Morning mail: Victoria braces for lockdown, Sky News attracts racist comments, Boris Johnson ‘unfit’ to be PM | Australia news

Good morning. Coronavirus continues to dominate local and international headlines, as Victoria contemplates strict measures once again, and US intelligence probes the pandemic’s origins.

Victoria appears set to re-enter lockdown, with leading ministers from the state government to meet this morning to discuss its response, as the Melbourne Covid-19 cluster grows to at least 15. As the outbreak prompts a surge in Victorians getting vaccinated, the Australian Medical Association has called for any Australian approved for overseas travel to be forced to have a vaccine, in a bid to reduce the threat from Covid and to incentivise vaccination. The federal cabinet approved the fast-tracking of vaccines for Australians given permission for travel earlier this month, but on a voluntary basis. More than 144,000 Australians have been given permission to leave since the pandemic begun, but around 40,000 remain stranded overseas due to caps on quarantine places.

Joe Biden has ordered US intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts in identifying the origins of the coronavirus, following explosive claims in the Wall Street Journal that US intelligence was aware of three Chinese researchers being hospitalised in Wuhan with coronavirus-like symptoms in November 2019. The possibility of the virus being manmade was a theory widely promoted by his predecessor, Donald Trump. Biden had previously dismissed this as a fringe theory, but has now called upon China to participate in a “a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation” about the origins of the disease.

Sky News Australia has denied responsibility for the publishing of thousands of racist and violent comments on its YouTube channel, some fitting the description of hate speech, with the vast majority of the comments appearing to celebrate the shooting of a Black Lives Matters activist in the UK. A spokesperson for Sky News said as it was “not the author of user comments”, inquiries should be directed at Google instead. The tech giant in turn confirmed that Sky News had the ability to delete or disable the comments, which were attached to a short news story it had published, and remained online days later. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has called on Google to review its commercial relationship with Sky News, asking if the company was “at all concerned that its platform is being used by Sky News to radicalise Australians”.


A MRH Taipan helicopter
Defence tells Senate estimates it has signed a contract to lease private helicopters amid low availability of Taipans. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The defence department is facing accusations of overseeing a “litany of errors”, after it revealed to Senate estimates it had spent $37m on hiring helicopters, due to ongoing problems with its $15bn fleet of Taipan helicopters.

Postgraduate students at the University of Sydney are being asked to declare their relationships with sexual partners or ex-partners who are “broadly relevant” to their research, in a move that has been denounced by the Australian Privacy Foundation as a gross overreach, “a scattergun, a shotgun to take out a pimple”.

Staff at the government-owned NBN Co received $77.5m in bonuses last year, with those on more than $200,000 receiving nearly $50,000, on average. NBN chair Dr Ziggy Switkowski defended the bonuses, but Labor has criticised the payments as “corporate largesse”.

The world

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street
The former chief aide to Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson has savaged his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

Boris Johnson is unfit to be prime minister after presiding over a chaotic and incompetent pandemic response that caused many thousands of unnecessary deaths, his former chief aide Dominic Cummings has claimed in an excoriating attack. At one stage, he told a parliamentary inquiry, Johnson suggested getting injected live on TV with coronavirus.

More than 150 people are missing and feared drowned in north-west Nigeria after an overloaded boat ferrying passengers to a market sank in the Niger River, local officials said.

Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has accused the west of launching a “hybrid modern war” against his country, as relations continue to deteriorate following his decision to forcibly divert a commercial air flight with a prominent dissident onboard. Opposition leaders have warned the nation risks turning into “the North Korea of Europe”.

At least nine people have died after a mass shooting at a rail maintenance yard in California. The gunman, included in the dead, is believed to have been an employee at the site.

A species of giant tortoise, believed extinct for over a century, has been revealed very much alive, after forensic DNA analysis conducted on a turtle found in 2019 on the Galápagos Islands confirmed a match.

Recommended reads

Aunty Beryl Van Oploo and Kylie Kwong
Chef, author, television presenter and restaurateur chef Kylie Kwong (right) and Indigenous elder and cook Aunty Beryl Van Oploo at the industrial blacksmithing workshop. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

One is a beloved celebrity cook, the other a hugely respected local elder of the Yaama Dhiyaan hospitality school. In this interview, Kylie Kwong speaks candidly with her friend and mentor, Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, who helped inspire her new restaurant – about native foods, feisty green tree ants, and of course, family. “My mother’s got 10 brothers and sisters, and my father had 10 brothers and sisters. So when you told me about your extended family, I immediately understood and it just brought a smile to my face.”

Government spending remains a critical lever during economic downturns. “The old adage is that in a recession everyone is a Keynesian. Of course this is only partially true – governments are always Keynesian; conservatives remain advocates for austerity and failed policies so long as they are in opposition,” Greg Jericho explains. And recent job and payroll data suggests it’s not rocket science: state-led stimulus drives recovery. Which is needed, Jericho argues, because private sector investment remains in the doldrums.

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for the funniest things on the internet, and this week’s guest curators are the incomparable Kates – McLennan and McCartney. How many raccoons are too many raccoons? What’s the best way to prepare kale? And how do gay people propose to one another?


Samoa’s political crisis. Following one of the most contentious elections in the Polynesian island’s history, Samoa remains wracked by political instability. On this episode of Full Story, reporter Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson explains how the crisis precipitated and what it means for the island nation.

Full Story

Samoa’s democracy in crisis

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


Egan Bernal, Giro D'Italia
Giro leader Egan Bernal finishes stage 17 after a tough day in the saddle. Photograph: Luca Zennaro/EPA

The Giro D’Italia is hotting up, after race leader Egan Bernal showed signs of weakness following an attack on the slopes of Sega di Ala, which saw him drop 53 seconds to rival Simon Yates.

Villareal lead Manchester United in the Europa League final, thanks to Gerard Moreno’s 30th goal of the season, an audacious improvised finish. The game is ongoing – see our liveblog for the latest / final result.

Media roundup

Queensland is considering a raft of legislative changes including domestic violence offenders facing the same monitoring conditions as serial paedophiles, according to the Courier Mail. The taskforce asked to grapple with the state’s spate of high-profile domestic violence murders says “no option is off the table”. Three Victorian Liberal MPs have broken ranks to back an increase to the age of criminal responsibility to 14, the Age reports. And, an Australian electric vehicle charging company is set to go “double unicorn” – record a market valuation of $2tn – after signing a major deal with US backers to accelerate the company’s global growth, the Australian Financial Review writes.

And if you’ve read this far …

Aerobic exercise. It’s allegedly very good for you. But you know what else is, and considerably easier? A nice soak in a hot tub. That’s the latest word from scientists, who say that a dip in a large thermoformed acrylic receptacle, or hot tub for short, can have health benefits comparable to going for a run. But before you trade the runners for a paperback, red wine and bathtub session, make sure you get the temperature right.

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