Daily News Roundup

December 15, 2020

Picture: NCA NewsWire/Christian Gilles

TUESDAY DEC 15

Award-winning Aussie actor Craig McLachlan has been cleared of assaulting women while performing in a musical in Melbourne.

The 55-year-old was charged with seven counts of indecent assault and six counts of common law assault against four women during a run of the Rocky Horror Show.

On Tuesday magistrate Belinda Wallington ruled he was not guilty on all 13 charges.

“I’ve found the accused not guilty of all charges,” she ruled on Tuesday.

But she also lashed Mr McLachlan’s lawyer for his use “troubling and outdated” stereotypes in his questioning.

The court has rejected police allegations the former soap star touched a woman’s genitalia over her costume on stage, that he stuck his tongue into one woman’s mouth and that he felt up a woman’s thigh.

“They are all liars,” Mr McLachlan told the court when he gave evidence last month.

Over three days the actor denied the allegations which he said he first heard about in the media back in 2018.

At one point during his evidence he burst into song to demonstrate it was impossible to have used his tongue to kiss a woman onstage.

Videos were also aired in court of the actor performing a simulated sex act and sitting on a toilet after he labelled one of the accusers as “vulgar”.

His lawyer Stuart Littlemore QC argued the acts did not happen or were unintentional.

The prosecution argued that McLachlan used his position of power to assault the women and the “power imbalance” made them feel they were unable to speak up until the show’s run was over.

“They were concerned what the accused had done to them and concerned about what he might do to others,” he said of why the women came forward.

The contested hearing began in 2019 and has heard from more than a dozen witnesses.

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Joe Biden has cleared the 270 electoral vote mark to formalise his presidential victory with California’s 55 votes taking him over the threshold needed to win the race for the White House.

The result came shortly before President Donald Trump tweeted that Attorney-General William Barr would leave his post on December 23 to “spend the holidays with his family”.

The voting milestone came late on Monday local time when California’s electors affirmed Mr Biden’s massive 5-million-vote win in the state last month.

Mr Biden is expected to lead President Donald Trump with 306 votes to 232 once the process is complete.

The president-elect will give a speech once all the states have finished voting, when he is set to declare that “not even … an abuse of power” can stop a peaceful transition.

The electoral college vote is normally a procedural step in the presidential election, but its importance was heightened this year because Mr Trump is refusing to concede his election defeat.

The President and his allies have filed roughly 50 lawsuits, and most have been dropped or dismissed by judges, including twice by the US Supreme Court.

Several Republican leaders have now acknowledged Mr Biden’s victory.

Indiana senator Mike Braun said the electoral college vote marked “a watershed moment where we must put aside politics and respect the constitutional process”.

The electoral college results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a January 6 joint session of Congress, which will be presided over by Vice-President Mike Pence.

News of Mr Barr’s resignation came shortly after he briefed the President about the Justice Department’s review into the Trump campaign’s allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

In a letter to Mr Trump seen by Reuters, Mr Barr pledged the allegations “would continue to be pursued”

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Chinese state media appears to have confirmed that Beijing has blocked Australian coal imports, in a move which is likely to cost the economy billions of dollars and further inflame tensions between the two countries, reports the ABC.

A special report said the nationalistic state-owned tabloid The Global Times reports that China’s top economic planner has approved power plants to import coal without clearance restrictions from several countries “except for Australia”.

Australian government sources say such media reports should be treated seriously because they are generally directly sanctioned by the Chinese Government.

China has unofficially banned Australian coal imports since October, leaving dozens of bulk carriers stranded offshore.

The freeze has stoked deep anxiety in the mining industry.

Last month, Chinese authorities blamed “environmental problems” for the delays.

Australian Government officials have dismissed this explanation in private.

And the Global Times report seems to confirm that China’s leaders are now willing to publicly confirm — at least indirectly — that the ban is an act of economic punishment, and that it is likely to continue.

The newspaper quotes Wang Yongzhong, director of the Institute of Energy and Economy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who warns “Australia is gradually losing the Chinese market”.

He says China is sourcing coal from Indonesia, Russia and from Mongolia, which “could take a large share from Australian coal, as the relationship between China and Australia has been deteriorating”.

The article also says China’s coal use will drop over coming decades as it moves to reduce carbon emissions.

If the freeze is maintained, it could have significant economic implications for Australia, which last year exported coal worth almost $14 billion to China.

Thermal coal used by Chinese power stations accounts for about $4 billion of that figure.

Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has called on Chinese authorities to “rule out” the Global Times report.

Senator Birmingham said if the story is accurate it “would appear to be the use of discriminatory practices against Australian coal”.

“We reiterate that all terms of our free trade agreement and world trade obligations between Australia and China should be upheld and respected,” he said.

The move against coal is the latest in an escalating series of trade punishments meted out by Beijing.

Relations between Australia and China have been spiralling downwards in the wake of Canberra’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

In recent months, China has taken several measures to stymie Australian imports.

Australia’s largest export market has applied prohibitive tariffs on the massive wine market with signs the trade has now effectively ground to a halt.

Chinese tariffs on barley imports have also led to threats from Australia of action through the World Trade Organization. Some observers predict Australia might take that step as early as this week.

In turn, Beijing has accused Australia of dumping grain and wine on the Chinese market and unfairly subsidising farmers.

Tonnes of Australian rock lobster have also been stopped at Chinese ports.

The crayfish would usually sell at a premium on the Chinese market but have instead been sold to local supermarkets.

In some parts of Western Australia, western rock lobsters have been up for sale at the bargain price of just $20.

But the confirmation of the coal ban is likely to fire fresh anger in Canberra, as well as fuelling anxiety about which industries are likely to be targeted next.

ENDS