Daily News Roundup

November 30, 2020

MONDAY NOV 30

Scott Morrison has demanded Beijing apologise and remove a “repugnant” attack on Australia’s soldiers posted by an official Chinese government Twitter account.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted a graphic, fake photograph of an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat.

The provocative image is a reference to the Afghan war crimes report, which found evidence of elite Australian soldiers murdering 39 Afghan civilians.

“Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” Mr Zhao tweeted.

“We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said China should be “utterly ashamed” of the post. He has demanded Beijing remove it and issue an apology.

He confirmed the government had contacted Twitter to remove the post.

Mr Morrison conceded tensions between Canberra and Beijing were ongoing, but urged the Beijing to disavow the “appalling” attack and return to the negotiation table.

“The way to deal with those is by engaging directly in discussion and dialogue between ministers and leaders, and despite this terribly offensive post today, I would ask again and call on China to re-engage in that dialogue,” he said. 

“You don’t engage in disinformation, and the ugliness, that we’ve seen in this post on the Chinese government Twitter account today.

“I am extremely proud of all Australians who put a uniform on for us. I’m proud of their service. I’m proud of their dedication. I’m proud of their loyalty this country and its values.

“Today is not a day for Australia in any way to feel wrongly about how we conduct ourselves. Even with this difficult information to deal with, we are dealing with it in the right way.

“The only thing that has brought shame today is this appalling post by the Chinese government.”

He said as “appalling as these events are today” it highlighted the need for Australia and China to engage in productive dialogue.

“Australia has always been available for that, and Australia has sought to arrange that,” he said.

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said the “disgusting” tweet would not shake Australia’s support for its troops.

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The jury in the rape trial of Jack de Belin and Callan Sinclair has told the court it has been unable to reach a verdict.

The NRL star and his co-accused pleaded not guilty to raping a 19-year-old woman in a Wollongong apartment in 2018.

The jury returned to the court after retiring on Thursday afternoon.

It did not sit on Friday and only reconvened at 9:30am today.

In a note to Judge Andrew Haesler, the jury said despite careful consideration “we have been unable to reach a unanimous verdict”.

Judge Haesler has urged the jury to go back over all the case and “give renewed, but calm and rational attention to the evidence.”

Judge Haesler said “a note such as this is not at all uncommon — in fact, it happens in many jury trials”.

He then directly addressed the jurors and explained that there was a convention of the court that allowed him to send them back to their deliberations to try and reach a verdict.

“The trial has been going for over three weeks and it is clear that you have been paying careful attention to not only the evidence, but the issues that arose via questioning, cross-examination and which were discussed carefully by counsel last week and summarised by me,” Judge Haesler said.

“Long experience has shown that even where there are stark divides and differences between jurors in certain stages in their deliberations, they often can reach unanimous agreement if given more time to consider the evidence and issues in dispute.

“Each of you swore or affirmed that you would give a true verdict according to the evidence.

“That is an important responsibility, you must fulfil to the best of your responsibility.”

Judge Haesler told the jurors it was their duty to “objectively, calmly and logically” weigh the evidence, discuss it and understand “what difference of opinion there may be”.

“If, after such calm, rational discussion, and after considering both the evidence and law and opinions of others, you cannot honestly agree with the conclusions of other jurors you much give effect to you own view of the evidence,” he said.

“In the light of what I have said, I would ask that you retire to consider the evidence, consider the law, consider the opinions of others and see whether you can reach a unanimous verdict on the counts that are before you…

“I ask you carefully take your time go through it one more time to see whether you can reach a unanimous verdict on each of the 10 counts — that is five for each accused that is presently before you.”

The jury was then led out of the room.

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Australia’s largest wine company, Treasury Wine Estates, says its imports into China have been slugged with a massive 169.3 per cent tariff, and it will implement emergency measures to minimise the damage.

Trade relations between Australia and China deteriorated even further late last week after Beijing imposed crippling import taxes, ranging from 107 to 200 per cent, on all Australian wine.

The move followed the preliminary findings of a Chinese anti-dumping investigation, which claimed Australian winemakers were selling wine below the cost of production, and causing China’s winemakers “substantial harm”.

Treasury Wine Estates said it expected demand for its wine in China to be “extremely limited” from now on.

The tariffs, or so-called “anti-dumping security deposits”, will be charged to Chinese importers who order Treasury’s wines in bottles of 2 litres or less.

A panic sell-off led to Treasury’s share price tanking (-11.3pc) on Friday, forcing the company put its shares in a trading halt.

Its shares are now trading again and by 11:45am AEDT, on Monday, had plunged by a further 5.9 per cent to $8.69.

In the wider context, the coronavirus sell-off and worsening Australia-China relations have caused Treasury’s share price to fall by more than half since late January (when its shares were worth $17.80).

The winemaker, known for its brands Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Lindeman’s and many others, said the Chinese market accounted for 30 per cent of its earnings in the past financial year, and two-thirds of its sales to Asia.

Within that total, Treasury’s luxury and “masstige” (mass prestige) wine make up 91 per cent of that revenue, and 63 per cent of volume.

“We are extremely disappointed to find our business, our partners’ businesses and the Australian wine industry in this position,” chief executive Tim Ford said in a statement to the ASX.

“We will continue to engage with MOFCOM [the Chinese Ministry of Commerce] as the investigation proceeds to ensure our position is understood.

“We call for strong leadership from governments to find a pathway forward.”

“However, there is no doubt this will have a significant impact on many across the industry, costing jobs and hurting regional communities and economies which are the lifeblood of the wine sector.”

Under Treasury’s contingency measures, it will “reallocate” its Penfolds Bin and Icons ranges from China to other luxury growth markets with “unsatisfied demand”.

That includes Asian countries outside of China, Europe, the United States and domestically in Australia.

The winemaker will also spend more on sales and marketing to drive demand in those regions, and expand its distribution footprint there.

Treasury will also engage in cost-cutting, while reallocating its luxury grapes to its other brands like Wynns, Wolf Blass, Seppelt and Pepperjack, which it says have been “significantly supply-constrained over recent years”.

Under China’s anti-dumping regulations, initial tariffs will last for up to four months (until March 28, 2021), and under “special circumstances”, may be extended to nine months (August 28, 2021).