Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is recovering in Australia after undergoing urgent heart surgery, according to the Fijian government.
Mr Bainimarama had unexpected surgery after a routine check-up in Melbourne found a cardiovascular problem
The 67-year-old is expected to make a full recovery and return to his role by the end of February
News of Mr Bainimarama comes after he had not been seen in public for more than a week
Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum announced at a press conference on Saturday that the PM was currently in Melbourne where he had undergone surgery on Thursday morning.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum, who is also acting-PM, said the 67-year-old was in recovery and had been in contact with his family after surgery.
“We are very happy to report that it was a great success. He's now well on his way to recovery,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama had been in Melbourne a week prior for a scheduled medical examination when he was told he would require urgent medical treatment.
“Our prime minister was informed by his physician that he needed to undertake an urgent cardiovascular-related surgical procedure,” Mr Sayed-Kaiyum said.
Mr Bainimarama is expected to make a full recovery and return to his role by the end of February.
“Per the doctor's orders, this type of surgery takes weeks at a minimum to recover from," Mr Sayed-Kaiyum said.
“So we expect to have our prime minister back at the helm of the nation, fitter than ever, by the end of next month.”
News of Mr Bainamara comes after questions about his whereabouts had been raised by local media due to his failure to visit affected areas after the January 10 Tropical Cyclone Cody.
The PM had not been seen in public since January 5 and government officials would only confirm he was overseas.
Earlier rumours of the PM being in New Zealand were quashed as "fake news" by the man himself, tweeting a selfie from a store in the Fijian capital Suva.
It is common for Pacific leaders to seek medical treatment in neighbouring countries such as Australia or New Zealand.
A public health specialist says he told a group of parliamentarians, including several Coalition members, back in August that Australia's PCR-testing system was destined to buckle and that the government should immediately start planning for the use of rapid antigen tests.
- Public health specialist Henning Liljeqvist says he gave a presentation to the Parliamentary Friends of Medicine group in August 2021
- He says he warned the group that the PCR-testing system would soon be overwhelmed
- Dr Liljeqvist says he advised the group that the focus needed to shift to rapid antigen tests
Dr Henning Liljeqvist said he, infectious diseases expert Professor Mary-Louise McLaws and Pathology Technology Australia chief executive Dean Whiting provided an hour-long presentation to the Parliamentary Friends of Medicine group on August 25, 2021.
ABC's 7.30 understands several Coalition and Labor MPs were in attendance.
Dr Liljeqvist said he warned members of government that the PCR-testing system would soon "not be able to cope" with Australia's growing case numbers and the government should quickly shift to rapid testing.
"Not only could [RAT supply issues] be predicted, it was predicted," Dr Liljeqvist said.
"I'm pretty confused because all we could see was a head-in-the-sand approach from government … I don't know why they protected the PCR-testing system for so long and it's been detrimental to us that that system was kept longer than it could cope."
Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from January 11 with a look back at our blog. Dr Henning Liljeqvist says the PCR-testing system was "kept longer than it could cope".(Supplied: Henning Liljeqvist)
Health Minister Greg Hunt has been a long-time supporter of rapid antigen tests but he was not at the presentation.
A spokesperson for Mr Hunt said “rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 used at the point of care when overseen by a healthcare professional have been available in Australia since August 2020".
"The government has been an early adopter of RATs and has been purchasing RATs since August 2020, which have been distributed to residential aged care facilities (RACF) across the country through the national medical stockpile," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also said the minister supported a range of testing methods.
"While RATs are a quick and efficient way of testing for COVID-19, they are not as effective as PCR testing," the spokesperson said
“The combination of having self-tests, point-of-care tests and PCR tests available is the most effective."
However, Labor MP Mike Freelander, who co-chairs the group, said members of the government seemed receptive to the presentation from the health professionals but then did not act on what they heard.
"The government and the Department of Health have been very slow to take up rapid antigen testing," Dr Freelander said.
"Both the government and the Department of Health have been too focused on the negatives, rather than the positives and enormous benefits, that rapid antigen testing offers."
Take-home tests were approved in the US in November 2020 and were approved by the UK regulator a month later.
However, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) did not approve the sale of take-home tests in Australia until November 1 last year.
So far, the TGA has approved 21 brands of rapid tests for home use.
Unable to get rapid tests approved Adam Williams says he has not been able to get TGA approval for the rapid antigen tests his business is importing.(Supplied: Olivia Collins)
But many within the home-test industry say securing TGA approval is still too difficult.
Adam Williams, the chief executive of SupplyAus, says the rapid test kit that his business is importing from China still hasn't received TGA approval.
He says he currently has five million tests in storage in China that can't be sold because of the delay.
"The factory has sold over 50 million of these whistle tests globally," Mr Williams said.
"There's never been a recall. There has never been an impact — their orders keep flowing to everywhere else on the planet."
Brisbane-based SupplyAus is an Indigenous-run business. It hopes to sell some of the tests to remote Aboriginal communities for just $5 each.
"There's communities that are just kilometres away from any help … it would keep the community safe," Mr Williams said.
"And we really can't bury them with cost, they get stung enough from with the cost of meat to milk to bread. I don't think they should be paying $15-plus for these tests."
Mr Williams also says the process to attain TGA approval is prohibitively expensive.
"We're probably close now to about $85,000 in consulting fees … it's really exhausting. When, daily, I will get phone calls from Aboriginal communities or Aboriginal health centres saying, 'Please, we need help'."
A spokesperson for the TGA told ABC's 7.30 its approval process was not difficult.
"The TGA process for rapid antigen tests is significantly streamlined and transparent for applicants, with extensive support and guidance offered by TGA staff every step of the way," the spokesperson said.
"It is not slow nor expensive, given the time taken for the regulatory reviews of data submitted and the significant 'hand-holding' that is occurring."
The TGA spokesperson said approval could, in some case, acquired within three days.
Watch this 7.30 story on ABC iview.
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Living with a degenerative disability is difficult, but it's nothing compared to knowing there are life-changing treatments I can't access because I'm too old, and they are too expensive.
I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA Type 1, a rare and severe genetic condition that affects around 1 in 10,000 people and is carried by 1 in 40.
SMA has four different forms and Type 1 is the second most severe, with most babies dying before they reach the age of two.
The severity of the type is determined by how many copies of a particular gene — survivor motor neuron or SMN — a person has.
SMN produces a protein that affects motor neurons and without many copies, it causes muscle weakness and even paralysis.
Defying the odds
When I was diagnosed with SMA Type 1 in 1994, my family was told I would die by the age of two and nothing could be done.
SMA is incurable, but I survived against the odds and have lived long enough to see the invention of three treatments making a huge difference to the lives of people living with the condition.
They are Spinraza, also known as Nusinersen, Risdiplam, and Zolgensma.
Risdiplam is the only SMA treatment that's delivered orally.
Eleanor, with her sister Kirsten (left) and mother Karen, wants Risdiplam to be accessible to more adults like her.
All three increase production of the SMN protein, slowing progression of the disease.
This was amazing news for the SMA community. We had gone from zero to three treatments in only a few short years.
Suddenly the outlook for adults like me was less grim. Until now.
I've been using Risdiplam for almost 18 months, with significant improvements to my physical strength and endurance.
But that could be about to change. In August, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) ruled that neither Risdiplam nor Spinraza would be available for people aged over 18.
My treating neurologist, Dr Merrilee Needham, was able to prescribe me Risdiplam with a compassionate exemption because of the severity of my case and at this stage, I still take it for free.
Risdiplam, Spinraza, Zolgensma all expensive
But that option isn't available to everyone, and I don't know how long I'll have access to this life-changing medication.
Risdiplam costs more than $400,000 a year and it's taken for a person's whole life.
By the time Aviana McElwee was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, some of her nerve cells had already died. Advocates say that doesn't have to be the case.
The drugs are so expensive because of the high cost to trial and manufacture the precision medication. When a novel drug does work and gets approved, costs can be substantial to cover the money spent in failed trials and future research.
Spinraza costs more than $1 million in its first year and Zolgensma — described as the most expensive drug in the world — is worth more than $2.8 million for a one-off injection.
Risdiplam trials in Australia are small and no results on its effectiveness in adults have been published yet. The trials show the drug works for children, but only a few adults have access to it at this stage.
Dr Steve Wilton, a neuromuscular disease researcher from Murdoch University, is concerned the cost of the drugs will be a long-term issue.
"The cost of these drugs [is] horrendous," Dr Wilton said.
"It's really harsh putting a value on life … but to do this research is really expensive.
"What we're trying to do is improve the quality of life.
"In SMA what you're trying to do is turn a Type 1 Into Type 2.
Murdoch University's Steve Wilton, pictured with fellow researchers Loren Flynn and Sue Fletcher, is worried about the cost of the drugs.(Supplied: Murdoch University)
"I don't know what's going to happen when you've got kids being treated from six months and still going at 18 years, you can't stop the treatment."
He describes Risdiplam as "promising" and hopes it will be made available to everyone who needs it.
More data on adults needed
Dr Needham says Risdiplam should be available to patients regardless of their age.
"Even though the disease is slower in adults, it should still work," she said.
"Treatment shouldn't be dictated by age; if it works, it should be available for everyone.
Dr Merrilee Needham says it is "heartbreaking" that not all patients can access the treatment. (Supplied: Josh Wells)
"Unless I inherit them on-treatment, it's very hard to access treatment for adults in the current system.
"These patients face a future that they will decline over time, it's the natural progression … [yet] there's a treatment that can impact that, and not being able to access that is heartbreaking."
Julie Cini is the CEO of advocacy group Spinal Muscular Atrophy Australia (SMAA) and lost both of her children, Montanna and Zarlee, to the degenerative disease when they were only 10 and 12 months old respectively.
Julie Cini founded SMAAafter losing both her children Zarlee (left) and Montanna (right) to Spinal Muscular Atrophy in 2007 and 2005.(ABC News)
Ms Cini says the PBS bases its decision on the available data and there isn't enough information on the effectiveness in adults yet.
"That is the crux of the reason why over 18s don't have access to Risdiplam here in Australia," she said.
Gene therapy drugs a game changer
Perron Institute scientist Loren Flynn researched possible treatments for SMA through the University of Western Australia in the days before Spinraza came onto the market.
Dr Flynn has been involved in researching treatments for SMA.
Dr Flynn said the improvements in treatment changed significantly in a short time.
"We've come a very long way in the last four years," she said.
"Spinraza was the first treatment approved that would have an impact on the disease progression.
"Since then, there's the gene therapy drugs, Zolgensma [and] now with Risdiplam, that's changed the treatment space entirely."
Dr Flynn believes the early results for Risdiplam in children show promise.
"It's more comfortable to take, there are less side effects," she said.
"There have been clinical improvements for adults receiving Spinraza [and] clinical trials to test Risdiplam in adults are ongoing."
Dr Flynn said as technology to manufacture and deliver precision medication improved, the cost of the drugs would go down.
Julie Cini says more information is needed about Risdiplam's effectiveness in adults. (ABC News: Supplied)
SMAA is working with the companies to provide relevant data on the trials, which are passed onto the PBS.
Risdiplam decision due next year
The PBS will examine the data and make another decision on the availability of Risdiplam for adults in 2022.
What's clear from the different trials is that treatment for SMA is not the same for adults as it is for children.
This is something Dr Lauren Sanders, Associate Professor of Neurology at St Vincent Hospital in Melbourne, is working to address. She is a paid member on advisory committees for Roche and Biogen.
She remembers how it felt hearing the first Spinraza results in 2016.
"We were all just blown away that these babies, that previously would have died were sitting up and standing and walking, it was just incredible," she said.
Research from Germany shows Spinraza is improving the quality of life in adults too.
Find out how you can get involved this year on the IDPwD website.
"I've been a lot more convinced by the data that's come out of Germany," she says.
In America and Germany, adults have open access to Risdiplam, and efforts are underway to obtain data from those countries.
"It won't be as strong an evidence base as if it had been a proper clinical trial but certainly it will give us an indicator of effectiveness and safety," Dr Sanders said.
Dr Sanders is also consulting the adult SMA community in Australia to develop a standardised treatment.
Hopefully for people like me, the trial results will speak for themselves, and we can continue to improve our quality of life, even if the results are small.
ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million Australians with disability.
Parliament wrapped up for the year six days ago. Most sensible folk are probably done with politics by now.
However, for those who have been paying attention, events over the past week have neatly captured the major trends and political changes of 2021, which — to varying degrees — will shape the coming election.
On Friday, Labor delivered a detailed climate policy that won immediate backing from business. Anthony Albanese's level of climate ambition isn't all that different to Bill Shorten's before the last election.
The big shift in 2021 has come from business groups. It would have been previously unthinkable for the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and others to endorse a Labor climate policy.
Their willingness to do so, coupled with even greater ambition from Liberal state governments, is potentially an election game-changer.
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 9 seconds2m 9s Labor Leader Anthony Albanese outlines his party's climate strategy.
On Monday, Annastacia Palaszczuk announced she would bring forward the re-opening of the Queensland border to next week.
South Australia, meanwhile, is holding the line in keeping its border open. This marks another major shift of 2021.
After early supply failures, the vaccination take-up has beaten most expectations. The states — most of them, anyway — are relying on vaccines rather than border closures to manage COVID-19.
It remains to be seen how much credit, if any, flows to Scott Morrison, but it's a far happier place for the Prime Minister to be than earlier in the year — when too few were vaccinated, major cities were in rolling lockdowns and borders were slammed shut.
Fractures and flirtations within the Nationals
On Tuesday, the National Party was agonising over George Christensen's latest flirtation with the far right. This has been a regular theme throughout the year; National Party MPs at war with each other over their rogue elements and their own identity.
In 2021, Barnaby Joyce returned to the leadership, ostensibly so the Nationals could take a tougher line against any move by the Morrison Government towards adopting a net zero by 2050 emissions target.
After plenty of noise, net zero was ultimately endorsed, and it remains unclear what the Nationals achieved in return.
The party remains fractured over personalities, policies and who it's seeking to represent.
In 2021, Barnaby Joyce returned to the leadership and found himself dealing with rogue colleagues and net zero promises.(ABC News: Adam Kennedy)
On Wednesday, the New South Wales Premier took to the stage at the National Press Club and took the leadership mantle on national reform.
State leaders have been thrust into national prominence throughout the pandemic. The notable shift in 2021 has been their willingness to grab the steering wheel on matters beyond COVID-19, particularly climate change.
Dominic Perrottet is now proposing sweeping reform of health, the NDIS, and the "complete dog's breakfast" of overlapping state and federal responsibilities in the skills and education sector.
He wants a proper review of the weaknesses COVID-19 has exposed in our Federation, "a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what, buck-passing, blame-shifting and sometimes, hyper-parochialism".
At a federal level, there's little appetite on either side of politics to even touch these problems.
The rise of independents
Yesterday, the Prime Minister also confirmed Australia will join a "diplomatic boycott" of next year's Beijing Winter Olympics. Scott Morrison said the decision should come as "no surprise" and he was right.
The federal parliament spent its last fortnight generating eye-rolls from all and sundry. For the rest of Australia, it's a spectacle that confirms the institution's shocking disconnect from real life.
The downward spiral in relations began before 2021. The shift this year has been an acceptance that rapprochement with Beijing isn't going to happen. Instead, reality has been accepted and the government has gone about putting harder defences and alliances in place to deal with a more dangerous security environment.
This year, the Quad was elevated, AUKUS was born and conventional submarines were ditched in favour of nuclear-powered boats. Australia's decision to side with the Biden Administration in a limited boycott of the Games confirms the trajectory we're on.
The past week also saw the Prime Minister grappling with the other significant political trend of 2021: The rise of the independents.
Morrison campaigned in the seat of Wentworth with Dave Sharma, who's facing a serious challenge from independent candidate Allegra Spender.
He tried to convince Gladys Berejiklian to run for the Liberals against independent Zali Steggall in Warringah.
The new independent candidate for Wentworth, Allegra Spender, is taking on the Liberals' Dave Sharma.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)
The well-resourced, organised female independents taking on mostly male Liberals in blue-ribbon seats are running on three core issues: climate, gender equity and integrity. Morrison is vulnerable on each one.
It's a perfect storm for the so-called "teal" independents. The election will reveal whether they pose a permanent threat to the Liberal Party or are just a campaign nuisance. The emergence of these candidates throughout 2021, however, is already having an impact.
So, while 2021 has been dominated by COVID-19, as the past six days show, the political landscape has been shifting in all sorts of ways.
David Speers is the host of Insiders, which will be back in the New Year. You can see recent episodes of the program on ABC iview.
It's a simple idea, and one that has a deep connection to Australian culture: from little things, big things grow.
So goes the song, by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly, about the burgeoning land rights movement in the 1960s and '70s.
But for the ABC's Rulla Kelly-Mansell, who hails from northern Lutruwita-Tasmania and now calls Adelaide home, the phrase is also a literal one.
Kelly-Mansell's new show Cooking on Country, is about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and how the nation's landscape has acted as a greenhouse and larder for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years.
"It's called Cooking on Country for a reason," Kelly-Mansell said.
"There's this narrative that we lived traditionally, as if that's all it was, but no. We had a sustainable way of living, we were the first farmers, we had this all figured out.
"There is an alternative way of living that's within arm's reach, which is valued and pays respect to the traditional ways of First Nations people.
"Like the song goes, from little things big things will hopefully grow."
Kelly-Mansell described Cooking on Country as a light-hearted take on the traditional cooking show format, but it also has serious and personal undertones, and briefly touches upon Kelly-Mansell's cancer diagnosis at the age of 27.
The show promotes traditional food as a form of gastronomy in its own right. (Cooking on Country)
The proud Tulampanga Kooparoona Niara Pakana man journeys to Darwin with his close friend, fellow footballer-turned-performer Marlon Motlop, where they share stories — and recipes — with the locals.
"In this particular instance it's Larrakia people – Larrakia are saltwater people from the Northern Territory," Kelly-Mansell said.
"We travel to the Northern Territory, we travel to Darwin, we go and hunt the food that we're eating, and by doing that we're on Country, and we're learning from the Larrakia people."
In one episode, Kelly-Mansell and Motlop team up with Motlop's cousin Daniel, a Larrakia man and former AFL footballer, to cook mudcrab — a delicacy Kelly-Mansell describes as the "crayfish of the Top End".
Other comestibles on the menu include native figs, green ants, barramundi and magpie goose.
Former AFL footballer Daniel Motlop appears in one of the episodes to cook mudcrab. (Cooking on Country)Combining the commercial with the sustainable
In recent years, "bush tucker" has undergone something of an image change.
While earlier TV shows — notably The Bush Tucker Man — helped to highlight traditional food, the focus of Cooking on Country is not simply on food as sustenance.
Rather, the show promotes traditional food as a form of gastronomy in its own right, as something that the broader Australian public should be including on its own dinner plates.
Bush tucker is something that belongs very much in the same breath as the haute cuisine of other nations around the world.
"In terms of meals, I think they're all going to surprise people," Kelly-Mansell said.
"A lot of people probably won't even know what a magpie goose is.
"Something simple can be quite high-end."
Another theme at the core of Cooking on Country is the value of traditional foods and recipes, in both an ethical and a commercial sense.
"I'm close friends with two brother boys who also run a business that's focused on food, and native food in particular," Kelly-Mansell said.
"They essentially hunt and collect it themselves and bring it back and sell it through their store.
"The idea is that we showcase people who are doing that in a commercial setting, and we highlight the significance of actually going and collecting it and what we can cook from it — and being back on Country."
Rulla Kelly-Mansell says Cooking on Country is a light-hearted take on the traditional cooking show format.(Cooking on Country)
But, as Kelly-Mansell points out, one type of value derives from the other.
It is only by respecting the land and what it provides that those involved in its cultivation can ensure its sustainability as a resource.
"There's an old saying about Aboriginal culture — there were no such words as 'please' and 'thank you', because they were never needed, it was just expected that you share," he said.
"We never take more than what we have to.
"We need to create a culture and generation coming through where healthy, sustainable eating and living is just the norm — it's not something you have to go out and seek.
"We can do that in a way that is ethical and sustainable that doesn't harm the species' longevity but also benefits your health."
Lily Mitchell is brimming with ideas.
Her enthusiasm bubbles when she talks about her plans for the future.
"I'd love to create a children's show which kids with disabilities can feel a part of," she said.
The 25-year-old is a filmmaker and competitive sprinter.
She is also legally blind.
"I'd like to find ways to make the film industry more accessible for talent and crew who are differently abled.
"I want to use my experience and skills to make life better for people like me who are living in isolated communities."
Walk past her on the street and you'd likely never know Lily has a visual impairment.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
Ms Mitchell has an eye condition called cone rod dystrophy, which was diagnosed when she was 11.
"It affects my retina — that means that the light that travels through those cells is disrupted when it gets sent to my brain," she said.
"I have blind spots primarily in my frontal vision that extends out to my peripheral vision.
"It's like having a cobweb or TV static over the front of my eyes."
Lily says she fell into sound work for film.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
But don't pity her or treat her like she's some type of superhero for her achievements.
"When people think it's astounding that someone like me can get to that stage – it's nice, but it creates a bit of pressure and a bit of a heroic mentality around disabled people," Ms Mitchell said.
"I think it's a little unrealistic to put disabled people on a pedestal on one hand, but on the other hand have people not expecting me to get far or even thinking of me in a way that's equal."
Film provided an escape, then a passion
A childhood love of Harry Potter movies led Lily to film school at Griffith University, where she completed a degree and now specialises in audio production.
"I kind of fell into sound … it might have been because I wasn't too good at finding focus on the camera," she said with a smile.
Lily uses her mobile phone to help read the dials on her sound equipment.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
She's worked on multiple projects, some of which are doing the rounds of the film festival circuit.
"Film helped me get through a lot of dark times," she said.
"I was diagnosed just before I started high school, so film really helped me just kind of escape — I got very obsessive about how it was made.
"That's why I've followed that passion to create stories and worlds for people like me to help them escape, or learn, grow, or reflect."
One of her first projects was a video for university students.
"I wanted to try and help other students with disabilities like myself who might be struggling to communicate their needs or be on the receiving end of a bit of discrimination from teaching staff from, maybe ignorance or misunderstanding, so I created this awareness promo," she said.
Even sound editing has a critical visual component.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
Lily's talent on the athletics track has taken her to the national championships.
"Getting to the nationals was something I really prided myself on," she said.
But it was also athletics that created an enormous identity crisis and feelings of unworthiness.
While Lily grew up in a sporty family, she never considered running would take her far until she started losing her sight and it was suggested that she become involved in para-athletics.
Lily lost confidence when she ran into people who stepped in front of her on the track.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
Pretty soon she bought into the perception that being a Paralympian was the best thing a person with a disability could be.
"It kind of got drilled into me that the most success — well that's how I interpreted it — the most success that I could create for myself and give to others was being a Paralympian," she said.
"I felt a lot of pressure over the years, upholding that identity of myself.
"I thought that was the only success I could have in life, and I also thought that if I achieve anything less than being a Paralympian, it wasn't good enough."
Lily sees nothing in front of her when she runs.(ABC News: Sally Eeles)
The weight of her own expectations, and what she believed to be society's expectations, became too much early last year.
"These pressures were just building, and I hit that metaphorical brick wall," she said.
That "brick wall" came in the shape of two people who inadvertently stepped onto the athletics track in front of Lily while she was training.
She could not see them and slammed into them.
"When I run, I run straight into my blind spot," she said.
"People say only focus on your own race … well, I can only see everyone else's race."
Lily and her deaf training partner Jamie Howell act as each other's eyes and ears.(ABC News: Sally Eeles)
While no-one was badly hurt, Lily's confidence and fragile ego were shattered.
"One of my biggest fears was always running into someone — I had such a fear of causing someone else pain because of my visual impairment," she said.
It sent her into a downward spiral and she retreated from the track and from the world.
As Australia went into its first COVID-19 lockdown last year, Lily was grieving the loss of the person she thought she had to be.
With therapy and nurturing from loved ones, she started building herself a new identity — it took a year.
"I finally figured out that I don't have to be anything for anyone," she said.
"Everyone has value — no matter what they're going through and who they are. And therefore no matter what I do in life — whatever I choose to do — there's value in it."
Lily's partner, Ramin Karimi.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
She has recently moved into a unit at Mount Gravatt in Brisbane's south with her partner, videographer Ramin Karimi.
The pair met on a shoot a couple of years ago and are each other's staunchest allies.
Ramin said he had gone through discrimination based on his culture and background.
"I know it doesn't feel good, so it allows me to understand — it's probably worse for her because she's living through it every day," he said.
Lily said she had "so much appreciation, love and admiration for Ramin".
"I'm grateful for the love and support of him and my family and friends," she said.
Lily says Ramin didn't realise she was blind when they first met.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
They sit on the couch together and laugh as Ramin strums a guitar and serenades her with an improvised ditty.
"Lily you're so silly because you eat too much chilli," he sings.
Having a vision impairment is just part of who Lily is.
It gives her an insight into a world that able-bodied people may never experience, but one that she is determined to make them know exists.
"It's definitely something that people can be more aware of and be more open to learning about," she said.
"As someone who is in filmmaking, I really want to create awareness and representation so that there are things on offer for people who may misunderstand or perpetuate stereotypes that they naturally navigate towards."
Back on the track
Lily's now back on the track at the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre, but this time it is for fitness not competition.
Her childhood training mate, Jamie Howell, is by her side.
Lily Mitchell and Jamie Howell have been training partners since childhood.(ABC News: Sally Eeles )
Jamie, who has represented Australia at the Deaflympics, is profoundly deaf but uses a cochlear implant to access speech and sound.
"We train together, we motivate each other and push each other," Jamie said.
"Sometimes I may have to give the occasional prompt if there's a hurdle in the way.
"So I'm definitely her eyes, but she's my ears, and it works well for us."
Lily's disability also provides material for her self-deprecating sense of humour.
She laughs as she recalls her first day of film school.
Lily Mitchell is back on the track now after overcoming a nightmare collision that shattered her confidence.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
"They're like, 'You will have to have a driver's licence by the end of this degree', and I thought 'LOL! That's impossible.'"
While she jokes, things other people take for granted can take her a little more time and effort.
Turning up on a film set can be confronting, when you can't really see where you are.
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"Like how do I get into a building? Often I'm walking around going is that the front door or am I going to walk into a stranger's home?" she said, laughing.
But Lily has learned to adapt for herself.
For instance, she uses the zoom feature on her smart phone's camera to increase the size of print that she needs to read.
She'll lean close to the computer monitor to make out images on the screen.
But walk past her on the street and you'd likely never know Lily has a visual impairment.
"I have kind of trained myself to adapt and look as normal as possible because of the way I have been treated," she said.
Even her partner Ramin didn't realise at first.
"It just opened my eyes to how ignorant some people were — including myself — I didn't know much about the disabled community," he said.
'An undercover agent in the able-bodied community'
Lily has an invisible disability, which can be good and bad.
When people aren't aware of her impairment, they treat Lily just like everyone else.
Lily and her partner Ramin met on a shoot a couple of years ago.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)
That's good, but it also means people don't understand why she may have difficulty or take longer carrying out a task than others would.
However, when her disability is visible, it can be worse.
"I can almost be an undercover agent in the able-bodied community one day and then really be treated quite differently the next," Lily said.
"The other day I was with a support worker who had a lanyard which stated that she was a support worker and the lady at the check-out didn't refer to me or speak to me even though I was buying my own groceries, which I often do on my own."
Lily's mission is to increase awareness and inclusivity of people with different abilities.
Find out how you can get involved this year on the IDPwD website.
It all starts with a little understanding.
"I'd like to be treated with mutual respect and less judgement," she said.
"Discrimination will only change when the ableist society willingly takes a step back, and reflects on false perceptions and stereotypes," she said.
"I'd like to see more tolerance, patience and openness to understanding.
"That would be the most helpful for creating conversations around fundamental change towards the acceptance of people with disabilities."
ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the 4.4 million Australians with disability.
Nathan was once told he’d never run his own business — now he’s doing it with the support of a major corporate
When Nathan Johnston was younger, people told him he was "dreaming" when he talked about starting his own business.
- Nathan Johnston created a fully accessible social media platform from his dining room table
- The platform will be launched today, to mark International Day of People with Disability
- Australia's Disability Strategy will include tools to encourage more employers to hire people with disability
The 27-year-old lives with cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair and cannot read or write.
"All those hurtful things that got said to me by several different people, all of that's driven me to where I'm at right now," Mr Johnston said.
"It made me a bit angry — but it made me more determined."
But today, on International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), his dream will become a reality, as he launches a social media platform with support from a major corporate.
Mr Johnston lives on a property on the far south coast of NSW, just outside of the Bega Valley.
He uses screen-reading technology to navigate his computer and phone.
From isolation to connection Unable to attend his usual activities, Nathan felt more isolated during the pandemic.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
When the pandemic began last year, Mr Johnston went through a "rough patch" as he found himself more isolated than usual and unable to attend his normal activities.
Working from his dining room table, he created a fully accessible social media platform called Disability Club.
"A lot of people [with disability] have trouble navigating mainstream social media, as some of the content is inaccessible," he said.
"It jumps up and down on my phone when my screen reader is on, and some of the buttons and icons aren't compatible."
Nathan created Disability Club from his dining room table.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
Mr Johnston entered his concept for Disability Club in an innovation competition and was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Broadband Network.
The money has fast-tracked web development for the platform and taken Disability Club to the "next level".
Individuals, with and without disability, can join Disability Club for free, but corporates and disability service providers will pay a fee, eventually providing Mr Johnston with an income.
"I want to start making a living for myself whilst helping other people like myself," Mr Johnston said.
"Disability Club is all-inclusive, it means people can connect with family and friends, hear about news in the sector and connect with services."
New disability strategy and advisory council
Employment of people with disability is one of five targeted areas in Australia's Disability Strategy 2021-31, which will be released today to mark IDPwD.
Find out how you can get involved this year on the IDPwD website.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the 4.4 million Australians living with disability should have the same opportunities as anyone else — and employment was one of the most important issues.
"We know that a lot of employers, when we speak to them, say that they are happy to employ somebody with a disability, but that's not translating into people actually employing people," she said.
Senator Ruston said employers would be given the "tools" to make them "less reluctant and resistant to employing people with disability in the future".
The strategy includes funding for the National Disability Data Asset to measure the impact of services and programs accessed by people with disability.
Nathan is excited for the future, and hopes there are bigger things to come.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
Other areas targeted in the strategy include education; inclusive homes and communities; justice; and community attitudes.
A Disability Advisory Council, headed by Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlett along with others with lived experience, will measure the effectiveness of the strategy.
'Bigger things to come'
Mr Johnston admitted he was "shocked" at the support he had received for Disability Club.
"First I want to get everyone in Australia on board, whether it's free members or corporate members, and then I want to take it international," he said.
To mark IDPwD, Mr Johnston will take part in an official launch of the platform with guests from the NBN and other sponsors.
Along with Disability Club, Mr Johnston has also developed a music streaming platform, DME3, for musicians with disability.
"I'm excited for the future and feel like there are bigger things to come," he said.
Nathan says Disability Club will not tolerate any "nasty" content.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)
Mr Johnston said it was important on IDPwD — and every day — that he and other people with disability were treated like everyone else.
"It makes me feel quite proud and warm inside to know I'm getting treated equally," he said.
"No matter what your dreams are, no matter what capabilities you have got, if you've got the support of your family and friends in whatever you do, then you can do it."
ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the contributions and achievements of the 4.4 million Australians with disability.
From meeting Novak Djokovic to playing blind and low-vision tennis, the court opens up for Vanessa Vlajkovic
I am 24-years-old and I have a Masters degree in writing, editing and publishing from the University of Queensland. Competitive ballroom dancing is what I live for, and Harry Styles is my favourite singer.
Sounds pretty normal and boring, right? I agree. But here's what you won't expect — I am profoundly deaf and my vision is limited to counting fingers at 20cm in front of me.
Since I was quite young, I'd sit for hours glued to the TV watching Novak Djokovic win grand slam after grand slam in quick succession.
I idolised him; I was his ultimate number one fan. Whenever he won a point, I'd pump my fist and yell, often to the exasperation of other family members. I believed Novak was tennis' king — he ruled when it came to this sport. And it was my dream to meet him one day.
They say dreams do come true, but only if you put in the effort to make it happen.
So that's exactly what I did — I booked myself a trip to Melbourne in January 2020, vowing that this was going to be the year I would meet my hero.
Novak Djokovic's quest for a calendar Grand Slam has ended, for now, but Djokovic's greatness — although it might be begrudgingly offered — cannot be denied, writes Simon Smale.
The weather was miserable in Melbourne — windy, wet and generally freezing. I caught a cold almost immediately, which dampened my excitement for the Australian Open.
Feeling pretty unwell, I thought how unfortunate it was that I had to get sick at such an important time — could my body not have picked another week of the year to bail on functioning at its optimum?
Still, luck was with me. I persisted with hassling Novak's security team and was at long last granted a photograph with him. Not even the fact I felt like a train had ran over me at high speed could ruin that moment — I was positively, 100 per cent ecstatic.
The years of waiting and watching had paid off; it wasn't just some wild goose chase.
The icing on the cake was a signed cap which Novak himself fetched from his bag and gifted to me. What an incredible experience and one I will never forget.
The media were there and someone shoved a microphone under my mouth, prompting me to express my emotions. But I was lost for words, utterly overcome with poorly-disguised happiness.
"I have a lot of doubters, people who think that I will fail," says Vanessa Vlajkovic, a deafblind young woman and journalism student who plans one day to bring you the news.
Could you blame me though? I'd just met one of sport's greatest legends, I could hardly be expected to form coherent sentences.
Star-struck was a slight understatement — this had another layer to it than most people would have anticipated.
Due to my sensory loss, I can only watch tennis on TV — live games are not an option. So at the Open, my goal was to meet the players who mattered to me; a more intimate and memorable bucket list item than I could have hoped for.
Obviously, Novak was the priority but I also snagged a picture with Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic.
The previous year I had managed a selfie with Roger Federer in Perth, which had fuelled my desire to aim higher on the famous people spectrum.
The Facebook post that changed my life
Fast-forward to June 2021 and I am scrolling my Facebook feed at some random hour of the day, when I come across a post promoting blind tennis. I stopped scrolling and started thinking — could this actually work for me?
Find out how you can get involved this year on the IDPwD website.
Never, not at any point in the last decade, did I imagine I could play tennis. It just did not seem realistic for someone who couldn't see or hear. How on Earth could I be entertaining such an idea? You're being silly Ness, I reprimanded myself.
But despite these doubts, my curiosity got the better of me and I found myself standing on a tennis court one Tuesday night, surrounded by other blind players.
On the drive to the tennis centre, I'd been arguing with myself about the ridiculousness of the whole thing — I'd almost convinced myself it was a cruel joke the internet was playing on me and there was no such thing in existence.
I was soon to find out how wrong I'd been to question my abilities so intensely.
Vanessa Vlajkovic, who is deafblind, thought she would never be able to turn her love of tennis into being an active player.
I was warmly welcomed by Ian Ketteringham and Dan Bentel, my coaches. Although on this first evening it was extremely cold to be outdoors, I ended up surprising myself by having a lot of fun. The balls we used were very soft, contained a bell, and came in black and fluoro yellow.
Aside from these adjustments and the fact that the ball was allowed to bounce more than once before being hit, blind and low-vision (blv) tennis resembled sighted tennis. The same rules still applied, there were just these minor changes to account for the lack of vision. Naturally, the bell was of no use to my ears, so I channelled my energy elsewhere.
Several weeks later, I asked Ian for a private lesson as I had discovered that the one hour a week wasn't satisfying my deep thirst for improvement. Something had become unleashed inside me — I wanted to learn, and thereafter to win.
It was new territory for both Ian and I, we would have to muddle along and figure out things as we went.
I began to genuinely look forward to my private classes each week — Ian and Dan were very encouraging and open-minded, which helped make me feel at ease and comfortable making mistakes because they were never critical.
Opening up an exciting future
The coaches seem to believe I have the potential to win games — if a professional is telling me this then it must hold some truth surely? I guess we'll see.
The new year has some exciting things in store for me, I just need to be patient and everything will fall into place.
The success of the Paralympics in Tokyo offer all of us an opportunity to reassess how we view and treat people with disabilities in modern society, writes Matthew Haanappel.
Putting on my journalist hat, I asked Dan and Ian on their thoughts about blind tennis and how they found it coaching me.
"There have been so many rewarding things about the program, but I think the most rewarding part would have to be that I'm bringing my favourite sport to a group of people for whom it was previously an impossibility," Dan said.
"Ness's approach to training has been impressively consistent. She wants to be on a tennis court as often as possible, and she is super keen to learn and improve.
"She (Ness) has really high expectations and is maybe a little too hard on herself at times, considering she's only been playing five months."
I don't think I'm ever too hard on myself, so I found this speculation amusing. I've always been over-ambitious to a fault, but I find it's a good trait to have because it means the bar is always set a tad higher than I can reach, which motivates me to keep climbing.
"Ness continues to defy the restrictions I have mentally placed on what should and should not be possible. Adding hearing impairment to the challenge of blind tennis is something I cannot entirely grasp, still," Ian said.
I can imagine that it must be daunting for these coaches, who have only ever been used to teaching sighted players, to confront a whole new side of the sport.
I would like to use this platform to extend my sincerest appreciation for Ian, Dan and the rest of the team that have made such an enormously positive impact on my life in a remarkably short period of time.
And unquestionably, the lives of the other blind players.
Sometimes a simple thank you doesn't feel sufficient, and so I hope that by acknowledging publicly their determination to make tennis inclusive and accessible, these few special individuals will take a second to be proud of what they do.
In terms of the future, I know that with COVID-19 it's hard to plan forwards these days; nothing can really be set in stone because of the delicacy of the pandemic.
From the start Dylan Alcott was hard to ignore — but after two Paralympic careers, a string of major titles and now a Golden Slam, the Greatest Showman has transformed wheelchair tennis, writes Andrew McGarry.
However, this isn't stopping me from dreaming about competing nationally and internationally in blind tennis.
The Paralympics is my main goal, but first I need to advocate for blind tennis to become a para sport, because currently it isn't.
In the meantime, I will content myself with training six days a week and preparing my body and mind for whatever 2022 wants to hurl my way. I am so grateful that I stumbled across such a wonderful opportunity for self-exploration, it's been a ride like no other and I couldn't have predicted how powerful holding a racquet would be.
Maybe somewhere down the track, Novak will be brave enough to put a blindfold on and see how well he can return my serves.
ABC is partnering with International Day of People with Disability to celebrate the 4.4 million Australians with disability.
Growing up, Mon Schafter rarely saw queer people like her in the media. Now she’s leading an ABC project to change that
Mon Schafter: As a proud queer person and the Content Lead of ABCQueer, this week's news that the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and WorldPride will be broadcast on the ABC from 2022-2024 is one of the most exciting moments of my career.
You don't have to be queer to appreciate Mardi Gras or pride events – LGBTQIA+ stories are just human stories that we're all connected to through family members, friends, colleagues or even teammates — and I can't wait to see these diverse human stories on the ABC's most mainstream platforms.
Last year, after reporting for 7.30 for nearly eight years, I stepped away from more traditional news to help kickstart ABCQueer – a content experiment aimed specifically at young LGBTQIA+ Australians on Instagram.
Growing up in the 90s, I rarely saw queer women and gender non-conforming people in the media and it took me many years to embrace my identity.
I saw ABCQueer as an opportunity to help increase the visibility of all sorts of queer folks so that young people, no matter who they are, would never feel alone.
Many people assume ABCQueer was my idea, but it actually came from someone who isn't gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex or even asexual!
It came from someone I consider one of our community's greatest allies.
Omar Samad is a content innovation producer with the ABC's Content Ideas Lab.
It's a team that helps the ABC achieve its strategic goals through content pilots, and that includes representing diverse voices across Australia and telling stories in innovative ways.
While many LGBTQIA+ people, including myself, were consulted in the research stage, that initial idea of an Instagram account for under-represented queer kids came from a straight man with a deep love for his gay sister.
This is Omar's story.
Omar Samad was inspired by his sister's experience to create new content for diverse audiences. (Supplied: Omar Samad)
Omar Samad: "Mum, what would you do if I was gay?"
When I used to joke around with my parents about being gay and what it would do to our family, I was being a shitty 15-year-old kid.
Testing the boundaries of their conservative Islamic moral code was about getting a reaction out of them.
I wasn't too concerned about challenging their homophobia, honestly, I was just looking for a bit of a laugh.
I didn't expect it to become real for us.
But it did when my sister came out eight years later and all I could think about was my mum's reaction to my stupid questions all those years ago: 'I'd kick you out of the house.'
This was the reality my sister was facing: losing her home, family, culture and her religion.
We had no reference point for what it was like to be gay and go to the mosque every weekend.
For a lot of Muslims in Australia, being gay is for everyone else except us.
When I joined the ABC in 2019, I wanted to tell stories that didn't get a lot of air time.
I started working as a part of the Content Ideas Lab, a division of the ABC that experiments with new content initiatives to reach Australians we aren't already connecting with.
I wanted to create a space for stories about LGBTQIA+ people growing up in rural and regional Australia, for trans and non-binary Australians who are fighting to be recognised for who they are, and South Asian gay girls — like my sister — growing up in white suburban Sydney.
The ABC had published a lot of LGBTQIA+ content, but early research found that we weren't reaching young LGBTQIA+ Australians.
Despite the quality of the stories we produced, their fragmented distribution across many brands made it difficult for audiences to find them.
Having a dedicated channel meant audiences can find what they are looking for in one place, and it also meant we could build and reach a community we were having a hard time connecting with.
From the get go, I knew I wasn't the right person to decide what Australian LGBTQIA+ audiences wanted.
It was important for the channel and content to be community led.
Qualitative research with a diverse group of 18-to-24-year-old LGBTQIA+ Australians paved the foundation for what stories the account should cover.
We also brought together queer ABC staff members including now content lead, Mon Schafter, to form an LGBTQIA+ Brains Trust that the ABCQueer content team leans on to this day.
Some of my favourite stories from ABCQueer include Anthony's inspiring journey of survival, hope and coming to terms with his sexuality, old footage of Mardi Gras in 1985, and Sidd, the co-founder of FOBgays+, and his family during lockdown (his nana reminds me of my nana).
ABCQueer is now a thriving community of over 17K people on Instagram and was nominated for a 2021 International Webby Award and won an Australian Workplace Equality Index Award.
After a successful pilot, ABCQueer joined the ABC's Regional & Local division and has evolved into TV collaborations, a podcast called Innies + Outies featuring Australian LGBTQIA+ stories about coming out or staying in, and there's an ABCQueer newsletter coming in 2022.
So what does my sister think of ABCQueer?
Well, by the time we got around to launching ABCQueer, my sister had already done work on herself, her relationship with our parents, and found a supportive group of friends.
Her response to ABCQueer was something like "Oh yeah, that's cool", ha.
I wish I could say that my family's journey with my sister's sexuality is a common story for a lot of queer Muslims.
But my parents' choice to accept their daughter despite cultural pressures is unfortunately the exception to the rule.
My sister had to go through a lot just to be embraced for who she is.
That naive 15-year-old Omar didn't have a reference point for what it must have been like for her.
But hopefully by creating ABCQueer, and continuing to spotlight diverse experiences, stories like my sister's are no longer the exception but the norm.
A monthly newsletter for LGBTQIA+ folks and their allies, with stories about real people and their experiences of being queer.
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The ABC has secured a deal to broadcast two of the world's biggest LGBT events over the next three years.
Australia's national broadcaster successfully bid for the media rights to WorldPride, a global festival which Sydney will host in 2023, as well as the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from 2022 to 2024.
The ABC has been given both the television and radio rights, with triple j named as the host radio broadcaster.
SBS has been the Mardi Gras broadcast partner for the past eight years and before that, Channel 10 and Foxtel had brief stints as official broadcasters.
The 43rd annual Mardi Gras parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground last year.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
In 1994, the ABC telecast the parade for the first time — a decision which angered many politicians and resulted in a flood of audience complaints.
That year, 90 MPs signed a letter urging then ABC managing director David Hill to cease plans to broadcast the Mardi Gras and replace it with other programming.
Mr Hill later acknowledged that although some backlash was expected, the scale of outrage was far greater than predicted.
"I underestimated how profound the decision was, and what long-term lasting benefit it had for social progress and acceptability of gays and so on, and I’m very proud of that now," Mr Hill said in 2018.
WorldPride is expected to attract 500,000 attendees, including around 80,000 international visitors.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
ABC managing director David Anderson said the new broadcasting deal was a homecoming for Mardi Gras.
"We've waited 28 years for it to return and from 2022 onwards, we will provide coverage of Mardi Gras that only the ABC can, without commercial interests," he said.
ABC chair Ita Buttrose said the broadcaster was the "natural home" for one of the nation's most loved events.
"Who else but the ABC can do justice to Mardi Gras? The decision to first broadcast the parade in 1994 paved the way for other media to cover the event and since then the ABC has been proud of its support of the LGBTQI+ community in Australia."
Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger, ABC managing director David Anderson, chair Ita Buttrose and WorldPride CEO Kate Wickett.(ABC News)
The 2022 Mardi Gras parade will be held on March 5 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The event was moved from its Oxford Street home last year so physical distancing and contact tracing could be ensured and next year all attendees must also be fully vaccinated.
It's expected the parade will return to Oxford Street for its 45th anniversary in 2023, when WorldPride comes to Sydney for the first time.
WorldPride will run from February 17 to March 5, 2023 and will include an opening ceremony, a pride march across the Harbour Bridge, a human rights conference and a party on Bondi Beach.
It's hoped the festival will draw attention to issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people and is expected to attract around 500,000 attendees, with almost 80,000 visitors expected from overseas.
The CEO of WorldPride Kate Wickett said the ABC was the ideal partner to amplify LGBT culture.
"I would like to thank and acknowledge ABC chair Ita Buttrose for her unwavering support and advocacy for our LGBTQI+ communities throughout the decades, in particular for taking a leading role as a national voice of health messaging during the AIDS crisis," she said.
Previously WorldPride has been held in New York, Copenhagen, London, Rome, Toronto and Jerusalem.
The Mardi Gras parade will be broadcast on the ABC's main channel, ABC iview and on ABC Australia on March 5, 2022 and the ABC will also feature LGBT content on triple j, ABC iview, ABC Radio Sydney and local radio around the country and on ABCQueer.
In previous years WorldPride has been hosted by Toronto and Madrid.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
ABC by the Jackson, baby
Swear I’m beginin’, in your music plans
You got up to dance
The way you move, got me lookin’ at my shoes
Forever etched in my heart
Where will you go if you should fall in love
If you should fall in love
Please say my name if you fall in love
See, I was hopin’ you would fall in love
’Cause I’m fallin in the ether with you
Tell me, do you feel the same?
Tell me, do you feel this way? (Is your heart on flames?)
Tell me, is your heart on flames?
Tell me, do you feel this way?
‘Cause when we’re over the sea, a tsunami, a tsunami
‘Cause we’re over the sea when you look at me, when you look at me
No way that we can’t believe
‘Cause see, I can barely breathe
Oh, I can’t get enough of you
Oh, baby, tsunami
Run-D.M.C. and Whitney and [?]
That’s where it all began
And where hits would clash
You got up to dance
The way you move got me lookin’ at my shoes
Forever etched in my heart
What will I do if I can’t get enough, if I can’t get enough?
Please say my name if you need me, whoa
See how I open up, I will be enough
‘Cause baby, you are the [?] to me
Tell me, do you feel the same?
Tell me, do you feel this way? (Is your heart on flames?)
Tell me, is your heart on flames?
Tell me, do you feel this way?
‘Cause when we’re over the sea, a tsunami, a tsunami
‘Cause we’re over the sea when you look at me, when you look at me
No way that we can’t believe
‘Cause see, I can barely breathe
But I can’t get enough of you
Oh, baby, tsunami
Tell me, do you feel the same?
Tell me, do you feel this way? (Is your heart on flames?)
Tell me, is your heart on flames?
Tell me, do you feel this way?
‘Cause when we’re over the sea, a tsunami, a tsunami
‘Cause we’re over the sea when you look at me, when you look at me
No way that we can’t believe
‘Cause see, I can barely breathe
But I can’t get enough of you
Oh, baby, tsunami
Oh, I can’t get enough of you
Coronavirus rapid self-testing kits are being advertised on a Chinese social media platform in Australia — promising results in as little as 15 minutes — as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Individuals, medical centres and pharmacies are the consumers being targeted by advertisers
- The Department of Health says the supply of self-tests for COVID-19 is prohibited by law
- There are concerns that the new finger-prick test could produce false negatives
Despite the Government’s latest move to loosen the criteria for testing, online sellers in the Chinese-Australian community are trying to capitalise on buyers wanting to fast-track their testing.
One Australia-based seller, who only wants to be known as Lily, runs an online business on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform with about 3 million users in Australia.
In addition to rapid COVID-19 testing kits, she also sells coveted items including surgical masks, KF94 respiratory protective masks and disinfectant sprays.
Lily told the ABC there was a huge demand in the community and she sold the kits for $59 each.
“It’s like a pregnancy test … [it takes about] 15 minutes,” she said.
“To get a test in the hospital, you have to meet certain criteria. [By using the kit at home], you don’t have to increase the risk of getting infected by going to the hospital.”
Another Australia-based seller, who only wishes to be known as Allen, told the ABC he had seen many other people selling these kits on WeChat and he was trying to bulk sell 15-minute rapid tests for COVID-19 to GP clinics and pharmacies.
He said a friend of his claimed to be working for a Therapeutic Goods Administration-approved Chinese manufacturer and had approached him to open up “private channels” to expand their sales.
“I have a lot of people that have asked me about the products [after I posted the advertisement],” he said.
“If the hospital does not give you a test, there is also a risk [of being infected without knowing]. If you solely rely on the Government, there is no other way to do the test.”
However, supplying self-testing kits is illegal in Australia and is also not permitted in mainland China, and it’s unclear just how many self-test kits have been sold to buyers.
“The supply of self-tests or at-home tests for most serious infectious diseases, including self-tests for COVID-19, is prohibited under the Therapeutic Goods (Excluded Purposes) Specification 2010,” a Department of Health spokesperson told the ABC.
They said the import, export, manufacture and supply of medicines or medical devices not included on the Australia Register of Therapeutic Goods could result in criminal prosecution or civil litigation if there were no specific exclusions or exemptions applied to those activities.
“Non-compliance with the regulatory scheme is being monitored and we are working closely with the Australian Border Force and other health and law enforcement agencies,” the spokesperson said.
“The TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) has and will continue to encourage reporting of potential non-compliance via the TGA website for investigation and action.”
Failing to adhere to the law could see individuals face up to five years’ imprisonment and $840,000 in fines, while businesses face up $4.2 million in fines.
The spokesperson added that Australia required “testing for serious infectious diseases to be conducted in conjunction with a healthcare professional who can provide appropriate advice and treatment if required”.
In China, at-home coronavirus test kits went viral on WeChat earlier in March, with advertisements for companies to test returning workers and those who could not access the hospital.
China’s National Medical Products Administration quickly debunked the rumours of self-testing and claimed no authorised at-home test kits were allowed.
In a statement on their website, the administration said the rapid diagnostic products for the coronavirus should “only be used as a supplementary detection indicator for suspected cases” and “for medical institutions only”.
‘Improper handling of test kits may result in public health risks’
The ABC understands there are some people trying to sell COVID-19 self-test kits in several private chatrooms on WeChat.
When asked whether she knew selling self-test kits was prohibited in Australia, Lily said she was unaware and would stop advertising them.
And despite initially saying she sold about 50 test kits a week, she later backtracked, saying she hadn’t sold any so far, but was hoping to sell about 50 a week when asked about the legality of her sales.
Allen said he was only “testing the waters” and was still talking to the manufacturer about the feasibility of importing and selling the products in Australia.
One of the self-test kits Lily sells is the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) 1gM/1gG Antibody Rapid Test, which instructs individuals to take samples of blood and then add three drops of a diluting agent for a 15-minute incubation to see the results.
The packaging in the ad shows the maker of the test kits is a company called Beijing Hotgen Biotech — however, the company’s name isn’t listed on the website of the TGA’s approved companies, therefore people should not be selling their products in Australia.
A spokesperson for Beijing Hotgen Biotech told the ABC their kits were “not suitable” for customers to self-test at home, as per China’s medical regulations.
He said the company was not aware its products were circulating in the Australian market, adding the company would look into the matter.
China’s Xinhua News Agency last month also warned Chinese citizens not to buy so called self-testing kits online, adding the “improper handling of used testing equipment may also bring public health risks”.
‘Calm heads have to prevail’
So far, the TGA has approved 19 manufacturers to legally supply COVID-19 diagnostic tests in Australia, seven of them are Chinese companies.
The regulator has expedited approval for some COVID-19 test kits that can deliver results in 15 minutes, but reiterated the supply of self-testing kits was prohibited.
Last week, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced new finger-prick tests would soon be rolled out within GP clinics in addition to the standard throat and nasal swab testing.
The Federal Government pledged $2.6 million in funding to the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity to “help maximise Australia’s capacity to test patients for the coronavirus”.
The research includes “post-market assessment of new coronavirus rapid screening tests to inform their best use”.
While many medical experts welcome the Government’s effort to push for a faster and simpler pathology test on COVID-19, there are still concerns around the efficacy of the rapid test kits in principle.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
- If I don’t live with my partner, can we still see each other?
- What is a moratorium on evictions?
- Is it safe to go to the supermarket during the coronavirus pandemic?
“The question is about how effective they are, in terms of reliability, in terms of things like what we call a false negative, which is it picks up the test and it’s telling you it’s negative, but in fact it’s actually positive,” Australian Medical Association South Australia president Chris Moy said.
“Obviously every one of those that you get wrong is going to cause a serious problem, particularly a false negative.”
He said these were all new tests and even the current swabbing had a false negative rate.
“We are happy that we are starting to see innovation in technology, but everybody wants to sell you something at the moment in the current climate,” Dr Moy said.
“Cool heads and calm heads have to prevail, ensuring these tests are going to be of benefit, not actually causing us more problems in the end.”
Dr Moy said the risk associated with a finger prick test was relatively low, but mishandling of the used sharps could pose potential problems.
A billion-dollar industry
Whether it’s parents furious over baby formula shortages or military personnel loading boxes onto Chinese warships — chances are you’ve crossed paths with a trading phenomenon that’s shaken businesses around the country.
Seller Lily, prior to telling the ABC she would stop advertising the product, said the test results were all for reference, but that “the final say is still with the hospital”.
In a statement to the ABC, Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, said the platform encouraged users to report any suspicious or illegal behaviour on WeChat.
“Tencent does not permit our platforms, products or services to be used for any illegal activities,” Tencent said.
“As part of our ongoing efforts to safeguard Weixin’s [WeChat] security and integrity, our global risk management team monitors the platform around-the-clock in order to take immediate action against any accounts engaged in illegal activities.”
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Coronavirus update: Anzac Day services cancelled, stock market cops record drop while Trump tells shoppers to ‘just relax’
The Australian stock market has suffered its biggest one-day drop since the 1987 share market crash, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls for calm and travel bans to combat the COVID-19 pandemic come into effect.
This story is no longer being updated. For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow this story.
Monday’s key moments
- Coronavirus state of emergency declared
- Scott Morrison considering further economic measures as coronavirus fears mount
- ASX loses $100 billion amid coronavirus fears
- US Federal Reserve cuts interest rate to near zero
- Man who recently visited Hamilton Island tests positive for coronavirus
- Bluesfest cancelled for 2020
- A-League and W-League games to continue behind closed doors
- ACT records second case of COVID-19
- Seventh coronavirus case in Tasmania as schools implement social distancing
The RSL branches across Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia have cancelled some Anzac Day events.
While some dawn services will still go ahead, members of the public have been asked not to attend.
The move, which comes more than a month out from the services, has been made to try and limit the spread of coronavirus and to protect older veterans.
“On April 25, when you can’t go to a local dawn service, the RSL is asking that instead you tune in via radio, social media or television and take a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifice of our veterans and those who are still serving today,” RSL Victoria state president Dr Robert Webster said.
The Australian War Memorial is yet to make a final decision, but said it would act on the health advice of the ACT and federal governments.
Supermarkets to bring in more staff, special shopping times to deal with panic-buyers
Things have, at times, become nasty in some supermarkets as shoppers rushed to hoard items over fears of shortages.
The coronavirus pandemic has lead to panic-buying and scuffles in the aisles so this week Coles and Woolworths are opening exclusively for the elderly and those with a disability for one hour each morning.
“We know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop,” Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said.
“This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open — helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment.”
Coles is also hiring an extra 5,000 casual workers.
Boarding schools could become ‘like cruise ships’
Some parents with children in boarding schools have been told to expect a call to bring them home to prevent a “cruise ship-like” scenario, Association of Independent Schools of NSW chief executive Geoff Newcombe says.
The school names have not been announced as final preparations for remote schooling are still underway and parents are yet to be informed.
However, the ABC understands several private schools across Australia — so far, as many as 10 — will contact parents on Monday night or Tuesday morning to tell them they are sending students home to start remote learning, which will commence later this week.
“The Department of Health has made it clear to us that they understand that boarding schools have to be considered in a slightly different context to day schools,” Dr Newcombe told the ABC.
“If one boarder became ill then of course health has told us that boarding schools would be put in lockdown similar to the cruise ships.”
The ABC understands NSW Health is formalising advice for boarding schools, which the association will pass on to schools later on Monday or on Tuesday morning.
US President Donald Trump has told Americans to stop panic-buying supplies as the fallout from the spread of coronavirus causes chaos at airports across the country.
Increased screening measures have caused huge delays at major US airports, like Chicago’s O’Hare International where about 3,000 travellers returning from Europe were stuck inside customs for hours over the weekend.
Mr Trump has moved to reassure people that grocers would stay open and stocked.
“You don’t have to buy so much,” Mr Trump said.
“Take it easy. Just relax.”
ASX down after record fall as US Federal Reserve cuts interest rate
The Australian stock market has shed $165 billion, starting the week with its largest ever daily drop as coronavirus fears continue to hammer markets.
The ASX opened 7.12 per cent down but bounced back slightly to 5 per cent down by 11:25am (AEDT).
However, by the end of the day’s trading it had closed down 9.7 per cent at 5,120 points, in the largest daily percentage fall on record.
The broader All Ordinaries also had its largest one-day fall since the 1987 stock market crash, ending 9.5 per cent down and losing $165 billion in value.
The big four bank stocks all lost more than 10 per cent and energy stocks were also hit hard.
Travel-related companies were sharply lower following the announcement of forced self-isolation for all people entering Australia from overseas.
The market fall came after the US Federal Reserve slashed interest rates by a full percentage point in a bid to help the economy withstand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The RBA is expected to announce further policy measures on Thursday to support the economy.
States and territories issue emergency declarations
South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have all issued emergency declarations due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The declarations give the states and territories powers to detain and penalise people for breaking quarantine rules as well as restrict public movement and ban mass gatherings.
Yesterday SA Premier Steven Marshall said coronavirus would be treated as a public health emergency.
This morning ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr followed suit and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr Andrews said the state of emergency would come into effect from midday today and run for at least four weeks.
Western Australia has also declared a state of emergency and emergency powers have been invoked in New South Wales to force the immediate cancellation of public events of more than 500 people.
Those who defy the cancellation order face fines of up to $11,000.
Queensland Health authorities are attempting to trace people who may have come into contact with a man diagnosed with coronavirus who recently travelled to Hamilton Island, off the coast of tropical north Queensland.
The 36-year-old is now being treated in Mackay Base Hospital.
ABC understands the patient recently travelled from New South Wales where they were first tested.
The case was not included in Queensland’s daily tally as it is being handled by New South Wales.
A statement posted by the Mackay Hospital and Health Service said authorities were retracing the patient’s steps.
“Contact tracing is well underway,” the statement said.
“This means that we are directly contacting people who are known to have been in close contact with the person while they might have been infectious.
“If there are further public health alerts, we’ll let you know.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australians need to “help each other out” as the nation contends with the spread of coronavirus.
“A state of emergency is not a state of panic,” Mr Morrison said.
“A state of emergency puts in place special powers for state governments to help manage the spread of a health epidemic.”
He also urged shoppers to stop panic buying, as supermarket chains announced restricted opening hours solely for elderly people and those with a disability.
“Let’s all look after each other and be respectful to each other and help each other out,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison also announced that he would meet with the Treasurer and Finance Minister this afternoon to discuss further economic measures, following last week’s $17 billion stimulus package.
The Prime Minister will also relocate to Canberra to be closer to bureaucrats and make it easier to conduct meetings of the National Security Committee of Cabinet.
Health authorities are considering whether to restrict visitation to aged care facilities to protect elderly people from the spread of the coronavirus.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said chief medical officers from around the nation would meet in person this afternoon to consider what more should be done to protect high-risk groups.
“There are a range of measures that we put in place in flu seasons when there’s a large number of influenza cases in the community or indeed if there is an outbreak within an aged care facility,” he said.
Addressing media at a press briefing in Canberra, Professor Kelly also said the Government needed to be “careful and prudent” about its use of testing.
After one testing clinic was opened, 1,600 people were tested but just one was found to be positive.
“You need to look at where you get your best bang for your buck,” he said.
He declined a request to elaborate, saying only that “we’re continuing to test”.
Sydney school closed, but most remain open
While large gatherings are banned, most schools and universities will remain open.
Despite that, a primary school in Sydney’s south-west was closed this morning, after a visitor tested positive for coronavirus.
St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School, in Panania, is closed for cleaning today.
Last Thursday afternoon, about 40 staff from different schools attended a professional development event at the school and at the weekend one of those people tested positive for coronavirus.
According to modelling from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that Hong Kong — which closed schools — was more successful in containing the virus than Singapore, which did not.
Thousands of Australians travelling overseas are weighing up their options for returning home, amid news they must self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive back in the country.
When Adelaide nurse Marcelle left home for Thailand just over a week ago, she closely monitored travel advice before she left.
“We kept an eye on Smart Traveller and it was a moderate risk for Thailand — there was no warning about not going, it was just to exercise a normal degree of caution,” she said.
“We did um and ah, but thought, ‘OK, we’re guided by the government website.’ So this has sort of come as a bit of a shock.”
Marcelle is in Railay in southern Thailand and now faces the prospect or returning home to self-isolation at a time when her workplace needs staff to help deal with the outbreak.
“I’m not sure what it means in terms of work, is it paid leave, is it sick leave? Luckily I’ve got sick leave available,” she said.
“Even things like how do we get from the airport to home, do we have to wear a mask in the taxi?
“I don’t think the enormity of it will hit until we’re actually home.”
The A-League and W-League will continue to be played despite the coronavirus outbreak, with games taking place in empty stadiums, Football Federation Australia (FFA) has said.
FFA chief executive officer James Johnson said the game was facing an “unprecedented challenge” and warned further measures may be enacted as the situation developed.
“This is an unprecedented time and extremely complex for the sport and also the society at large,” he said.
“We anticipate further decisions as the days and weeks go on because we really don’t know how this virus will evolve.”
With the uncertainty around what will happen, NRL boss Todd Greenberg has warned of significant financial and commercial impacts, including reducing players’ pay.
Cutting salaries would be an extreme measure but if matches are cancelled, it could be one of the consequences.
“We have a number of games we have to fulfil to provide content to our broadcasters, and the broadcasters pay us a fee for that,” he said.
“Clearly, if we don’t provide the content as scheduled, there are commercial impacts to that.”
Festival featuring Crowded House and Alanis Morissette cancelled
For the first time in 30 years, the Bluesfest music festival will not take place this year.
The event has been cancelled due to the public health act order the NSW Government enacted on Monday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The festival, which drew more than 105,000 people to Byron Bay across five days in 2019, was set to feature a bill that included US megastars Dave Matthews Band, local icons Crowded House and punk legend Patti Smith.
In a statement, festival director Peter Noble said it was “obvious” the festival, set to run April 9-13, could not go on.
“We are heartbroken as we believe we were presenting one of the best ever bills of talent for you,” he said.
“We are now working through how to move forward and to give you details. I thank you for allowing us enough time to get everything in place for the best possible outcome for everyone.”
Italian authorities say they are worried about how much longer the country’s strained health systems can cope with the coronavirus outbreak.
Sunday’s 368 new deaths brought the country’s death toll to 1,441, with 24,747 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
While the virus has begun spreading rapidly across Europe, Italy remains the second most heavily affected country after China, where the illness first emerged, and the outbreak has shown no signs of slowing.
Lombardy, the heavily populated area around the financial capital Milan, has been the worst-affected region with 1,218 deaths.
Despite Italy’s lockdown, Pope Francis has visited two churches in Rome to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
Britain is planning to isolate older people “within weeks”, and will move to put anyone diagnosed with coronavirus into quarantine.
British Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said people aged over 70 would be shielded from the virus by being forced to self-isolate for up to four months, with an announcement “in the coming weeks”.
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The number of deaths of Britons with coronavirus jumped by 14 to 35, while the total number of people diagnosed rose by 20 per cent to 1,372, health authorities said on Sunday.
European nations are closing bars and restaurants, and tightening borders.
Europe is now the epicentre of the outbreak, and the death toll from the disease has gone up dramatically in the last 24 hours.
- Health authorities in Spain say deaths from COVID-19 have doubled in 24 hours — a day after the Government declared a state of emergency and took extraordinary measures to limit movement
- Germany has announced it will restrict border entries from neighbouring countries
- Austria is banning gatherings of more than five people
- Despite widespread restrictions in France, voters have gone to the polls for local elections
- In the Netherlands and Belgium, gyms and cinemas are closed as well as most shops — excluding those selling food and medicine
- Slovenia’s public transport system has been closed and Scandinavian Airlines, SAS, has announced it is suspending most of its activities
Iran sees largest single-day jump
Iran has reported its biggest single day jump in fatalities, with another 113 deaths, bringing its death toll to more than 700 and there are fears the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in the country.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, two of the most sacred sites in Islam, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, have been closed until further notice.
Iran, Islamic Republic Of
Satellite images appear to show evidence of mass burial pits in Iran to accommodate a growing number of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak, as experts question Iran’s official death toll.
- The Iranian Government has reported 429 deaths and 10,075 confirmed cases
- Videos have been shared on social media showing body bags lined up in a morgue and locals have told the ABC they believe the death toll is much higher than the Government admits
- A deputy prosecutor says “false” or unauthorised social media footage of the outbreak inside the country is prohibited
A series of images showing the excavation of a new section of graveyard in the city of Qom — the epicentre of Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak — that began around February 21, just two days after Iran reported its first cases of coronavirus, were first published by the New York Times.
The images, provided to the Times by US space technology company Maxar, show what appear to be new rows of graves within the city’s largest cemetery and increased activity around the new site.
@ntabrizy tweet: We first discovered mass grave were being built in Iran via satellite imagery and then tracked how Iran got to this boiling point with the coronavirus.
Dalton Bennett, a reporter with the Washington Post’s investigative unit, tweeted that analysis from Maxar revealed “the size of the new trenches and the speed with which they were excavated together mark a clear departure from past burial practices involving individual and family plots at the site”.
The Iranian Government have reported 429 deaths and 10,075 confirmed cases, but health officials inside Iran previously told the BBC that the true numbers were much higher than were being reported.
Among the dead are dozens of officials, including members of Parliament and a senior adviser to the Supreme Leader.
Civilians inside Iran, who did not want to be named, told the ABC the death toll was numbering in the thousands and hospitals were so full that other public buildings were being used to house those infected.
Between February 19 and 23, Iran reported 43 cases and eight deaths from the virus, but during the same period three exported cases originating in Iran were identified.
‘We do not trust the official statistics’
A report published on health sciences website medRxiv — titled Estimation of COVID-2019 Burden and Potential for International Dissemination of Infection from Iran — estimated that by February 23, “18,300 COVID-19 cases would have had to occur in Iran, assuming an outbreak duration of 1.5 months in the country, in order to observe these three internationally exported cases reported at the time of writing”.
Kaveh Taheri, a Turkey-based researcher, investigative journalist and chairman at the Institute of Capacity Building for Human Rights, said: “Based on grassroots reports received from the country, I am convinced that the estimates would be very close to reality and we do not trust the official statistics.”
“Iranians inside the country are extremely frightened,” he said.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
“You cannot imagine how desperate the people are.”
Videos have also been shared on social media showing body bags lined up in a morgue, gravesites and people passed out in the street.
أحد الكوادر الطبية يوثق وفاة عشرات المصابين بفيروس كورونا بمدينة قم فقط، ويقول الوفيات كثر ولا يوجد مكان للجنائز من المصابين بكورونا .. بينما الحكومة الإيرانية تتستر على حجم الكارثة وتقول لا يوجد شي يدعو للقلق.!
One video shows multiple motionless bodies laid out across a morgue floor.
According to Iranian state media, the person who released the footage was subsequently arrested by local authorities.
A deputy prosecutor in Qom cited by Fars News said the publication of false or unauthorised images about the virus was prohibited.
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Victoria’s Commissioner for Children has announced an investigation into why hundreds of children are going missing from the state’s residential care system each year.
- Hundreds of children go missing from care in Victoria each year
- The majority of children who go missing are girls
- Police have said children who go missing repeatedly are at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation
It follows an ABC report which revealed more than 600 children are reported missing from the state’s care each year, with the vast majority of them going missing from residential care.
Some young people told the ABC they had felt safer sleeping on the streets of Melbourne, than they did in their residential care unit.
Residential care is a type of care where rotating shift workers look after small groups of young people who are housed together.
“The establishment of the inquiry is in response to our concern about the very high number of young people who continue to be absent or missing from residential care, seen through our incident monitoring function,” Commissioner Liana Buchanan said.
“In broad terms, the inquiry will examine why young people are absent or go missing from residential care, the harm that occurs when they do, and what measures can be recommended to address this.”
Residential care ‘falling apart’
Victoria’s Shadow Minister for Child Protection, Nick Wakeling, said it was clear the residential care system was broken.
“It is heartbreaking to think that children would see a life on the streets as a better option than a residential care setting,” he said.
Mr Wakeling said there needed to be a bigger investment from the Victorian Government into foster care, so that children were not housed in residential care.
“It is no surprise that children are fleeing residential care when we have had report after report that shows that children who are placed in residential care continue to be exposed to abuse and further neglect,” he said.
Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said children were being removed from their families because of abuse or serious risk of harm, but child protection workers were not considering whether children would be exposed to similar risks in residential care.
“If our residential care facilities themselves don’t meet that safety threshold, then it is a fundamental failure of the system,” she said.
“First and foremost if we take a child from a dangerous environment, we must put them in a safe one, that is the whole point of child protection.”
Michael Perusco tweets: Victoria's child protection and out-of-home care system is broken. It has not been designed for-and not funded for -the overwhelming level of demand or for the complex levels of trauma children have experienced. Change required urgently
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said it was heartbreaking to see vulnerable young people with no other option than to live on the streets.
“It’s clear that the system has been on life support for years and now it’s falling apart,” she said.
“The Government needs to stop short-changing the care and protection of our young people and instead invest in a complete overhaul of the system.”
Expert says workers need better training
Joseph McDowall is a director at the CREATE Foundation, which represents young people in care, and a visiting fellow at the Queensland University of Technology.
He has recently finished a study of young people who have left out-of-home care across Australia.
He says of the 325 young people interviewed, more than half said they had been absent for at least a day from their care placement, and a third said they had been absent for at least a week.
Dr McDowall said those numbers of missing children were higher than what state governments usually report.
“Young people are voting with their feet, they are saying we are not happy here where we are and we are going somewhere else,” he said.
He said there was a range of reasons why children were leaving their placements, but his survey showed the most common reason was because of conflict or abuse in the care facility.
Dr McDowall said state governments urgently needed to lift the level of education and training provided to workers in residential care, so they were better equipped to deal with conflict.
He said teachers and social workers all required degree-level qualifications, but residential care workers, who support some of the most traumatised children, do not.
“Here we have people working at the coalface and trying to have constant behaviour modification and working with challenging kids and they have the least training,” he said.
Victoria’s Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan said Victoria had introduced a minimum Certificate IV training standard for residential care workers.
“We could suddenly say we want everyone to have a degree but we would be short of workers straight away, so it is a gradual thing and that is what we are doing,” he said.
The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare CEO Deb Tsorbaris said the take up of Certificate IV training from residential care workers had been remarkable, but it was now time for the industry to think about getting workers to the next level of training.
She said “almost every stakeholder in this space, we are all saying you need to move there (towards degree qualified staff)”.
She said wages for residential care workers were another thing she would like to see lifted.
“Of course we would like to see properly compensated workers in this field and they are not compensated as well as we would like.”
Ms Tsorbaris said it was challenging work.
“When you are working with small children who have been removed from their family, have often had multiple placements, have a range of trauma history and really in many ways what you want is to make life easier for them and develop some hope, it is a really tough job and not for the faint-hearted.”
United States President Donald Trump has mangled the pronunciation of several Indian names, including cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, on an otherwise successful first day of his state visit to India.
- The leaders were full of praise for the other but refrained from any substantive announcements
- Mr Trump also stumbled over the names of Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat
- The two countries will sign deals on Tuesday to sell military helicopters worth $4.5 billion
Mr Trump came at the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the pair spoke at the world’s largest cricket stadium, Motera Stadium, with a seating capacity of 110,000.
It was the world’s largest democracy welcoming the first and most powerful.
The visit to Ahmedabad was style over substance, with each leader full of praise for the other but refraining from any substantive announcements.
“[Prime Minister] Modi is a great leader,” Mr Trump said.
“Everybody loves him, but he’s very tough,” he added with a smile, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Fans filled the stadium wearing hats blazoned with Mr Trump’s name, and attendees wore masks of each leader with great enthusiasm as they danced to music blaring throughout the stadium.
During his speech, Mr Trump also cited a famous 19th century Hindu monk — often quoted by Mr Modi himself — Swami Vivekananda, but it came out as “Vivekamumund”.
Donald Trump mispronounces Sachin Tendulkar
Mr Trump also stumbled over the names of Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat and its biggest city Ahmedabad — where he was speaking — as well as the names of two Indian cricket heroes, Sachin Tendulkar and current team captain Virat Kohli.
Mr Trump and his wife Melania later attended a photo opportunity at the Taj Mahal, in Agra, joining a long list of politicians and celebrities to do so.
Trump and Modi’s strong similarities
Many supporters see the two leaders as strong politicians, particularly when it comes to cracking down on terrorism.
“America is a superpower, India is a cultural superpower,” one attendee told the ABC.
“If both superpowers can come together, the entire world will become a family.”
Similarities between the two leaders are often pointed out as to why Mr Trump and Mr Modi get along so well.
Both are renowned as populist leaders with a staunchly loyal following.
Both like to circumvent the traditional media and use social media and lively political rallies to talk directly to their base.
In fact, Prime Minister Modi has never done a traditional press conference with media at home.
They both present themselves as political outsiders and swept into power on promises to shake up the establishment.
Jeff Smith, a research fellow at the Washington DC based Heritage Foundation, said the friendship between the two appears genuine.
“Trump, I think, genuinely does though have a personal connection to Prime Minister Modi,” he told the ABC.
“He’s not one to fake a personal rapport with others and when he doesn’t get along with other leaders it’s quite obvious.”
Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan, from the Indian university JNU, said this trip was always likely to be much more about the spectacle than substance.
“I think for both it is domestic politics that matter more than international politics,” Professor Rajagopalan told the ABC.
“For Trump, going into an election, it’s good to be seen with the large crowds of adoring Indians.
“[Whereas] Modi, having a global leader like Trump helps him with the domestic politics.”
It’s no secret that Mr Trump hates trade deficits.
And the deficit with India, a country renowned for imposing high tariffs, has continued to grow in recent years.
Even the US President has called India the “tariff king” on multiple occasions.
Hope of a massive trade deal was scuttled in the leadup to Namaste Trump, with the US President tweeting such a deal might not happen until later this year, possibly after the election.
“We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers,” Mr Trump reassured crowds in Ahmedabad.
“India has traditionally never liked trade,” Professor Rajagopalan explained.
“It has always wanted to build an economy that is based on its own internal market rather than as an export orientated market.
“There’s a suspicion [trading partners] will take advantage of India that will hurt India’s domestic agriculture, or domestic industry.”
Mr Trump said the two countries will sign deals on Tuesday (local time) to sell military helicopters worth $US3 billion ($4.5 billion) and that the United States must become the premier defence partner of India, which relied on Russian equipment during the Cold War.
Reuters reported earlier that India has cleared the purchase of 24 helicopters from Lockheed Martin worth $US2.6 billion ($3.9 billion).
“We make the greatest weapons ever made,” Mr Trump told supporters in Ahmedabad.
“We make the best. And we’re dealing now with India.”
Mr Smith said the US views India as a strong, democratic force in the Indo-Pacific.
“The last few years in particular, the US and India have come into closer alignment than at any point in modern history,” Mr Smith said.
“And that includes terrorism.”
‘Donald J Trump is Number 1 on Facebook’
Mr Trump and Mr Modi are the two most popular world leaders on social media.
In the days leading up to the visit, Mr Trump tweeted: “Donald J. Trump is Number 1 on Facebook. Number 2 is Prime Minister Modi of India”.
Donald Trump tweets about his popularity on Facebook
It’s actually the other way around.
But with both leaders so popular online, it came as no surprise that social media was abuzz with memes and commentary before and during the visit.
When Mr Trump mispronounced the name of Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar, it quickly gained ridicule online.
News that a wall had been built for Mr Trump, this time to cover up a slum in Ahmedabad, also gained strong traction.
A man in India’s south who had built a shrine for Mr Trump got his 15-minutes of fame, although not enough points to meet the President.
And India’s booming IT industry was on show, as amusing videos of Mr Trump inserted into Indian pop culture were shared widely.
But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi — where Mr Trump is due on Tuesday — over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India’s democracy.
Mr Trump planned to raise the issue of religious freedoms in India with Mr Modi, an administration official said last week.
Whatever the outcome for US-India relations, there’s little doubt Mr Trump and Mr Modi will have gained a few more followers.
More than three years after the NSW Government promised to clean up the greyhound industry many dogs are still disappearing and feared dead in mass graves.
- The NSW independent regulator cannot conduct welfare checks on retired greyhounds under current legislation
- The Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds says this gives way to more mass killings
- The regulator told the ABC it was working on “arrangements” with the NSW Government to ensure dogs didn’t slip through the cracks
Following the failed greyhound ban in 2016, the NSW Government committed to whole-of-life tracking for greyhounds to put an end to mass culls.
But the Greyhound Welfare & Integrity Commission (GWIC), established by the NSW Government, has admitted that is not always happening.
This is due to a legislative restriction which prevents the GWIC from keeping tabs on retired dogs.
“Nothing has changed, it’s only a matter of time before the graves are found,” Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG) president Dennis Anderson said.
When a greyhound retires or is deemed too slow they are taken off the racing register and should then be re-registered as a pet.
But figures show dogs are still falling through the cracks.
Data from the past 10 years shows that on average 5,700 greyhounds are bred each year in NSW, and about 2,000 are adopted.
In 2016-2017 NSW had the lowest number of births ever recorded due to the ban but in the following 12 months that number rose by 22 per cent to 3,747.
There were about 1,400 adoptions of retired greyhounds.
“Where do the rest go?” Mr Anderson said.
The imbalance is partly because the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act prevents the GWIC from enforcing registrations on the pet register.
The GWIC also does not have the power to check on retired greyhounds once they are rehomed.
“[Our jurisdiction] does not extend to any greyhound that is kept by non-industry participants for purposes not connected to greyhound racing,” the GWIC said.
‘Could give it to mate down the road’
Mr Anderson said it was a clear case of the NSW Government “muzzling” the regulator.
“Nobody from the GWIC tracks those dogs or what conditions they are living in,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous, you could give it to your mate down the road and then it could instantly be killed and no one would know.
“The McHugh inquiry wanted whole-of life-tracking, but the Government has interpreted that to mean whole of life as long as you are racing.”
Justice Michael McHugh investigated the greyhound racing industry in 2015 after the live baiting scandal and found that dogs needed to be tracked for their entire lives.
The inquiry found dogs are sometimes handed over to third parties and then killed to get rid of industry ‘wastage’.
The GWIC told the ABC it was now working with the NSW Office of Local Government to “implement arrangements” which would allow them to register retired greyhounds as pets.
“This will ensure that greyhounds cannot ‘disappear’ off the industry register and not re-appear on the pet register,” a spokesperson for GWIC said.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Racing Kevin Anderson told the ABC there would be a statutory review of the NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in coming months.
A proposed bill to be considered by Indonesian Parliament would compel people with “deviant” sexual persuasions to undergo “rehabilitation”.
- LGBT Indonesians have faced rising hostility in recent years despite homosexuality not being illegal
- Other parts of the legislation call for women to remain in the home and “fulfil the rights of the husband”
- Activists have criticised the proposed law and questioned Indonesia’s commitment to human rights
The so-called Family Resilience Bill, which covers many aspects of family life in Indonesia, outlines measures that can be taken to assist families “in crisis” — including those undergoing financial difficulties, job demands, divorce, chronic disease or death.
“Sexual deviation”, meanwhile — defined by the draft law as those who engage in sadism, masochism, homosexual sex, or incest — is named as a sixth form of family crisis requiring intervention.
Indonesian drag queen in Australia
Escaping persecution as a gay man in Indonesia several years ago, reigning Kimberley Queen has instead found a supportive community in the northern Western Australia town of Broome.
In cases of family crisis caused by sexual deviation, it recommends that people undergo “social or psychological rehabilitation”, “spiritual guidance”, or “medical rehabilitation”.
Domestic violence is not identified as a potential crisis, and critics note that the word “violence” is avoided altogether.
The articles concerning sexual orientation have been widely mocked online.
@sihirperempuan tweet: “Homophobic, anti-feminist, unabashedly patriarchal.” my blurb for Indonesia’s Family Resilience Bill (RUU Ketahanan Keluarga) pushed by the conservatives.
“Who has the authority to deem what is deviant or not?” said Mustaghfiroh Rahayu, an activist with the women’s wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama.
“This will be very problematic. The target, in the end, is, of course, sexual minority groups,” she said.
Extended maternity leave, but ‘double burden’ on women
While it is unclear if and when the bill will be passed, it has the support of members from the Gerindra, Golkar and PAN parties — all members of Indonesia’s ruling coalition — as well as the Islam-based PKS party.
Ledia Hanifa Amaliah, a PKS member and prominent backer of the bill, said in a statement that it would “realise the emotional and spiritual development of the Indonesian people”.
Puan Maharani, Indonesia’s parliamentary speaker, has criticised the bill, stating that it is “too interventionist” and “too intrusive” into people’s private lives.
“We need to see the law from a variety of perspectives,” Rahayu Saraswati, a former MP and Gerindra party member, told the ABC.
“What is positive, is that there’s a will to do something different. That can perhaps provide a solution.”
Ms Saraswati said, though, that there could be “victims” of the new law if people are “forced” into rehabilitation, and that parliamentarians needed to consider it “with a clear head”.
Under the proposed law, female civil servants and employees of state-owned enterprises would be granted six months’ paid maternity or paternity leave, without disadvantage to their position.
But it also stipulates that it is “required” for a wife to “regulate household affairs as well as possible” and “fulfil the rights of the husband and children according to religious norms”.
Women’s rights activist Ms Rahayu said that it risked imposing a “double burden” on women.
“Obligations of the husband and wife are something that can be discussed among the family themselves,” she told the ABC.
Gerindra’s Ms Saraswati said that ultimately it needed to be reviewed, but declined to say that there were fundamental problems with the law.
Indonesia’s human rights protection in question
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo used a speech to Australian Parliament earlier this month to call on the two countries to further the values of human rights, tolerance and diversity.
“Identity politics is a trap to democracy, a threat to adversity and a threat to tolerance,” he said.
But while Mr Widodo was first elected in 2014 with the support of human rights groups, many have become disillusioned with his administration and have questioned his commitment to protecting minorities.
Mr Widodo’s choice of conservative Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin as his vice-presidential running mate — who has called for the criminalisation of homosexuality — was widely seen by liberal Indonesians as a cynical ploy to nullify religious-based attacks on the President.
In recent years, LGBT Indonesians have faced a spike in police raids against their workplaces, homes and public entertainment venues.
While homosexuality is not illegal, people are often publicly shamed by authorities and others have been charged under the country’s controversial anti-pornography law.
Anti-LGBT push sees HIV increase
The marginalisation of Indonesia’s LGBT community is fuelling an HIV “epidemic”, with HIV rates among gay men increasing five-fold since 2007, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Last year, a senior figure in Mr Widodo’s cabinet defended the Attorney-General’s Office’s decision to post job advertisements which specified LGBT candidates were ineligible.
According to the Human Rights Watch’s World Report released last month, HIV rates among men who have sex with men has increased five-fold since 2007 from 5 per cent to 25 per cent, spurred by rising anti-LGBT sentiment and officially-endorsed discrimination.
“Indonesia had been the good-news story in South-East Asia, but in the past year the human rights situation took a turn for the worse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Problematic new laws nearly passed, abusive old ones continue to be enforced, and minorities didn’t get the legal protection they need.”
A case over the validity of police warrants used to raid the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters last year has been dismissed by the Federal Court of Australia.
- The story at the centre of the raid was based on leaked Defence documents
- ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the raid was “attempt to intimidate journalists”
- The ABC was ordered to pay the costs of other parties
In June, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers searched ABC computer systems for files linked to a series of 2017 reports known as “The Afghan Files”.
The reports covered allegations of unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
The ABC launched a challenge to the validity of the warrant, arguing it was “legally unreasonable” and included search terms which failed to create any meaningful limitation on the scope.
Federal Court Justice Wendy Abraham on Monday morning dismissed the case and ordered the ABC to pay the costs of the other parties.
The Afghan Files
The ABC’s Afghan Files stories in 2017 gave an unprecedented insight into the operations of Australia’s elite special forces, detailing incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children and concerns about a “warrior culture” among soldiers.
The Afghan Files, by investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, were based on leaked Defence documents.
A whistleblower involved in the stories has, separately, faced legal proceedings.
In a statement, the ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, said the raid was “an attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their jobs”.
“This is at odds with our expectation that we live in an open and transparent society,” he said.
“We are not saying journalists should be above the law, we’re saying the public’s right to know should be a factor that is taken into account — and legitimate journalism should not be criminalised.”
The AFP case argued the terms of the warrant clearly indicated its investigation was focused on alleged offences concerning the provision and receipt of the leaked documents.
In a 117-page judgment, Justice Wendy Abraham ruled the warrant’s three conditions, when read in the context of the warrant as a whole, provided “sufficient particularity in the offence descriptions”.
“The applicant’s primary submission is based on a consideration of words and phrases in the conditions in isolation, devoid of their context,” she wrote in the judgment.
“It is of no assistance to consider the breadth of individual words and phrases in the warrant in isolation, as material must satisfy all three conditions before it can be seized pursuant to the warrant.”
The ABC argued the case on several grounds, but named the registrar who issued the warrant as the first respondent.
It argued the decision to approve the warrant was not authorised under the Crimes Act, having regard to the implied freedom of political communication.
Further, the ABC argued the warrant itself was too broad and included terms which failed to provide any meaningful limitation on its scope.
The ABC sought a declaration that the warrant was invalid.
In a statement, the AFP said it “respects the decision of the Federal Court”.
“As the investigation remains ongoing it is not appropriate to comment further.”
In October, ABC solicitor Michael Rippon told the court the warrant’s terms included very general words such as “secret”.
The court heard the AFP’s executing officer told Mr Rippon, in the lead up to the raids, that he wanted them carried out in a fashion “amenable” to all parties.
Mr Rippon also recalled words to the effect of “we don’t want any sensationalist headlines like AFP raids the ABC”.
The material seized included 124 files on two USB sticks, some which were duplicates.
The AFP has previously given the court an undertaking that the material will remain sealed until the legal proceedings have been resolved.
The ABC had also sought an immediate injunction to return the seized material and prevent any part from accessing or copying it.
I live-tweeted the raids on the ABC — and it was a first for the AFP
John Lyons spent nine hours in a room with six AFP officers — who were unfailingly polite and respectful — but who were doing something he believed attacked the very essence of journalism.
ABC head of investigative journalism John Lyons said the decision was disappointing.
“It is a bad day for Australian journalism,” he said.
“After 18 months, we still have two journalists that face possible criminal charges.
“I contrast this to Angus Taylor and what the AFP’s treatment of him was, that case was over within weeks.”
ABC news director Gaven Morris described the ruling as “a blow to the way Australians have access to information in their society and their democracy”.
“Urgent law reform is clearly required and all the way through this process, it’s clear that the way that journalists go about doing their role, the way public interest journalism is able to be undertaken in this country is a mess.”
Mandy is not a fan of politics or any of the speculation around the resignation of former sports minister Bridget McKenzie, but the Horsham woman joins a chorus of voices across the country asking for an explanation in the wake of the so-called sports rorts scandal.
- Sport Australia scored Horsham’s aquatic centre project to improve disabled access 83 out of 100
- It received no funding by then-minister Bridget McKenzie, who instead approved 94 projects in the first round that scored below 74
- More than 20 per cent of the Horsham Local Government area live with a disability
One of the applications rejected by the Federal Government was a project to improve disability access to Horsham’s aquatic centre, in western Victoria, for upgrades that disability advocates rallied for many years for.
Sport Australia, which assessed applications on merit, gave the aquatic centre project a score of 83 out of 100.
Ignoring the recommendation, Senator McKenzie instead funded 94 projects that scored below 74 in the first round of the grant program.
“My question would be, ‘Why?'” said Mandy, who requested her last name not be used.
“I’d want to be made to understand why things were done the way they were.
“If someone could explain it fully, in detail to me, then maybe I could understand.”
Mandy said the changeroom facilities were sorely in need of the upgrade, but were now on the backburner.
“I think that’s been a common perspective, for quite a while, amongst people who attend the centre regularly,” she said.
“They are quite outdated in their tiling and railing and shower facilities.”
Senator McKenzie quit Cabinet and resigned as deputy Nationals leader on Sunday after an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet found she breached ministerial standards by failing to disclose her membership of a gun club that received almost $36,000 from the controversial sports grants program.
The Labor Party has called for a Senate inquiry into the scheme.
Disability service provider Uniting Wimmera said it was the next chapter in a story that failed to consider a large segment of the community.
More than 20 per cent of the Horsham local government area live with a disability; 6 per cent of the population need assistance to complete core tasks, like having a shower.
Horsham was a regional centre for residents from a long list of surrounding rural and regional towns.
“Pool upgrades have been completed over the years, however the need for people living with disability have been overlooked or not catered for,” said Uniting Wimmera senior disability support worker, Loucas Vettos.
“Horsham, Nhill, Warracknabeal, Balmoral and Natimuk are just some of the towns within the Wimmera region that access the facility, and for some people, entering the front door is the only access they have.
“Unfortunately there are people that need to sit on the sidelines, or in the cafe, and do other activities while others enjoy a swim.”
Horsham Rural City Council, which owns the facilities, has just completed a $1.5 million upgrade to its outdoor pool.
It was not until stage one of the project was complete that the council expanded plans to include a ramp into the pool, to allow for wheelchair access.
Service manager of local disability support agency Aruma, Luke McArthur, said it was a “surprise” the ramp was not considered in initial plans.
“It comes back to human rights; why should anybody be restricted access to any facility?” Mr McArthur said.
“Everybody needs to be accounted for.
“People with a disability need to be able to access facilities as everybody in the community should be able to.”
The grant application to the Federal Government’s community sport infrastructure program was submitted by the council, which acknowledged the ongoing need for access improvements.
Council was reluctant to answer questions about the former sports minister’s rejection and this week banned the ABC from entering the aquatic centre to cover the story.
“Currently we have facilities up at the aquatic centre for disabled folks — that’s the family changeroom — and we want to improve them; that will happen eventually,” Mayor Mark Radford said, before walking out of an interview.
Physical relief, exercise, social outlet and identity
Water has played a huge role in Mandy’s weekly routine, allowing her freedom of movement and exercise that was difficult to achieve in a wheelchair.
“It gives me physical relief, [after] being in the one position a heap of the time,” she said.
The aquatic centre also offers her a rare opportunity to meet new people.
Mandy said that was essential to help break down barriers in the community.
“A lot of people, sadly in this day and age, are still made uncomfortable by disability,” she said.
“They don’t always know how to appreciate or react to someone with a disability and often it’s [about] taking the time to get to know the person.
“The movements, or the words, or the way of communicating may be different; that doesn’t mean that there’s not a bright mind inside there that would love to communicate with you.”
People who once marvelled at the way she manoeuvred the wheelchair and achieved difficult tasks no longer seem to notice.
“It’s a very social atmosphere and there’s quite a group of us who meet every week at the same time,” she said.
“I would put money on it nowadays that 98 per cent of them do not even see the chair.
“I’m a person, I’m not wheels.”
The project to improve the Horsham Aquatic Centre was among the highest-ranked projects in the country not to receive funding under the sports grants program.
Senator McKenzie came under fire after it was revealed the fund was used to pay for projects in electorates the Coalition wanted to target leading into last year’s election, while other more deserving projects were ignored.
A report from the Prime Minister’s office did not find evidence Senator McKenzie allocated grants for political reasons, after a separate audit found the former minister did funnel money into marginal seats.
But the ABC revealed emails sent by Sport Australia executives to Senator McKenzie’s office raised concerns in March last year about political interference, just weeks before Scott Morrison called the election.
The Prime Minister’s office said Senator McKenzie had legitimate discretionary power to disregard advice from Sport Australia.
A man has died after being bitten by a snake several times after the reptile “wound its way around his arm”, family members said.
- The deceased man was bitten “at least five times, on his leg and on his hand”, his brother said
- When found, the 79yo man — who was late returning from mustering sheep on his farm — still had the snake in his grip
- The man’s brother says he was present at the last recorded snake bite fatality in 1977, when his friend died while handling tiger snakes
The Tasmanian man, 79-year-old Winston Fish, was mustering sheep at Oatlands, in the state’s centre, on Tuesday when he was bitten several times by a large snake, a family member told the ABC.
Brian Fish told the ABC he was still trying to piece together what happened to his brother, who was “late coming home”.
“A friend came up to see where he was and found him on the ground with the snake tangled around his arm,” Mr Fish told ABC Radio Hobart.
“It’s very, very hard when there was nobody there to know what exactly happened.”
Mr Fish said after the alarm was raised “paramedics came in with the helicopter and worked on him for a while”.
His brother was “flown to Hobart and unfortunately never came out of it”.
Mr Fish said his brother was “bit at least five times, on his leg and on his hand” by a tiger snake.
“It’s something you see in a horror movie. It just doesn’t happen”.
Mr Fish had previously received treatment for cancer, his brother said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed the death.
“A man was treated at the Royal Hobart Hospital for a snakebite, he subsequently died and the matter has been referred to the coroner,” the spokesman said.
Family link to 1977 snakebite death
Mr Fish said the loss of his brother brought back memories of Tasmania’s last snakebite death in 1977, for which he was present.
“It brings it back very vividly. It’s a similar thing that happened with Gordon [the man who died in 1977], who was a personal friend,” he said.
“We were at Brighton Show and he had tiger snakes. He had gone to the university and borrowed some big tiger snakes.
“He had one in his hand and was demonstrating with it and for some reason he got the other one out of the box, which is something he never ever did.
“One big fellow got around his wrist and pulled back through his hand and bit him.”
Mr Fish said his friend “went from bad to worse”.
“Gordon was right there with plenty of help, the medics were right on the job.
“He suffered from asthma and the asthma kicked in.”
Tasmania’s three species of snake — tiger, white-lipped and copperhead — are all venomous.
Chris Daly from Reptile Rescue Tasmania said snake activity had increased across the state in recent days.
“I wouldn’t say we’re inundated or we’ve got a snake problem on our hands,” he said.
“We got about 9,500 call outs last year, we’re on track for the same this year.”
The agency charged with administering the scandal-plagued sports grant scheme warned the Morrison Government that its interference in the $100 million program was compromising its independence.
- Sport Australia complained to Bridget McKenzie’s office about the grants program ahead of the federal election
- It raised concerns its independence was being compromised by political interference in allocating funding
- A document obtained by the ABC also shows the clubs that missed out on funding despite being recommended
The ABC can also reveal, for the first time, which clubs missed out on funding despite Sport Australia’s recommendations.
The revelations shed light on a damning auditor-general’s report which found then-sports minister Bridget McKenzie ignored the advice of Sport Australia and funnelled money into projects in marginal electorates and those the Coalition was targeting in the lead up to the 2019 election.
The ABC can reveal that one month before the election was called, Sport Australia wrote to Senator McKenzie outlining its fears that it was being compromised by political interference.
And ministerial documents obtained by the ABC help explain why Sport Australia might have been so annoyed.
Right from the outset, it is clear the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program was highly politicised, with Senator McKenzie’s office colour-coding the nearly 2,000 grant applications according to the party that held the electorate.
As revealed in the auditor-general’s report, projects deemed to be of high merit by Sport Australia did not always get federal funding. In fact, the two highest-rated applications were overlooked in favour of projects with relatively low merit under established guidelines.
A football club in the Victorian Liberal-held marginal seat of La Trobe received a $500,000 grant despite having an assessment score of 50 out of 100, when a roller derby upgrade in the safe Nationals seat of Gippsland did not get a cent despite its 98 rating.
The ABC has seen emails sent by Sport Australia executives to the office of the now embattled Nationals deputy leader Senator McKenzie in March last year — just weeks before Scott Morrison called the election — in which they voiced concern that the agency’s independence was being compromised.
“Our actions have been driven by our responsibility to provide the best advice to the Minister,” Sport Australia’s Robin O’Neill wrote in a March 6 email to Senator McKenzie’s then-chief of staff Richard Hyett.
“Please note the concerns of Sport Australia detailed in my email of 5 March 2019.”
Mr O’Neill is the executive director of Sport Australia’s sport partnerships.
Current Sports Minister, Richard Colbeck, said in a statement he had asked the Secretary of the Department of Health and the CEO of Sport Australia “to provide me with an assurance that documents provided to the media [on Tuesday] relating to the assessment of Community Sport Infrastructure Grants did not come out of their agencies”.
What’s all this talk about sports grants? The whole saga explained
Claims of sports rorts are all over the news. Get up to speed quickly with the year’s biggest political scandal — who did what, when, and why people are angry.
McKenzie ran ‘parallel assessment process’
The ABC understands that Sport Australia was dismayed that community sports projects it recommended for federal funding were being routinely ignored in favour of less deserving projects in election battleground seats.
The agency ranked projects by merit under published guidelines but the Minister’s office generated its own list, using what the auditor-general described as a “parallel assessment process” that took into account the location of the sports club.
Sport Australia communicated its deep concern about the Minister’s intervention in the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program by email and verbally to the Minister’s chief of staff.
Attached to Mr O’Neill’s March 6 email was a copy of the application form and guidelines for the program, “as requested by the Minister”, despite the program having already run through two of its three funding rounds.
Included in the midday email to Mr Hyett was the Minister’s adviser, Rebecca Johnson, Sport Australia’s program manager, Sue McGill, and the agency’s government relations officer, Emma Campbell.
Sport Australia assessed projects by weighting three criteria: community participation (50 per cent), community need (25 per cent) and project design and delivery (25 per cent).
According to the auditor-general, a score of 74 per cent was the cut-off for funding under Sport Australia’s merit-based system.
But a document prepared internally by the Minister’s office, and obtained by the ABC, reveals that 94 of 223 projects deemed “successful” in the first round would have fallen short of Sport Australia’s threshold.
More than half — 54 per cent — of the near $30 million spent in round one went to key and marginal seats, defined by the ABC as having margins of less than 6 per cent. That is despite the fact that marginal seats made up 40 per cent of all electorates at the 2019 election.
Twenty-one of the 35 projects in Nationals-held seats given funding in round one did not satisfy the 74-point threshold.
Worst-assessed application to get funding got biggest grant
The three least worthy applications that received funding were all in Coalition-held seats and the project with the lowest score was awarded $500,000 by Senator McKenzie.
This was for the Pakenham Football Club to build changing rooms for female footballers and netballers.
It was given a rating of just 50 out of 100 under Sport Australia’s guidelines but received the highest possible grant.
Pakenham is in the Liberal-held marginal electorate of La Trobe which Labor heavily targeted in the 2019 election campaign.
“The Liberals-Nationals Government is delivering local infrastructure that our communities expect and deserve,” sitting Liberal MP Jason Wood told his local newspaper in March last year.
The damning audit report has not only prompted calls for Senator McKenzie to resign from Cabinet, it’s prompted a furious response from the sports clubs that spent hours working on their grant applications but never stood a chance.
McKenzie facing calls to quit
A club that missed out on federal funding calls the process “corrupt” and wants Bridget McKenzie to resign, accusing the Government of using grants for “political self-interest purposes”.
One such club is the Coledale Waves Football Club in the safe Labor-held seat of Cunningham, which missed out on a $500,000 grant to resurface its playing field and build new facilities for female players. The ABC can reveal Sports Australia scored its application 73 – just below the merit threshold of 74 points.
The Applecross Tennis Club, in Liberal Ben Morton’s West Australia electorate, received $500,000 despite being given a score of 54, while the Hawthorn-Malvern Hockey Centre in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s leafy seat of Kooyong was granted $500,000 with a score of 62.
The Lilli Pilli Football Club in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s electorate also benefited from the grant program but was deemed worthy by Sports Australia, with a score of 77.
Other funded projects in the Prime Minister’s electorate of Cook were the St George and Sutherland Shire Giants Baseball Club, with a score of 67, and Sans Souci Football Club, with a score of 59.
This scandal was sparked by Liberal candidate Georgina Downer when she handed a $127,000 novelty cheque to a successful sports club in the South Australian seat of Mayo during last year’s election.
She was not the sitting member, which raised suspicions within Labor ranks, and soon enough the whole program was referred to the auditor-general.
It turns out the club involved, the Yankalilla Bowls Club, was actually deemed meritorious, with a Sport Australia ranking of 77.
Morrison outsources McKenzie’s career to bureaucrats she ignored
Scott Morrison has tried to distance himself from the scandal while giving himself the political cover he would need to get rid of Bridget McKenzie from Cabinet, write Lucy Barbour and Jane Norman.
Senator McKenzie has defended her administration of the program, saying all projects that received funding were eligible. Her office insists the Minister had the discretion to make final funding decisions.
The Minister has also claimed that, if anything, her intervention produced “reverse pork-barrelling”, because if Sport Australia’s recommendations had been accepted, only 26 per cent of projects would have been in Labor electorates, rather than 34 per cent as it turned out.
She’s awaiting a review from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) into her handling of the program, which the Prime Minister requested after details emerged a gun club she was a member of received funding.
“Minister McKenzie acknowledges the recommendations of the Australian National Audit Office performance audit into the Community Sport Infrastructure grant program,” a spokesperson for Senator McKenzie told the ABC.
“Out of respect for the PM&C process, the Minister will not be making comment on individual matters until the process is complete.”
A spreadsheet prepared by the Minister’s office in December 2018, obtained by the ABC, contains analysis of the party breakdown of the projects.
It shows that of the 223 projects marked as “successful” in round one, 94 are in Labor-held seats, compared to 87 in Liberal electorates, 35 in National seats and seven in electorate held by independents.
But in terms of funding per project, those in Liberal-held seats averaged $147,901, about $40,000 more than the average funding of projects in Labor seats.
All up, Liberal seats got $12.9 million of the round one funding, or 44.8 per cent, compared to 35.2 per cent for Labor and 17.7 per cent National.
According to the metadata in the spreadsheet obtained by the ABC, among those who had edited the document obtained by the ABC was Jonathan Hawkes, a long-time Liberal Party operative.
At the time, Mr Hawkes was working as a senior adviser to Senator McKenzie. Currently the media director of the Australian Forest Products Association, Mr Hawkes is soon to become the federal director of the National Party.
Chinese-Australians in Wuhan have been advised that an online evacuation “notification” form circulating on social media has not been authorised or issued by the Australian Government.
- An online form asking Australians trapped in Wuhan for their personal information was not authorised by the Australian government.
- Chinese-Australians in Wuhan are not able to leave because the city is in lockdown
- Australia’s Foreign Minister says it is unclear how many Australians are in the city
A link to the registration form has been widely shared on WeChat, titled Chinese Australian in Wuhan, with the accompanying text:
“Please share this as much as you can, let Chinese-Australian citizens and permanent residents fill out this form as soon as possible. Although the epidemic situation is now under control, the situation remains grim. All the information collected is only used for notification purposes of the epidemic situation and the evacuation for overseas Chinese Australians. The information will be destroyed immediately after the epidemic situation is over and will not be retained.”
In a statement to the ABC, a DFAT spokesperson confirmed the form was not an official document.
They advised Australians to monitor the Smart Traveller website for updates, or call the department’s consular emergency line on 1300 555 135 (+61 2 6261 3305 from overseas).
Moko Yong — an Australian citizen currently stranded in Wuchang, a district of Wuhan — told the ABC he had authored the form.
“The original intention of setting up this form was to contact people quickly and count the number of Chinese Australians when evacuating,” Mr Yong said.
“When I heard that Australia had the intention to evacuate overseas Chinese, I was very excited, but I didn’t know how to register, which organisation to find, and how to solve some specific problems.”
He said the form was only to “prepare” the evacuation of Australians in the city, and said the information would be “destroyed immediately” after an evacuation.
Mr Yong said the data would be “destroyed immediately after the evacuation and the epidemic situation is over without any backup, storage and transfer”.
When asked about criticism that his form risked people’s privacy, he claimed it did not “obtain any information related to privacy” as did not require the input of an ID number, birthday, or Australian address.
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.
He told the ABC he intended to pass the information onto the Australian consulate in Sichuan province.
“All the work done is voluntary and I won’t benefit from it.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warned that in general people should be cautious about providing personal information online as it could be a precursor to hacking and identity theft.
However the ABC is not suggesting the purpose of this online evacuation form was to trick people into giving up personal information or perpetrate identity theft or hacking.
China has reported 25 more deaths in the coronavirus outbreak as the toll rises to at least 106. The total number of confirmed cases has climbed to more than 4,200 worldwide.
The ABC has confirmed more than 100 Australian children are currently trapped in the area, including Melbourne father Yi Xu and his six-month-old daughter.
Many like him are desperate to go back home, he told the ABC.
“I don’t know how many people have filled in that form, but it’s understandable because parents are anxious and eager to evacuate their children with the help of DFAT,” he said.
“Everybody is trying their best to find ways to make that happen.”
Speaking to Melbourne radio station 3AW yesterday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the number of Australians in Wuhan was still unclear.
“We don’t have a definitive number on the number of Australians in Wuhan or in Hubei province, because it will include a significant number of dual nationals, some of who may not have travelled on Australian passports,” she said.
“If we are able to support Australians to travel, if they wish to leave, then we would like to do that.”
Chinese authorities have implemented harsh new lockdown policies in the Wuhan area, including a ban on using private vehicles from the weekend.
China’s Beijing Public Transport Group said it would suspend the majority of bus services into neighbouring Hebei province starting on Tuesday (local time) to contain the spread of coronavirus, according to a statement on its official Weibo account.
Editor’s Note — January 30, 2020: An early version of this story incorrectly referred to the evacuation form as an “online scam”. It has been amended to reflect Mr Yong’s explanation that his motives were only to assist Australian authorities identify Australians in Wuhan.
More on the coronavirus outbreak:
- The WHO has declared a global emergency for just the sixth time. Here’s what that means
- Interactive map tracks the spread of coronavirus from Wuhan
- What we know about the coronavirus evacuations from Wuhan to Christmas Island
- The doctor who sleeps just four hours a night to diagnose coronavirus cases
- Coronavirus fear spreads easily and it could fuel an economic as well as health crisis
- Christmas Island locals surprised, split over quarantine role
- Australian lab recreates coronavirus, helping vaccine push
- The Australian kids trapped in Wuhan by coronavirus
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It was October 26 last year when out of nowhere came a racial attack I will never forget.
My six-year-old son Archie, who has autism, and I were at his favourite public swimming pool — his safe place, his happy place.
Charlestown pool is a place where he can shriek and giggle like nobody is watching and splash around before smiling with his whole body.
But all was not well at his safe and happy place on this Saturday afternoon.
As Archie and I dipped our toes into the smaller of two pools, two boys pointed in our direction and whispered.
“I thought this whole pool was for upper-class people only,” one of the boys said.
They were barely teenagers and appeared to be brothers.
They pointed again.
“Bantu Kaffir, Bantu Kaffir,” they whispered loudly.
Under the now-defunct apartheid regime in South Africa, people were classified as either Bantu (all black Africans), coloured or white.
And the term kaffir is highly offensive and inflammatory in that country, used as a racial slur against southern-African Bantu-speaking people.
The boys didn’t stop there.
“Get on the bus, get on the bus, get on the bus Aunt Maree, get on the bus,” they said.
At this point I was gritting my teeth, holding it together for my beautiful, quirky boy, as he squealed and splashed at his special place, now marred by the racial bile I had been subjected to.
While buying a chocolate ice cream for Arch as an after swim treat, tears welled up in my eyes as I spoke to the pool attendant.
“I have just been racially vilified,” I told her.
“What is that?” she asked.
” I have just been racially abused by those two boys,” I said as I struggled to speak.
At this point, Archie knew all was not well and this place was no longer safe.
“Mummy’s sad,” he said.
“I was bawling as I reassured him and said, ‘Mummy isn’t sad, Mummy is OK’.”
The pool attendant was horrified, but didn’t know what to do.
“I won’t speak to their dad, but I know their mum, I will speak to their mum,” she said.
I stressed I did not want them banned from the pool but wanted them cautioned.
‘Zero tolerance for race hate’
As result of my complaint and one similar in the weeks after, Lake Macquarie Council officers decided to act.
They are using my experience to review council policies and training for staff to give them confidence if another person is racially vilified at one of its public spaces.
“It is really unfortunate hearing about the incident and we continually try to improve our operational responses and staff training,” said Brad Sutton, the Council’s manager of leisure services.
Mr Sutton said staff were often afraid to act.
“As a result of the incident, we are really going to focus on aggressive behaviour and giving staff the tools and training so that they can respond appropriately,” he said.
“We want to provide the assurance to our patrons and remind all visitors that it is a safe place to visit.
“We have zero tolerance for racism.
“Part of the training is around that psychological first aid, if you like, for staff that might be involved in a range of different trauma events and giving them advanced training.”
I raised my experience with the Human Rights Commission, and Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan offered his full support
“As a wider community, we can do better than what you and Archie have experienced, it is totally unacceptable, ” Mr Tan said.
“The conduct of individuals that is race based, there is no place for it in Australia, but we need to work at it and taking a stand is a very important first step.”
My complaint comes at a time when the commission is continuing to promote its ‘Racism, it stops with me’ campaign.
“Calling it [racism] out is important for a number of reasons. it confronts unacceptable attitudes and behaviours and it is saying, ‘Hey, this is not OK’,” Mr Tan said.
Mr Tan has applauded Lake Macquarie Council for taking the stance it has.
Times I should have called racism out
The pool incident is not the first race-hate experience I have had.
About a decade ago, I was reading news headlines as an ABC journalist in Newcastle when a talkback caller managed to get to air, only to slam me racially.
“It’s good to see Giselle only getting a job through the ABC’s EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] policies,” the talkback caller said.
At that point, my colleague and presenter Paul Bevan quickly cut the man off, apologised profusely and then stressed I had the credentials for my job.
The racial barbs intensified when Archie was born.
He’s white and was born with ice blonde hair — a striking combination that did not sit well with some, making us targets for vile abuse.
“A black f***ing mum with a white f***ing baby, that is what is f***ing wrong with this country,” a random man at the local shopping centre yelled in my face.
And as I walked with my pram, another man approached with more bile.
“Your son looks like a vanilla paddle pop, you look like one of those ladies who steals babies from hospitals,” he said.
Then a passer-by in the street approached.
“Oh, he is so lucky he is white,” they said.
And late last year as we drove in our car, a group of shirtless men gave my son and me the Nazi salute in downtown Newcastle.
All of those times, I quietly sobbed and did not call out the racism for what it was.
But by calling it out now, I feel empowered, following the footsteps of my ABC colleague Jeremy Fernandez, who seven years ago was racially vilified on a Sydney bus.
He called it his Rosa Parks moment.
Ms Parks was the American civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Alabama, back in 1955.
Then there is abuse hurled at popular presenter Waleed Aly, and no-one can forget the race hate that drove former AFL superstar Adam Goodes out of the game.
This is by no means a pity party, but I hope by adding my voice, it gives others their own voice to call out racism too.
I have not been back to the pool, and emotionally, I am not sure I can.
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.
- 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Former AMP customers and consumer rights groups have been outraged by the troubled wealth manager’s latest tactic to delay returning money it stole in the fees-for-no-service scandal.
- AMP wrote to former clients informing them their refunded fees had been placed in new AMP superannuation accounts
- Super Consumers Australia says the AMP Eligible Rollover Fund has underperformed comparable funds
- The fund does not charge entry and exit fees but does have administration and investment fees
The banking royal commission found charging fees for no service was “taking money for nothing” and AMP is now putting that money into new accounts and charging new fees.
AMP has been forced to refund hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and charges it took from clients following scandalous revelations at the royal commission.
Late last year, AMP started to contact former clients to alert them AMP owed them the money it took in fees while providing no service.
However, instead of asking customers where they would like the money sent, AMP opened a new super account in their name.
“As your account with us is closed and we can’t pay super benefits directly to you, we’ve paid this amount into a new AMP Eligible Rollover Fund [ERF] account that was opened in your name,” it told them.
AMP move slammed as ‘simply unbelievable’
The strategy of opening new accounts has shocked regulatory and corporate governance academic Andy Schmulow, who lectures at the University of Wollongong and is currently an adviser to the World Bank on market conduct rules.
“It is simply unbelievable that after the horror show of the royal commission, AMP has learned nothing, it hasn’t changed, won’t change and demonstrates that the company no longer has the right to exist,” Dr Schmulow said.
An independent advocacy centre for superannuation customers criticised AMP’s move as a shameless grab for new accounts that could be sapped of fees.
“This is absurd — people left the fund because it was ripping them off, they’re now being forced to re-join to get their money back,” Xavier O’Halloran from Super Consumers Australia said.
“To make matters worse, they are being thrown into an AMP fund which has massively underperformed comparable funds over the longer term.”
The AMP ERF has performed poorly, returning just 2.6 per cent over the past decade, significantly underperforming other ERFs in the market, which have a median return of 4.6 per cent according to APRA data.
Clients who have had money taken from them by AMP have now had the money they are owed put in the second worst-performing fund in the category.
“The fund’s rate of return of 1.1 per cent over the last year was below inflation and had that money gone directly into a balanced MySuper account, they would have earned 6.89 per cent,” Mr O’Halloran said.
Refunded money to be charged fees
AMP’s letter states there are “no exit or entry fees” but says nothing about the fees charged while the account is open, which are quite steep.
Compensation, crackdowns and overhauls
Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s final report offers 76 recommendations, all of which the Federal Government and Labor say they will support and implement. Find out more here.
Fees start at 2.36 per cent for “administration” and there is another 0.69 per cent investment fee.
These are far heftier than the fees charged by some of Australia’s top-performing investment funds, which return in excess of 20 per cent,” Mr O’Halloran said.
“For people with low balances, this looks like a naked attempt by AMP to claw back its ill-gotten gains.”
AMP’s letter states in bold type that no action is required: “You don’t need to do anything — the payment has already been made.”
However, those payments were made to new accounts customers did not know anything about.
Former client furious money back with AMP
Two months after the first letters were issued, AMP sent welcome packs to clients, including information about the ongoing fees and a form to fill in to move the money and close the new account.
One former client of AMP told the ABC they were furious AMP had set them up with an account without their consent and lumped them with the hassle of now applying to get their money out of the account and closing it.
“This is bullshit,” the former client said.
Mr O’Halloran said: “People would have been much better off being reunited with the money AMP stole from them by having it put into their existing super accounts.”
Dr Schmulow highlighted that AMP’s financial success rested on it opening new accounts and keeping funds within the institution.
“If there was anybody at AMP that said opening new accounts with the stolen money is a clever strategy of keeping funds under management, they should have been sacked. This is so bad,” he said.
“They obviously have these former clients’ details — addresses, emails, phones. It’s clear they put no effort into actually trying to give people their money back.”
While regulator ASIC has published detailed instructions on how it expects firms to review files and assess whether compensation or remediation is warranted, it does not have the power to tell companies how to do it, just that it should be in a “timely manner”.
In March last year, ASIC commissioner Danielle Press criticised banks, including AMP, for delays in reimbursing customers.
AMP responded to the ABC’s questions about why it didn’t first contact former clients before setting up new accounts on their behalf by saying the practice was legal.
It declined to say how many new accounts had been set up, or why information about moving the money into another super account wasn’t included in earlier correspondence.
“Remediating customers as quickly as possible is our priority — for members without a current AMP super account, payments were made through an eligible rollover fund (ERF), which was the fastest way to return money to clients and meets the legal requirement for the money to remain within superannuation,” an AMP spokesman said.
A road has partially collapsed on the Sunshine Coast in what the local council believe could have been caused by recent heavy rain.
- A large hole several metres wide opened up on a Sunshine Coast road after heavy rain
- It follows flash flooding on the Gold Coast where a caravan park at Helensvale went underwater
- One guest told the ABC the park had not warned her or her family about the rising waters
Police were called to Tingira Crescent at Sunrise Beach around 11:00pm on Saturday night to a large hole in the road and contacted the Noosa Shire Council to assess the damage.
“It’s taken out half the road, so my estimate would be roughly 10-15 metres wide and 3 to 4 metres deep,” Noosa Shire Council spokesman Ken Furdek said.
“What we have been able to ascertain is that it’s been quite a big slip that has been caused by either the heavy rain overnight and Friday night or by a burst water main.”
A specialist contractor was expected to be onsite during the week to start stabilising the site.
“A full repair of the road is likely to take some time,” he said.
“Our priority is to get that land stabilised near the unit block and once that’s done then our council crews will be on-site to repair the road.
“We encourage people to stay away from the area.”
Local resident Tracey Stevens was at a cafe down the road when she saw it.
“A car would disappear in there for sure,” she said.
“If you didn’t know it was there it would be hard to see, people are very lucky they didn’t get hurt.”
Deluge at Gold Coast caravan park
On the Gold Coast, a massive clean-up was underway at a caravan park after what locals describe as “life-threatening” flash flooding ripped through the area, forcing 400 guests to flee to higher ground.
Saturday’s deluge smashed through the Helensvale Big 4 Caravan Park during high tide on a nearby creek.
The fast-rising floodwaters consumed caravans and cars and were so strong they carried away a minibus.
Tow trucks were called in to remove damaged vans.
Guest Jenny Cowman was camping with her grandchildren and said they were traumatised.
“About 4:00am my son-in-law came screaming in ‘Jenny, Jenny! Wake up quick! We have to go!'” she said.
“I thought I was having a dream.
“My daughter’s child was screaming and she saw there was water all through the camper.
“She said later to me she was not worried … but they could have drowned, they were only on little, thin air mattresses at the time, they could have rolled over. It only takes a few minutes in water.
“The kids were so scared.”
Ms Cowman, who lives in Chinchilla, said it was their first family holiday with their camper trailers.
“My mum who was with us is 85 years old and she nearly had a heart attack being so scared,” she said.
“We tried to stay as calm as possible but it just kept rising.
“Apparently they have 24-hour security here and CCTV surveillance, but nothing, no-one came to warn us.”
The family lost two cars and two camper trailers and fear their damage bill will be around $100,000.
Only the cars were insured.
The park staff refused to let media in to talk to other residents or look at the damage.
No-one was injured during the flooding event and the park remains closed.