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.
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“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
- From fish market to global epidemic: How the outbreak unfolded
- What exactly is coronavirus and should you be concerned?
- Super spreaders of the virus can infect multiple people
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.
A West Australian university is withdrawing a multi-million-dollar financial damages claim filed against a whistleblower academic who spoke on the ABC’s Four Corners last year.
- Associate Professor Gerd Schroder-Turk is being counter-sued by Murdoch University after they threatened to remove him from the university senate
- The academic had voiced concerns on the ABC about the welfare of international students
- Murdoch University wrote to staff to say it would continue pursuing legal action against the academic, but the financial component of its counterclaim would be dropped
Associate Professor Gerd Schroder-Turk was one of three Murdoch University academics who appeared on the program raising concerns about the welfare of international students.
He took legal action in the Federal Court seeking an injunction to stop the university from removing him from his position on the university’s senate after the broadcast.
In response, Murdoch University counter-sued Dr Schroder-Turk for costs and damages.
Murdoch claimed that since Dr Schroder-Turk’s comments the university’s reputation had been damaged and it had suffered financial losses in the order of millions of dollars due to a drop in international student numbers.
The move drew international condemnation with more than 30,000 people signing a petition calling for the university to drop the counterclaim against him.
Dr Schroder-Turk said he was “greatly relieved” by the news in a statement from his lawyers.
“The counter-claim by the university has caused me and my young family a great deal of unnecessary stress,” he said.
“I have always acted in the best interest of the university, its students and its staff, and have done so in very difficult circumstances.
“However, my concerns about the welfare of students remain.”
His lawyer, Josh Bornstein from Maurice Blackburn, said the financial claim was an “unprecedented” attack on a whistleblower.
“The university clearly intended to try and frighten my client and any other staff member wanting to speak up about maladministration,” he said.
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‘Patently absurd’ to sue, union says
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) welcomed the university’s decision to drop the financial claim, with general secretary Matthew McGowan saying it was “patently absurd to think that a university would sue a staff member for millions of dollars in damages”.
Last month, Murdoch University Professor Robert Cribb resigned in protest from his position as the institution’s Distinguished Visiting Scholar, telling the ABC he believed the legal action set a dangerous precedent and was “an attempt to intimidate other people from potentially revealing other poor practices”.
Dozens of other high-profile academics from institutions around the world have signed open letters raising concerns about the implications of the case for academic freedom of expression.
Murdoch University told staff this morning it had advised lawyers for Dr Schroder-Turk it was withdrawing the financial component of its counterclaim “in the spirit of moving towards a resolution”.
“We understand the financial component of the counterclaim as part of the university’s defence has become a focus of commentary regarding this case,” the statement said.
Lawsuit is ‘not about academic freedom’, university says
Murdoch University also used the statement to defend its decision to take action against Dr Schroder-Turk and denied the claim was a freedom of speech matter.
“The central issue is whether Associate Professor Schroder-Turk’s actions have breached his duties as a member of senate,” the statement said.
“Associate Professor Schroder-Turk’s legal action and the university’s subsequent defence is not and has never been about academic freedom. It is simply about senate governance.”
Mr McGowan from the NTEU disagreed and called for the university’s entire counterclaim to be dropped.
“This is about academic freedom — the right of a staff member to speak openly about issues and concerns about their institution without fear or favour — and if Murdoch management cannot understand this then they shouldn’t be running a university,” he said.
Detectives are investigating the fatal shooting overnight of Melbourne crime figure Nabil Maghnie on a street in Melbourne’s north.
- Mr Maghnie died at the scene after witnesses heard four gunshots
- His son and another man are understood to have also been injured during the shooting
- Mr Maghnie was the target of a previous shooting
A crowd of mourners gathered at the intersection of Childs and Dalton roads at Epping after the shooting about 8:30pm.
Mr Maghnie was seen lying dead on the edge of the road next to his Mercedes utility.
Police, paramedics and SES crews swarmed the area, with the section of road closed off until early this morning.
Police said the man, aged 44 from Bundoora, died at the scene from a gunshot wound.
Two other men were also shot, and the ABC understands one of them was Mr Maghnie’s son AJ.
The 27-year-old from Plumpton was pictured returning to the scene last night in a hospital gown with a bandaged elbow and a blood stain near his knee.
Another 44-year-old man was also taken to hospital in a non-life-threatening condition.
Police believe Mr Maghnie knew his killer
A resident said panicked after hearing four shots as Mr Maghnie was gunned down.
“I thought, what the hell is going on?” he said.
“They scare the neighbours, they scare the people.”
He said he did not sleep last night after what he witnessed.
“There was a guy lying down and ambulance was sort of giving CPR,” he said.
The Homicide Squad, with the assistance of the Armed Crime Squad, is investigating.
“But investigators believe the parties involved were known to each other,” police said in a statement.
Mr Maghnie was a suspect in the 2011 shooting of high-profile bikie Toby Mitchell near the Bandidos gang clubhouse at Brunswick in Melbourne’s inner north.
Also known as Nabil Moughnieh, Mr Maghnie was the target of a previous shooting.
He was hit at least twice, including in the head, and drove himself to the Northern Hospital in September 2016.
Australians have raised millions for victims, both human and animal, of the bushfires that have devastated much of the country’s south-eastern states but there are now warnings that scammers are targeting those who are giving all they can to charity.
- Victoria’s Emergency Services Minister calls for people to donate only through official channels
- The ACCC has received 86 reports of scams related to the bushfire tragedy since September 2019
- Scammers are impersonating charities and people affected by the bushfires
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) told the ABC they had received 86 reports of bushfire-related scams since September of 2019, including 20 calls to the scams hotline on Tuesday.
The rise in reported scams comes as authorities have begun to ask people to donate cash rather than goods, as a surplus has built up and is causing distribution issues.
The scams reported include:
- People impersonating relatives of victims and requesting money via text messages or phone calls
- Calls or websites impersonating charities and crowdfunding pages impersonating charities
- People doorknocking, saying they or loved ones have been impacted by the bushfires
The ACCC also called on people to protect themselves when making donations by verifying the legitimacy of fundraisers, particularly by checking their terms and conditions to make sure they are an established charity and to ensure that charities are registered by searching the Australia Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
The news came as Victoria’s Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville let loose on those who were taking advantage of kind-hearted Australians.
Speaking at a press conference, Ms Neville took aim at those committing fraud to get ahead as some of the worst society has to offer.
“We’ve heard that there are some fake charities out there and all I can say is this is the lowest of the low in terms of behaviour,” Ms Neville said.
“We want to make sure they can’t get away with these sort of scams.”
How to protect yourself from scams:
- Do not donate via fundraising pages that do not verify the legitimacy of the fundraiser
- Be careful about crowdfunding requests as these may be fake and also come from scammers
- Check the terms and conditions of funding platforms and ensure you are dealing with official organisations
- Check a charity is registered by searching the Australia Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Charity Register
Ms Neville then elaborated on the type of scams she has been made aware of, including cases of doorknocking and impersonating victims.
“People are being rung by people that are either impersonating bushfire victims or pretending to act on behalf of bushfire victims.
“Because people want to do so much, they are contributing towards what are scams and fakes, including some doorknocking scams.”
Ms Neville recommended that the safest way to donate in her state is to go through the official Victorian bushfire appeal.
“This is money that will go directly back to families, 100 per cent of it back to families,” she added.
It took only a few weeks before Geoffrey Pelham became hooked playing games on the Big Fish Casino app where he would spend $800 in a matter of minutes.
Every day, the 58-year-old would spend at least an hour playing virtual slot machine games on his mobile phone.
“They give you free chips when you first sign up to suck you in,” the Perth-based fly-in-fly-out miner told the ABC.
Once the chips ran out, he had to start paying.
“I used to pay $160 for 80 million chips and then lose it all in 10 minutes,” he said.
All up he said he spent thousands on the game and won nothing in return.
“They don’t pay real money out. All you do is win virtual chips,” he said.
Market growing as gambling declines
Games like Big Fish Casino are not traditional gambling — they’re part of an unregulated grey area known as “social casinos”.
The app-based products simulate casino games such as blackjack, roulette and slot machines but players can never cash out their virtual chips for money.
While social casinos are relatively new, it has become a multibillion-dollar industry.
Australian are the world’s biggest gambling losers per capita, losing more than $1,200 every year.
According to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Australian spent a total of $25 billion on gambling in 2017-2018.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Gambling Help Online on 1800 858 858
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Dr Christopher Hunt from the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic said social casino games appeared to be increasing rapidly in Australia, while participation in traditional forms of gambling was declining rapidly.
“Some of these games are being played by people in their spare time, like on the bus or on their way to work,” he said.
“A lot of companies that have previously focused on traditional forms of gambling are moving into more internet-based and social media types of gambling.”
In 2017, Australian gaming giant Aristocrat bought the Seattle-based Big Fish Games digital arm for $1.3 billion.
Legal grey zone
Online casino games are illegal in Australia but social casinos fall into a grey area.
They are classified as entertainment so are not subject to any gambling regulations.
Independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie wants that changed, and said he would push the Federal Government to act this year.
“This is gambling and anyone who tries to tell you it’s not is wrong,” Mr Wilkie said.
“In my opinion, these should be regulated in Australia in exactly the same way as mainstream online casino games and that’s to ban them.”
Aristocrat refused to comment, instead referring the ABC to the International Social Games Association (ISGA).
ISGA chief executive Luc Delaney argued social casino games were “purely for entertainment”.
Mr Delaney said despite heavy scrutiny in recent times, no new regulation of social casino-themed games had been adopted — either under gambling or consumer protection laws.
“That’s because casino-themed social games offer no opportunity to win money, or anything of value.
“Video games, including social games, fall under a range of consumer protection regulations as do all forms of digital entertainment, which we believe is appropriate.”
Geoff still plays the slot machine games using free chips Big Fish Casino occasionally gives him.
But he says he never pays to play any more.
“I’m glad I saw the light a couple of years ago.”
Mallacoota is better known for its tranquillity, with the seaside town perched on an estuary on Victoria’s remote far-eastern coast surrounded by UNESCO-listed wilderness.
- Mallacoota resident Brendan has tweeted about conditions in the town amid the bushfires
- As fires knocked out power and telecommunications, his tweets kept the world informed
- His efforts have garnered global media attention
But in recent days, images projected to the world from inside Mallacoota have reflected anything but, with skies at times turned blood red from the fires ravaging the state.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has declared a state of disaster across most of the eastern half of the state, as the bushfire crisis threatens to worsen.
Two people have died in the region while 17 remain missing, as 50 fires continue to burn.
In Mallacoota, about 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals remain stuck after roads were cut off as a fire tore through on New Year’s Eve.
About 800 of the town’s most vulnerable people are expected to evacuate from the region aboard Navy vessel HMAS Choules this morning.
Already, scores of livestock and homes have reportedly been lost across the region, but the full extent of the damage is yet to be assessed.
During the New Year’s Eve inferno, flames knocked out some power, mobile and internet services, prompting grave concerns among residents, as well as family and friends outside of Mallacoota wishing to know the fate of those who remained.
But one resident — who asked to be called simply Brendan — kept the small Victorian town connected with the world via Twitter, live-tweeting local conditions.
@Brendanh_au tweet: Was just on air with BBC TV and then BBC 5 Live. Surprised and grateful at how much global interest there is in these Australia fires and #Mallacoota in particular. Have had interest from Canada, China, USA, Germany and others. Thank you for getting the story out.
In recent days, Brendan’s tweets have been shared by observers around the world, and he has garnered attention from international media, including the BBC.
“[It’s] quite incredible. I never predicted quite a lot of global interest in this,” Brendan told the ABC.
“It turns out that anyone who’s been to Mallacoota or knows anyone who’s been to Mallacoota has a Mallacoota story.
“Such a large number of people have such a special story about Mallacoota, and it’s just resonated across the world.”
A cursory scroll through Brendan’s tweets from the evening reveals an hour-by-hour summary of the blaze from eyewitness located in the centre of town.
They include photos of the ominous skies, descriptions of the thick smoke blanketing the horizon and of the burning embers and leaves falling around him, and rolling updates on the condition of the town’s critical infrastructure.
@brendanh_au: Mallacoota, usually a town of about 1k people, has two CFA vehicles for most of the year. Over the xmas holiday our pop swells to 10k. Our firies recognised this and the risk early and sent many additional vehicles. We believe at least 15 trucks protecting infra and campers
He told the ABC he decided to live-tweet when he noticed that some Twitter users from overseas said they had lost contact with people staying at his camper park.
This, coupled with the town’s Optus transmission tower going down during power outages, left him no choice, he said.
“There were people out there who wanted to know what was happening… the best I could do was tell them what I was seeing,” he said.
His tweets garnered sizeable attention quickly, as information coming out of Mallacoota during the blaze was sparse.
@Brendanh_au tweet: Last pictures of the fire across from Karbeethong #Mallacoota for the night. Still very slow moving but wind change expected later.
Brendan said that at one point people began tweeting their addresses at him to figure out if their family and properties were OK.
“They felt some connection. They felt some level of comfort that they were understanding what was happening here in the absence of any other information,” Brendan said.
‘I was taking breaks 140 characters at a time’
@BBCBreakfast tweet: This resident in #Mallacoota in Australia tells #BBCBreakfast fire damage means residents are still being evacuated after a blaze swept through the area. ⬇️ More here: https://bbc.in/2SLbTgr
Brendan described his experience over the past four days as “pretty incredible”, with Twitter becoming a refuge for him between fighting fires.
“I never in any way put tweeting in front of fighting the fire, protecting lives or property,” he said.
“I was taking breaks 140 characters at a time.”
@brendanh_au tweet: Still fighting bushfires in #mallacoota – situation critical near raheen and radley. Just caught a break in the wind. We’re controlling as best we can to save sister’s place. Tea trees are exploding infernos.
Prior to the blaze, Brendan, along with a “multi-decade Country Fire Authority veteran” neighbour, anticipated that the dense bush surrounding Mallacoota would bring about a fire that would be “the real deal”.
@Brendanh_au tweet: Mallacoota inevitable
Mallacoota is surrounded by the dense coastal wilderness of the Croajingolong National Park, a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve home to ancient forests and warm temperate rainforests.
Almost 1,000 native plant species and 315 animal species have been recorded within the park, according to UNESCO.
It’s this uniqueness that Brendan said had led to his “pretty straightforward” decision to stay despite an evacuation order being placed for most of East Gippsland on Sunday.
“We’re all attached to Mallacoota in a fairly strong way: My parents have lived here for over 10 years, my sister for five-and-a-bit with her kids,” he said.
“We love this part of the world and we were expecting something like this to happen — we understand how remote and isolated we can be.”
Presently, Brendan and his family are continuing to monitor local conditions but have not yet made a final decision on whether to leave the town.
This means that for now, residents and non-residents alike will have Brendan as one extra pair of eyes over Mallacoota as emergency services descend on the fire-stricken town.
“We love this place: We made major moves in our lives to live in Mallacoota and we want to see it recover again,” he said.
“That’s what’s keeping us going.”
@brendanh_au tweet: Someone sending a message to the CFA true country style. Placed on the #Mallacoota-Genoa road at Mirrabooka. Thank you CFA.
More bushfire coverage:
- Live blog: Fires in NSW and Victoria still burning as communities prepare to assess damage
- Ferocious blaze rips through properties in idyllic Southern Highlands west of Sydney
- Alpine towns evacuate as firefighters deal with ‘double-edge sword’ of rain
- Bright orange, then pitch black as Qantas flight hits turbulence in fire’s cloud
- ‘Just magnificent’: Farmer fights back tears as ‘army of angels’ convoy arrives
- Eden’s wharf offered a refuge from fire, then police warned it wasn’t safe
- Farmers grapple with how to dispose of livestock killed in bushfires
- Morrison denies Facebook post an advertisement as he announces fires recovery agency
- NSW fires blanket Canberra in thick smoke, leading to orange skies and poor air quality
- Coming back from holidays? Here’s what you need to know about the Australian bushfires
An Adelaide nightclub has copped significant backlash on social media over its response to allegations a woman was ejected from the venue after she was sexually harassed by a male patron.
- A Facebook post by the venue has attracted more than 1,500 comments
- It has come under fire over an earlier post including six screenshots of a private conversation
- That conversation was with a woman who said she was sexually harassed at the venue
A nightclub on Adelaide’s notorious Hindley Street strip posted to Facebook last night, saying it had been “made aware of the incident reported to us”.
“We appreciate the serious nature of the situation at hand … and are investigating the incident with all due diligence and without prejudice,” the post stated.
The post attracted more than 1,500 comments.
But the nightclub has come under fire in relation to an earlier post, now deleted, which included six screenshots of a private conversation — over Facebook’s private messaging service — the venue purportedly had with the woman who was complaining of sexual harassment.
The images included claims the woman was removed by security after elbowing a man who had attempted to put his hand up her skirt, while no action was taken against the perpetrator.
The screenshots also suggested that the woman’s group of friends was misled in relation to the amount of the club’s entry fee, and did not realise how much they had paid until they saw their bank statements the next morning.
The venue — which the ABC has chosen not to name for legal reasons — purportedly included the screenshots of the alleged conversation in a bid to deny accusations the venue told the alleged victim “she probably deserved it”.
Instead, the screenshots of the messages suggest the venue told the woman “there is (sic) choices” and she could have gone to security, who would have intervened, instead of “hitting a patron”.
“If they see you hit someone they cannot help but throw you out. It’s the law,” one message from the venue reads.
The images show the woman responding: “I was sexually harassed I was protecting myself. I tried to wave the security guard over and they ignored me”.
The venue then appears to have said: “Sorry for your experience”.
According to the screenshots, the alleged victim then asked for a refund for the entry fee.
Instead, she was offered free entry to get into the nightclub this weekend.
SA Police said it was not aware of the alleged assault, and the ABC has contacted the venue for comment.
The first victim of Victoria’s East Gippsland bushfires has been identified by his family as 67-year-old Buchan resident Mick Roberts.
- Police have not yet formally identified the body
- Premier Daniel Andrews previously said four Victorians were unaccounted for
- Many homes have been lost in Buchan since fires hit the area on Monday morning
The body was found by one of Mr Roberts’s relatives in his bedroom inside his Buchan home after bushfires hit the town this week, but is yet to be formally identified by police.
Toby Parsons told the ABC his great-uncle ‘Mick’ was a “hero” in the community and “someone you could look up to”.
“He was much more than just my uncle,” he said.
“He was the best uncle you could ask for.
“I always had respect for him and no matter how rough or hard he looked on the outside he was so lovely on the inside and would always make you feel good.”
‘Dry humour’ and wit remembered by sister
Mr Roberts’s sister, Jenner Carter, told the ABC her brother was the youngest of five and had lived in Buchan for 17 years.
“Everybody knew him, and he knew everyone,” she said.
Ms Carter described her brother as a “witty” man with “dry humour”.
She said her brother’s body was found in his bedroom by a family member after he had been missing for some time.
“He loved his farm. He would never have left his home no matter what,” she said.
Ms Carter said the cool change that swept through Buchan “lifted the rafters off the house”.
She said it was not yet clear how exactly her brother died.
Some communities remain ‘totally isolated’
Mayor of the East Gippsland Shire Council John White said Buchan was a resilient community.
“I didn’t know him [Mr Roberts], but he would certainly have been well known in Buchan and by others too, so that’s just really, really sad,” he told ABC Statewide Drive.
“Buchan has been enduring these bushfire attacks for the last three years, and finally they have succumbed.
“Under the conditions we had on Monday evening, they were more than anyone could control.”
Mr White said the difficult terrain in East Gippsland would make it hard to get supplies into the isolated communities.
“We still have communities that are totally isolated that we haven’t heard from,” he said.
“We’re in a situation where we have a fire that is still out-of-control, but we’re also trying to get in to do recovery. Coordinating all that is an enormous task.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday that four people were unaccounted for after bushfires hit the state’s east and north.
Out-of-control bushfires created a New Year’s nightmare for many Australians.
Rather than celebrating the new year, many in Victoria’s east and on the NSW South Coast spent their time evacuated from their homes or ended up protecting them as walls of flame bore down.
Here’s where — and how, according to eye-witness accounts — the destruction happened.
The idyllic beachside village lies on the coast close to the NSW border and for most parts of the year has a population of little over 1,000 people, which swells during holiday periods. It is also one of the most isolated towns in the state, which is why the fire that wreaked havoc there was so dangerous.
Mallacoota is where most of the dreadful New Year’s Eve news kicked off as the town woke to blackened skies.
It was still dark at 9:30am and later in the day the sky changed to a terrifying red as holidaymakers who could not make it out before it was too late to leave huddled on the beach or on the town’s jetty.
When the wind changed later in the day and the conditions were safer, a cheer went up from those on that pier.
Business-owner Mark Peters described the devastating scenes in Mallacoota where several homes and structures were lost.
He sheltered by the water as fires approached the township on Tuesday and has since returned to town to find his property reduced to rubble.
“It’s been totally flattened … it looks like a warzone,” Mr Peters told RN Breakfast.
“All the houses around me are gone. There’s probably 15 houses in the street, probably 6 of them survived.
He owned bed and breakfast accommodation in Mallacoota but says he wasn’t insured.
“We had mudbrick holiday units. The mudbrick survived, everything else was gutted.”
Samantha Corbett was on holiday in Mallacoota with her family and joined the thousands of people who sought shelter at the boat ramp as the bushfire hit the town.
“We have watched houses burn today. It’s been gut wrenching,” Ms Corbett said.
Mallacoota resident Don Ashby told ABC Gippsland that fire sirens went off shortly before 8:30am as the bushfire reached the edge of the town.
“It’s like the darkest, darkest night,” he said.
The isolated rural town in East Gippsland, on the Great Alpine Road, has a recorded population of little over 600 residents.
Bushfires ripped through the township on Monday night and Tuesday morning, leaving twisted metal and gutted buildings behind.
The local school was completely destroyed by the fire.
A local police sergeant, Graham Shenton, told a harrowing story of survival and he knew he was extremely lucky after opting to defend his property — a decision he later described as “stupid”.
“The sky dropped down, it was like fire falling out of the sky and it lit up everything between me and the river, and everything burned,” Sergeant Shelton told the ABC.
“Everything you think you know about fire, when it comes, it just makes its own mind up.”
Myles Nichols flew back from Brisbane to survey the scene and said he had lost three properties.
More bushfire coverage:
- Live blog: Fires in NSW and Victoria still burning as communities prepare to assess damage
- Ferocious blaze rips through properties in idyllic Southern Highlands west of Sydney
- Alpine towns evacuate as firefighters deal with ‘double-edge sword’ of rain
- Bright orange, then pitch black as Qantas flight hits turbulence in fire’s cloud
- ‘Just magnificent’: Farmer fights back tears as ‘army of angels’ convoy arrives
- Eden’s wharf offered a refuge from fire, then police warned it wasn’t safe
- Farmers grapple with how to dispose of livestock killed in bushfires
- Morrison denies Facebook post an advertisement as he announces fires recovery agency
- NSW fires blanket Canberra in thick smoke, leading to orange skies and poor air quality
- Coming back from holidays? Here’s what you need to know about the Australian bushfires
Nineteen structures were destroyed in the small town.
In nearby Clifton Creek, Khat Hammond fought back tears as she told of losing her house, the only thing left — a melted down motorbike.
“You just don’t realise how much your house, such a large thing, can compact down to nothing but a chimney. Everything just goes. I had no concept of how everything could go.
“There was one motorbike left behind and it had just melted into the floor.”
Corryong and Cudgewa, Victoria
The towns, which are 10 minutes apart, were both left decimated by a firefront on New Year’s Eve. The total combined population sits at around 1,500 with Corryong the much bigger of the two towns near the NSW border.
Fire crews struggled to get in and out of the isolated towns, adding to the drama of a massive blaze coming through.
In the early afternoon numerous properties were lost on the outskirts of the town, including some believed to be in the smaller town of Cudegwa.
Fire chiefs however could not determine the numbers that were lost.
The area is still one where details of what happened are the most scarce, but was described in a second-hand account as a disaster zone.
Shalee Gherbaz said she had spoken to her brother in Corryong, who described the town as “an absolute mess”.
“Fires are everywhere but the town was standing strong,” Ms Gherbaz said.
Batemans Bay, NSW
Located on the New South Wales South Coast, the area is especially busy at Christmas time when many Sydneysiders head south to take vacations, whether they be at holiday homes or camping. The area is usually home to over 16,000 people but it swells over holiday periods.
Batemans Bay is also a haven for wildlife.
Batemans Bay came under siege as a ring of fire surrounded the area in the early afternoon.
Residents and holiday-makers took refuge on local beaches and flames could be seen rising high on the opposite point in truly terrifying scenes.
Making matters worse, there was radio silence as communications in the area dropped out, leaving many fearing the worst. Even mobile phone coverage went down and, to an extent, panic set in.
“There’s no internet, we cannot access the RFS website and I know everyone is doing their absolute best but we have no information,” Karen Freer, who was on holiday from Canberra, said on Tuesday.
“We don’t know where the fire is … we just don’t know the current situation.”
When the dust settled on New Year’s Day the scene was one of catastrophic damage with hundreds of properties destroyed and at least one person unaccounted for.
Federal MP Fiona Phillips said the scale of destruction in the Batemans Bay area has been enormous.
“It’s just been absolute devastation,” Ms Phillips said.
“The building loss we believe around the Batemans Bay area and Mogo is in the hundreds. It’s very, very significant.”
Conjola Park, NSW
The small, idyllic inlet lies just 18 kilometres to the north of regional centre Ulladulla and is popular with campers, fishermen and surfers due to the great conditions for all three pursuits.
Fire ripped through the area late on New Year’s Eve and, in the town, it left a trail of destruction. Eighty-nine properties were lost in the small area and harrowing tales have emerged.
Lake Conjola resident Karen Lissa told the ABC she thought she would die.
“You just go through all these emotions,” she said.
“You think ‘I’m gonna die’.
“We’re lucky. Just really grateful that we’re alive and we’ve got our house.
“I’ve never seen this. So many homes lost, this is devastating.”
A man also lost his life in the area. His body found in a burnt-out car near Lake Conjola, just off the Princes Highway.
The town of Cobargo is a historic village of nearly 800 people near Bega, in the south of New South Wales.
In short, scenes of horror and devastation rocked the tiny community on New Years Eve when fire tore through the town early on Tuesday morning.
A woman found her husband Robert Salway and her son Patrick Salway dead after they had tried in vain to protect the family home.
The main street was destroyed and, at the end of the day, Patrick Salway’s wife Renee posted a touching tribute on social media.
“I love you now, I love you still, I always have and always will,” she wrote.
“I will see you again Patrick, my best friend.
“Hope you are up there ‘fixing things in the stars tonight’. Love forever, Harley & me.
“(Thank you everyone for your concern. We are broken).”
The picturesque town, inland of Batemans Bay, is arguably most famous for its zoo, which used to house some white lion cubs.
The battle to save the zoo was won as staff fought the flames themselves, while the zoo’s director Chad Staples took smaller animals home to his house to keep them safe.
As the fire raged they put the large animals in the safest parts of the zoo and were able to not only save the property but also make sure not a single animal lost its life.
Mr Staples described the conditions as “apocalyptic” but felt he and staff were able to defend the zoo because they enacted their fire defence plan.
“It felt like Armageddon a few hours ago,” Mr Staples told the ABC.
Others were not so lucky.
The zoo survived but the town itself was stripped bare as much of the main street was razed to the ground, unable to avoid the ferocious flames.
It’s a sweaty Saturday morning in Bangkok, and while most 12-year-olds are winding down for the year, Ralyn Satidtanasan — or Lilly as she’s called — is getting ready to scoop plastic out of a canal.
“There’s so much single-use plastic in this canal alone, imagine how much there is in the ocean,” she tells the ABC on a boat in a canal in north-west Bangkok.
“It’s extremely shocking because if you think about it, this is just not even 1 per cent of what we’re seeing in the oceans today.”
Lilly is a regular at weekly Bangkok events organised by Trash Hero — a volunteer group that picks up rubbish at dozens of locations around the world.
But it is Lilly’s work fronting up to retailers and the government, asking them to rethink their policies on single-use plastic, that has seen her dubbed the Greta Thunberg of Asia.
From January 1 single-use plastic bags will be banned in major stores in Bangkok.
Lilly has been meeting directly with retail executives and government officials to drive the policy.
“I’ve been working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and 43 major companies that are trying to reduce and ban single-use plastic bags in their stores by next year,” she says.
“We’re trying to push it even more for every company and every shop in Thailand to not use any single-use plastics at all.”
There was plenty of resistance in Australia when a ban on single-use plastic bags was introduced by major supermarkets in 2018.
Lilly’s journey hasn’t been an easy one either.
A beach visit as an eight-year-old opened Lilly’s eyes to plastic pollution, and with the support of her two environmentally aware parents, she began meeting with anyone who would talk to her.
@Greta Thunberg tweet: Well I am telling you there is hope. I have seen it. But it does not come from governments or corporations. It comes from the people. Here’s a small part from my speech today at the #cop25 in Madrid.
She readily admits it is hard to be taken seriously by some people.
“Yes, there are really big struggles and people who don’t really trust me or believe me.
“Or they try not to talk to me as much and there is some resistance as well.”
She has told many people the same thing: it’s time to act.
“We really need to act now because of how big this issue is really becoming,” she says.
“I can’t walk on the street right now without finding a piece of single-use plastic, and honestly that isn’t something positive.
“They always tell me that I can’t do it, or this is such a big problem that I shouldn’t be worrying about it and that I shouldn’t be the one telling these big companies and the government to stop.”
Lilly says she looks up to Greta Thunberg.
“She’s a huge idol for kids around the world. She does help us with trying to feel more confident in doing these things, because if you really think about it, she teaches us that we are not too small to make a big change.
“She really teaches us that we can make a difference, no matter how small we are.”
Thailand has a population of 70 million and environmental scientists say plastic pollution is a big problem.
Plastic is making its way from Bangkok’s canals to the ocean, and ending up in sea life and other animals.
Stefanos Fotiou from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific says most of the plastic in Thailand is not being recycled.
In December, when the ABC caught up with him at his office, he was taking a brief break from chairing a meeting of ASEAN nations to discuss natural resources issues.
At the meeting, plastic waste was the number one concern.
“A representative of Thailand told us that the latest figure is that there are 2 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, that’s municipal plastic waste,” he explained.
“And out of this 2 million tonnes, 1.2 million tonnes is plastic bags.
“And of that 2 million tonnes, only a quarter is properly re-used and recycled and the rest is ending up in the sea.”
He said the plastic bag ban would make a big difference if it was properly enforced and implemented.
“If we know that 60 per cent of the plastic waste is plastic bags, if it’s properly imposed … then the ban could solve 60 per cent of the problem. This is a big step.
“It’s necessary I would say but not sufficient. We need to see the entire cycle of plastic production and how many single-use plastics could be substituted by other material.
“I think no country has a choice, all of the countries should take very drastic measures.”
One of the biggest concerns — but one that Dr Fotiou says few people are aware of — is the impact of plastic on human health.
“At one point we were thinking it’s only bad for diversity and the natural environment, but now all of this plastic goes back to the people — it goes to the food stream, and we are eating it,” he said.
“All species that are in the sea are affected by the plastic bag. Fishes, whales, we have seen how many plastic bags they are eating.
“This plastic starts to disintegrate, and it becomes what we call microplastic, very tiny parts of plastics that we cannot really see. But they are eaten by the fish and it goes into the bloodstream, it goes into the protein.
“We are eating it when we eat the fish and microplastics have now been identified in the human bloodstream.
“So we are eating microplastics every day when we eat food.”
For him, young people like Lilly are an important way to get the world to listen about environmental problems.
“She’s a big advocate to the youth, which are the ones who can change the behaviour.
“She’s demonstrating how you walk the talk of sustainability.
“And because she has become quite a public figure, she has the ability to talk to policymakers, she has the ability to talk to influential people and make them look at things from another perspective.
“I think that Lilly and all the youth that are involved in the environment and climate movement are bringing a fresh breath to the environmental movement because some feel a little different when a 12-year-old highlights a problem.”
@elektrklondon tweet: This is just crazy. Why does every single banana need to be in a plastic bag? And at the checkout they still want to put it in another plastic bag #thailand
Nowhere is single-use plastic more prevalent than in Thailand’s 7-Eleven stores.
There are 10,000 branches across Thailand, and plastic has become the ultimate convenience in the form of spoons, straws and small bags to put items in.
Even fruit like bananas are sold individually in clear plastic.
One man in his 50s who was shopping at a 7-Eleven store told the ABC the bag ban would be inconvenient.
“It is difficult to have a cloth bag (with us) unless we plan before we buy things,” he said.
“If we buy a lot of things it will be difficult.
It’s better if customers can choose.”
But another customer the ABC spoke to was supportive of the plastic bag ban.
“I think it is OK because reducing plastic use is also reducing world pollution.”
Bag manufacturer seizes opportunity
Pasin Lathouras from the Naraya Group, a well-known Thai bag manufacturer, sensed an opportunity and has partnered with 7-Eleven to sell reusable cotton bags in the convenience stores.
“I think the opportunity is there, it’s a very big change so we’ll see how it rolls out through the year,” he said.
He admitted it was a big undertaking for his brand to supply enough reusable bags to be sold when the ban comes in.
“All of our products are still handmade, so we’ll have to see how we go with the sales and huge demand next year.”
But he said he thought it would take some time for consumers to adjust to the new rules.
“It depends on the approach of different shopping malls and convenience stores. If they charge for some plastic bags then people are going to have a reaction.
“[They’d] maybe give a second thought to reducing their purchasing of the goods or reducing the quantities so they don’t have to carry too much or pay for a second bag to carry their shopping.”
“It’s going to be a big change next year, for the whole country.”