Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Friday 17 January.
More than 80% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area and more than half of the Gondwana world heritage rainforests have been burned, the NSW government has confirmed. The Blue Mountains are home to a third of the world’s eucalypt species, prompting major concerns about ongoing diversity after a significant fire in the same area in 2013. “The eucalypts can be very badly reduced in diversity if fires come through in too short and intense intervals,” said John Merson, the executive director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute. “Their numbers will virtually collapse.” More than 10.7m hectares of land across six states have burned so far, with before and after images showing the extent of the devastation.
The former sports minister Bridget McKenzie is facing fresh accusations of overseeing an explicitly politicised community grants process, with the Queensland Labor MP Graham Perrett claiming that a local soccer club whose cause he helped lobby for was contacted for a press opportunity with his Liberal opponent upon the successful award of its grant. A scathing audit office report has found that funding decisions were skewed in favour of marginal and target seats, which Labor’s shadow minister for sport, Don Farrell, has said amounts to “pork-barrelling on an industrial scale”.
The shock resignation of the entire Russian government on Thursday was kept so secret ministers themselves didn’t know it was about to happen. Vladimir Putin’s dramatic reordering of the political sphere came via a surprise meeting. “It was total shock in the government,” said Konstantin Gaaze, a Moscow-based political analyst. “They didn’t know what was being prepared for them even as they were called for the meeting with the president and prime minister.” Meanwhile, Dimitri Medvedev’s resignation could help Putin manage simmering conflict behind the scenes, as liberals and hardliners jockey for succession positions.
Wildlife experts are calling for mental health support for animal carers, with the death of more than a billion animals causing almost a third of those looking after the survivors to experience “moderate to severe grief”.
Some 100 fires continue to burn across NSW and Victoria despite much-needed rains. Further relief lies ahead, though, with severe thunderstorms expected for much of eastern NSW.
The family of the 21-year-old Brisbane student Wilson Gavin have paid tribute to their son and brother’s compassion, hailing “the unwavering strength of his convictions and desire to make the world better”.
Greece is poised to appoint its first female president, with the progressive judge Katerina Sakellaropoulou the unlikely choice of the country’s centre-right government. The 62-year-old’s views have often clashed with the government but her nomination has received rare bipartisan support.
At least 18 civilians have been killed by airstrikes in Syria as Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russia, increase bombings in Idlib province. Children and rescue workers are believed to be among the dead.
An estimated 900,000 EU citizens are yet to apply for settled status in the UK – about 25% of those believed to be living in Great Britain – raising huge concerns that within 18 months many could face deportation, eviction or even detention.
Researchers in the US claim to have discovered which animal was the first to set foot on land: a 437m-year-old, 2.5cm ancient scorpion. But, if fossils show scorpions with terrestrial breathing apparatuses, could spiders have been first?
Since Bruce Gyngell’s memorable 1956 utterance: “Good evening, and welcome to television” the box has delivered Australians some lifechanging scenes. Before the launch of Guardian Australia’s poll of the top 50 Australian TV moments, we want to hear your most memorable. John Aloisi’s penalty? Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech? Anita and Drazic’s break-up on Heartbreak High? Let us know the moment or scene from Australian TV that you’ll remember forever.
Married couples don’t usually work out together. But having both released wellness manuals, the Tinseltown duo Elsa Pataky and Chris Hemsworth aren’t your regular Byron Bay doona snugglers. So what’s it like to eat and work out like Thor or Elena from Fast and the Furious? Luke Ryan finds out.
His leadership during the bushfire crisis has seen Scott Morrison’s popularity plummet but after the holiday to Hawaii, multiple forced handshakes and his seemingly tone-deaf cheesy ad, can the prime minister bounce back? On this episode of Full Story, Laura Murphy-Oates speaks to Guardian Australia’s chief political correspondent, Sarah Martin, about Morrison’s disastrous summer.
The show must go on – that’s the word from Tennis Australia despite furious outbursts from players asked to play amid boiling temperatures and acrid smoke-filled air. But before an official ball has been hit at the Australian Open, player welfare is looming as a major concern, writes Kevin Mitchell.
For an amateur football club nearly 10,000km away making the final 32 of France’s prestigious Coupe de France competition is nothing short of remarkable. But that’s what JS Saint-Pierroise from Réunion in the Indian Ocean have done – just the second overseas territory side since French Guiana’s Le Gedar in 1989.
And it’s Friday – which means the comic stylings of one David Squires … on Melbourne Victory’s coaching hot seat.
Australia could lose $5bn worth of natural gas exports to US competitors after the tentative signing of a bilateral trade agreement between the world’s two largest economies, according to the Australian. Tasmania faces a two-horse race for its next premier after Will Hodgman’s shock resignation, with the treasurer, Peter Gutwein, and the state growth minister, Michael Ferguson, set to face a party ballot on Monday, the Mercury reports. And more than half a million oversees tourists visited WA over the past year, injecting about $870m into the economy, writes the West Australian.
Scott Morrison will meet with business, rural, transport, welfare and other groups to discuss the bushfire crisis. A funeral service will be held for Dick and Clayton Lang, who were killed in the Kangaroo Island bushfire.
The Australian men’s cricket team can wrap up the three-match series with victory over India in the second one-day international in Rajkot tonight. Follow every ball when play starts (1900 AEST) with our liveblog.
And if you’ve read this far …
Retirement can hit hard. So what do you do if you’re a married couple from rural Idaho when your working days are over? Why, become specialist homicide body locators for the FBI, of course. Meet Gene and Sandy Ralston.
If you would like to receive the Guardian Australia morning mail to your email inbox every weekday, sign up here.