The seeds keep falling at the Aus Open as world number two Karolina Pliskova departs

Melbourne 3000

World number two Karolina Pliskova has joined the list of seeds to have crashed out of the women’s draw at the Australian Open after she went down to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round on Rod Laver Arena.

Key points:

  • Karolina Pliskova lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3)
  • Pliskova is the highest seed to lose in the women’s draw in Melbourne
  • Belinda Bencic was was hammered 6-0, 6-1 by Anett Kontaveit

Russian Pavlyuchenkova battled to a 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3) win over the second-seeded Czech, who joined defending champion Naomi Osaka and 23-times major singles winner Serena Williams in making third-round exits.

Third seed Osaka was taken down by American 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff last night, while seven-time champion Williams lost in three sets to China’s Wang Qiang.

Not long after Pliskova was beaten, Swiss sixth seed Belinda Bencic was thrashed 6-0, 6-1 by Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, who won the first nine games of the match and took just 49 minutes to advance.

And unseeded Polish teenager Iga Swiatek knocked out 19th seed Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-3 to match her best performance at a major, having reached the last 16 at the French Open last year.

Pliskova produced a lacklustre effort, 12 months after she made a run to the semi-finals in Melbourne.

Pavlyuchenkova had a 4-1 lead in the first set and a 2-0 lead in the second before being taken to tiebreaks but won the key points to clinch victory in two hours and 25 minutes.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m still in the match and focusing on the next point,” Pavlyuchenkova said.

“I was thinking that if I take one or two games on her serve that would be amazing because she is the ace queen on the tour so that was my goal, so I was focusing on returning well.

“I also managed to hold on my serve too, so that helped.”

She will next meet Angelique Kerber in the fourth round, the three-times major singles champion among the few seeds to make it through to the last 16.

Kerber progressed with a 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 win over Camila Giorgi, extending her unbeaten record against the Italian to 5-0.

The German 17th seed, who won the title in 2016, was barely troubled in the first set as the erratic Giorgi served up eight double faults and 20 unforced errors on Margaret Court Arena.

Giorgi, however, cut out the misfires and dialled in her groundstrokes in the second set, striking a forehand winner in the tiebreak to level the match.

Kerber upped her game in the third set against her 102nd-ranked opponent, breaking Giorgi to go up 5-3 before serving out the victory in two hours and eight minutes.

Svitolina the latest seed to crash out

In the night session, two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza beat fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-2 to reach the fourth round.

External Link:

Australian Open tweet: U-N-S-T-O-P-P-A-B-L-E @GarbiMuguruza hits 31 winners to knock out 5th seed Elina Svitolina 6-1 6-2, and reach the #AusOpen fourth round for the fifth time. #AO2020

Muguruza, a former world number one who won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon the following year, took the first set in 23 minutes and conceded just 12 points in seven games.

Unseeded Muguruza started the tournament by losing the first set she played 6-0, but rebounded to win that match 0-6, 6-1, 6-0.

“The first day I didn’t feel well at all, but I never throw in the towel,” she said.

“I’m in the fourth round because of a big fight.”

Against Svitolina, a quarter-finalist at the last two Australian Open tournaments and a semi-finalist last year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Muguruza was dominant.

“Everything went quickly my way — yeah, I’ll take it,” she said. “I played a very good match. I managed to probably disturb her, and take the match to my side.”

Halep safely through

Earlier, fourth seed Simona Halep made it to the fourth round, as she proved too strong for Kazakh Yulia Putintseva in their first career meeting with a 6-1 6-4 win on Rod Laver Arena.

Former world number one Halep, who reached the Melbourne Park final in 2018, broke Putintseva’s serve three times in the first set and twice in the second.


Simona Halep did not drop a set against Yulia Putintseva in their third-round match.

Putintseva, ranked 38th in the world, broke Halep once in each set and surprised her opponent with some well-disguised drop shots, though her last attempt hit the net to end the match.

Two-time major champion Halep, 28, will next meet Belgian number 16 seed Elise Mertens, who beat American Catherine Bellis 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-0 on Melbourne Arena.



Some Queensland towns have recorded their biggest downpours in almost 12 months and there’s more to come

Longreach 4730

Queensland’s outback communities are celebrating much-needed rainfall, with some towns recording their biggest downpours in almost 12 months.

Key points:

  • Some towns in north-west Queensland have recorded their biggest downpours in almost a year
  • Other parts of the state, like at Condamine, south-west of Dalby, only received a few millimetres but still enjoyed the wet conditions
  • The Bureau of Meteorology says more rain is expected however there is also a risk of flash flooding in the Gulf Country

The biggest falls were recorded in the Central Highlands west of Emerald, where Upper Retreat has recorded 176 millimetres since 9:00am Friday.

In western Queensland, near Richmond, Burleigh has had 129mm and on the tropical coast Kennedy received 136mm.

It has made for some unique outdoor adventures for those brave enough to take on the mud.

In one video posted on social media, two teenagers are seen making the most of the rain, which has transformed their desilted dam at Condamine (west of Dalby) into a tobogganing paradise.


This was the first flow in four years for this creek at Araluen, 30km north of Goondiwindi, after 10 days of rain. (Supplied: Matty Gooderham)

They are seen body-surfing down the muddy cavity before splashing about the shallow brown puddles.

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“Boys will be boys,” mother Heidi Beeton joked.

She said the region had only received 8mm yesterday but it was still enough to be joyous about.

In Pentland, West of Charters Towers, Tess Pemble said it has been “a long time” since she had seen rain this hard.

“The pump needs turning off but it can wait,” she posted alongside a video which showed pools of water forming on paddocks which have sat bone-dry for months.

Video: Pentland resident Tess Pemble says it's been a "long time" since it rained this hard

(ABC News)

In the Central West near Mt Isa, Boulia Shire Mayor Rick Britton said he got 30mm on his property out of town but Boulia recorded 70mm, which he said was a “good start”.

“The last time we recorded rain was May last year but our substantial rain was in February, March last year,” he said.

“Some of the shire was doing it pretty tough so hopefully they’ll be the ones to get a bit and then give them a bit of heart .”

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Cr Britton said the prospect of more rain was good news for graziers and the local economy and he is hoping that by the end of the week, all parts of the shire will have had “a crack at it”.

“Queensland, well Australia [in general] needs a really good soaking and with the cattle market the way it is we hope everyone gets a good season so they can take advantage of it,” he said.

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Alex Majchrowski said Queensland’s drought-stricken communities could look forward to further rain.

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“The rain is definitely welcome and more rain is expected over the next few days,” Mr Majchrowski said.

“Hopefully, the development of a monsoon trough sometime next week will continue to bring rain to the area.”

But he warned the rain will bring with it the risk of flash flooding in the Gulf Country (to towns including Mount Isa, Doomadgee and Normanton).

“Over the next few weeks it is really the northern and central west areas that we can expect to get the most rainfall and that’s sort of expected to persist until Thursday,” he said.

In the south-east of the state, Mr Majchrowski said slow-moving thunderstorms dumped falls of up to 70 millimetres west of Brisbane this morning.

While a lot more rain is needed across the state’s drought-stricken communities, the weekend’s downpour has brought hope for a change in season and more rain to come.

LocationOvernight fallsBoulia 65mmMount Isa 22mmJulia Creek 54mmHulberts Bridge (East of Julia Creek) 114mmBurleigh (North East of Mount Isa) 129mmCloncurry 18mmHughenden 41mmRichmond 63mmBurketown 33mmNormanton 35mmUrandangi 40mmLongreach 40mm


Runaway rapist who fled WA unlikely to face punishment for supervision order breach

Broome 6725

A man who violently raped two backpackers in Broome appears likely to go unpunished for breaching an order meant to supervise his behaviour after his release from prison.

Key points:

  • Convicted rapist David Gundari breached a supervision order and went on the run from WA into the Northern Territory
  • There is a warrant out in WA for Gundari’s arrest, but police say further action will only be taken if he returns to the state
  • Concerns have been raised that under-resourcing is hampering the ability to enforce the orders

David Gundari served 12 years behind bars after bashing and raping the women in separate attacks in 2006 that terrified WA’s Kimberley community.

One of his victims suffered a fractured jaw, eye socket, and cheekbone, while the other had teeth knocked out and received cuts to her head.

Gundari was released from prison under a post-sentence supervision order (PSSO) in late 2018, despite significant concerns about his lack of effective treatment while in jail.

Introduced by WA’s then Liberal-National government in 2017, PSSOs are aimed at preventing re-offending and protecting the community.

The independent Prisoner Review Board makes the decision to place an offender on an order, which lasts for two years and imposes extended supervision beyond their served prison term.

The level of supervision is also determined by the board and offenders are subject to various conditions.

Management of offenders, based on their conditions, is the responsibility of Corrective Services Community Corrections Officers, and breaching an order can result in up to three years in jail.

Violent rapist fled to the NT


David Gundari failed to appear in Wyndham Magistrates Court in October (ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills)

Gundari, 45, was due before Wyndham Magistrate’s Court in October last year, accused of breaching his PSSO, but failed to appear.

A week later, he was arrested in the Northern Territory town of Katherine, where he was charged with new offences, including engaging in violent conduct.

Gundari was found guilty and jailed for nine weeks, before being released from prison in Darwin on January 17.

There were no public warnings issued by authorities during the time Gundari was on the run.

No active pursuit by WA Police

WA Police confirm there was a warrant out for Gundari’s arrest and he had been charged over the breach.

A spokesperson said the outstanding warrant meant an alert had been put on his name, but they would only deal with him if and when he crossed the border.

“As per normal warrant issues, if he enters Western Australia and police become aware of his whereabouts, he will be arrested,” the spokesperson said.

Murdoch University law lecturer Lorraine Finlay said all PSSO breaches needed to be treated seriously.

She said she wanted to see Gundari sentenced in WA.

“It is important that when these orders are breached there are consequences and it isn’t just swept away, due to either time elapsing or the person being in another jurisdiction,” she said.

“If we’re just going to ignore breaches of the orders, well, why bother having them.”

Community ‘has a right to be concerned’

Lorraine Finlay said what had happened with Gundari was an example of the PSSO system failing to deliver.

“We have a convicted violent rapist, who the Prisoner Review Board said was at medium to high risk of re-offending,” Ms Finlay said.

“He not only breached his post-sentence supervision order, but he went on the run.”

Ms Finlay acknowledged monitoring offenders was a complex undertaking, especially in remote areas, but argued the Gundari case highlighted enforcement issues due to insufficient resourcing.


Legal academic Lorraine Finlay says the Post Sentence Supervision Order regime seems to be lacking. (Supplied: Lorraine Finlay)

“I don’t underestimate the challenges in this area, because we are dealing with people who have complex problems,” she said.

“People who are often difficult to manage and we’re dealing with a lack of resources in the area.

“It’s not good enough to simply have the law in place, you actually have to enforce the law.

“The community, I think, has a right to be concerned that a system that is in place to protect them doesn’t seem to be implemented properly and seems to be lacking.”

The latest available statistics, from mid-2019, show there are there 141 offenders on PSSOs in WA.

“That’s actually an increase of 70 per cent over the previous year,” Ms Finlay said.

“You actually need to put the resources behind them to make sure that people who are on these orders are properly supervised.”

The office of WA Minister for Corrective Services Fran Logan declined to provide a response.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said funding had been received to boost community corrections resources, including hiring 48 new officers.

Four of the new officers were located in the Kimberley region.

Caseload pressures

Rikki Hendon, branch secretary of the Community Public Sector Union and Civil Service Association, said the additional officers hired in 2019 were welcome but represented “a drop in the ocean.”


Union Branch Secretary Rikki Hendon says workload pressures for Community Corrections Officers are an ongoing issue. (Supplied: CPSU/CSA.)

“Overall, our Community Corrections Officers are under-resourced,” she said.

“We have a department trying to monitor more people, many of whom have very complex histories of offending, with less staff.”

Ms Hendon said her organisation was concerned by the caseload facing Community Corrections Officers and that resignations occurring due to workload pressure were robbing the system of talent.

“This issue now requires additional funding to train up and retain officers who could supervise clients with confidence, attain the best rehabilitative outcomes and keep the community safe,” she said.

“Feedback from union members suggest amendments to the relevant PSSO legislation could improve the ability of Department of Justice staff to intervene with clients earlier.

“Any amendments which could encourage better collaboration within the Department of Justice and WA police could also improve the system.”

Legislative change underway

Proposed legislation currently before WA’s Upper House aims to close some constitutionally contentious areas of the PSSO regime.

It will also open up the provisions of the Dangerous Sexual Offenders Act to a wider range of offenders, including murderers, and establish a High-Risk Offenders Board to oversee them.

Ms Findlay says it will be interesting to see if the changes help the system work more effectively.

“Whether it works in practice remains to be seen,” she said.


‘Well that sucked’: John Millman reflects on four-hour epic against Roger Federer


Only hours after an epic five-set loss to Roger Federer at the Australian Open, a simple tweet — consisting of no more than three words — summed up just how John Millman is feeling right now.

Key points:

  • John Millman was just two points away from victory when Roger Federer launched an astonishing fightback in the fifth-set tiebreak
  • Millman had come back from two sets to love down to force a deciding fifth in the third-round match
  • Federer said he had enormous respect for Millman after being pushed to five sets

“Well that sucked …” Millman tweeted this morning to his more than 20,000 followers on Twitter.

It was blunt and to the point, and did little to hide the Australian’s disappointment after he went down fighting in a gripping 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (10/8) third-round loss to Federer on Rod Laver Arena this morning.

External Link:

@johnhmillman tweet: "Well that sucked…"

The see-sawing contest lasted longer than four hours and finished at 12:49am (local time) and by the time the two players embraced at the net after Federer had sealed his triumph, Millman had attracted a fresh wave of supporters not only in Australia but worldwide.

The 47th-ranked Millman may stew for a while about the fact he was only two points away from an upset result when he led Federer 8-4 in the 10-point tiebreak that decided the fifth set and the match.

Federer, who holds the men’s record for most major singles titles with a mammoth 20, had to draw on his more than two decades of experience at Grand Slam tournaments to claw his way back into the tiebreak and win the next six points to claim his win.

As impressive as Federer was in stealing victory from the jaws of defeat in front of a captivated crowd, Millman produced a stunning performance of which he can be justifiably proud.

He trailed two sets to one before winning the fourth to level the match, while he had Federer on the ropes early in the tiebreak as his legion of fans dared to dream.


Federer (left) was full of praise for Millman after they went the distance on Rod Laver Arena. (AAP: Dave Hunt)

But for the time being, the 30-year-old — one of the more popular players on the ATP Tour — cannot help but reflect on what might have been.

“I played some alright tennis to get there to that stage,” Millman told his post-match media conference in the early hours of the morning.

“I could have gone away easily in that fourth set. Roger was playing pretty well, [he] had the momentum.

“I thought I turned it around pretty well. Yeah, [I] left everything out there.”

Millman’s ‘got great attitude’

Millman’s display did not surprise Federer, who famously lost to the lanky Queenslander in a fourth-round encounter at the US Open in 2018.

The Swiss was full of praise for Millman after the match, highlighting what a difficult opponent he had been to face as the Australian Open moved closer to its pivotal second week.

“I think the biggest problem for me was … I was just not getting into those neutral rallies, finding the ways to unlock him,” Federer said.

“That’s [to] his credit. He’s a great player. He’s got great attitude, and that’s why I mumbled something to him at the net, just saying ‘I have so much respect for you and it’s such a pity. I’m so sorry but well played’, and all that stuff, because I really feel that way for John.”


John Millman’s game plan left Federer frustrated during their gripping encounter. (AP: Dita Alangkara)

The fifth-set tiebreak had especially left an impression on the 38-year-old Federer — who is bidding for a seventh Australian Open crown in Melbourne — as he noted the high quality of Millman’s play.

“It was a tough tiebreaker throughout because I didn’t feel like I was playing badly,” he said.

“He punished me every single time. He was really coming up with the goods and was able to stretch the lead.

“Once he had the lead, I was always able to hold on with my serve and win my points, which was really important.

“Then of course, there were crucial points, 8-7, 8-8, 9-8. I’m happy they all went my way. Things were extremely difficult, not just in the breaker [but] throughout the match for me against John.”

As Federer lives to fight another day ahead of facing Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for a place in the quarter-finals, Millman will re-group and turn his attention to the remainder of the 2020 season.

But as he rightly takes immense pride from his showing against Federer, he knows the emotional pain of such an agonising defeat may take some time to subside.

“I left it all out there, [I] didn’t win,” Millman said.


Worker trapped in Tasmanian gold mine named

Zeehan 7469

The worker trapped underground by a collapse at the Henty gold mine on Tasmania’s west coast has been named as 44-year-old Cameron John Goss.

Mr Goss was working in the Henty Gold Mine, near Zeehan and Queenstown in Tasmania’s west, on Thursday when a section of the mine collapsed about 4:00am.

His colleagues raised the alarm, with search teams using thermal imaging and a drone with 3D laser technology to survey the area where Mr Goss was working in a loader machine.

On Friday, police said an assessment of the imagery led them to the conclusion that “with the amount of debris that has fallen into that scene, we think highly unlikely the missing miner has survived”.

Chief executive of mining services contractor PYBAR Brendan Rouse said rescuers on Friday had determined from scans that the loader was “half covered in rock”, with the “cabin completely underneath the rock … [it is] unlikely someone could have survived that.”

Today, in a statement, police said: “Mr Goss, a local Queenstown resident, was well-loved on the West Coast, was experienced in the mining industry”.

“His loss is devastating to his family, friends and the local community, together to the wider mining industry across Australia.”

Police said the “recovery efforts continue at the mine site”.


A satellite view of the Henty Gold Mine from Google Earth. (Supplied: Google Earth)

The Henty mine operations extend to a depth of around 800 metres — it is unclear at what depth Mr Goss was trapped.

The Henty Gold Mine opened in 1996 and is near the towns of Zeehan and Queenstown in Tasmania’s West Coast region.

The mine went into care and maintenance in 2015, but reopened in 2016 with 120 workers after being bought by Diversified Minerals.

Queenstown cafe owner Stephen Daft said the loss of Mr Goss would be felt by the community.

“It has a very sad rippling effect right through the community, we certainly all feel the pain of the family.”

“We always pull through it, but yeah … it can be pretty tough for families.”


Police said thermal imaging had revealed no signs of life after the mine collapse. (ABC: Selina Bryan, file)

The accident follows the deaths of three local miners at the Mount Lyell copper mine in Queenstown six years ago and the death of a Queensland man at the Grange resources mine in 2017.

Mr Daft said the tragedy at Henty was a further blow for the mining town.

“It never gets any easier, always a difficult time emotionally for those concerned.”

In a statement, police said the family of Mr Goss were “coming to terms with their loss and they request continued privacy at this time as they grieve”.


Trump set us a narrative trap with one simple word

United States

As the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump got underway in the United States Senate this week, the President finished up his dinner in the Swiss Alps and tweeted it again: “READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!”

Ever since the emergence of a whistleblower complaint alleging that the President of the United States solicited an illegal quid pro quo during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the so-called “transcript” of the conversation has played a crucial role in the politics of impeachment.

External Link:

@realDonaldTrump tweet: READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!

The White House first released the “transcript” of the call between Trump and Zelenskiy in September, in direct response to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment enquiry.

The “transcript” of the 25 July phone call was apparently meant to exonerate the President.

It was, according to Trump, a “perfect” call in which he had clearly “done nothing wrong”.

An increasing number of people disagree with that assessment.

We don’t have actual ‘transcripts’

In the White House’s own documents, the President is recorded as asking the Ukrainian President to “do us a favour”. Evidence is mounting that the President has committed multiple impeachable offenses.

Nevertheless, Trump and his supporters continue to insist there’s nothing to it. “Read the transcript” has become a kind of inescapable mantra — Trump fans are even printing it on their T-shirts.

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The thing is, though, it’s not a transcript.

It says so right there on the front page of the document itself: “CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text of this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and NSC Policy Staff assigned to listen”.

This record is, quite explicitly, not a verbatim transcript. It is a TelCon. A TelCon is a memorandum that describes a conversation; it doesn’t record it exactly.

In the case of the July 25 call, that description was written and edited by Trump’s staff. Some of these same staff were apparently so concerned about the content of this phone call that they moved the actual transcript of the call to a highly classified server and then restricted access to it.

That move alone is yet another striking breach of protocol when it comes to these kinds of documents, and apparently it’s not the first time it has happened — transcripts of Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi royals have also been moved.

So we don’t have actual “transcripts” of any of those calls.


The White House first released the “transcript” of the call between Trump and Zelenskiy in September. (Reuters: Jonathan Ernst)

These are the days of ‘alternative facts’

But that hasn’t stopped the TelCon being described as a “transcript” absolutely everywhere. Even when journalists clearly understand that what we are dealing with is not a transcript, the word appears constantly.

The New York Times, CNN, Buzzfeed, The Conversation, the Wall Street Journal, and more, all fall into the trap of calling it a “transcript”. Sometimes it’s a “reconstructed”, “edited” or “rough” transcript, but it’s a “transcript” nonetheless.

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This might seem like a small gripe. But it really matters.

The fact that the word “transcript” keeps appearing — even if it is hedged by qualifiers or also described as a “memo” or “summary” in the same breath — implies a level of transparency that just doesn’t exist.

Trump himself has incorrectly called the document “an exact transcript of my call, done by very talented people that do this — exact, word for word”.

Leaving aside the fact that the TelCon we do have is pretty damning, do we really trust Trump officials to provide us with accurate information?

In days gone by, historians and journalists could generally trust that TelCons — which usually remain classified long after the fact anyway — were fairly accurate reflections of what had been said.

But these are the days of “alternative facts”. Witnesses testifying as part of the impeachment enquiry have expressed considerable doubt about the document’s accuracy.

National Security Council member Alexander Vindman, for example, has alleged that the ellipses in the “transcript” represent crucial missing information deliberately left out by staffers.


Witnesses testifying as part of the impeachment enquiry have expressed considerable doubt about the document’s accuracy. (AP: Senate Television)

Like the TelCon, we need to approach Trump with ‘caution’

Still, that fact that the word “transcript” keeps appearing, whether qualified or not, implies a verbatim, accurate and objective record of a conversation, exactly as it happened, just like Trump claims.

That is not what we have.

And that matters because it’s yet another example of Trump controlling the narrative, dictating how we frame issues, and distorting reality.

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Trump calls it a “transcript” and we follow — we qualify, and we hedge, and we fact check, but we still use the word.

In doing so, we inadvertently fall into Trump’s narrative trap, which alleges that the entire impeachment enquiry is an illegitimate effort to either “steal” the 2016 election back, or rig the next one.

We participate in, and facilitate, Trump’s dangerous undermining of American democracy.

It’s just like when Trump brings up something like the Biden conspiracy, or Hillary Clinton’s emails, or says there are “very fine people on both sides” of a white supremacy protest.

Even though we know there’s nothing in what he says, or that it’s an outright lie, or that white supremacists are not in fact “very fine people” — we still end up having a debate about it.

We discuss it, endlessly, and in doing so confer legitimacy.

That’s why it matters. Words matter. A “transcript” is very different to a TelCon.

And that’s why, when it comes to Trump, we should always heed the warning of the very TelCon at the centre of it all: “CAUTION”.

Emma Shortis is a research officer at the Social and Global Studies Centre at RMIT University.


Our national conversation has been hijacked by the culture wars


If there is one thing that unites the nation on Australia Day, it is clichés. And on Australia Day weekend 2020, we seem to be surpassing our usual ration of clichés about beaches, barbecues, and revelling in our egalitarian ordinariness.

Of course these days we pay at least some respect and recognition to Indigenous Australia, while skirting around the controversy of what they think about the marking of our national day on January 26.

But this year there are more than just the usual clichés about Aussie-ness. We have drought and fire and rain all at once, and on a scale that has made the world sit up and take notice.

We even have what now seems to be another Australian cliché in the form of a sordid political scandal involving a political party breaking every rule to help itself win an election with our money.

Whether or not Bridget McKenzie is made to pay for the Coalition’s use of a $100 million grants scheme to favour electorates it was targeting in last year’s federal election, the truth is that the entire Government is tarnished by its transparent misuse of taxpayers’ money for partisan purposes.

Political bad behaviour seems an appropriate cliché for what we are, or what we tolerate, these days.


Whether or not Bridget McKenzie is made to pay for the Coalition’s use of sports grants, the truth is that the entire Government is tarnished. (Supplied: The Wangaratta Clay Target Club)

The conversation has been hijacked by culture wars

But Australia Day should be a chance to reflect much more broadly on who we are, and what we value, particularly this year, when so many of us are grieving either personal loss from bushfires, or just grieving for our national loss amid the destruction of millions of hectares of our country, and an estimated one billion animals.

Our national conversation in the past couple of decades has been hijacked by culture wars that have, too often, characterised what should be rational conversations and positions as ideological divides.

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Climate change is the most obvious of these.

The current catastrophe has seen the ideological culture war over climate change — both here and internationally — enter a new phase; one where even the heir to the British throne (and of course our next head of state) feels emboldened enough to publicly plead with world leaders to do something urgently to change the future.

Our Prime Minister may continue to stubbornly hold out, dodge and weave, or even double down on climate change policy, but things have changed.

The Australian summer has made climate change a thing of the present, not the future.

Where do we celebrate excellence these days?

Australia is now seen differently around the world. We are front-page news globally as a stark example of what a frightening future looks like.

The Government throws $76 million at the advertising industry in the hope that it can persuade tourists that there is still something here to see amid the smoking wreck.

But the bushfires have also changed the way we see ourselves. And climate change is not the only front in the culture wars.


Australia came together as a nation after winning the America’s Cup in 1983. (National Archives of Australia: A6315, K3/11/83/24)

Australia Day 2020
Everyone. Every story, from around the country in one place.

Our culture itself — in all its forms — has been under assault in the mad attempts to paint everything and everyone as a foot soldier of “The Left” or “The Right”.

Think about it. Beyond sport, where do we celebrate excellence these days, or even something that helps define us as a people?

The Monthly is running a piece at the moment about 1983, casting back to a time when the world suddenly looked at Australia as an intriguing, interesting place.

Not only had we won the America’s Cup with some technological ingenuity, our musicians were making a splash on the world stage, our movies were in demand and we were taking big decisions about our economy.

A country that had spent decades valuing culture from anywhere else but home, and which only came to value its great artists and performers if they made it overseas, suddenly had a sense of confidence and self-worth.

Technology is changing how we see ourselves

With the broader cultural establishment now generally consigned to just being “Leftist” loonies or “elites”, our national conversation is deprived of a diversity of views and we don’t celebrate, or even promote, what is new and excellent and Australian.

While we don’t seem to celebrate our achievements in areas like film-making any more, film festivals in the most unlikely places, like one in Marrakech late last year, dedicate themselves to celebrating Australian film-making.

Should Netflix and Stan have local content quotas?
While Australian free-to-air networks and Foxtel have a quota to create Australian content, streamers do not, and many industry figures are arguing for this to change to support local creatives.

This is all happening at a time when technology is changing what we see, and how we see ourselves, at lightning speed

The advent of platforms like Netflix and Spotify offer us unprecedented access to film, television and music. They are driving an absolute, and welcome, explosion in the commissioning of new work.

Yet evidence to a Senate inquiry last year was that the Australian Netflix catalogue contains very low levels of Australian content — estimated most recently at around 1.5 per cent.

This perhaps says more about us than Netflix: the Netflix global catalogue of Australian content is considerably higher.

This isn’t necessarily just an argument for higher local content requirements, though it is notable other countries see this issue as a significant one.

The EU, for example, has just approved a 30 per cent European content quota.

The language has changed

Before we can even have that debate, we need to talk about whether culture actually matters to us.

Recent research has highlighted how the Federal Government’s spend on culture in its broadest forms — everything from film and music to museums and local events — has fallen in the last decade, and fallen as a share of the total spend by different levels of government.


The Federal Government’s spend on culture in its broadest forms has fallen in the last decade. (Supplied: Carnival Cinema, Hamish McCormick)

The Federal Government now contributes 39 per cent of total government spending, down from 45.7 per cent a decade ago, while state and territory governments contribute 34.8 per cent, up from 31.9 per cent, and local governments contribute 26.2 per cent, up from 22.4 per cent.

It’s not that the Federal Government isn’t supporting industries like film production. But the language, and therefore the rationale, around such support has changed.

It seems we don’t mind government support for job subsidies in an industry, but we don’t want to provide government support based on the idea that there may be any intrinsic merit in cultural or artistic output.

It’s not just our natural landscape that’s bleak

It is striking that submissions to last year’s Senate inquiry on the economic and cultural value of Australian content emphasised the impact film sets had on local economies; on how much had been spent at the local Bunnings store, rather than the intrinsic merit of the stories that were being told.

And it isn’t as if the Federal Government isn’t spending money on the stories of who we are.

It’s just that spending half a billion dollars expanding the Australian War Memorial, while cutting the funding of many of our other museums and galleries, suggests a certain lopsidedness in what it is we value remembering these days.


It’s just that spending half a billion dollars expanding the Australian War Memorial suggests a certain lopsidedness. (ABC Radio Canberra: Clarissa Thorpe)

Our natural landscape may have become a vast barren and bleak place this summer.

But we have to ask ourselves whether our cultural landscape has to be that way too.

Laura Tingle is 7.30’s chief political correspondent.


In China, there’s evidence that SARs syndrome has been at play again


It is too early to make a definitive judgement about how Beijing has handled the outbreak of the potentially deadly coronavirus in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in central China.

But it is already clear that any assessment will have to take into account not just the medical side of the virus’s spread.

Just as important in a public health crisis is how the authorities manage the disclosure of the information about the virus within the government, and to the public.

So far, the handling of the crisis seems to have underlined one of the ongoing problems with the authoritarian strictures of the party-state, which places a premium on the control of information in the name of maintaining stability.

Beijing’s had a test run in how not to handle a crisis

In such a system, lower-level officials have no incentive to report problems until Beijing allows them to do so. Under the rule of Xi Jinping, such restrictions have only grown tighter.

The difficulties of managing a public health crisis have been accentuated by this one’s timing — on the eve of Lunar New Year, when literally millions of people would have been coming from Wuhan, a transport hub.

Should Australians be worried? Australia has a number of measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus — but with warnings the disease has a week-long incubation period, carriers could already be in the country.

Any official shutting down Wuhan would also have been shutting down the new year, a time when millions of Chinese get to reunite and celebrate as a family.

Beijing has already had a test run in how not to handle a crisis of this kind, when the flu-like SARs (severe acute respiratory syndrome) began spreading in late 2002.

China initially delayed responding to requests for more information from the World Health Organisation when the virus first appeared in southern China in November 2002.

It wasn’t until February 2003 that Beijing told the WHO. As late as April, Beijing was still suppressing the numbers of people who were infected.

It took a courageous doctor at the military hospital in Beijing, who informed the foreign media about the true count of patients, to force Beijing to deal with the issue openly.


The difficulties of managing a public health crisis have been accentuated by this one’s timing — on the eve of Lunar New Year. (Reuters via China Daily)

As a result, the epidemic took longer to control, it spread further, both in China and overseas, and more people died.

There was one other lesson for the whistle blowers. No one thanked them later. Just because they did good, they did not do well.

Early signs show SARs syndrome at play again

Fast forward to 2020, and it is instructive to look at what has, and hasn’t, changed.

From all the reports coming out of China, albeit in a haphazard fashion, the medical and public health staff has performed with the skill that you would expect from highly skilled professionals.

Wuhan virus ‘super-spreaders’
One of China’s top health experts warns potential “super-spreaders” could worsen the impact of the new coronavirus strain, which can now be passed between humans.

They isolated and identified the virus quickly.

But from that point onwards, the early signs are that the SARs syndrome has been at play again.

In early January, eight people in Wuhan were detained for “spreading rumours” about the virus. The official police report said they had been spreading “fake news” which had harmed social stability.

Various officials in Wuhan continued to downplay the spread of the virus in the opening weeks of the year. As late as Tuesday evening, the Hubei provincial party secretary and governor hosted a lavish Lunar New Year event, despite reports that many of the performers were ill.

Could the virus have been contained?

But by then, the issue could no longer be contained.

With infections and deaths rising, the authorities in Wuhan issued an order on Wednesday effectively quarantining the city, no small thing given its size and importance as a transport hub in central China.

What is a coronavirus?
Here’s what we know about the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, and how worried you should be.

One reason for the order was that so many people in Wuhan had not been able to find a bed in a hospital in the city that they had begun to hop on planes and go elsewhere in the country looking for treatment.

Hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai and Dalian were reporting coronavirus patients, too. Some have been diagnosed in Hong Kong, and as far as the US.

Could the virus have been contained, and its spread limited, if officials in Wuhan had levelled with both their bosses, and the public, earlier?

It is impossible to say, but at the moment, it certainly looks that way.

Richard McGregor is a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute. This piece first appeared on the Lowy Institute’s Interpreter blog.


One reason for the order was that so many people in Wuhan had not been able to find a bed in a hospital. (Reuters)


Germany shooting leaves six dead, several injured


Six people were killed and another two wounded in a shooting in the town of Rot am See in Germany’s south-west, police say.

The suspect’s parents were among the dead and the other victims also were believed to be relatives.

A man called police shortly after 12.45pm (local time) on Friday and told them he had killed several people, regional police chief Reiner Moeller said at a news conference.

Police kept the man on the line and, when they arrived at the scene several minutes later, arrested a 26-year-old German national as the suspect in the slayings, Mr Moeller said.

Officers found the bodies of six people — three women and three men, ages 36 to 69 — in and behind a building where a bar is located.

Another two people were hurt, and one of them has life-threatening injuries, Mr Moeller said. The suspect also threatened two children, ages 12 and 14.

The suspect had a licence to own firearms as a shooting club member, Mr Moeller said. Authorities believe he used a semi-automatic pistol.


Forensic experts enter the building where the shooting took place. (Reuters: Ralph Orlowski)

“We can’t say anything so far about the motive,” he said.

“Because of the victims and the wounded, we believe it was a family drama, since according to what we know at present all were related to each other.”

The suspect’s mother and father were among the dead and there was no indication that there were additional perpetrators, police said.

Rot am See, a town of several thousand, is located some 135 kilometres south-east of Frankfurt.

Gun control laws in Germany are among the most stringent in Europe.

In 2002, a massacre of 16 people by a 19-year-old shooter at a high school in the city of Erfurt saw the country increase restrictions on gun ownership.

A 17-year-old killed 15 people at a high school in the southwestern town of Winnenden in 2009, seeing a further tightening of gun laws.



Tasmanian Premier gives himself climate change portfolio as he unveils new ministry


Tasmania’s new Premier Peter Gutwein has announced he will be the state’s first Liberal minister for climate change.

Key points:

  • The Cabinet reshuffle follows the resignation of former premier Will Hodgman last week
  • Peter Gutwein will take on the roles of Premier, Treasurer, the Minister for Tourism and Prevention of Family Violence
  • Michael Ferguson, who was an initial challenger for the role of premier, will share the treasury role, taking on finance

Mr Gutwein made the announcement while unveiling what he said was a ministry of “minimal change”, “continuity” and “stability”.

“As the lowest net emitter in the country … we have a very positive story to tell,” Mr Gutwein, who will also retain his role of Treasurer, said.

“We have to accept we now have a more volatile climate … obviously we have challenges that we need to take on.”

Mr Gutwein is not the state’s first minister for climate change, but it is the first time a Liberal government has created the portfolio.

Like his federal Liberal counterparts, Mr Gutwein pointed to the need for more fuel reduction “through burning but also through mechanical clearing”.

The Cabinet reshuffle follows the resignation of former premier Will Hodgman last week.

Michael Ferguson, who was an initial challenger for the role of premier, will share the treasury role, taking on finance.

External Link:

Peter Gutwein press conference

It means he will be responsible for liquor and gaming as the State Government prepares to table what is likely to be controversial gaming legislation in Parliament this year.

“I am looking forward to working with him as I’ve said before, he’s smart, he has real intellect, he is prepared to work very, very hard and he is a man of integrity,” Mr Gutwein said.

Upper House member Jane Howlett has been elevated to Cabinet and will be sport, recreation and racing minister.

“The new Cabinet has experience. Importantly, it has energy and … it has unity,” Mr Gutwein said.

As well as taking on the roles of Treasurer and Premier, Mr Gutwein will also be the minister for tourism and prevention of family violence.

Mr Gutwein admitted he would have a lot on his plate, saying: “What you do is you work very hard and you ensure that you get good advice.”

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania CEO Luke Martin said he was pleased Mr Gutwein would be tourism minister following in the footsteps of his predecessor.

“Having the premier as minister for tourism has been so critical for Tasmania being taken seriously on the national tourism stage,” Mr Martin said.

Jeremy Rockliff will retain his role as Deputy Premier, Minister for Education and Training and Mental Health and Wellbeing.

He will also take on the portfolios of trade and disability services.

Mr Rockliff said it was going to be a “busy” but “exciting time”.

He said he hoped to capitalise on a the state’s well established brand.

“We’re a state that exports over 90 per cent of what we produce and so we have to be very proactive in the market place,” he said.

Labor, Greens react to new Cabinet

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Rebecca White has described the reshuffle as a missed opportunity.

“What we do hear from this Premier is that he wants to have a new focus on health and housing, and yet he has not changed where those portfolios are or who is responsible for delivering on initiatives,” she said.

“Quite frankly the existing arrangements with the current ministers aren’t working and we’re seeing that with the extraordinary wait times, the extraordinary waiting lists both for health and housing, that’s leaving people in pain or leaving them without a roof over their head.”

She said if he was serious about health and housing Mr Gutwein should have taken on those roles himself.


Peter Gutwein says the new Cabinet will have unity. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

Ms White said appointing Mr Ferguson as Finance Minister was a strategic move by Mr Gutwein “because he wants to share the blame when he puts pain on the people of Tasmania — because we know there are more cuts coming”.

Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor congratulated Mr Gutwein for accepting the need for a Minister for Climate Change and for taking on that role himself.

“We need the new Minister for Climate Change to take a different approach to forests, to make sure that we have no new coal mines in Tasmania,” she said.

She said she was worried about Mr Gutwein’s focus on fuel reduction.

“We need to have a good fuel reduction strategy in place, of course, but we need to be bringing down our emissions and that means working across all sectors of the Tasmanian economy,” she said.

Appointment of ministers ‘a strategic move’

Political analyst Professor Richard Herr said the Cabinet reshuffle sent the message it was business as usual under Mr Gutwein as Premier.

“No instability. Predictability, continuity — that’s the message they want to send out,” he said.

He said appointing Mr Ferguson as Finance Minister was a clever move by Mr Gutwein.

“It forces the two contenders for the leadership to work together on a routine basis,” he said.

He said Ms Howlett’s promotion to a ministry was also a strategic move.

“It was necessary to find a southern candidate in the Liberal Party to fill at least some of that southern vote that Will Hodgman had.”

The State Government has announced a new strategic growth portfolio.

Health Minister Sarah Courtney will take on the role which is designed to share the benefits of the state’s strong economy more widely.

The CEO of the Tasmanian Council of Social Service, Kym Goodes, has welcomed the move.

“We can start to see a departmental and a budget response to the needs of those Tasmanians who are [facing] system barriers preventing them currently from participating in a range of the opportunities a strong Tasmanian economy is providing,” she said.

The new ministry is expected to be sworn in early next week.

Peter Gutwein’s ministry:MinisterPortfolioPeter Gutwein



Minister for Climate Change

Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence

Minister for Tourism

Jeremy Rockliff

Deputy Premier

Minister for Education and Training

Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing

Minister for Disability Services and Community Development

Minister for Trade
Minister for Advanced Manufacturing and Defence Industries

Michael Ferguson

Minister for Finance

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport

Minister for State Growth

Minister for Science and Technology

Leader of the House

Elise Archer


Minister for Justice

Minister for Corrections

Minister for Building and Construction

Minister for Arts

Minister for Heritage

Guy Barnett

Minister for Primary Industries and Water

Minister for Energy

Minister for Resources

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Sarah Courtney

Minister for Health

Minister for Strategic Growth

Minister for Women

Minister for Small Business, Hospitality and Events

Roger Jaensch

Minister for Housing

Minister for Environment and Parks

Minister for Human Services

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

Minister for Planning

Mark Shelton

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management

Minister for Local Government

Jane Howlett

Minister for Sport and Recreation

Minister for Racing



The Sopranos actress tells court she tried to fight Harvey Weinstein during alleged rape

United States

Actress Annabella Sciorra testified that Harvey Weinstein violently raped her more than 25 years ago, becoming the first accuser to take the stand against the former Hollywood producer in his sexual assault trial.

Key points:

  • Ms Sciorra said the alleged rape occurred after Mr Weinstein came inside her home uninvited
  • Mr Weinstein’s defence suggested Ms Sciorra’s judgement and recollection was clouded by drinking
  • Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Mr Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Mr Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women, Mimi Haleyi and Jessica Mann.

If you or someone you know needs help:

  • 1800RESPECT – 1800 737 732
  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Relationships Australia – 1300 364 277

He has said all of his sexual encounters with women were consensual.

WARNING: This story contains details of alleged sexual assault

Ms Sciorra’s allegation from the winter of 1993-94 is too old to be charged as a separate crime, but prosecutors hope it will show that Mr Weinstein was a repeat sexual predator, a charge that could put him in prison for life.

She told the court Mr Weinstein pinned her hands behind her head.

“He had intercourse with me as I tried to fight, but I couldn’t fight anymore because he had my hands locked,” she told the New York jury of seven men and five women.

Mr Weinstein, sitting at the defence table, took notes on a legal pad at times during the testimony.

At other points in the 1990s, she said, Mr Weinstein sent her packages with Valium and a box of chocolate penises and turned up uninvited early one morning at her Cannes Film Festival hotel room in his underwear, with a bottle of body oil in one hand and a videotape in the other.

She said he left after she frantically pushed buttons on the room phone to summon help.


Annabella Sciorra told New York Criminal Court she could not escape Mr Weinstein during the alleged attack. (Reuters: Lucas Jackson)

As the trial wrapped for the day, prosecutors said they wanted to call actress Rosie Perez to testify that Ms Sciorra told her about the alleged attack, a request the defence opposed.

James Burke, the judge presiding over the case, said he would rule on the issue “soon enough”.

What is the #MeToo campaign?
Thousands of women are taking to social media to share their stories of sexual harassment using the #MeToo hashtag.

The trial is a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement, in which women have gone public with allegations against powerful men in business and politics.

Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Mr Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Mr Weinstein reshaped the independent film industry with critically acclaimed pictures such as The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love.

‘He was frightening’

Actresses Ellen Barkin, Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette sent Twitter messages of support to Ms Sciorra, best known for her role in HBO’s The Sopranos.

Ms Barkin was in the courtroom for her testimony.

Ms Sciorra told the jury that the evening of the alleged rape had started with Mr Weinstein giving her a ride home from an Irish restaurant.


Harvey Weinstein says all of his sexual encounters with women were consensual. (Reuters: Brendan McDermid)

After dropping her off, he knocked on her door and came inside uninvited.

She testified that after forcing intercourse on her, he performed oral sex on her as she protested.

“It was just so disgusting that my body started to shake in a way that was very unusual,” she said.

“It was like a seizure or something.”

One of Mr Weinstein’s attorneys, Donna Rotunno, repeatedly asked Ms Sciorra if she had tried to get away from Mr Weinstein and whether she had fought back during the alleged rape.

The Weinstein effect
The Harvey Weinstein effect is making more than ripples, and there’s a common theme: power.

Ms Sciorra said she did not recall the details of the struggle but repeated that she felt she could not escape.

“He was frightening,” she said.

During questioning, Ms Rotunno asked Ms Sciorra about whether she had called the police, gone to the hospital or immediately told anyone she had been raped.

Ms Sciorra said she had not.

“At the time, I didn’t understand that it was rape,” she said.

Ms Sciorra told jurors that she saw Mr Weinstein several weeks later at a dinner where she tried to confront him and told him she fainted during the alleged attack.

She said he responded by saying, “that’s what all the nice Catholic girls say”.

She said Mr Weinstein leaned in and said: “This remains between you and I.”

Though he laughed, his tone was “very menacing,” Ms Sciorra said.

Defence suggests drinking clouded judgement, recollection

Ms Rotunno also suggested that Ms Sciorra’s judgement and recollection were clouded by drinking — the actress replied that she remembered having only a glass of wine with dinner — and played a 1997 clip of Ms Sciorra playfully telling late-night TV host David Letterman that she sometimes had fun with the media by making up stories such as her father raising iguanas for circuses.

Ms Sciorra said she would never lie about something as serious as sexual assault.

Who is Harvey Weinstein?
If you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, Silver Linings Playbook or the Spy Kids films, you already know more about Harvey Weinstein than you might think.

Ms Sciorra drew acclaim for her part in Spike Lee’s 1991 movie Jungle Fever and her role as a pregnant woman molested by her doctor in 1992’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.

She said she met Mr Weinstein at an industry event in Los Angeles in 1990 or 1991.

By 1993, she had starred in one of his company’s movies, the romantic comedy The Night We Never Met.

Ms Sciorra later acted in another Mr Weinstein-produced picture, 1997’s Cop Land, though she said she didn’t realize when auditioning that his studio was involved.

On Friday, prosecutors are expected to call Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist and assistant professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University, as an expert.

Ms Ziv will testify about “rape trauma syndrome,” including why rape victims might not report what happened to them or show obvious signs of trauma, according to court filings by prosecutors.



Victorian Government attempts to ‘hide’ risks with major secondary school merger, says MP

Shepparton 3630

The Victorian Government is taking an opposition MP to court over what has been called an “extraordinary attempt” to stop undisclosed information about Victoria’s biggest educational project going public.

Key points:

  • Victorian Liberal MP Wendy Lovell has lodged multiple FOI requests for information about a new educational project
  • Her requests have been denied and she is accusing the State Government of hiding information
  • The controversial education project has split the regional community of Shepparton

Liberal MP Wendy Lovell has filed multiple FOI requests since September for access to an eight-page risk management report into a major project which will merge four public high schools in Shepparton.

The project has been dubbed “revolutionary” for country education, and will soon become the largest school in Victoria, housing 3,000 students.

Ms Lovell told the ABC the Victorian Government was going to “incredible lengths” to hide information, which she said would alter the lives of hundreds of families.

“Every family that has a child in the state education system at a secondary level will be impacted by this plan,” Ms Lovell said.

“These families have the right to be fully informed.”

Community concern

The Department of Education rejected Ms Lovell’s requests to access information about potential risks surrounding the Shepparton Education Plan and the Greater Shepparton Secondary College.


Liberal MP Wendy Lovell says information is being kept from families. (Supplied: Wendy Lovell)

The decision was overruled by Public Access Deputy Commissioner Joanne Kummrow, who last month ordered the government to release the pages.

The project has split the regional community in half, with some adamant it will revive education and others arguing the change will unsettle students, encourage bullying, and limit educational options.

From next week, secondary students will be scattered across three separate locations as contractors demolish and start a rebuild at the Shepparton High School site.

In her written ruling, Commissioner Kummrow said she did not believe releasing the information would go against public interest.

“I acknowledge there is concern within the local community in relation to the Shepparton Education Plan,” she said.

“There is a degree of sensitivity in relation to issues discussed in the documents.”

The Victorian Government has now taken the matter to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Ms Lovell called the move an attempt to hide information from the people of Shepparton and said the government was wasting thousands of dollars in public money to overturn the ruling.

“This is an extraordinary step to hide whatever is in that document from the families in Shepparton,” Ms Lovell said.

“I have no idea what’s in this document that is so detrimental, but I think now we see the desperate attempt to hide this information, we should all be concerned about what is in this document.”

‘Unable to comment’ says department

A spokesperson for the Department would not comment when questioned why thousands of dollars in public money was being spent trying to overrule the decision.

“The Department fully complies with FOI legislation and has released a number of other documents related to this project,” they said in a statement.

“As the matter is before VCAT, we are unable to comment further.”

In a written response to Ms Lovell detailing its decision, the Department of Education said disclosing the information would “provide an opportunity” to publicise and exploit risks.

“[It] would cause confusion in the community if disclosed given their current status as superseded documents under review,” the letter read.

“The documents are important internal tools that enable the Department to manage risk in an ongoing and evolving process.”

More transparency needed

There are now calls for the Department of Education to assess its transparency and communication around the project as hundreds of students gear up for the first day of school next week.


The community is divided over the new school project. (ABC Shepparton: Michael Hudson)

Some parents have told the ABC that communication between the Department and the public had been inconsistent and that they felt the merger had been thrust upon them.

One mother, Mandy Simpson, said there had been minimal consultation in the lead up to the project being announced.

She said some parents were also dealing with issues around timetables, uniforms, and transport.

“We still have no clear bus route and timetable,” Ms Simpson said.

“I have spoken to the bus coordinator, the bus company, and the school and they have all given me different bus routes, bus stops, and timetables.

“It feels like they are presenting this fairy floss idea and ignore any issues raised by our community.”

Independent Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed told the ABC that as with all major projects there “would be hiccups”.

While she would not comment on the VCAT process, she said she was disappointed Ms Lovell was taking a negative attitude one week from the term beginning.

“It’ll be inevitable to have things that will need to be sorted out as we move forward,” she said.

“Look at the NDIS and other major programs [but] the people we’re speaking to are really excited.

“It’s an opportunity and I think it’s really a very exciting time to see young people have this opportunity when there have been years of decline in education.”


Flash flooding likely as monsoonal low brings days of rain to Queensland’s parched north-west


Queensland’s north-west is expected to get days of storms which are likely to cause flash flooding, bringing new hope to some graziers who’ve been waiting years for regular falls.

Winton and the North West were hit with widespread heavy falls and severe flooding in February last year, which was catastrophic for graziers, resulting in cattle losses totalling more than half a million head.

But most of Western Queensland and parts of the North West are still drought declared and there’s a been a lack of follow-up rain.

The first of the rain came overnight — Richmond in north-west Queensland had 38 millimetres in 24 hours since 9:00am Thursday, Lower Creek in the Gulf Country received 25mm, and Longreach had 40mm.

Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Peter Markworth said the rain was being generated by a monsoonal low sitting over the Northern Territory.


Storm clouds roll over Morvada Station 70km west of Hughenden. (Supplied: Tanya Christensen)

“We’re getting plenty of moisture coming in from the Gulf of Carpentaria, that is associated with showers and storms, with the possibility of some of those being severe for heavy rain fall,” Mr Markworth said.

“It is possible that some of those storms can drop quite a bit of rainfall in a short amount of time which could, and most likely will, cause flash flooding under the bulk of that rain and nearby.”

BOM expects the showers and storms to continue.

Video: BOM's satellite captures the cloud and rain from 8:30am.

(ABC News)

Pockets of rain up to 50mm is forecast from the western border to Longreach in the east, and Cooktown in the north.

“That seems to be pretty consistent over the weekend especially in the north and over the Gulf Country going through the Goldfields, central west and north west,” Mr Markworth said.

“For the south west there is a trough sitting just at the top of the Channel Country, it does seem to be restricting most of the rainfall to the south as we get the southerlies with a lot of dust.

External Link:

BOM tweet

“But to the north of that trough it does look like much better news with a much higher chance of rainfall above that trough just sitting north of the Gulf Country at the moment.

“The best rain almost certainly will be up towards the Gulf Country and potentially over towards the Cairns and Townsville regions.”

Major floods expected

BOM warns major flooding is possible early next week for Nicholson River, Leichhardt River, Lower Flinders River, Cloncurry River, Thomson River, the upper catchments of the Diamantina River, Georgina River and Eyre Creek.

Despite the warning for early next week, localised flooding could occur over the weekend.

“This event is not expected to produce the same widespread significant flooding as Cyclone Trevor and the monsoon trough events from 2019,” BOM said in the warning.


Much needed rain at Lawn Hill, about 320km north of Mount Isa. (Supplied: Adels Grove)

‘Most joyous thing’

Rosemary Champion, from Longway station near Longreach, said this morning the property had about 80mm since 8:00pm on Thursday.


Rosemary Champion says getting torrential rain is the “most joyous thing that can happen”. (Supplied: Rosemary Champion)

“To get torrential rain like this in the morning is the most joyous thing that can happen,” Ms Champion said.

“If we get some more over the next few days it would be absolutely awesome, perfect timing.

“Most of us know that those who have been around this area for a long time know to get rain in January is such critical month for rain — they always say the later you can get it the longer it lasts.”

Ms Champion said they had been feeding their cattle a very expensive supplement to keep them going.

“Now we can cut back on that because our land responds very quickly,” she said.

“It’s a relief for us, for those cows with calves — it’s like you’ve got a future to look forward too because money can’t buy this.”

Rain won’t stop goldfish race

Camooweal grazier Will Seymour said he was feeling optimistic about the rain after missing out on decent falls for the last two years.

“Everyone’s been waiting on it, they haven’t just been waiting on it for two weeks, we’ve been waiting for a couple of years,” Mr Seymour said.

“It’s never a good thing seeing the bottom of dams, so hopefully we don’t have to see it again for a while.”

The town on the Queensland-Northern Territory border is holding lawnmower and goldfish races at the pub for Australia Day and Mr Seymour said the rain would not dampen their spirits.

“We’d have contingency plans, if you’ve got a pub and a bar then what else do you need?” he said.

“It wouldn’t even stop us — we’d just do it in the rain.”


Australia Day lawnmower races at Camooweal will go ahead despite the forecast rain for western Queensland. (ABC News)


SA Catholic Brother acquitted of indecent assault of student

Adelaide 5000

A South Australian Catholic Brother who was accused of sexually abusing a student in the late 1960s has been acquitted by the state’s Supreme Court, which found their relationship “unusual, if not suspicious”, but not criminal.

Key points:

  • Joseph William Weygood not guilty of three counts of indecent assault.
  • The alleged abuse was said to have started when Mr Weygood was a teacher at St Joseph’s
  • It had been alleged the victim was one of his favourite students

Auxiliary Justice Michael David today found Joseph William Weygood, 77, not guilty of two counts of indecent assault against one of his students at St Joseph’s College, at Mitchell Park.

A further count of indecent assault was thrown out.

During the trial, the complainant gave evidence about the culture at the school, which included corporal punishment and his “usually close and tactile relationship” with Mr Weygood over the three years he was at St Joseph’s College.

“St Joseph’s was run by the Catholic order of Marist Brothers and the accused was a Brother at the school during the relevant period,” Justice David said in his judgement.

“[The complainant] gave evidence of the level of corporal punishment which he described as involving ‘brutality’ and ‘cruelty’ and was the norm for all boys attending the school.

“It included regular canings and strappings, both on the buttocks and the hands.

“He described the accused as the most brutal of the Brothers in administering physical discipline. He said in evidence that students were hit every day.

“It is to be noted that the defence took no issue with this aspect of the prosecution case.”

Evidence that students were ‘manhandled in playful manner’

Justice David said the complainant gave evidence that Mr Weygood had his favourite students and would “often manhandle them in a playful manner” which included “grabbing, holding and tickling”.

“Over the years, the complainant complained to various people about the beatings he received from the accused, but made no complaint concerning sexual allegations until he reported it to the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sex Abuse in November 2016,” he said.

The judge said the prosecution led evidence from the complainant’s sister and tendered an affidavit from District Court Judge Paul Slattery, who was a fellow student at St Joseph’s College.

“[He] spoke of the culture of the school, including the nature of corporal punishment and the close relationship between the accused and the complainant,” she said.

“His Honour [Slattery] then described how the accused had his ‘pets’.

“He saw him regularly having physical contact with his ‘pet’ students by touching them around the body in a playful manner.”

Justice David found the relationship between Mr Weygood and the complainant as “unusual, if not suspicious”.

“Nevertheless, in deciding whether it is proved that these events [sexual abuse] happened, I am short of the certainty that is required to convict,” he said.

“Being in that state of mind, I find the accused not guilty of both counts.”


Chinese hospitals appeal for donations as 36 million people locked down, coronavirus death toll rises to 26


China has announced it is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with the coronavirus that has killed 26 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities during the country’s most important holiday.

Key points:

  • A new hospital will be built in Wuhan to treat coronavirus sufferers, to be completed in just six days
  • More than 850 cases have been reported across China, with 25 confirmed deaths
  • China has now put multiple cities under lockdown to curb the outbreak

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, transportation was shut down at least 13 cities with a combined population of some 36 million people.

The cities are Wuhan, where the illness has been concentrated, and 12 of its neighbours in central China’s Hubei province.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan is constructing a hospital modelled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing, Wuhan authorities said.


At least one death has now been recorded near the Chinese capital Beijing. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)

External Link:

Tweet @ezracheungtoto: Huge public hygiene crisis seems to have erupted in #Wuhan. This video clip was once posted on Weibo but now deleted.

The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000-square-metre lot, slated for completion on February 3.

Hospitals in Wuhan were grappling with a flood of patients and a lack of supplies. Videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for checks.

Some users on the Weibo social media site said their family members had sought diagnoses but were turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

At least eight hospitals in Wuhan issued public calls for donations of masks, goggles, gowns and other protective medical gear, according to notices online.

The “Fever Control Command Centre” of the city of Huanggang also put out a call for donations publicised by the state-run People’s Daily, asking for medical supplies, medicine and disinfection equipment.

‘Never been this scared’ Wuhan residents trapped in the locked-down city say they are too scared to leave their homes, comparing the experience to living in a horror movie.

The notice added that at the moment they wouldn’t accept supplies from foreign countries.

Health authorities in Hebei, just south of Beijing, said on Thursday an 80-year-old man infected with the coronavirus had died there, marking the first confirmed death outside Hubei.

He died on Wednesday but was not confirmed to have been infected with the virus until Thursday. All of the deceased are said to have been elderly and beset with other chronic health issues.

Two Chinese citizens in Vietnam have tested positive for the virus, Vietnam’s health ministry said on Thursday, as the South-East Asian country suspended flights to Wuhan.

The news comes as health authorities in New South Wales investigate four possible cases of the deadly coronavirus, however the hospital locations of patients have not been disclosed for privacy reasons.

Meanwhile, eight other countries have reported patients with the virus — all either residents of Wuhan or recent visitors to the city.


Medical staff transfer a patient suspected to have the new coronavirus at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. (Reuters)

Singapore confirmed its first case on Thursday — a Chinese resident of Wuhan.

An Indian nurse working in Saudi Arabia has also been infected, Indian authorities said, although Saudi health authorities said there had been no cases in the country so far.

Thailand has confirmed four cases, Japan and South Korea have confirmed two cases each while the United States and Taiwan have reported one each.

Authorities say they have also confirmed 2,197 cases where people have had close contact with patients.

Airports worldwide are screening passengers arriving from China with the US warning travellers to exercise increased caution in China.

Hong Kong, which has two confirmed cases, is turning two holiday camps into quarantine stations as a precaution. Taiwan has banned anyone from Wuhan from going to the island.


Airports worldwide are screening passengers arriving from China. (AP: Andy Wong)

The open-ended lockdowns in China are unmatched in size, embracing more people than the populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago put together.

The train station and airport in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, were shut down yesterday, and ferry, subway and bus services were halted.

Normally bustling streets, shopping malls, restaurants and other public spaces in the city of 11 million were eerily quiet.

In Huanggang, theatres, internet cafes and other entertainment centres were also ordered closed.

Efforts to identify and stop the virus

Wuhan virus ‘super-spreaders’
One of China’s top health experts warns potential “super-spreaders” could worsen the impact of the new coronavirus strain, which can now be passed between humans.

Preliminary research suggests the virus was passed to humans from snakes, but Chinese government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are a number of unknowns surrounding it. It is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

China says the virus is mutating. It says there is evidence of respiratory transmission.


The World Health Organisation has not declared a global health emergency yet. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

“We don’t want to overstate the panic here because there is so much uncertainty,” said Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of research charity Wellcome Trust.

“We want to keep a sort of calm, moderated approach to it, but we do have to take this incredibly seriously because you don’t often get an animal virus coming into humans, passing between humans and being spread by the respiratory route.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday declared the new coronavirus an emergency for China but stopped short of declaring the epidemic of international concern.


Train services in Wuhan and two other cities have been shut off in order to limit the spread of the virus. (Chinatopix via AP)

Michael Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies programme, said data presented from China revealed almost three quarters of the cases were in people aged over 40, with some 40 per cent having underlying health conditions.

The WHO was deliberating on whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up international response, but announced during a news conference on Thursday that it decided not to do so.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision “should not be taken as a sign that WHO does not think the situation is serious or that we’re not taking it seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr Ghebreyesus said.

Should Australians be worried? Australia has a number of measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus — but with warnings the disease has a week-long incubation period, carriers could already be in the country.

The United Nations health agency made the decision after independent experts spent two days assessing information about the spread of the newly identified coronavirus.

“It’s too early to consider this as a public health emergency of international concern,” Didier Houssin, the chair of the emergency advisory committee, said, noting that the panel “was very divided, almost 50-50.”

WHO defines a global health emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

Previous global health emergencies have been declared for the emergence of Zika virus in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic, and polio.

Work to start on three possible vaccines

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people.


A computer artwork of coronavirus, named after the corona (crown) of surface proteins (outer dots) that are used to penetrate a host cell. (Science Photo Library: PASIEKA)

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Three separate research teams backed by a global coalition set up to fight epidemic diseases are to start work on developing potential vaccines against the new coronavirus within a year.

Developing new vaccines has traditionally taken up to a decade, but the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is funding two of the projects and co-funding the third, said the aim now is to work much faster.

Its plan is to have at least one potential vaccine in clinical trials by June, offering the chance that a shot could be fully developed, tested and approved for use in a year.

The research will be conducted by drug and vaccine developer Moderna working with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the US firm Inovio Pharma, and a team at the University of Queensland, Australia.


The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are a number of unknowns surrounding it.

The new coronavirus is known as nCoV-2019.

Each of the three projects will test a distinct scientific approach to developing a preventative vaccine.

“Our aspiration with these technologies is to bring a new pathogen from gene sequence to clinical testing in 16 weeks,” said Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s chief executive.

“There are no guarantees of success, but we hope this work could provide a significant and important step forward in developing a vaccine for this disease.”

CEPI’s hope is to enable vaccine platform technology that has already been advanced for other infectious diseases such as MERS and Ebola to be used to hasten progress, Mr Hatchett said.

What is a coronavirus?
Here’s what we know about the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, and how worried you should be.

Infectious disease epidemics such as Ebola outbreaks in Africa, the Zika outbreak that spread from Brazil, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, are sporadic, unpredictable and fast-moving. Yet developing vaccines to combat them has traditionally taken up to 10 years or more.

CEPI was set up at the start of 2017 with the aim of dramatically speeding up the process.

China’s Finance Ministry said on Thursday it was allocating 1 billion yuan ($211 million) in funding to the Hubei provincial government to help with efforts to contain the outbreak.

Hubei has been the hardest hit region by the outbreak, which began in the province’s capital Wuhan.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history,” said Gauden Galea, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) representative in Beijing.

Meanwhile, authorities in Wuhan will build a dedicated hospital to treat patients, which it aims to complete in six days, state media outlet Beijing News reported, citing an unnamed source at the construction company that will build it.

Temples and public venues shut ahead of Lunar New Year

Chinese health authorities have advised people to avoid crowds during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Walt Disney’s Shanghai Disney Resort said it would be closed from Saturday to help prevent the spread of the virus.

China is on a seven-day Lunar New Year holiday starting on Friday, a period when the Shanghai Disney park would be usually packed with tourists.

Special celebrations had been prepared for the Lunar New “Year of the Mouse” at the home of Mickey Mouse.


Fireworks at Shanghai Disney Resort are usually part ceremonies during Lunar New Year celebrations. (Reuters)

In Zhijiang city, all public venues have been shut down except hospitals, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, petrol stations and pharmacies, according to local media.

Some famous temples in China have closed due to the virus, including Beijing’s Lama Temple, where people traditionally go to make offerings for the new year.

Haikou, capital of the southern resort island province of Hainan, closed cultural and tourist facilities such as libraries and museums.

Beijing cancelled large gatherings, including two Lunar New Year temple fairs, and closed the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction, to visitors until further notice.

Read more on this story:



I’m excited about my new job, but it’s cost me $700 before I’ve even started


As a graduate primary school teacher about to embark on my first year in the classroom, I expected that January would be a busy month.

I knew there would be lessons to plan, curriculum documents to acquaint myself with and pages upon pages — upon pages — of laminating to do.

After careful deliberation, I put in notice at my office job right before Christmas, electing a departure date that I hoped would give me enough time to prepare for my new career while foregoing as little income as possible.

All the unpaid professional experience I’ve had to complete for my degree has left me kicking off the new year broke, you see.

And while I knew it would be busy, what I had not expected about January was that it would also be a very expensive month.

Being a teacher isn’t cheap

Already I have spent about $700 on my Year 2 classroom. The same day I signed my employment contract, I placed a large stationery order from Officeworks online so I could use AfterPay.

Other purchases I have put on my credit card. I have bought obvious things like picture books (24 so far, each ranging in price from $3 to $14.99), spare pencils (5 boxes for $4 each) and glue sticks (6 x $2.50 each), colour printer ink ($76.88) and more laminating sleeves (a pack of 100 for $20).

Here’s how to get our top students to become teachers
A survey of 950 high achievers reveals what would make them take on a teaching career. And it’s more than just money, write Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann.

I have bought some less essential items too, like a colourful rug to help define a space within the classroom for students to sit on the floor ($84.95).

Or the polymer bead “teacher lanyard” with a safety clasp (very important, I am told) for my keys and whistle, handmade by a teacher in Ipswich and purchased via Instagram with a summer holiday discount code ($15 plus $4.99 postage).

And I’m not alone. Madison, a graduate teacher in regional Queensland, has spent more than $1,200 setting up her Year 1 classroom, including $200 on shelving and other storage furniture.

Rhiannon, a graduate in Central West New South Wales, has spent about the same on her Year 3 classroom, and says she still has more to buy.

Katrina, a graduate in Brisbane, has spent a couple of hundred dollars, with a large chunk of this going to printing and laminating.

She says her start-up costs are lower now because, on the advice of a lecturer, she began collecting resources and supplies in her first year of university.


I have bought obvious things like picture books, spare pencils and glue sticks. (Supplied: Ellen Wengert)

Saving time has become a side hustle

I have tried to be savvy about my spending by shopping around and comparing prices. But this takes time and I have almost as little of that right now as I do money.

I do not, for instance, have time to create my own alphabet posters or my own visual timetable cards or my own birthday chart. As a result, I signed up for a teacher resource subscription service ($79 a year for the basic plan) which claims to save hours.


I tried to be savvy about my spending by shopping around and comparing prices. (Supplied: Ellen Wengert)

Saving teachers’ time is a rapidly growing market, with plenty of services cropping up in the last five or so years.

The number of time-poor, stressed-out teachers willing to spend their own money to reduce their workload has, in turn, created new entrepreneurial avenues.

It has become a steady side hustle for other teachers who sell resources — as well as colourful acrylic jewellery and the ubiquitous polymer bead lanyards — through their Etsy and Teachers Pay Teachers stores.

For these teachers, Instagram is a marketing tool, while also a supportive, close-knit online community.

Instagram is helpful — but it also adds pressure

Under hashtags like #TeachersOfIG and #AussieTeacherTribe, ideas are shared, tough days commiserated, and successes celebrated, alongside images of immaculately organised, impossibly bright and cheery classrooms.

External Link:

Under hashtags like #TeachersOfIG and #AussieTeacherTribe, ideas are shared.

Madison says Instagram has added pressure to ensure her first classroom looks a certain way, and that this has influenced her spending.

I too have felt similar pressure, not wanting the kids in my class to miss out on things their peers in the room next door might have.

Technically, graduate teachers are under no obligation to spend their own money on their classrooms. Some schools provide start-up stationery packs or small cash budgets for essentials or will reimburse teachers for certain items.

Typically, this comes down to the school itself, and varies depending on what state and which education system you’re working in.

But from speaking to different teachers — both beginning and more experienced — it’s seldom enough.

My career may become prohibitive

I am frequently reminded by family and friends that all my purchases are tax deductible. Many of them, too, will be things I can use again next year and into the future.

Investing in one’s career, and particularly when it means investing directly in children — in my case, children at a school in a low socio-economic area — could hardly be considered a waste of money.

Nor are teachers the only ones expected to make such investments in their work.

Tradies, for instance, are often required to purchase and maintain their own tools — a pertinent example of it costing money to make money. But with rising living costs and low wage growth, particularly in the gig economy, the cost of having a job is increasing at a rate disproportionate to what many people earn.

I worry that should this trend continue, the start-up costs of a primary school teaching career, particularly when combined with the cost of unpaid professional experience, may become prohibitive.


I worry that should this trend continue, the start-up costs of a primary school teaching career may become prohibitive. (Supplied: Ellen Wengert)

And all of this amid recent calls from both the Federal and Shadow Education Ministers to implement reform in order to attract and retain higher quality teachers (the echoes of which I can still hear as I collate my receipts).

But that’s not my job. For me, for now, it’s back to the laminator and to counting down the days until I get my first teacher pay cheque.

Ellen Wengert is a graduate primary school teacher.


How the coronavirus started in China — and why that’s actually a saving grace


The emergence of a new coronavirus in China has once again raised the spectre of a global pandemic.

It wasn’t that long ago that we had our last pandemic (the H1N1 virus in 2009, also known as “swine flu”) and less than 20 years since the 2003 emergence of SARS, another coronavirus that was highly lethal to humans.

The emergence of the “new” disease requires the virus to spill over or “jump species” from its reservoir into people. This event is complex and needs close contact, as well as a virus that can infect humans (not many animal viruses can).

To truly emerge, the virus then has to possess the ability to infect other humans (even fewer can do this).

The concern now is that the new coronavirus is showing it can do this last step, albeit, in a limited way so far.

The human-animal interface

Humans mostly interact with domesticated animals directly through agriculture and as pets.

In the past, this has led to the emergence of human diseases that are still with us — for example, measles from cattle and whooping cough from dogs.

What is a coronavirus?
Here’s what we know about the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, and how worried you should be.

Humans also interact with wildlife through hunting and as a consequence of our use of their habitat to grow food and houses. This leads to diseases such as Hendra and Ebola.

The wildcard in all this is human behaviour driven by cultural and social norms. For example, the presence of live animal markets in parts of Asia is strongly associated with the spread of avian influenza and the origin of SARS — and we’re seeing it again this time with the Wuhan coronavirus developing in China.

Basically, the more we interact, the greater the probability of a spillover of a pathogen.

The more often that happens, the greater the chance of us receiving one that is perfectly suited to human-human transmission.

The most significant driver of emergence, however, is food production.


The presence of live animal markets in parts of Asia is strongly associated with the spread of avian influenza and the origin of SARS. (Reuters: David Gray)

So why is it happening in China?

The rate of emergence of new human pathogens appears to be accelerating. A recent study suggested that over half of all emergences are associated with food production.

This is directly related to the size and prosperity of the human population. In order to grow food, we use land, water and energy.

If you consider that human activity is a necessary requirement, then China is one country that has undergone the most substantial and rapid transformation in its human demography and land use.


The emergence of the “new” disease requires the virus to spill-over or “jump species” from its reservoir into people. (Reuters)

There have been rapid shifts in where people live (urbanisation), what they eat and how they use the land.

The food production systems needed to support this transformation are highly complex and on an industrial scale.

At the same time, there remains a strong cultural preference for live animal marketing and the consumption of a wide variety of different animal species.

Newly emerging viruses may well be a sentinel of a system that is out of balance.

What can be done to reduce the risk?

Solving the problem is not as simple as changing diets, however.

We still have to grow what we eat, largely using land, and while farmed animals are the source of many human pathogens, an increasing number come from wildlife (including bats and wild birds).

Wuhan virus ‘super-spreaders’
One of China’s top health experts warns potential “super-spreaders” could worsen the impact of the new coronavirus strain, which can now be passed between humans.

There is no guarantee that switching away from animal diets will solve the problem, because the changes needed in the food system could have unintended impacts on other parts of our ecosystem, such as natural forests and their wildlife.

There are also extremely strong cultural preferences around diet, so it may be the hardest change to make.

The biggest risk now is the rise of “super-spreaders”. A single person (super-spreader) was responsible for moving SARS from China to a single hotel floor in Hong Kong and from there to multiple countries.

A super-spreader is a bit like a large ember in a bushfire. If an ember falls in a place with no fuel there is no fire. If it falls where there is an unlimited amount of fuel and the conditions are right, we get a wildfire.

The ideal fuel conditions for a new virus are lots of humans living and interacting close together — like a large city.

That is not to say there is nothing we can do.


The ideal fuel conditions for a new virus are lots of humans living and interacting close together — like a large city. (AP: Andy Wong)

Reducing the “conflict” between human and natural systems — for example, by reimagining how we use land to make better allowances for natural habitat — will help take pressure off food systems, while addressing other environmental concerns like climate change, deforestation and land degradation.

Stopping the spread

Despite the risk of “super-spreaders”, the emergence of new diseases in places like China is actually a saving grace.

China has an excellent system and massive capacity to investigate and control diseases, and the country’s response to recent disease emergences has been highly transparent, competent and effective.


China has an excellent system and massive capacity to investigate and control diseases. (Reuters)

There is a global effort to monitor infectious diseases and coordinate response and information-sharing, led by the World Health Organisation.

It requires countries to demonstrate they have holistic systems that include cooperation between animal and human health agencies (One Health).

This works well in rich countries, but many poorer nations need support.

The scariest threat is the prospect of antimicrobial resistance.


There is a global effort to monitor infectious diseases and coordinate response and information sharing. (AP: Mark Schiefelbein)

If we lose antibiotics, then we are back to square one, with simple skin infections and seasonal influenza outbreaks resulting in high death tolls.

Our biggest risk now is human apathy. Unfortunately, antimicrobial resistance does not raise the pulse of politicians like a good outbreak of SARS.

Read more on this story:

Simon Reid is associate professor of communicable disease control at the University of Queensland.


‘The youth needs to understand…’: Mnuchin tells Thunberg cash trumps climate


Just as the spat between US President Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg seemed to be subsiding, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has taken a new dig at the climate activist.

Key points:

  • Mr Mnuchin said environmental concerns need to be weighed against other issues
  • He said the Trump administration’s policy on climate had been misinterpreted
  • He invited Ms Thunberg to study economics in college and then return to the debate

Asked about Ms Thunberg’s call to divest from fossil fuels, Mr Mnuchin told a news briefing: “Is she the chief economist? I’m confused…”.

“After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”

Mr Mnuchin’s quip came two days after Mr Trump and Ms Thunberg sparred indirectly at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

After Mr Trump said the US had committed to joining the 1 trillion tree initiative, Ms Thunberg retorted that fixing the climate crisis was not only about trees.

Before he left Davos, however, Mr Trump seemed to extend an olive branch, saying he wished he had seen Ms Thunberg speak.


Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg says the environment should trump economics. (REUTERS: Denis Balibouse)

Addressing the Trump administration’s stance on climate, Mr Mnuchin said the US position had been “misunderstood”.

“There is a real misinterpretation of the US policy. Let me be very clear: President Trump absolutely believes in clean air and clean water and having a clean environment,” he said.

Mr Mnuchin later told CNBC he did not believe there were just a few years left to prevent a climate catastrophe.

“There are a lot of other important issues” threatening civilisation, he said, citing health and nuclear proliferation.

“I think that the youth needs to understand: climate is one issue that needs to be put in contexts with lots of other things.”

Video: Mr Trump slams climate activists in his opening address at the World Economic Forum

(ABC News)

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel rushed to Ms Thunberg’s defence, saying that attaining the goals of the Paris climate accord, which the US has quit, was vital.

“Time is pressing, so we — the older ones, I am 65 years old — must make sure that we take the impatience of young people positively and constructively,” Ms Merkel said in her speech to the WEF’s annual meeting.


‘It’s just bad policy’: NT social services slam ‘mixed messages’ about controversial welfare proposal

Darwin 0800

Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says if the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) program is introduced in the Northern Territory, recipients will still get 50 per cent of their welfare payments in cash — despite Territorians saying they are being told otherwise.

Key points:

  • ALPA’s Liam Flanagan said he had been told about an 80-20 split on the CDC by Senator Jacqui Lambie
  • Mr Flanagan was concerned the card would be introduced at 50-50, then the ratio would change
  • Senator Ruston said this would not happen without community consultation

The program is currently operating in WA’s East Kimberley and Goldfields regions, Ceduna in SA, and recently began in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland.

The CDC is designed to curb drug and alcohol abuse by limiting access to cash through quarantined welfare payments — putting up to 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payment on the card which cannot be spent on alcohol or gaming.

Senators are expected to vote next month to introduce the program in the NT and Cape York.

Senator Ruston told ABC Radio Darwin if the CDC was introduced in the NT, people would get 50 per cent of their payments in their bank account and the other 50 per cent would be loaded onto the card.

“The CDC will replace the Basics Card at the rate of which the Basics Card for the individual currently sits at — and in the Northern Territory, that’s a 50-50 split,” Senator Ruston said.


While Senator Lambie said she had seen “good results” at the trial sites she told the ABC she would not reveal how she would vote. (ABC Goldfields: Isabel Moussalli)

Territorians ‘really concerned’

Her comments contradict what Liam Flanagan, the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation’s general manager of community services, said he had been told by Senator Jacqui Lambie during her visit to the Northern Territory.

Yesterday, Senator Lambie finished her visits to cashless debit card trial sites in Western Australia, on what she has called a “fact-finding mission” into the card’s success.

Last week, Senator Lambie met with Territorians in Papunya, Haasts Bluff, Alice Springs and Milingimbi to discuss concerns about the proposal.

During the NT leg of her tour, Mr Flanagan said Senator Lambie claimed discussions she had been part of planned to pay recipients 20 per cent in cash and put the other 80 per cent onto the CDC.

“Having it put out as 50-50 and then for communities to have found out through Senator Lambie that all the discussions she’s been involved in around 80-20 has really concerned people,” Mr Flanagan said.

“Knowing the other trial sites have all run at 80-20 for the past five years.”


Almost 22,000 Territorians are on the Basics Card. (ABC News: Emilia Terzon)

Mr Flanagan was concerned the CDC would be introduced at a 50-50 rate, then the ratio would be altered later without adequate community consultation.

“The fact the Government has been quite specific in how it has framed the bill up so that it’s not written in the legislation that it will stay at 50-50; the fact that it doesn’t have to go back into Parliament to change from 50-50 — that was a level of concern for our organisation and people all over the Territory before we heard these comments from Senator Lambie,” he said.

The ABC has contacted Senator Lambie for further comment.

Senator Ruston said the Commonwealth would “absolutely” not alter the NT’s 50-50 split without consultation

She said in other jurisdictions, it had been the communities themselves — not the Federal Government — asking for a larger chunk of welfare payments to be quarantined on the card.

‘Bad policy is a bad policy’

Northern Territory Council of Social Service chief executive Deborah Di Natale said she was concerned there had not been enough community consultation.

“There’s mixed messages about whether its a 80-20 split or 50-50 which is leaving communities incredibly confused,” she said.

“We still make the case that there is no evidence that income management works and a bad policy is a bad policy — whether it’s 50 per cent or 80 per cent.”

Ms Di Natale said the NT did not have a “cashless economy” — with many people buying second-hand goods and items using just cash, especially in remote communities.

“They’re not in a situation where they can do that half, 80 per cent, whatever percentage of their income quarantined,” she said.


Remote NT communities like Santa Teresa in Central Australia, pictured here, have been subject to income management since 2007. (ABC News: Greg Nelson)

“The legislation gives the minister the right to actually quarantine up to 100 per cent of someone’s income.

“We’ve got the situation of some bureaucrats in Canberra who have come up with this idea without genuinely consulting communities out in the Northern Territory.”

If it was up to her, Ms Di Natale said she would scrap the entire bill.

“Policy is being made on the run for some of the most marginalised people in the Northern Territory,” she said.

“And more importantly, it’s being made without any evidence base that it works.”


Senator Jacqui Lambie visited communities in the NT last week to discuss the cashless debit card, before she visited the WA trial sites. (Supplied: Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation )

Lambie still undecided on vote

While Senator Lambie said she had seen “good results” at the trial sites she told the ABC she would not reveal how she would vote.

With Labor turning against the welfare scheme, Senator Lambie’s opinion will be crucial as the Senate is expected to vote on the trial’s extension next month.


Millions of Australians have disability insurance in their super, and for many it’s ‘junk’


When Greg Jude suffered a severe injury to his left ankle nearly five years ago that left him largely house bound, he thought it was one of the worst things that would happen to him.

Key points:

  • Almost half a million casual workers are on restricted life insurance and disability cover through superannuation
  • Insurers apply an Activities of Daily Living test, which is difficult to meet
  • Corporate watchdog ASIC has described the cover as “junk insurance”

But then he lodged a total and permanent disability claim with CommInsure.

The claim was declined because he was a casual worker, and he has been fighting the insurer ever since.

“It’s just mentally draining,” Mr Jude told 7.30.

“It doesn’t take much to tip people over the edge and this ongoing dispute — it’s drained my wife, my family and it just goes on and on.”

Mr Jude believes he had an example of what the corporate regulator ASIC has described as “junk insurance”.

‘It’s a shonky product’


Lawyer Josh Mennen says the insurance only pays out in extreme circumstances. (ABC News: Christopher Gillette)

Total and permanent disability (TPD) cover is a form of life insurance where the insurer pays a lump sum for rehabilitation and living costs if you’re suddenly unable to work again following a severe injury or illness.

About 12 million Australians like Mr Jude pay for TPD cover through their superannuation fund.

But he was also one of almost 500,000 workers in Australia whose cover is severely restricted because the insurer applies what is known as the activities of daily living (ADL) test.

According to Mr Jude’s lawyer, Josh Mennen from Maurice Blackburn, the ADL test, which is mainly applied to casual workers, is very difficult to meet.

“This is a form of limited cover that only pays out in quite extreme circumstances,” Mr Mennen told 7.30.

“It requires that a member be permanently unable to perform basic activities of daily living, like feeding themselves, washing themselves or clothing themselves.

“The standard TPD definition only requires that a member be permanently unable to perform suitable work again.

“We know that the activities of daily living definition is inherently unfair. It’s a shonky product, it provides a substandard policy benefit for a full premium.”

‘I heard this mighty snap’


Since the accident, Greg Jude has struggled to do even simple things, like tying his shoe. (ABC News: Michael Atkin)

Mr Jude was injured in 2015 when he slipped on a loose grate at the zinc refinery near Townsville, where he worked.

He ruptured the tendons in his ankle which required surgery.

“All I heard was this mighty snap, and I went down and hit the ground with both knees,” he said.

He is now in constant pain and struggles to do even simple tasks like putting on his shoes or trimming a hedge.

“It’s never been the same since, the surgery achieved a lot but I still can’t do what I used to do,” he said.

Mr Jude unsuccessfully tried to go back to work and doctors now believe he will be unable to ever return to his former job.

With his claim declined by his insurer and superannuation trustee, Mr Jude and his wife Nicky have been unable to pay their mortgage and suffered a severe emotional toll.

“They should go and spend a week with some of these people that have been declined, to find out what they actually go through in life and how it’s affected them, both mentally, physically, emotionally, the whole lot,” Mr Jude said.

The company that owns CommInsure is AIA Australia.

After being contacted by 7.30, AIA Australia said it had reassessed Mr Jude’s claim.

“After receiving new information … we are working with Mr Jude’s representatives to arrange a payment,” it said in a statement to 7.30.

“[The ADL test] was introduced into group insurance to ensure that all working Australians could access the safety net of TPD cover under a default system of life insurance, regardless of the nature of their employment or occupation.

“We are in the process of reviewing the role of ADLs in providing cover to members, along with the rest of the industry.”

Mr Jude’s superannuation trustee, Colonial First State, which is owned by Commonwealth Bank, said it was moving away from the policy conditions that were used to decline his claim.

“Mr Jude’s claim was assessed under the policy terms in place at the time,” it said in a statement to 7.30.

“In 2018, the policy was updated to adopt a definition based on hours worked rather than employment status.

“We’re working with our insurer to review the insurance cover provided through super and make certain it continues to evolve to meet members’ needs.”

‘Is it worth the money?’


Commissioner Sean Hughes says ASIC is watching insurers and super funds closely. (ABC News)

ASIC has found that the way some insurers are using the ADL is leading to unfair outcomes.

It found that just 12 per cent of standard claims were rejected by insurers, but when the ADL test was applied, 60 per cent of claims were knocked back.

“The insurer is essentially saying to them, ‘well, you can still dress yourself, you can still feed yourself, so you’re not really that disabled, are you?'” ASIC commissioner Sean Hughes told 7.30.

“And we think that’s a really tough outcome.”

Mr Hughes believes some of the policies are essential junk insurance.

“The promise to pay, which they thought they had, to recover an insurance payout when they’re totally and permanently disabled, just isn’t there,” he said.

“Is it worth the money they’re paying for through their super fund? Or is it really just junk insurance?”

ASIC has warned insurers and superannuation trustees they have legal obligations to ensure people get value for money.

“We’re not shying away from using the full extent of our powers where we think that consumer harm has occurred,” Mr Hughes said.

“So we are watching very, very carefully.”

The peak body for life insurers, the Financial Services Council, is pushing back against the suggestion its members are selling worthless policies.

“No, we absolutely refute that,” Nick Kirwan, senior policy manager of life insurance from the Financial Services Council, told 7.30.

“TPD in super provides great value for money. It pays out more than 90 cents in the dollar.”

He cited more recent claims figures for the first half of 2019 that show the rate of claims denied using the ADL test at just under 40 per cent.

“The life insurance code of practice has made a huge difference and the royal commission acknowledged that,” Mr Kirwan said.

“The industry is getting better and the data shows more and more people are getting their claims paid.”

The Financial Services Royal Commission recommended a series of changes relating to the life insurance industry including the need for universal definitions, terms and exclusions for group life policies.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Government was acting on all 76 recommendations, which includes drafting and introducing new legislation.

‘I don’t know what’s going to happen’


Kim Joyce is still battling his insurance company to get his claim accepted. (ABC News)

Kim Joyce is also battling his insurer, MLC, after having his TDP claimed denied.

In 2017, while on the way to his warehouse job, he was knocked off his motorbike when a car pulled out in front of him.

“All I knew in the end, I was just flying in the air and just woke up in an ambulance,” he told 7.30.

“I was sent to the trauma unit with broken shoulders, a punctured lung and three broken ribs.”

Because he was regarded as a casual employee, the ADL test was applied, and it was deemed he did not meet the requirements.

“MLC’s decline rates were among the top two worst of the insurers,” Mr Mennen said.

“Even though Mr Joyce was working in what might be regarded as a full-time role, performing sufficient hours, because he was formally classified as a casual under this policy, he’s essentially funnelled into an inferior form of cover.”

In a statement to 7.30, MLC Life Insurance said it stood by its decision to decline Mr Joyce’s claim.

“We assess all claims empathetically, professionally and in line with industry standards as set out under the Life Insurance Code of Practice,” the statement said.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of Mr Joyce’s case, we believe we have made a fair assessment of his claim against the requirements of the policy. This included an additional review of the original claim decision.”

That has left Mr Joyce in limbo.

“It’s just hard for me to carry on living knowing that I don’t know what’s going to happen in the near future if we don’t get the claim from the insurer,” he said.

“I’d advise everyone else out there, just be careful with the insurance policy because you never know, you could end up like me — in a bad situation.”


Eels suffocate as Gippsland river turns to sludge after fires

Tambo Crossing 3893

Ash, soot and bushfire debris, combined with heavy rain and thunderstorms over burnt regions of east Gippsland have turned local rivers to sludge, killing the eels that inhabit the water.

Key points:

  • Soot and bushfire debris has washed into East Gippsland’s waterways, turning them into “fluid mud”
  • The sludge has killed eels, which have washed up in the Tambo River, which feeds into the Gippsland Lakes
  • There are fears already-depleted stocks of black bream in the lakes will be further hit by the ash and debris washing through

Dead eels have washed up in the Tambo River, which feeds into the Gippsland Lakes.

Stuart Stagg’s Tambo Crossing property backs onto the river and he said the pollution had turned the river into “fluid mud”, leaving large amounts of sediment on riverbanks.

“It was backed up on the top of some of the bridges with ash floating on the top, like coals, charcoals, and a very thick mud underneath it,” he said.

“We’ve seen some dead eels, and I’ve had reports from neighbours of eels dying.

“Eels are a pretty tough animal so I’d expect any fish that were left in the river from the drought will not be in very good health.”


Stuart Stagg’s Tambo Crossing farm backs onto the river. (Supplied: Stuart Stagg)

Mr Stagg said he had never seen the river in such poor condition, as heavy rainfall that followed the bushfires pushed pollution closer to the Gippsland Lakes.

“We had a lot of rain after the 2007 fires burnt us out, but this time, short, heavy, sharp storms have mobilised [bushfire debris] and dropped it in the river,” he said.

Fish kills predicted

Former Lake Wellington Authority chief Ross Scott lives on the Gippsland Lakes and said if the sludge reached the area, the effects would be devastating.

“In New South Wales, there have been numbers of fish kills as a direct result of ash washing into the watershed,” he said.

“Ash gets into the water, and takes up oxygen from the water then there’s not enough oxygen left for the fish and they die.

“If the load is big enough, it will impact the Gippsland Lakes, namely Lake King.”

Mr Scott said the ecology of the lakes was already under threat, with unique fish species populations in decline.

“I’m concerned about all the fish but the one that is very important to East Gippsland is the black bream,” he said.

“Their numbers are in rapid decline due to over-fishing by professionals. The catch figures have gone down from hundreds of tonnes a year to about 13 [tonnes].


Black Bream stock numbers are already depleted in the Gippsland Lakes. (Supplied: SA Environment and Water Department)

“They’re nearly wiped out, we don’t need any more impacts.”

Mr Scott said more needed to be done to protect the Gippsland Lakes from further decline, including investment into an audit to assess the current damage.

“The problem is in the catchment, with pollution and reduced fresh water flows because of over-harvesting,” he said.

“If you’re looking at the lakes to see what the problem is, look behind you.

“I’m concerned about the whole Gippsland Lakes environment which has been in decline for a long time now, but no-one seems to be addressing the issues.”

‘Natural recovery’

The chief executive of the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Graeme Dear, said locals had been reporting the conditions to the organisation.

“Last week, there was some carp that died in the Tambo in a localised event, but in that case we didn’t have to take action, there was nothing we can do,” he said.

“It’s such a large-scale event that we can’t mitigate whatever natural impacts are going to occur, so our best approach is to wait and see what happens, then see what recovery efforts to put in place.”

Mr Dear said the large size of the Gippsland Lakes — approximately 600 square kilometres — reduced the risk of long-term damage from pollution.

“Debris and ash will flow into the rivers and some of that will end up in the lakes, but it’s natural,” he said.

“This is a large-scale fire, so of course, yes, there will be impacts on the rivers and on the lakes as we go through a natural process of recovery.”

“Over the past few years, there have been some very large widespread fires in East Gippsland and in those experiences we didn’t see any large fish kills in the Gippsland Lakes.”


It’s hoped the large size of the Gippsland Lakes will reduce the risk of long-term damage. (ABC News)

Mr Dear said it was common for bushfire debris to enter waterways.

“Sometimes you do get thunderstorms and large rain events that can cause fish deaths but usually they’re localised,” he said.

“This is not the first time we’ve experienced events of this nature, and nature is fantastic at taking time to recover.”

Mr Dear said there would be localised surveys of rivers directly affected by fire, but there were no plans for a long-term audit into the condition of the Gippsland Lakes.

“We have a lot of information on the lakes since the last report was done, we’ve got multiple groups and agencies working together and we have a plan in place,” he said.

The last comprehensive look into the ecology of the Gippsland Lakes was conducted in 1998 by the CSIRO.

External Link:

ABC embed: Tell us your bushfire questions


Bowling club wants to know why it missed out on ‘modest’ $40,000 government sports grant


The members of Castlemaine Bowling Club in Victoria range in age from 11 through to 93.

Key points:

  • Castlemaine Bowling Club applied for a Government grant to upgrade its outdoor lighting
  • The club’s grant application was rejected and it wants to know why
  • The Australian National Audit Office found a number of grants were directed towards marginal seats

“The Castlemaine Bowling Club provides a really important function in our community,” club secretary Peter Williams told 7.30.

“We have a number of people who are no longer playing who just love to come and have a cup of tea and enjoy the social interaction. I think it’s really important in that regard.”

To attract more members, the club decided in 2018 that it wanted to start offering bowls later in the evening, which meant it would need to install outdoor lighting.

It applied for what Mr Williams described as a “modest” $40,000 grant through the Federal Government’s Community Sport Infrastructure Scheme.

The club reduced the cost down from $100,000 by working out a way to modify their existing lightning.

Got a confidential news tip?Contact Paul Farrell using the Signal secure messaging app on +61457262172 or at

“I must admit we were pretty optimistic that we might be successful,” Mr Williams said.

Months later they received a response from Sport Australia informing the club its application had been rejected.

“The club [members] were extremely disappointed to miss out on those funds, because it was going to offer so much for the community,” Mr Williams said.

That disappointment has now turned into growing frustration.


The Castlemaine Bowling Club in regional Victoria applied for a grant to upgrade their lighting (ABC News)

The Federal Government has been embroiled in a growing crisis over the grants program after the Australian National Audit Office released a damning audit last week.

The audit found Bridget McKenzie, who was sports minister at the time, overruled some of the recommendations made by Sport Australia and adopted a “parallel” process that favoured some marginal Coalition electorates in the lead up to the 2019 election.

“The fact that it’s hit the press about how funds were allocated has been really a shock to us, and really disappointing,” Mr Williams said.

“We could accept if we missed out on merit because that’s the nature of those sort of applications. But to hear that funds have been dispersed in that way is extremely disappointing, to say the least.”

It is unknown whether Castlemaine Bowling Club’s application would have been approved on merit.

‘We tried to get feedback’


Castlemaine Bowling Club was unable to get feedback on why its application was rejected. (ABC News)

The Castlemaine Bowling Club now wants answers about why their application was rejected.

Sport Australia ranked clubs using a point-based system with scores of up to 100. The audit into the scheme revealed that some high scoring clubs missed out on grants.

“We tried to get feedback on our application, and we’ve just been told feedback’s not available,” Mr Williams said.

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7.30 asked the minister’s office what score the Castlemaine Bowling Club received from Sport Australia. The minister’s office did not respond to questions.

7.30 also asked Sport Australia whether it would release the full scores and names of all clubs who applied for the grants. It has declined to provide the information.

On Wednesday it emerged Prime Minister Scott Morrison had asked the head of his department to investigate Senator McKenzie’s handling of the program and whether she may have breached ministerial standards.

It was reported on Wednesday that the minister had awarded a $36,000 grant to a sporting club where she was a member. Her membership has not been disclosed on her pecuniary interest register.

A spokeswoman for the minister said that the membership was a gift worth less than $300 and that she was not required to make a declaration to the Senate.

Sports grants saga an ‘abuse of process’


Anthony Whealy says some sporting clubs were reluctant to speak out for fear of being blacklisted. (ABC News: Tom Joyner)

Former New South Wales Supreme Court justice Anthony Whealy QC, who is a member of the Centre for Public Integrity, told 7.30 the fallout from the Audit Office’s findings highlights the lack of integrity measures that bound federal politicians.

“Those who, on the merits deserved getting the grants, didn’t get them, and the process was informed, not by impartiality but by a desire to improve the Coalition’s chances at the next election,” he said.

“So any way you look at it, that must be regarded as an abuse of process.”

Other clubs 7.30 spoke with who were denied funding were reluctant to speak publicly because they feared it could jeopardise future funding opportunities.

“If you come forward and complain now you would immediately suspect that you’d be on a blacklist and you’ll never get that money,” Mr Whealy said.

“If you keep quiet, maybe you’ll get it next time. But that’s a very sorry state of affairs too, isn’t it? That really only happens because people don’t trust the Government.”

Senator McKenzie denies the allegations and maintains she followed the rules.


Scott Morrison’s father John dies aged 84


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced his father, John, has died “quietly and peacefully” at the age of 84.

Mr Morrison said in a statement that he “received the sad news” on Wednesday night that his “much-loved” father, a former policeman and councillor, had died.

“He was a loving husband to my mum Marion for 57 years,” Mr Morrison said.

“He was a wonderful father to me and my brother Alan. He loved Jen as a daughter and was a devoted grandfather to our girls.”

John Morrison was a former officer with NSW Police and had served as a local councillor and mayor at Sydney’s Waverley Council.

“He lived a great life and was much loved,” Mr Morrison said.


Scott Morrison’s parents Marion and John witnessed his unexpected election win last May. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)

Mr Morrison has repeatedly paid tribute to his father since becoming Prime Minister in 2018.

“My parents laid the foundation for my life,” the Prime Minister said in his first speech in the Federal Parliament.

“Together with my brother, Alan, they demonstrated through their actions their Christian faith and the value they placed on public and community service. In our family, it has never been what you accumulate that matters, but what you contribute.

“I thank them for their sacrifice, love and, above all, their example.”


Scott Morrison has thanked his father for the guidance he offered his family. (Facebook: Scott Morrison)

Mr Morrison’s mother, Marion, appeared with her son and his family during the election campaign.

His father was present on election night when Mr Morrison and the Coalition unexpectedly won the federal election.

“Dad had a deep and committed Christian faith, which is one of his numerous legacies in my life,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday.

“Our family will miss him terribly, but we are extremely thankful for his great blessing in all of our lives.”


Scott Morrison’s parents Marion and John Morrison. (Twitter: Scott Morrison)


Westpac picks John McFarlane as new chairman to deal with money laundering scandal


Westpac has named veteran banker John McFarlane as its next chairman as it confronts the fallout from a massive money laundering scandal revealed last November.

Mr McFarlane is a former chief executive of the ANZ Bank and was chairman of British bank Barclays until May last year.

More than 23 million suspected breaches of anti-money laundering laws, brought by the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC, forced the resignation of Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer and prompted current chairman Lindsay Maxsted to bring forward his retirement.

In a statement to the ASX, Mr Maxsted said his successor’s 44 years’ experience would be invaluable as Westpac responds to the money laundering scandal, where its payment platforms were used by convicted paedophiles for transactions in the Philippines.

“Over the past 27 years, he has been a main board director of five of the world’s leading financial institutions, including as executive and non-executive chairman, chief executive and executive and non-executive director roles,” Mr Maxsted said.

“Most recently, Mr McFarlane was chairman at Barclays in London, which after the global financial crisis underwent a decade of challenge.

“During his four years as chairman, the company was streamlined, repositioned and has sustainably returned to profit.”

Rebuilding Westpac’s reputation

Mr McFarlane confirmed he had not intended to take another banking leadership role but was “excited by the challenge of returning Westpac to its place as a leading global bank, following recent events”.

The financial pain is yet to come
Westpac is facing what could be the worst episode in the bank’s more than 200 years of operation, writes Nassim Khadem.

“To some extent, the internal and external challenges ahead for Westpac are not dissimilar to those in my last five financial institutions.

“Nevertheless, I’m sufficiently battle-hardened to realise things can be tougher than you think and that in banking, nothing is ever certain.”

Mr McFarlane will return to live in Australia permanently and will begin as a non-executive director in February, subject to regulatory approvals.

In addition to managing the fallout from the money laundering scandal, Mr McFarlane will work closely with acting chief executive Peter King to oversee the search for a new chief executive to replace Mr Hartzer.

Mr McFarlane was ANZ chief executive between 1997 and 2007 and chairman of Barclays from 2015 to 2019.

He carved a reputation as a straight-talking, folk-singing Scotsman during his time at ANZ and in 2007 conceded that Australia’s big banks were taking too much money from consumers through penalty fees on credit cards.

The appointment of a new chairman has been highly anticipated in the wake of the money laundering scandal and Mr McFarlane is seen as a critical change agent in rebuilding Westpac’s battered reputation.


We’ve got you covered this Australia/Invasion Day with your guide to what’s on in every capital city

Perth 6000

Whether it’s Australia Day or Invasion Day you will be marking this January 26, there are a huge number of events in every city you can attend.

Check out the list below to see what’s happening in your neck of the woods.


Dozens of events, from smoking ceremonies to street parties and even a yacht ballet, will be held across Sydney to mark Australia Day.

The Australia Day celebrations will kick off just before 8:00am with a smoking ceremony and special performances by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers and singers at Barangaroo Reserve.

From 9:00am the Sydney Street Party will transform The Rocks into a day-long carnival with market stalls, music, street performers and gourmet street food.


The Australia Day Live concert will be held at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt and Circular Quay. (ABC Open contributor glanzpunkt)

An event dubbed the Tug and Yacht Ballet will see several vessels cruise from Circular Quay just after midday, synchronised with helicopters flying above, in time with music.

About 65,000 people are expected to turn out for the main event — Australia Day Live — which will be held at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt and Circular Quay from 6:30pm.


New Australians will be made across the nation this Australia Day at citizenship ceremonies — including Hyde Park in Sydney. (Getty Images: Gaye Gerard)

Australian musicians including Vanessa Amorosi, John Williamson, Eskimo Joe and The Original Seekers will be among those performing.

The night will be used to acknowledge the Aussie spirit and celebrate the country’s strength in the wake of the bushfire crisis.

Tens of thousands of people are also expected to pack out Parramatta Park for 15 hours of entertainment, with amusement rides, DJs and the launch of Sydney’s biggest hot air balloon display.


Indigenous dancers will perform at the Yabun Festival in Sydney. (ABC News: Jessica Kidd)

At 10:00am, Hyde Parke South will host an Invasion Day march, while the Yabun festival will be held in Victoria Park in Camperdown at the same time.

Described by organisers as the largest one-day gathering and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia, it is held annually on the 26th upon the traditional lands of the Gadigal people in Sydney.

It’s a free event featuring live music, a stalls market, panel discussions and community forums on Aboriginal issues, children’s activities and traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural performances.


In Western Australia, the main celebration will be held on the Swan River foreshore with the annual Skyworks.


The annual Skyworks attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the Swan River foreshore. (ABC News: Liam Phillips)

It’s one of the city’s biggest annual events and is the largest Australia Day fireworks display in the country, with this year’s event expected to attract more than 300,000 people.

This year will also see the return of the Australia Day Air Show, with a large fleet of planes and helicopters taking to the skies in aerobatic displays.

It is the first time the Air Show will take place since two people died when a light plane crashed into the Swan River at the 2017 event.


There’s plenty to do across the country this Australia Day. (ABC News: Tony Trung)

The main fireworks display will start at 8:00pm and run for half an hour.

For those taking public transport, there will be extra services put on to cater for demand, while security patrols will also be boosted across the night.

From 3:00pm in the Supreme Court Gardens, the annual Birak Concert will host a huge line-up of Indigenous entertainment as well as inflatable amusements, workshops and community stalls.


The main fireworks will kick off at 8:00pm. (ABC News: James Carmody)

For those who wish to mark Invasion Day on the 26th, a march will take place at 12:30pm in Forrest Chase.

On January 25, Fremantle council will hold its now traditional One Day in Fremantle event at Kidogo Arthouse Precinct and Bathers Beach.

It will include a smoking ceremony on Bathers Beach, live entertainment including performances from Indigenous musicians, bush tucker tastings, boomerang and mandala rock painting, traditional weaving and a Balga tree burning ceremony.


The city’s annual Australia Day Parade will take to the streets from 11:00am, bringing multicultural dancing and music groups and other cultural organisations to Swanston Street.

Following on from there, the Australia Day Festival will kick off in Kings Domain Gardens.


Melbourne’s annual Australia Day parade will kick off at 8:00am. (ABC News: James Oaten)

There will be music, a food truck park for those looking for a bite to eat and a Roulette flyover at 12:45pm.

The Victorian Government has cancelled the Docklands fireworks display scheduled for 9:00pm, which usually attracts about 25,000 people, due to bushfires burning across the state.


Last year thousands protested Australia Day on the steps of Parliament in Melbourne. (ABC News: Gemma Hall)

There will be an Invasion Day dawn service from 5:30am to 6:30am at Kings Domain Resting Place, and a Survival Day dawn ceremony in Ballarat at View Point, Lake Wendouree at the same time.

Melbourne will also host an #abolishAustraliaDay gathering outside Parliament House on Spring Street at 11:00am.

The Balit Nurran (Share the Spirit Festival) will be held at Treasury Gardens from 12:00pm to 7:00pm.

Brisbane and the Gold Coast

If you’re lucky enough to live in Brisbane, get ready for a veritable smorgasbord of activity.

Events kick off at Southbank with the Great Australian Bites food festival, which brings together music and food for an all-day fiesta, before a dazzling fireworks display from 7:30pm.

If you’re after something a little more obscure, look no further than the 39th annual Cockroach Races at the Story Bridge Hotel.


This year will see the 39th annual Australia Day World Championship Cockroach Races in Brisbane. (ABC News: Nick Wiggins)

Gates open at 11:00am with the first race getting underway from midday. The event also boasts food trucks, a street festival and competitions and prizes.

Feel like something a little sweeter? There’s an event for that.

A lamington-eating competition is taking place at Suttons Beach in Redcliffe. Coconuts are being desiccated from 3:00pm onwards.

Or there’s the slightly healthier annual pineapple-throwing competition taking place at the Pineapple Hotel, Kangaroo Point from midday.

In the way of formal proceedings, the Citizenship Ceremony and Lord Mayor’s Australia Day Awards are happening at City Hall from 8:30am.


The Cockroach Races in Brisbane always attract a huge crowd. (ABC News: Patrick Williams)

On the Gold Coast, Broadwater Parklands will host the Australia Day celebrations from 4:00pm with a fireworks display kicking off at 7:45pm.

The Gold Coast thong-throwing competition is on at the Nerang RSL from midday, while a pie eating competition will take place later from 2:30pm.

Earlier on, an Australia Day pool party is scheduled at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre in Southport — complete with novelty races, giant inflatables and dive-bomb competitions.

In Brisbane’s north, the Koobara Survival Day march will start outside the Kurbingui shopfront, 425 Zillmere Road, Zillmere at 9am.

There will be an annual Survival Day ceremony at Simpsons Playground in Tennyson, in the city’s inner south, at 7:30am.

The Meanjin Invasion Day 2020 march and rally will take place at Queens Gardens, at 144 George Street, organised by the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), between 10:00am and 1:00pm.


In Canberra, a line up of national and local acts will take to Stage 88 at the Australia Day fundraising bushfire relief concert from 10:00am at Commonwealth Park.

Due to bushfires in the region there will be no fireworks display this year.

From 2:45pm the Chief Minister’s Regatta will take place at the Canberra Yacht Club.


Fireworks have been cancelled in a number of cities due to the ongoing bushfires. (ABC News: James Oaten)

A Survival Day march in Canberra is planned for Veterans Park from 11:00am to 12:30pm, organised by the United Ngunnawal Youth Council.


In South Australia, Australia Day in the City will be held in Adelaide once again and is expected to draw crowds of more than 40,000 people.

The event is a major public celebration and includes a street parade, concert and fireworks, starting at 6:00pm at Elder Park.

More than 150 community groups, vintage cars, horses and marching bands will take part in the parade, while the free family concert will start at 7:00pm.

The Tandanya Survival Day 2020 event will be held in the CBD, in the park opposite the Tandanya arts centre office at 253 Grenfell Street.

There will be free entertainment, stalls and workshops focused on Indigenous culture.


In the top end, the annual Oz Run will be on again — an Australia Day fun run held in the morning at the Darwin Waterfront.

It’s the territory’s largest running event and is expected to attract up to 4,000 people.


The Oz Run caters to the more athletic on Australia Day. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)

There will be a zumba warm-up before the run, on-course music and entertainment, followed by a free sausage sizzle.

An Invasion Day march will be held at Civic Park at 11:30am, on Larrakia (Saltwater) country.


In Kingston, A Day on the Beach continues to grow in popularity and is expected to attract more than 10,000 people from the broader southern Tasmania region.

There are loads of free sporting activities, live music, a sandcastle competition, two big Aussie BBQs, double-decker buses, sailing and swimming, all with the pristine backdrop of Kingston Beach.

An Invasion Day rally will be held at 198 Elizabeth Street, and people plan to march to Parliament House Lawns.


A ‘signature of climate change’: Residents fearful of toxic fumes from peat fire in Gippsland

Sarsfield 3875

Residents of Sarsfield, north-east of Bairnsdale in eastern Victoria, are concerned about the ongoing threat of carbon monoxide poisoning from an underground peat fire that has been burning in a paddock for almost a month.

Key points:

  • Peat fires, which burn underground, can release toxic fumes that can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning
  • Drought can exacerbate the conditions that lead to the ignition of peat fires; once ignited however, rainwater can fuel them further as the oxygen in the water is absorbed by the sponge-like dried peat, causing flare-ups
  • The only ways to attack a peat fire are to dig it out or saturate it

The 20-hectare fire, burning in decaying organic matter underground, has been emitting potentially dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur and nitrogen.

Specialist firefighters and a large fire retardant pumper from the Tasmanian Fire Service have been brought in to try to get a hold of the Sarsfield fire before the next spike in warm weather.

The Environment Protection Authority has installed air monitors around the Sarsfield peat fire to detect elevated levels of CO.

Bairnsdale operations officer, Andrew Murton said carbon monoxide level readings had been “minimal” in the past week.

“Over the past four to five days, the air quality is very, very good,” Mr Murton said.


Bairnsdale operations officer Andrew Murton says carbon monoxide level readings of the area had been ‘minimal’ in the past week. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

Carbon monoxide exposure

Gippsland paediatrician Jo McCubbin said exposure to bushfire pollution, including carbon monoxide can cause lower birth weights.

Dr McCubbin said the small PM2 compounds can enter a person’s bloodstream, and pregnant women and those with respiratory or heart conditions should stay away or indoors if they can.

“You can’t smell the carbon monoxide, but you can smell the burning peat so if you can smell that, be careful,” she said.

CFA acting director of people, culture and safety, Garry Cook said five firefighters in East Gippsland have been treated for carbon monoxide (CO) exposure but they were not involved in fighting the Sarsfield peat fire.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to detect because the symptoms can be confused with fatigue, the common cold or the flu.

Water from the mains system and a nearby river is being used to douse the peat fire and 50 millimetres of rain fell on the fireground on Monday.

“The control strategy we’ve been using on it is similar to what we did in the south-west of the state at Cobden last year, and basically it just needs a lot of water,” Mr Murton said.


CFA fire fighters are briefed on the progress of the efforts at the peat fire in Sarsfield. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

“Part of the control strategy is also to turn over the peat and flood it with water and when we looked at the trenches that we’d dug, they were full of water.”

Helicopters are being flown over the fire to take thermal images to allow firefighters to home in on hot-spots.

“We’ve also had drones looking at it, and it is steaming in areas,” Mr Murton said.

A crew came over from Tasmania on Wednesday, to specifically help fight the peat fire with a specialist ultra-large compressed air foam system appliance truck.


Commander Greg Kinross speaks to residents in Sarsfield about the peat fire. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

Senior firefighter with the Tasmanian Fire Service Roger Brown said the truck was designed for spreading air foam over large distances, keeping firefighters safe.

“It’s A-class PHOS-CHeK foam, and it’s biodegradable,” he said.

“We were requested [to help] the day before, we were lucky enough to get a crew to Victoria within 24 hours.”

At a community drop-in session on Wednesday night, nearby residents were told the peat fire is about 70 per cent under control.

“We’ve worked from the south-end, where the gas-pipe line plays and moving forward to the north up to Tully Nully Road,” Commander Greg Kinross said.

“Crews have been working on a rotational basis.”


This fire truck was brought specially over from Tasmania to help fight the peat fire. It can distribute PHOS-CHeK foam, which is a biodegradable foam. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

Peat fires ‘a signature of climate change’

Peat fires are difficult to suppress because they burn in old swamps that have accumulated organic matter over thousands of years.

University of Tasmania School of Natural Sciences Professor David Bowman said the severe drought has caused water tables to drop and the best way to put a peat fire out is with soaking rain.

“These environments were ever-wet and now we’re seeing right around Australia swamp lands burning up because the water tables are dropping in south-west Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales due to the drought,” he said.

“Basically the peat becomes this side of brown coal and if you get an ignition in there, a burning root, the fire can then creep into the soil and really nasty smoke comes out.

“It can burn down there, grumble away and the paradoxical situation is that if you get light rain, the rain brings oxygen down in the water and the water evaporates making the peat flare up.”


About 50 CFA volunteers are working on the peat fire at Sarsfield. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

Professor Bowman said the only ways to attack a peat fire are to dig it out or saturate it.

“And that’s difficult in a drought because the peat profile is like a dry sponge and it can just absorb so much water and you’ve got to ask the question, have you got the water to spare?”

“It’s a real signature of climate change because these were little natural archives of carbon that were incombustible and because of the drying, they’ve become combustible and are burning.”

Authorities have used pivot irrigators to extinguish a peat fire in north east Tasmania and waste water was used to saturate a peat fire at Port Macquarie in New South Wales.

Professor Bowman said the increase in peat fires had serious ecological consequences on hydrology, wildlife habitat and farmland cleared on swamp country.

“It even lowers the ground,”

“There have been places in Victoria where the ground has dropped by half a metre because the ground is literally burning up,” Professor Bowman said.

Fire could burn for months


The peat fire is burning on Charlie Seehusen’s Sarsfield property. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

The peat fire is burning on Charlie Seehusen’s property.

On the night of the fire, he tried to fight the fire himself by digging it up.

“I couldn’t handle it, I had to get help,” he said.

“When it does burn, you have red ash on top and people don’t realise that red ash might sink and you will drop a few feet, and that’s obviously very dangerous.”

Mr Seehusen said he was not concerned by the health risks.

“The [EPA has got monitors there,” he said.

“They were doing checks on people who had been down there, as far as that goes, I was clear.”


Sean Bolton lives near Sarsfield, and came along to the drop-in sessions to find out more about the peat fire, and the risk to his home. (ABC Gippsland: Sarah Maunder)

Sarsfield residents attended a briefing at Mossiface on Wednesday afternoon to learn about the health dangers from the peat fire burning near their homes.

Sean Bolton lives just outside of Mossiface, near Sarsfield.

“I wanted to learn about the peat fire, I don’t know much about them other than they’re underground, and I wanted to know what the threat was to my house,” he said.

“We’re always concerned about something that is unknown.”


Obesity battle being lost in regional Queensland

Rockhampton 4700

More Queenslanders than ever before are battling the bulge, with new data revealing rates of obesity in regional areas of the state are the highest they have been.

Key points:

  • A state government program aimed at reducing obesity rates is failing to reach its targets
  • However, fewer Queensland children are now considered to be overweight or obese
  • In the Rockhampton suburb of Berserker, 45.9 per cent of the population are classified as obese

A total 32.4 per cent of Queenslanders are now classified as obese and a further 33.5 per cent are overweight, according to South Australia’s Torrens University, which compiled the figures using Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

Two out of every three adults are now considered overweight or obese, while in children it is one in every four.

Berserker, a Rockhampton suburb, tipped the scales with 45.9 per cent of the population classified as obese, while Noosa recorded the lowest rate at 21.2 per cent of its population.

Torrens University Public Health Information Development Unit director John Glover said the data was concerning.

“The proportion of the population [in Australia] in the normal weight category has dropped from 44 per cent to 32 per cent, at the same time the proportion of people who are obese has gone from 19 per cent to 31,” Professor Glover said.

Government program fails to reach targets

The data comes as new figures reveal a Queensland state government program aimed at reducing the number of overweight and obese adults across the state is failing to reach its targets.

The most recent report on the Health and Wellbeing Strategic Framework shows that in 2014, 58 per cent of the adult population in Queensland was considered overweight or obese.

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The program’s 2020 target to reduce that number to 55 per cent has fallen short by 114,000 people.

The report, released earlier this month, states: “There has been no decrease in the prevalence of adult overweight and obesity. It is unlikely the 5 per cent reduction will be achieved by 2020.”

The document also reveals the number of people now considered to be of a healthy weight range failed to reach its 2020 target by almost 70,000 adults, with just 35 per cent of the population having a healthy weight.

Robyn Littlewood, chief executive of Health and Wellbeing Queensland — a new state government agency designed to tackle the growing problem of expanding waistlines — said obesity was a complex issue and the Health and Wellbeing Strategic Framework was a good start.

“The way that we’ve done it in the past, it just doesn’t work,” Professor Littlewood said.

“The future’s big and it’s complicated … so this cannot work by just implementing a tax. There is no magic pill or treatment, this has to be an approach across government.”


John Glover says Queensland’s obesity data is concerning. (ABC News: Simon Royal)

The data on children is more promising, with the program showing 47,000 fewer children now considered to be overweight or obese, and 23 per cent of Queenslanders aged 18 years now meeting a healthy weight range.

A further 154,000 children are now more physically active every day, bringing the total to 43 per cent of the population, up from 39 per cent in 2014.

More than $14 million has been invested into the framework, reaching 300,000 Queenslanders — the equivalent of 6 per cent of the population.

“In terms of adults, we’re looking at healthy weight, we’re looking at fruit and veg intake, we’re looking at the way we move,” Professor Littlewood said.

What makes a suburb fat or fit?

Professor Glover believes there is a direct link between regional areas considered to be disadvantaged and those with high rates of obesity.

“We can see across Australia as a whole that areas which have got a high proportion of the population who are obese are the most disadvantaged areas of the country,” Professor Glover said.

“When we talk about socioeconomic disadvantage, we’re talking about people on lower incomes, people who are unemployed, people who are living in poor housing circumstances … there’s a whole range of factors there.”

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In Rockhampton, 59-year-old Pam Hutton has been on a journey to improve her health and fitness for the past two years.

In that time, she has lost 20 kilograms by training five days a week at a local women’s-only gym.

“It’s been up and down, food is always my biggest problem,” Ms Hutton said.

“Like most women, I emotionally eat but I never have trouble with the training. I love to train.”

The local teacher aide said the range of foods available in Rockhampton was having a big impact on the health of people in the region.

“The fast food is just too easy. You can go to any corner store and grab something that’s fattening and easy and cheap,” she said.

“Yesterday, it cost me $90 just on fruit and vegetables for two of us in our family, so it’s just ridiculous. Healthy food is expensive, fast food isn’t.”

Her personal trainer, Cindy McCulloch, said people in regional Queensland did not have the same opportunities to improve their health and lifestyle as those in metropolitan areas.

“[There’s a] bit of a limited access, so we don’t have as much variety and we don’t have access to physios, personal trainers and all the stuff that the big cities have,” Ms McCulloch said.

“I think there needs to be more awareness and more support about getting the community involved and supporting people like us, like gyms, in getting the message out there.”

Nature and climate key to Noosa’s healthy population

Noosa Council puts its low rate of obesity down to a good climate and natural environment, which lends itself to being outdoors.

Community development officer Cheryl Pattison said there were many activities in the region that were free or low cost.

“We have great facilities, we have fantastic national parks, pathways, cycleways, trail networks, so there’s plenty of outdoor activity to do and I guess our climate allows us to do that,” Ms Pattison said.


Noosa has the lowest obesity rate in regional Queensland, which the council attributes to its range of outdoor activities. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Professor Glover said the best approach to beating obesity was starting the education early.

“It needs to be a 20, 30-year, a generational approach, starting with the youngest, early years of life,” he said.

“It [obesity] may lead to things like heart disease and early and premature death, so it is a whole-of-life and a long-term thing and I’m not quite sure that we in Australia … are ready to do it yet.”


‘How are you feeling about starting high school?’: how to reduce back-to-school anxiety

Sydney 2000

A little while ago, my oldest child started primary school.

As we’d visited the uniform shop, the excitement radiated from her.

Well, if I’m being completely truthful, the excitement only started radiating after the initial disappointment had worn off.

Turned out she’d misheard me and had thought we were heading to the unicorn shop. She couldn’t wait to meet her teacher, to make new friends and to learn to read.

Despite a little trepidation about just how “big” big school was, she assured me that she felt mostly “nerve-cited,” which she explained was the feeling you get when you’re both nervous and excited at the same time.

You know the crazy part though? Turns out a little while was, in fact, somehow, seven years ago.

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I honestly don’t recall entering the time-speeding-up-machine, but I must have, because as I write this, my eldest daughter is actually about to start high school.

And funnily enough, it feels like we’ve come full circle as she once again prepares to head off to “big” school.

Yet despite it being a similarly big transition for our kids, much of the advice written for parents tends to focus on helping kids prepare to start primary, rather than high school.

Naturally, some of our children will find this big step less daunting than their peers.

For some, high school might already be a familiar place. Perhaps they attend a school that continues through from primary to secondary school. Or maybe they have an older sibling at high school already.

Others, like my daughter, enjoy change. Like others with a novelty-seeking temperament, she relishes change, viewing it as an adventure.

Many other children however, find change to be quite the opposite — unsettling, daunting and downright overwhelming.

Regardless of your child’s temperament though, there’s a lot of ‘newness’ to adapt to as your child moves from primary to secondary school.

Here are some tips that might help ease the transition for your soon-to-be high schooler.

Try to build familiarity

If your child’s school is yet to host an orientation day, make sure you head along. It will help your child to feel more settled if they’re already familiar with the environment.

Meet your child’s home room teacher if you can — your child will settle more quickly if they feel safe, confident and able to seek help from their teacher when needed.


The more parents can do to build familiarity with the classroom before school starts, the better, says Dr Henderson. (Jonathan Beal, file photo: ABC)

Specifically ensure that your child knows which classroom to head to on their first day; where to find the canteen; the toilets; and where to catch the bus or to meet you at the end of the day.

One of the most intimidating changes for new high schoolers is the move from a single teacher in a classroom to multiple teachers, changing timetables and differing classrooms.

Accessing their timetable in advance and taking the opportunity to visit their classrooms ahead of time will hopefully make this change a little less daunting.

If there won’t be an opportunity to visit the school before the term starts, does the school have a website you can explore with your child? Can you do a ‘virtual tour’ of the school? View the staff photo to identify their teacher? Watch the Principal’s video message?

The more you can do to build familiarity, the better.

Meet other students and families

Naturally, the move to high school will feel less daunting for kids who have primary school classmates moving into high school with them.

If that’s not the situation for your child, consider how you can arrange a meet up with some of their new classmates ahead of time.


Dr Kaylene Henderson is a child psychiatrist. (Supplied: Matt Barwick)

Does your child’s new school have a Facebook group you could join to request a catch up? Or can you ask that your details be passed on to any other new families who might be keen on a get-together before the school year begins?

Also, some parents are reluctant to ask their child how they’re feeling, for fear of creating anxiety.

Chances are, your child will be feeling a little anxious already and knowing that you’re interested and willing to listen will help them feel better, not worse.

Simply ask your child “How are you feeling about starting high school?” and acknowledge whatever feelings they share with you.

Also, the night before school starts, ensure your child has an early bedtime so they’re well rested for their first day.

Wake them early so that you can avoid frantically rushing and keep stress levels low.

If your child hasn’t been able to make it along to an orientation session, be sure to get your child to school early so that they can locate their classroom, toilets and canteen and introduce themselves to their teacher before the school bell rings.

Allow your child time to adjust

Try not to overschedule your child, at least in term one.

Keep checking in with them, stay present and interested when they talk about their new classmates and ensure there’s time in their week for downtime as they adapt to all the newness that high school brings.

Also remember to keep your own feelings in check. It can be hard for parents who didn’t enjoy high school themselves to feel excited and supportive of this transition, yet we need to be.

Children are very good at picking up on our stress. It signals to them that they’re heading into a dangerous situation and will worsen any anxiety they might have.

Our children will look to us for confidence and reassurance. Regardless of our own experience of high school, it’s important that we view this change as a positive one and be there for our children, cheering them on as their loyal and loving cheer squad.

So here we are, now just days away from high school and my daughter can’t wait to meet her teacher, new friends and to finally have a high school locker — she’s clearly watching more American high school movies than unicorn shows these days.

Once again, she’s feeling “nerve-cited” about this new high school adventure … and I’m here, forever on her team, reminding her that she’s got this.

Dr Kaylene Henderson is a medically trained Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and one of Australia’s leading parenting experts.


Plans for Kangaroo Island eco-lodges to be pursued despite bushfires levelling Flinders Chase


Controversial plans to build accommodation in a Kangaroo Island (KI) national park remain in place despite the region being levelled by bushfires, while Supreme Court proceedings launched by opponents will likely be delayed until June.

Key points:

  • Australian Walking Company’s plans to build accommodation pods in a Kangaroo Island national park are still going ahead
  • But the company has agreed to pause the project until the area regenerates after bushfires
  • Since the fires, the Environment Minister wants to step back and revisit the “divisive” and “messy” project

Australian Walking Company (AWC) was last year given approval to develop two new accommodation lodges within Flinders Chase National Park for tourists walking its KI Wilderness Trail — a 61-kilometre walking trail that opened in 2016.

But even though the national park was levelled in this summer’s bushfires, AWC executive director Neil Lynch said it would have taken two years for the Wilderness Lodge project to be completed anyway — thanks to court proceedings that could take six months to complete once they begin.

A bid to block the development was last year lodged by the KI Eco-Action Group, which wants a judicial review into the State Commission Assessment Panel’s decision to give development consent to AWC’s proposal.

“At the moment, we hold valid approvals for the same development in the same way,” Mr Lynch told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Breakfast program.

“What we’ve agreed to, at the state’s request, is to pause while we concentrate on what’s important at the moment, which is dealing with the fires and supporting the local community while it rebuilds.

“If the park is going to start showing signs of regeneration within two to three years, as we’ve been told, we were on that timeframe anyway, so it’s important to keep that in perspective when looking at what’s happened.”

Mr Lynch refuted claims it was too dangerous to build the eco-sensitive accommodation in a park that had been wiped out by a bushfire.

“Working in consultation with local experts, as we have in SA, and the local fire authorities, we believe we can manage that risk,” Mr Lynch said.

“Importantly … you don’t stay to defend. You evacuate and evacuate early and leave behind the buildings.”


The Kangaroo Island bushfires damaged more than 200,000 hectares of land. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Court action to press ahead

KI Eco-Action Group spokesman Fraser Vickery said their main issue with the lodges was their scale and location.

“The developments are not where they were originally proposed, and there are issues around the planning approval process,” he said.

The approved accommodation, which includes modular sleeping pods and suspended flooring, is to be located more than two kilometres off the Wilderness Trial and potentially in sight of users at Sandy Beach.


Up to 10 two-person pods were to be placed on the headland near Sandy Beach. (Supplied: Bev Maxwell)

Mr Vickery said they would be fronting up to a Supreme Court hearing Thursday morning where it was expected that their case to put an injunction on any works would be adjourned until June.

He said many in the group had also opposed the Southern Ocean Lodge — located outside the park — due to the “impact on the wilderness and the fire risk”.

The luxury tourism lodge had to be evacuated before it was destroyed in the Ravine fire, which was only just announced as officially contained on Tuesday after burning for three weeks.

“There are all sorts of risks associated with these developments, in this climate, in this wilderness,” Mr Vickery said.

Video: Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island after fire ripped through

(ABC News)

Minister to revisit proposal

SA Environment Minister David Speirs said there had been a “fair bit of angst” about the Wilderness Lodge project and the fires had given him a chance as the “responsible minister to step back and say, let’s take a good look at this again”.

“The project was to progress throughout 2020 and that won’t be the case now because the landscape and the place where that was going to be is completely different,” he said.

“It’s completely burnt.”

Mr Speirs said the project had become “messy” and “divisive”.

“Given the extent of community angst and unhappiness, we are talking with AWC about stepping back, taking a good look at this project and what it will look like going forward,” he said.

“I don’t think you’ll ever get everyone onside with a project like this because some people just believe national parks shouldn’t be places where accommodation is built, but I think we can work through this and get a better outcome.”

Eco-lodge location ‘changed’

Member for Mawson Leon Bignell said that, as the former tourism minister under Labor, he and his colleagues had walked through the original site where the developments were to be built.

“People over here, including the Friends of the Parks and the green group, were in favour of the original locations of these pods,” Mr Bignell said.

“But somewhere after we went into caretaker mode [ahead of the 2018 state election], and David Speirs and the [Steven] Marshall Government emerged on the other side, there’s been some kind of change.

“There were changes made between the public servants and the walking company.”


Friends of Parks KI Western Districts on strike in protest at the accommodation. (Supplied: Colin Wilson)

He said Mr Speirs needed to talk with the Friends of the Parks and “get the peace pipe out” and “get it back on track to where they [the pods] were originally going to be”.

“This is actually a chance where we can wipe the slate clean and get something that suits everyone, which is what politics is all about — trying to find a compromise,” Mr Bignell said.

Mr Lynch said the wilderness lodges were a long-term project and if it required more discussion with the people of Kangaroo Island and SA, the company would participate.


Has Australia’s climate switch been flipped?

Adelaide 5000

Just days after some of the worst bushfires ever seen in Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology tweeted on January 8 that a climate driver called the Indian Ocean Dipole had returned to neutral.

Around the same time, another climate driver, the Southern Annular Mode, returned to neutral as well.

Then the rains came in eastern Australia. And hail. And floods. And dust storms. And lightning.

“It’s really happened with a bang, or a real switch from unusually dry and stable conditions to this really significant event,” said meteorologist Diana Eadie.

“The system that brought a supercell to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne is the same system that brought the large hail to Canberra, and it’s the same system that’s also been aiding storm development in Queensland.”


A dust storm approaches Nyngan, west of Dubbo. (Supplied: Emily Barclay)

Senior BOM climatologist Felicity Gamble said the change in the state of the climate drivers had not caused the wild weather — it just made conditions more favourable for rain.

“You still need to have those synoptic systems come through,” she said.

“But given that the drivers are now neutral, we’re in a much more favourable position for that to occur than we were, say, a couple of months ago.”

Record climate driver events

The IOD has been identified as one of the main culprits behind the drought and this summer’s terrible bushfires.

When waters are cooler than usual off Western Australia and warmer off east Africa (as they were this past spring), scientists call this a positive IOD.

In times of positive IOD, Australia typically experiences drought — last year’s positive IOD event was the second strongest ever recorded.

A positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole can lead to reduced rainfall across Australia.
(Supplied: BOM)

At the same time, Australian weather has also been under the influence of a negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM), bringing strong, dry westerly winds — bushfire winds — further north.

Last year’s negative SAM event was the strongest on record.

Climate drivers change simultaneously

Ms Gamble said that around the start of the year, three big climate drivers changed.

“SAM and the IOD did both decline at the same time, and, tied in with that, the southern movement of the monsoonal trough — it did all just line up at the start of 2020.”


A negative SAM in summer favours hotter, drier winds. (Supplied: BOM)

Ms Eadie said easterly winds had begun flowing again across the eastern seaboard.

“We’re seeing a lot more moisture now streaming off the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea,” she said.

“We’ve been in easterly winds along the east coast for the better part of the last couple of weeks, and with that moisture is increased as well.

“So unlike previous systems coming through with a lot of wind but very dry conditions, this particular low was able to tap into a lot more moisture along the entirety of the eastern seaboard.”


The IOD can sometimes have a bigger impact on our climate than an El Nino or La Nina event. (Supplied: Rebecca Farquhar)

Positive IOD linked to bushfires, drought

Ms Gamble said there was a strong correlation between positive IODs and rainfall deficiencies, and then negative IODs and above-average rainfall.

“You say ‘El Nino’ and people know, ‘Oh, that means drought in Australia’, or vice versa, people tend to know La Nina means wetter-than-average conditions as well,” she said.

“But you say ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’, and most people wouldn’t really know what a positive IOD means or what a negative IOD means.

“And yet it can have as big, sometimes bigger impact on our climate than an El Nino or La Nina event — perhaps because it doesn’t have quite such a catchy name.”

The drought is not over

The BOM is predicting an equal chance of a wetter or drier-than-average period from February to April for most of Australia.

In other words, with climate drivers returned to neutral, the conditions favour an average amount of rain in most of Australia over the next few months.

Despite recent rain, senior BOM climatologist Andrew Watkins cautioned the drought was not over, tweeting:

External Link:

Watkins Tweet


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