A man walks along a heavily eroded section of beach in Byron Bay.
A man walks along a heavily eroded section of the main beach in Byron Bay. Photograph: Regi Varghese/Getty Images

Morning mail: storms batter east coast, US begins Covid vaccines, Australia's answer to Bad Santa

A man walks along a heavily eroded section of the main beach in Byron Bay. Photograph: Regi Varghese/Getty Images

Tuesday: Byron Bay beach suffers ‘worst damage in a generation’. Plus: Bondi Hipster Christiaan Van Vuuren’s directorial debut delivers a Christmas miracle

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 14.55 EST

Good morning, this is Tamara Howie bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Tuesday 15 December.

Top stories

Storms have battered the Queensland and New South Wales coast and caused the “worst damage in a generation” to the main beach in Byron Bay. Strong winds and heavy rainfall have caused damage and flash flooding in both states, after warnings the weather system would strike with the same intensity as a category one cyclone. Coastal management experts say the situation at Byron Bay is particularly bad because of erosion that has been occurring over months and years. “There’s no buffer there and you’ve got big high tides, a relatively large storm surge and these big waves coinciding. It looks pretty bad and the community is saying it’s the worst [erosion] in a generation.” said Tom Murray, a research fellow at the Griffith University.

An Australian public health professor and his son have been detained in Qatar for almost five months without charge. Australian citizens Prof Lukman Thalib, 58, and his son Ismail Talib, 24, were arrested at their home in Doha by local authorities in July, and are being kept at an undisclosed location. The arrests came roughly three months before the United States named another of Prof Thalib’s sons, who lives in Australia, as an alleged “financial facilitator” of al-Qaida. The pair are receiving consular assistance from the Australian embassy, and the government has told their family it is still attempting to clarify the nature of the investigation and the charges being considered against them.

The United States has begun Covid vaccinations, with a critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay in New York one of the first Americans to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Frontline workers in the US will be among the first to receive the vaccine, with 2.9m doses to be sent out the week. It will be made available to a wider array of Americans in the coming months . Despite vaccines programs rolling out in the US and UK, many countries are facing stronger lockdown measures over the Christmas period. Italy and the Netherlands are set to impose tough new anti-coronavirus measures before the holidays as Germany, already facing a hard Christmas lockdown, warned its restrictions were unlikely to ease early in the new year after “light lockdown” measures appear to have failed.


Inoculated people must be monitored in order to discover whether vaccines prevent transmission of Covid-19, as well as protecting them from developing the disease, a new review says.
Inoculated people must be monitored in order to discover whether vaccines prevent transmission of Covid-19, as well as protecting them from developing the disease, a new review says. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

The first generation of Covid-19 vaccines rolled out in Australia in 2021 will likely prevent the virus developing, but unlikely to prevent virus transmission. The uncertainty regarding transmission means ongoing high levels of testing, strong contact tracing, isolation and quarantine will be crucial, a review has found.

The Morrison government should be “doing more” to cut greenhouse gas emission, with states currently driving a 33% cut in emissions by 2030, which is higher than the federal Coalition’s target of a 26-28% cut.

The Murray-Darling Basin plan will need an overhaul in 2026 as droughts increase. The impact of climate change on the Murray-Darling Basin will require a major adaption of the plan in 2026 to allow for more frequent dry periods, which will likely occur on average every five years instead of every 10.

Almost half of the respondents in the Guardian Essential poll think Australia needs to back away from its close relationship with China, and a majority thinks Canberra is an innocent victim of trade sanctions from Beijing, rather than inviting aggression.

The world

A post-Brexit trade and security deal could be sealed as early as this week after Boris Johnson made a key concession at the weekend. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the UK government had “accepted a mechanism of unilateral measures”, such as tariffs, where there were “systemic divergences which distort trade and investment”.

Prince Andrew’s spokeswoman has refused to comment on a report that he stayed in the New York mansion of the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in April 2001, despite the duke denying doing so in his infamous Newsnight interview.

An undercover hit squad working for Russia’s FSB spy agency poisoned the opposition activist Alexei Navalny in August and may have tried to first poison him back in July, Bellingcat has claimed.

Google has suffered a worldwide outage, with failures reported across the company’s services, including Gmail, Google Calendar and YouTube. The outage appeared to be related to the company’s authentication tools, which manage how users log in to services run by both Google and third-party developers.

Recommended reads

A Sunburnt Christmas
Daniel Henshall plays a shifty pseudo-Saint Nick in A Sunburnt Christmas. Photograph: Ian Routledge/Stan

Christiaan Van Vuuren’s directorial debut, A Sunburnt Christmas, is spirited and sweet in a backhanded way, writes Luke Buckmaster, who has already seen the outback romp about a nogoodnik St Nick twice in the few days since it was released. “At the peak of its powers, the film’s merging of written humour with editing and cinematography – never relying on just the script, or just the performances, to land a gag, with no shortage of attitude and sass ... it’s thoroughly entertaining, very ’strayan viewing for a holly jolly holiday in our not-so-winter wonderland. A Christmas miracle!”

The little job security and freedom 18-year-old Noah Gwatkin had has vanished. He is one of a generation of young Australians whose lives are being shaped by Covid. “I had hoped that the pandemic would only last a few months; that we’d be in and out of it quickly. Like a deer in headlights, I came out of year 12 and felt stunned by a whole world in isolation. I wanted to expand my job portfolio, put my resume in for jobs I love and have a passion for – a contrast to the degrading culture that exists around Centrelink payments. Nothing turned out to plan.”

Australia’s path to net zero emissions is massively behind schedule, writes Greg Jericho: “The Labor party suggests the current trend would not see us achieve zero emission for 146 years. I think they are understating. Given the big drop in 2020 due to the pandemic, excluding that year is appropriate for predicting the future. The 2021-2030 trend would have us taking another 277 years.”


In October, Poland introduced some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. The attempt by authorities to impose a near-total ban on terminations has sparked mass demonstrations across the country. In this episode of Full Story, academic Agnieszka Graff, lawyer Karolina Więckiewicz and gynaecologist Anna Parzyńska discuss their fight for abortion rights in Poland.

Full Story

Three women on their fight for abortion rights in Poland


Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.


Liverpool have paid tribute to their former manager Gérard Houllier after his death was confirmed at the age of 73, after having heart surgery in Paris.

Lewis Hamilton has said this Formula One season was the hardest of his career due to Covid and isolation. “We’ve all dealt with isolation, we’ve not been around people. There’s been a great loss of life. I’m grateful that we got to race but these races can take a lot out of you.”

Media roundup

There are fears of a bikie war brewing in Perth after Rebels bikie boss Nick Martin was killed and another man injured over the weekend, according to the West Australia, who spoke with Martin’s grieving widow about the attack. The Northern Territory has a higher proportion of people in prison than the US, according to the NT News, which reports the territory imprisons 875 people per 100,000 of the adult population, compared with the US at 655 per 100,000. The Australian says BHP and Rio Tinto have been called in for a dressing down by China’s peak steel industry body amid concerns high iron ore prices are damaging Chinese industry.

Coming up

National cabinet records for 2000 will be released.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission is set to deliver the report from its inquiry into strip-search practices by NSW police to state parliament.

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