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The government will set up a new cybersecurity office inside the Department of Home Affairs and investigate whether to ban the payment of ransoms to hackers, in the wake of major online attacks affecting millions of Australians.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese and home affairs minister Clare O’Neil will announce later today that it will establish a coordinator for cybersecurity, leading a National Office for Cyber Security, inside the Department of Home Affairs. It will lead a central response from the government to major cyber incidents.

The government claims it has inherited “a cyber mess” from the former Coalition government. The new position will lead coordination and action on hacks like the Optus breach.

The announcement will come in a cybersecurity roundtable that the PM will lead in Sydney today. Areas of discussion for that meeting will include whether the government should prohibit the payment of ransoms or extortion demands by cyber criminals, in a bid to deter such attacks – the logic being, that if Australians are legally banned from paying ransoms, criminals will have less chance of getting ransoms.

The meeting will also discuss what impact such a ransom ban would have, as well as talk about boosting cyber skills and workforce through education or immigration changes.


.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}The case for change is clear.

Australia has a patchwork of policies, laws and frameworks that are not keeping up with the challenges presented by the digital age. Voluntary measures and poorly executed plans will not get Australia where we need to be to thrive in the contested environment of 2030.

To achieve our vision of being the world’s most cyber secure country by 2030, we need the unified effort of government, industry and the community.

The expert advisory board’s leader, Andy Penn, said Australia’s national security and economic success “rely on us getting our cyber settings right”:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}If we are to lift and sustain cyber resilience and security, it must be an integrated whole-of-nation endeavour. We need a coordinated and concerted effort by governments, individuals, and businesses of all sizes.

A court has ordered failed recycling scheme REDcycle be wound up following the discovery of tonnes of stockpiled plastic, AAP reports.

NSW Supreme Court Registrar Leonie Walton ordered the scheme’s parent company RG Programs and Services be wound up today, appointing Benjamin Carson of Farnsworth Carson as liquidator.

Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths were partners in the scheme and on Friday offered to take back the plastic until it can be “viably processed for recycling”.

The two companies say they paid $20m to REDcycle over a decade and were not told about the stockpiling.

The scheme abruptly stopped operating in November and has since admitted to stockpiling more than 12,000 tonnes of plastic in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

REDcycle has previously denied the stockpiling was a cover-up, saying it was an attempt to ride out problems including a spike in returned plastics, a fire at its largest taker of the material and insufficient recycling capabilities in Australia.

Supporting creditors will have to chase their own costs. Walton said:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}(It’s) their choice to be here – up to them to take it up with the liquidator.

Woodside profit triples aided by Ukraine war energy price boost

Australia’s biggest gas and oil company Woodside has done very nicely out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, reporting today a full-year net profit after tax of $US6.5bn (or A$9.7bn).

That was up 228% on a year earlier, and includes the proceeds of its takeover of BHP’s oil assets. The main profit driver, though, was soaring global energy prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year earlier.

The disruptions and subsequent sanctions on Russian energy helped push up the “realised price” of Woodside’s production 63% to the equivalent of $US98.40 per barrel of oil.

The market watches most closely the so-called underlying profit, which also rose 223% – or more than triple – to $US5.2bn. Investors were also keen on the dividend payout, which for the full year were $2.53 a share or 87% higher than the previous year.

Woodside as one of the big gas producers has been unhappy about the Albanese government’s invention to place a price cap of $12/gigajoule for domestic supply. Increasingly, though, the worry is what the ACCC is coming to come up with in terms of a mandatory code of conduct, reviews of prices and a “reasonable” price test for future developments.

To that end, the company was keen to state its payments in taxes and royalties had more than tripled in the past year to $A2.7bn.

Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill said in a statement accompanying today’s results:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}[O]ur tax payments are expected to again increase significantly in 2023.

Investors at least seem cheered by the numbers, with Woodside’s share price recently up about 2.5% to $35.47. The gain was in stark contrast to overall market’s drop of about 1% on concerns about higher inflation – and higher borrowing costs – in the US.

Melbourne restaurant changes dress code after turning away Russell Crowe

A high end Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, Mr Miyagi, has changed its dress code after staff turned away Russell Crowe last week.

Owner Kristian Klein told the Herald Sun’s Page 13 that he stood by his staff’s decision to ban Crowe, his girlfriend Britney Theriot and their guests saying their “slobby gym gear” didn’t meet his restaurant’s standards of dress.

However, the restaurant has reconsidered its dress code sharing a sign on social media which reads:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Dress smart casual unless you’re Russell Crowe, then wear whatevs **management reserve the right to refuse entry.

The post was accompanied by an open letter to Crowe in the caption:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Dear Russell,⁠

During your last visit it seems we got off on the wrong foot. After much reflection on what occurred, we have made a permanent change to our dress code. ⁠

We would love to see you again in the future, you’re always welcome at Mr. Miyagi.

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Little relief in sight amid ‘staggering’ rise in rents

In what won’t be news for many who are renting, the cost of accommodation is soaring in many parts of the country, particularly for houses.

According to data from PropTrack, rental increases are exceeding a third over the past year in the most stretched regions of Australia. With vacancy rates at below 1% in some places and the number of both overseas students and migrants picking up, more increases in prices are coming, as noted by our colleague Bridie Jabour:

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the smallest rent increase among my mates renewing leases in past few months has been $70 a week, the highest $200. everyone full of dread for renewals coming up

&mdash; Bridie Jabour (@bkjabour) February 26, 2023


the smallest rent increase among my mates renewing leases in past few months has been $70 a week, the highest $200. everyone full of dread for renewals coming up

— Bridie Jabour (@bkjabour) February 26, 2023

One effect of higher interest rates is that the ability of renters to get into the property market is reduced since their loan limits are reduced faster than real estate prices have fallen – so far, at least.

According to ANZ, capital city prices will fall 10% in 2023, to bring the total peak-to-trough decline to 18%. “A modest recovery in the latter part of 2024 remains our base case,” it said last week.

It’s far from the busiest time for auctions, but the latest numbers so far don’t point to a lot of panic selling.

Figures from CoreLogic showed that preliminary clearance rates for the past week were just shy of 70% (before they’ll be revised down a bit).

The key change is that there were about a third fewer auctions than this time last year as would-be vendors hold off or even withdraw from their property from the market.

Wider spread of Japanese encephalitis than previously thought, Victorian health department says

A survey of more than 800 people in northern Victoria has found the Japanese encephalitis virus has infected more people than first thought, the Victorian Department of Health said.

The survey, which also asked people to give a blood sample, found approximately one in 30 participants had evidence of having a prior Japanese encephalitis infection.

The department says the results suggests many more people may have been infected than the 13 cases reported in last year’s mosquito season.

Participants who showed evidence of prior infection were identified in all three regions that took part in the survey: Loddon Mallee, Goulburn Valley and Ovens Murray.

Victoria’s deputy chief health officer Assoc Prof Deborah Friedman said:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}By finding more cases than we were previously aware of, this important research reinforces the risk to all in the community that mosquito-borne diseases pose – especially in light of recent flood activity.

There are sensible steps people can take to avoid mosquito bites. Wear long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing, use insect repellents, clear stagnant water around homes or properties, and avoid the outdoors when mosquitoes are observed, especially at dusk and dawn.

The eligibility criteria for vaccination against Japanese encephalitis has been extended to seven local government areas: Greater Bendigo, Northern Grampians, Hindmarsh, Horsham, Buloke, Yarriambiack and West Wimmera.

‘Drastic increase’ in principals wanting to retire early or quit, new research shows

The number of school principals wanting to retire early or quit has tripled since 2019, research shows, as heavy workloads and teacher shortages place pressure on the sector.

The research, released by the Australian Catholic University today surveyed about 2,500 principals in 2022. Sixty-five principals planned to quit or retire early in 2022 – more than triple than three years before than.

It found heavy workloads and a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning were the top two sources of stress, followed by teacher shortages and mental health issues of students and staff, including burnout and stress.

ACU Investigator and former principal Dr Paul Kidson said the numbers pointed to a worrying trend:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}It is a drastic increase when you look at the whole picture. Principals’ workloads, stress caused by issues including the national teacher shortage across public, Catholic, and independent schools, and demands outside the classroom have escalated to unsustainable levels.

This data shows serious dashboard warning lights flashing all over the place. These are warning signs that we have not seen so acutely before, and we have almost 2,500 people saying the same thing.

‘No intention’ of making super changes, PM says

Anthony Albanese says his government has “no intention of making changes in superannuation” but says it wants to have a debate about its purpose – not exactly shutting down expectations that those with the biggest super balances could see their lucrative tax breaks trimmed down.

The PM appeared on The Project last night, where he got a few questions on the potential super changes that others in the government have been discussing. On the table at this stage is the potential for tax concessions for super voluntary contributions (taxed at 15%, much lower than income tax) to be shaved down for people with balances over $3m – which is less than 1% of the country.

Channel 10 showed the PM a clip of an interview during last year’s election when Albanese said the government had no intention of making changes to super.

Albanese responded:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}I said, we had no intention. That’s not the objective here. But people are coming forward with ideas. We’re not shutting down debate.

It is appropriate there be debate about the policy future across a range of issues, particularly in the context of the trillion dollars in debt we inherited. But we have no intention of making changes in superannuation.

We will have the debate about the purpose and the definition of what it is and try to enshrine that in legislation, so people get what the purpose is much more clearer.

Albanese went on to say that the government “had no changes”. Of course, this is a common type of phrasing from governments considering changes, to say they have made no changes (with a “yet” often the unsaid but mutually understood part of that line):

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We’ve had no changes. We’re not here announcing changes. We are having a discussion about the purpose of superannuation. This is all hypothetical. So if we make an announcement, then you can scrutinise what that announcement is, but we’ve made it very clear that no decisions have been made.

Australia’s T20 World Cup glory against South Africa

In sporting news, Australia has taken out the T20 World Cup for the third time in a row, enjoying a 19-run victory over host nation South Africa.

Player of the match Beth Mooney scored an unbeaten 74 from just 53 deliveries, helping to guide Australia for six for 156.

You can read the full report from Raf Nicholson at Newlands:

For the first time in Australia, a class action by former footballers is being launched agains the AFL for the effects of concussion injuries.

It’s an issue my colleague Stephanie Convery has been covering with powerful stories about what individuals like Terry Strong and their families have gone through.

The Melbourne firm Margalit Injury Lawyers is bringing the action in the supreme court, and managing principal Michel Margalit has spoken to ABC News about the issue:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We have been consulting with many, many former AFL players and AFLW players. It’s astounding how many people have suffered from life-altering concussion-type injuries. At this time we have been building a case and we have intention in lodging a class action this week in relation to their loss of earnings and pain and suffering.

At this stage, what we have been looking at is a public liability-type of claim which is separate to any of the compensation funds that currently exist. There are a number of piecemeal fund-related compensation schemes and what we’re concerned about is that these funds do not properly compensate the players and the compensation available is much, much less and there aren’t appropriate measures for redress if people are not happy.

There’s been a huge groundswell over the previous years. There’s been class actions in America and in the UK. The class action in America garnered a settlement of almost a billion dollars, but there’s also been more science emerging and it’s not around the impact of concussion as such, but because that’s been well-established since 1995, but we’re now able to prove that these players who have ongoing symptoms that it’s actually connected to their playing of football.

Margalit says compensation is expected “to be in the same vicinity as the NFL class action, so many hundreds of millions of dollars”.

Scamps on Liverpool plains

Independent MP Sophie Scamps visited the Liverpool plains last week for a conference of farmers and traditional owners fighting Santos coal seam project and the accompanying Hunter gas pipeline.

While the inland plains are a long way from Scamps’ northern beaches seat of Mackellar, she said she was concerned about the project because her constituents’ top concern remains climate action. Scamps told ABC News this morning:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Strong action on climate change has been the No 1 issue for the people of Mackellar before and during the election. We just conducted a survey and strong action on climate change is one of the things top of mind for the people there. … We know that oil and gas can’t go ahead anywhere. And that is what is proposed on the Liverpool plains.

On the concerns from locals in the Liverpool plains, Scamps says:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}They are concerned about the impact on climate change, because methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases – 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. They’re also very concerned and we had people in tears, very concerned about the impact on food product ion on the farmland.

The Liverpool plains, it is one of the most fertile pieces of land, matched only with the Ukraine, is the alluvial soil which is up to 10 metres deep there. It is Australia’s food bowl and also the rest of the world’s food bowl. So farmers are concerned about how this will impact their farming. They are concerned and any change to the levels of the land will make a huge impact. The subsidence that can happen with coal-seam gas mining would be a big problem for them.

And then the other major is – how it will impact the water supply and the aquifers below the land. Because with coal-seam gas, you need to take out the water first. It needs to be expelled and evaporated and that will impact the aquifers below the land and we know that those aquifers in the Liverpool plains feed the Murray-Darling Basin. There’s huge impacts down the line. So food security, water security, climate change and just destruction of the environment.

Our rural editor Gabrielle Chan and photographer-at-large Mike Bowers were at the same conference. You can read more here:

Thousands pay tribute to Olivia Newton-John at Australian memorial service

A host of international stars and dignitaries paid tribute to Australian star Olivia Newton-John in at a state memorial service in Melbourne yesterday.

Thousands gathered at Hamer Hall and video tributes came from Elton John, Hugh Jackman, Dolly Parton, Pink, Barry Gibb and Mariah Carey.

Singer Delta Goodrem hugs a fan outside a state memorial service for Olivia Newton-John at Hamer Hall in Melbourne yesterday

Newton-John, who has a string of No 1 hits worldwide and starred in movies such as Grease and Xanadu, died in August aged 73.

Members of Newton-John’s family also gave touching tributes, with her husband John Easterling saying she was a “healer”.

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}You have to understand, I wasn’t an Olivia fan, I didn’t know any Olivia music, I’d never even seen Grease.

But at this small theatre in Miami, she started singing Pearls on a Chain, and there was this healing moving through the audience. And it hit me like a laser beam in the chest, that Olivia was a healer, and this was one of her mediums of healing.

IT outage at Gold Coast airport

In more airport news, an IT outage at the Gold Coast airport has left passengers unable to check in for flights.

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There's chaos at Gold Coast airport with passengers facing lengthy delays as an I.T. outage leaves airlines unable to access check-ins for passengers. #Sunrsieon7

&mdash; Sunrise (@sunriseon7) February 26, 2023


There’s chaos at Gold Coast airport with passengers facing lengthy delays as an I.T. outage leaves airlines unable to access check-ins for passengers. #Sunrsieon7

— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) February 26, 2023

Tudge advisers to front robodebt inquiry

Top advisers to former human services minister Alan Tudge will appear at the royal commission into the unlawful robodebt scheme, AAP reports.

The chief of staff and a former policy adviser to Tudge will front the inquiry in Brisbane at the fourth block of hearings into the automated debt assessment and recovery program.

The robodebt scheme continued to operate for several years despite concerns it was unlawful, with some people taking their own lives while being pursued for debt.

Tudge has already appeared before the inquiry, where he said his understanding of income averaging was that it had been used for decades and it did not occur to him it may have been unlawful:

.css-cumn2r{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}My mind was not acting as a lawyer. It was acting as an implementer of the policy.

Tudge has since announced his resignation from federal politics, triggering a byelection in his outer-eastern Melbourne seat of Aston.

Three other former social service ministers are also set to front the hearing this week.

Stuart Robert and Michael Keenan will front hearings for the first time while Marise Payne will reappear after previously giving evidence in December.

Annette Musolino, former chief counsel at the Department of Human Services, will also appear for the second time.

The royal commission is set to hand down its report on 30 June after the deadline was extended when an extra 100,000 documents were produced.

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