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10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

James Hennessy

Good morning, everyone. Hope you all had a refreshing break. Let's do it.

1. An update on the bushfires According to authorities, there is a threat of a "mega fire" forming from three separate blazes on the NSW-Victoria border, leaving a very short period of reprieve for firefighters battling the inferno. At least sixty homes were destroyed in Saturday's blazes in New South Wales, according to the RFS, taking the total lost since New Year's Eve to at least 576. There has been some rain in affected areas, which is good news, but there's still a long way to go.

2. Our reporter Rosie was caught up in the bushfires on the NSW south coast while on a New Year's trip. You can read her account of how things were on the ground here.

3. The second biggest bushfire story aside from the blazes themselves is how Scott Morrison has stepped up to the crisis. The general verdict: not amazingly. This morning, the Sydney Morning Herald cites an unnamed NSW government minister – always unnamed, aren't they? – attacking Morrison for his recent efforts to "save himself" by shifting media heat onto Gladys Berejiklian. "You can imagine how gutted we all felt when Scott Morrison returns from holidays and tries to throw her under a bus to save himself," the minister told the paper. It follows sustained critique of, among other things, the chirpy ad the PM put out announcing the involvement of the ADF in bushfire response.

https://twitter.com/ScottMorrisonMP/status/1213330419044638722

Meanwhile, there has been a minor shift in rhetoric from the government on climate change. In his comments to media yesterday, Morrison suggested his government has always accepted the link between climate change and changes in weather patterns. A reasonable person may dispute that. In fact, you might even argue the past decade of Australian politics has turned on that very dispute. But I digress. David Speers, who now officially sits in the Insiders seat over the ABC, outlined why he doubts this shift in rhetoric will translate to material policy change – at least in the short term.

https://twitter.com/BreakfastNews/status/1213937971772084224

4. Iran is fully withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States after Trump ordered a deadly strike on military leader Qassem Soleimani. The country's leadership has vowed to enact “severe revenge” over Soleimani’s death, who was killed in Baghdad on January 3. Meanwhile, Trump is rattling the sabre, promising severe retribution if Iran retaliates with an attack on the US or its interests.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1213919480574812160

5. Here's something horrifying and amusing in equal measure. The New York Times reported Trump was given a "menu" of option for the Iran strike, including the hit on Soleimani as an extreme option to make the rest seem more reasonable. Trump, being Trump, picked that one. The other options included strikes on Iranian ships, or missile facilities, or against Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq.

6. Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament has passed a resolution in favour of expelling all US troops from the nation. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called for the resolution “for the sake of our national sovereignty.” Shortly after the vote, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly defended the ongoing presence of US troops in Iraq, saying he was “confident the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there.” The elected representatives of the Iraqi people or Mike Pompeo – who would you believe about what the Iraqi people want?

7. The latest on the sordid affair of Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who fled Japan ahead of a trial on misconduct charges. Japan's justice minister, Masako Mori, said she ordered an investigation after Ghosn issued a statement a few days ago saying he was in Lebanon. While expressing deep regret over what had happened, she stopped short of outlining any specific action Japan might take to get Ghosn back.

8. Impossible Foods, the huge US plant-based meat company, is teasing another major announcement. Those who have kept an eye on the company suggest all evidence points to a plant-based pork sausage, which CEO Pat Brown alluded to in an interview last year. Between the Impossible Whopper at Burger King and the launch of Impossible Foods beef in US grocery stores, the company had a huge 2019.

9. If you thought the Boeing 737 MAX problems were coming to a close, you're wrong. The investigation into the planes after two fatal crashes has found a series of additional problems with the beleaguered craft, including issues with the wings and engines. I tell you what, it's starting to sound like this isn't a very good plane at all.

10. A handful of recent discoveries have shattered anthropologists' picture of where humans came from, and when. The earliest humans may have emerged much earlier, and in a different place in the world, than scientists previously thought. Rather than evolving in East Africa, it seems we might have evolved all over Africa in interlinked groups which became more similar over time.

BONUS ITEM
You've almost certainly seen it by now, but please enjoy anyway.

https://twitter.com/jwwr/status/1213369562499928064