Thursday, 27 June - 'Cause I'm as free as a bird now

Talking Townsville with Woolworths Group

Good morning, it’s Thursday, 27 June. In your Squiz Today…

  • Julian Assange back on home soil

  • An inflation “shocker” puts a rate rise on the cards

  • And the Japanese Emperor gets a royal taste of the UK…

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Squiz the Weather

Squiz Sayings

“I am entering my cheerleading era."

Said Aussie swimming star Cate Campbell after calling time on her 20-year career in which she’s swum over 35,000km, smashed 7 World Records and won 8 Olympic medals in 4 Olympics. What a legend. No doubt she’ll be a champion cheerleader too.

Assange touches down

The Squiz

Julian Assange is back in Australia after a US federal court judge in Saipan handed him - as expected - a 62-month sentence after he pleaded guilty to one count of espionage. Given he’d already served that time in London’s high-security Belmarsh prison, Assange was allowed to walk free, bringing a 14-year-long ordeal to a close. He immediately flew to Canberra, touching down last night. And if you missed it, it was quite the moment… Assange stepped off the plane with his fist raised as onlookers cheered before reuniting with his wife, Stella, and father John Shipton. But we didn't hear from him - and we might not for a while… 

What happened last night, then?

His legal team, Jennifer Robinson and Barry Pollack, spoke. Robinson - Assange’s longest-serving lawyer - said Assange had spoken to PM Anthony Albanese over the phone as soon as he landed, thanking him for his support. “Julian…told the PM that he had saved his life, and I don’t think that that is an exaggeration,” she said. Stella Assange also spoke, saying while her husband was grateful to supporters, “he needs time, he needs to recuperate” before speaking publicly. She asked for space so they and their young children could “be a family”. In the meantime, Assange’s release has resurfaced questions about whether or not he was acting as a journalist when he published the confidential US documents that started the whole saga… His legal team said he was. But whether he'll continue that work is up in the air - his wife says it's too "premature" to say.

Anything else?

Well, while we’ve got you… Assange wasn’t the only VIP who touched down in Canberra yesterday. New Solomon Islands PM Jeremiah Manele made his first visit to Australia after coming to power last month. He was here to talk security and development with Albanese after taking over from his pro-China predecessor, Joseph Sogarve, with a vow to re-establish closer ties with us, alongside their growing relationship with China. Albanese pledged our support to help double the size of the Solomons' police force, and he said Manele had made it clear that Australia is the Solomons' "partner of choice". Manele said they had “frank discussions” about their views on security/strategic arrangements in the Pacific and that he'd "taken on board Australia's concerns" about China's influence in the region. He's heading to China next, so there's bound to be plenty of eyes on that…

Meet Shane Kerr

We’re taking you to Townsville today - specifically to Woolworths Group’s Primary Connect distribution centre, which recently underwent a $12 million expansion to deliver a more resilient network in Far North Queensland following the 2019 floods. Shane Kerr is the supply chain manager there - he oversees an 82 person strong team at the small site with a big heart. Here’s a link to learn more about why.

Squiz the Rest

Hold onto your hats… 

Economists are widely tipping we could be in for another interest rate hike when the Reserve Bank board next meets in early August after the latest inflation data was higher than expected yesterday. The May consumer price index (CPI) - which measures the value of goods and services in Australia - came in at 4%, up from 3.6% in April and above the forecast of 3.8%. That’s a 6-month high for inflation - and shows it’s moving further away from the 2-3% target rate the Reserve Bank is shooting for. Economist David Bassanese acknowledged the inflation increase could “only be described as a shocker” but reckons a rate rise in August isn't locked in - yet. He said the next CPI data - June's - is due on 31 July and will give us more of an idea. Stay tuned…

AEMO says no

As the debate over the Coalition’s nuclear power plan continues, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has warned there’s no chance nuclear energy will get online in time to replace retiring coal-fired power plants. It also says any delays to renewables will likely lead to higher costs and interruptions to the grid supply - “a risk that must be avoided”. The comments follow the release of its Integrated System Plan (ISP) yesterday, detailing how renewables need to expand in the coming decades to meet the government’s climate targets and take over from fossil fuels. That includes households increasing their renewable energy generation through things like rooftop solar to significantly lift the amount of energy being fed into the grid. But some experts say without better coordination of household batteries to store the power, an extra $4 billion will need to be spent on large-scale storage, "increasing the costs that are reflected in consumer bills".

The series is alive

It was do or die last night for NSW to stay alive in this year's State of Origin series against Queensland, and they didn’t disappoint their fans in blue. In a blistering second-game comeback, the Blues dominated from the outset, racking up a history-making 34-0 lead by half-time - the most points ever scored in the first half of any Origin. They closed out the game at Melbourne’s MCG with a 38-18 win, putting the Maroons’ hopes of a hat-trick third Origin series on the ropes. Halfback Mitchell Moses was man of the match, setting up 4 try assists in front of 90,000 screaming fans. Maroons coach Billy Slater was almost speechless when asked how he felt after the first half replying, “Not much you can say”, while Queensland legend Darren Lockyer said he’s worried about the psychological blow of the loss. It’s going to be a nail-biting wait until Game 3 on 17 July - just how we like them…

A big problem for little birds

Environment officers working on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island have warned that local little penguin colonies are in sharp decline… A newly reinstated annual survey carried out last November shows the island’s penguin population, like others around the country, has dropped to less than half of what it was in 2011 - from 1,348 to 558, while 3 of the colonies are now believed to be entirely extinct. As for what's causing the drop, researchers say predators, climate change, food availability and disease all play a part. Penguin expert Dr Diane Colombelli-Negrel said feral cats are also causing damage - but a plan to eradicate them by 2030 should help the little penguins waddle back… "Yes, the numbers are down but at the same time I have to think, they're still there as well, so there's still hope," she said. Cross your flippers…

Some seriously fine dining 

King Charles and Queen Camilla pulled out all the stops for a very grand visit from Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, including a sumptuous feast of Britain’s finest at Buckingham Palace. The group dined on poached langoustines - aka posh prawns - basil mousse, turbot - aka fancy fish - quail eggs, sorbet and peaches. No doubt they had a great time, but we’re not so sure about PM Rishi Sunak and his political rival Keir Starmer… With the UK election just one week away, reports say there may have been some strategic seating as Starmer was next to Charles' private secretary, while Sunak sat with a computer scientist. There were some notable absences as well… Princess Anne is “recovering well” after being injured by a horse. David Attenborough also wasn’t there but probably got a mention given the similarity of his new portrait to Charles’. Hopefully, the monarch wasn’t green with envy…

Apropos of Nothing

Majestic depictions of Abraham Lincoln are synonymous with Washington DC but a wax statue of the 16th US President looks like something from a horror movie after it melted in the current heatwave. It’s being fixed and artists say his head will be reattached next week…

Pop-country legend Shania Twain has some grand plans for her Glastonbury Legends gig - the US singer wants to achieve a festival first and ride a horse onto the stage. If it doesn’t pan out, she can always use her horse-shaped motorcycle instead…

Sydney’s historic Luna Park is up for sale and if you’ve got a cool $70 million, the iconic retro entertainment venue could be yours. So no clowning around, roll up, roll up and make your best offer…

Squiz the Day

7.30am (AEST) - Anthony Albanese to speak at the CEDA State of the Nation Conference - Canberra

10.00am (AEST) - Basketball: First round of the NBA draft, with Aussie teen Johnny Furphy a highly rated prospect - New York

10.15am (AEST) - Bruce Lehrmann’s failed defamation case returns to the Federal Court in relation to costs against Network Ten - Sydney

10.30am (AEST) - Men's Cricket: T20 Semi-Final, Afghanistan v South Africa - Trinidad and Tobago, and watch on Prime

10.30am (AEST) - Shooting: The pistol and rifle athletes will be announced for the Paris Olympics - Brisbane

1.15pm (AEST) - Bruce Lehrmann’s second matter of the day, this is the one where his former landlord is suing him over the Balgowlah apartment paid for by Seven - Sydney

7.45pm (AEST) - Women's State of Origin Game 3: Queensland Maroons v New South Wales Blues - Townsville, and watch on 9Now

ABS Data Release - Australian National Accounts: Finance and Wealth, March; Job Vacancies, May; Recorded Crime, Victims, 2023

Birthdays for Vera Wang (1949),  J. J. Abrams (1966), Tobey Maguire (1975), Khloe Kardashian (1984)

Anniversary of:

  • the publication of the first women’s magazine, the Ladies’ Mercury (1693)

  • the world’s first ATM installed in London (1967)

12.30am (AEST) - Men's Cricket: T20 Semi-Final, India v England - Guyana, and watch on Prime