China suspends importation of more Australian beef as trade battle escalates

China has suspended the importation of more Australian beef, this time from Meramist Pty Ltd, the sixth supplier to face such a move in a country that is one of China’s main meat suppliers.

China made the decision on Monday but did not give provide a reason.

It has already banned imports from five other Australian beef suppliers this year, citing reasons that have included issues with labelling and health certificates.

Australia’s ties with China — its top trade partner — were already strained. The relationship has significantly deteriorated since Canberra called for an enquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

China stopped receiving applications and registration for beef exports from the Meramist plant from December 7, China’s General Administration of Customs said in a notice on its website, without giving a reason.

Mike Eathorne, the general manager of Meramist, told the ABC on Monday night he had only just received the news.

“I was advised five minutes ago and I have been given absolutely no reasons,” he said, adding he could not comment further.

Meramist was one of several abattoirs named last year in an ABC 7.30 investigation involving the slaughter of racehorses. A former worker pleaded guilty to animal cruelty offences in July this year.

In May, China banned imports from four of Australia’s largest meat processors citing issues with labelling and health certificates.

In August, it suspended imports from a fifth plant, Queensland abattoir John Dee.

Composite of wine and lobsters
Wine and lobster have also been impacted in the diplomatic trade tussle.(Unsplash)

As well as targeting beef, China has imposed prohibitive tariffs on Australian barley and wine, blocked imports of Australian lobsters and delayed the unloading of Australian coal.

The Australian wine industry has been among the hardest hit, with China last month imposing tariffs ranging from 107 to 200 per cent on imports amid accusations Australian wines have been dumped in China.

That sparked a global campaign urging people to buy Australian wine.

The relationship has also been under pressure in the wake of a Chinese Foreign Ministry official posting an offensive Twitter post referencing alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded an apology for the “repugnant” tweet, but one has not been forthcoming.


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Blair approves request to boost RCMP presence as Nova Scotia lobster fishery dispute escalates

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has greenlighted a request for additional RCMP support in Nova Scotia amid criticism that Ottawa has not done enough to protect community members embroiled in a bitter conflict over a First Nations lobster harvest in that province. 

“Policing in Nova Scotia is within provincial jurisdiction,” Blair said in a statement released Saturday. “I have now approved a request from Nova Scotia’s Attorney General to enhance the presence of contracted RCMP resources as needed in that jurisdiction in order to keep the peace.”

The minister added that Nova Scotia RCMP had “increased their police presence in the affected area each day.”

His office told CBC News the request was approved on Friday and that the number of officers sent to the region will be determined by the province and its RCMP.

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce would not provide specific numbers to CBC News, but said officers from local detachments, members from across Nova Scotia and officers with special training from Prince Edward Island were on the scene.

The announcement comes after a fire levelled a lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., Saturday morning. 

Nova Scotia RCMP have deemed the blaze suspicious and said a man is in hospital with life-threatening injuries. Joyce said the injured individual is an “adult male who is considered a person of interest.” 

The scene Saturday morning after a lobster pound burned to the ground in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., overnight, severely injuring one man. The RCMP are investigating the matter. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

The fire broke out at one of two facilities in the province’s southwest region that were targeted by commercial fishermen on Tuesday protesting the “moderate livelihood” fishery launched by Sipekne’katik First Nation last month

The fishery is operating outside the federally mandated commercial season, causing many commercial lobster fishermen to worry about its impact on lobster conservation. 

The Mi’kmaw, who were storing their catches at the facilities, say they are exercising their treaty right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, a right affirmed by a 1999 Supreme Court ruling. 

WATCH | Violence over lobster fisheries a disgrace: Indigenous services minister:

Indigenous services minister Marc Miller says urgent response is needed with Mi’kmaw fishermen under attack. 8:29

“When Canadians see events like these, rightfully they act with disgust and they expect those in positions of authority to act, and that is what Minister Blair has done,” Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told CBC News. 

Miller reiterated that nation-to-nation talks are ongoing behind closed doors and said federal conversations with the commercial fishing industry will also need to happen.

Sipekne’katik chief: ‘Maybe it’s time for the military’

Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack said in a statement late Saturday that he is “grateful” in response to Blair’s announcement. 

“While I believe some of the damage, destruction, racist behaviour, harassment and intimidation could have been addressed much earlier as we had repeatedly requested a greater police presence to protect our people and operations, we remain thankful for any and all support we receive.”

Earlier on Saturday, Sack had called on Ottawa to beef up the number of officers in the area.

WATCH | Chief Mike Sack ‘at a loss’ after fire destroys N.S. lobster facility:

Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack says commercial fishermen are being ‘badly influenced’ amid ongoing lobster harvest dispute. 3:18

“We’re not told numbers in general, but very understaffed. Like, 300 commercial fishermen on the wharf, 40 or 50 of us [and] 12 officers,” Sack said during a news conference Saturday. “Maybe it’s time for the military to come in and assist.”

Sack has been increasingly critical of the federal government’s failure to intervene in the conflict.

“You know, they’re sitting in their office, safe as can be, saying we need safety out here. Send enforcement down. Like, do your job. Protect Canadians. We’re all Canadians. Come here, protect us and don’t just tweet about it,” he said Thursday. 

In a tweet, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde said his office had contacted the RCMP and the federal government “to express First Nations’ deep concern” in the wake of the blaze.

Investigations into week’s incidents ongoing

The RCMP’s response to the week’s events — which included an assault on Chief Sack on Wednesday — initially came under fire for failing to arrest those responsible for the violence.

“We are expecting the RCMP and police services to do their jobs and keep people safe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

“I think there’s been some concern that that hasn’t been done well enough and that’s certainly something we will be looking at very closely.”

On Saturday, a Digby County, N.S., man was charged and arrested in relation to the assault.  

Investigations continue into Tuesday’s lobster pound raids, which left vehicles vandalized and facilities damaged.

Joyce defended the force’s efforts to keep the peace rather than carry out arrests, telling CBC News Saturday that officers simply “did what they were trained to do in a position of being severely outnumbered.”

Blair said investigative teams are currently gathering evidence “to support any additional criminal charges necessary” and said provincial authorities will release further details as they become available.

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Senior Liberal MP slams John Barilaro for ‘bullying’ Gladys Berejiklian as koala protection row escalates

A Liberal backbencher has accused the NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader John Barilaro of “bullying” the Premier over the koala protection policy.

Catherine Cusack has spoken out against Mr Barilaro, in an escalating conflict between the Coalition partners.

Four Nationals MPs are threatening to plunge the NSW Government into minority if the koala protection policy isn’t changed — and they have the support of their leader.

They’re concerned it will limit land use on farms and the ability to rezone areas for development.

Under the new policy, more trees are classed as koala habitat which will restrict the clearing of land.

It follows a declaration by Mr Barilaro to the media today that the four MPs will move to the crossbench.

Liberal upper house MP Catherine Cusack criticised John Barilaro’s announcement.(ABC News)

Ms Cusack accused Mr Barilaro of treating NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian with “extreme contempt”.

She said the four Nationals MPs had been “herded into a corner”.

“The whole strategy is 100 per cent bullying.”

She said the koala State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) had been updated “at the behest of stakeholders that came from their own electorates” after an “exhaustive” process.

NSW koalas
The bill increases farmers’ responsibilities to look for koalas before clearing land.(Dave Hunt: AAP)

“I think it’s fair to say Liberal members … are really stunned and bewildered by this extraordinary behaviour by the leader of the National Party, who’s also the Deputy Premier who we support in Parliament to deliver stability and loyalty to the Premier, the Cabinet and the Government,” she said.

Mr Barilaro said the four MPs had his full support.

“This is the right thing to fight for on behalf of the community,” he said.

“It’s not about destruction of koala habitat. The protection SEP does not do anything to save a koala, but puts a nail in the coffin for farmers.

“That is not what we were elected to do. We’ll find a solution.”

Ms Berejiklian is refusing to bow to pressure from National MPs who want an emergency cabinet meeting to resolve the tension over the koala protection plan.  

On Monday, Mr Barilaro wrote to the Premier asking her to hold an unscheduled meeting next week ahead of parliamentary sittings.

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Trump escalates Twitter fight with Jeff Sessions, says he ‘had no courage, & ruined many lives’

  • President Donald Trump and his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, traded barbs over Twitter throughout the weekend.
  • On Saturday evening, Trump urged Sessions to “drop out of the race” for Alabama’s senate seat, saying his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation “ruined many lives.”
  • On Friday, Sessions lashed out at Trump, saying, “Your personal feelings don’t dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump continued a roughly 24-hour-long Twitter spat with his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, accusing him of having “ruined many lives” due to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

“Jeff, you had your chance & you blew it. Recused yourself ON DAY ONE (you never told me of a problem), and ran for the hills. You had no courage, & ruined many lives,” Trump tweeted Saturday evening. “The dirty cops, & others, got caught by bigger & stronger people than you. Hopefully this slime will pay a big… price.”

He continued: “You should drop out of the race & pray that super liberal [Sen. Doug Jones] … gets beaten badly.”

One day earlier, Sessions had lashed out at Trump in a tweet after Trump urged Alabama voters, “Do not trust Jeff Sessions.”

Trump has endorsed Sessions’ rival in the Alabama GOP Senate runoff, Tommy Tuberville.

“Look, I know your anger, but recusal was required by law. I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did,” Sessions tweeted Friday night, in response to one of Trump’s tweets. “It protected the rule of law & resulted in your exoneration. Your personal feelings don’t dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do.”

Trump has long complained about Sessions and his decision to recuse himself – even bashing him publicly while Sessions was still the attorney general.

Trump ousted Sessions in November 2018, but Sessions has continued to praise Trump’s agenda, and has campaigned on a platform of supporting him.

The primary runoff between Sessions and Tuberville was initially scheduled for March, but has been delayed until July due to the coronavirus.

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Team Penske boss Ryan Story and Erebus chief Barry Ryan involved in online spat as feud escalates

The war between DJR Team Penske and Erebus Motorsport has spilled into social media with the heavyweight teams attacking each other in cyberspace.

In an ugly escalation of the feud that has been raging since Scott McLaughlin and Dave Reynolds tangled in Townsville, Penske boss Ryan Story called out his Erebus counterpart after following a serial serving of “who cares” comments posted under stories featuring his two drivers.

News Corp Australia can reveal Erebus employees were behind the “who cares” campaign that saw team personnel posting derogatory comments on stories featuring McLaughlin and his Penske teammate Fabian Coulthard.

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A Facebook story featuring McLaughlin and Coulthard playing cricket even attracted the attention of Erebus boss Barry Ryan with the Bathurst winning co-owner chiming in with a “who cares” of his own.

Ryan’s comment forced a reaction from DJR Team Penkse with the all-conquering team’s boss weighing in.

“Nice work Baz,” Story wrote.

“We all work hard to activate and deliver value for our partners so we can keep going racing. I would never post a comment like this on a similar Erebus initiative. Never.”

The two teams have been at war since Reynolds and McLaughlin collided in Townsville last year.

The feud erupted when McLaughlin slammed Reynolds as a “desperado” for a lunge that ended up taking both drivers out of the Townsville 400.

“It was pretty full-on, wasn’t it? Especially lap one,” McLaughlin said in a post-race interview.

“Everybody’s battling for visibility and traction, it’s risk management on days like today. Especially when you’re up the front and in a (strong) championship position, like he is.

“Dave was just a desperado. He can say what he wants; I went down and saw him and he said I turned in or whatever. But personally, if I turned in it was by a millimetre and he’s just clipped me up the rear, so whatever.”

Reynolds turned it into a war on the words when he launched the first of several verbal attacks.

“He is very precious these days,” Reynolds said.

“He is not what he used to be. It is a different Scott to what we knew years ago. That is what I feel anyway but I don’t think I am alone.

“There has been a definite change. When we first saw him in GRM (Garry Rogers Motorsport) he used to swear in his interviews and say funny, off the cuff things – real stuff. Now he just thanks the team and the sponsors. It is all very corporatised. It is probably good for the sponsors but boring for everyone else.’’

McLaughlin responded, of course.

“It’s one of those things, where it’s always going to be different, when you go to other teams and there’s a lot of pressures that comes with that,” McLaughlin said.

“Some people grow up and some people don’t, and I think we can tell which one (of us) has grown up.

“I think I’m the same person I’ve always been. I just understand I’ve got a bit more on my shoulders and now I’m in a completely different position.”

The pair will resume the on-track war – which is clearly being won by McLaughlin – on Saturday in Darwin when the championship resumes.

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A new executive order escalates Trump’s attack on H-1B visas for foreign workers

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring workers on H-1B visas from replacing American workers on federal contracts.

The executive order makes it harder for federal agencies to hire workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas, requiring employers to prove they are not replacing qualified American workers with people from other countries and preventing federal contractors from shifting H-1B workers to other job sites in a manner that would “displace American workers.”

The new order does not represent a significant policy shift but rather escalates Trump’s assault on the U.S.’s H-1B visa program for high-skilled foreign workers, the vast majority of whom are from India. The president has ramped up his criticism of the H-1B program in recent months as the coronavirus pandemic has led to widespread joblessness and decimated the economy on which he’d hung his reelection bid. In June, he ordered a temporarily halt to visas for foreign workers through the end of the year, a moratorium that targeted the H-1B and H-4 visas issued to workers in the tech industry and their families. Monday’s order also made an example of a single organization, the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA, which had planned to outsource some of its technology contracts to companies with foreign workers.

“H-1Bs should be used for top, highly paid talent to create American jobs, not as inexpensive labor program to destroy American jobs,” Trump said on Monday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority

Monday’s order pilloried the TVA, a federally-owned corporation that generates electricity, aids in flood control efforts, and provides economic development in the southeastern United States. In introducing the new hiring directives, the order cited the TVA’s recent decision to lay off dozens of workers and outsource 20% of its technology jobs to companies based outside the U.S., using H-1B visas

On Monday, Trump fired TVA chairman Skip Thompson, whom Trump appointed to the job, and another member of the TVA board, referencing TVA’s plans. Trump said he was made aware of the TVA case after seeing an ad aired on Fox News by the U.S. Tech Workers, an organization that advocates for U.S. limits on visas for foreign technology workers.

At the White House on Monday, Trump said TVA chief executive Jeff Lyash called to tell him that it had a “strong willingness to reverse course” in its decision to outsource the technology work.

Later, in a statement on Tuesday, the TVA said, it “understands and supports” Trump’s order, and that “all jobs related to TVA’s Information Technology department must be performed in the U.S. by individuals who may legally work in this country.”

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, came to TVA’s defense following Trump’s announcement.

“TVA may have shown poor judgment hiring foreign companies during a pandemic, but, on most counts, it does a very good job of producing large amounts of low-cost, reliable electricity,” Alexander said.

H-1B visas

The U.S.’s H-1B visa program provides a pathway for foreign workers with specialized knowledge to work and reside in the U.S.; it’s favored by U.S. tech giants. In 2019, the U.S. had nearly 400,000 H-1B visa holders and they were predominantly made up of tech workers and Indian citizens. Of the visa holders, 72% were from India and 65% worked in ‘computer-related’ occupations, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Compared to high-tech private employers, the U.S. government is a small beneficiary of H-1B visas but it does still rely on the program. Following a Trump executive order in 2017 to ‘hire American,’ the U.S. Department of Labor conducted a review of private companies and federal contractors to assess their dependence on H-1B visa holders. In 2019, it found that the DOL had issued 2,000 H-1B visas for federal contract work in the first nine months of the year, according to a Bloomberg review of DOL data.

More changes may soon be in the pipeline for the H-1B visa program. Last week, Trump said the White House is working on a merit-based immigration bill. According to new federal proposals, potential changes to the H-1B visa program may include wage requirements for applicants and restricting the ability of visa holders’ spouses to work in the U.S.

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Trump’s new threat escalates battle with WHO over China

President Donald Trump escalated his threats against the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he would permanently cut U.S. funding if it does not make sweeping reforms.

In a four-page letter detailing his many grievances with the WHO, Trump called on the group to “demonstrate independence from China,” renewing a complaint that led him in April to temporarily suspend U.S. funding. He posted the letter late Monday on Twitter.

“If the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization,” Trump wrote to Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In his tweet, Trump called the letter “self-explanatory.” Still, he gave no other details about the reforms he was seeking or what specific changes might unlock funding.

Trump made the letter public hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the Geneva-based group’s governing body, the World Health Assembly, by video link and promised to devote $2 billion toward fighting the pandemic over the next two years while urging greater international cooperation to defeat the virus, which has infected 4.8 million people worldwide and killed more than 318,000.

Trump announced on April 14 that he would temporarily suspend U.S. funding to the WHO, accusing the group of being too supportive of China.

Administration officials indicated at the time the freeze would last 60 days pending a review. But Trump wrote in his letter that the review “confirmed many of the serious concerns I raised.”

It listed several examples of what he said were the WHO’s inaccurate statements about the virus and its praise of the Chinese government’s response.

The president said the United Nations agency “consistently ignored credible reports” of outbreak in Wuhan, China, last December, then “belatedly” declared it a public health emergency in late January. He said the organization was “inexplicably against” his decision to curb travel from China at the time, even though it “strongly praised China’s strict domestic travel restrictions.”

Trump’s decision to halt financial support to the WHO in the midst of a global pandemic is unprecedented, and it set off a fierce internal debate within his own administration over the extent of the funding freeze.

Some Trump administration officials have argued that the WHO should receive far less than the $400 million to $500 million it gets each year from the U.S., believing the money should go to other organizations focused on public health.

But others have suggested that the funding suspension be used as leverage to force the WHO to adopt changes to what the administration sees as its pro-China bias. Those officials caution that a permanent, broad-based cut could harm efforts to fight the virus, as well as diseases like HIV, polio and the measles.

Trump’s critics have accused him of targeting the WHO and China in order to deflect attention from his administration’s handling of the virus crisis, which has received poor marks from voters in surveys as the November election approaches.

He consistently praised China’s handling of the virus in January and February, even after he was told by the intelligence community on January 28 Beijing was withholding key data about the virus.

“Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus,” Trump tweeted on Feb. 7.

As recently as late March, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was highlighting U.S. contributions to what he said were “important” institutions, including the WHO. Even Trump himself had earlier praised its work in battling the virus.

Yet as the virus spread across the U.S., Trump began accusing the organization of many of the same complaints detailed in Monday night’s letter.

Trump’s decision marked a last-minute success by hardliners within his administration to keep denying funding to the WHO. As of Friday night, internal advocates for the group believed they had reached a compromise in which the U.S. would commit to restore some funding — equal the amount China pays each year.

That left open the possibility of even more money for the WHO because the promised money only covered the annual dues the U.S. is assessed and not the hundreds of millions of dollars more it makes in voluntary contributions every year.

A Reversal After Leak

But Trump later reversed himself after an earlier draft of his letter was leaked to Fox News, and Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs went on air to criticize the compromise plan.

“Lou, this is just one of numerous concepts being considered under which we would pay 10% of what we have been paying over many years, matching much lower China payments,” Trump wrote in a tweet Saturday, after the draft was leaked. “Have not made final decision. All funds are frozen. Thanks!”

It’s not clear how much reform the WHO can actually carry out on its own.

As with almost every organization under the United Nations umbrella, such changes would require approval from the countries that belong to the agency, which include China and many developing countries that rely on the agency for crucial medical assistance and were caught off-guard by the Trump administration decision to freeze funding at the height of the coronavirus crisis.

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Wanilla Forest theft and vandalism escalates, forcing Aboriginal group to ramp up defences

An Aboriginal group has installed a caretaker to protect a forest near South Australia’s Port Lincoln from an escalating spate of wood thefts.

The group funds some of its programs from wood sales taken from the Wanilla Forest.

The Port Lincoln Aboriginal Community Council’s Heather Cox said there was a worrying increase in people chopping down trees and vandalism.

“This year there has been more than ever.

“You’ll find people in there all the time, so we’ve had to take the drastic step of putting on a caretaker that is actually onsite to try to reduce that.

“There’s no planning to their taking the wood. They’re dropping logs which are taking down other trees and making a mess, basically.”

Ms Cox said the wood being taken was being on-sold.

Concern for safety in forest

She said there were also dangers associated with unauthorised people going into the forest given its relative remoteness.

“Often there’s no reception, they can’t get emergency help.”

She said new signs would be put up and the caretaker would report anyone who should not be there to the police.

“We’ve had to even go around and put in a whole new lock system at great expense to us. So instead of going forwards we’re going backwards,” Ms Cox said.

The Wanilla Forest is a hardwood resource, including sugar gums, of about 800 hectares and about 30 kilometres north-east of Port Lincoln.

It is usually opened a few times a year when locals can bring a trailer and pay to fill it up with wood while having a picnic.

The forest also has a range of other timber varieties such as ironbark and spotted gum, suitable for fencing and garden beds.

Some parts are maintained for conservation for species including the yellow-tailed black cockatoo.

Only a small population of the bird species remains on Eyre Peninsula with the local population considered critically endangered.

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