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Feb 3, 2019

banks' mea culpa, Townsville floods, death of a missionary

Helen Sullivan

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday 4 February.

Top stories

Australia’s big banks have launched a public mea culpa in the lead-up to the release of the findings of the banking royal commission today, acknowledging they have failed their customers, and arguing that the Hayne report is a chance to reset the sector. The chief executive of the Australian Banking Association, Anna Bligh, said banks had “not lived up to the high standards Australians rightly expect of the industry”. With the banks facing their day of reckoning, and the government response in the spotlight, the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, will use the Chifley oration to lay down markers in the economic policy debate in the run-up to the federal election.
The South Australian Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick is calling for cotton exports to be banned in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of the Murray-Darling river system and over-extraction by irrigators. The senator is preparing to introduce a bill when parliament resumes in 10 days. It would impose a ban on exporting cotton in three years’ time. “We export 90% of the cotton grown in Australia,” Patrick said. “About 20% of the basin water goes to cotton. It’s like exporting 20% of the Murray-Darling to China and India.”
Residents in the Queensland city of Townsville – where up to 500 homes are under water – were urged to seek higher ground on Sunday as heavy downpours forced the floodgates to the city’s swollen Ross River dam to be completely opened. A deluge pushed dam levels to almost 250% capacity.
Fires continue to blaze in Victoria and Tasmania. About 70 properties in Adams Estate in Victoria’s south Gippsland region were at risk of burning as the Grantville fire, which was headed north, edged closer on Sunday. “Leaving now would be deadly,” authorities warned. Bushfires were also threatening homes south of Gillingill, and warnings were issued for areas including Butchers Ridge, Deddick Valley, Gelantipy, W Tree, Yalmy, Murrindal and Wulgulmerang West. In Tasmania several towns were again under serious threat from raging bushfires whipped up by winds, with authorities warning property loss was “highly likely”. More than 21 fires, some of which started before Christmas, were burning out of control across the state. Some 191,000 hectares have been destroyed.


European leaders are expected to recognise Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela on Monday if the current president, Nicolás Maduro, has not set a date for fresh elections by then.
Donald Trump says he has “set the table beautifully” for the next stage of his confrontation with congressional Democrats, indicating that to secure funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, he will declare a national emergency on 15 February.
Newly unsealed documents about the Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán contain claims by witnesses that he had sex with minors as young as 13.
The billionaire prime minister of the Czech Republic faces an unlikely political threat, after his local council found him guilty of breaching conflict of interest rules by owning major media outlets while holding high office.
Yemen peace talks have been held onboard a UN-chartered boat anchored in the Red Sea in an attempt to find a neutral venue acceptable to both sides.

Opinion and analysis

The judge was clear: Marie Colvin’s death was murder. Colvin, the Sunday Times correspondent killed while reporting from the besieged Syrian enclave of Baba Amr in February 2012, was not the victim of a tragic accident. “She was specifically targeted because of her profession, for the purpose of silencing those reporting on the growing opposition movement in the country,” wrote Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US district court in Washington DC. Her verdict should be celebrated by all who care about freedom of speech, writes Lindsey Hilsum.
Last September Sylvia Wilson drove around Australia in an electric car at a cost of just $150.90. While the 70-year-old showed what’s possible with existing infrastructure, industry insiders and engineers have been left wondering why it’s taken so long for Australia to move past the bare minimum needed to support an expanding electric car sector. Behyad Jafari, chief executive of the Electric Vehicle Council, says: “Let’s be clear here, these aren’t electric vehicle problems, they’re Australian policy problems. In the absence of that, companies are left wondering, well what the hell do we do?”


Super Bowl LIII has kicked off in Atlanta. For Americans, it’s the biggest sporting event of the year. For much of the rest of the world it’s an excuse to stay up past bedtime with 17 Wikipedia tabs open to pages like “fly route” and “long snapper” trying to make sense of what’s going on. Here’s everything you need to know.
The West Indies captain, Jason Holder, has been suspended from the last Test in St Lucia because of his side’s slow over rate in the Antigua Test, which finished with more than two days to spare. This is a cruel and ridiculous corollary to a famous victory, which provokes a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. It certainly does not detract from Holder’s capacity to lead his national side so impressively.

Thinking time: The life and death of John Allen Chau

One day, as a small child, John Allen Chau was rooting through his father’s study when he found something curious and alluring: an illustrated edition of Robinson Crusoe, the classic story of a sailor shipwrecked on a deserted island. “After struggling my way to read it with early elementary school English,” he later told a website for outdoors enthusiasts, “I started reading easier kid-friendly books,” like The Sign of the Beaver, “which inspired my brother and I to paint our faces with wild blackberry juice and tramp through our backyard with bows and spears we created from sticks.” In November, on an obscure island in the Indian Ocean, Chau – a 26-year-old American adventure blogger, beef-jerky marketer and evangelical missionary – was killed by the isolated tribe he was attempting to convert to Christianity.
Chau’s father believes the American missionary community is culpable in his son’s death. John was an “innocent child”, his father says, who died from an “extreme” vision of Christianity taken to its logical conclusion. “If you have [anything] positive to say about religion,” he said, “I wish not to see or hear.” All Nations, the evangelical organisation that trained Chau, described him as a martyr. The “privilege of sharing the gospel has often involved great cost”, Dr Mary Ho, the organisation’s leader, said in a statement. “We pray that John’s sacrificial efforts will bear eternal fruit in due season.”

Media roundup

The West Australian takes headline of the day with Frankly I don’t give a damn on a story about what the paper calls Bill Shorten’s “Thatcher moment”. Scott Morrison will establish an independent panel of doctors to review asylum-seeker transfer decisions made by the immigration department, bowing to pressure from independent MPs, the Australian reveals. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the levels of hydrogen sulphate detected by Hazmat teams in the toilet cubicle of a cruise boat where a woman’s body was found on Saturday afternoon were the highest possible levels that can be recorded by the machines used.

Coming up

Hakeem al-Araibi will appear before a Thai court to answer whether or not he is willing to be extradited to Bahrain.
The banking royal commission’s final report will be released by the Morrison government after a media lockup in Canberra.

Source: The Guardian

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