Squiz Today / 20 November 2019
Squiz Today – Wednesday, 20 November
THREE MINUTE SQUIZ
“The Squiz is actually owned and operated by a secretive arm of the Russian Government, which aims to bring down our democracy through snappy and informative daily news digests. You’ve all been warned.”
Ahem… Said Sam McMillan (aka Sammy J) about the alleged source of his regular news habit. Known for his TV hit Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane and his current ABC Comedy series, simply titled Sammy J, he’s an audience and critical favourite. Please welcome him to this week’s Three Minute Squiz.
ROBODEBT REVIEW PROVIDES RELIEF
The Federal Department of Human Services has halted one of the most contentious parts of the welfare debt recovery program popularly known (or should that be ‘unpopularly’…) as the Robodebt scheme. “The department will no longer raise a debt where the only information we are relying on is our own averaging of Australia Taxation Office income data," an internal email said. On top of that, some existing debts will be frozen while a review is undertaken.
YOU LOST ME AT ‘AVERAGING INCOME DATA’...
Ok. How it works is Human Services, which looks after Centrelink, gathers income data from the Tax Office, and then compares it with what you (if you claim family or welfare benefits) and your employer have reported to Centrelink. With that information, it can see if an overpayment has been made through a process of ‘averaging’ out the income. That’s a problem if your earnings are bumpy with debt notices being generated when nothing is actually owing. In the past, a Centrelink officer investigated before a debt recovery notice was sent out. But since July 2016, it’s an automated and computerised process (aka Robodebt). To give you a sense of the scale of that change, Centrelink used to send out about 20,000 debt letters each year, and now it’s about 10,000 a week. Adding to the frustration, it’s up to you to prove you don’t owe Centrelink any money.
BUT THAT WON’T HAPPEN ANYMORE?
The government says debts won’t be raised when Centrelink’s averaging of Tax Office income data is “the only information we are relying on". That's specific language that points to a system that can raise debts by looking at other info. And it would be hard for the government to walk away from it altogether, even with the threat of a potentially expensive class action. Reports say the government hopes to return $2.1 billion to the coffers over the next three years by playing debt collector.
SQUIZ THE REST
WEEKS FREE AFTER YEARS AS A HOSTAGE
Australian Timothy Weeks and his American colleague Kevin King have been released after being held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan since August 2016. They were kidnapped at gunpoint from outside the American University in Kabul where they worked as teachers. Their release was made possible through a prisoner swap deal which saw three notable Taliban prisoners released from detention in Afghanistan and flown to Qatar. Weeks’ father Mervyn said he was relieved. “I want to thank all those who've supported us and prayed with us for this eventuality," he told the ABC. Reports say the men would be flown to a US military base in Germany for initial medical checks.
And while we have you on breaking news involving Aussies overseas… Sweden has dropped its sexual assault investigation into WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He remains in detention in the UK while fighting an extradition request from the US.
QUICK WORLD NEWS WRAP
HONG KONG UPDATE - Reports say about 200 protesters remain inside the Polytechnic University with police adamant they will be charged with rioting offences. A small group managed to leave yesterday by climbing down to a road using rope ladders before being picked up by motorcyclists.
US-ISRAEL POLICY FLIP - It’s now America’s position that Israel’s West Bank settlements do not violate international law. Critics said the change in the long-held foreign policy stance is designed to help PM Benjamin Netanyahu hang onto power after he committed to formally annex large parts of the contested area in September, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move reflects the reality of the situation on the ground.
SAMOA IN THE GRIP OF A MEASLES CRISIS - Sixteen people have died, and reports say more than 100 new cases have been recorded since Monday taking the total number of confirmed cases to almost 1,200. Schools are closed in an attempt to contain the dangerous infectious disease. A third of Samoa's 200,000 citizens are unvaccinated against measles.
SOUTH OZ BRACING FOR EXTREME FIRE CONDITIONS
More than 110 schools will shut today in South Australia as authorities prepare for catastrophic fire conditions. Seven regions, including Kangaroo Island, are at the highest warning level, and no part of the state is rated lower than "severe". Temperatures into the 40Cs and strong winds are expected. Yikes... Slabs of NSW have a ‘severe’ fire danger rating today with hot and dry westerly wind expected to cause havoc. And in Queensland, the Crows Nest fire near Toowoomba has claimed several homes since the weekend, reports say. Eighteen people have been pinged for deliberately lighting fires in the state this month.
FITTING GOOGLE FOR A FITBIT FIX
To recap: Google bought Fitbit, the wearable fitness tech company, for A$3 billion earlier this month. Enter the Consumer and Competition regulator… Its chair Rod Sims has put Google on notice saying the assurances it’s made to protect the sensitive data collected by the devices don’t stack up. Google has promised that it will not use Fitbit health and wellness data to retarget users with Google ads. Which is an opportunity lost because we wouldn't mind a well-placed ad for, say, a motivation app when we've logged our fifth consecutive croissant at breakfast. But Sims says as the tech companies change privacy policies, consumers can't be sure they won't have their data used in ways they could be uncomfortable with. Google said it was committed to giving users control over their data.
APROPOS OF NOTHING - FROM CLASS TO ARSE…
Let’s go highbrow to start… A teeny-tiny manuscript written by a 14yo Charlotte Brontë has been bought at auction for A$1.2 million. And we mean teeny-tiny.
Mid-range on the tasteful scale, and the New York City taxi drivers calendar for 2020 is out - and it could be the last one. Hello Mr July...
And look, good taste prevents us from outlining the specifics of this one… But it’s the water-saving qualities we're interested in. Truly…
SQUIZ THE DAY
12.30pm (AEDT) - Attorney-General Christian Porter to address the National Press Club - Canberra
PM Scott Morrison will deliver a speech at a Business Council of Australia event tonight. He’s expected to outline the details of a $3.8 billion infrastructure stimulus package to boost jobs
Annual General Meetings - Goodman Group; LendLease; Seven Group Holdings; Webjet
Japan’s Shinzo Abe to become Japan’s longest-serving PM
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