Morning mail: weak wages growth, impeachment looms, heatwave threatens

Helen Sullivan
Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday 16 December.

Top stories

Today’s mid-year budget update will be a “humiliating admission” from the government that economic growth will be slower, and wages growth weaker on its watch, according to Labor. The government will unveil the latest mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, delivering the last major set-piece event for the political year. While the government will use the update to trumpet its economic management credentials, pointing to a forecast surplus as well as accounting for additional spending on drought relief and aged care, the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has declared that the Coalition finishes 2019 with “a big F for fail on the economy”.

Some 22 groups representing health and medical professionals in Australia have issued a joint call to act on a “public health emergency” caused by smoke from the catastrophic bushfire season in NSW. In Sydney and others areas communities have been exposed to air pollution up to 11 times worse than “hazardous” levels. The group has produced a joint statement calling for political leadership while repeating a call for a national strategy to combat the health impacts of climate change.

As impeachment looms, Donald Trump’s allies appear to be waging a concerted disinformation war, say commentators, intended to crowd out damaging revelations as the House of Representatives prepares its ultimate sanction. A bewildering array of fake news, warped facts and conspiracy theories have been propagated in the past week by conservative media, Republican politicians, White House officials and the president, writes David Smith.


NSW is preparing for severe heatwave conditions in the coming week after an emergency warning was issued for the major Gospers Mountain blaze on Sunday afternoon. The fire was at “watch and act” level early this morning after firefighters worked overnight to contain the blaze around Mount Wilson, Mount Tomah and Berambing, but there are fears a number of homes and buildings have been lost.

An Australian victim caught in New Zealand’s deadly White Island volcano eruption has died in hospital in Sydney, bringing the death toll from the tragedy to 16. The man died in Concord hospital almost a week after the deadly blast. It was the first death to occur in Australia after the eruption.

McDonald’s has fired the owner of two of its restaurants in Victoria after he was filmed in an alleged racialised verbal attack on an Aboriginal family that went viral on Twitter.

The world

Boris Johnson speaks to supporters in north-east England on Saturday. Photograph: Reuters

Boris Johnson has been warned that his large majority will not help him solve the contradictions at the heart of his Brexit plans, amid attempts by the EU to head off another crisis at the end of next year. Meanwhile the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said he takes full responsibility for Labour’s disastrous election defeat, as he sought to divert blame away from Jeremy Corbyn and pave the way for Rebecca Long-Bailey to become party leader.

Hong Kong police used pepper spray and made arrests on Sunday as small groups of black-clad pro-democracy protesters targeted some of the city’s shopping centres, ending a rare lull in violence.

UN climate talks have ended in limited progress on emissions targets, with a partial agreement to ask countries to come up with more ambitious targets to meet the terms of the 2015 Paris accord.

Attackers in northern Lebanon set fire to the offices of two main political parties on Sunday, the state-run National News Agency has said. Meanwhile, in Beirut, 40 people were injured in some of the worst violence since the demonstrations began two months ago.

More than 50,000 people had to evacuate their homes in Brindisi in the south of Italy on Sunday as experts removed a second world war British bomb.

Recommended reads

An Elf on the Shelf balloon is carried during the 93rd Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Photograph: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

Elf on the Shelf is a fun and festive way to teach your child to submit to the surveillance state, writes Matt Beard. “If you haven’t heard of it, the Elf on the Shelf explains how Santa is able to see you when you’re sleeping and know when you’re awake. Parents move the elf around, and kids look to see where it will appear next. They’re often also told that because they don’t know where the elf is or what the elf is watching, they’d better make sure they’re behaving themselves. After all, the elf’s job is to report back to Santa.”

Protestors in the Middle East are facing the threat of online disinformation, write Ruth Michaelson and Michael Safi. As anti-corruption and anti-austerity protests continue, a powerful storm of disinformation has been unleashed in an attempt to divert debate online. Researchers at the Canadian digital rights organisation Citizenlab found that protests in Iraq and Lebanon were accompanied by frenzied campaigns on Twitter in which influencers, often from the Gulf, played a central role.


Tragedy on Whakaari. It’s the worst burns tragedy in New Zealand history, with more than a dozen fatalities and some lives still hanging in the balance. Now questions are being asked about how and why it happened. In this episode of the Full Story podcast we speak to reporters on the ground about how the week unfolded and the long road ahead to understanding this tragedy.


Australia cleaned up a hapless New Zealand under the lights on the fourth day of the first Test to secure a commanding 296-run victory and a 1-0 series lead.

Bruce Djite might not have been born to sports administration but the ex-Adelaide United striker is changing the game as director of football at his old A-League club.

China’s state broadcaster CCTV removed Arsenal’s Premier League game against Manchester City from its broadcast schedule after Mesut Özil’s messages that criticised the country’s policy towards its Muslim Uighur minority.

Media roundup

The Australian’s headline on today’s budget update is “Budget surplus to survive $30bn revenue hit”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that towns in the Murrumbidgee and along the Murray will lose out if the NSW government pulls out of the Murray-Darling basin plan.The ABC talks to the longest-serving lollipop lady in Western Australian history.

Coming up

Marise Payne will arrive in New Zealand to meet withJacinda Ardern in the wake of the White Island eruption.