Morning mail: Coalition senators join calls for Covid inquiry, tensions over Russia, fears for fish stocks | Australia news

A massive school of anchovies

Good morning. Government senators join calls for a Covid royal commission, anxiety over a possible Russian military offensive in Ukraine heightens, and international students fear limbo after Western Australia’s snap border decision.

Three Coalition senators have supported crossbench and opposition calls for a royal commission into Australia’s Covid pandemic response. Liberal Gerard Rennick, who has vowed to continue to withhold support for government legislation over the management of the pandemic, told Guardian Australia there “definitely needs to be a review into the way everything happened”, while National Matt Canavan said “all levels of government, not just the commonwealth” would need to submit evidence to any inquiry. A spokesperson for fellow National Sam McMahon has confirmed she also backed a royal commission. Labor’s Katy Gallagher added “there will have to be some assessment of all the decisions taken”, including accounting for $337bn in spending during the pandemic.

Nato allies are considering a US request for additional troops to be stationed throughout eastern Europe in response to Russia’s ongoing military buildup along Ukraine’s border. As many as 125,000 Russian soldiers have amassed over recent months, with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov warning of “retaliatory measures” if the “west continues its aggressive course”. Military analysts have ruled out the likelihood of a full scale military invasion and occupation based on current troop numbers and locations, but warn such a force could become available if Russia maintains the “current pace, in two to three weeks”. The US deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, has warned Vladimir Putin could instigate military force before the middle of February.

Thousands of international students have been caught in limbo and Western Australian universities claim they’ve “been thrown into chaos” by the decision to keep the state’s border closed due to the Omicron spread. The decision, announced last week by premier Mark McGowan, has left “hundreds” of international students caught in eastern states, with about 7,000, or 30% of the total cohort, still believed to be outside Australia. Many in the industry fear major job losses as a result, with the higher education sector already declining by 5% during 2020.


A massive school of anchovies
BPA in combination with high-temperature waters was shown to hamper fish growth. Scientists say the effects would be magnified further up the food chain. Photograph: Brook Peterson/Getty Images/Stocktrek Images

A combination of global heating and plastic pollution could have a major impact on global fish stocks, new research from the University of Sydney suggests, posing significant concerns over animal numbers higher up the food chain.

A shortage of rapid antigen tests is causing pharmacies to lose up to $7.50 a test, as wholesale prices have greatly outstripped the capped reimbursement figure provided by the government under the free RATs for concession card holders scheme.

The world

A memorial in Ottawa for children who died at Residential Schools
A memorial in Ottawa for children who died at residential schools. Protesters demand an independent investigation into Canada’s crimes against Indigenous people. Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

Another 93 potential grave sites have been discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Canada – the latest in a string of harrowing discoveries unearthing a dark history of abuse against First Nation children.

The family of a Polish woman has accused the government of having “blood on their hands” after doctors refused to perform an abortion in accordance with the country’s recent law changes, which is believed to have led to the 37-year-old’s sudden death.

Joe Biden will have the opportunity to elect a younger, liberal supreme court justice, with media reports suggesting Stephen Breyer, 83, is set to stand down. A conservative majority was achieved under Donald Trump who replaced high profile liberals such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg with ultra-conservative justices.

The Catalan parliament is set to pardon up to 1,000 people historically condemned for the crime of witchcraft. The vast majority were women, condemned 400 years ago during the Spanish Inquisition.

Recommended reads

Yuri Bolotin with a newly found crack. Cracks have been forming in the rock pagodas in the NSW Gardens of Stone conservation area, believed to be the result of the Airly coalmine.
Yuri Bolotin with a newly found crack. Cracks have been forming in the rock pagodas in the NSW Gardens of Stone conservation area, believed to be the result of the Airly coalmine. Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

They are rare rock formations in a protected conservation area of regional NSW, but local conservationists fear a nearby underground coalmine could be causing irreparable subsidence and cracking, Peter Hannam writes. “You can’t jack up a mountain, you know, or fill in the cracks really that easily,” local resident Mary Thirlwall explains, as mine representatives prepare to meet with government regulators to discuss damage remediation.

A world-first shipment of liquid hydrogen was heralded by Scott Morrison as a harbinger of a great new Australian clean energy export industry. But environmental experts have questioned just how clean the brown-coal fuelled shipment really is, Graham Redfearn writes. As one analyst concludes: “If it’s more complex and more costly and more polluting than making hydrogen from renewables, why would you do it?”

Inflation figures have the analysts spooked, and tipping interest rate rises just around the corner. But rather than buy into the hype, perhaps we should take the Reserve Bank of Australia at its word that a move isn’t imminent, Greg Jericho argues. “Underlying inflation – which the reserve bank is more concerned about when it comes to setting interest rates – at 2.6% was nicely within the RBA’s target band of 2%-3%.”

Self-confessed “child of the internet” Angharad Yeo wants “nothing more than to zone out and look at my little pictures”. And as curator of this week’s 10 funniest things on the internet, she’s helped collect “everyone’s best joke” for you, dear reader, so that for a brief moment so might you.


He was one of LA’s most loved rappers. But posthumously released documents show that Nipsey Hussle was also the target of an extensive Los Angeles policing operation. On this episode of Full Story, Guardian tech reporter Johana Bhuiyan examines the thorny issue of predictive policing.

Full Story

Rapper Nipsey Hussle and the problem of predictive policing

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


Mitch Duke heads a football during Socceroos training
The Socceroos train at AAMI Park ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Vietnam. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Ahead of games against Vietnam and Oman, the Socceroos find themselves in a minor quandary. With coach Graham Arnold sidelined with Covid-19 ahead of the must-win clashes, could World Cup qualification be on the line? Joey Lynch considers the omens.

Staring at an unanticipated Australian Open elimination, World No2, Daniil Medvedev channelled an unlikely source of inspiration: Novak Djokovic. As Tumaini Carayol writes, one point from a quarter-final exit, the Russian lifted.

Media roundup

Australia is preparing to heed Europe’s energy crisis calls should Russia cut gas supplies over its Ukraine standoff, the Australian reports, with LNG exporters standing by to meet soaring demand. Industry leaders are calling for government support to domestically produce millions of rapid antigen tests a week, the Sydney Morning Herald claims. An outlay of $20m could drive 2m units a week, but local companies doubt investment will be forthcoming. And the Palaszczuk government is considering a commission of inquiry into Queensland’s crime-fighting watchdog, the Courier Mail writes, after the sudden resignation of chairman, Alan MacSporran.

Coming up

The national cabinet will assemble via a virtual session to discuss the pandemic, with the prime minister set to attend from Sydney.

Nurses in Sydney are planning to protest over Covid-19 staff shortages.

And if you’ve read this far …

They’re some of New Zealand’s most beloved bugs. But the highly endangered cigar-shaped, spiky wētā have been enjoying a mini resurgence in numbers, thanks to hundreds of Kiwis embracing homemade, backyard wētā motels. “I think people hold them in high regard and it’s almost a point of pride to have wētā in the garden,” conservationist Holly Neill explains.

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