Morning mail: Behrouz Boochani free, bushfire threat ramps up, black-throated finch triumphs

Richard Parkin

Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Friday 15 November.

Top stories

Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish Iranian journalist who became the voice of Manus Island refugees, is free. After arriving on Thursday evening in New Zealand, the tireless advocate and award-winning author vowed “never to go back to that place” – Australia’s immigration regime on Papua New Guinea, with either the US or NZ as possible long-term destinations. Held on Manus Island for six years – or 2,269 days –Boochani secretly documented life inside the facility, where he witnessed fellow refugees shot, stabbed and murdered by guards, saw several die through medical neglect and watched others descend into mental anguish and suicide. His journey out, organised over months and supported by UNHCR and Amnesty International, took 34 hours and crossed three countries.

Queensland remains under severe bushfire threat, with the state so dry that thunderstorms forecast at the weekend could bring lightning but no rain. Emergency services were able to build stronger containment lines around many of the 75 bushfires burning across the state on Thursday, but dry storms and a continued heatwave in the south-east are expected to exacerbate conditions. The Bureau of Meteorology has little good news on the horizon, with Richard Wardle telling media: “We’ve had a very dry 2019 and we expect those very dry conditions to continue until 2020.”

Nancy Pelosi has accused Donald Trump of bribery, saying the president’s actions in seeking to cover his tracks make “what Nixon did look almost small”. On another bruising day of live hearings, the speaker of the House of Representatives chose not to mince her words: “To grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That’s bribery.” Meanwhile, two senior lawmakers from both parties are emerging as chief nemesis and defender of the president– the Democrat Adam Schiff and the Republican Devin Nunes have taken centre stage during the impeachment proceedings thus far. Rudy Giuliani also joked via telephone with the Guardian that he has “very good insurance” should the president turn on his personal lawyer.

The black-throated finch has been voted Australian bird of the year for 2019, beating the tawny frogmouth in a landslide. The highly endangered finch, which is under threat from the Adani Carmichael coalmine, was backed by a highly organised online campaign linking it to deforestation, the climate emergency and opposition to the mine. It won with 11,153 votes (35% of the total), 7,802 votes clear of second place. Overall, including first- and second-round votes, 18,387 people voted for the black-throated finch. The tawny frogmouth briefly held hopes of becoming the first nocturnal bird to win the poll but came a distant second with 3,351 votes. The magpie, which won the inaugural Guardian/BirdLife Australia 2017 bird of the year, slumped to fourth with 2,725 votes, and the ibis, which came second in 2017, dropped all the way to 10th, with only 1,147 votes. The superb fairy-wren came third, with 2,875 votes, the magpie fourth (2,725) and the laughing kookaburra fifth (2,650).


A body-worn camera Photograph: SUPPLIED/PR IMAGE

NSW police will review whether body cameras should be automatically turned on, with the commissioner, Mick Fuller, investigating whether the drawing of weapons could automatically turn on cameras within 100 metres via Bluetooth.

Australia’s biggest litigation funder has rejected the attorney general’s claim that it is targeting mining companies, explaining that multiply class actions now under way are to do with breaches of corporate governance, not environmental issues.

Queensland police have suspended an officer who pleaded guilty to computer hacking, more than three years after he leaked the address of a domestic abuse victim to her violent former partner.

The world

A paediatrician loads a measles vaccine in a hospital in Schwelm, Germany. Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

Germany’s parliament has voted to make measles vaccinations compulsory, with parents who refuse to inoculate their children facing fines up to €2,500, starting next March.

Dutch investigators have released new recordings which they claim show collusion between Moscow and Ukrainian separatists, blamed for the shooting down of MH17.

Two Australian and US professors scheduled for release by the Taliban remain incarcerated. It’s not yet clear when 50-year-old Timothy Weekes from Wagga Wagga will be freed.

At least one person is dead and multiple people have been hurt at a high school shooting in California. A solo male shooter is believed to be still at large after attacking Saugus high in Santa Clarita, about 50km north of Los Angeles.

China may be systematically falsifying its organ donation records, an Australian research paper has claimed, raising major concerns about the possible use of executed prisoners or other forced donors.

Recommended reads

It’s 3pm on a weekday and, if anyone’s going to end up at Sexpo, it’s Brigid Delaney. “A handful of us are pressed against a barrier, clapping a woman who just stuffed a three-foot (inflated) balloon down her throat. It just disappeared down her gullet and is now presumably entangled in her lower intestines like one of those seabirds that has swallowed a plastic bag.” At the intersection of the sex toy industrial complex and a sort of “Royal Easter Show for adults”, Sexpo is nothing if not eye-opening. But more than that, writes Delaney, it’s completely hilarious.

As land prices spiral globally, the appeal of tiny houses continues to rise. But as Wendy Syfret writes, with residences ranging between 22 and 40 square metres, they’re a “curious mix of aspirational and off-putting: part of you wants to live in these dreamy matchboxes, another wonders how anyone could.” An Australian YouTube show, Never Too Small, has become a viral global hit but, with city planning regulations dragging behind, can any of this ever become a reality in modern Australia?


The frontline of fire. It’s been a catastrophic start to the bushfire season – so far four people have died and hundreds of houses have been destroyed. On this episode of the Full Story podcast the Guardian Australia environment reporter Lisa Cox explains how our fire season is changing, and we hear from people living on the frontline of the fires.


Adam Taggart celebrates his winner with Socceroos teammates. Photograph: Andre Pain/EPA

Australia have survived a late scare to continue their unbeaten start to World Cup qualifying, after the Socceroos edged Jordan 1-0 in Amman, courtesy of Adam Taggart’s first-half winner.

As important as the identity of the next Wallabies coach could be the contract on offer. While a four-year term until France 2023 seems sensible, if it’s a bad fit, Rugby Australia risks a potentially costly payout if it gets it wrong, writes Bret Harris.

And it wouldn’t be Friday without David Squireson A-Pocalyse Now: the search for Kurz, and Melbourne Victory’s horror.

Media roundup

A tsunami warning has been issued for Indonesia after a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck offshore in the Molucca Sea, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s the worst rupture in relations between police and the Indigenous community since Palm Island, writes the Australian, as protests continue in the Northern Territory after the shooting of Kumanjayi Walker by a police officer. And the Weis family has slammed the global corporation Unilever for closing the Toowoomba factory where its famous ice-creams have been made for 60 years, with production moving to NSW, writes the Courier-Mail.

Coming up

The chiefs of National Australia Bank and ANZ will front a parliamentary inquiry on Friday to explain how they are making changes stemming from the royal commission.

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