Morning mail: Westpac's $11bn scandal, Sondland's bombshell, Prince Andrew 'steps back'

Richard Parkin
Photograph: Steven Saphore/Reuters

Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 21 November.

Top stories

Westpac could be facing a billion-dollar lawsuit after being accused of 23m breaches of financial law, including failure to monitor customers potentially involved in child sex trafficking. The bank failed to file reports relating to more than $11bn worth of transactions, as it is required to do under anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism finance laws, leaving CEO Brian Hartzer “disgusted and appalled”. The Westpac boss has accepted the allegations made by the financial monitoring agency, Austrac, “almost overwhelmingly”, suggesting the bank may look to settle the lawsuit. The breaches carry a theoretical fine of between $391tn and $483tn, but punishment is likely to be in the billions, given a similar case involving Commonwealth Bank last year.

A star witness in the Trump impeachment inquiry has delivered bombshell testimony, asserting the existence of a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine, claiming he was ordered by the president to work closely with lawyer Rudy Giuliani, against his will, to extract a deal. Gordon Sondland, a former Trump ally, and the US ambassador to the EU, made the allegations in a sensational opening statement that could devastate the lines of defence previously constructed by House Republicans, and increase scrutiny over former New York mayor Giuliani’s role in the affair.

Australia is set for a diplomatic stoush with nations including the UK over meeting its Paris climate agreement targets, with the Morrison government telling business groups it intends to find a diplomatic solution that will enable it to use carryover credits from the soon-to-be-obsolete Kyoto protocols against its 2030 commitments. Australia will need to cut emissions by 695m tonnes cumulatively across the next decade, but is seeking to account for 367m tonnes through “beating” previous targets – something that will need to be agreed upon at forthcoming climate talks in Madrid.

Australia

LNP MP Llew O’Brien says a federal integrity commission must have ‘real teeth’ and he may cross floor over government’s federal integrity commission legislation. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Coalition MP Llew O’Brien has warned he may cross the floor in an upcoming vote, unless the attorney general comes up with federal integrity commission legislation “with teeth”. “We need confidence in our government. And we need the perception to be – as well as the reality – that we are doing the right thing,” O’Brien said.

The archetypal Australian jihadist is not mentally ill, does not come from a refugee background, and more likely not from an Islamic school, new research from the Lowy Institute has suggested, with a desire for personal status perhaps the key motivator.

Energy retailers have warned ministers that new regulations could see costs passed on to consumers if a rule change carrying potential $100,000 fines on retailers offering “dodgy discounts” is included in a new reliability standard.

Two Australian billionaires are teaming up to build a massive solar farm in the Northern Territory, with the plan to supply one-fifth of Singapore’s electricity. The $20bn-plus development would include a 10-gigawatt-capacity array and be completed by 2027.

The world

Prince Andrew has announced he’ll be stepping back from public duties. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Prince Andrew has announced he will step back from public duties “for the foreseeable future”, following an intensification of criticism over his relationship with convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Former Nobel Peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will represent Myanmar at The Hague, with the nation facing allegations of genocide which the political leader says there is not enough evidence to support.

Maltese police have arrested a prominent businessman in connection with the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her family have urged police to continue investigating links between the businessman and key politicians.

A groundbreaking trial in the United States has seen doctors put a human into suspended animation, rapidly cooling the patient to enable surgeons vital minutes, potentially an hour, to conduct live-saving operations.

Recommended reads

Set in 1992, On Becoming a God in Central Florida grapples with the fallacy of the American dream via pyramid schemes. With lead actress Kirsten Dunst starting filming five months after the birth of her son, the exhaustion and anxiety of “keeping up” was very real, writes Bridie Jabour. But after a career in which she’s never quite cracked the big awards, will this be Dunst’s ticket to long-overdue recognition?

How do you drive innovation without exacerbating inequality? That’s the question Labor shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh and economist Joshua Gans ask in a new book. But as Greg Jericho writes, the catch is: the future is very hard to predict. Who would have thought computers would get so affordable, or even motor vehicles? And how will technology affect employment rates and thus household incomes? It may be that in unforeseeable times, the role government plays becomes crucial.

Listen

By 2045 the Welsh village of Fairbourne will have to be dismantled due to rising sea waters. On this episode of Today in Focus, Rachel Humphreys chats to Anushka Asthana about the operation involved in moving an entire village, and environment correspondent Sandra Laville discusses the increasing risk of flooding. Listen now.

Sport

Test cricket is back. And while the wait appeared short given a run of white-ball matches and Sheffield Shield, for two players – David Warner and Steve Smith – it’s been nearly two years since they last played on Australian soil, writes Geoff Lemon.

As a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, Mauricio Pochettino’s style of play was exhausting. Not just physically, but emotionally, writes Jonathan Wilson. But having paid the price for a failure to renew their squad, is José Mourinho the right man for Spurs?

Media roundup

One year on from the demerger of Coles from Wesfarmers, shareholders are $16bn richer, writes the Australian Financial Review, following the biggest split in Australian corporate history. Crews battling “potentially catastrophic” fires in north-west Tasmania have been left “frustrated” by firebugs, reports the Mercury. And, a soil contamination crisis has thrown the $6.7bn West Gate tunnel into turmoil, claims the Herald Sun, amid fears the project won’t be completed ahead of the 2022 state election.

Coming up

Severe bushfire warnings have been issued for swathes of eastern Australia on Thursday, including a code red issued for parts of northern Victoria.

A judgment will be handed down in the class action case against the maker of transvaginal mesh.

And if you’ve read this far …

Norway – home of the sugar tax since 1922 – has big news. It’s eating less sugar per capita than at any other time since 1975. In contrast, the UK has seen consumption levels continue to rise. So what’s the Scando solution to socking it to sugar?

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