Morning mail: offset profits ‘seriously concerning’, India suffers, singing fish |


Good morning. Today we have more on the ongoing Covid crisis in India and a conservation offset controversy on home shores. Plus news about a singing fish and (not quite) explosive sex toys.

An environmental consultant who holds interests in a property that made more than $40m selling conservation offsets to governments is part of a consortium that has made tens of millions of dollars more. Steven House is a former director of Eco Logical Australia, a firm that advised governments on major projects in western Sydney. He is also a director of Meridolum No 1 – a company that had made more than $40m selling offsets for infrastructure projects that Eco Logical, which employed two of Meridolum’s directors, provided offset advice on. The directors denied any suggestion of wrongdoing or conflict of interest and said they had made the appropriate declarations. But House holds interests in two other properties that sold a further $66.8m in offsets for developments in western Sydney between 2017 and 2019. The transactions involving these two properties are “deeply concerning and undermine public confidence in the whole offsetting system”, according to Chris Gambian, chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

WHO has said India’s deadly Covid-19 second wave was caused by a “perfect storm” of mass gatherings, low vaccination rates and more contagious variants. The families of 9,000 Indian Australians stranded in the subcontinent are urging the Morrison government to establish a quarantine solution that would allow their loved ones to return home en masse when flights from India eventually resume. A pause on direct flights from India to Australia was announced yesterday and will remain until at least 15 May. India recorded yet another day of more than 300,000 new cases on Tuesday and 2,771 deaths. Health experts believe the true toll is far higher.

Black deaths in custody are a “national crisis” that requires urgent action, the Greens senator, Lidia Thorpe, has said, after confirmation of deaths in Victoria and NSW. Seven Aboriginal people have died in custody across Australia in the past two months. Four of the deaths were in NSW jails. An Indigenous man died at Port Phillip prison in Melbourne’s west on Monday night, Corrections Victoria said. Separately, NSW authorities confirmed that a 37-year-old had been found dead in his cell at Cessnock correctional centre yesterday morning.

The EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has warned that the bloc will not hesitate to use the “real teeth” in the Brexit deal to punish the British government for breaching its obligations as MEPs prepared to consent to the historic agreement, marking the end of four years of high political drama. The UK government has been accused of breaching its commitments in Northern Ireland and on an agreement on fisheries.

Australia

A number of experts say the role of airborne transmission of Covid has been underestimated. They cite examples of coronavirus spreading this way including, in one case, by “faecal aerosols produced by toilet flushing”.

The Australian Olympic team and support staff will be fast-tracked for Covid vaccinations before the Games in July. About 2,050 Australian athletes and staff will now be considered a priority group under 1b of the vaccine rollout but no special quarantine plans have been announced for their return.

A former Liberal senator and Australia Post board member has blamed Labor for the Christine Holgate controversy, accusing the Senate inquiry looking into Holgate’s departure of “trying to get political scalps”.

The world

A barrel on the seabed
Scientists have found a huge suspected DDT dumpsite off the California coast. Photograph: David Valentine/AP

Marine scientists say they have found what they believe to be as many as 25,000 barrels possibly containing DDT dumped off the southern California coast, where a massive underwater toxic waste site dating back to the second world war has long been suspected.

An independent autopsy on Andrew Brown, a Black man killed by police in the US last week, showed he had been shot five times, including in the back of the head.

Brazil’s congress has launched a parliamentary inquiry into what critics call Jair Bolsonaro’s disastrous and potentially criminal response to the Covid pandemic, which has killed nearly 400,000 Brazilians.

A prominent ethnic armed group in Myanmar said it had captured a military base near the Thai border on Tuesday, as clashes escalated days after the junta chief committed to immediately ending violence in the country.

Recommended reads

A singing fish
A singing fish: it glows green during courtship and looks like Boris Johnson’s hardship face. Photograph: Hamza Khan/Alamy

If, at midnight, you stick your oar into the water of the lagoon near Kallady Bridge in Batticaloa, on Sri Lanka’s east coast, you might hear fish sing. This sounds, according to Prince Casinader, “like a man idly playing on the keys of a piano. Bass notes and treble notes. Or like someone rubbing a finger around the rim of a wet wine glass.” For a while people were uncertain the fish existed, until citizen scientists made an underwater recording.

With a stronger quarantine system, Australia could offer more help to those trapped in India, writes Hassan Vally: “[A] challenging issue concerns our responsibility to the approximately 9,000 Australians who are in India and want to come home … This complex problem can be boiled down to one fundamental question: how much risk are we willing to tolerate as a community to look after Australians who are in need and stranded in India? The suitability or not of Australia’s existing quarantine arrangements, and in particular hotel quarantine, is at the heart of this dilemma.”

If your skin is in good condition, will slathering on an extra product make a difference? “It struck me, while my face was slathered in a bentonite facial that I misted with rosewater, that my skincare routine may have gone a step (or several) too far,” writes Amy Hadley. “My skincare regimen actively suits my needs, so jamming more in there to improve my already consistent skin feels a little superfluous, but it is hard to resist.”

Listen

When India emerged relatively unscathed from its first wave of Covid-19, there was a sense in the country that somehow it was an exception. In today’s Full Story, the Guardian’s south Asia correspondent, Hannah Ellis-Petersen, tells Anushka Asthana that the situation now couldn’t be further from a victory against the virus. With a second wave spreading out of control across India, its healthcare system is unable to cope. Shortages of staff, beds and oxygen are compounding the catastrophe.

Full Story

India’s Covid disaster: a crisis for the world

Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.

Sport

Scott Morrison has told Australian cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League they will not be able to return home before other Australians now stranded in the country, after Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan, suggested it was “galling” that the cricketers were even allowed to fly to the subcontinent during the pandemic.

Media roundup

An extra 1m superannuation accounts will be labelled as failing to make acceptable returns to members under a tougher performance test that includes administration fees for the first time, reports the Australian. The highest-profile international horse to die at an Australian racetrack, Anthony Van Dyck, was lame a month before he broke down in the Melbourne Cup, according to a report by Racing Victoria quoted in the Age. And Northern Australian military bases are set for a $747m upgrade, reports the NT News, as tensions continue to rise with China.

Coming up

A commemoration will be held at Port Arthur, Tasmania to mark the 25th anniversary of the massacre there.

Richard Pusey, the Porsche driver who filmed the aftermath of a car crash that killed four police officers, is to be sentenced.

And if you’ve read this far …

A German police bomb squad called to investigate a suspected hand grenade in a Bavarian forest has revealed that the object was far less sinister – a rubber sex toy. “There are actually sex toys in the form of hand grenades,” police said.

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