Morning mail: PM's flight to Murdoch party, US Covid nightmare, Port Arthur film row

Imogen Dewey
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Good morning, this is Imogen Dewey bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Friday 4 December.

Top stories

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg billed taxpayers almost $5,000 to take the prime minister’s private jet on a whirlwind trip to Sydney on the night of Lachlan Murdoch’s Christmas party last year. The ministers left Canberra after 6pm, attending the Bellevue Hill soiree and then returning to the capital before 9am the next morning. Peter Dutton was also on the flights, although it is unclear whether he attended the party, held on 5 December as Sydney was shrouded in bushfire smoke.

The US has reported a record 3,000 Covid deaths in a single day, and more than 200,000 new cases, only the second time that barrier has been breached. States face the daunting task of planning who will get a vaccine first – as top doctor Anthony Fauci has suggested the UK moved too quickly to approve Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine this week. WHO has warned public trust will be vital for vaccine programmes, and former presidents Obama, Clinton and Bush have pledged to get the jab on TV as soon as it’s safe.

The Liberal MP and former special forces member Andrew Hastie has argued details in the Brereton report on alleged war crimes in Afghanistan allowed Beijing “to malign our troops”. In a speech to parliament on Thursday he also blasted Twitter for refusing to take down an inflammatory tweet amid increasing tensions between Beijing and Canberra. Hastie’s speech was triggered by the broadcaster Alan Jones, who argued the prime minister had lit the match by warning Australia to expect “brutal truths” to be revealed in the Brereton report.


The Darling River at Louth. Increased flood plain harvesting, along with climate change, has been blamed for providing less water to the Murray.
The Darling River at Louth. Increased flood plain harvesting, along with climate change, has been blamed for providing less water to the Murray. Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

New South Wales government officials have been busted favouring irrigator groups in plans for the Murray-Darling Basin. An inadvertently shared email chain exposed the environment department singling out sympathetic groups and discussing how to sideline critics.

The mother of a 19-year-old overdose victim has urged NSW to adopt a warning system for drug offences. Jennie Ross-King said politicians on both sides needed to stare down critics of “decriminalisation” to save lives.

A second mass salmon outbreak in Tasmania has outraged conservationists. Environmental groups have called escape management practices in the state “a circus”, pushing for farming to be moved onshore after 130,000 fish escaped.

As Labor MPs question the party’s chances of beating Scott Morrison, shadow health minister Chris Bowen has issued a blunt warning to his colleagueswriting in a new essay that the ALP needs to better convey its “commitment to working people”.

The world

UK education minister Gavin Williamson.
British education minister Gavin Williamson has lauded the country’s vaccine rollout saying the UK is a ‘much better country’. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

British minister Gavin Williamson has said the UK has “much better” scientists than France, Belgium or the US and “we’re a much better country than every single one of them” as he was asked why the UK was the first country in the world to clinically approve a coronavirus vaccine.

France’s prime minister has warned that his government had to compromise as Brexit talks enter decisive days, telling coastal communities to prepare for a “new era” during a visit to the country’s biggest fishing port.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have agreed framework rules for peace talks after more than two months of discussions, finally allowing negotiations on ending a nearly 20-year civil war to begin.

A woman has been seriously hurt by a tiger bite at Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue, the sanctuary in Florida made famous by the Netflix docuseries Tiger King.

Recommended reads

Painting: Self-portrait hesitating between the arts of music and painting (1791) by Angelica Kauffman.
‘You feel caught between wanting to convey two messages: bad things might happen if you show your body, and it’s not your fault if they do,’ writes Eleanor Gordon-Smith. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

A mother who has tried to raise her daughter with feminist values finds herself struggling with her “very tight, very short” clothes: what does she say? “If I’m reading you right, you feel caught between wanting to convey two messages: bad things might happen if you show your body, and it’s not your fault if they do,” writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith. “I don’t think we solve this by trying to fuse those messages. We should look at the messenger instead … I think what she needs from you – doggedly, constantly, over and over – is to hear that when men do bad things it isn’t her fault.”

A Royal Hobart hospital doctor who dealt first-hand with the grim aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre has said he has no problem with a controversial upcoming film that will delve into the psyche of the perpetrator. Dr Byran Walpole tells Guardian Australia that, as horrific as the events of 28 April 1996 were, it is time for Tasmanians, and the nation, to move on. He says he hopes the film will highlight the life-saving changes to gun control laws that were a direct legacy of the tragedy.

“Someone removed my toilet seat during Covid. But it’s still good to be home,” writes Brigid Delaney, who left country Victoria to work, and returned to her little house to find a potty mystery. Aside from a tragically dead garden, all was normal … until she went to the bathroom. “It’s not the same toilet I left behind in June. The seat has been replaced – purchased by some panicked Airbnb guest perhaps, who had broken it. The only problem is the new seat doesn’t fit.” In fact, a friend tells her, “it kind of looks like Woody Harrelson”.


A tweet from a Chinese government spokesman has provoked outrage from Australian politicians, and other Western democracies. But this is just the latest incident in what experts say is a serious breakdown in the relationship between Australia and China. In this episode of Full Story, reporter Daniel Hurst looks at the escalating tensions with China, the devastating economic cost to Australia and the future of this diplomatic relationship.

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


The dramatic fall from grace of Argentina captain Pablo Matera created a bizarre prelude to the Wallabies’ final Test of the year. With pride at stake – and the unwanted wooden spoon – both sides will be out to end the year on a winning note at Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta.

Glenn Maxwell has hit back at claims the switch-hit should be outlawed and told bowlers it is on them to adapt to the evolution of short-form cricket.

Media roundup

It’ll be up to cafes, pubs and gyms to drive the post-Covid economic recovery, according to the Age. The West Australian says health minister Roger Cook is expecting about 1m doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to arrive there from March. South Australia will be joining several other states to ban phones in primary school classrooms, the Advertiser reports.

Coming up

A judge is due to rule this afternoon whether the case against numerous media publications for allegedly breaching suppression orders in the George Pell trial should be dismissed.

The energy minister, Angus Taylor, will give the keynote address at the Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit.

And if you’ve read this far …

Germany is to scrap its phonetic spelling table introduced by the Nazis 86 years ago and temporarily replace it with the version the regime abolished because it was “too Jewish”. The table, in which codewords are assigned to each letter of the alphabet to aid communication in radio transmissions and telephone calls, was adapted by the Nazis as part of the regime’s drive to eject anything deemed Jewish from German life, which culminated in the Holocaust.

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