Morning mail: Houston refuses interview, Boeing under fire, UK election

Helen Sullivan

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Wednesday 30 October.

Top stories

Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong church, refused to be interviewed by New South Wales police about his father’s child abuse confessions, shortly after which an investigation was nearly abandoned due to a lack of sufficient evidence, parliamentary documents reveal. NSW police confirmed last month the investigation was still open, following reporting from the Wall Street Journal that prime minister Scott Morrison had wanted Houston to attend a state dinner at the White House but the Trump administration rejected the proposal. Houston’s father Frank confessed in late 1999 to his son that he had committed child abuse, after a victim, Brett Sengstock, reported the abuse which occurred in the 60s and 70s to the Australian Christian Churches. At the time Brian Houston was the national president.

Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, faced the anger of members of US Congress in Washington on Tuesday, over the failure of the aircraft maker and US regulators to identify and correct flaws in the design of the 737 Max jet that led to two crashes, killing 346. At the hearing, Connecticut Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal sharply accused Boeing of engaging in “a pattern of deliberate concealment”, noting that Boeing’s 1,600-page pilot’s manual mentions the so-called MCAS anti-stall system just once. Blumenthal accused Muilenberg and Boeing of supplying “flying coffins as a result of Boeing deciding to conceal MCAS from pilots”.

Four hundred million litres of fresh water is flowing out to sea from storage in drought-afflicted Queensland every day, sparking a fresh rift between Coalition MPs and the state’s Labor government. As the federal government considers a fresh round of drought measures to respond to the record dry spell, the Queensland government has angered federal MPs by releasing more than 100,000 megalitres of water from the Paradise dam over a 10-week period. The controversial decision was taken to reduce the dam to 42% capacity because of concerns over its structural integrity in the event of a flood. But after reaching “full supply capacity” of the water storage system on Monday, the operator of the government-owned dam, Sunwater, has begun releasing 400 megalitres of freshwater out to sea each day from a barrage near Bundaberg.


The Morrison government has quietly appointed an expert panel to come up with new ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and given it less than a month to come up with recommendations.

The voice to parliament co-design process will kick off today, with the new phase to be led by the prominent Indigenous leaders Tom Calma and Marcia Langton.

Some of Australia’s richest people have successfully lobbied the Australian Taxation Office for a year’s delay before businesses they own have to confess to the authority about potential tax problems.

Private health insurance reforms introduced by the federal government have been undermined by industry lobbying. The reforms were meant to to make the policies easier for consumers to understand. But according to health policy experts the system is as confusing as it ever was.

The world

Jeremy Corbyn has announced that Labour is ready to back a general election now that the EU has granted a three-month Brexit delay, making a pre-Christmas UK poll all but certain. With the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party preparing to support a one-line bill tabled by Boris Johnson’s government later on Tuesday, triggering an early poll, Corbyn said his party would also vote for it. The Labour leader told the shadow cabinet: “I have consistently said that we are ready for an election and our support is subject to a no-deal Brexit being off the table. We have now heard from the EU that the extension of article 50 to 31 January has been confirmed, so for the next three months, our condition of taking no deal off the table has now been met.” Hours later, the early election passed what may be its final major hurdle after amendments to an election bill seeking to extend the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds and EU nationals were not selected for voting.

Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, has announced his resignation. Over the past fortnight Hariri has tabled reforms including the abolition of several cabinet positions and some cuts to spending, but the moves have fallen short of the structural changes demanded by protesters.

Alexander Vindman, an army lieutenant colonel and the top Ukraine expert, will testify today. He is expected to tell US Congress that a July phone call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, caused him to raise an internal alarm. The testimony could weigh heavily in the impeachment inquiry. Read his opening statement here.

Millions of Californians prepared to be without power for days as the United States’ largest utility once again said it was switching off its grid as firefighters battle wildfires across the state.

Recommended reads

There’s nothing quite like the mortification that accompanies poring over one’s diary entries from the past. A few years ago, Helen Garner burnt hers in a backyard bonfire. She stopped when she got to the late-1970s, to the period just after Monkey Grip was released. Revisiting those entries for Yellow Notebook, her forthcoming book of extracts, Garner found, “my shame and embarrassment gradually shed their power … and there grew in me a new camaraderie with the rest of the human race”.

NSW has decided to make maths compulsory for years 11 and 12. “But why force unwilling kids to grit their teeth through solving differential equations?” asks Micah Goldwater. “It is important to have a curriculum that supports as many students as possible in future careers in maths and science while ensuring others are equipped with the mathematical knowledge they will need to function in other fields and daily life.” After all, he argues, compulsory maths could teach students credit card smarts and how to choose cancer treatment.


It’s the spy scandal that laid bare Australia’s record on whistleblowers. In 2004, the Australian government conducted an illegal bugging operation on the Timor-Leste government while they were in negotiations about oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Timor-Leste was newly independent, the poorest country in Asia and a close ally of Australia. We only know about it because of a whistleblower from Australia’s spy agency and his lawyer. Now they both face jail time. In this episode of the Full Story podcast, transparency reporter Christopher Knaus explains to Gabrielle Jackson how whistleblowers become targets under Australian law.


England have been reprimanded and fined for their V-shaped formation when facing the haka before their World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand last Saturday, the Guardian understands.

Ever since the Wallabies surrendered the Bledisloe Cup to the All Blacks in 2003, Australian rugby has lurched from one crisis to another, either on the field or off the field. Or both. The game seems to be stuck in perpetual crisis, writes Bret Harris.

Media roundup

The Australian reports that “Geoffrey Rush has returned to the international stage” in a reading of Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice, alongside Al Pacino. In the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, Australia’s “biggest ever birthing study” has found that “planned home births had the highest rate of ‘normal’ no-intervention deliveries”. The Australian also reports that the Morrison government will pump an extra $1bn into the Clean Energy Finance ­Corporation to to upgrade the transmission network and invest in storage.

Coming up

Activists are expected to continue protesting against the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne following violent clashes with police on Monday.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its quarterly consumer price index data for the three months to September.

And if you’ve read this far …

Learn the facts before you head to the polls: Do you know an owl from an albatross? Or what Australian bird has a sharp, five-inch toe that is capable of disembowelling you? Take this quiz to find out if you’re a fully fledged bird nerd or someone who needs to look up in the trees a bit more often. Then vote, vote, vote!

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