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Furious crossbench fires up at government

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles brought on the last minute legislation on Tuesday which the Greens have slammed as an alternative pathway to indefinite detention.

Mr Giles later sought to allay fears the immigration legislation rammed through the House of Reps on Tuesday afternoon would violate international human rights law.

The Bill cleared the house before question time on Tuesday, after some frustration from the cross bench about not being able to move their amendments.

In a question from North Sydney independent Kylea Tink, Mr Giles was asked what the government had done to ensure the legislation “does not violate the foundation principle of international human rights law in relation to the best interests of the child”.

“The refugee and migrations sector hold serious concerns that the impact of the Bill … will have on children,” she noted.

Mr Giles said the piece of legislation was “consistent” with Australia’s human rights legislation.

“There is a safeguard expressly in the act which has just been passed through this house which deals with children,” Mr Giles said.

“What we’re doing with this important piece of legislation is to fill a very significant loophole, a loophole that a small cohort of people have no basis upon which to remain in Australia who are refusing to co-operate with efforts to affect their removal.

“Importantly, these people are not refugees.”

Russia’s angry rebuke to Australian embassy post

A top Australian diplomat has been summoned by furious Russian officials over a social media post criticising the country for holding a presidential vote in occupied parts of Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry has issued a statement summoning chargé d’affaires Jeremy Guthrie and calling on Australia’s embassy in Moscow to delete social media posts describing its recent election as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

In a post to the encrypted messaging app Telegram published on March 19, the embassy said Australia was “aware that the Russian government conducted sham elections in Ukrainian territories, which reflects its continuing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.”

Vladimir Putin secured another six-year term as Russia’s president after a vote was conducted in parts of Ukraine that Russia seized after its 2022 invasion, including parts of Crimea.

Russian officials have since accused Australia’s embassy of questioning “the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” and demanded it take down the posts be removed.

“The Australian diplomat was told that the above mentioned actions of the diplomatic mission were regarded as interference in the internal affairs of our country,“ it said in a statement.

A spokesperson from the Australian embassy has been contacted for comment.

PM switches up on religious reforms

Anthony Albanese has left the door open to negotiating with the Greens on religious discrimination, should the minor party support the rights of people of faith.

The Prime Minister told the Labor caucus on Tuesday that there were two pathways forward after an MP expressed concern about the future of the reforms and the protection of LGBTQI+ students.

“The Prime Minister responded ‘we are concerned about all the forms of discrimination,” Mr Albanese said, according to a caucus spokesman.

“If the Greens are willing to support the rights of people to practise their faith, then that would be a way forward, but we don’t currently have that.”He said he did not want to see people of faith being harassed or a student being discriminated against because of their gender identity or sexuality. “I do not want to see a reckless debate without achieving an outcome,” Mr Albanese said, according to the spokesman.“

There are two pathways, either with support from the Greens or with support for the opposition.”Mr Albanese’s change of tune came just a week after he told colleagues he would not proceed with the reforms unless Peter Dutton offered bipartisan support.

Two Bills to enact the government’s election promise to overhaul religious freedoms have been drafted but not released publicly.

QUESTION TIME
The Coalition have accused the government of secrecy over the reforms. Picture: Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWire.

Speaking in his own party room meeting, Mr Dutton told Coalition MPs there was a “disturbing lack of transparency” around the matter.

Coalition legal affairs spokeswoman Michaelia Cash, who was briefed on the legislation but prohibited to distribute it to third parties, said she had yet to talk to a stakeholder who had seen the full legislation.

The Greens were expecting to receive a briefing of their own on Tuesday afternoon but have also demanded the government make the legislation public.

Wong condemns ‘malicious’ cyber hacks

Australia has backed the UK and the US after it accused Chinese state-backed hackers of a string of malicious cyber attacks.

Britain’s deputy minister announced sanctions against two individuals and one company linked to a state-affiliated group, which he said compromised the voting data of tens of millions of people.

It came as Washington officials indicted seven individuals on Monday who allegedly conducted hacks against US companies and government officials on behalf of Chinese intelligence services.

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER
Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for talks at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil called the targeting of democratic institutions and processes “unacceptable”.

“The Australian government joins the United Kingdom and other international partners in expressing serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China state-backed actors targeting UK democratic institutions and parliamentarians,” they said.

“The persistent targeting of democratic institutions and processes has implications for democratic and open societies like Australia. This behaviour is unacceptable and must stop.”

The government said Australia’s electoral systems were not compromised by the cyber campaigns targeting the UK.

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) singled out China as the main culprit behind state-backed cyber hacks on large companies and critical infrastructure in a cyber threat report released in November.

Fight over new fuel plan

Labor has denied a lack of transparency on its plans to overhaul Australia’s fuel efficiency standards after reports claimed the government forced industry groups to sign nondisclosure disagreements to keep the controversial new legislation out of the public eye.

On Tuesday, Transport Minister Catherine King and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen unveiled Australia’s updated New Vehicle Efficiency Standard.

The proposal, dubbed a “ute tax” by the opposition, aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles by incentivising car sellers to boost sales of low and zero-emissions vehicles and fine companies who fail to meet a yearly cap.

POLICE PROTEST PREPERATION
Australia will overhaul fuel efficiency standards for petrol vehicles. Picture: Gaye Gerard/NCA NewsWire.

Amid claims the federal government tried to gag organisations involved in negotiations, Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth argued the government was “consulting the industry” and said it hoped to get the Coalition’s support.

“A lot of very sensitive information has been put forward to make sure that we get our policy right but that’s what we’re determined to do – to get the right balance for Australia to make sure that we have more choice and cheaper to-run cars,” Ms Rishworth said.

Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie said the party supported a low-emissions transport sector but claimed Labor’s policy could make people pay thousands of dollars more for some cars.

“We won’t back a plan that makes cars more expensive for everyday Australians, particularly in the middle of a cost of living crisis,” she said.

Greens leader Adam Bandt warned the minor party would revoke its support for the policy proposal if Labor watered down its rules on the approval of offshore gas projects.

“If Labor presses ahead with their plan to open up with massive new climate bombs … Then we’ll consider our approach to the remainder of their legislation,” Mr Bandt told ABC’s Radio National.

“Labor needs to choose who they want to work with here.”

QUESTION TIME
Nationals leader David Littleproud confirmed a deal had been struck on the issue. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Supermarket powers could be on the way

Powers to break up the supermarket duopoly in a bid to combat grocery prices could be one step closer after the Nationals secured the support of the Liberals.

The deal was struck in a meeting of shadow cabinet on Monday and, if agreed to by the joint party room, would have the Coalition back divestiture powers targeted at the supermarket giants.

“This is a complex policy issue and you need to make sure that you have the right policy setting so that there’s no unintended consequences,” Nationals leader David Littleproud said.

“We’ve been able to get to a position where we can try and work through that.”

The Nationals had flirted with the idea of supporting a Greens-backed Bill that would hand the competition watchdog the ability to order supermarkets to reduce their power in particular markets.

Mr Littleproud said he supported the overall intent of the Bill but said his proposal was more focused on “honing in” on the “egregious behaviour” of the supermarkets.

“Obviously, we’ve been looking at the Greens’ Bill, but there is a serious design deficiency unit that could have unintended consequences in actually not increasing competition,” he said.

But he held out hope the Greens could come on-board to support his proposal.

“We would hope that they can see that the intent and actually the design that we will put in place actually addresses the issues that we’re all trying to make sure are addressed,” he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has previously rejected the idea, likening it to the behaviour of the Soviet Union.

‘Fund our schools’, says union

Education union officials have taken to the sky to call on Labor to close a funding gap that they say has contributed to a critical lack of resourcing in Australia’s public schools.

The Australian Education Union posted a message in skywriting outside of Canberra’s Parliament House that read, in part due to windy weather, ‘fund our schools PM’, earlier on Wednesday.

Unions have been calling for the federal government to commit to closing funding gaps, and deliver full support according to the Schooling Resourcing Standard (SRS).

The standard, established following recommendations from the 2011 Review of Funding for Schooling led by David Gonski, provides an estimate of the public funding required for a school to meet its student’s educational needs.

About 98 per cent of public schools are currently funded below the SRS, according to the AEU.

It came before education officials met with Education Minister Jason Clare at a National Education Summit on Tuesday