Morning mail: new airport land sale, Trump bemoans Covid coverage, 'Warringah' of Queensland

Richard Parkin
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 29 October.

Top stories

The NSW government paid $4.7m to acquire a two-hectare block of land near the Western Sydney airport, almost the same rate-per-hectare as the federal government’s heavily criticised $30m acquisition of a nearby 12.26-hectare block, known as the Leppington triangle. The figures were revealed by a federal audit, with the $4.7m price tag considerably higher than comparable sales in the area. It follows bruising disclosures made during a state anti-corruption hearing about land purchases. A police investigation is also set to examine the federal purchase.

Donald Trump has bemoaned the extensive news coverage of coronavirus on a day in which the US president claimed “ending the Covid-19 pandemic” as one of the highlights of his presidency. Twenty-six US states are now at, or near, record numbers for new infections, with more than 500,000 new cases confirmed in the past week, forcing the White House’s communications director to concede that the president’s claim was “poorly worded”. More than 70 million Americans have already voted in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election. Covid fatality and infection rates in Europe, meanwhile, have spiked dramatically with the arrival of winter, with at least 13 countries seeing record daily tolls of deaths or new cases.

Crown Resorts is facing greater pressure to delay the opening of its high roller Sydney Barangaroo casino until the verdict of an independent inquiry into its licence suitability is known. Crown’s chairman, Helen Coonan, confirmed that Crown Towers was “on track” to open in mid-December, while the Liquor and Gambling Authority is not expected to receive the former supreme court judge Patricia Bergin’s recommendations until February. “That Crown is even talking about opening is more startling evidence of the company’s brazen arrogance and alarming confidence that it has political top cover from the federal and state governments,” the federal MP Andrew Wilkie said.

Australia

A proposal for a Noah’s Ark for hundreds of the world’s most at-risk coral species could play a crucial long-term role in marine conservation, biologists have said. Inspired by Norway’s global seed vault, the Living Coral Biobank could house 800 types of hard coral.

Melbourne’s residents have embraced their first day of post-lockdown freedom, with events ranging from midnight steakhouse celebrations and 6am coffees in socially distanced cafes to trolley-laden trips round Bunnings.

Unions have called on Labor to embrace gas as a critical pillar of the transition to a renewable energy-fuelled economy or risk being deserted by blue-collar workers at the next election.

Parts of northern NSW and southern Queensland have experienced an unseasonal winter wonderland after heavy hail storms lashed the region, covering fields in “snow”, with some areas receiving “almost a month’s worth of rain in an hour”.

The world

Protests continue around the Muslim world against President Emmanuel Macron for his perceived attacks on Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Macron has said France “would not give up cartoons” following the beheading of a teacher by a student after showing his class depictions of Muhammad.

Yemen could lose an entire generation through starvation, the UN has warned, after a damning analysis suggested nearly 100,000 children under the age of five face death through malnutrition in the war-ravaged nation.

Spanish police have arrest 21 people, including key supporters of the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, on suspicion of misusing more than €2m of public money to fund a failed bid for independence.

One of the world’s most famous bookshops, Shakespeare and Company, is at risk of closing, with sales down 80% since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Paris shop was frequented by writers including James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway early in the 20th century.

Recommended reads

It’s the controversial $1.3bn redevelopment hoping to turn a much-loved wetlands into an artificial harbour with 3,600 homes. And it’s a proposal that just might produce the surprise result of the forthcoming Queensland election, Ben Smee writes, where an independent, Claire Richardson, threatens to claim what should be an LNP safe seat. “I’d say 95% of people do not support that project,” she says. “I’m basing my approach for the election on that feedback from the community. MPs have to represent the views of the community.” The contest has many similarities to the federal seat of Warringah, where the former prime minister Tony Abbott lost to the independent Zali Steggall last year.

Amid all the outcry surrounding the Australia Post chief executive’s Christine Holgate’s #WatchGate moment comes a startling admission that has largely been passed over, John Quiggin reasons: the leader of a once proud publicly owned body considers it a commercial organisation. So what exactly was the original vision of a “statutory corporation”, and how did waves of corporatisation and privatisation erode this? “The advocates of privatisation have repeatedly failed in attempts to sell off Australia Post. The next best thing is to turn it into a quasi-private corporation.”

“A weird thing about recessions is that everyone wants to be the first to claim we are in one,” writes Greg Jericho: “It is amazing how people cling to things that are clearly inadequate or wrong, just because they are easy. Many journalists, ever hesitant to deal with the complexities of the economy and explain the vast array of numbers and figures, have for many years now clung with grim determination to the belief that a recession means two consecutive quarters of negative growth.”

“How is prangent formed?” It’s the question thousands of us (read: predominantly semi-oblivious men) have asked across the aeons. Well, thankfully there’s a forum for all your questions relating to how babies arrive, just one of the 10 funniest things on the internet for this week, curated by the peerless Alice Fraser.

Listen

The Wait – part 4. In the fourth part of our series examining the plight of refugees in Indonesia, Mozhgan and her friend Elina, from Sudan, have a disagreement about beliefs in this very special episode of Full Story.

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

Sport

Dave Rennie and several Wallabies players
Dave Rennie has big Bledisloe Cup calls to make for the Wallabies’ third Test against the All Blacks. Photograph: Dave Lintott/Rex/Shutterstock

For all the hype about Australia’s “golden generation”, the new Wallabies coach, Dave Rennie, selected just two of the world championship-winning under-20s team for the first Bledisloe match in Wellington. If he wants to humble the All Blacks on home soil this weekend, he might just have to throw caution to the wind, writes Bret Harris.

The Premier League is famous for egos, spiky characters and brash mouths. So what would a likable XI look like? Daniel Harris runs the rule over English football’s nice guys (and gals).

Media roundup

ANZ is set to make emission reductions a key condition of lending, imposing low-carbon deadlines on industries, manufacturers and agricultural producers in line with Paris agreement targets, according to the Australian. Australia’s chief scientist has lauded Victoria’s “enormous” improvements to its Covid-19 track and tracing systems, the ABC reports, with Dr Alan Finkel hailing the state’s measures the best in the country. And Kevin Rudd has admitted he was “blindsided” by revelations an organisation he has chaired for the past six years received $650,000 in donations from the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the Sydney Morning Herald has claimed.

Coming up

A directions hearing is planned in Victoria’s supreme court over the Djab Wurrung tree removal to make way for the Western Highway expansion.

Transport Workers’ Union members will vote on industrial action, including banning servicing Qatar Airways planes over the treatment of women at Doha airport.

And if you’ve read this far …

Pterodactyls have long captured the imagination but new research suggests the winged dinosaurs were actually lousy flyers. Dominating the skies for 150m years, Pterosaurs evolved nearly 250m years ago, but weren’t so much imperious eagles as, well, ungainly sugar gliders. “They may have been climbing up trees and flying from one trunk to another, but not flying very long distances and not very agile in their flight,” a lead scholar says.

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