The Australian Government’s 2021 federal budget was handed down last night, with leaders spending big to lock in the nation’s Covid-19 recovery.
It’s being dubbed by the Morrison government as the most crucial budget since World War II, with more than $53 billion in new stimulus payments and funding being allocated for key services.
The winners? The country’s vaccination rollout program, women, the aged and child care sectors, major infrastructure projects, business owners and taxpayers.
The losers? The climate, renewables, universities, and international tourism were just a few of the areas which didn’t receive as much attention – from a financial point of view.
But what did the country’s three major political parties have to say? We spoke with Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, Greens Leader Adam Bandt, and Labor Senator Katy Gallagher.
SENATOR SIMON BIRMINGHAM – MINISTER FOR FINANCE, LIBERAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA
Birmingham says the budget plan is one which is measured and prudent, with a focus on ensuring a sustainable debt profile.
He applauds Australia and his government for its pandemic response, particularly when comparing the nation’s economic position to many other country’s around the world.
The Finance Minister believes the budget has many measures designed to help ensure Australia’s productivity continues to grow.
He says the Morison government has implemented a series of reforms and incentives to generate innovation culture in Australia, and promote sustainable and positive long-term outcomes.
In terms of the housing bubble, Birmingham speaks of expanding government-guaranteed support for first home buyers, which will allow more young people to enter the property market.
Focussing on women, the minister applauded the introduction of economic security streams which have been introduced to support the female population.
ADAM BANDT MP – LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN GREENS PARTY
On the other end of the political spectrum is Greens Leader, Adam Bandt who says the budget is only good for “the billionaires and big corporations”.
Bandt slams the $50 billion handouts and subsidies for the coal and gas industries and the $1.1 billion for new coal and gas projects during a “climate crisis”.
He argues it’s ridiculous that the budget has $62 billion allocated for the super-rich, all whilst the government’s own forecasts anticipate further wage cuts.
The Greens Leader was not surprised by the budget, and spoke about the “trickle-down effect”, whereby subsidies and handouts will eventually be passed down to low and middle-class citizens.
Will the budget promote any real change? Bandt says this level of spending could have turned Australia into a green energy superpower. But instead, it promotes coal and gas.
Bandt talks of global summit leaders from around the world now having to hold back-room meetings to work out how they deal with Australia’s climate stance.
All in all, Bandt is not a fan of the Government and thinks that “pressure is beginning to build” on the Prime Minister and his party allies.
SENATOR KATY GALLAGHER – AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
Senator Katy Gallagher is a Labor Party representative for the Australian Capital Territory, bringing our budget analysis to a conclusion.
Gallagher says it is extraordinary that there is $100 billion in spending, a massive deficit and a huge debt, yet real workers on the ground are still being left behind.
She believes the budget is more of a “political fix” than a real and genuine attempt to deal with weaknesses in the economy.
The Labor Party would have liked to see better wage forecasts, and they worry that wage growth is not only going to stop – but it’s going to go backwards.
Gallagher thinks the Australian public is looking for more permanent and sustainable solutions to economic, environmental and societal issues.
In terms of the budget’s focus on women, the senator welcomes the money being spent but says the financing lacks any real form of coordinated action to ensure members of the female population are both safe and valued.
Officer dubbed a ‘hero’ after killing Texas school shooter
18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos was reportedly shot and killed at Robb Elementary in Texas by the unidentified policeman
The border patrol agent was reportedly working nearby the area when Ramos opened fire at the school in Uvalde, Texas.
Before the officer stopped him, Ramos murdered 19 students and two teachers while wounding many others on Tuesday.
Without waiting for backup the ‘hero’ policeman allegedly rushed to the scene when the shooting was reported.
Police say the gunman barricaded himself inside a classroom shooting anyone that got in his way.
The officer was allegedly wounded during the confrontation but was able to leave the school without sustaining further harm.
He was reportedly part of an elite tactical unit.
Authorities say Ramos shot his grandmother then drove and crashed his vehicle in a ditch near the school before going on the rampage.
Tuesday’s massacre was America’s worst elementary school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012.
VictimsFirst network has pledged to donate the Texas Elementary School Shooting Victims Fund directly to the victims’ families, “with no strings attached.”
Danaya Malenda contributed to this report.
Witnesses testify to Depp’s ‘drug problems’ in defamation suit
Day 19: Amber Heard’s witnesses testify at trial about Johnny Depp’s drug and alcohol use
Heard’s ex-best friend, former agent, and former business manager, as well as her former attorney, provide an account of Depp’s ‘erratic behaviour’ in court on Thursday.
Ellen Barkin who had a sexual relationship with the actor in 1994 also testified that he was a “jealous man“ who was “controlling” as well as “angry and demanding”.
A former long-time close friend testifies
Bruce Witkin was the first witness to be called on Thursday for Heard’s defence.
Witkin was Depp’s former long-time friend from 1982 and ‘best friend’ by 2018.
When recalling what ended their friendship Witkin says he wasn’t sure, except that he received a text from Depp saying Witkin had “stabbed him in the back.”
Witkin also says that during their friendship he observed Depp abusing substances and recommended Depp get sober, which he did on a few occasions.
However, Witkin alleged that during his sobriety from opiates the star continued using other substances.
Witkin testified saying, “it just seemed weird to me there was weed and wine in soberness.”
He also spoke of his surprise when he saw his friend begin using cocaine for the first time in 2014, and then again in 2016.
“In my experience, it’s deep-rooted issues he’s dealing with,” says Witkin.
“It had nothing to do with Amber, in my opinion.”
Depp’s former agent Tracey Jacobs who helped him to become ‘the biggest star in the world’ appeared via a video link in the star’s multi-million dollar defamation suit against his ex-wife.
Testifying about the difficulties of representing the actor for roughly 30 years and her experience of his problematic behaviour during the last decade of their professional relationship.
Jacobs told the court that Depp displayed “unprofessional” conduct on sets which included being unprepared and escalating anger issues due to increased alcohol and drug use.
“Showing up late to set consistently on virtually every movie,” says Jacobs.
“I would get yelled at. I never said to him, ‘you’re a difficult client,’ but I was very honest with him and said, ‘you’ve got to stop doing this, this is hurting you.’ And it did.”
Jacobs testifying about Depp’s fall from grace says the actor’s “star had dimmed” due to his bad reputation.
On the topic of Depp ending their professional collaboration in 2016 Jacobs says, “all I know is he essentially terminated everyone in his life, and I was along for the ride, I guess”.
Former business manager
Depp’s former business manager Joel Mandel who met the actor around 1999 and worked with him until 2016, testified that he saw the actor’s behaviour become ‘erratic’.
In addition to displaying “disproportionate” reactions to things, Mandel also attested to Depp’s income and spending during the time they worked together.
He describes the star’s lifestyle as having changed when he rose to fame, saying the increase in income was followed by increased spending to maintain the new lifestyle.
Mandel says that there came a point where Depp’s income could no longer support his lifestyle, requesting that the business manager make severe cutbacks.
As a result, Mandel says he was unable to pay the actor’s taxes in October 2015.
“His financial circumstances in 2015 had reached a point where I was extremely concerned and was on a very regular basis expressing that concern,” says Mandel.
However, he says that his concerns about the dire circumstances were not met favourably by the star as he fired him.
Defamation lawsuit continues in court
In 2018, Depp sued Heard for $50 million over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post, in which she described surviving domestic violence — without mentioning her ex-husband by name.
Heard filed a counter-suit against the actor for $100 million in 2020, which is ongoing and nearing its end with testimony expected to end next week and closing arguments set for Friday, May 27.
Danaya Malenda contributed to this report.
Senate set to kill abortion rights this week
The aftershocks of the earthquake triggered in Washington last week, with the explosive leak of the first draft of an opinion authored by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and backed in by four other Justices, including the three radical conservatives appointed by former president Donald Trump, continue to shake the foundations of the capital and the landscape across the country
USSC Bruce Wolpe joins U.S correspondent Veronica Dudo, and ticker’s Holly Stearnes join a panel on U.S. abortion rights
The magnitude of the impact of the draft opinion is simply enormous.
What has been accepted by well over 60% of the American people as a constitutional right – the ability of women to have access to abortion services – is about to be removed.
There is no good that comes from going down that road of taking rights away from people. In 1856, in the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court held that former slaves did not have standing in federal courts because they lacked U.S. citizenship, even after they were freed.
That decision, so outrageous, contributed to the Civil War. In 1954, in Brown v Board of Education, the Court ruled that segregated “separate but equal” schools for Black students recognised by the Supreme Court 50 years earlier was unconstitutional as this did not afford equal protection under law – a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment enacted after President Lincoln and the North won the civil war and ended slavery.
The arc of justice in other words, is best when the law advances rights – not takes them away.
33 million American women between the ages of 15 and 44 living in over two dozen states across the country will be denied access to abortion services if this draft opinion is ultimately adopted.
But nothing in the Constitution prevents Congress from enacting a law to legally establish and protect a woman’s right to have access to abortion services.
This is the basis of the Women’s Health Protection Act which passed the House last September.
The Democratic leadership of the House recognised that what everyone is facing this week was coming, and that the best protection against overturning the precedent of Roe v Wade is through legislation.
The bill provides that, “Congress finds abortion services are essential to health care. A health care provider has a statutory right under this Act to provide abortion services.”
This is the bill that the Democratic leadership will bring to the Senate this week. It will fail.
No Republicans in the House voted for this bill, which passed on a party-line vote of 218-211. There are only two Republicans in the Senate– both women, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who support abortion rights.
All but one or two of the 50 Democrats will support it. Bu the Senate is not a democratic institution. A simple majority vote is insufficient to pass legislation.
A bill needs a supermajority of 60 votes to pass the Senate. That is completely out of reach today for abortion rights.
The Senate could change its rules and allow the abortion rights bill to pass in this one instance by a simple majority. But that will not happen either.
At least two Democrats oppose upending this Senate tradition, and no Republican will vote against their leadership to alter the Senate to pass a Democratic bill on abortion.
This ugly hyper-partisanship will have several ramifications.
If this Senate cannot protect these rights, perhaps more Democrats in the Senate can. Democrats will use this vote to target Senate seats held by Republicans that are up in the November midterm elections in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin.
This could well energise not only Democrats but also key swing independent voters who do support, in significant numbers, abortion rights.
But the human impact on women is frightening.
The journalist who obtained the draft opinion in the leak from the Supreme Court, and broke the story, Josh Gerstein of Politico, said this last Friday:
Gerstein is right. This is the world we are in.
160 years after the Civil War, another Underground Railroad – this time to take women away from states with restrictive medical laws.
A Handmaid’s Tale come to life, as Canada pledges to open its borders to American women seeking reproductive health services.
Engraved on the pediment of the Supreme Court building in Washington are the words, “Equal Justice Under Law.”
The Supreme Court’s imminent decision and the failure of Congress to enact legislation to overturn it betrays a US political system failing to protect all women equally under law.
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