International: $70 Million Resettlement Deal for Manus Island Detainees Approved

A compensation deal worth $70 million for over 1,300 current and former Manus Island detainees has been approved by Victoria’s Supreme Court.

The class action settlement, reached with Australia’s federal government and the Island’s Regional Processing Centre operators, sought to compensate the detainees for the illegal detention and negligence in housing and protection.

“I am comfortably satisfied that a figure of $70 million to be distributed without deduction of costs amongst participating group members is a fair and reasonable sum,” said Justice Cameron Macaulay on Wednesday.

“[We wanted] to put an end to this fiction the Commonwealth seeks to maintain for political purposes that it’s PNG [that] holds these people, that PNG has the duty of care for these people,” said Rory Walsh of Slater and Gordon, the firm who led the legal action.

“The Commonwealth settled this case and paid $70 million not to have that fiction tested in court.”

Out of 1,923 former and current detainees who are eligible for the compensation, 1,383 have registered to get their share by Monday.

However, more than 160 detainees have objected to the compensation amount, saying that it would not address the plights of those who remained in the Island. About 800 men are expected to remain at Manus Island after the detention centre closes next month.

“Getting that money is not the issue. It is not the matter of the amount of money,” Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia told ABC’s AM.

“We are still in the same situation, we are still suffering from the same conditions, under the cruel regime of the defendant, and the case is finished, the case says ‘yeah, that’s it, it is already settled’ … It is absolutely not in favour of any of the detainees in here, but it is in favour of the law firm and the defendant.”

International: Melbourne Named As World’s Most Liveable City for Seventh Year Running

Melbourne has again been named as the world’s most liveable city for the seventh year in a row.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) annual Liveability Index ranks 140 cities around the world based on healthcare, education and infrastructure – for which Melbourne received perfect scores this year – as well as stability, culture and environment. Overall, Melbourne scored 97.5 out of 100 points.

“This world record is an amazing feat that all Melburnians should be extremely proud of today,” City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said.

“This accolade is an important selling point for Melbourne internationally: for businesses to invest or move here, for the best and brightest people to make Melbourne their home and for tourists to visit us.”

Vienna in Austria followed in the second spot, while Vancouver in Canada came third. Adelaide established itself as Australia’s second most liveable city at number five, while Perth came seventh. On the other hand, Sydney’s position dropped from the seventh place last year to the eleventh with a score of 94.9.

“Sydney in Australia is another city that has seen a decline in its ranking, reflecting growing concerns over possible terror attacks in the past three years,” the Global Liveability Report 2017 stated.

Damascus in Syria was ranked as the least liveable city, followed by Nigeria’s Lagos and Libya’s Tripoli.

National: Government Threatens Mandatory Takata Airbags Recall

The Australian government may impose a mandatory recall of defective Takata airbags if car manufacturers are not doing enough to fix them voluntarily.

The malfunctioning Takata airbags, which have been linked to 18 deaths and over 180 injuries around the world, may explode and launch metal shards at passengers when deployed.

Investigation by consumer advocate group CHOICE revealed that 12,300 vehicles with faulty airbags are still on Australian roads, and even some of the replacement device are similarly potentially malfunctioning.

In a statement released on Monday, Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack warned car manufacturers that the federal government has “the power to impose mandatory recalls if necessary”.

Car manufacturers involved, including BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Ferrari, Jeep, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Performax, Subaru and Toyota are currently doing voluntary recall programs. Lexus and Toyota have admitted to be replacing faulty airbags with identical ones, and would need to refit some of the vehicles.

CHOICE spokesman Tom Godfrey said the use of potentially defective airbags as the replacement was disappointing. “With 2.3 million vehicles in Australia requiring their potentially lethal Takata airbags to be replaced, it’s clear the car companies are under pressure to fulfil their obligations under Australian consumer law,” Godfrey told News.com.au.

“However, refitting vehicles with the same dangerous airbags still leaves people driving ticking time-bombs.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has started an investigation into the matter.

Chairman Rod Sims said consumers should act as soon as they can. “Do not ignore or delay responding to a letter from your car’s manufacturer or retailer asking you to have your car’s airbag replaced,” Sims said.

National: TasWater Lifts Boil Alert as TAS Government Continues Takeover Plan

Mole Creek residents can now drink tap water safely for the first time in 70 years, as boil water alert has been lifted.

Tasmania’s water provider TasWater said the alert lift was a significant step in addressing water quality issues in 24 towns across the state, which are expected to be cleared of boil water alerts by August next year.

“The Mole Creek water supply is just one of many projects in a fully-funded, affordable 10-year-plan to improve Tasmania’s water and sewerage infrastructure,” said TasWater chairman Miles Hampton.

However, Premier Will Hodgman remained sceptical about the provider’s ability to deliver the promise in time.

“There are plenty of communities across this state that for years have been calling out for boil water alerts to be lifted,” Hodgman said. “They were meant to be fixed by now. They’ve said in the past these communities would be fixed sooner and it hasn’t been the case.”

The state parliament is set to table a legislation after the winter break to enable the utility takeover from July next year. The government said the acquisition would allow speedier infrastructure upgrades.

National: Southern Sydney’s F6 Freeway Extension to Cost $18 Billion

The planned freeway extension linking Sydney and Wollongong has been priced at $18 billion, about three times as much as the rail alternative.

Government documents seen by the ABC and Fairfax reveal that the F6 toll road’s 32-kilometre extension is also estimated to cost $1 billion more than WestConnex.

The toll road would extend from St Peters to Waterfall through the Royal National Park. The construction costs are estimated at $14.5 billion, while operation and maintenance costs are at $3.5 billion.

Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said the cost for the F6 is still tentative. “We’re still in the very early stages, so no decision has been made regarding the final alignment,” Pavey said. “There is no decision on final cost.”

NSW Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Fahruqi described the $18 billion price as “madness”.

“$18 billion of taxpayer’s money for yet another toll road, potentially through a National Park, is just obscene.”

National: NSW Budget to Spend on Roads, Buses and Hospital

The New South Wales government has announced its plans to build a new hospital, three new Sydney motorways, double-deckers and additional bus services, just a week before the state budget arrives.

Next week’s budget will allocate a billion-dollar package as planning money for three new motorways. $21 million will be allocated for the M12, whereas the F6 Motorway and the M9 Outer Orbital will receive $15 million and $2.09 million respectively.

“We want every community to be a vibrant community – and a local roads project can make a world of difference,” Perrottet said. “Some of these will be the most important links in greater Western Sydney for getting home and doing business.”

Also in the budget is a $534 million allocation to buy a site in Tweed and build a 350-bed hospital with extra cardiac and cancer services. “We believe that whether you live in the north shore of Sydney or northern New South Wales, every community deserves access to high quality health care,” said Treasurer Dominic Perottet. The hospital is expected to be built after 5 years.

Finally, the budget also aims to purchase 176 new buses. 134 of them are to replace aging fleets, while the rest is to boost the overall bus numbers. Six of these new buses will be double-deckers, set to replace bendy buses. “It’s a far better way in terms of road space to better utilise the roads, the bus commuting,” said Transport Minister Andrew Constance. There will also be over 3,300 new services for metropolitan Sydney, western Sydney, the Hills District and south west Sydney.

National: ASIO Warns Parties About Chinese Donations

Australia’s intelligence agency ASIO has warned major political parties against taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A Four CornersFairfax investigation found that ASIO has briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott as well as opposition leader Bill Shorten about the threat of CCP influence.

ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis also briefed officials from the Coalition and Labor parties privately in 2015 about billionaire property developers Huang Xiangmo and Chau Chak Wing, who have made a total of around $6.7 million in political donations along with their associates. While Lewis did not tell the parties to reject the funds, he said that the CCP has influence over businessmen, and donations might come with strings attached.

However, the parties went on to accept the money anyway. Since then, the Coalition has taken $897,960, while Labor took $200,000.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari was also found to have repeatedly assisted Huang in his citizenship application, which is currently temporarily blocked while ASIO investigation is still ongoing.

In light of the report, Turnbull ordered a major inquiry into espionage and foreign interference laws.

“The threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services is a problem of the highest order and it is getting worse,” Attorney General George Brandis said in a statement.

“Earlier this year the Prime Minister initiated a comprehensive review of Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, which he asked me to lead. I will be taking legislative reforms to Cabinet with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year.”

National: Federal Government Grants $1.2 Million to Food-Rescue Groups

The federal government has granted a $1.2 million funding to food rescue organizations to reduce their energy costs and improve food distribution and storage capacity.

Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg said the government committed to support Oz Harvest, SecondBite, Foodbank Australia, and Fareshare through grants for energy efficiency purposes.

“They’re designed to boost energy efficiency and get food to those who need it most,” Frydenberg said.

“It could be new solar panels, or refrigerated vans or helping these groups expand their refrigerated capacity.”

The grants came after ABC’s War on Waste series, which revealed that four million tonnes of food are wasted every day in Australia, costing the economy about $20 billion.

Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey said the organization would use the funding to buy new cool rooms and more solar panels, cutting its power bills. However, Casey said more could be done by the government to ease the “crisis” that leaves one in six Australians without enough food.

The New Budget 2017: Are Drug Tests OK?

Last night, the Liberal government announced its new 2017-18 budget for Australia, affecting millions of Australians over the country.

There have been criticisms of Turnbull’s Government and its decisions over the newly announced drug tests for Australians on welfare. Background checks are often a mandatory condition with most job applications in Australia, but is it morally right to initiate drug tests at random as part of a legal requirement?

Jacqui Lambie has welcomed the new drug tests for welfare recipients, but she said politicians should do the same. “It is about time politicians led by example and both on the Senate side and the House of Reps, there should be random drug testing as you come through the doors.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce defended the decision, saying to the ABC that “you can’t go to work if you are smashed or drugged out.”

National: Health Groups Condemn Pauline Hanson’s Vaccination Statement

Health groups have demanded senator Pauline Hanson to retract her “ludicrous” and “dangerous” statement on Australia’s vaccination programs.

During an interview with ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, Hanson, leader of One Nation party, said that the government’s ‘no jab, no pay’ policy of withholding welfare payments for unvaccinated children is “dictatorship”, and that parents have “a right to investigate themselves” before vaccinating their children.

Experts from health groups have condemned the statement.

“I’m utterly appalled by Senator Hanson’s comments. She needs to realise that she’s a serious player in Australian politics now,” said Dr Michael Gannon, head of Australian Medical Association. “[With] 10 per cent of Australians indicating an intention to vote for One Nation, she can no longer make fringe statements that are dangerous to the health of the whole community.”

Director of Immunisation Foundation of Australia, Catherine Hughes said in an interview with SBS News that Hanson’s statement was “disappointing”.

“She shows a total lack of regard towards the health and safety of Australian children, and doesn’t seem to have an understanding of the value of preventative medicine,” Hughes said.

“By encouraging people to ‘do their own research’ on vaccination, she is insinuating parents have the resources and abilities to conduct better medical research than scientists and doctors. It’s a ludicrous thing to say.”

Hughes also added that Hanson’s previous comments on vaccination’s links with autism and other diseases were “misinformed and dangerous statements” that could influence parents’ decision.

Health director of Grattan Institute, Stephen Duckett told ABC Radio that Hanson has to “apologise and retract that statement”.

“Vaccines are safe. I cannot stress how angry it makes one feel that she is putting lives at risk,” said Duckett.

“If parents choose not to vaccinate their children, they are putting their children’s health at risk, and every other person’s children at risk too.”

Hanson has defended her statement, claiming it was a “personal opinion” which “has nothing to do” with politics. “I had my children vaccinated,” said Hanson. “I never told my children not to get their children vaccinated. All I’m saying is get your advice.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull re-emphasised the importance of vaccination. “Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are putting their own children’s health at risk and they are putting the health of everybody else’s children at risk as well,” said Turnbull on Monday.

“So, that is why vaccination is so important. That is why we have our no-jab, no-pay policy. It has worked very well over the past year and we have seen 200,000 more children vaccinated as a result.”