Barry Humphries to get ‘co-hosted’ state funeral: PM
By Caroline Schelle
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has spoken about iconic comedian Barry Humphries, and revealed details about his state funeral.
Humphries, 89, died on April 22 at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, where he had been treated for various health issues.
Speaking to controversial host Piers Morgan in the UK, Albanese said the state funeral for the legend would be “co-hosted” between two states.
“There will be a state funeral for Barry Humphries as well, co-hosted by the New South Wales and the Victorian government and the Australian government,” the prime minister said.
“My government will be a part of that as well.”
He said the comedian gave “an enormous amount of pleasure” to generations of Australians which is why people would be paying tribute to him at a state funeral.
“I know how warmly [Humphries] was regarded by people in Australia and in the UK,” Albanese said.
NSW premier questions if RBA ‘fulfilling their remit’
By Michael McGowan
NSW premier Chris Minns has questioned whether the Reserve Bank board is “actually fulfilling their remit” following yesterday’s interest rate rise, which lifted the official cash rate to an 11-year high of 3.85 per cent.
Asked about the RBA’s surprise rate rise, the 11th in the past year, Minns said he was “very concerned” about the impact on families.
“I’m very concerned that 11 interest rate rises is putting enormous pressure on household budgets, and we need to make sure that the intent of reserve banks and central banks in particular are actually fulfilling their remit and their mandate,” he said.
Minns indicated support for the federal government’s proposed reforms of the central bank, and whether he believed the RBA board was fulfilling its remit, Minns said, “we’ll have to see what inflation does in the next quarter”.
“I know that interest rate rises, as well as energy prices, as well as pressure on the economy is putting enormous pressure on families and businesses across NSW and Australia,” he said.
“I know many people are doing it tough. It’s everyone’s responsibility to put downward pressure on inflation. And we want to be a government that has as a focus household bills in particular because we can’t have a situation where businesses close, and further pressure is put on households and regular people, ordinary people in NSW can’t meet their financial obligations.”
The degrees universities have axed
By Madeleine Heffernan and Lucy Carroll
Languages are out but artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and health are in, as universities chop and change courses to cut costs and meet student demand.
Eighteen bachelor degrees have been discontinued in Victoria and NSW, despite being identified as areas of national priority or as having the potential to ease skills shortages, the Department of Education said.
Japanese, Chinese and Italian languages at Swinburne University and Indonesian at La Trobe University and the University of Western Sydney are among the language course closures since 2019.
Swinburne scrapped all foreign language studies as part of deep cost cuts during the pandemic.
Australia sets goal to build first complete quantum computer
By Liam Mannix
Australia will strive to build the first error-corrected quantum computer within the decade – a huge and expensive goal that, if achieved, would put the country at the forefront of the new technology.
The federal government is backing the ambition in its National Quantum Strategy, to be announced in Canberra on Wednesday, with up to $1 billion set aside from the National Reconstruction Fund for investing in critical technologies such as quantum.
“That is a very ambitious goal,” said Professor Stephen Bartlett, a leading quantum computing scientist at the University of Sydney.
“It’s very ambitious to say we might be the first to do that because that is in many ways the main game. Companies around the world, governments around the world, are trying to do that.”
Retail sales lifted by 0.4 per cent in March, driven by higher prices
By Shane Wright
Retail sales lifted by 0.4 per cent in March, but it appears to be driven by higher prices.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics today reported the increase in retail turnover last month, which followed a 0.2 per cent lift in February.
The increase was driven largely by the food sector. Food retailing through the nation’s supermarkets grew by one per cent, while it was up by 1.5 per cent in cafes, restaurants and for takeaways.
The bureau’s head of retail statistics, Ben Dorber, said inflation was a driving force for the lift in food spending.
“Food retailing has now recorded 13 consecutive monthly rises, largely driven by high food inflation,” he said.
“Businesses in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services are passing on their rising costs to consumers through price rises, while also benefitting from strong demand driven by the continued return of large-scale cultural and sporting events.”
The Reserve Bank yesterday lifted official interest rates by a quarter percentage point to 3.85 per cent in a bid to reduce inflation pressures across the economy. That has prompted fears the bank could drive the country into recession.
Total retail turnover is actually 1.5 per cent lower than the peak reached in November last year.
Spending on discretionary goods and services is slowing.
“Spending on non-food retailing has slowed in response to interest rate rises and increased cost-of-living pressures. This follows increased spending during and immediately following much of the COVID-19 pandemic period,” Dorber said.
Across the country, retail sales jumped by 1.2 per cent in Queensland. That followed a 0.4 per cent drop in February.
Sales lifted by 0.3 per cent in NSW and by 0.1 per cent in Victoria.
The head of Asia-Pacific for Capital Economics, Marcel Thieliant, said once inflation was considered, the quantity of goods and services being sold was falling.
“While goods inflation slowed sharply in quarter-to-quarter terms last quarter, we estimate that sales volumes fell by around 0.5 per cent in the March quarter, which would mark the biggest drop since 2021’s Delta lockdowns,” he said.
Northern Territory to allow fracking at Beetaloo Basin
By Caroline Schelle
The Northern Territory government announced it will allow for onshore gas development at the Beetaloo Basin.
The territory’s chief minister Natasha Fyles told reporters at a press conference that fracking had been given the green light following the Pepper inquiry in 2018.
The inquiry found the environmental risks of fracking could be mitigated if all 135 of recommendations were implemented.
Today the government said it would do so, clearing the way for the development at the basin, which is 500 kilometres south of Darwin.
“We have strengthened government agencies, we have strengthened legislation to rigorously assess environmental management plans,” Fyles said this morning.
“We have put in place the plans to develop a strong compliance program, and we have also got the measures to provide education and guidance to industry.”
She said the territory government would manage the onshore gas industry through the strengthened regulatory framework, greater transparency and accountability.
“And ensuring that traditional owners, Aboriginal people, have a seat at the table,” she said.
“I want to make it clear, traditional owners, Aboriginal Territorians have the power to veto a project,” Fyles added.
She said it was time for the NT to provide energy the world needs to transition to renewable energies, and said her government was “absolutely serious” about protecting the environment.
Beetaloo Basin is estimated to contain significant amounts of shale oil and gas that could be recovered using fracking, a process that involves the injection of high-pressure fluid into bedrock.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says RBA ‘smashing families’
By Rachel Eddie
Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he does not believe the Reserve Bank’s decision to raise rates 11 times in 12 months is squashing inflation as intended.
The state is preparing to hand down a “very, very challenging budget” later this month, with rising interest already taking $400 million out of the state’s coffers in the first half of the financial year.
After the RBA yesterday lifted the official cash rate to an 11-year high of 3.85 per cent, Andrews said this morning that the decision was hurting families.
“They’re pulling this lever and I don’t know that it’s necessarily effective against the problem they’re trying to solve. I’m certain they’re creating lots of other problems. Many, many families are under enormous pressure,” Andrews told reporters outside the Victorian parliament.
“The problem with these tools is you don’t know that you’ve gone too far until you’ve gone too far.”
He said shortages in supply chains – brought by COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine – had more inflationary pressures than rampant spending.
“I’m not sure that 11 interest rate rises in 12 months is smashing inflation. I’m certain it’s smashing families. So again, I don’t know that pulling this lever is necessarily delivering the outcome that the bank wants, and that’s to get inflation under control.”
Andrews said governments were told to borrow during COVID-19 to survive the pandemic and were reassured rates would not be going up.
“The same message was applied to households right across our country – that interest rates would not be going up.”
Liberals lead tributes to former party president Tony Staley
By Lisa Visentin
Former Liberal Party federal president Tony Staley, who served as minister in the Fraser government, has died aged 83.
Staley held the Victorian seat of Chisholm from 1970-1980, and was instrumental in Malcolm Fraser’s elevation to the prime ministership, having backed him to take over the Liberal Party leadership from Billy Snedden.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton paid tribute to Staley today, saying he had visited him in Melbourne recently and thanked him for his service to the Liberal Party and Australia.
“In Malcom Fraser’s Government, Tony proved to be a steady hand and effective minister first for the Capital Territory, then for assisting the Prime Minister, and finally for Posts and Telecommunications,” Dutton said in a statement.
“After leaving office, Tony served as the Federal President of the Liberal Party between 1993 and 1999. As Tony finished his presidency, then Prime Minister, John Howard, described him as ‘a great servant of the Liberal Party’ who ‘always put the Party first’. Howard highlighted Tony’s three great qualities: his ‘immense personal courage’, ‘great sense of humour’ and ‘considerable grace and eloquence’.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Staley had been a friend and a mentor, who as party president helped steer the Liberals back to government under John Howard.
“A week or so back, he let me know he didn’t have long and left his farewell. It was an honour then to spend some time with him and reflect on a well-lived life,” Abbott said in a statement.
Marles says Australian government working to get citizens out of Sudan
By Caroline Schelle
Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles is speaking in Sydney, where he says the Australian government is working with other countries to get citizens out of Sudan.
He said more than 190 Australians have been evacuated from the country, but there are some that still remain.
“We are working with the UK but with other countries around what is needed here … we will talk with them about what may or may not be required going forward,” Marles said of additional flights out of the country.
“There is the opportunity out of Port Sudan of taking ferries as well to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and we have got officials on the ground there as well, but we will continue to play our part in what is a multinational effort to see people being evacuated from Sudan,” the acting prime minister said.
It comes after a plane carrying 36 Australians and their families landed in Cyprus overnight.
Sudan’s warring military factions agreed to a new and longer seven-day ceasefire, neighbour and mediator South Sudan said, even as more air strikes and shooting in the Khartoum capital region undercut their latest supposed truce.
JB Hi-Fi hit by sales slowdown
By Emma Koehn
In business news, sales growth has started to slow at electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi, but the company says its products are still resonating with customers.
The $4.9 billion retailer revealed on Wednesday that while sales are still well above pre-COVID levels at its stores in Australia and New Zealand and at whitegoods retailer The Good Guys, momentum was slowing compared with the same time last year.
Same-store sales at JB Hi-Fi Australia fell by 0.1 per cent compared with the same time in 2022, while The Good Guys fell by 3.8 per cent.
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