The State Government will block anybody from disembarking cruise ships in New South Wales until new border protections are in place.
- NSW strengthened its rules for cruise ships after being criticised over Ruby Princess passengers disembarking in Sydney
- The Federal Government last week restricted all cruise ships from entering Australia
- About a dozen cruise ships waiting to dock are now in limbo
The move will leave thousands of people who have been trying to get back to port stranded.
The Federal Government last week restricted all cruise ships from entering Australia for 30 days.
The ABC understands there are close to a dozen cruise ships wanting to dock because they were at sea when the restriction was put in place.
But they are now in limbo.
“No-one will be allowed to leave any of these cruise ships until we have settled on the agreed new measures,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
The State and Federal Government are working on new guidelines, but what they will include and when they will be decided upon is unclear.
“Today I have personally spoken to the Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram and Minister Peter Dutton and we agree we stand shoulder to shoulder on protecting our citizens,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The move came after a war of words broke out between federal and state authorities over who was to blame for allowing 2,700 passengers to disembark from the Ruby Princess cruise ship last week.
More than 130 passengers from the vessel have tested positive for coronavirus, including a 77-year-old woman who died earlier this week.
When the ship docked in Sydney 13 people were suffering from respiratory problems and were tested, but passengers were allowed to leave before the results came back.
Earlier on Wednesday Ms Berejiklian said “all of us have to take responsibility” for the Ruby Princess being allowed to dock.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) said it was NSW Health that allowed the passengers to disembark.
“The Department of Agriculture officials advised my officers that New South Wales Health had conducted a risk assessment, had rated the risk as low and that health officials would not be attending the vessel,” Mr Outram said.
“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”
But NSW Health has defended itself, saying it followed national protocols and even exceeded them.
The state has already strengthened its rules for cruise ships after being criticised for its handling of the Ruby Princess.
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If there is any suspicion of coronavirus, tests must be carried out and results returned before passengers can disembark.
A report will be released in the coming days on the decisions the Berejiklian Government made about the Ruby Princess.
A Queensland mum has pleaded with the public to stop panic-buying medication, after she was unable to buy her son life-saving drugs that prevent his “lungs shutting off”.
- Pharmacy staff told a mother they had been abused attempting to stop a man without asthma purchasing puffers and planning to store them
- New regulations combat bulk-buying behaviour, limiting the purchase of prescription medications and critical over-the-counter drugs to a month’s supply
- The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia says warehouses have reassured them there is enough of these medicines
Sunshine Coast woman Natalie Benson said she tried to source Ventolin from four chemists for her three-year-old asthmatic son Oliver, after he fell sick earlier this week, but coronavirus panic buyers had left pharmacy shelves empty.
On Thursday, the Federal Government enforced new regulations to combat bulk-buying behaviour, limiting the purchase of prescription medications and critical over-the-counter drugs to a month’s supply.
Ms Benson said it was disappointing the Government had to step in, and that people were choosing to put others’ lives at risk.
“My son is sick at the moment, and as soon as the asthma comes into that he cannot breathe. It can be very dangerous for him, his lungs can shut off,” Ms Benson said.
“If he doesn’t have that Ventolin on hand, then it’s a trip to the hospital where he can get it.
“He’s up having to spend a night or two there trying to get his oxygen levels back up.”
Staff copping abuse
According to Ms Benson, staff at a local pharmacy said they had been abused after attempting to stop a man from purchasing four puffers upon learning he didn’t have asthma and planned to store them.
“It’s so disappointing people are doing that, I can usually go to any chemist and there’s always a supply,” she said.
“If you don’t have asthma or need it then don’t go stockpiling it, as people like my son really need it.
“It doesn’t actually help people who don’t have asthma, so it’s a waste and then the people who need it end up in hospital taking up an oxygen mask instead.”
Customers buying ‘many months’ worth of medicine
According to Australia’s peak pharmacy body, pharmacists across the country were reporting panic buying along with “physical and verbal abuse” toward staff who try to intervene.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Chris Freeman said the behaviour was “worrying” and widespread.
“We had many pharmacists contact us describing people coming in and purchasing many months’ worth supply of life-saving medicines like Ventolin,” Mr Freeman said.
“People have then been physically or verbally abusing pharmacists trying to get these medicines.
“Then we’ve had pharmacies unable to stock them, which is critical for people to access.
“Medicines aren’t things like toilet paper, people can actually die without them.”
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‘We have supply’
Mr Freeman said he hoped the new restrictions on purchases would help mitigate the problem.
“Warehouses have reassured us multiple times that there is enough of these medicines out there, we have supply. It’s just about getting them into the pharmacies quick enough,” he said.
“Wholesalers have had increases in the range of 50 to 60 per cent above their normal ordering amount, and they’re delivering more but it’s difficult with such high demand coming in.
“With these new measures to curb bulk buying we’re hoping to get stock into pharmacies quicker, so people who genuinely need these medicines can access them at any point in time.
“But to do that we need people to reduce the amount they’ve been buying over the past two to four weeks.”
Panic buyers could cause drug outages
Pharmacy Guild of Queensland president Trent Twomes said panic buyers choosing to over-purchase for fear of stock running out would be the only reason an outage ever occurred.
“As we’ve said, all critical medications are in stock, we’re just experiencing delays in the supply chain due to a spike in demand,” he said.
“So we have drug shortages, that is a fact, but those shortages are solely being caused by panic buying.
“We don’t want shortages to turn into outages.
“What we need is for Australians to realise we have the strongest Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the world and by going out and panicking, like they’ve done with toilet paper and other issues, it is actually going to be the thing that will cause problems down the track, not a lack of supply in Australia.”
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There’s new official lingo about tackling COVID-19’s economic challenge. A “bridge” is being built to take us to the other side of the crisis.
Meanwhile, the government is preparing a “cushion” for businesses and individuals who are already or soon will be its casualties.
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe came up with the bridge metaphor, Scott Morrison loves it and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is using it.
The Reserve Bank on Thursday unveiled its bridge-building package. It cut the cash rate again, to 0.25 per cent. It will also put a staggering $90 billion into the banking system, with the government injecting another $15 billion, to encourage low interest lending targeted at small and medium sized businesses.
But the bridge requires constructing a foundation of confidence, at a time when many businesses and consumers feel only fear.
In present circumstances, normal economic incentives have a much lesser effect. The market signals don’t work properly. If small businesses have their customers disappear and don’t expect them back any time soon, owners won’t be too interested in cheap loans.
The nation self-isolates
Morrison has stressed Australia is not in shut down. Not officially. But out of a combination of alarm, caution and government measures to contain the virus’s spread, many activities have shut down and more do so every day.
Less than 90 minutes after the Reserve Bank produced its measures, Morrison announced the government was closing Australia’s border to foreigners, which will take effect late Friday.
As a health measure, this is sound, given the spread of the virus overseas and the extent to which arrivals have driven its early stage in Australia.
But it will be yet another brake on the economy, even though foreign arrivals have already fallen drastically.
Two days earlier, Australians were told not to leave the country. Australia is in national self-isolation. And unlike for individuals, there is no set end point.
Qantas has stopped international flights and stood down 20,000 staff. It is hoping flexible leave arrangements will preserve jobs, but for how long?
A measure of the strange times is that Qantas is talking to Woolworths about some of its employees working there. The hoarding frenzy has become a job creator.
During this week, Morrison seemed on top of his messaging and the pioneering “national cabinet” of federal and state leaders was showing there is such a thing as “co-operative federalism” (albeit it has taken a national emergency to put it on display).
But federal and state governments and the community are a long way from having any certainty what measures — health or economic — might eventually be needed.
In circumstances unprecedented in living memory, difficult judgements are being made day by day that juggle health, the economy, and public sensibilities.
Devising rules for nursing homes pitted health against the humane. COVID-19 is lethal for the frail aged. But this week the government decided visits to these facilities should be restricted rather than stopped.
It was a trade off. A ban would have been safer in medical terms, but for residents a devastating isolation from family.
A ban could have carried another danger. Families are often watchdogs on how people in these institutions are being treated. Even after the royal commission’s indictment, constant eyes are needed.
The balance struck was sensible and has been generally accepted as such.
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The school question
In contrast, the debate about schools has been fraught and is unfinished in the public mind. The government advanced several reasons for not closing them (at this stage). Few children are affected by the virus. If kids were not at school, many would be minded by grandparents in the most at-risk age group.
And shutting schools could mean a 30 per cent hit on the health workforce.
The last is crucial in the government’s thinking. The health system will be under enormous pressure in the next few months, with no guarantees about how well it will cope, despite the reassuring words.
Rejecting the arguments of health officials and governments, certain schools have closed and some parents are removing their children from others.
If the schools are eventually closed under public pressure, it could be devastating for many students in their final year.
Anger and bad behaviour
Clearly, the bad behaviour the crisis has triggered has not abated — the out-of-control supermarket scenes, and the abuse of shop staff, health workers at some testing places, and even teachers.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly went to the length of highlighting the last by referencing the experience of his sister, a teacher.
Country town residents are angry at their shop shelves being stripped by non-locals.
On Thursday, restrictions were announced for the dispensing and sale of drugs by pharmacies.
Is the binge buying just panic? There is a great deal of that, with people unreceptive to the indisputable point there would be plenty of supplies if everyone behaved normally.
Morrison had a strong message for the hoarders: “Stop it”.
But anecdotal evidence also suggests some of the “hoarding” may be for other reasons.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (who is still quarantined with COVID-19) claims some people are “profiteering”; he declared the police are in pursuit of them.
“They’re hoarding, not for their own consumption — I think they’re either sending some of the products overseas or they’re selling it in a black market arrangement in Australia,” Dutton told 2GB.
Are we ahead of the curve?
The government maintains that on the health front it is keeping ahead of the curve, although critics says it has been tardy and should even now be doing more.
On the economic front, however, it knew it was behind the curve immediately after announcing last week’s $17.6 billion stimulus measures.
Now it is finishing its second package, which could dwarf the initial one; the combined measures will be legislated by the “mini” Parliament early next week.
Last week the imperative was to keep growth going to try to avoid a recession; now the goal is being cast differently.
“What this second package will be designed to do is to cushion the blow for Australians, particularly those who have lost their jobs, but also for those small businesses who are facing this very, very difficult moment,” Frydenberg told the ABC on Thursday night.
Earlier, after the bank announced its measures, Lowe said in his speech, “At some point, the virus will be contained and our economy and our financial markets will recover”.
At what point and at what cost? That bridge could need to have a very long span.
Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
- Coronavirus is changing how we work. Online scammers are taking advantage
- Scott Morrison’s coronavirus stimulus package shows he has finally learnt to love deficits
The Federal Government’s second COVID-19 economic rescue package will focus on supporting businesses and households that are likely to take a hit to their income in the coming months.
This is the right economic response. Doing it well will not come cheaply or without controversy. But as with the public health response, speed and scale must trump perfection.
Two policies should form the centrepiece of Stimulus Two: wage and rental relief for businesses and cash for affected workers.
For business, the biggest challenge will be keeping the lights on during a prolonged but ultimately temporary collapse in revenue.
“Social consumption” businesses will be on the economic frontline: airlines, accommodation and food services, tourism, retail services and arts and recreation will all take a significant hit to their cashflows. And many other businesses that provide supplies to these sectors will also be hit hard.
The first stimulus package provided some cashflow relief.
The $25,000 income tax write-off for businesses with turnover of less than $50 million is effectively a cash bonus for all small and medium businesses with staff.
The Government has also offered deferral of GST, income and other tax payments for four months on a case-by-case basis, in effect an interest-free loan. These will help, but more will be needed.
What should be on the stimulus hitlist?
The biggest costs for most businesses on the frontline are rents and wages. A well-designed assistance package would give businesses some breathing space on both.
State governments should enforce a rental holiday or discount for businesses during the worst-affected months, effectively asking landlords to share the pain.
Some landlords are already offering these types of rental discounts. They’ve realised keeping their existing tenants afloat is better than an empty shop.
But we can’t rely on the market getting to the right answer quickly enough: landlords in denial could force small businesses to the wall.
The consequences of a short-term haircut for landlords aren’t insignificant, but they are a lot smaller than the economic hit from losing a swathe of restaurants, retailers, gyms and hairdressers.
Rental discounts are a matter for the states, but the policy will work best if it is coordinated nationally. The national ‘war cabinet’ arrangements give us an opportunity for federalism at its best.
Many firms will be struggling with wage bills in the coming months. The policy response should focus on supporting businesses that would otherwise retrench staff to put them on leave without pay, a better result for both business and workers. But this can only happen if workers have access to government income support.
Stimulus Two should provide this support. Ideally this would mean offering short-term assistance to any worker who is sick or does not have paid work or leave during the crisis. This will be a large group.
More than one third, about 37 per cent, of Australian workers do not have paid leave entitlements, including 2.4 million casual employees and 2.2 million people who are self-employed.
Many more will exhaust their leave entitlements. And the lowest paid will be hit hardest: half of Australians who earn less than $800 a week do not have paid leave entitlements. And many workers with leave entitlements but in the employ of severely affected industries could otherwise see their employers go bust before they’re able to claim them.
‘Claim now, ask questions later’
We could support these groups via the welfare system, offering broad-based “claim now, ask questions later” access to Newstart-level insurance payments for anyone not working.
But there are legitimate concerns about Centrelink’s capacity to get this rolled out quickly and to cope with the volume of demand in a period when their own workforce will be under pressure.
The US experience is telling: in Massachusetts, more people filed for unemployment benefits on Monday than in the entire month of February.
Rate cuts can’t cure COVID-19
Reserve Bank interest rate cuts will do little to keep Australia out of a deep recession if coronavirus becomes a severe pandemic, but there are some unconventional policies that could help save the economy.
A less targeted (and therefore more expensive) but far easier and faster approach would be to give means-tested cash payments to all working households during the worst months of the crisis.
For example, the Government could give payments at the Newstart rate of $1,200 a month to all employees with incomes less than a threshold of, say, $100,000 last financial year, covering nearly 10 million workers.
This would cost about $12 billion a month, or 7 per cent of Australia’s monthly GDP. But it would be the best way to ensure that working households get timely support to manage the hit to their income.
Fast-tracking early access to superannuation or offering HECS-style loans to workers could help ‘top up’ the safety net for those who need extra cash to stay afloat.
These policies are bold, but they need to be.
The Government has shown it will take the necessary steps to manage an unprecedented health crisis. Let’s hope it is willing to do the same for the unfolding economic one.
Danielle Wood is Budget Policy Program Director and Brendan Coates is Household Finances Program Director at the Grattan Institute.
A Sydney cafe owner says he has been forced to fire four employees in the past week as small businesses across Australia stare down the threat of a coronavirus-induced recession.
- Business at Malik Houchar’s cafe has dropped by about 60 to 70 per cent
- Mr Houchar has been left “disgusted” by his landlord
- Coronavirus means some businesses “won’t make it”
Malik Houchar runs Samira’s Lebanese Kitchen in Parramatta and said sales had plummeted by about 70 per cent over the past week.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
“These people I’m letting go, they’re my mates, they’re not just workers … and they have rent to pay and families to look after.”
On a busy day, Mr Houchar would normally have seven staff rostered on, now he has one.
“That’s how much it’s dropped, it’s devastating.”
Economists are forecasting a recession in Australia this year and say businesses face solvency problems.
But Mr Houchar holds no bitterness towards his customers for staying away.
“People are just genuinely scared for their lives, for some people, this is life or death,” he said.
However, the cafe owner said some of the burden should be shared by landlords, who could reduce or suspend rents.
Mr Houchar said his own negotiations to do that had not been successful yet.
“Everyone is going to be affected, we have got to think about who’s going to be affected the least,” he said.
“The big guys should be taking some hits, not the workers who work for $17 or $18 an hour.”
NSW Business Chamber spokesperson Damian Kelly said landlords should be as “sympathetic as humanly possible”.
“We are absolutely encouraging tenants to have those conversations during this crisis,” he said.
Mr Kelly acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic would be the final blow to some small businesses who had already suffered extensively through bushfires and drought.
“Some businesses won’t make it,” he said.
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On Tuesday the NSW Government announced a $2.3 billion stimulus package, with $1.6 billion dedicated to keeping people in jobs.
As part of the measures, $80 million will go towards waiving fees and charges for small businesses such as cafes and restaurants.
There is also $450 million to waive payroll tax for businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million for three months.
In the face of uncertainty, Mr Houchar is doing his best to stay hopeful that when normality resumes, the restaurant he named after his mum will still open for business.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia has surpassed 700 after Queensland health authorities reported a record 50 new cases in a single day — three times the state’s previous daily record of 16.
In NSW, on the other hand, the daily number of new cases has fallen for the first time in eight days.
It is unclear whether the figures for new cases are related to higher rates of testing or other factors that may influence the number of new confirmed cases. This is because state health authorities do not consistently report the number of people tested each day.
(Tap/hover on any chart for more information.)
The figures come from a national database of confirmed COVID-19 cases, compiled by ABC News.
The database tracks confirmed cases by gender, age, location, source of infection and other information published in case reports from state and federal health authorities.
It is supplemented with additional reporting by ABC News and updated daily to show the spread of the disease across Australia’s states and territories.
The latest update was just before 7pm AEDT on Thursday, March 19.
The figures include the details of every confirmed case since January 25, when NSW and Victoria reported the country’s first four cases.
To date, state and territory health authorities have reported 709 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia.
This includes 142 new cases in the past 24 hours, with Queensland, WA and Victoria recording their highest daily count of new cases so far.
Nationally, six people have died and 46 have recovered after being diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 650 confirmed cases are current across the nation.
The NT is the only state/territory without any confirmed cases.
(A previous version of this story said every state and territory had recorded at least one confirmed case. However, the only confirmed case in the NT was a resident of NSW, so this is now recorded in the data for NSW.)
NSW has the highest number of cases, making up 43 per cent of the total number of infections, followed by Victoria, then Queensland.
However, the picture shifts when population size is taken into account. Adjusting the figures for the number of residents shows NSW has the highest rate of infection per 100,000 residents, followed by Queensland, then SA.
The ACT has the lowest rate of infection, followed by Tasmania, then WA.
The database provides insight not only into how and where people are catching the disease but also who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Most confirmed cases are people in their 50s, followed by those in their 30s. In Australia, three times as many people in their 50s have been diagnosed with the virus, compared to people in their 70s.
However, this gap narrows when the numbers are adjusted for the size of each age group, with people in their 50s roughly twice as likely to be among the confirmed cases as those in their 70s.
Age-specific figures show people in their 50s have the highest infection rates, followed by people in their 60s.
Across the country, more men than women have tested positive for coronavirus, but the figures vary significantly between the states and territories.
When a case is confirmed, health authorities undertake detailed tracing to identify the source of transmission.
However, authorities have provided information about the potential source of transmission in less than half of confirmed cases.
Of these, most were acquired overseas, with overseas contact accounting for three times as many cases as transmission via local contact with a confirmed case.
However, these figures also reflect Australia’s testing criteria, which has focused testing efforts on patients who have recently returned from overseas and those who have had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
In a minority of cases, authorities have named the countries visited by people who have tested positive for the virus. Among these cases, the United States was the most common country visited, followed by Italy, China, Iran and the UK.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
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Notes about this story
- Population figures sourced from ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019
Dates refer to the date the case was reported by authorities, except in these instances:
– The 5th, 6th and 7th confirmed cases in Victoria have been assigned to the date they were first cited in official press releases. These cases were first announced on March 1, as having recovered from the virus.
– Dates for the 7th and 8th confirmed cases in Queensland (Diamond Princess cruise ship evacuees) are based on ABC News reports. The 9th confirmed Queensland case, another Diamond Princess evacuee, was first announced in a press release on March 3.
Wagga Wagga 2650
People living with profound disabilities are being forced to change on the floor of public toilets, as a funding skirmish between the New South Wales Government and local councils rages.
- People with profound disabilities need adult change facilities with a hoist and adjustable table
- These facilities are scarce at rest stops on regional roads
- State and local governments are at odds over who should fund their installation
A critical shortage of adult change facilities, including hoists and adjustable tables, on regional roads has seen a push from politicians and the public to improve the standard of rest stops across the state.
Getting changed is often taken for granted, but for Oscar Cruz it’s a daily struggle. The 24-year-old has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
He has endured the undignifying ordeal of changing on the seat of public toilets when travelling to and from his hometown of Wagga Wagga in the state’s south-west.
“There’s a strong chance of falling out of the toilet seat, slipping off it, and if I slip off too far and can’t push myself back up, someone else has to help me do that,” Mr Cruz said.
Adult change facilities in regional NSW are scarce, with only Denman, Gundagai, Muswellbrook, Orange, Wagga Wagga and Deniliquin installing them in town centres.
It leaves people like Mr Cruz and his carer to navigate hundreds of kilometres on highways linking rural towns without adequate facilities.
‘Not an economic issue’
Annette Pham, a longtime advocate for more adult change facilities, successfully lobbied last year for them be included in the National Construction Code.
Ms Pham also cares for her 18-year-old son, Liam, who has cerebral palsy.
“This is not an economic issue, this is a human rights issue. It cannot be based on cost-benefit analysis. It is a need that people have, and that need is not quantifiable in an economic way.”
The funding war
Between 2015 and 2017, the NSW Government allocated $280,000 to councils to help fund 10 adult change facilities across the state.
Quotes provided to the ABC by local councils put the cost of one facility at between $186,000 and $248,000.
Wagga councillor Dan Hayes argued that because rest stops were managed by Transport for NSW, adult change facilities on regional highways should be funded by the Government.
“We’ve been building these within our town centres. As we see in Gundagai, a perfect example of when their council installed it, they installed it in the centre of their town,” he said.
“They’re not there to provide services for people passing by on a highway; that is for the State Government to provide those.”
Plan being reviewed
In 2017, a truck stop near Wollongong was upgraded at a cost of $8.2 million, funded by the State and Federal Governments. It has no adult change facilities.
NSW Minister for Disability Services Gareth Ward declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement that the Government “encourages councils to plan for and improve disability access in line with their disability inclusion action plans (DIAPs)”.
Under the Disability Inclusion Act, all councils in New South Wales are required to have a DIAP, which the Government said supported its “commitment to remove systemic and attitudinal barriers”.
The Act is under review.
It lacks several critical functions, according to Serena Ovens, who is on the Government’s Disability Inclusion Plan Implementation Committee.
Ms Ovens said she hoped the review would address funding shortfalls to help local councils “actually make the infrastructure changes that are needed to include people”.
Transport officials are considering a trial of the facilities on key routes.
The ‘unconscionable’ state of Australia’s train stations
For the 1.6 million Australians with a disability who use public transport, the nation’s train network is often a source of frustration and grief.
Mr Cruz, meanwhile, urged a bipartisan approach.
“It all boils down to the political climate in Australia at the moment, where we’re not planning for the future more diligently,” he said.
“We’re not planning for the next 50 years, we’re planning for the next five years, which, in a country like Australia, would seem a bit strange because we’re a modern, progressive country and we should be thinking ahead very, very easily.
“It shouldn’t be this hard.”
‘It gives people and carers their lives back’
Without a hoist and adjustable table, carers and family members are left to attempt the fraught task of lifting their loved ones.
“If I’m travelling with a family member, such as my mother, who is quite a small lady, she can’t pick me up or do anything,” Mr Cruz said.
Ms Pham routinely has to lift her son, who weighs 50 kilograms; she was recently diagnosed with a herniated disc in her back, which required surgery.
The social cost of the lack of facilities was high, she said.
“It’s really difficult for carers to have a full and meaningful day, to participate in activities as anybody else does, without having access to these adult change facilities.”
Freedom to travel
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 4.3 million people live with a disability. Of those, 32 per cent (1.38 million) have a severe or profound disability.
The prevalence of disability increases with age, with one in every two people over 65 living with a disability.
Ms Pham said she wanted investment in accessible infrastructure to address the growing reliance on change facilities.
“People have to realise that all of us are getting older, and as we live longer and we age more, we get more disabilities,” she said.
“All of us one day will have a disability, whatever it is; if we don’t start to build for our society now, we are all going to suffer from social isolation, lack of community participation.”
For Mr Cruz, he said he hoped to one day be able to enjoy a road trip with dignity.
“It would be great to encourage more people with disabilities to go out there and just live the life they can at the time, and make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable, and being able to just go and do the stuff you enjoy,” he said.
“It’s one of the most important things about being a person.”
Michelle* looked out of a window, across a sweltering street in Darwin’s central business district, while she recounted her “greatest secret.”
- Sexual abuse survivors in the NT are not allowed to speak to the media
- Journalists face up to six months’ jail and hefty fines for naming survivors — even with written consent
- Proposed changes to NT legislation will allow sexual assault survivors to speak to the media under certain conditions
A woman who is at the top of her field in the public service and played a senior role in Australian embassies around the world, was vulnerable.
She said her abuse started when she was 11 years old.
“I was just a child. We were in a small class. I was 11. I loved school, but then it came to be a place I dreaded to go.”
She was born in the Northern Territory and pursued a career in the public service in Canberra after graduating from university.
The ABC cannot reveal her identity, even with her consent.
Unlike other Australian jurisdictions, “gag laws” in the Northern Territory prevent sexual assault victims from using their real name or showing their face when speaking to the media.
Journalists face up to six months’ jail and hefty fines for naming them — even with written consent.
In a bid to change that, the NT Government tabled a bill late last year to allow victims to share their stories — and while it needs to be debated in Parliament before being passed — advocates have slammed the draft legislation.
Despite years of campaigning for change, Nina Funnell, creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, said she had “major, serious concerns” over the bill.
“I’d say it has been reactionary it has been rushed through because of the pending election and in its current form, it still suffers several weaknesses,” she said.
“It would be a major victory for paedophiles and rapists if it’s passed in its current form as it continues to silence victims for protracted periods of time.
“It produces a double standard where perpetrators can talk to media from the get-go [after being committed to stand trial] and control the narrative but their victims need to wait till all avenues of appeal are exhausted.”
But the NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles defended the changes, and said the bill was going “through the same process all legislation does”.
‘He said he saw something special in me’
Michelle went to a Catholic educational institution. She said she excelled at mathematics and was a diligent student. That changed, she said, when a teacher at the school told her she needed to go to an after-hours “prayer session”.
“He started by picking me out from the classroom one day. He said he saw something special in me, and that I needed to go to these prayer sessions with other students. But only some special ones could go,” she said.
“It was the late 1960s and a time when people just trusted teachers and priests.
“There was nothing inside me that told me this was unusual or wrong.”
But Michelle said she quickly realised that something was terribly wrong.
“It started with him asking for us to strip. We were confused, I remember thinking as a 10-year-old girl, what has this got to do with prayer?”
“Then it changed to more hand-on abuse. And progressed to penetration.”
The teacher died in the early 2000s.
Jessica* was also present in those after-hours “prayer sessions”. She said “pairs of girls” would be brought to an alcove space in the school after-hours and “touched up”.
“It was messed up. I remember my heart was beating so quickly when he put his hands on me, on my chest. I felt so disgusted,” she recalled.
A downward spiral
Jessica, a self-confessed drug addict living in the suburban outskirts of Darwin, said she had struggled with depression and anxiety since her teens and blamed that moment in 1970 when she was called into a “prayer session” as “stuffing my life up”.
“I lost all faith, all trust, and still struggle with a sense of hopelessness,” she said.
“I am not proud of some of the decisions I have made but feel that in some ways I didn’t stand a chance after what happened because I was in pain.”
Neither Jessica nor Michelle’s matters were heard before the royal commission or received any out of court settlements.
While Michelle was overseas at the time at the time of the royal commission, both friends said they were also reluctant to go through the process of testifying — fearful of how painful and drawn out it would be.
Sexual assault support services:
- 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
- Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Ruby Gaea (NT): 08 8945 0155
But they said they still wanted to share their personal stories of alleged abuse to encourage others to “tell someone”.
And they said any decisions about identifying themselves in that process should be up to them.
“It is a weight off you, as corny as that might sound,” Michelle said.
“It’s as if there is this black hole in my life, this part of me that I can’t confront. But by sharing the evil, it takes on less of a spectre.
“But I feel it is wrong that NT laws haven’t caught up with the rest of Australia.
“The decision to come forward and publicly share our stories isn’t an easy one, but it should be ours to make.”
A push for new laws
On November 28 last year, the NT Government tabled a bill to amend the existing Sexual Offences (Evidence and Procedure) Act 1983.
The bill is being examined by a parliamentary scrutiny committee but if approved in its current form, the changes mean adult sexual assault survivors in the Northern Territory will be able to speak to the media and show their identity as long as they provide prior written consent, have no mental impairments and do not identify other victims who want to stay anonymous.
The proposed bill will also allow the media to identify people who say they are victims, including Michelle and Jessica, where no charges have been laid.
In October last year, Tasmania’s Attorney-General Elise Archer committed to amending section that state’s Evidence Act, a similar piece of legislation which also barred Tasmanian survivors from talking to the media.
Tasmania is expected to change its law early this year, which means until the Northern Territory follows suit, it will be the only jurisdiction in Australia which does not allow survivors to self-identify.
But the NT Government’s draft legislation has been heavily criticised by Ms Funnell.
“The reforms they are proposing only go halfway,” she said.
As it currently stands, the draft bill only allows survivors to speak to the media after all avenues of appeal had been exhausted by the offender, a process which could take years.
“There’s absolutely no legal reason for that,” Ms Funnell said.
“The onus should be on the defendant to apply for a suppression order if they think there is a particular reason why a victim should not be able to speak out.
“There are already appropriate safeguards in place to protect trials and to protect the interests and rights of defendants.”
“We are robbing survivors of the basic dignity of being able to use their name and we are robbing them of the right to stand on the steps of a courthouse on the day of the conviction and tell the world that they won.”
Ms Funnell said allowing survivors the right to be named gave them back power and control and could also inspire other survivors to come forward.
Fyles defends draft bill
Ms Fyles was asked why the proposed bill banned survivors from speaking until the entire appeals process was finalised.
“This timing is proposed to ensure a fair trial for the defendant and that there is no prejudice,” she said.
She defended the changes in the bill.
“Off the back of the #LetHerSpeak campaign which encourages victims of sexual offences tell their stories, the Territory Labor Government acknowledges that there may be victims who want to tell their stories and therefore waive the prohibition on publication,” she said.
“Some victims of sexual assault want privacy and anonymity, and this Government respects that too.
“These amendments will allow those who want to share their stories the opportunity to do so without legal parameters preventing them.”
In NT, a person charged with sexual offences cannot be named until they are committed to stand trial.
Ms Funnell said she was disappointed the NT Government did not attempt to change this section of the law, by allowing the media to name a person from the point they were charged — as was in the case in most Australian jurisdictions.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed he has coronavirus.
- Peter Dutton tested positive after waking up with a temperature and sore throat
- He will remain in hospital where he will be treated for the virus
- The Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers will not go into self-isolation
The Federal Government frontbencher said he felt fine but woke up with a temperature and sore throat.
“I immediately contacted the Queensland Department of Health and was subsequently tested for COVID-19,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.
“I was advised by Queensland Health this afternoon that the test had returned positive.
“It is the policy of Queensland Health that anyone who tests positive is to be admitted into hospital and I have complied with their advice.
“I feel fine and will provide an update in due course.”
Mr Dutton was in Sydney for a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and returned to Brisbane on a commercial flight on the same day.
“In advice provided to the Prime Minister this evening, the deputy chief medical officer has reiterated that only people who had close contact with the Minister in the preceding 24 hours before he became symptomatic need to self-isolate,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“That does not include the Prime Minister or any other members of the Cabinet.”
Mr Morrison will not be tested for COVID-19, based on medical advice.
Mr Dutton participated in Cabinet’s national security committee meeting on Thursday, during which the Government decided to extend its China, Italy, Iran and South Korean travel bans, via phone.
The US deputy press secretary, Judd Deere, released a statement saying the White House was aware Mr Dutton had tested positive for COVID-19.
Mr Dutton had been in the US last week, where he met with Ivanka Trump, Attorney-General William Barr and officials from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance on March 6, according to a Twitter post from Australia’s embassy in the United States.
“He was asymptomatic during the interaction,” the statement said.
“Exposures from the case were assessed and the White House Medical Unit confirmed, in accordance with CDC guidance, that Ivanka is exhibiting no symptoms and does not need to self-quarantine.
“She worked from home today out of an abundance of caution until guidance was given.”
When someone contracts COVID-19, health officials alert people who have been in contact with them.
They are then expected to self-isolate at home and monitor their health for 14 days after the contact with the infected person.
“Following confirmation the Minister for Home Affairs has tested positive for coronavirus, he has been isolated according to the policies of Queensland Health,” the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said.
“Queensland Health will undertake the appropriate contact tracing.”
Earlier on Friday, Mr Morrison met with state and territory leaders to assess Australia’s response to the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Dutton missed his usual Friday morning appearance on commercial TV, at the time being described as having a “stomach bug”.
On Monday, he opened a new Moreton Bay campus for the University of the Sunshine Coast, alongside Education Minister Dan Tehan and former defence chief Angus Houston.
Mr Dutton met with United States Attorney-General William Barr and US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka while in Washington DC last week.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone into 14-day isolation after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus.
Nepal says it will ban foreigners from climbing Mount Everest this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The peak climbing season is from March to May and attracts a large number of Australians
- Nepal makes more than $5 million a year just from the permit fees it charges climbers each year
- Clearing Everest of climbers may allow local authorities to clean up the rubbish and place new ropes on the routes
The move will devastate the nation’s economy and stop thousands of Australian adventurers from visiting the tourist hotspot.
Nepal has also halted its popular visa-on-arrival scheme, which will make it almost impossible for Australians to visit the country.
More than 30,000 Australians travel to Nepal each year, with the spring climbing season beginning in March and peaking in April and May.
Nepal relies heavily on tourism revenue, with hotels, airlines and the huge mountain-guiding community all set to suffer losses from the decision.
Australian high-altitude mountaineer Andrew Lock has travelled to Nepal most years and said closing Everest for a season would have a devastating effect on the mountaineering business in the country.
“That’s going to be totally cruelled and a lot of money will be lost to the country,” Mr Lock said.
The impoverished nation makes more than $5 million just from the permit fees it charges foreigners to climb Mount Everest.
Millions more tourist dollars are poured into restaurants, hotels, remote villages and go to local porters and trekking companies.
Mr Lock says villages near the mountains will be hit hard.
“Virtually the entire economy is based on mountain tourism,” he said.
“They employ locals as porters, then as you get into the upper regions where Sherpas are sourced, those Sherpas will miss out on that employment so it will be a massive hit.”
A single trekking season allows many villagers to earn more than they would in a whole year’s subsistence farming.
Tourism brings more than $1 billion into the Nepalese economy each year.
The last tourism downturn of this scale was caused by the 2015 earthquake, which killed 9,000 people including 21 climbers at Everest Base Camp.
Nepalese authorities said the ban on visa-on-arrival for tourists would last until the end of April and extend to all nationalities.
Until the ban is lifted, Australians wanting to travel to Nepal but not climb Everest will have to visit a Nepalese embassy or consulate in Australia and present a medical certificate proving they are not sick.
Clearing Everest of climbers for a season may have a silver lining for the Himalayas themselves.
Last year, a record number of permits meant Mount Everest was overrun with climbers last year, leading to human traffic jams on the summit.
It was also one of the deadliest seasons on the peak, with 11 people dying in their bid for summit glory.
Environmental advocates have long called for climbing to be reduced or paused to allow for the collection of tonnes of rubbish and debris, including bodies, that have been left on the mountain over the years.
The closure could also allow for local Nepalese mountaineers to improve ropes and other infrastructure on the overworked climbing route, however, there are doubts as to whether that will happen.
“That won’t happen unless they’re paid and the Government is most unlikely to pay them to do that,” Mr Lock said.
Mr Lock said he hoped the Nepalese visa he was issued a few days ago was still valid because he planned to head to the mountains regardless.
“At this stage, if they will let me in then I’m intending to travel there,” he said.
He said dedicated mountaineers would not be too bothered if expeditions are cancelled.
“If people are serious about going off to climb a mountain, then people are serious about going off to climb a mountain, then being put off by six months or a year shouldn’t be the end of most dreams.”
One of Australia’s most senior Catholic Bishops has voluntarily stepped down after the Vatican ordered a review into the diocese of Broome, amid an ongoing police investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct.
- Christopher Saunders has been Bishop of Broome since 1995
- He has worked for the Catholic Church across WA’s north for over 40 years
- He voluntarily stepped down as the Vatican reviews the Broome Diocese
Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders, 70, voluntarily stepped down on Monday, pending the review.
Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe said in a statement the Emeritus Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham, had been appointed to oversee the diocese effective from Tuesday.
“Bishop Christopher Saunders … has voluntarily stood aside from the ordinary administration of the diocese for the duration of the visitation,” he said.
The move comes as police continue to investigate an allegation of sexual misconduct against Bishop Saunders received 18 months ago.
Church authorities were not drawing a connection between the police investigation and the decision to review the diocese.
A WA Police spokesperson said any allegations of criminal sexual misconduct would be investigated, as per normal procedures.
The spokesperson said WA Police would not comment on allegations made against specific individuals.
The ABC has been unable to contact Bishop Saunders, but he told Seven News that he denied the allegation.
Church veteran spoke out on abuse ‘shock’
The Broome diocese is one of Australia’s largest with parishes, including a number of former Catholic missions, scattered across 770,000 square kilometres.
Bishop Saunders’s career has been intertwined with the Diocese. He joined the Broome Parish in 1975 after completing theological studies at St Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide.
After working as a deacon, he was ordained as a priest the next year, working at La Grange (now Bidyadanga), Lombadina and Kalumburu missions throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
He returned to Broome in 1989 as diocesan administrator and was appointed bishop in 1995.
Testifying before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2017, Bishop Saunders said the church had failed to respond appropriately to the problems raised by the commission.
He told commissioners data indicating one in 10 priests in the Perth Archdiocese were abusing children had left the organisation in a “state of shock”.
“I would agree that there has been a massive failure on behalf of the church to respond appropriately to the issues and the matters and the allegations of sexual abuse throughout Australia,” he said.
“But to see the picture as clearly painted as it is, has been a tremor and a shock to all of us.”
The Bishop also nominated greater psychological testing for priests and seminarians as a key method to help stop and expose abusers.
The Perth diocese did not specify how long the internal review of the Broome diocese will take.
Bishop Ingham will lead the overall review, while Monsignor Paul Boyers will oversee the day-to-day administration of the diocese.
Perhaps we’ve been shouted at by the boss. Perhaps it’s a healthy disrespect for authority. There are many reasons why we shout at the umpire.
- An NT soccer club has teams rejected from the 2020 league after poor behaviour by some players, officials, and spectators
- It follows similar problems at Aussie Rules and basketball fixtures in Darwin
- Academics applaud the teams’ rejection, but say abuse of officials is increasing
A Darwin soccer team has been rejected from the local league because of the behaviour of its players and spectators toward referees and opposition teams.
It follows NT AFL umpires calling on match managers to eject unruly spectators, and the cancellation of the entire round 9 of Darwin’s basketball fixtures in 2019.
Darwin Olympic Sporting Club’s men’s premier league and division one teams were refused entry to the 2020 competitions in the Northern Territory.
Football NT president Stuart Kenny blamed “a catalogue of demonstrable breaches of the code of conduct by officials, some players, and some spectators”.
There have been media reports of young female referees leaving the pitch in tears, umpires refusing to attend Olympic’s games, and the club’s spectators costing the club points for abusing referees.
“There has been a consistent pattern of poor behaviour, which included threats and offensive language directed toward match officials,” Mr Kenny said.
“After much deliberation we believe it is time to protect the young children and adults who play and officiate in our game.”
The club’s new president has since had a “mutually beneficial” meeting with Football NT.
Luxembourg’s Lunex University Sport and Exercise Psychology senior lecturer Dr Fraser Carson said umpire and referee abuse was increasing.
“Some people believe umpires are there just for them to shout at and take their anger out on,” he said.
Dr Carson said accurate TV replay technology was putting more pressure on umpires and eroding respect.
“Because we can play back things in 15 frames per second to try to analyse a decision, as opposed to what the umpire is actually seeing in real time, that becomes a problem for them,” he said.
That, coupled with an angry, stressed, and frustrated society was a perfect storm for umpire abuse.
“People are looking for ways to remove that stress or even take some control back over what they do,” Dr Carson said.
“Potentially, they’ve just been shouted at by their boss.
“So they want some way to release that stress.”
Everyone makes mistakes
Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Peter Simmons is a lifelong soccer player and fan, qualified soccer referee, and now plays for Panorama Football Club in Bathurst, NSW.
After one of his son’s games, Dr Simmons saw the opposition coach enter the referees’ changing rooms.
“He was just so angry, he seemed to be on the point of violence. His face was red. He was shouting. It was just the most bizarre thing,” he said.
And he once saw a referee get physically assaulted by a goalkeeper in a game in which he was playing.
“He threw the ball so hard at the back of the referee’s head his head nearly bounced off,” Dr Simmons said.
“There are a lot of referees, I think, who would be pleased to see this move by Football NT.
“The biggest problem is when it’s away from televised games.
“It might be just a rope or even nothing between you and the angry mob.”
Dr Simmons said interactive sports such as football, rugby, and basketball caused the biggest issues for umpires.
“The referee’s actions have a real consequence for the flow of the play,” he said.
He has some advice for umpires.
“Mistakes will be made by anybody at every level,” he said.
“Be competent, dependable, and respectful, and you’ll improve the chances that your decisions will be perceived to be fair.”
While an angry mob and an unprepared referee will always be a match made in hell, dislike of authority may be in our DNA.
Swinburne University of Technology Associate Professor Robert Gill has played, coached, and umpired AFL and rugby union semi-professionally in Australia and in the UK.
“There’s the syndrome of being a colony that has a paternal father figure, like the UK that settled Australia, and the authority figure that the jovial Australian likes to butt heads against and be a little bit rebellious,” he said.
He pointed to rugby union as having a high standard of respect for officials.
“The way that a rugby union official conducts themselves on the field, it’s very much: ‘I’m in charge. I’m in control here. And my word is the decision. And if you want to jack up against that decision, then your team may be penalised’,” Dr Gill said.
“And that seems to work.”
The sinister growl of the Tasmanian devil went silent on mainland Australia about 3,000 years ago.
In more recent times, the screech has also faded on the island state where the creature is iconic, with 83 per cent of the devil population succumbing to disease.
- An expert says Tasmanian devils can be used as a conservation tool and that there’s a case to reintroduce them on the mainland
- A study found a significant decline in feral cats where devils are present, while bandicoots are only abundant at sites where cats are rare
- The devil was found across mainland Australia until it disappeared from fossil records 3,200 years ago
University of Tasmania researcher Calum Cunningham has been studying the broader effects on the ecosystem as the marsupial’s numbers declined.
“We found in areas where devils have declined severely, that feral cats were 58 per cent more abundant than areas where devils were healthy,” he said.
The devils’ natural pest management was also found to benefit small prey like bandicoots.
Mr Cunningham said he believed devils could be used as a conservation tool and a case could be made to reintroduce them to the mainland.
“We could see if it could have ecological benefits there too.
“Devils could reduce the number of feral cats, in turn returning benefits for the animals that cats eat.”
A bandicoot’s friend
The study, published in Ecology Letters, monitored areas in Tasmania that had seen devil populations decline to varying degrees.
“We were careful to match habitat types — we surveyed rainforests, dry areas and coastal habitat,” Mr Cunningham said.
Camera traps were installed to monitor cats, using markings to identify individual cats.
“We were able to run statistical models that estimated the abundance of feral cats at a given site.”
The models showed a significant decline in feral cats where devils were present.
“We found that bandicoots were only abundant at sites where cats were rare,” Mr Cunningham said, adding that devils mostly ate larger animals like wallabies and pademelons that were already dead or older and sick.
Devils vs foxes
The devil was found across mainland Australia until it disappeared from fossil records 3,200 years ago.
The extinction is said to be linked to the introduction of dingoes, changes to climate and human population growth and advances.
Mr Cunningham said any reintroduction of devils to the mainland must start with a controlled experiment.
“No ecologist would be suggesting an open-slather introduction of devils to the mainland,” he said.
“It should be very carefully controlled in a fenced, bounded landscape.”
Tasmania’s fox-free status means it is unknown how devils would interact with the mainland pest.
“We expect they would compete, and I think devils would have some negative impacts on foxes,” Mr Cunningham said.
“We can hypotheses about it all we like, but without an experiment, we wouldn’t know.”
While Tasmania has had evidence of foxes present, there has never been a population.
“People have hypothesised that perhaps the presence of the devil was one of the reasons why foxes never established,” Mr Cunningham said.
The research shows devils also reduced the abundance of possums and wallabies.
“Farmers in particular have problems with this, so that’s another service the devils could be providing to the ecosystem.”
“But the community has to want it as well.”
The study on apex predators also looked at the impact that a lack of devils had on possums and wombats on Maria Island.
Without an apex predator, the possums spent more time foraging for food on the ground.
When devils were released into the wild, the possums returned to the trees, and wombats increased day-time activity to avoid interacting with the devils at night.
Olivia Purdie is medically delaying puberty because the 11-year-old doesn’t want to develop the body of a woman.
“I am non-binary, which means I have no gender. I am just me,” Olivia said.
The Year 6 student is one of a small but growing cohort of children around Australia seeking treatment because they don’t identify as either a boy or a girl.
“The world basically revolves around boxes and those two boxes are a male and a female box,” Olivia said.
“People try to duct tape the box so then you’ll stay like that. But I cut the duct tape and opened up into my own box.”
Two years ago, Olivia was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition where a person experiences extreme distress due to the mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.
Olivia’s mother Jane Russo said her child was particularly stressed about growing breasts.
“I think part of that was saying, ‘Well, I don’t want to have breasts’,” Ms Russo said.
“Olivia felt breasts weren’t part of Olivia’s body.”
Doctors recommended puberty blockers, drugs used to postpone puberty and to help Olivia cope with anxiety caused by pubescent body changes.
The injections have stopped Olivia developing breasts, menstruating and developing other female characteristics.
“I’ll probably be coming off the puberty blockers when I’m 16. I have five years to think about this. There’s no rush with this. No point in rushing anyway,” Olivia said.
Puberty suppression for young gender diverse people has been the subject of much controversy.
Some critics say the children are too young to consent and should not be on any hormonal medication.
According to Olivia’s psychiatrist Georgie Swift, all medication has side effects and risks.
“The biggest ongoing risk with puberty suppression, [is] the potential for a lower bone density as you grow up and therefore a high risk of osteoporosis in adulthood,” she said.
“The paediatricians who prescribe the leuprorelin do monitor that and we’re aware if it becomes more of an issue for a particularly young person. So there are some concerns about a young person staying on puberty suppression for a long period of time.”
Ms Russo said she weighed up the health risks but believed puberty suppression was what Olivia needed.
“We were informed about the risks of Olivia going on puberty blockers … about reduced bone density, but we believed this risk was low and we weighed it against Olivia’s mental health and wellbeing.”
Olivia is under the care of two specialists at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Dr Swift and paediatric endocrinologist Jemma Anderson.
Dr Anderson said the medical impacts of puberty blockers were generally reversible and only prescribed “after a very long and considered process with extensive and in depth psychiatric evaluation for both Olivia and her family”.
Dr Swift acknowledges there are strong critics who believe the children are going through a passing phase.
“I wonder if they’ve ever spoken to a young gender-diverse and non-binary person or really thought about what it would be like to walk in their shoes, rather than seeing it from a distant and more academic perspective,” she said.
Ms Russo said she was appalled at accusations parents and doctors were committing child abuse by supporting medical intervention for gender diverse children.
“If I was to disregard Olivia’s thoughts and how Olivia was feeling, I’d lose my child,” she said.
“By saying ‘this is a fad’, that ‘this is child abuse’ … it’s actually not the reality.”
“Because the reality is, I could have no child if I didn’t respond to what I was hearing from my child. The need to go onto puberty blockers is actually saving Olivia’s life, because Olivia can be what Olivia wants to be.”
Dr Swift said not allowing someone to have medical intervention could result in significant mental health problems.
“When young gender-diverse people get support from family, friends, school, education, they do much better in terms of their mental health,” she said.
“Their number of suicide attempts are less, their deliberate self-harm is less, and their general wellbeing is improved.”
Nine of the 65 gender-diverse children under Dr Swift’s care identify as non-binary.
There is a waiting list for medical support of at least 12 months at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide for this type of treatment.
“It is concerning because waiting is probably the biggest fear that these kids have as their bodies start changing,” Ms Russo said.
Not all non-binary young people want medical intervention like hormone therapy or surgery.
Audrey Mason-Hyde, 14, went to the same primary school as Olivia.
Audrey’s sex was assigned female at birth, but Audrey does not identify as either male or female.
“I think a lot of people do identify as non-binary and want to change their body to fit what they see as the ideal body,” Audrey said.
“I think that is great, amazing, go for it. But I also think you don’t need to change your body to be valid as a non-binary person.
“And I love my body the way it is.”
Hospitals in Australia are treating a growing number of children who identify as non-binary.
“I get asked quite a lot about why we’re seeing so many more gender-diverse and in particular non-binary people coming out now,” Dr Swift said.
“I don’t think it is a new identity or a new type of being a person. I think non-binary people have existed as long as we have. But up until more recently there hasn’t been a language for it.”
Olivia’s father Justin Purdie has had a steep learning curve.
“As a parent, with the journey through puberty with a non-binary child, there’s lots of questions,” he said.
“I’m quite analytical. But there’s no nice clear-cut solution. So, in many respects, you do just have to roll with it.
“I just want what’s best for my child.”
Watch ‘Not a boy. Not a girl’ on Four Corners tonight at 8:30pm or livestream on the Four Corners Facebook page.
Big businesses have laid out their plans to cut down on single-use plastics as part of a national summit targeting Australia’s waste problem.
- Companies including Nestle and McDonald’s have made commitments to lower plastic usage
- The Federal Government summit also featured other commitments from businesses and groups
- Labor has warned the summit needs to be more than just a day of discussions
The goal of the first National Plastics Summit, held in Parliament House on Monday, was to create solutions to the growing pile of recyclable materials.
Most of the nation’s recyclables have traditionally been sent overseas but countries like China and Indonesia are no longer importing as much waste, leading to Australia’s looming ban on exporting some materials.
Businesses, experts, government leaders and school children put their heads together to try to find solutions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Government would partner with industry, states and territories to boost Australia’s recycling capacity.
“The state of our recycling and remanufacturing facilities, as well as the economics behind our collections systems, are under severe strain, we need to invest in this industry,” he said.
Mr Morrison hinted May’s federal budget would include new spending measures for recycling.
“Investing in the sector is not just good for the environment, it is incredibly good for our economy as well,” he said.
He also said the Federal Government would change its procurement policy to increase the use of recycled materials by Commonwealth agencies.
Nestle, McDonald’s to makes pledges
Food company Nestle will reveal its plan to save plastics from making its way to landfill.
The company’s head of corporate and external relations Margaret Stuart said Nestle was working on a trial to collect soft plastics from people’s kerbside.
“[Nestle is] aiming to collect about 750 tonnes of plastic and we will be going to more than 100,000 homes as this trial rolls out,” Ms Stuart said.
The company has spent about $2.3 billion on buying “food-grade recycled plastic” globally, to help create interest in the market.
“We need the systems to collect packaging, sort packaging, process packaging and make it back into things that are valuable to people,” Ms Stuart said.
McDonald’s has already announced it is ditching its plastic straws this year, but it is expected to announce at the summit it will also ban single-use cutlery.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation pledged to lead the development of a global plastics initiative domestically.
It revealed its plan to help governments, businesses and non-government organisations create a common goal for an improved plastics economy, from producer to consumer and thereafter.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley, speaking before the summit, said a major focus of the summit would be getting people and companies interested in making waste valuable.
She said it was all about solving problems and looking for opportunities.
“We see waste as a resource, as an economic opportunity, as a driver for jobs, particularly in regional Australia,” Ms Ley said.
“We will see displays, and we will have panels of some of our top industry minds when it comes to recycling, innovative methods, remanufacturing and avoiding using too much packaging and plastic in the first place.”
Labor has warned the summit needs to be more than just a day of discussions.
“We can’t just talk rubbish, we need to make change,” Josh Wilson, Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment, said.
“And if the Government doesn’t get its skates on, we are going to see more stockpiling of plastic — which of course is a fire risk. We’re going to see more plastic going into landfill, and potentially into our oceans.”
Australia’s share market has joined Wall Street in a correction, falling more than 10 per cent since their recent record highs, while the Australian dollar plumbed a fresh 11-year low.
- The benchmark Australian ASX 200 share index closed down 3.25 per cent
- ASX has had a 10 per cent “correction” in the space of just a week — the biggest weekly decline since the global financial crisis
- The value of listed companies in Australia is down more than $240 billion from record highs last Thursday
In the space of just a week, the ASX 200 has gone from a record closing high of 7,162 last Thursday to a low of 6,427 in today’s session.
At the close, the ASX 200 was down 3.25 per cent at 6,441 taking the losses to more than 10 per cent since that record, marking the beginning of what traders call a “correction”.
To enter a “crash” or “bear market” share prices will need to lose another 10 per cent from there.
Looking at the broader market, represented by the All Ordinaries index, Australian shares have lost more than $240 billion in value since their highs last week.
It is the biggest weekly drop for both Australian and US share markets since October 2008, during the peak of the global financial crisis market chaos.
The Australian dollar has also again plumbed financial crisis depths, falling to a fresh 11-year low of 65.17 US cents during afternoon trade.
At various points during the session the market has attempted to bounce back, however percentage falls since the open remained in the high-2 to low-3 per cent range as buyers have been in short supply.
All sectors of the market finished in the red, but technology, mining, industrial and energy stocks were the worst hit.
The biggest falls among the top 200 companies were Harvey Norman (-14.1 per cent), Gold Road Resources (-14 per cent) and Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals (-10.8 per cent).
A late surge in some firms left 10 out of the top 200 companies in the black by the end of the day.
‘The direction ahead for the economy is straight down’
Wall Street’s main indexes plunged more than 4 per cent overnight Thursday, their worst trading session since 2011.
The major share indices have slumped more than 12 per cent from recent highs confirming US shares are deep into a correction and potentially heading for a bear market.
Global shares are now at a four-month low, having retreated from record highs at a rapid pace.
The indexes have been hit by their steepest weekly pullback since the 2008 global financial crisis, as new coronavirus infections reported around the world surpassed those in mainland China.
While shares are falling, demand for government bonds is at record highs, pushing interest rates on them to record lows.
The yield on 10-year Australian Government bonds was just 0.82 per cent, while returns on 10-year US Treasuries were below 1.25 per cent.
“Stocks and bonds say we’re doomed,” Chris Rupkey, the chief financial economist for MUFG Union Bank, told Bloomberg.
“Anyone who has a better idea for what lies ahead please let us know because right now the direction ahead for the economy is straight down.”
Debt kills in coronavirus contagion
Coronavirus looks set to cause deep global economic disruption, and those companies that have binged on cheap debt are the ones least likely to survive the crisis, writes Ian Verrender.
OANDA’s senior market analyst for the Asia-Pacific region, Jeffrey Halley, said that while much remains unknown, traders have finally begun to appreciate the scale of global economic disruption that is imminent.
“What is clear, is the potential supply and demand shock that may be about to sweep the global economy,” he warned in a note.
“That likely justifies the equity sell-off of this week with a harsh reassessment of delusional valuations in some cases.”
Mr Halley said that while central bank rate cuts and money printing may help somewhat on the demand side, they would do nothing to avert disruptions to the supply of goods and services.
“If global supply chains start freezing up, due to a lack of materials or credit, or both, no amount of rate-cutting will unlock that,” he argued.
“If SME’s [small to medium enterprises] can’t get paid for their invoices, or pay theirs, or secure raw materials, or transport goods, the net effect is shuttered businesses and job losses.”
‘It’s becoming more global’
CommSec market analyst Steven Daghlian said that the falls have been exacerbated because markets were previously so exuberant.
“We had quite a strong start to 2020, and 2019 was actually the best year for the share market in a decade when we were up about 20 per cent, so we are coming off those high levels and that perhaps is making these losses worse than they would’ve been otherwise,” he told ABC News.
“This is obviously a very different situation than the global financial crisis and back in October 2008 … the Aussie market fell in the order of 15.5 per cent in one week.”
US traders were particularly rattled by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention confirming a COVID-19 infection in California in a person who apparently had no relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient.
“It’s not a China thing, it’s becoming more global … in terms of the spread of the virus and its economic impact,” Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Robert W Baird in Milwaukee told Reuters.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now about where that impact lands … it’s also possible that forecasts are over-reacting to the downside.”
‘We haven’t yet hit peak panic’
However, AMP Capital portfolio manager Dermot Ryan said that there is likely to be further panic and downside before markets settle down.
“As so far this has all been driven by offshore infection rates, further escalations over the weekend may see another leg down next week,” he wrote in a note.
“We think the market is late reacting to coronavirus which has been spreading across borders for over a week.
Delayed coronavirus reaction
Share markets have roared blithely higher as the coronavirus outbreak worsened in China, but that complacency appears to have been punctured in the biggest sell-off for two years, writes Ian Verrender.
“We haven’t yet hit peak panic and there may be another leg down for markets.”
Mr Ryan said the spread of coronavirus through Europe and North America will cause further stress on markets, as will the increasingly likely declaration of a pandemic, which he expects from the World Health Organisation (WHO) this weekend.
However, he said the market mayhem also presented opportunities for calm investors.
“Bottom line is we are probably not at peak panic yet, but investors should start thinking about what they would like to add to their portfolios as opportunities present themselves,” Mr Ryan added.
By the close, both the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average had slumped 4.4 per cent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell even further, plunging by 4.6 per cent.
European markets had also dropped sharply earlier in the session, with the EuroStoxx 50 off 3.4 per cent and London’s FTSE 100 down 3.5 per cent.
More on the coronavirus outbreak:
- Coronavirus has ruined thousands of holidays. Should you cancel your travel plans?
- As a coronavirus pandemic looms, experts say now’s the time to get ready
- The coronavirus emergency plan has been activated. Here’s what that means for you
- The WHO has declared a global emergency for just the sixth time
- What exactly is coronavirus, and should you be concerned?
As international efforts to contain coronavirus intensify, holidaymakers are being forced to navigate flight disruptions, city lockdowns, travel bans and quarantine rules.
It’s prompted many Australians to wonder whether it’s wise to travel, and what to look out for if they do.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s happening with flights?
Airlines are cutting back their flight schedules in response to falling demand — especially for flights in the Asian region.
So you may have to factor in changes to your arrival and departure times, as well as delays caused by virus screening at airports.
In general, it’s a good idea to check directly with your airline if your flight is still departing as scheduled.
Below are some of the changes you may have to contend with if you’re flying Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin or Tigerair:
- Qantas and Jetstar have cut back their flights to China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Sydney-to-Shanghai Qantas route has been suspended. But Qantas long-haul flights to the US and UK haven’t been affected so far
- Jetstar Australia flights to mainland China have been suspended, while its airlines in Singapore, Japan, and Vietnam have stopped flights to China and are also reducing their flights across the region
- Virgin has cut back its flights to holiday destinations, while Tigerair and Virgin have stopped flying to Hong Kong
- Tiger also quit flying several domestic routes, including Adelaide-Sydney, Sydney-Cairns, and Hobart-Gold Coast, noting coronavirus has had a “weakening effect” on domestic, as well as international, demand
For anyone planning to fly with these airlines domestically, flight schedules within Australia have also been pared back — so your flight may be moved to the next available service.
How and when should I book?
With the travel industry under pressure globally thanks to the virus, the question of where you should lay down your money is all about who you trust.
There’s a small risk companies that can’t cope in the current environment could go under — and take your hard-earned holiday with them.
Keep the phone numbers for your bank, insurer, airline, travel agent and accommodation provider handy so you can check your booking is solid if you need to.
Has your travel been disrupted by coronavirus? Email: Specialist.Team@abc.net.au
The coronavirus outbreak is going to take months to play out — so if you’re booking a flight for later in the year, you need to consider what might change between now and then.
With new outbreak locations being reported all the time, it’s very hard to predict where will be affected next, and what that might mean for travellers.
So, I should probably get travel insurance…
You should check the fine print before you buy your policy.
The exclusions will be listed in the product disclosure statement, which may be a separate document to the policy that you sign.
COVID-19, SARS and the flu
Weeks after the novel coronavirus was first discovered, experts say incomplete data from China is limiting their ability to understand it — but they are seeing some differences between it and other infectious diseases.
There might also be a clear statement on your travel insurer’s website. It could be a good idea to save this statement when you pay for your insurance, in case the online version changes later on.
The Insurance Council of Australia says many insurers have exemptions for infectious diseases and pandemics, but the policies are different for each insurer.
Some policies will cover alternative plans if your trip is disrupted by coronavirus.
Others will cover any medical expenses while you’re travelling.
But this will all depend on when you bought your policy, and when you started your trip.
If you’re already on the road and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) upgrades its travel advice to ‘do not travel’ for your destination, you may also be covered if you have to cancel the rest of your trip.
Before you call your insurer, you should contact your travel agent, airline or hotel to make alternative plans or ask for a refund, the Insurance Council says.
Should I even go overseas?
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has issued travel warnings for a growing number of countries hit by the virus.
But there’s just one place with a ‘do not travel’ warning, and that’s China.
DFAT says there are four countries that have had their travel advice upgraded due to coronavirus, including China, South Korea and Japan.
On Wednesday, Italy was added to that list after 323 cases were identified there, including 10 people who died.
Those cases are concentrated in the north of the country, which is where the travel warning has been issued for.
Fresh cases of the virus have been reported in Austria, Switzerland, and Croatia.
There are also unconfirmed reports of new cases in Brazil.
Here are some measures you can take if you have to travel:
- Talk to your doctor if you’re travelling with babies or young children, or if you’re pregnant. Likewise if you have a chronic health problem or weak immunity.
- Check with your airline, travel agent, cruise line, and travel insurance company to work out what your options are if things change.
- Check with your travel insurance company to see if you’re covered.
Can I still travel through transport hubs in Asia?
The short answer is yes — but expect to be checked for coronavirus on your way through.
And depending on where you’ve come from, you may be quarantined – whether you like it or not.
The rules for exit, entry and transit through airports can change at short notice.
DFAT is warning that not all airports or transport companies are applying their policies on coronavirus consistently.
At Hong Kong airport, all departing passengers will undergo temperature checks — even if they’re just transferring between flights.
This could mean delays getting to your next flight.
If you’ve travelled through mainland China you will be quarantined for two weeks.
And if you’re arriving from Korea, you won’t be allowed to enter Hong Kong.
Travellers through all Malaysian airports are being told to wear a mask at all times, and anyone who has a cough or fever will be taken to hospital on arrival.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport has set up quarantine bays at its arrival gates for any passengers who appear to be unwell.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Health is distributing Health Alert Cards for passengers to fill in, declaring any medical problems when they arrive.
You’ll have to undergo a temperature check on arrival at Changi or Seletar airports.
If you’ve arrived from China, so-called “healthcare teams” will be watching out for passengers who look unwell.
What if I want to go on a cruise?
The cruise ship industry body, the Cruise Lines International Association, says most itineraries outside northern Asia are operating as normal.
But it recommends checking with your travel agent or cruise ship operator.
Anyone boarding a cruise ship, including crew members, will be screened.
If they’re displaying symptoms, they won’t be allowed on board.
The following measures have also been put in place:
- You won’t be allowed to board a cruise ship if you have come through mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the previous 14 days.
- You won’t be allowed to board a cruise ship if you have had close contact with anyone diagnosed with, or suspected of having, coronavirus or anyone being monitored for exposure to the virus.
An independent Inquiry into the structural issues of Bundaberg’s Paradise Dam has heard documents relating to its construction are missing, and appropriate core testing of its strength may not have occurred after it was built.
- A commission of inquiry is yet to locate a full construction report for Paradise Dam
- The inquiry was instigated after technical reports revealed faults originated in its initial construction
- The dam wall stability is at risk and major flooding is possible if 2013 flood conditions repeated
Commissioner John Byrne gave his opening statement in Brisbane and said the commission would examine the root cause of the structural issues of the dam through documents and reports, and more than a dozen potential witnesses.
In November 2019, the Queensland Government announced an inquiry into the structural issues of Paradise Dam after technical reports showed the faults originated with its initial construction.
Mr Byrne said since the commission began its investigation, it had collected, collated, and made progress in analysing more than 30,000 documents and photographs.
“Some documents are of considerable length, and many deal with complex geotechnical, hydrological and engineering matters,” he said.
He said Paradise Dam, which was built by the State Government between 2003 and 2005, was an important asset to the community.
“I recognise that the dam and its future are important to communities in the Wide Bay Burnett region, especially those who rely on the Bundaberg Irrigation Scheme,” Mr Bryne said.
Counsel assisting, Jonathan Horton, however, revealed the commission was yet to locate documents relating to the construction of Paradise Dam.
“We have, for example, attempted to locate a construction report which ought to exist, but a full version of it has not been able to be found,” he said.
Mr Horton said Paradise Dam was constructed with roller-compacted concrete, (RCC) and was one of the first of its kind in Australia, but no strength testing was carried out to determine if the layers had bonded.
“No shear strength testing was undertaken,” he said.
“We wish to look more closely at what occurred in late 2005 and early 2006 with respect to decisions about what could and should be the subject of shear testing.
“What were the decisions made during the course of design and construction about cement content, composition of the RCC mix generally, and the use of bedding mix between layers?”
Inquiry to report by April
Three out of the 13 days of hearings will be heard in Bundaberg and the rest will be in Brisbane, with recommendations to be provided to the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines by the end of April.
The commissioners are expected to consider SunWater’s technical reports from 2013 onwards that detail structural issues originated with its construction.
The terms of reference state they may seek information from individuals and government bodies involved in the design, construction, and commissioning of Paradise Dam.
A community wanting answers
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey hoped the inquiry would determine how one of Australia’s youngest dams came to be so flawed, and who was responsible.
“It’s one of the largest infrastructure failures in history,” Councillor Dempsey said.
“Only six months ago we had a reputation for the second most secure water supply in Australia, and that has been affected.
“Council will be putting forward a submission, whether it be a written or verbal submission.
“We certainly want to ensure that all avenues are looked at, and this certainly goes to the structural investigation.”
Councillor Dempsey said the whole situation had caused friction in the Bundaberg community, with SunWater’s own technical reports stating if the dam failed more than 100 lives would be at risk downstream.
“People with concerns should know that the local disaster management group, and the district disaster management group are well prepared in terms of every contingency,” he said.
Questions over the future of Paradise Dam
SunWater is seeking a contractor to begin construction work to lower the dam’s spillway by 5 metres after legislation was rushed through State Parliament earlier this month.
Federal Minister for Water, Keith Pitt, said the State Government bypassed its own environmental laws by allowing the work to proceed without any other environmental or council approvals.
He said the focus should now be on the future of the dam and returning water security for the agriculture industry, which was estimating a $1 billion hit to the state’s economy.
“My view is very straightforward: we make safe, we repair, we restore, or we replace this critical piece of infrastructure for this region,” he said.
“I say to Premier Palaszczuk, safety has to be the first priority, but the second has to be how do we repair, restore, or retain that facility.”
“It will take more than a decade to build anything else or even to get the approvals could take 10 years.”
The long-term future of the dam will be determined by Building Queensland with a report due to be handed to the Government also at the end of April.
Company reporting season is now well underway and one thing we’re learning is that owning a shopping mall is getting a lot tougher.
- Two of Australia’s major listed shopping centre operators are worth less than they were two years ago on the share market
- Some shopping centre owners are still demanding 4 per cent annual rent rises, but this has seen vacancy rates rise
- The mix of shops in centres is shifting from retail (which tend to pay higher rents) to services (which generally pay less)
For example, GPT, which has centres such as Rouse Hill Market Town in north-west Sydney and Melbourne Central in the heart of Melbourne, saw income from its retail division flatline last year.
It blamed this on fixed rent increases for existing tenants not making up for empty stores staying vacant for longer between tenancies.
As well, with sales growth almost non-existent, the proportion of rent tied to sales fell.
Retail veteran Jacqueline Major, who owns swimwear store Oz Resort, has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of landlords in her 30 years in business.
But she said Westfield Bondi Junction, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, nearly put her out of business.
“Westfield was a 220-square metre store,” Ms Major told the ABC.
“It was $1,000-a-day rent, and we had five staff to run it each day, so it was a very expensive store.”
When she struggled to find that thousand dollars a day, Jacqueline Major said Westfield’s reaction was swift.
“They rip out your shop fit,” she lamented.
“It doesn’t matter how much it cost you, they put it in the dumpster basically.”
No retail revival on the horizon
But what goes around comes around, and now it’s the landlords who have a problem.
“You’ve had a Coalition victory and three rate cuts, which have seen house prices improve, but we haven’t seen that wealth effect translate into strong retail sales and we don’t think you will for a while yet,” explained Sholto Maconochie, who analyses shopping centres for US investment bank Jefferies.
Even the biggest players are feeling the pinch.
Scentre Group, the operator of Westfield, is Australia’s premier retail landlord and saw operating income grow by just 2 per cent last year.
“It’s not shooting the lights out,” admitted Scentre Group CEO Peter Allen.
“But you’ve also got to recognise you’re in a low-inflation environment.”
Scentre Group’s earnings have been sustained by the traditional practice of landlords — automatic rent increases.
This year it was 4 per cent, well above sales growth.
“Provided that we have that demand for customers coming to our centres, we believe we will be able to have that growth in those contractual obligations,” Mr Allen said.
“It’s important for us, and I think it’s sustainable as far as the business is concerned.”
Shopping centres lose market value
But a number of things are putting the brakes on income growth.
The demise of so many fashion chains in recent times — the most recent of which is Jeanswest — has many centres renting to a different type of tenant.
“More food and beverage, more services — so doctors, medical, government services, banks — where people want to be in the mall, not leave the mall,” Sholto Maconochie observed.
But there’s a catch.
“These types of tenants typically don’t pay the same rent as a fashion or apparel retailer,” he added.
In these straitened economic times, landlords are being forced to offer discounts to persuade existing tenants to renew their leases, or to get new tenants to sign up.
“We think those [discounts] will persist for some time, until retail sales improve and retailers can pay more rent,” Mr Maconochie added.
And that’s reflected in the market’s view of retail landlords.
Scentre Group is trading lower today than it was two years ago.
Another pure-play retail landlord, Vicinity, has also seen its share price fall in that time.
The stock market represents investors’ views of companies’ future earnings and Scentre Group’s Peter Allen admits the current environment is putting a brake on earnings growth.
“As we curate the right mix, we’re not necessarily going to get the same level of rent as what we’ve had from a previous retailer, and I don’t necessarily expect that,” he conceded.
You don’t pay rent in cyberspace
Even in well-to-do areas, such as Mosman on Sydney’s lower north shore, shops and their landlords are doing it tough.
Mosman is one of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs, but when the ABC visited last week, we counted 14 shops for lease.
Jefferies’ Sholto Maconochie says the problem is simple — rents are too high.
“It shows that the demand for tenants is weak, but the rent expectations of landlords are way above what tenants are prepared to pay. They need to meet somewhere in the middle.”
For Jacqueline Major at Oz Resort, paying $1,000-a-day in rent is long gone.
She’s about to move out of her warehouse back into a store — at a tenth of the rent she was paying at Westfield Bondi Junction.
“We’ve found a landlord that wanted to listen to us and give us a rent that we could achieve and we can retail quite happily knowing we can pay the rent at the end of the day,” Ms Major explained.
But, in another ominous sign for landlords, Oz Resort now does the bulk of its business online.
And you don’t pay rent in cyberspace.
A mother’s love has driven Coralie Graham to tirelessly raise funds for a clinical trial into an arthritis drug to treat stroke patients.
- The mother of a 32-year-old man with an acquired brain injury raised money for a clinical trial using perispinal Etanercept
- Previously used to treat arthritis, Etanercept is injected into the spine to enter the vascular system
- Doctors believe it could also be used to treat other neurological conditions, but there is red tape around its affordability and availability
Her son, Joel Shepherd, 32, suffered a brain injury when he was three years old as a result of complications from gastroenteritis.
“He was on life support, in a coma for eight weeks, and left with a catastrophic disability across his life,” Ms Graham said.
The registered nurse, from Toowoomba, completed a degree in psychology to understand more about his condition and mortgaged the family home to get the off-label treatment in the United States in 2014.
“So we lived at the doctor, he lived on antibiotics, and was often really, really sick,” she said.
“Previous to treatment he was very, very aggressive because he couldn’t get his needs met.
“[After treatment] Joel had significant improvements in his swallowing, his speech, his concentration, mobility, and a whole range of things.
“To me that is worth it; there’s no amount of money that you can measure that against.”
‘I’m not giving up’
She started the charity Stroke Recovery Trial Fund, which funded the first clinical trial into the treatment involving perispinal Etanercept.
“I can spot a neurological injury a mile away … And I just think there’s a treatment for you,” she said.
Entanercept is a drug commonly used to treat arthritis, but American doctor Edward Tobinick developed a new use for the drug.
The perispinal method involves injecting the drug into the spine to enter the vascular system.
“The perispinal Etanercept treatment really is very likely to be able to treat other neurological conditions as well because, at a cell level, the pathology is very similar in things like cerebral palsy, even schizophrenia, some types of depression, Parkinson’s disease,” Ms Graham said.
Associate Professor Stephen Ralph said Griffith University’s School of Medicine was conducting a randomised clinical study of 22 patients.
“There was a significant reduction in pain levels and mobility improved greatly in terms of their ability to raise their arm from the shoulder,” Dr Ralph said.
“It’s nerve-wracking pain that they cannot treat with other drugs and it just does not go away.
“In fact, it was quite surprising because patients would go from 65–70 out of 100 on the pain scale down to zero after the treatment, so almost immediate responses within 15 to 30 minutes.”
He said 90 per cent of patients in the group who received the drug showed a significant increase in their ability to raise their arm above the shoulder.
Their mobility improved by 35 degrees on average after the first treatment and went up to 55 degrees on average in the second treatment.
“That improvement was dose related, so that’s even more significant because it shows that it’s related to the treatment,” he said.
“Some of our patients did not respond … but there was a benefit for the majority of patients.
“They [patients] say it’s fantastic, it’s amazing, and it’s basically … a breakthrough treatment.”
Dr Ralph said no change was noticed in the control group, which had “no apparent effect at all”.
Dr Ralph said stroke patients were forced to rely on very strong sedative drugs to deal with their pain, which really limited their scope in terms of their ability to function.
“These sedative drugs basically knock them out. They either have poor quality of life, or they suffer the pain.”
He said larger studies were now needed to fight the “tremendous resistance” to approving the treatment in Australia.
“The problem was that I think it was almost too miraculous for people to believe that it was possible,” he said.
“I’ve seen patients who are now back to work, basically functioning normally … back to their normal life again.”
Dr Ralph said it was “extremely disappointing and frustrating” to see the benefits of the treatment firsthand, but it was not available publicly.
He was in the planning stages of a future bigger study looking into the drug’s ability to treat fatigue.
Red tape limits availability
Australian National University Emeritus Professor Ian Clark has studied the TNF protein, which is elevated in stroke patients in the area around the stroke site, in Australia and internationally for decades.
He said the patent of the drug had expired and there were large legal battles regarding its use in the United States.
“It’s about patent expiry and money and keeping out cheaper versions of the drug,” he said.
“It’s [the drug] had an effect that got people intensely interested when it was published, but a trial never ran because no-one wanted to pick it up and run with it because ‘big pharma’ didn’t want it done.
“This is really the key.
“For any drug like this they [Therapeutic Goods Administration] need a number of trials for them to gain confidence that it’s worth the government subsiding and therefore becoming available and more cheaply.”
The Trump administration says it will begin treating five major Chinese state-run media entities with US operations the same as foreign embassies, requiring them to register their employees and US properties with the State Department.
- US officials say the move comes after China intensified use of media to spread pro-Beijing propaganda overseas
- President Xi Jinping sees media as a way to promote Chinese soft power abroad
- Western media outlets operating in China already face harsh restrictions
Two senior State Department officials said the decision was made because China had been tightening state control over its media, and President Xi Jinping had made more aggressive use of them to spread pro-Beijing propaganda.
The control over both the content and editorial control have only strengthened over the course of Xi Jinping’s term in power, said one official.
“These guys are in fact arms of the CCP’s [Chinese Community Party’s] propaganda apparatus.”
China’s ‘Xi Jinping thought’ app
China’s new hottest app on the block is a propaganda resource that teaches “Xi Jinping thought” and requires the Communist Party’s 90 million members to read it daily.
Beijing was not informed in advance of the decision and would be notified on Tuesday afternoon, one official said.
Beijing’s control of China’s state-owned media has become “more and more draconian,” the second official said. Both officials spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Tensions between the two superpowers have escalated since President Donald Trump came to office three years ago, with disputes ranging from trade tariffs to accusations of Chinese spying in the United States and to US support for Taiwan.
Global ambitions for expanded influence
Tuesday’s decision, the officials said, is not linked to any recent developments in Sino-US relations and has been under consideration for some time.
The new determination is being applied to the Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International, China Daily and Hai Tian Development USA, the officials said.
When the international arm of China Central Television (CCTV) news rebranded and became CGTN in 2016, Mr Xi urged the media organisation in a congratulatory letter to “tell China stories well” and spread China’s voice.
The message was seen as part of Beijing’s ambition to build a new global narrative around China while also challenging liberal democracy as the ideal developmental and political framework.
In late 2018, CGTN billboards began springing up across Australia, as the network became available on Foxtel and Fetch TV.
China Daily is an English-language newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party. Hai Tian Development USA distributes the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the party’s Central Committee.
Fairfax media — now taken over by Nine News — raised eyebrows when it included the China Watch lift-out in its newspapers on a monthly basis as part of a paid deal with China Daily, although it is understood to have ceased in November 2018.
Republican Florida senator Rick Scott applauded the State Department’s decision, tweeting he had “been saying for months now outlets like China Daily should clearly be marked as the Chinese propaganda that they are”.
US a ‘far more liberal environment’
The five entities’ US operations will have to disclose their personnel rosters and hiring and firing decisions and register properties in the United States that they rent or own with the State Department, the officials said.
They also will have to seek advanced approval before they lease or purchase new US properties, they said.
Asked if there were concerns that Beijing would retaliate against Western media based in China, one official noted that foreign news outlets there already worked under strict rules and that the new disclosure rules imposed no restrictions on the five state-owned Chinese entities’ US operations.
“These guys operate in a far more liberal environment here in the United States than any foreign press enjoy in the People’s Republic of China,” the official said.
Media freedom in China is among the worst in the world — ranking 176 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.
A leaked 2013 government edict openly attacked Western media saying: “the West’s idea of journalism undermines our country’s principle that the media should be infused with the spirit of the party.”
Israel Folau will have a Tongan jersey waiting for him if he restrains himself from “crazy” social media posts and returns to peak form, according to another controversial rugby league star, Andrew Fifita.
- Israel Folau is expected to return to the rugby league field with French club Catalans Dragons this weekend
- Andrew Fifita said he would welcome Folau into the Tongan fold if he stopped the “crazy” social media posts that got him sacked by Rugby Australia
- Folau has represented Australia in both rugby codes, but his parents are Tongan
Folau is preparing to return to the 13-man code with French club Catalans Dragons in the Super League on Sunday morning (AEDT).
A lack of form and fitness have prevented the former Wallaby, who was famously sacked by Rugby Australia (RA) for offensive social media posts, from making his anticipated debut with the Dragons so far this season.
His arrival was not warmly received by stakeholders in the Super League, which is mostly based in England, but the 30-year-old is expected to step onto the park this weekend against Castleford, marking his first competitive game since his RA axing last May.
Should his form hold, it could result in him playing for Tonga down the track.
Coach Kristian Woolf has already left the door open for Folau to be selected in their next Test, pencilled in for June later this year, and Fifita, who has been a key plank in Tonga’s rise as a rugby league powerhouse in recent years, shared the sentiment.
“I welcome anyone. Everyone needs to be forgiven,” he said.
“[But he] can’t come out with those crazy posts again.
“I’m all for God as well, but in saying that, everyone in life deserves to be happy.
“When we’re talking about gays and lesbians, I got one who’s close to me and my sisters. I got family who are also gay and they’ve got the right to be happy.”
There was speculation Folau could have returned for Tonga last year during the bitter war between the Tonga National Rugby League and its players.
“There were a few little loopholes they did to get him available, but I’m not going to go into depth there,” Fifita said.
“For him to come straight into a team where he hasn’t played league in over 10 years, it’s a bit extreme.
“But if he has a really good year, the international jersey would be waiting for him.”
The Minto-born Folau played eight Tests for the Kangaroos during his last stint in rugby league, from 2007 to 2010, but both his parents are Tongan.