Morning mail: health insurance leak, ‘Folau clause’, USA win World Cup | Australia news

Good morning, this is Helen Sullivan bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday 8 July.

Top stories

The nation’s biggest health insurers illegally rejected the claims of thousands of sick or injured Australians over seven years, leaked documents show. A government whistleblower who investigated their conduct has also revealed how his efforts were frustrated by years of inaction, failures to fully alert the public, intervention from his superiors, and suspicions that the insurers were falsifying or withholding evidence. “I am going public with this story because it doesn’t seem right that the authorities say nothing to the public after finding health insurers breaking the law,” he said.

Cases such as Israel Folau’s would be captured by the government’s proposed religious discrimination bill, according to the attorney general, who says the legislation will include a “powerful avenue” for people of faith who face “indirect” unfair treatment. Porter told Guardian Australia the legislation would include a clause intended to prevent employers putting in place a binding condition on employees – such as occurred with Rugby Australia – that restricted someone from expressing their religious views.

Australia is responsible for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and could be contributing up to 17% by 2030 if pollution from its fossil fuel exports is factored in, research by Climate Analytics suggests. The Australian Conservation Foundation, which commissioned the research, said it showed Australia was on a path to being one of the worst contributors to the climate emergency. “Australia is now the number one exporter of both coal and gas and we are scheduled to push that off the charts in the next 10 years,” the foundation’s Gavan McFadzean said. “We are looking to become an emissions superpower.”


Kim Darroch and Donald Trump

The UK ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, reportedly describes Trump as ‘insecure’. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

The UK Foreign Office has ordered an inquiry into the leak of confidential internal memos presenting an unflattering portrait of Donald Trump and his administration. In cables written by Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, Trump’s White House was described as “uniquely dysfunctional” and “inept”.

Voters in Greece have given Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right New Democracy party a resounding mandate to form a government after it won by a landslide over the incumbent leftwing Syriza party, which has ruled in coalition since 2015.

Climate crisis disasters are happening at the rate of one a week, though most draw little international attention and work is urgently needed to prepare developing countries for the profound impacts, the UN has warned.

Conflict broke out between hundreds of protesters and police in riot gear in Hong Kong on Sunday after tens of thousands of protesters marched peacefully to keep up the pressure on the government to withdraw its controversial extradition bill.

At least 10 unexploded bombs dropped by the allies during the second world war are hidden within the foundations of the archaeological site of Pompeii, Italian media have reported.

Opinion and analysis

Stella McCartney

‘It’s not like I’m here for an easy life’, says Stella McCartney. Photograph: Allison Michael Orenstein/The Observer

“I am standing in the Old Bond Street headquarters of Stella McCartney’s fashion empire,” writes Sophie Heawood, “waiting to interview the designer and wondering why there are massive wet rocks surrounded by moss on the shopfloor. I ask the publicity assistant and it is surely a coincidence that the character Bubble from Absolutely Fabulous pops into my mind after she replies, in a voice imbued with significance and reverence: ‘Nature.’ It turns out that the rocks have been shipped down from Paul’s farm on the Mull of Kintyre, where mist rolls in from the sea – the mist now rolls into his daughter’s garments, apparently. “I was like, Dad, this is weird … ” she explains, ‘but can I have some rocks?’”

It’s more than 20 years since John Howard won the GST election, and Australia’s record of significant reform since could be described as modest at best, writes Conal Hanna. We have become a risk-averse nation, increasingly in thrall to the idea that change – particularly anything that affects us personally – is to be resisted. So what if we held more plebiscites? The 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite was ridiculed as a waste of $81m to pass a law that the majority of both the people and the parliament supported. Well, yes. But. The one thing the plebiscite did was remove the ability for a vocal minority to hijack the political system to inflict their views on the rest. The government was given a clear mandate to implement. And no one is campaigning to repeal the Marriage Amendment Act.


World Cup final

Joy for the US, despair for the Netherlands’ Lineth Beerensteyn. Photograph: Benoît Tessier/Reuters

USA have beaten the Netherlands 2-0 to secure their fourth World Cup win, thanks to goals from Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle. The Dutch got their tactics right but once Rapinoe, the star of the tournament, had scored the result was not in doubt, writes Caitlin Murray. Afterwards Rapinoe immediately called for talks on equal pay to be stepped up.

Australia thrashed England in the third ODI of the women’s Ashes, winning by 194 runs. Ellyse Perry took seven wickets as England were skittled for 75, leaving Australia 6-0 up on points, having won all the ODIs in the series.

Thinking time: Big Sperm

Sperm illustration

‘Lads, lads, lads, hate to interrupt, but how’s your ejaculate? Would you struggle to fill half a teaspoon? And your concentration, please: are we talking 20m-plus little swimmers a millilitre? And how’s that motility?’ Illustration: Ryan Gillett/The Guardian

If you are hoping to fertilise a human egg someday and haven’t given much thought to your sperm count … well, Big Sperm reckons it is time you did. A wave of tech startups, including ExSeed, Yo, Trak and Legacy, are offering next-generation home sperm-testing technology and – in some cases – sperm-freezing services. And even if men aren’t quite ready to start comparing their fertility concerns yet, these are clearly lurking at the back of many minds. One factor driving investment in this sector is the long-term decline in fertility rates among western men. A study in the journal Human Reproduction Update in 2017 found that sperm count in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand had dropped by 59.3% since 1973. If it continues to decline at this rate, soon humans will no longer be able to reproduce naturally. And, as the authors say, nobody really knows what is causing it.

Is it exposure to phthalates in plastics? There is a link between mothers being exposed to these common chemicals and decreased genital size in boys. Is it hormone-altering chemicals in sunscreen? Oestrogen in the water supply? Industrial pesticides? (Environmentalists have voiced grave concerns about sperm decline in birds and bees.) “It’s within a generation, so it’s not genetic – which means it has to be lifestyle: diet, lifestyle, stress factors,” says Morten Ulsted, the chief executive of the Danish company ExSeed, whose interest in sperm began when he read the study.

Media roundup

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Australian federal police forced Qantas to hand over the private travel records of an ABC journalist as part of its investigation into a national security leak. The Australian says employers and industry groups have called for urgent industrial relations reform. And the Age and the Financial Review lead with Josh Frydenberg’s warning to Google and Facebook over their market power.

Coming up

An inquest begins today into the deaths of six people at music festivals in NSW over several years.

Ashleigh Barty bids for a place in the last eight at Wimbledon when she takes on Alison Riske of the US at 8pm AEST. Follow all the action from the tournament on our live blog.

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