Morning mail: welfare card fail, fears cruise an 'incubator' for virus, Assange appeal

·7-min read

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Wednesday 19 February.

Top stories

The cashless debit card has failed to reduce family violence in one of the first trial sites and may have actually coincided with an increase in abuse, police data released under freedom of information laws suggests. New figures obtained by the Australian National University researcher Elise Klein add more weight to critics’ claims that the card has not reduced reports of family violence about three years after welfare recipients were placed on to the card.

An officer on Australia’s flagship Antarctic icebreaker was asked by bosses to remove a social media post showing her on deck with a banner critical of Scott Morrison’s climate policies after Australia’s Antarctic Division contacted her employer. Madeleine Habib, currently in Antarctica, unfurled the banner on the deck of the Aurora Australis with the words “Scomo – Coal or Ice?” and posted the picture on her Facebook page. Habib was asked to remove the post on Monday after her employer, P&O Maritime, was contacted by the government’s Australian Antarctic Division, which contracts the ship.

Quarantine conditions imposed on the cruise ship docked in Japan are both morally dubious and appear counterproductive, according to health experts who fear the vessel has become an incubator for the coronavirus Covid-19. The Diamond Princess cruise ship now accounts for the biggest cluster of cases outside mainland China. More than 540 passengers in the Japanese port Yokohama are confirmed to have the virus, after 88 additional cases were confirmed on Tuesday. Experts are still trying to understand how easily the virus transmits, but there are fears that the conditions on the ship – quarantined after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive – have allowed the disease to spread more rapidly.


Thunderstorms have felled trees and caused power outages across Sydney as damaging winds and large hailstones battered the central and southern parts of coastal NSW. A 37-year-old man died after he was struck by a gas bottle in the CBD just before midnight in an incident police said appeared to be related to the storm.

Boris Johnson should block attempts to extradite Julian Assange to the US, say Australian MPs George Christensen and Andrew Wilkie, who visited the Wikileaks founder in prison and described him afterwards as “a man under enormous pressure” whose health and mental health had deteriorated.

A three-year-old boy has been found dead on a bus in Queensland. The boy was found in a minibus parked out the front of a school in Edmonton, south of Cairns. Police said it was believed the boy was being taken to a daycare centre and was discovered by the driver of the minibus.

Anthony Albanese has invoked his mother as the inspiration for Labor’s latest policy reset, declaring older Australians need to be seen as a boon to the budget, rather than a burden.

The world

Courtroom sketch of the Weinstein jury
Courtroom sketch of the jury listening to testimony during film producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial. Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

The Harvey Weinstein jury carries the weight of #MeToo into its deliberations. Seven men and five women have been sent out of courtroom 99 at the New York supreme court on Tuesday faced with a monumental collective decision. If they find the defendant guilty Weinstein could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. If they acquit it will send waves of shock and dismay throughout the fledgling #MeToo cause.

Britain’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has rejected British demands for a Canada-style trade deal that would free the UK from EU rules as he made a thinly veiled warning to Boris Johnson not to break his word.

A national association of 1,000 US federal judges has called an emergency meeting to address growing concerns about the intervention of Donald Trump and justice department officials in politically sensitive cases, as former Trump advisor Roger Stone’s sentencing takes place on Thursday.

The Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy protection amid an avalanche of sex abuse lawsuits that are set to result in huge victim compensation payments.

Many plastic items that Americans put in their recycling bins aren’t being recycled at all, according to a major new survey of hundreds of recycling facilities across the US. The findings confirm the results of a Guardian investigation last year.

Recommended reads

General Motors announced on Monday that it would axe the Holden brand, saying it would exit the “highly fragmented right-hand-drive market” and “retire” the Australian marque by 2021. Guardian Australia looks back at the history of the Australian carmaker, which has produced some of the country’s most recognisable and best-loved vehicles.

Growing up, a lesbian romcom could have changed my life. The new Australian film Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) made me weep, writes Rebecca Shaw. It shows that many queer kids no longer feel they have to hide who they are. “I didn’t experience high school like my friends. I didn’t allow myself to have crushes, except for the fake ones I manufactured on unattainable boys to avoid suspicion. I didn’t date, I didn’t kiss anyone at a party and I went alone to the formal. I would never allow myself to feel anything for anyone, because it was too dangerous.”

Comfort creep is the one aspect of your financial wellbeing you can control, writes Lacey Filipich. “As an undergraduate, it was Weet-Bix for dinner and Carrington Blush for celebrations. House sharing was a given, not optional … It will come as no surprise that my own costs have risen commensurately since then. In some cases, that’s good. Healthier food, less sugar in my wine, a more robust car: these are justifiable, even laudable, but only to a point. Somewhere between living the poverty-stricken student lifestyle and luxury, your spending rises to reach a perceived better quality of life without delivering a permanent benefit to your wellbeing. From that point on, you’re in comfort creep territory.”


In 2018, a migrant family living in Biloela, Queensland was taken from their home at dawn. They have been held in detention ever since. This Friday, the family’s last chance to stay in Australia will be assessed by a court. In this episode of Full Story, we explore how the treatment of Nadesalingam and Priya, and their two Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa, has exposed the unfairness in Australia’s immigration processes.


Player drain is emerging as a key issue amid concern over the W-League’s structure. Given the transfer window closes a month before of the W-League’s semi-finals, top-tier player traffic is only ever going to go one way, writes Ella Reilly.

Pressure is hard to quantify and unknown pressure is difficult to prepare for. And it is the pressure of being the overwhelming favourites in a home Twenty20 World Cup that provides the unknown opponent for Australia’s women once the tournament starts on Friday, writes Melinda Farrell.

Media roundup

Growth on the NSW public transport network has hurtled past long-term government predictions, with 93 million more trips taken on buses and trains last year than what was forecast for 2031, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Ten Australian universities are set to lose a combined $1.2bn because of students stranded in China under the coronavirus travel ban, analysis by the Australian has found. Singapore is set to increase its budget “to stimulate an already slowing economy now operating in the shadow of immense uncertainty”, writes the Australian Financial Review.

Coming up

The second group of about 35 coronavirus evacuees – who were brought from Wuhan by Air New Zealand – is expected to leave quarantine on Christmas Island.

Jetstar baggage handlers and ground crew are due to strike for 24 hours over pay and working conditions.

And if you’ve read this far …

The next threat to bees? Organised crime.

Sign up

If you would like to receive the Guardian Australia morning mail to your email inbox every weekday, sign up here.