Morning mail: bushfires hit economy, questions over $80m water deal, Ash Barty victory

Helen Sullivan
Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday 20 January.

Top stories

The bushfire crisis is the latest in a string of bad news for the Australian economy, according to Deloitte Access Economics, sapping consumer confidence along with the downturn in housing construction and prolonged drought. In the latest business outlook report, released on Monday, Deloitte partly blames the Reserve Bank for its communication of the reasons driving rate cuts and warns that poor consumer and business confidence “risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy”. The report cites downturns in the retail, construction and finance sectors as cause for concern but notes that healthcare, education and the public sector are growing.

The government rejected several offers from Eastern Australia Agriculture over the past decade to sell its overland-flow water rights because the deals were “not value for money”, before paying $80m for the same rights, new documents show. The water purchase in the Condamine Balonne catchment has been controversial because it cost taxpayers $80m, was concluded without tender and the company was founded by the energy minister, Angus Taylor. But Taylor says he had ended his association with EAA before entering parliament in 2013 and was unaware of the $80m sale before it was announced.

How Africa’s richest woman amassed a fortune at vast cost to the Angolan state can be revealed for the first time after a huge leak of confidential documents from her business empire. Isabel dos Santos, who is known as “the princess” in Angola, the oil-rich nation her father ruled as president for almost four decades, has long denied that her estimated $2.2bn (A$3.2bn) fortune is the result of nepotism or corruption. But an investigation by the Guardian and journalists in 20 countries, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, suggests Dos Santos benefited from extraordinary opportunities afforded to her by the government of her father before he stood down as president in 2017.


Roger Federer has again tiptoed around tough questions about the impact of the climate crisis on the smoke-haunted Australian Open. Federer was similarly careful with his words two weeks ago when it was revealed that his sponsor, Credit Suisse, had invested heavily in fossil fuels. Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova have, meanwhile, admitted to concerns about the impact of the bushfires and air quality.

Anthony Albanese has called the decision to automatically recommit to a 45% emissions reduction target at the 2019 election was “a mistake” and declared that Labor would not take the same franking credits policy to the next election.

Sports clubs that missed out on funding under the $100m sports program overseen by Bridget McKenzie could bring a class action to overturn the former sports minister’s decisions, lawyers from two plaintiff firms have said.

The education minister, Dan Tehan, has defended the Coalition’s record on childcare after revelations that fees have increased by 3% in the last quarter and by more than 34% since the Coalition was elected in 2013.

The world

Donald Trump’s defenders and supporters skirmished over the airwaves after the US president’s legal team dismissed his impeachment trial as unconstitutional and dangerous. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump wants his impeachment trial to end before his state of the union address in two weeks’ time, Lindsey Graham said on Sunday. That timeline is ambitious, given overwhelming public support for a fair airing of the charges against Trump at his Senate trial, in which opening arguments will be heard on Tuesday.

The UK Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey has condemned the treatment of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by the media as “intrusive and racist” after the Queen announced plans for them to step back from royal duties. Meanwhile the Netflix chief, Ted Sarandos, has said Harry and Meghan in are in the streaming giant’s sights.

Hundreds of protesters have been injured in the most violent night of protests in Beirut since the beginning of mass anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon three months ago.

A police force in London labelled Extinction Rebellion one of its “key threats” in a counter-terrorism assessment and provided awareness training on the climate crisis group across the capital, resulting in “intelligence” tipoffs, the Guardian can reveal.

Recommended reads

How the chaser invaded APEC: “It was September 2007, six years into the ‘war on terror’, and two seasons into The War on Everything,” write Jenny Valentish and Naaman Zhou. “John Howard was prime minister, George W Bush was in town, and in a fake motorcade with Canadian flags, Chas Licciardello was slowly rolling down Sydney’s Macquarie Street dressed as Osama bin Laden. In an atmosphere of increasingly draconian national security laws, The Chaser had fake security passes that said “JOKE”. They had a crew of nine. And, in the backseat, in flowing white robes, they had Licciardello dressed as the most wanted terrorist on earth.”

Advice about sunscreen used to be simple: just wear it. Beyond that, all you needed to know was the higher the SPF the better. We went on like that for decades. The only real divide being whether you were for or against coconut scent. But in recent years, new schools of thought have fractured the status-sunscreen-quo. Twenty-first century sunscreen savants are mulling over formula, producer, recipe, country of origin and the impact on the environment.

“We’ve recently been enrolling our three-year-old into a preschool,” writes Matt Beard. “After some failed experiences at a local daycare, we opted for an extremely expensive Montessori-style school. The program is incredible, and within a term we’ve started seeing results. And we’re paying an arm and a leg for the opportunity. The education doesn’t come cheap. I can’t see any way the child of a low-income family would be able to attend without some kind of scholarship.”


Today’s episode of Full Story: The Pacific island nation of Nauru is well-known for its role in Australia’s offshore detention regime. But what’s less well known is Nauru’s treatment of its own citizens. Our news podcast looks at how the former president of Nauru and 18 other protesters became embroiled in a four-year legal battle for their freedom.


Ashleigh Barty of Australia poses with the trophy with Aboriginal elders Major Sumner and Mickey Kumatpi O’Brien after winning the women’s singles grand final. Photograph: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Ashleigh Barty has captured her first WTA title on home soil with an emphatic straight-sets victory in the Adelaide International final. The world No 1 downed world No 24 Ukranian Dayana Yastremska 6-2 7-5 in Saturday’s final at Memorial Drive.

India have ended Australia’s hopes of back-to-back ODI series wins in the country with a seven-wicket victory in Bangalore despite a batting masterclass from Steve Smith. Smith scored 131 in Australia’s 9-286 on Sunday night, before a Rohit Sharma century saw India chase down the target with 15 balls to spare and take the three-match series 2-1.

Media roundup

The minister for northern Australia, Matt Canavan, tells the Australian that the government will seek to develop closer ties with India, south-east Asia and the Pacific Island nations in light of tensions with China. The federal government’s new fee transparency website reveals that “private health patients in NSW are paying up to 40 times more in out-of-pocket costs than patients in other states for the same procedure”, the Sydney Morning Herald reveals. “The sharemarket’s record-breaking rally will continue enthusiastically without regard for the bushfire-worsened confession season under way,” the Australian Financial Review reports.

Coming up

The Tour Down Under begins in Adelaide with a 150km stage starting and finishing in Tanunda.

A judgment is expected in the ACCC’s action against travel company Trivago over alleged misleading hotel pricing representations in its television advertising and on its website.

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