said.

– Still talking –

“We’re still talking to the Commonwealth (national government) about whether the rule for international unvaccinated arrivals is either 14 days quarantine or they’re not coming into the country at all,” he said in response to the leaked email.

Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic is one of many players who have refused to share their vaccination status, casting doubt over whether he will defend his title.

Reports have put the vaccination rate for tennis players at between 50 and 60 percent, but Pakula spoke with Australian Open chief Craig Tiley on Monday and he believed they were much higher.

Melbourne is in Victoria state, which on Friday emerged from one of the world’s most prolonged series of Covid lockdowns, in total more than 260 days since the pandemic began.


Originally published as Unvaccinated players can compete at Australian Open: leaked email

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Govt, Telstra to buy Pacific telecoms business


World Cup; Australia won’t shy away from big selection calls after axing Ashton Agar

Changing conditions on wickets set to take a pounding at the T20 World Cup could make for some big selection calls.

Changing conditions at the T20 World Cup could demand significant team changes and the prospect every member of Australia’s 15-man squad could get a game.

Coach Justin Langer declared it was “extremely tough” to leave out spinner Ashton Agar, Australia’s highest-ranked T20 bowler in the world, for the opening win over South Africa.

Captain Aaron Finch said it was “brutally tough”.

It was a conditions and match-ups-based decision that came after Agar had played seven straight games, plus the two warm-up matches, bowling in tandem with fellow spinner Adam Zampa.

Game one hero Marcus Stoinis said there was “an argument for everyone to be in the team“ and fully expected that as wickets became tired across the three venues being used, change could be a must.

”There’s no easy answers and we’ll probably just see what happens as the tournament goes on. I think everyone’s going to get used in this tournament,” he said.

“With these conditions, we’ve got to adapt as we go. He (Agar) has got such a good record, has been so good for us, so I wouldn’t be counting anything out.”

Langer said Australia had to be flexible in selections depending on conditions, opposition and match-ups, which could give Kane Richardson, Mitchell Swepson and Josh Inglis game time through the remaining four pool games and potentially in the finals.

Australia used Glenn Maxwell as its second spinner, ahead of Agar, and while the fast bowlers took five wickets in the opening win over South Africa, spin could be huge in the back end of the tournament.

“They’re all tough (selection) decisions. There’s no doubt about that,” Langer said.

“We’ve said from day one to the players and we did it in the last World Cup and to a degree in the last Ashes in England, we’ll just look at the conditions, we’ll look at the opposition, we’ll look at the match-ups, and we’ll make the call that we think is right for the team.

“It doesn’t always work out that way, but with all the information we’ve got we’ll work through that.”

Langer said leaving out Agar was especially tough.

“I can’t emphasise enough how tough it was on Ashton Agar, his numbers are literally outstanding,” he said. “And really tough on Kane Richardson.

“It’s nice to have those selection headaches, but it worked OK yesterday (Sunday).”

Australia plays its next game against Sri Lanka on Thursday night in Dubai.

Originally published as Australia could use every member of its T20 squad at the World Cup after opening game selection shock

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Burning cargo ship spews toxic gas off Canada’s Pacific coast

In this photo taken by Gerald Graham and received by AFP on October 24, 2021, smoke is seen rising from the side of the container ship Zim Kingston off Canada’s Pacific coast

The Canadian coast guard has evacuated 16 people from a burning container ship that is expelling toxic gas off Canada’s Pacific coast, but there is “no safety risk” to those on shore, authorities said Sunday.

“The ship is on fire and expelling toxic gas,” the Canadian coast guard said in a navigational warning on its website.

Originally published as Burning cargo ship spews toxic gas off Canada’s Pacific coast

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Origin Energy slapped with $5m fine for exit fees