Morning mail: Saudi woman visa hope, jellyfish stings surge, cricketer rape trial | Australia news


Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Wednesday 9 January.

Top stories

Australia has said it will consider granting a visa to Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun if she’s found to be a refugee by the United Nations. On Tuesday evening, the department of home affairs confirmed it has made representations to the Thai government and the Bangkok office of the UNHCR about “its serious concerns on this matter and the need for Ms Al-Qunun’s claim to be assessed expeditiously.” The 18-year-old Saudi woman, who barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to prevent her forcible return to a family she claims will kill her, has been taken under the protection of the UN high commissioner for refugees in Thailand. Human Rights Watch Australian director Elaine Pearson said Australia has a moral obligation to help Qunun: “The government has said that promoting women’s rights is a priority as part of its foreign policy; well here’s a concrete case where they can protect a young woman’s life.”

Theresa May was handed a humiliating defeat in parliament by Labour and Conservative MPs who organised to demonstrate the strength of parliamentary opposition to leaving the EU with no deal. MPs voted for an amendment to a finance bill to curb some of the government’s tax administration powers in the event of no deal without explicit authorisation for parliament. The coalition of high-profile MPs, including 20 Conservatives, are expected to use the victory as a springboard for further parliamentary action to prevent the UK crashing out.

Twenty-two people, more than twice the usual number, have been hospitalised this summer with Irukandji stings. The box jellyfish are heading into southern seas due to rising water temperatures. Stings from the Irukandji can be fatal or cause brain haemorrhages and a debilitating sensation of impending doom, known as Irukandji syndrome. More than 5,000 people have suffered from the milder sting of the bluebottle, which massed in a record-breaking armada along the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast last weekend.

World





Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.



Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Donald Trump is to make his first Oval Office address to the nation as president on Tuesday night, local time, to argue that an immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border requires funding for his border wall pet project – before the federal government partial shutdown can be ended. The official Democratic response to Donald Trump’s televised address to the nation will be delivered by Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

In England, a woman who was allegedly raped by Australian-born professional cricketer Alex Hepburn broke down in court after being cross-examined about how she acted during the alleged attack. Hepburn, 23, denies raping the woman, who told a Worcestershire court she was initially asleep.

Turkey has asked Washington to hand over its bases in Syria as the Trump administration appeared to reverse plans to withdraw from the country’s north-east on Tuesday, jeopardising Ankara’s plans to launch a widespread military operation targeting Kurdish groups that Turkey views as mortal foes.

An Uber driver charged with killing six strangers in Michigan in between picking up passengers has pleaded guilty to murder – over his attorney’s objections – triggering the prospect of a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole.

All flights out of the UK’s busiest airport, London’s Heathrow, were suspended for more than an hour on Tuesday after a drone sighting, just weeks after a similar report at Gatwick grounded about 1,000 flights.

Opinion and analysis





‘I had forgotten how it felt to sing with other people, and the sudden rush of memory and pure joy was like a kick to the heart.’ Polyphony choir with Stephanie Convery in the front row, second from right.



‘I had forgotten how it felt to sing with other people, and the sudden rush of memory and pure joy was like a kick to the heart.’ Photograph: Sam Wyper

When Stephanie Convery moved to Sydney a few years ago she joined a choir: “When we stood to sing through the first song – a Tori Amos tune that sucked me right back to the emotional upheaval of my late teens – I nearly burst into tears. I had forgotten how it felt to sing with other people, and the sudden rush of memory and pure joy was like a kick to the heart.”

Sally Rooney’s Normal People is the literary phenomenon of the decade. This week, Rooney, 27, became the youngest novelist ever to land the Costa awards’ best novel category. Normal People is now favourite to win the prize for overall book of the year at the end of the month. Her second novel has been a surprise – not for its quality, which was assured after her confident debut Conversations with Friends – but for the response to it. There hasn’t been a literary novel that has had such an impact on conversation since perhaps Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, or, before that, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, or even before that, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

Uncle Wes Marne, 96, has been telling stories “since Moses played fullback for Jerusalem”. The Indigenous elder is one of four First Nations people whose voices and stories have been captured in Blak Box: a sound installation at Sydney festival which invites anyone to come in and listen. Program curator Daniel Browning says that without intervention, the spoken literature of the world’s oldest oral culture will disappear.

Sport

Today at the Kooyong Classic Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic meet on court for the first time as their Australian Open preparations ramp up. Tomic will again have to deal with new balls though, having criticised the switch to Dunlops from Wilson following his win over Jack Sock on Tuesday.

England are due to arrive in Barbados on Friday for their latest tour. It would be no surprise if the first days were to throw up a few dramatic moments – and perhaps a bit of comedy.

Thinking time: Ode to the eastern curlew





An eastern curlew walks across water. ‘Fewer and fewer eastern curlews are reaching old age. The global population has crashed by 80% in the past 30 years.’



‘Fewer and fewer eastern curlews are reaching old age. The global population has crashed by 80% in the past 30 years.’ Photograph: Duade Paton/AAP

“I could use flowery language to tell you how extraordinary the eastern curlew is,” writes Harry Saddler, “but I’d rather let the facts speak for themselves: before it leaves Australia it has nearly doubled its own bodyweight to fuel its vast migration, and then flies for days, non-stop to the Yellow Sea, where it replenishes on the intertidal mudflats of north-east China and the Korean peninsula. Then it flies non-stop to Siberia.

“For a creature with such endurance, the eastern curlew is in perilous danger of losing vital habitat – and its battle for survival. Although we love the coast, we love only a very specific kind of coast: golden sandy beaches and deep blue bays. Shallow seas over vast mudflats don’t catch our imagination, or our hearts, regardless of how rich the ecosystem of invertebrates and birds they sustain is. But the threats that eastern curlews are facing right now demand that we re-assess what we value. If the mudflats that sustain eastern curlews are destroyed, so too are mudflats that sustains whimbrels, and terek sandpipers, and bar-tailed godwits, and any of dozens of other species.”

Media roundup

In what it calls a “remarkable shift”, the Australian Financial Review reports that industry superannuation funds are likely to overtake self-managed super funds in the next two years, reaching $1tn in value. The Australian reports Peter Dutton is urging states to sign up to a national register of child-sex offenders available to the public online. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age both lead with research by Citigroup that finds Labor’s plan to end cash refunds for franking credits could wipe billions from Australia’s big four banks.

Coming up

Centre court will heat up the Kooyong Classic today as Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios play each other for the first time in a tournament.

Two Irish nationals will appear in court today on murder charges after a man assaulted in Sydney’s inner west died in hospital.

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