Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 21 January. The world’s media will be largely fixed upon Washington DC today after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. And, closer to home, the productivity commission has come under fire for recommending that the Australian government should pursue unpaid student loans from people who have died.
Joe Biden has called for unity during his first speech as president, acknowledging the nation’s “historic moment of crisis and challenge”. Kamala Harris became the first woman in history to enter the office of vice president, with the former Californian attorney general expected to play a crucial role as the deciding vote in a Senate that is split 50-50 along party lines. European leaders have expressed relief at a “new dawn in America”, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen saying the continent once again has a “friend in the White House”. Biden’s inauguration could also spell good news for Australia, with advisers suggesting he will look to renew a “really strong relationship” with its historic ally.
Donald Trump has left the White House, becoming the first president since Richard Nixon not to attend his successor’s inauguration. Departing by helicopter hours before his term finished, the 74-year-old’s sendoff was muted, in front of a sparse crowd. In a defiant and partisan final speech, Trump hailed an “incredible four years” before warning of tax rises under Biden, telling the American people to “have a good life”, and departing to the tune of Village People’s YMCA.
The Productivity Commission has called for a shake-up of the $6.4bn of public funding given to vocational education and training, but courted controversy with a recommendation that the government chase the estates of deceased students to repay outstanding loans. Australian students have amassed $58bn in unpaid loans, with the proposed rule change relating to deceased estates estimated to recoup around $46m over a decade. The commission has also called for the introduction of minimum upfront fees to challenge the idea of the loans representing “free money”.
A Queensland-based coal seam gas company is hoping to drill hundreds of new wells in an area declared off-limits due to a previous environmental disaster at the site. An Arrow Energy spokesman said the company has extensive modelling that suggests the proposed drilling would be safe.
Subalpine forest areas are struggling to recover from the 2019-20 bushfires, researchers suggest, but eucalypt forests on the New South Wales south coast appear to be faring better than expected.
Applicants for parent or partner visas have mistakenly been sent “outdated” government letters, advising them to book international flights out of Australia, despite the inherent risks of doing so during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hungary’s government has ordered a publisher to print disclaimers on children’s books, including progressive fairytales containing “behaviour inconsistent with traditional gender roles”. The far-right government of Viktor Orbán has adopted increasingly hostile rhetoric and policies towards LGBTI groups in recent years.
The Netherlands is expected to introduce the first nationwide curfew since the second world war, in a bid to combat new coronavirus mutations. Only people with “pressing needs” would be allowed to leave their houses between 8.30pm and 4.30am.
A gas explosion in central Madrid has killed at least three people, with investigations suggesting a faulty boiler was to blame. One person is missing and another remains in a critical condition in hospital.
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has made his first public appearance in months, after publicly condemning China’s financial regulators during a high-profile summit in Shanghai. In a short video, Ma said he had been “studying and thinking”.
“I have never seen a child enter a youth detention centre and come out better.” For Alice Springs lawyer, Sophie Trevitt, the rough treatment of Aboriginal children at the hands of police has become depressingly common place. In 2018, the Northern Territory ombudsman condemned the “substantial force” that was used during the arrest of several Indigenous youth aged 12 to 16, in an incident subsequently defended by the territory police commissioner. Trevitt disagrees that the force was excusable: “Police are trained professionals who should be expected to do their jobs without assaulting, threatening or abusing Aboriginal kids,” she tells Guardian Australia as part of the Childhood in Custody series.
2020 was the year Australia’s multibillion dollar music industry ground to a halt. And while this year’s Triple J Hottest 100 celebrations will be more muted – marked with fewer backyard barbecues and inflatable pools – the competition for the coveted No 1 spot will be no less fierce. So who’s tipped to win? Nathan Jolly runs the rule over the favourites, including Glass Animals, Spacey Jane and Ball Park Music in a race that could almost prove as tight as Muse v Silverchair in 2007.
“I’m splayed on the couch, light-headed and nauseous; classic side effects of my medication.” For 21-year-old Melis Layik, the closure of gyms and reversion to online classes for university in Australia has encouraged the inside-four-wall self-criticisms to spiral dangerously: You are so lazy, you are weak, you are repulsive. “I felt profoundly lonely in these ruminations and feelings,” she tells Guardian Australia as part of the Dreams Interrupted series, with an old eating disorder reappearing. But amid the insidiousness, are thoughts of resilience: “The truth is I don’t want to lose weight in 2021. I want to gain mental wellbeing.”
Lockdown has driven many of us to less-trod corners of the internet. For comedian Geraldine Hickey, that includes amateur fishing videos, and even equestrian. It’s all part of the chosen few for her 10 funniest things on the internet.
Challenging police brutality. After watching video footage of his son being forced face-first to the ground by a police officer, Indigenous man, Thirra, tells Laura Murphy Oates that the incident was by no means an outlier. On this episode of Full Story, he details his own history, of being removed from his family as a child, and as a teenager, being deliberately struck by a police van.
Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.
Covid-19 continues to pose major headaches for organisers of the 2020 Olympics, but with the Games themselves under a pall, Australian athletes are no closer to knowing whether they’ll have access to a vaccine before departure, Kieran Pender explains.
With apologies to Lady Bracknell: “To lose one home series to India, Mr Paine, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” But while the circumstances surrounding 2018-19 were understandable, as Geoff Lemon writes, after this latest loss the knives could yet be out for Australia’s once-affable captain.
The NSW premier has called on the federal government to consider a “Pacific bubble”, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, despite the chief medical officer saying a shift to allowing international travel would be “one of the last things to change”. The prime minister has secured a deal with major LNG exporters to offer any uncontracted gas to Australian companies, the Australian writes, before shipping supplies to lucrative Asian markets. And the Catholic church has been ordered to pay a record $2.45m to an abuse victim, the West Australian claims, after a Perth district court heard harrowing testimony of the man’s experiences.
Scott Morrison continues his four-day tour of regional Queensland in the drought and flood-ravaged town of Winton in the state’s west.
Dozens of refugees transferred to Australia under the “medevac” law continue to be freed in Melbourne, including a man who spent six years in immigration.
And if you’ve read this far …
It’s one of those questions you never expected to ask – until a global pandemic came along. So how does one successfully dress to avoid suspicions that you’re working from bed? While pyjamas are an instant giveaway, airlines pants might be your saviour. And what’s the verdict on a dressing gown? No less a luminary than Cambridge’s Mary Beard has the trick to that: always wear a necklace. “It’s guaranteed to trick them into thinking that you really have got properly dressed – because who wears a necklace with their dressing gown?”
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