LIVE – Updated at 03:36
Mystery vegetable oil spill hit Melbourne beaches
Beachgoers have been advised to avoid swimming at some Melbourne beaches this weekend, despite the sunny weather, after the Environmental Protection Authority was alerted to an oil spill.
Swimmers and paddleboarders reported emerging from the water covered in an oily substance at Elwood beach on Thursday, with other locals reporting dead fish and large quantities of oil on the surface of the local canal, Elster Creek, which runs into the bay nearby.
On Friday EPA Victoria issued a water quality alert for Elwood, St Kilda, Middle Park, South Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Sandridge and Williamstown beaches, advising the public to avoid contact with oily water and sand.
Large signs erected on the foreshore advised beachgoers not to swim.
Read the full story here:
Related: Melbourne beaches contaminated with vegetable oil as EPA investigates source
ACT police arrest four for burnouts and speeding
Police have reportedly made four arrests after Summernats, the huge car festival that’s held in Canberra annually.
ACT police released also a statement today saying a 20-year-old Murrumbateman man had been arrested for doing burnouts and allegedly speeding in excess of 110km/h in a posted 80km/h zone.
There were four people in the vehicle, which allegedly took off at speed before officers were able to stop the driver. Police then seized the vehicle. The driver will be charged with improper use of motor vehicle and further charges may be laid.
ACT police said:
All drivers are reminded that police have the power to immediately seize and impound vehicles for offences such as burnouts, menacing driving, or street racing on public roadways.
Doctors welcome GP tax verdict
A dispute between general practitioners and the Queensland Revenue Office has been resolved after fears it would force clinics to close and end bulk billing.
Some clinics were hit with backdated payroll tax bills worth up to several million dollars in 2022.
The Australian Medical Association claimed the unexpected bills were prompted by a legal decision in NSW, which led to a new interpretation of Queensland’s tax laws.
Previously, clinics paid payroll tax for receptionists, nurses and other employees but doctors were treated like contractors because clinics did not pay their wages, superannuation or other entitlements.
The AMA threatened bulk billing would have to end due to the unforeseen cost, after some clinics received retrospective bills for the past five years.
The Queensland Revenue Office will now limit audits to the 2021-22 financial year and beyond.
AMA Queensland president Maria Boulton said the decision would allow clinics to budget for bigger payroll tax bills:
Many GP practices faced closure in the face of these unexpected bills, leaving communities without doctors.
We hope this means those backdated tax bills will be cancelled and those practices can go back to delivering care to patients.
Boulton also called for other states to limit similar audits on GP clinics, saying about four in every five practices in Queensland would have been affected:
We are facing a GP crisis across the nation. Now is not the time to add extra financial pressures on GPs.
In November, the Queensland treasurer, Cameron Dick, said tax arrangements hadn’t changed but compliance checks had instead ramped up, although GPs were not being targeted.
The Queensland Revenue Office also denied the NSW decision changed the scope, practice or approach of its tax collection.
Young man lost in rough surf in Victoria remains missing
A father who desperately tried to rescue his son from rough surf off Victoria’s coast has been discharged from hospital while the young man remains missing.
The search for the North Melbourne 20-year-old continued today with the help of police, the air wing, search and rescue teams, the State Emergency Service and Life Saving Victoria.
The man went missing off Gunnamatta surf beach on the Mornington Peninsula on Friday night when he and his 16-year-old brother got into trouble in the surf.
The father went in after his sons, and rescuers managed to pull him and the teenager from the water. The older son could not be found.
There was heavy swell and strong winds at the time, police said.
The rescued father and teenager were taken to Frankston hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
The 16-year-old was discharged yesterday, according to police, but the father remained in hospital until this morning.
Referendum failure could damage reconciliation efforts, Dutton says
Returning to Peter Dutton’s latest criticisms of the government’s voice to parliament proposal, the opposition leader claims the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, would be “damaging reconciliation efforts in our country” if the referendum fails.
In a letter to the PM, Dutton has implored the government to enact legislation for the voice when parliament resumes next month, and has again listed 15 key questions he wants Labor to answer before the referendum.
The government says the voice will broadly follow the model outlined in the report by Marcia Langton and Tom Calma, which Royce has already referenced earlier, and which sets out the voice in great detail. But the government has also not yet specifically endorsed many details exactly, with Albanese stressing it will be “subservient” to the parliament and subject to legislative change.
Dutton this morning pointed out that Albanese had said the co-design report proposed a 20-person voice. But the report actually calls for 24 – that includes two members from each state and territory, plus the Torres Strait Islands (for 18 people) plus a third member “for remote representation” in NSW, NT, Queensland, WA and SA, plus another member for mainland Torres Strait Islander people (for 24 total).
We’re seeking responses from the government, as well as key voice advocates, to Dutton’s claims. But in the meantime, for your information, here are the questions he says the opposition wants answers to:
Who will be eligible to serve on the body?
What are the prerequisites for nomination?
Will the government clarify the definition of Aboriginality to determine who can serve on the body?
How will members be elected, chosen or appointed?
How many people will make up the body?
How much will it cost taxpayers annually?
What are its functions and powers?
Is it purely advisory or will it have decision-making capabilities?
Who will oversee the body and ensure it is accountable?
If needed can the body be dissolved and reconstituted in extraordinary circumstances?
How will the government ensure that the body includes those who still need to get a platform in Australian public life?
How will it interact with the Closing the Gap process?
Will the government rule out using the voice to negotiate any national treaty?
Will the government commit to local and regional voices, as recommended in the report on the co-design process led by Tom Calma and Marcia Langton?
If not, how will it effectively address the real issues that impact people’s lives daily on the ground in the community?
Lake Bonney declared safe to swim
People can safely swim at Lake Bonney in South Australia’s Riverland region again after a toxic algal bloom prompted authorities to warn against it.
Health experts have given the green light for swimming and diving at the lake to resume after testing showed the water was safe.
The water had been regularly tested since blue green algae was detected in the lake in late December, SA Health principal water quality adviser David Cunliffe said.
We’re continuing to monitor the lake and test for algae levels, and will continue to work with relevant agencies so everyone can stay safe in the water this summer.
The lake near Barmera was hit with the bloom after being cut off from the Murray by a newly constructed levee to protect properties in the town.
Authorities initially said only part of Lake Bonney was affected by algae and the levee would be removed as soon as possible after the river peaked, allowing for natural water flows to resume.
But testing late last month revealed potentially harmful levels of blue green algae, prompting a warning from health experts for people to avoid swimming and diving at the lake.
And in the tet-a-tet between Peter Dutton and the Prime Minister today over the handling of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, the Opposition leader has just fired another salvo at the PM:
Hunt for the ‘near-mythical’, ‘super-sneaky’ Australian painted-snipe
“Near-mythical” is how the ecologist Matthew Herring describes the Australian painted-snipe – one of this continent’s rarest birds.
It is believed there are only about 340 individuals left, but that’s not all that makes them rare. Australian painted-snipes exemplify the saying “out of sight, out of mind”. Even birdwatchers with decades in the field forget they exist.
They’re a super-sneaky, cover-dependent, mud-loving, waterplant-hiding shorebird.
A research project that correlated the evolutionary uniqueness of the world’s nearly 10,000 bird species against their conservation status, as a way of prioritising them, placed the Australian painted-snipe at No 29.
The bird ranges across a vast area, from the Murray-Darling Basin to the Kimberley. Sightings are few and far between. Like many other Australian wetland birds, painted-snipes appear to be nomadic, but Herring says “they just vanish for months or years at a time”:
And we don’t know where the strongholds are during winter or during droughts. It’s very hard to conserve a bird if you don’t know where they are for years at a time.
Which is why Herring and his colleagues – a mix of shorebird experts from various universities and other organisations – have asked the public for help.
Read the full story here:
Related: Vanishing bird: the mystery of the ‘near-mythical’ Australian painted-snipe
Newly released treasure map sparks hunt for Nazi hoard
As the Nazis fled occupied Europe in the final days of the second world war, four German soldiers buried a hoard of gold coins and jewels in the middle of nowhere in the Dutch countryside.
Nearly 80 years later, hopes of finding the buried loot have been raised after the National Archives of the Netherlands released a trove of documents – and a map to the treasure where X marks the spot.
The treasure – four ammunition cases laden with coins, watches, jewellery, diamonds and other gemstones – is thought to have been worth at least 2m or 3m Dutch guilder in 1945, the equivalent of about $26m in today’s money.
“A lot of researchers, journalists and amateur archaeologists are really interested and excited,” said Annet Waalkens, an adviser at the National Archives, which last week released more than 1,300 historical documents.
Whether any would-be treasure hunter will be able to find the cases is another matter. Among the cache of second world war papers was a 7cm-thick file that recounted the fruitless efforts of the Dutch state to find the looted Nazi treasure after the war.
Researchers believe the treasure was buried in April 1945, when the Allies were on the brink of liberating Arnhem in the eastern Netherlands. German soldiers were fleeing.
They decide to bury the treasure, because it’s just getting a bit too hot under their feet and they’re getting scared.
The precious cargo was buried in the roots of a poplar tree, 70cm to 80cm deep, just outside the village of Ommeren, about 25 miles from Arnhem. The riches might have vanished from the historical record for ever were it not for a chatty German soldier, Helmut S, who was not one of the looters but took part in the burial.
The National Archives are withholding his full name, as Helmut S, born in 1925, may still be alive, although no one has been able to trace him. Of the three other soldiers, two did not survive the war and the other simply vanished.
For more on this story, read the full report by the Guardian’s Jennifer Rankin.
Related: X marks the spot: newly released treasure map sparks hunt for £15m Nazi hoard
NSW Labor in push to change pet ownership rules for renters
Therewill be a shake-up to pet ownership rules in NSW rental properties if Labor wins the upcoming state election.
Renters can now ask their landlord if they may have a pet but there’s no timeframe on when a request must be approved or denied.
Under the proposed change, landlords would have to respond within 21 days and it would automatically be approved if they failed to acknowledged the request.
It does not necessarily mean all renters would be able to keep pets but the onus would be on landlords to explain why any request would be refused.
The opposition says the scheme would operate in a similar way to rules in other states and it would provide list of reasons why landlords could say no.
Many people rent for their entire lives and they deserved to have a pet, according to shadow minister for better regulation Courtney Houssos.
The simplification of this process balances both the rights of renters and owners.
Renters have a clear and transparent process to apply to have a pet, while owners can still outline protections for their property, or specific grounds for refusing.
The NSW government sought consultation on the issue in late 2022.
China reopens borders after three years
China is reopening its borders today after nearly three years of closures ending efforts to control the spread of Covid-19.
The decision extends to all of China, including the special administrative region of Hong Kong.
The decision means travellers to China will no longer have to quarantine or take a Covid test on arrival, however they must have a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of travel before entering China.
Road travel into and out of the country will also reopen, and international cruise ships will be introduced with a “pilot program” before services will resume in full.
Labor MPs back PM’s criticism of Dutton’s voice to parliament stance
Labor MPs are backing the prime minister’s “culture war” criticism of Peter Dutton over the voice to parliament. Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney, quote-tweeting Anthony Albanese’s earlier post, replied that “The Voice will be a unifying moment for Australia – it’s about improving the lives of First Nations people by making our voices heard, and taking this country forward, for everyone,” she tweeted.
It comes after Dutton’s repeated demands that the government must release more detail about the Indigenous voice to parliament proposal before the referendum.
Michelle Ananda-Rajah, MP for the Melbourne seat of Higgins, also quote-tweeted the PM’s post – simply adding a criticism that the complaint was “not of good faith”.
There’s still an important, open question about whether Dutton will allow his Liberal colleagues to have a free vote or campaign the way they wish on the voice, or lock in a binding party position. He wouldn’t elaborate on that question this morning when asked at his press conference, only saying it was still subject to Liberal partyroom processes.
Interestingly, Liberal MP Bridget Archer – who backs the voice and has said the party shouldn’t lock in a binding vote – praised an article written by Marcia Langton, one of the authors of the voice to parliament co-design report process that the government is relying on to underpin its proposal.
In the article, published by the Saturday Paper, Langton criticises “petty diatribes” and “misinformation” from voice opponents, making special mention of the criticisms of Dutton and other Liberals over a supposed lack of detail.
Langton claimed such doubts were being raised in a bid to “seek to deceive the public into believing that there is no detail”.
Archer, linking to the article, called it “powerful”.
Fifth child stung by irukandji on K’gari in a fortnight
A primary school-age girl has become the fifth child airlifted to hospital from K’gari/Fraser Island with suspected irukandji jellyfish stings in the past fortnight, AAP reports.
The girl was swimming in the ocean near a popular creek at K’gari when she was stung on her lower back and leg.
Her parents used vinegar and water on the stings before the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter landed on a beach on the western side of the island about 6.30pm on Saturday.
The Bundaberg-based chopper flew the girl in a stable condition to Hervey Bay hospital for treatment.
She is the fifth child airlifted from K’gari with suspected irukandji jellyfish stings these school holidays, with three young girls also hospitalised on 27 December.
The trio included two sisters, aged five and nine, who were playing in a creek on the western side of the island when they were stung. A third girl was stung on the chest in the same creek just an hour before.
The following day, a boy was stung on the leg, also while swimming in the creek.
All children arrived in hospital in a stable condition.
Symptoms of being stung by irukandji jellyfish include shooting pains in the muscles, chest and abdomen, nausea, vomiting and breathing difficulties.
Peter Dutton press conference
Opposition leader Peter Dutton is speaking live now where he is continuing his attack on the government over a lack of detail about the voice to parliament:
Why won’t they provide the detail? And if he makes a reference to the report that’s been written, the reality is, that there are options in that report and he hasn’t adopted the report. So let’s see what the prime minister says, but clearly at the moment, he doesn’t want to provide that detail.
Dutton says that the government’s figure of 20 representatives was plucked “out of the air when he was asked about it a couple of weeks ago”.
Just who is weaponising misinformation here?
I just wanted to go back a moment in Peter Dutton’s press conference on the voice to parliament to highlight this strange moment:
It breaks my heart that in the year 2022 we can have young Indigenous kids being sexually assaulted on a regular basis in some Indigenous communities in this country.
It’s completely unacceptable.
It’s not entirely clear to me what the opposition leader means by this or why he connected the Indigenous voice to parliament with sexual assault within Indigenous communities.
The role of the voice, as proposed, is to consult on issues as they relate to Indigenous communities – everything from provision of housing and use of water resources, to changes to environmental or mining regulation – and not to serve as a taskforce on sexual violence within Indigenous communities.
Given how the campaign for the voice raises the risk that misinformation may be weaponised against a vulnerable minority group, and Dutton has positioned the opposition as holding the government to account over a lack of information, the same standard also needs to be applied to the opposition leader.
For more information on what we know about the proposal, read this explainer on the Indigenous voice to parliament.
Related: What is the Indigenous voice to parliament and how would it work?
‘I’m genuinely interested in advancing the cause of reconciliation’
Peter Dutton is asked about whether the prime minister has been given a copy of his letter – Anthony Albanese has said he has not received it – and Dutton says a copy has been provided to the prime minister’s office and he expects “he will respond in due course”.
Dutton is pushed again on his critique and says he is speaking for “millions of Australians” who have questions. He said he believed millions of Australians would support the voice from “an informed position so that they can understand what it is they’re being asked to vote for”:
I don’t think that’s unreasonable. Certainly not racist. It’s not being opposed to reconciliation. It’s all about, frankly, just being informed about what it is they’re being asked to vote on. I don’t think that is unreasonable to ask the prime minister to provide that.
I’ve met with the prime minister and I’m grateful for the meetings that we’ve had and he knows that I’m genuinely interested in advancing the cause of reconciliation.
It breaks my heart that in the year 2022 we can have young Indigenous kids being sexually assaulted on a regular basis in some Indigenous communities in this country.
It’s completely unacceptable. But the prime minister has to explain how the voice will make it better for those kids and make it better for Indigenous people around the country. That’s all we’re asking for.
Dutton on Aukus: ‘We live in a very uncertain time’
Peter Dutton is now answering questions about the Aukus deal given reports about doubt within the US about the value of the relationship:
The ability to make sure that we can keep our region safe is really dependent on the acquisition of those assets. And I hope that the prime minister’s continuing to press the case.
When we negotiated, it was clear to us, as it’s now clear to the government, that the intelligence is that we live in a very uncertain time and they are the most uncertain times since the second world war and the sooner that we can acquire that capability, the better. It’s in Australia’s interest, it’s in the United States’ interest.
‘We’re asking you the reasonable questions’
Peter Dutton is outlining his critique of the government over its campaign for the voice, saying the government has had seven months to outline its plan. He said the report that was given was a “good report” but reiterates the government has not adopted it, and has described the proposed reform as “a very significant proposal”:
I’m speaking of millions of Australians, we’re asking you the reasonable questions.
It is worth mentioning that there is has been a bit going on over those last seven months.
Search for missing Queensland swimmer enters third day
The search for a swimmer who went missing in a river in far north Queensland has entered a third day.
The 54-year-old tourist was last seen in distress at Mossman Gorge about 2pm on Friday. The woman had been visiting the popular tourist spot with friends and was swept downstream in the Mossman River.
Specialist police, SES and other emergency services resumed the search at 8am.
Mossman Gorge remains closed until further notice. The river is known to be dangerous due to strong undercurrents and is prone to rising fast without warning.
Sale of Nazi memorabilia labelled ‘sickening’
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies says the sale of antisemitic items in a Queensland auction of Nazi memorabilia is “sickening” and “blatant antisemitism”.
The live auction will take place today with a collection including six lots of Nazi items sourced from the collector’s estate.
The memorabilia includes Hitler youth badges, Nazi party pins, a Luftwaffe general’s set of rank boards and other insignia, an SS officer insignia ring, crockery including a plate with the Nazi insignia and the word “Afrika” stamped on it, and various books.
The auction house, Danielle Elizabeth Auctions, has previously sold off Nazi items and has regularly come under fire.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark called for all remaining states and territories to ban Nazi symbols and urgently implement legislation to stop these disgusting displays in a statement this morning:
NSW has strong and effective laws banning the public display of Nazi symbols, which includes displaying such symbols online and on social media.
Among other items, a building sign saying ‘Jews Unwanted’ should never be offered for sale in Australia. This is sickening and beyond the pale.
These items belong in a museum as a constant reminder of the pain and suffering innocent people endured at the hands of the Nazis, and the bravery of our Diggers who fought to defeat them.
Dutton attack on government ‘cheap culture war stunt’
Prime minister Anthony Albanese has responded to opposition leader Peter Dutton’s letter attacking the government over its handling of the voice, labelling the move a “cheap culture war stunt”.
Remote NT towns brace for return of ex-tropical Cyclone Ellie
Top End communities are on flood watch as ex-tropical Cyclone Ellie moves back into the Northern Territory after wreaking havoc in Western Australia.
Heavy rain is expected to lash the Tanami, Lasseter and Simpson districts today, with the Bureau of Meteorology warning that flash flooding is likely.
Ellie was approximately 140km south-east of Australia’s most isolated roadhouse, Rabbit Flat, early this morning.
Forecasters say heavy rain associated with the system as it tracks slowly towards the east could deliver up to 140mm of rain before conditions ease in the afternoon. Six-hourly totals between 60mm and 90mm are likely.
Heavy falls associated with the ex-cyclone are expected to remain west of Alice Springs but rain from thunderstorms is possible there. A flood watch alert is in effect for central, western and eastern inland Northern Territory.
Meanwhile, West Australian authorities and the Australian Defence Force are supporting towns in the Kimberley region after rain generated by Ellie caused Fitzroy River to break its banks.
The remote town of Fitzroy Crossing and tiny Indigenous community of Noonkanbah were devastated after the river last week reached a record peak of 15.81m.
The rain cleared yesterday, making it once again safe to open the Fitzroy Crossing airport. That allowed authorities to deliver 3,000kg of food, medicine and other supplies to the cut-off region.
More than 100 residents have already been evacuated from the Kimberley but more may be relocated in the coming days as flooding continues in the towns of Looma and Willare.
WA emergency services minister Stephen Dawson spoke to locals at Fitzroy Crossing yesterday afternoon and thanked the community for their resilience:
Nothing like this has ever been experienced in Western Australia before.
To their great credit, they’ve been patient and they’ve persevered.
On the other side of the country, residents in NSW’s far west are being warned that the Darling River is yet to peak.
The town of Menindee has been inundated but the river could rise to more than 10.7m in the coming days, which is higher than the 1976 record.
How much do we know about the voice? Actually, quite a lot
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has written to the prime minister accusing him of treating the Australian people as “mugs”.
The letter was released to news outlets for maximum exposure but it is worth pointing out the government has been clear about its approach to the referendum – and has released a considerable amount of information already.
Since the push for an Indigenous voice to parliament was announced, Anthony Albanese and others within the government have been clear that they will not be rushing to release information and so risk a rerun of what happened during the previous referendum on Australia becoming a republic, which failed after voters were locked into an unattractive option.
The government has also promised a public education campaign before the referendum but there is already a wealth of material available in the Indigenous voice co-design report led by professors Marcia Langton and Tom Calma.
The Indigenous voice co-design report was produced by a group appointed by the former Indigenous minister Ken Wyatt as part of a 2019 election promise to develop options for an Indigenous voice.
Their report was the result of 18 months’ worth of consultation with 9,478 people and organisations, including 115 community consultations in 67 locations, 2,978 submissions, 1,127 surveys, 124 stakeholder meetings and 13 webinars.
This report outlined a body that would advise the Australian parliament and government on matters relating to the social, spiritual and economic wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Parliament and government would be obliged to consult it on matters that overwhelmingly relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as native title, employment, housing, the community development program, the NDIS or heritage protection.
The voice would be able to table formal advice in parliament, and a parliamentary committee would consider that advice. But all elements would be non-justiciable, meaning that there could not be a court challenge and no law could be invalidated based on this consultation.
The co-design report said the voice needed “adequate, secure and long-term resourcing to be provided by the Australian government on a per-region basis” in order to operate successfully.
The report recommended the national voice have 24 members, with gender balance structurally guaranteed. The proposal would include two members from each state, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Torres Strait. Five members would be appointed to represent remote areas – one member each from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales – with members serving four-year terms.
For more on what we know about the voice, read this explainer:
Related: What is the Indigenous voice to parliament and how would it work?
Drag racer killed in crash at Willowbank Raceway
Drag racer Sam Fenech suffered fatal injuries after his vehicle left the track at Willowbank Raceway in Ipswich just before 7pm last night and crashed into a camera tower.
A statement on Willowbank Raceway’s Facebook page paid tribute to the NSW driver:
It is with great sadness that Top Fuel Racing Australia announces that Sam Fenech, driver of the Fabietti Racing Doorslammer, has succumbed to injuries suffered in a racing accident at Willowbank Raceway and passed away this evening.
We send our love and support to the Fenech family and the whole team at Fabietti Racing.
Police said a camera operator had been taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Queensland Ambulance Service said the patient was in a stable condition.
The accident occurred during Willowbank’s New Year Nitro drag racing event.
Queensland police’s forensic crash unit is working with Workplace Health and Safety to investigate, and people are being asked to avoid Champions Way, where the racetrack is.
Welcome to another Sunday morning Guardian Australia live blog.
The federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has accused the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, of treating the Australian public “like mugs”. In a letter shared with several media outlets, Dutton described the decision not to release full details on the Indigenous voice to parliament model being proposed as a “catastrophic mistake”:
Your approach will ensure a dangerous and divisive debate grounded in hearsay and misinformation.
The government has promised a public education campaign before a referendum and has already released its preliminary work on its proposal.
Flood waters in far north Western Australia have begun to recede but defence personnel and emergency services are working to fly in much-needed supplies in affected towns including Fitzroy Crossing. Over the border in the Northern Territory, remote towns are now on flood watch as ex-tropical Cyclone Ellie has moved back into the state with heavy rainfall expected for the Tanami, Lasseter and Simpson districts today.
I’m Royce Kurmelovs, taking the blog through the day. With so much going on out there, it’s easy to miss stuff, so if you spot something happening in Australia and think it should be on the blog, you can find me on Twitter at @RoyceRk2 where my DMs are open.
With that, let’s get started …