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PM Backs Spy Chief on Ex-Politician Revelation



The prime minister has defended the chief spy’s decision to not name a former Australian politician who betrayed the nation after being recruited by foreign spies.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess revealed an ex-politician had been caught up in a spy ring and “sold out their country, party and former colleagues”.

He has since come under intense pressure to name the individual.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he has confidence in the intelligence organisation.

“The idea that any minister in my government will just go out against the wishes of the ASIO director-general I find quite extraordinary,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.

Mr Burgess made an independent decision to not name the person, with Mr Albanese saying the director-general’s speeches aren’t run by his office.

He revealed he was not aware of who the person was but “what we know is that it was wrong”.

“One of the things that we need to do as a nation is to build confidence in our agencies, not engage in short term politics or speculation like some have done – that’s not responsible,” he said.

“I will support our national security agencies and I think that all sides of politics should do that.”

Mr Burgess said the spy agency was sticking to its long-standing practice of not publicly discussing operational details.

“There are multiple reasons for this, including the need to protect our sources and capabilities,” he said in a statement on Thursday night.

“In this case, while we want the foreign intelligence service to know its cover is blown, we do not want it to unpick how we discovered its activities.”

Mr Burgess said it was a “historic matter that was appropriately dealt with at the time” and the person was no longer a security concern.

Foreign interference laws came into effect in late 2018.

International law expert Professor Don Rothwell said it could be devised the former politician was active before that time or authorities didn’t have enough evidence to support a prosecution.

Multiple MPs across party lines, speaking to AAP on the condition of anonymity, expressed reservations about retroactively applying the 2018 law despite being outraged at the person’s conduct.

Reasons for this included it was legally dubious to retrofit laws and a person shouldn’t be targeted for following the laws of the land at that time.

But another wanted all levers to be used to ensure the person faced justice and didn’t get away with “betraying their country”.

“There’s a line and this crosses party politics,” they said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton supports discussion about retrofitting the laws as “the most egregious act is from somebody in public office who betrays their country”.

In the same speech that outed the former politician and exposed Australian academics and a political party insider caught up in the foreign spy network’s web, Mr Burgess flagged previous actions would be covered by current laws.

“Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective,” Mr Burgess said.

It was also difficult to prosecute anyone under foreign interference or espionage laws, including because it required the use of classified material agencies didn’t want in the public domain, opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said.

The first person found guilty under the 2018 foreign interference laws was former Liberal Party candidate Di Sanh Duong on Thursday.

He will spend 12 months behind bars after he cultivated a relationship with the then-federal multicultural affairs minister, Alan Tudge, on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

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China drops heavy tariffs against Australian winemakers



China drops heavy tariffs against Australian winemakers

Most recently, China has abolished heavy tariffs against Australian wine, marking a significant step towards improved diplomatic relations and trade ties between the two nations. The Chinese government had agreed to review the wine tariffs five months ago and has gradually unwound the trade barriers since then. The Commerce Ministry in Beijing announced on Thursday that it was no longer necessary to impose anti-dumping duties and other levies on imports of Australian wine.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his gratitude for this development, stating that the re-entry of Australian bottled wine into the Chinese market will benefit both Australian producers and Chinese consumers. The removal of these tariffs comes at a critical time for the Australian wine industry, which had faced difficulties exporting to China due to the imposed trade barriers.

In 2019, Australian wine exports to China were valued at $1.1 billion before the tariffs were implemented during the height of diplomatic tensions in 2020. The removal of these duties means that Australia will no longer pursue legal action against China at the World Trade Organisation, which had been initiated by the former coalition government.

While the Australian government’s approach is to cooperate with China when possible and engage in its national interest, some trade barriers still remain. Chinese tariffs are still in place for Australian rock lobster and beef, and in 2020, Beijing imposed trade sanctions worth $20 billion on a variety of Australian products, including coal and cotton. The tariffs on Australian wine specifically amounted to a hefty 220 per cent tax.

As South Australian Wine Industry Association president Kirsty Balnaves noted, the Chinese market has evolved since the imposition of tariffs. There is now stronger in-market competition for wine, increased choices for consumers at various price points, and a decline in alcohol consumption. Balnaves emphasized that South Australian exporters will need to invest time in assessing opportunities, creating awareness, educating consumers, and reintroducing their wines to the market.

Despite the remaining challenges, Prime Minister Albanese reaffirmed his government’s commitment to trade diversification and supporting Australian businesses in selling their products on the global stage. The removal of tariffs on Australian wine is seen as a positive step towards strengthening trade relations between Australia and China, and it is hoped that further trade impediments affecting Australian exports will be addressed in the future in the interests of both countries.

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Emma mistakenly flew with her wheelchair



Emma mistakenly flew with her wheelchair

Many people with disabilities face challenges when it comes to air travel, and Emma Weatherley’s recent experience highlights some of these issues. Emma, who has Facioscaplohumeral Dystrophy (FSHD), a muscle-wasting condition, was left stranded when she was told her motorised wheelchair could not be transported on a recent flight.

Despite having a wheelchair that met aircraft-approved specifications and weight limits, Virgin staff prohibited Emma’s 190kg chair from boarding the Link Airways-operated flight, citing a 120kg weight limit on the plane. This left Emma, a regular traveller and mother of two, feeling frustrated and discriminated against.

Virgin Australia later admitted that allowing Emma’s wheelchair on a previous flight was a mistake due to procedural errors made by staff members. The airline issued an apology to Emma and refunded the cost of the initial flight. They also pledged to improve their service and processes for passengers with specific needs.

Emma’s ordeal sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities when it comes to air travel. Despite having her mobility information stored in the airline’s system, Emma still had to navigate through misunderstandings and a lack of awareness surrounding procedures for wheelchair transportation.

Issues like these not only impact the individual’s confidence and independence but also highlight systemic barriers faced by people with disabilities. Emma’s experience of being rerouted through another city at her own expense due to a lack of accessible flights underscores the financial burden and inconvenience faced by many in similar situations.

Furthermore, Emma’s call for financial penalties for transport services that fail to provide adequate accessibility support raises important questions about accountability and inclusivity in the transportation industry. She also advocates for increased awareness about conditions like FSHD and the need for government funding to support new treatments and clinical trials.

Emma’s story serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a more accessible and inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities, both in air travel and broader community settings. By sharing her experience and advocating for change, Emma hopes to prevent others from falling through the gaps and facing similar challenges in the future.

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Australians Doubt Labor’s Efforts to Ease Cost of Living



There has been a dip in support for the Labor government as Australians continue to feel the burden of the high cost of living, according to the latest Newspoll.

The poll, conducted for The Australian, shows that Federal Labor’s primary vote has fallen by a point to 32 per cent, while the Coalition has gained a point, reaching 37 per cent.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers highlighted the government’s efforts to alleviate cost-of-living pressures without adding to economic inflation, stating, “Our job is to do the right thing for the right reasons and the politics will take care of themselves.”

However, opposition finance minister Jane Hume criticized the government, suggesting that they are focusing on the “wrong priorities” and are distracted by the “chaos on our borders.”

The poll also revealed that Labor’s two-party-preferred lead over the Coalition has been reduced by two points to 51-49 per cent.

With a year to go before the next federal election, Nationals leader David Littleproud emphasized the importance of addressing the cost-of-living crisis, stating that voters will support the party that can best explain how they plan to tackle this issue.

Overall, 31 per cent of voters indicated that they would not support either Labor or the Coalition, signaling a trend away from the major parties. Combined support for Labor and the Coalition stood at 69 per cent.

On the other hand, the Greens saw a one-point increase to 13 per cent, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation also rose one point to seven per cent in the poll.

Approval ratings for both leaders, Mr. Albanese and Mr. Dutton, saw little change in the past month. Mr. Albanese’s approval rating rose to 44 per cent, while Mr. Dutton’s approval remained at 37 per cent.

In terms of the better prime minister choice, Mr. Albanese saw a one-point increase to 48 per cent, while Mr. Dutton fell one point to 34 per cent.

The Newspoll surveyed 1223 voters nationally between March 18 and 22, providing insights into the current political landscape and public sentiment amidst the ongoing cost-of-living pressures.

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