Morning mail: Coalition’s historic defeat, Mount Isa floods, El Chapo found guilty | Australia news

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Wednesday 13 February.

Top stories

The Morrison government has suffered a historic defeat, losing the first substantive vote on the floor of the House of Representatives since 1929, after Labor and the crossbench stared down a bare-knuckle tactical offensive by the Coalition, including late advice that the medical evacuations bill was unconstitutional. The bill cleared the House after a day of high brinksmanship in Canberra, which started with backroom negotiations between Labor and key crossbenchers to adjust legislation passed by the Senate last December, and culminated with the government producing advice from the solicitor general that the proposal breached section 53 of the constitution. Katharine Murphy writes in her analysis of the evening’s events that while Scott Morrison has endured an acute parliamentary humiliation, his objective now will be to try to translate that into an electorally productive border protection war with Labor. And although Bill Shorten’s decision to project some basic humanity in an election year is a risk, it shouldn’t be.

Meanwhile on Nauru, three Iranian women found to be refugees but still living there have talked to Guardian Australia about how they feel about the refugee medical transfer bill. From this distance, 3,340km off the coast from Brisbane, the debate is not political but existential. “I can’t trust the politicians nor the doctors,” says Sahar. “If the bill was to pass, many severely sick and defenceless humans will be rescued from ongoing torture,” says Hajar. “My six-year experience of endurance with the Australian refugee policies doesn’t allow me to be optimistic about this bill,” says Bita. “Nauru is equal to hopelessness.” In Canberra, debate has coalesced on what a defeat on this issue will mean for the Morrison government and Labor opposition.

After six years of drought, Mount Isa residents prayed for rain. Then it flooded. For an unbroken stretch of 43 stinking afternoons, the temperature at Cloncurry and Camooweal had topped 40C. Then one Monday, the temperature dropped. The next day it started to rain. “It was magnificent, we all cheered,” says Marcus Curr, who owns Yelvertoft station, about 100km north of Mount Isa. “Then it rained and it rained and it rained.” The scale of devastation in the north-west and the Gulf country has been described as an “inland tsunami”. There are about 1.5 million cattle in the Gulf, and some estimates are that one in three died in the flood waters.


Mexican drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzman after being recaptured in 2014

Mexican drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzman after being recaptured in 2014. Photograph: Mario Guzman/EPA

Mexico’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been convicted on drug-trafficking charges. New York jurors – whose identities were kept secret – reached a verdict after deliberating six days in the case, sorting through what authorities called an “avalanche” of evidence.

The Trump administration is still taking young children away from their parents when they cross the US-Mexico border unlawfully, despite formally ending the policy of family separations last summer, according to immigration advocates in Texas. At a rally in Texas – where a BBC cameraman was shoved and abused – Donald Trump told the crowd that construction of his border wall had begun. That is not true. His response to the border deal reached to avoid a government shutdown was: “I can’t say I’m happy. I can’t say I’m thrilled.”

The UK’s Home Office has been condemned for working with the Zimbabwean government to accelerate the deportation of asylum seekers, despite high-profile human rights abuses in the country.

Russia, sparking Great Firewall fears, is planning to temporarily disconnect from the internet as part of what it says is an experiment to test its cyberdefence capabilities. According to a report on the Russian news site RBC, the planned disconnection is intended to analyse the country’s preparedness for a draft law mandating a “sovereign” internet.

A new book claims 80% of the priests working at the Vatican are gay, including some of the most senior clerics in the Catholic church who have vociferously attacked homosexuality.

Opinion and analysis

Plastic collectables in a bin

Out with the new, in with new. Photograph: Boomerang Alliance

When Coles launched their Little Shop promotion in 2018, there was extensive criticism of the campaign, which encouraged shoppers to collect the 30 plastic miniatures of household goods. Campaigners dubbed it an “environmental nightmare”. Now, as the supermarket giant launches another collectables campaign filled with plastic figures, environment groups say they are still cleaning up discarded Little Shop toys.

Postnatal depression is prolific. As many as one in seven women will experience it. But as the ABC’s new thriller The Cry demonstrates, a new mother’s feelings of inadequacy, failure and even anger can come from everywhere. “I thought I was making a story about a woman struggling with postnatal depression and maybe some other undiagnosed psychosis as well,” director Glendyn Ivin tells Anna Spargo-Ryan. There’s a hint of alarm in his voice as he says, “I really thought I was exaggerating.”

The Australian National University has been making headlines for its analysis that Australia will achieve its Paris agreement targets five years early – with the current rate of renewable energy growth. It’s an assessment that surprised many experts with detailed knowledge of Australia’s climate and energy policy, among them Bill Hare: “The ANU briefing, possibly inadvertently, creates the impression that all that would be required is a continuation of the recent rate of renewable energy deployment. That is simply not the case, not without major policy interventions, which are unlikely – at least under the current government.”


The revamped NRL All Stars game takes place in Melbourne on Friday night. There, the Indigenous and Maori players involved will be celebrating and adding to their communities’ already long and storied history in the game.

Gordon Banks, who has died aged 81, was the best goalkeeper England have had and is widely regarded as one of the finest to have played for any side in any era. He was also responsible for what many consider the greatest save in history.

Thinking time: how AOC won Twitter

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez looks at her phone

In eight months, the new congresswoman has built one of DC’s most engaged followings. Photograph: Amy Kontras/The Guardian

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became the youngest woman to be elected to Congress last November, has built one of the most engaged followings on Capitol Hill in just eight months. “How does she do it?” asks Guardian US’s audience engagement editor Max Benwell. “I spend my days analysing data for the Guardian, so I’m used to digging into numbers and figuring out what gets people going. And more often than not, it’s the less obvious things that reveal what’s really happening. For example, AOC is fluent in emoji. It may not sound like much to anyone who regularly uses emojis, but this is big for a member of Congress. Remember when Hillary asked people to sum up how people felt about student debt in three emojis?

“Then there was her dancing tweet, after she was ‘outed’ for dancing in a spoof music video in college. The original footage was posted by a strange, seemingly rightwing account looking to undermine her. In response, she posted another video of her dancing, to Edwin Starr’s song War (the one that goes “what is it good for?”). Just when you think you’ve seen all the possible fact-checks, clapbacks, and details from her past, she comes out dancing.”

Media roundup

Scott Morrison’s historic defeat in parliament yesterday is dominating front pages this morning, with the Australian choosing the headline, in scare quotes, “Blame Shorten for boats” and the Daily Telegraph going with Grin Reapers beneath a photograph of Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Rebekha Sharkie. One in five Australian women between the ages of 30 and 39 are reconsidering having children or more children over climate change fears, the ABC reveals. The Townsville Bulletin reports that a woman has died after contracting a bacterial infection linked to flooding.

Coming up

A Senate inquiry is due to hand down its report into the then-Turnbull government’s grant of $444m to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation last year.

A portrait of Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman to become a federal MP, will be unveiled at Parliament House in Canberra today.

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