Coronavirus | Rahul Gandhi cancels election rallies in West Bengal

‘I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances,” the Congress leader tweeted.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday announced the suspension of his political rallies in West Bengal because of the COVID-19 situation and appealed to other parties to reconsider organising large gatherings.

Mr. Gandhi’s move is likely to put pressure on other parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool Congress.

“In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal. I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “Applause & respect. Lives are too important to be risked in rallies”.

Mr. Gandhi’s move also comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had come under some criticism on social media for appreciating large crowds at his rally in West Bengal’s Asansol (West Bardhaman district) despite an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across the country.

Targeting Mr. Modi for referring to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as “Didi-o-Didi” at his public rallies, former Union Minister P. Chidambaram tweeted, “Is this the manner in which a prime minister should refer to a chief minister? I cannot imagine a Jawaharlal Nehru or a Morarji Desai or a Vajpayee speaking that language”.

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Victorian opposition renews East West Link push ahead of next state election

The Victorian opposition has renewed its pledge to build the contentious East West Link and will again take the policy a state election, despite the project being scrapped six years ago.

The East West Link is a proposed tunnel from the end of the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill to CityLink in Parkville.

On the sixth anniversary of the project being dumped by the freshly-elected Andrews Labor government in 2015, the Victorian Liberal Party has renewed its push for the road to be part of its election platform.

It took a tweaked route, with the tunnel starting further east of Clifton Hill, to the 2018 election under leader Matthew Guy, but the party was soundly beaten on election day by Labor.

Mr Guy’s replacement as Opposition Leader, Michael O’Brien, has already put the road on his party’s policy platform.

Opposition Roads Spokesman Tim Smith said the pledge by the Commonwealth to allocate $4 billion to the East-West Link still stands.

“We can build this road immediately with that money,” he said.

But any East West Link project would likely cost more than $4 billion, meaning private investment would also be needed.

The project remains on Infrastructure Australia’s list of high priority projects.

An Infrastructure Australia audit in 2019 found the east-west corridor to the north of Melbourne’s CBD had the highest road congestion delay cost in Melbourne.

“It’s a vital piece of infrastructure that Infrastructure Australia rates as a very high priority, so the Andrews Labor government should get out of the way and let the Commonwealth fund this road,” Mr Smith said.

Daniel Andrews promised during the 2014 election campaign to cancel the contracts for the East West Link, and duly did so after defeating Denis Napthine to win government.

In 2014, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott dubbed the year’s state election a referendum on the East West Link.

The road has been taken to the last three state elections.

In 2010, by the Labor Brumby government; the Coalition Napthine government in 2014; and Matthew Guy’s Coalition opposition in 2018.

All three suffered defeat.

In 2016, Treasurer Tim Pallas ruled out the road, dubbing it a “zombie road project”.

Roads Minister Ben Carroll said the government would not revive the plan.

“Twice this issue has been to the people of Victoria and twice they’ve rejected it,” he said, referring to Labor’s election victories in 2015 and 2019.

Mr Carroll said the Victorian government was focused on other road and public transport projects.

“We are doing the West Gate Tunnel, but we are also doing enormous investment in our Airport rail link, which is going to be a real boon for the western suburbs.”

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How the pandemic election may favour Labor

In the shadow of the pandemic, recent ongoing Morrison Government scandals may provide Anthony Albanese with the necessary ammunition to carry Labor’s current lead to an electoral victory, writes Tarric Brooker.

WHEN news of the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins first broke, almost everyone who was paying attention was abhorred at what had allegedly gone on in what should be the safest building in the nation.

But as the weeks passed and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval rating remained near record highs, despite the repeated failures of the Morrison Government to adequately deal with the alleged rape, it became clear something may be amiss.

Even after yet another series of scandals and a botched vaccine rollout, the Prime Minister’s approval rating still remains within striking distance of record highs.

What is really wrong with the country: 10 Years of Quiet Australians

Quiet Australians need to become noisy and well-informed Australians and take back control of our country.

One potential explanation is that much of the electorate is disconnected from politics and this certainly appears to be the case. It is concerning if this is generally representative of the broader electorate that so many are disengaged from our democracy. But for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, it also presents a major problem and a significant hurdle Labor must clear in order to win government.

In decades gone by, it’s arguably likely that the Morrison Government’s lies, corruption allegations and scandals would have dealt them far more political damage and claimed more ministerial scalps.

In reality, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a 57% approval rating according to Essential, a long list of scandal-hit ministers hold places in the Morrison Cabinet and the Coalition is just four points behind in the polls.

With the next election campaign likely to take place amid the shadow of the pandemic, it presents a unique series of challenges, not only for Labor but also for the Coalition.

Scott Morrison’s political motives have turned against him

The Prime Minister’s myopic approach to solving problems and his focus on himself is only making matters worse.

Given the electorate’s heavy focus on household budgets and their own lives as the nation continues its recovery from the coronavirus, Albanese will have his work cut out for him as the public finally tunes in to federal politics for the main event.

In just a few weeks, he will need to get a disengaged electorate up to speed on the Morrison Government’s various antics since the 2019 Election. While seemingly a relatively simple task on paper, he will have to do so without sounding like a broken record, pointing out the Government’s long list of mistakes.

There really is no playbook or guide to this challenge. The electorate has arguably never been this disengaged from federal politics and no government has screwed up this consistently, and not found itself widely condemned by the electorate.

Early votes and postal votes are likely to play a key role in deciding the outcome on Election Day, making where the two party’s stand in the polls when voting opens more important than ever.

According to figures from ABC election analyst Antony Green, in the recent Western Australia state election 44% of voters voted prior to Election Day. With 34.1% of voters voting via pre-poll and 9.9% voting via postal votes which were received prior to Election Day.

If Labor can carry its current 52-48 lead in the two-party preferred polls until the election campaign begins, these early votes could provide Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese with a significant advantage if the polls are correct.

Not too long ago some of the nation’s political commentators were writing off Labor’s chances and claims of “electoral invincibility” were coming from the Prime Minister’s offices.

But with early voting almost certainly to play a major role in the upcoming election and deteriorating polling for the Coalition in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, the outcome is arguably far more uncertain than some media commentary would suggest.

Will the real Albo please stand up?

If the Albanese Opposition continues to let the Morrison Government run over them without a real fight, the Labor faithful have yet more pain to endure.

While Albanese’s time as Opposition Leader may not have lived up to his firebrand progressive reputation won over two decades in Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is losing ground.

Albanese faces a major challenge in attempting to connect with a disengaged electorate when the Governor-General finally dissolves Parliament, but the potential exists within him to rise to the occasion.

If the Labor Leader can craft a strong message of competence and accountability under a Labor government, while simultaneously pointing out where the Morrison Government has and continues to fall down, a Labor victory may be more likely than many believe.

After all, on election night 2019, there was a near-universal consensus we would wake up to a Shorten Government on Sunday morning. Now, with an election taking place in the shadow of the pandemic and with the ongoing rape scandals, followed by sex scandals, the slow vaccine rollout, and with early voting a potentially decisive factor, perhaps the pundits will be wrong yet again.

Tarric Brooker is an IA columnist, freelance journalist and political commentator. You can follow Tarric on Twitter @AvidCommentator.

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Welsh election: Independent Wales would borrow to furlough, Adam Price says

An independent Wales would have run its own furlough scheme for the pandemic, Plaid Cymru’s leader has told the BBC.

Asked if the job retention scheme was an example of the UK’s strength, Adam Price said an independent Wales would have funded an equivalent by borrowing.

He also claimed it would have “money to spare” by not buying nuclear weapons.

Tory MP Andrea Leadsom said he should consider the “cost of borrowing of an independent Wales, versus the cost of borrowing for the United Kingdom”.

Plaid Cymru has promised to hold an independence referendum in Wales within five years if it takes power in May’s Senedd election.

Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live programme, Mr Price said the pandemic suggested a “very different story” on the strength of the UK union and claimed “support for independence has surged”.

Asked about the hundreds of thousands of Welsh jobs supported by the UK government furlough scheme, the Plaid Cymru leader said: “They funded it by borrowing.

“An independent Wales would have done the same,” he added.

Mr Price also said that an independent Wales would have had “money to spare because we wouldn’t waste £200bn on a trident nuclear missile system”.

In response, former Conservative cabinet minister Ms Leadsom said she thought the “majority of people in Wales” continue to believe “we are very much different groups of people who are much stronger as a United Kingdom”.

“He needs to look at the cost of borrowing of an independent Wales versus the cost of borrowing for the United Kingdom,” she added.

Responding for the Liberal Democrats, Cadan ap Tomos accused Mr Price of “clearly struggling with his sums”.

“One moment he says Wales needs to borrow to fund certain projects, yet a moment later he says we’d would have money to spare,” he said.

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Labor finalises energy platform for next election – as it happened | Australia news

Importantly, we’ve generated the light that we need for the road ahead. Now Scott Morrison has none of this, no light, no road ahead, and the only voice he truly hears is his own.

When he leaves office, Australians will ask ‘what was the point of this nearly decade-long government?’

For Scott Morrison the fundamental truth that a prime minister must govern for all Australians is just one more idea beyond his grasp.

He showed that with his repeated question that he used to use in parliament all the time: ‘Whose side are you on?’, he used to ask.

He doesn’t say it any more, because we all know that he’s on his own side.

Our conference has made loud and clear that Labor’s message to Australians is this: We are on your side.

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Labor preselects Marion Scrymgour to contest Lingiari at next federal election

Northern Land Council chief executive Marion Scrymgour has been preselected by Labor to contest the federal electorate of Lingiari following the retirement of party stalwart Warren Snowdon.

Mr Snowdon, who had been involved in politics for more than 30 years, announced in December that he would not be recontesting the vast Northern Territory seat at the next election.

“It’s time to roll up my swag and move on,” he said at the time.

On Thursday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese confirmed Ms Scrymgour had won the preselection battle for the seat.

“Marion Scrymgour is an inspirational woman and will be an exceptional candidate for Lingiari in the Northern Territory,” Mr Albanese said.

Ms Scrymgour was the first Indigenous woman elected to the Northern Territory parliament.

“She was the Labor party deputy chief minister of the Northern Territory from November 2007 until February 2009, and was the highest-ranked Indigenous woman in government in Australia’s history,” Mr Albanese said.

Labor’s Warren Snowdon was re-elected in Lingiari at the last election with a margin of 5.5 per cent.(

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She retired from politics in 2012, and went on to run the Wurli Wurlinjang Aboriginal Health Service in Katherine and was the chair of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance in the NT.

For the past two years, she has headed the Northern Land Council, becoming the first woman to lead one of the NT’s four Aboriginal land councils.

Mr Albanese said she was preselected with “overwhelming support” in a rank-and-file ballot.

“Marion Scrymgour is an experienced and committed community leader and will be a formidable addition to the Labor team,” he said.

Mr Snowdon defeated CLP candidate Jacinta Price in the 2019 election, securing 55.5 per cent of the vote after preferences.

The seat of Lingiari covers 1,348,158 square kilometres, or 99.99 per cent of the NT, as well as the Christmas and Cocos Islands.

The Country Liberal Party has delayed its preselection process for Lingiari until June.

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Stacey Abrams Is Making Money Off Election Bill Disinformation

Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) railed against Democrat activist Stacey Abrams for her response to the Georgia legislature’s recent passage of the Election Integrity Act, telling host Matthew Boyle on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Sunday that Abrams was spreading untruths in order “to pad her bank account.”

Abrams excoriated the bill, SB 202, upon its passage Thursday, calling it an act of voter suppression and “Jim Crow 2.0,” but Kemp celebrated the bill as a means of expanding voter access and increasing security in the state’s election processes. The governor accused Abrams, who founded Fair Fight — a voter rights organization and fundraising giant — of intentionally spreading inaccurate information about the bill as a money-making scheme.

“Stacey Abrams is making a lot of money off of this,” Kemp told host Matthew Boyle. “She’s getting billionaires and other people and people that don’t even have a lot of money to give money to this cause, really saying things that are untruthful to pad her bank account.”


Kemp also said President Joe Biden — who, like Abrams, criticized the bill as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” — displayed a lack of awareness for the bill’s provisions, arguing Biden has failed to acknowledge strict voting measures in his own home state of Delaware and that Biden’s focus on Georgia’s new law allows the president to shift attention away from the growing southern border immigration crisis.

“I think Joe Biden’s so focused on Georgia’s election law even though he doesn’t know his own laws in his own state are more restricted than we are to take the focus away from the outrageous things that are happening on the border right now with kids being trafficked and people swarming across the border,” Kemp said.

The governor added, “I think that’s probably orchestrated probably not by him but his political minions that are serving in the White House now.”

One provision of the bill specifically gained attention after some voices, including Abrams’, suggested voters waiting in lines at polls were prohibited from having access to free water.

Kemp clarified, “Certainly any voter can bring water. They can bring food. They could order a Domino’s Pizza … while they’re standing in line, but we’re not going to allow a state representative or me as governor that’s on the ballot to go out and hand water, which has actually happened before in Georgia. We’re not going to let third party groups do that whether it’s Stacey Abrams’ group, the NRA [National Rifle Association], or anybody else. That would be inappropriate within 150 feet of a polling location, but you know if you get outside of that boundary, you can hold political signs up and you can do basically whatever you want. This is just making sure voters are not bothered or intimidated while they’re in line and voting.” He added that polling locations will be able to set up self-service water coolers for those waiting in line.

Abrams, dismissing the intent of the bill’s language, had written on social media, “They criminalize free water & food for those in line”:

Kemp described Abrams’ persistent attacks on the bill as a “scam and a racket.”

“And then you got Abrams that is making money on this,” he said. “It’s just a scam and a racket in many ways, and I’m just so thankful that you guys and a lot of other people like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post and the Washington Examiner and others that are simply putting the facts out there because you know even the Atlanta paper is putting editorials out there that are just factually not correct.”

Breitbart News Sunday broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot 125 Sundays from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Write to Ashley Oliver at

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Qld MP Laming won't stand at next election

Andrew Laming has decided not to contest the next federal election, but Treasurer Josh Frydenberg believes there is no need for the Queensland MP …

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Facebook says it’s preparing again to fend off disinformation during a federal election

Tech giant Facebook is beginning to ramp up for the next federal election with plans to prevent its platform from being used to spread misinformation that could disrupt the election campaign.

Kevin Chan, global director and head of public policy for Facebook Canada, said he doesn’t know when the next federal election will take place, but his company is getting ready.

“We are already preparing internally for an election, whenever that will happen,” Chan told CBC News. “We have also had outreach externally from public authorities that we have worked with in the past, in the 2019 election, to also get ready.”

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government isn’t scheduled to go to the polls again until October 2023, Trudeau acknowledged in an interview with a Montreal radio station in January that his party could find itself in an election in the coming months.

In the lead-up to the 2019 vote, the federal government set up an elaborate system to detect attempts to interfere in the Canadian election by spreading misinformation or disinformation. In the end, officials concluded that no significant attempts were detected.

Chan said that Facebook never completely dismantled the core team it assembled for the 2019 election. It has remained in place for the provincial elections that have happened since then.

In the 2019 election, Facebook’s team in Canada monitored the platform for signs of people trying to use it to spread misinformation or disinformation as part of an election integrity initiative that also included a cyber threats crisis e-mail line.

“We are currently building out the team to be ready for an election whenever it comes,” said Chan.

Chan’s comments come as the Trudeau government deals with the aftermath of an Ontario Superior Court ruling that struck down the section of Canada’s election law prohibiting someone from making false claims about a candidate or a political leader during an election. The judge ruled that the section was an unreasonable restriction on charter rights to free speech.

‘Drawing these lines is hard for anyone’

Chan said the ruling underscores the challenges involved in deciding what’s unacceptable on social media platforms.

“At Facebook, we are moderating content every day, and with that will come controversy,” Chan explained. “I think you can appreciate that for any decision we make, there will be some people who say we took too much down and then there will be other people who will say we left too much up.

“And so I think that this is something that we recognize is hard and I think that the court decision you saw is a recognition that drawing these lines is hard for anyone.”

Chan’s comments come in advance of his planned appearance Monday before the House of Commons Canadian heritage committee.

The committee, which originally summoned Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, wants to know more about the dispute that erupted between the company and Australia after that country adopted new rules to pressure the tech giant into paying media organizations for news stories shared on their platforms.

Facebook and Australia finally reached an agreement — but not before Facebook briefly shut down access to news stories in Australia.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is working on legislation to address similar issues in Canada.

More money for media outlets

In advance of Monday’s hearing, Facebook will announce today that it will spend an additional $8 million over the next three years to help Canadian news media.

Half of that sum will extend to 2024 Facebook’s existing deal with the Canadian Press, which has allowed the news service to hire ten journalists. The company said the other half will go to small, local media organizations and to “increase the strength of under-represented voices in journalism” — although the company has not yet said what it means by under-represented voices.

Facebook Canada’s global director and head of public policy Kevin Chan will announce new money for Canadian news organizations in advance of testifying before the House of Commons Canadian Heritage committee Monday. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Chan said Facebook is also looking to negotiate commercial deals with Canadian news organizations to provide material for parts of its platform, such as its COVID-19 information centre or its climate science information centre.

As Facebook argued in its dispute with Australia, Chan said news organizations benefit from having their stories shared on Facebook because it generates page views that translate into revenue.

Chan argued Australia’s initial proposal didn’t reflect the reality of how the internet and Facebook work, and said Canada appears to be taking a somewhat different approach.

“I’ve heard others refer to the ambition of doing a made-in-Canada approach,” he said. “And I think that ambition will presumably mean getting to a better outcome, an outcome where you have frameworks that are based on evidence, that are based on facts, that recognize the value that the platforms provide to publishers and that allows us to work collaboratively together to ensure the long term viability of news in Canada.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather says he wants to know more about how Facebook’s algorithms lead users to illegal or hateful content. (CBC)

While Chan has been summoned to testify on behalf of Facebook regarding the events in Australia, committee members say he will face questions on other aspects of the company’s operations.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he also wants to know more about how Facebook’s algorithms lead users to content that is illegal, violent or hateful, and what the company is doing about it.

NDP MP Heather McPherson said she’s concerned about hate speech and wants to know whether Chan misled the committee the last time he appeared when he said that Facebook removes anything that violates its community standards.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at

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Israel election: Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate uncertain as exit polls indicate no clear winner


xit polls indicate there is no clear winner in the Israeli election, leaving Benjamin Netanyahu’s fate uncertain and signalling continued political deadlock.

The polls on Israel’s three main TV stations showed Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu, his allies and opponents all falling short of a parliamentary majority.

That could set the stage for weeks of paralysis and even an unprecedented fifth consecutive election.

If the final results are in line with the exit polls, both sideswill have to court Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu ally withstrained relations with the prime minister, to form a majority in the120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

Mr Bennett shares Mr Netanyahu’s hard-line nationalist ideologybut has signalled he would be open to cooperating with his rivals ifgiven the chance to be prime minister.

Later, Mr Netanyahu claimed a “great victory” for his right-wing bloc, despite the still inconclusive results.

In a statement on Facebook late on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu saysIsraelis have “given a great victory to the right and to the Likud undermy leadership”.

The Likud emerged as the largest individual party and right-wing parties dominated the results, according to exit polls.

But some of those parties oppose Mr Netanyahu, making it unclear whether he will be able to form a new government.

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