Morning mail: Robert Mueller subpoenas Steve Bannon

Morning mail: Robert Mueller subpoenas Steve Bannon


Good morning, this is Eleanor Ainge Roy bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Wednesday 17 January.

Top stories

Steve Bannon, the one-time confidante to President Donald Trump, has been subpoenaed to testify in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to the New York Times. Mueller’s investigation, which has led to two indictments and two guilty pleas from Trump campaign aides, has shown no sign of flagging. According to the Times, the subpoena for Bannon to appear before a grand jury was issued last week. The separate inquiry being run by the House intelligence committee will on Tuesday question Bannon. The interview will be behind closed doors and will be his first appearance before any committees investigating Russian interference.

Bannon lost the backing of key Republican donors and his position at the hard-right Breitbart News after the publication of an explosive book on the Trump White House by the journalist Michael Wolff. The former White House strategist was quoted calling a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump aides including Donald Trump Jr and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner “treasonous”, “unpatriotic” and “bad shit”.

Centrelink has given companies accused of exploitation and misconduct direct access to welfare recipients’ money through its automated debit system. Companies are granted access to the Centrepay system, which allows approved businesses to deduct money from welfare payments. It is designed to ensure rent and power bills are paid but the federal government has long faced criticism for opening up Centrepay to household appliance rental companies, which rent out white goods, mobile phones, laptops and furniture. Guardian Australia has found at least four appliance rental companies were granted approval to use Centrepay, despite previously being punished by the corporate regulator or placed on binding agreements to rectify potential legal breaches.

The Minerals Council of Australia has conceded it makes political donations and pays to attend fundraisers to gain access to MPs, in a submission to a Senate inquiry. The frank admission – which reflects a commonly held belief about the role of money in politics – stands out, because major corporations and lobby groups usually claim they make donations to support democracy. The mining lobby group told the inquiry: “The MCA makes the political contributions detailed above because they provide additional opportunities for the MCA to meet with members of parliament. The MCA uses these opportunities to update members of parliament about conditions in the Australian minerals industry and the policy priorities of the MCA.” The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, who is leading the inquiry said: “Our democracy is broken when a major mining lobby group feels comfortable publicly saying they pay for access to the old parties without fear of any consequences.”

Qantas emits more carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre than any other airline operating across the Pacific, according to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation. For each kilometre Qantas transports a passenger across the Pacific, it uses 64% more fuel than the two most fuel-efficient airlines operating across the Pacific: Hainan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. One litre of aviation fuel was able to transport one passenger just 22km, on average, on Qantas flights, while Hainan and ANA were able to take a passenger 36km on 1L of fuel. Aviation currently accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions, with pollution from the industry expected to increase. Alan Milne from Qantas said the airline ranked low because it used large aircraft, flew long distances and had premium cabins.

Universities Australia says the freeze on commonwealth grants will force its members to either cut this year’s intake to make up for the 9,500 places no longer funded, or cut funding for regional and remote students. The university sector’s chief lobby group has stridently criticised the December freeze decision after the higher education cuts were rejected by the Senate. While not directly capping student places, the decision effectively put an end to the demand-driven university funding system.


Tennis star Novak Djokovic has denied calling for a boycott of next year’s Australian Open, saying reports of a large player’s meeting were “exaggerated”. “I know that you guys are trying to take this forward several steps,” Djokovic said. “Obviously you’re talking about union, you’re talking about boycott, you’re talking about radical decisions … so we can get financial compensations the way we deserve.”

Alex De Minaur arrived to a hero’s welcome at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, with a deafening roar rarely reserved for an 18-year-old in just his second year of grand slam tennis. But, as much as the crowd would have liked it, all did not go to plan for the wildcard entrant, who suffered a four-set loss to Czech Tomáš Berdych, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 on Hisense Arena.

Thinking time

Musician Wouter ‘Wally’ De Backer aka Gotye.

When Gotye met with Guardian Australia to discuss his obsession with a rare, long-lost synth, he talked non-stop for almost an hour. The Australian musician’s love affair with the ondioline has taken him around the world and dominated years of his life . This month he’s back on home soil to celebrate his obsession with a series of “spellbinding” concerts. “I think I am touring it because I need to push through the feeling of walking on eggshells,” he says, of the fragile instrument. “I just want to share this thing as widely as possible.”

“The Winfrey moment in the US actually strikes a chord down under, as we lie awake at night tossing and turning about republicanism and a presidency,” writes Richard Ackland. “It is now uncontentious that a precondition of a republic in Australia is that the head of state, or president, be directly elected. The appointment-by-politicians model just won’t wash and is made even less attractive by the fact that prime minister Malcolm Turnbull supports it.” But who would Australia vote for? Lisa Wilkinson, Adam Goodes, maybe one of The Chasers? Ackland envisions a few possibilities.

The Oscar winning writer-director Kenneth Lonergan of Manchester by the Sea talks to the Guardian about the value of director’s cuts, working with Martin Scorsese, and why a recent film, Margaret, took seven years to complete. “I found myself focused on what felt like a new way of telling a story … in Margaret I tried really hard to create a more naturalistic rhythm, so that even if it feels a bit slow at first, after a while you get absorbed into the story as if it was something you were really watching in real life.”

What’s he done now?

After many months silence on Donald Trump’s infamous wall, the US president is back on Twitter explaining how essential it is, despite it still being in pieces a year into his presidency. “We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!”

Media roundup

front-page SMH 17 jan 2018

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the the NBN’s admission that only one in four customers connecting to its network will get the much-hyped top speeds. Only customers who who have fibre to their premises, fibre to their building or fibre running down their street are estimated to be able to access the top-speed plans. The Courier Mail splashes with the headline “White men can’t Thump”, reporting that Anthony Mundine has lashed out at fellow boxer Jeff Horn, saying: “He’s only the flavour of the month because he is a white boy, just like Danny Green was the white boy.” Mundine has also called on Australia Day to be moved, saying Indigenous Australians continue to suffer from years of systemic abuse.
The ABC business desk explains how to make a financial planner work best for you, warning that all too often such planners are focused on their clients maximising their wealth, which may not gel with clients’ own goals such as caring for dependents or buying a new boat.

Coming up

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is due to release its housing finance figures for November, which are expected to show the market cooling overall.

It’s stage two of the men’s Tour Down Under road cycling stage race, which starts in Unley in the heart of Adelaide and finishes in Stirling in the Adelaide Hills.

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