Tag: Australia


‘I couldn’t be more grateful’: Veterans react to unique Anzac Day tribute amid coronavirus pandemic


Beaudesert 4285

After completing two tours in Vietnam and receiving a cold welcome upon returning to Australia, Les Allen knows just how important it is for war veterans, who’ve risked their lives for their country, to feel recognised.

Key points:

  • Indigenous Queensland artist Kim ‘Brolga’ Williams was inspired after coronavirus restrictions meant her other work dried up
  • The Beaudesert RSL sub-branch helped fund the project
  • Local veterans can commemorate Anzac Day from the safety of their own driveway

When all public memorials were cancelled due to coronavirus, the 71-year-old worried veterans would feel forgotten, once again.

But thanks to an unusual project lead by a local artist in his hometown of Beaudesert in South East Queensland, Mr Allen now has a place where he can lay a wreath and stand at attention as the sun rises on April 25, despite not being able to attend his usual public march.

“It’s absolutely awesome, just beautiful,” he said.

Indigenous artist Kim ‘Brolga’ Williams is painting power poles in front of veterans’ driveways with designs to remember those lost, while respecting physical distancing measures.



Photo:

Artist Kim ‘Brolga’ Williams has family who fought for Australia and is passionate about Anzac Day. (ABC News: Anna Hartley)

“I can remember coming home from Vietnam, being given a loop pass and being told to nick off – that was the welcome home,” Mr Allen said.

“We need recognition and this is a good way of showing it.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to have this outside of the front of the house, it’s something I think needs to be done around the country.

“It will give us veterans the chance to pay our respects.”

Artist’s family connections prompt project

Ms Williams, a proud Kullilli-Wakka-Wakka woman, said the idea started when COVID-19 led to the cancellations of her exhibitions and paid work.

“As an artist I get bored easily, I’ve always got to be doing something,” she said.



Photo:

Ms Williams painted more than 10 artworks around Beaudesert for Anzac Day. (ABC News: Julie Hornsey)

“So, I thought ‘why not paint the power poles?’.

“In our own family we’ve had family go to war, we’ve lost family in war.

“To me, it’s important to honour our veterans, they did something for us, we’re here because of them.”

It started with Ms Williams simply painting a power pole in her own family’s driveway with Anzac designs with permission from her local energy provider.



Photo:

A power pole in Beaudesert painted by Kim ‘Brolga’ Williams (ABC News: Anna Hartley)

Her neighbour saw it and wanted one too and soon the local RSL sub-branch heard about her work and asked for more.

“It’s about just giving back to them, it’s not our fault there is a virus here,” Ms Williams said.

“I haven’t forgotten our veterans and I don’t think anyone else has either.”

RSL sub-branch gets behind creative gesture

Beaudesert RSL sub-branch president Carol Castles said members were helping fund expensive paint and equipment so the project could expand.

“We felt that it was a wonderful thing to do especially this year when we won’t be able to have any commemorations officially,” she said.



Photo:

Beaudesert RSL sub-branch president Carol Castles helped fund the project. (ABC News: Anna Hartley)

“We have a commitment to continue the memory and to make sure the younger people in our community know what our veterans have done.

“It’s a bit sad this year, it’s been hard, so we just hope what we’re doing and what Kim’s doing goes some way towards alleviating that.



Photo:

Les Allen at last year’s Anzac Day parade, before the coronavirus pandemic. (Supplied)

“The artworks really have the essence of Australia and Anzac Day.”

Ms Williams has more than 10 artworks to complete for veterans before Anzac Day and says she’ll be working hard to make sure they all get done.

Mr Allen said he hoped the artwork would well and truly outlast the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m going to make sure it’s coated so it doesn’t fade,” he said.

“It’s going to be there a long time.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Want to trap a mouse? Feed it fruit-and-nut chocolate


Australia

After a hot and dry summer, much of the country is now experiencing rain, and with that comes a flood of mosquitoes and other garden pests.

So what are some good ways to get rid of our house pests without going to the shops to buy a ton of chemicals?

Did you know?

  • The best way to catch a mouse is balancing chocolate on a ruler
  • Spray surfaces with peppermint oil every two days to get rid of ants
  • Strawberry plants can be covered in a “glue spray” of flour and water to get rid of caterpillars
  • Snails hate human hair, so sprinkle your home cuts on the garden

Uncle Mark Flanders, a Gumbaynggirr elder from the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, said there were many traditional remedies for a range of pests found all over Australia.

He said a bite from one of the most pesky of all pests at this time of year — the humble mosquito — could be treated with bracken fern.

“Get the sap out of the bracken fern stem and put it on the sting, it will alleviate it instantly,” he said.



Photo:

Bracken is a native fern that is common in backyards and bushland which can help repel mosquitoes. (ABC: Liz Keen)

To repel mosquitoes, he suggested crushing native raspberry plant leaves or making a fire with particular plants — as long as there were no fire restrictions in your area of course.

“Just get your tea-tree bark and leaves and burn it, that will repel the mozzies,” he said.

He said sandalwood and paperbark in the fire were also useful to keep them away.



Photo:

Mr Flanders shares some of his bush remedies. (ABC: Corey Hague)

Attacking the ant trail

Ahead of rain, you have probably noticed that relentless trail of ants marching through your kitchen.

Ecologist and children’s author Jackie French said applying peppermint oil was the most effective way to get rid of ants.

“Wipe the whole area with peppermint every two days and the ants will decide yours is not the desirable residence,” she said.



Photo:

Spraying surfaces with peppermint oil every two days can help get rid of ants. (ABC: Liz Keen)

Ms French said moths, another common household pest often found nestled in the pantry, could be tackled with an easy home remedy.

The first step was to fry fritters coated in breadcrumbs and olive oil.

“What you’re going to be left with is oil with lovely browned breadcrumbs,” she said.

“Put that in an old teacup in the cupboard.”

Natural pest killers
From mosquitos to mice to spiders and snails, Indigenous ranger Mark Flanders and ecologist and author Jackie French show Fi how to repel and quash creepy crawlies without hurting the planet.

She said the moths would fly down to the teacup, dive in to eat the crumbs and then drown.

She said if the moths were in a food packet, just freeze the packet for a week then remove the dead animals.

Mites need a (very) hot bath

Audio:
Home remedies and natural therapies – poultices, leaches, eucalyptus oil, and bull ants

(Overnights)

Being in the house more during the coronavirus pandemic, you may well have noticed more dust mites around.

Ms French said mites were found in every home because they came from our skin, hair and our pets, but she insisted this simple remedy would have them on their way.

“It’s basically soap and water, bung it [the item] in the washing machine, stick it out in the sunlight and do that often,” she said.

The Asthma Council of Australia said to kill the dust mites, the water temperature needed to exceed 55 degrees Celsius.

But if it was silverfish chomping its way through your books and clothes, Ms French suggested boracic — also known as boric — acid.

“Put it right at the back of your bookshelf and your shelves,” she said.

Ruler mouse trap trick

What you did not want at the back of your shelves was easily accessible food, she said.



Photo:

Ms French suggests enticing the mice with chocolate, not cheese. (ABC: Liz Keen)

Ms French said mice could hunt down the smallest amount of food and if that was a problem at your place, she suggested a live trap.

“Get a container that can fit a rat or a mouse, balance a ruler on the edge of the container then put some food on the edge of the ruler,” she said.

“The animal will run along the ruler and fall into the container.”

You then put the lid on the container and take the animal outside.

Ideally, far enough away so it cannot find its way back inside your place.

And contrary to popular belief, she said, mice and rats were not fond of cheese while fruit-and-nut chocolate would draw them in.

Snails hate hair

As like many of us you build up your herb and vegetable gardens and avoid the shops, you may find yourself busting to get to the produce before the pests do.

Ms French said the easiest natural spray to get rid of caterpillars and other garden pests was pikelet batter diluted with water.

“Spray it over any pests, it works for caterpillars and stink bugs,” she said



Photo:

Strawberry plants are among those which attract pests and bugs. (ABC: Liz Keen)

She said to leave the spray on overnight, then wash it off with water the next day by which time they will have suffocated.

She said melted chocolate — think of those excess Easter eggs — diluted with hot water and sprayed over the plants would also work.

And if you resort to cutting your own hair while in isolation, Ms French said put the hair clippings in the garden as a mulch would help keep the snails and slugs away.

“If you’re a snail with a sensitive part of your anatomy, you’re going to hate hair,” she said.

Liz Keen is the executive producer of the Little Green Pod podcast.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Australia’s top doctor says coronavirus will change human race for good


Australia

From the security of his office in Canberra, the nation’s top doctor fielded questions from politicians across the ditch on Australia’s response to COVID-19.

Key points:

  • Nightclubs and music festivals to remain closed for foreseeable future
  • Industries like construction could close if virus rates worsen
  • Australia and New Zealand’s “hard and fast” approach to virus is working

Brendan Murphy claimed an “illegal dinner party” attended by medics in Tasmania may have caused the latest coronavirus cluster. He later withdrew the remark.

Here’s what else we learned.

The human race will change for good

By closing the borders, quarantining travellers and clamping down on group gatherings, Australia has so far managed to “flatten the curve” and limit community transmission.

So, many people are daring to dream of a post COVID-19 world where life can return to normal.

But Professor Murphy said, in some ways, this crisis will change human behaviour for good.

“We’ll all be doing better hand hygiene from now on,” he said.

“There are some things we’ll do differently, always.”

Professor Murphy and other health experts have said fewer cases of colds and flus had been reported in Australia because people were keeping their distance from other people and practicing better hygiene.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.



Photo:

Brendan Murphy says he does not see music festivals being allowed anytime soon. (ABC Central Victoria: Corey Hague)

The day the music festival (kind of) died

For ravers and music lovers, the news is not so good.

While the Prime Minister has consistently said the coronavirus restrictions would remain in place for six months, behind the scenes National Cabinet is beginning to chart a path out of the crisis.

That includes what a gradual easing of restrictions might look like.

Professor Murphy said until a vaccine or treatment was found, he does not believe the social distancing measures can be relaxed entirely.

“Unless you’re absolutely, completely confident about your borders, your testing, your surveillance, you can’t relax a measure of distancing,” he said.

“It’s hard for me to envisage reopening of nightclubs and big music festivals in the foreseeable future.”

How fast is coronavirus growing around the world?


Infographic:
Growth in known cases in key countries, on a logarithmic scale

This chart uses a logarithmic scale to highlight coronavirus growth rates. Read our explainer to understand what that means — and what we can learn from countries that have slowed the spread.

Construction, manufacturing to close if things get worse

Australia has banned indoor and outdoor gatherings, closed pubs, clubs, cinemas, gyms and casinos and limited cafes and restaurants to takeaway service only.

In New Zealand, which shut down all commercial activity, its politicians probed Professor Murphy about why Australia had not gone harder.

Any measures had to be sustainable for the long haul, he said, so the advice was to close businesses that were not “absolutely essential to the economy”.

“Clearly if things get worse we will go harder,” he said.

“[In that case] we would be keen to close construction, manufacturing and retail more broadly.”

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Elimination versus suppression

Much has been made of New Zealand’s “elimination” strategy compared to Australia’s “suppression and control” approach.

But Professor Murphy said the aim was not that different.

“Our goals are very much the same; to get transmission down to as low as possible,” he said.

“And if we get rid of it, that would be great.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

Professor Murphy said Australia would “love” to eliminate the virus entirely but likened it to a “nirvana” that could not necessarily be achieved.

But he said both Australia and New Zealand were in a strong position because they had gone “hard and fast” in their response to the virus.

“If you go hard late, as the UK has done, you see what carnage you suffer on the way through,” he said.

“It’s very, very hard to bring a large outbreak under control.”

The United Kingdom has recorded more than 88,000 cases and 11,300 deaths.

Conversely, in New Zealand, a country of five million people, the death toll has not yet topped 10.

As of Tuesday morning, Australia had 6,366 confirmed cases and 61 deaths.

What you need to know about coronavirus:


Video: Scott Morrison discusses the Government's approach to coronavirus

(7.30)

External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


The ancient practice that could save Australia from more bushfires


QLD

Passed on through the generations, could Indigenous cultural burning save Australia’s landscape from another catastrophic bushfire season?


Video: Victor says it's time the Aboriginal fire management techniques are shared widely across Australia.

(ABC News)

He’s a keeper of memories. Custodian of a knowledge that has been handed down for thousands of years: the ability to see when the land is sick and know how to heal it.

When he reads country, Victor Steffensen is drawing on a sophisticated, historical and complex understanding of the nuances of seasonal shifts, of minute observation of nature. The intimate knowledge of ecosystems and how things are interrelated, of fire and water, the significance of the timing of flowers blossoming, the breeding behaviour of animals, the particle nature of trees and the ground they stand on.

It is knowledge, he believes, that can heal our country and prevent bushfires like those we’ve just experienced.

“When we burn the right fire in the right ecosystems, we enhance our native vegetation,” Victor says.

“I’ve done burns all over the country and seen the improvements in landscapes and there are even places where the last wildfire went and didn’t burn our cultural burn areas.

“The fires went out and went around them.”



Photo:

Wildfire destroyed this forest up to the point where the area had previously been culturally burned. (Australian Story: Ben Cheshire)

Victor’s knowledge of nature is encyclopaedic in its layers of detail, but he came so close to never knowing any of these things. Had it not been for an enterprising station owner, Fred Shepard, nearly a century ago hiding two young Aboriginal boys in mailbags when the police came looking, Tommy George and George Musgrave would have been taken away from their country; stolen, their traditional culture erased. As it was, they became cattlemen and still lived a traditional life with their families.

Had it not been, several generations later, for a boy who was looking for something, who loved the bush but who was lost and directionless, who, at 18, went on a fishing trip with friends, the knowledge would not have been passed on to him.

If chance had not brought Victor to Tommy and George in the tiny town of Laura, on the Cape York Peninsula, his path might have been entirely different.

The elderly brothers would shape his life. For the past two decades, he has been teaching Indigenous cultural burning practices, sharing the gift of the knowledge that they gave him with the rest of the world.




Photo:

An estimated 17 million hectares of bushland were scorched in the recent bushfires nationwide, but new growth is occurring. (Australian Story: Ben Cheshire)



Photo:

Flame-orange fresh growth is a sign of new life after bushfires on the NSW South Coast. (Australian Story: Ben Cheshire)

‘Something was missing in my life’

Victor was always fascinated by fire. At eight, he put a lit match into a pile of dead leaves in the banana patch in the backyard. It went up over the chook house and nearly roasted them alive. His father was not pleased, to put it mildly.

By his own admission, Victor was an indifferent, disinterested student. Growing up in the rainforest town of Kuranda, on the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns — a town, he says, of hippies and Aboriginal people — he failed nearly every subject at high school.

For fun, he and his friend Barry Hunter would make little action films with the school’s camera.

It was hard trying to understand his Aboriginality as a mixed-race person. “I knew there was something missing in my life, a huge void I wanted to fill.”

His mother’s Tagalaka people were from the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the 1920s, his nan and her people had been sent away to missions or to do unpaid work, their language and culture lost.

Victor had an idea that he wanted to be a ranger, or an actor maybe. An Aboriginal liaison officer scored him a special entry to the University of Canberra to study cultural heritage. He was 17 and the weather was freezing.

He studied English and he did try. “I wasn’t learning what I wanted to learn, about plants and trees and knowledge of country, things that were relevant to me,” Victor says. “The only thing I learnt down there was hot food and keeping warm and trying to cook for yourself.”

Three months later, he was back in the warm sunny north having dropped out. His father said he had to get a job and do something with his life. “I didn’t have a clue what to do.” That was when he went fishing with his friends.




Photo:

Victor (pictured left) gave university a go, but found it dind’t feed his hunger for learning more about the landscape. (Supplied: Victor Steffensen)



Photo:

A young Victor Steffensen stands in front of a ute at a camping ground. (Supplied: Victor Steffensen)

Elders take Victor under their wing

Laura had a population of about 100, with only eight houses for Aboriginal people. While he was getting to know people, he could see two old men in the distance and knew they were respected.

“I was sort of nervous because they had a really strong presence and I knew they were watching me, even when they weren’t looking at me.”

He was able to get a job in the local community through the work-for-the-dole program. “I was totally rapt.”

Then he had to find somewhere to live. One house had only one person living in it: Tommy George — or TG, as he was known. Even though all the other houses were overcrowded, and he had three bedrooms, no one had been able to live with TG.

“It was his house and it was under his rules: no alcohol, don’t touch his stuff and no making a nuisance of yourself.”

He would kick people out into the street if they broke his rules. Invited to move in, Victor made himself useful in the house and listened to Tommy’s stories, which would go on for hours. He would play the guitar to Tommy, who loved music.

Bushfires: before and after
This bushfire season was always predicted to be ferocious, but with months of hot weather to go, it has already left a scar on the nation.

Victor was soon upgraded to community ranger and given a uniform. Tommy was the head ranger. “From that day on, I had countless adventures with them old people,” Victor says.

He would stay for 10 years, always on the $200-a-week work-for-the-dole program.

“I was just happy learning from them, it was an honour, that was all I wanted to do. They took me under their wing and shared their world with me. They were the happiest days of my life, so far. They really set me in a straight line, put me on the right path.”

Every day, he was out on country in the bush: hunting, fishing and learning about plants, animals, places or stories, using George’s finger as a GPS pointing the way.

Learning about trees; the chemicals in the leaves that are used for medicine, the bark made into crafts, the food and spiritual uses — every fibre of every tree was taught to him.

Sitting around campfires would be Victor’s university and there were no books involved. Tommy and George were fit from walking and they could see a tiny creature from miles away: culture kept them moving and sharp into very old age.



Photo:

Elders like Tommy George helped pave Victor’s future as an Indigenous fire practitioner. (Supplied: Victor Steffensen)

Tommy and George — who was known as Poppy — were the last of the Awu-Laya elders who had the traditional knowledge and stories of that country. Two old men carrying thousands of years of information. It was vital to pass it on before it was lost forever but the distracted young people weren’t showing much interest.

Wanting to make sure the knowledge didn’t go to the grave, Victor started recording them on camera. “They were hungry to pass on their knowledge, that is all they ever wanted.”

And they taught him about fire.

The old men would look at indicators in the landscape: if it was time to burn a certain ecosystem, there will be certain flowers that indicate when they burn. Until European settlers took fire out of the landscape, “the country was well-managed and were a lot of grasslands and healthy landscapes”.

Back in possession of their traditional homelands, George and Tommy talked about fire even more. The country was “sick, unbalanced and unhealthy”.

“They were heartbroken,” Victor says.

Since it was still classified as national park, they were not allowed to burn it to heal it. They constantly complained: “It needs to burn, it needs to burn.” Victor persuaded them to do it anyway.

The first burn was illegal and they got into trouble. There were many battles with the state department of national parks. But they kept on doing it until, says George’s grandson Dwayne, “The parks and government and police all said, ‘these old fellas, they’re doing good here’.”

Cultural burning researcher Peta Standley says it was “amazing” to watch the men skilfully burn the landscape. “Flowering was protected… there was an increase in the diversity of the understory, there was a decrease in scar height,” she says.

Getting their first permit from the Queensland national parks department was, says Victor, “like getting a letter from the Queen”.

It was the beginning of the cultural burning movement of which Victor has become the face.




Photo:

Indigenous cultural burning is based on the theory of a “cool burn” to give animals a chance to flee. (Australian Story: Ben Cheshire)



Photo:

Victor (centre) leads a group class on Indigenous fire management on the NSW South Coast. (Australian Story: Ben Cheshire)



Photo:

Victor says he doesn’t see himself as a leader, but as an educator or messenger of the ancient practice. (Facebook: Cicada Woman)

Elders become honorary doctors

Indigenous fire has many layers, but the key factor is a cool burn, says Victor: “low intensity”. It is white smoke, not the thick black smoke that turned the world dark during the 2019/2020 bushfires.

“Fire is beautiful,” he says. “It’s just like water; it trickles through the landscape and the right fire protects the trees and it brings food and encourages new life. It is a gentler technique and it takes a lot more time to apply because the fire is slower.”

The old men knew the country and when to burn to clean it out and make it healthy. Each ecosystem would become ready one by one. The next system would put the fire out because it was still green.

The cooler fire moves beneath the canopy and allows native grasses to grow underneath and animals a chance to move away.



Photo:

George (left) and Tommy (right) were given honorary doctorates for their work as co-researchers on a thesis. (Supplied)

When Dr Standley came to them wanting to do a PhD on fire work, Victor told her it could only happen if Tommy and George were properly recognised.

In 2005 they were awarded honorary doctorates by James Cook University, listed as co-researchers on her PhD thesis. “When they came back from the university thing with the little blue hat, they thought they were king of the world,” Dwayne says.

Dr George Musgrave passed in 2006 and Dr Tommy George in 2016. “And if they were alive now to see those devastating bushfires, they would be terribly disappointed,” Victor says.

‘Alarm bells have been ringing for a long time’



Photo:

Victor believes the warning signs were there to indicate the fierce bushfires of 2019/2020. (AAP: Dean Lewins )

Long before the bushfires, Victor had seen “suffering in the landscape” and animals struggling to find food. “The land has been neglected and the bush has been neglected. Right throughout the country I go around and I just see sick country most of the time,” he says.

“Alarm bells have been ringing for a long time.”

Today, after those devastating bushfires, Victor is in more demand for his workshops than ever before, both in Australia and overseas. He doesn’t see himself as a leader but as an “instigator”. Pushed for a title, he will allow “mentor”, “educator” or “messenger”.

He never forgets that Tommy and George “chose him” to do this work in Indigenous cultural burning. “This is a responsibility that was thrown on me and I intend to finish, to keep the legacy going,” Victor says.

“We need to honour our Indigenous knowledge of Australia and allow that to thrive into the future.”



Photo:

Victor feels it is his responsibility to carry on the ancient knowledge he gained from elders. (Australian Story: Greg Nelson)

Tommy and George are always with Victor. When they passed, they knew their work would continue.

“They always said, ‘Keep going, keep going, boy. You keep doing what you’re doing’. And from there, I did it for them.”

Watch Australian Story’s Fighting Fire with Fire on iview or Youtube.

Credits:

Producer: Ben Cheshire

Feature writer: Susan Chenery

Photography: Ben Cheshire, Greg Nelson, supplied, AAP: Dean Lewins

Digital producer: Megan Mackander

Stay across the latest bushfire coverage

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Iranian-Australian author shortlisted for International Booker with magic realist novel


Australia

In 2011 the writer Shokoofeh Azar found herself in a strange country, with a strange dilemma.

As a journalist in Iran, words and language had been her weapon of choice — a way to speak out about the injustices she saw around her. But suddenly she was a refugee in Australia, where she couldn’t speak more than a few words of English.

“When I came to Australia I felt that I didn’t have language … and the journalism that I loved,” Azar says.

“But then I said to myself, ‘OK, you don’t have language, but you have freedom of expression’. I had language in my country but I didn’t have the freedom to write whatever I wanted, without being arrested because of my writing.”

So, in her new home in Perth, Azar began writing a novel in her native Farsi language — a novel highly critical of Iran’s Islamic government.

That book, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, has now been shortlisted for the International Booker — the top writing prize for a book translated into English.

She’s the first-ever Iranian writer to make the list.

Fleeing Iran

Shokoofeh Azar came to Australia by boat in 2011. She was seeking political asylum.

Back in Iran, she had been jailed multiple times for her journalism, which was critical of the theocratic Iranian Government, in power since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.


Infographic:
The novel follows a family caught up in the violence and fear of the years after the Islamic Revolution.
(Supplied: Wild Dingo Press)

After her most recent arrest, which included three months in isolation, Azar’s family had advised her to flee.

“After I came out of the jail my mother and my older sisters said ‘they will keep on arresting you, and next time it will be longer’,” Azar recalls.

The journey to Australia was difficult. Azar spent five nights on the ocean, on a boat with no roof, and by the time she arrived at the Christmas Island detention centre, she was having trouble breathing. She was sent to the mainland for treatment for suspected tuberculosis, and after being given the all-clear, was settled in Perth.

Far from her family and unable to speak a word of English, Azar says she was depressed and angry. But she eventually realised that distance gave her scope to write critically of Iran — without fearing prosecution.

In the foreword to her book, she pays tribute to her new home, and the freedom it gave her.

“I am profoundly grateful to the Australian people for accepting me into this safe and democratic country where I have the freedom to write this book, a liberty denied me in my homeland of Iran,” she wrote.

Demons and death

The Enlightenment of The Greenage Tree follows one family as they are caught up in the violence and fear of the years after the Islamic Revolution.

The book opens in 1988, when the matriarch of the family achieves enlightenment at the top of a plum tree — at the same moment that her only son is hanged without trial. It’s a shocking revelation that sets the tone for the rest of the book, which expertly weaves classical Persian storytelling techniques with clear-eyed accounts of atrocity.

Jinns (genie-like spirits), demons, ghosts and mermaids sit side-by-side with dictators and torturers.



Photo:

Azar is the first Iranian writer to be shortlisted for the International Booker prize. (Supplied: Shokoofeh Azar)

It is a precarious balancing act between light and shade that took Azar long nights of writing to perfect.

The book is narrated by the teenage Bahar, another character whose past combines violence and mythology. Azar, who was born just seven years before the Islamic Revolution, says Bahar is a version of her own teenage self.

Booker bound

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is one of six novels in contention for this year’s International Booker, an annual prize for a book translated into English, which is published in the UK or Ireland.

The shortlist is normally announced at a packed party in London, but this year, with the COVD-19 outbreak keeping everyone home, it was revealed in an online video.

At her home in Geelong, Shokoofeh Azar got an email from her UK publisher to tell her she’d made the shortlist. The first person she shared the news with was her 8-year-old daughter.

“And then I sent a message to my mother in Iran, my sisters in Iran and my best friends in Iran, so everyone was so thrilled and happy,” she says.

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Tune in for author interviews and news from across the book world.

As the first-ever Iranian writer to be shortlisted for the prize, Azar says she’s getting a lot of support from home — despite the fact that her book has not been published there.

“It’s really feeling amazing that both Iranians and Australians are happy that I’ve been shortlisted,” she says.

Azar joins on this year’s shortlist an impressive line-up of authors, whose books have been translated from five different languages — Spanish, German, Japanese, Dutch and Farsi.

Shortlisted books

  • The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezon Camara (Argentina), translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (Germany), translated by Ross Benjamin
  • Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Mexico), translated by Sophie Hughes
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Japan), translated by Stephen Snyder
  • The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (Netherlands), translated by Michele Hutchison

The International Booker celebrates translators as well as authors, with the 50,000-pound ($98,000) prize split equally between author and translator. If Azar wins, she will share the prize with a translator who has chosen to stay anonymous for their own safety.

“They still go to Iran and back, and it would definitely be dangerous for them because my novel is all about critiquing Islam in Iran,” she says.

The winner of the 2020 International Booker Prize will be announced on May 19.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is published in Australia by Wild Dingo Press.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


More than 600,000 Australians apply for early release of superannuation


Australia

Nearly 618,000 Australians have applied to get an early release of their superannuation under the Federal Government’s plan to help people out of work and facing financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.

Key points:

  • The ATO has not yet estimated how many people who have registered for early release of their super will be eligible to draw down
  • Funds have vowed they will allow members to access their money despite longstanding clauses giving them discretion
  • Super funds and experts argue the industry does not have a liquidity problem but there will be higher administration requirements as the funds face a flood of enquiries

From April 20, the Morrison Government is allowing retrenched workers and those suffering financial hardship because of shutdowns to access up to $20,000 in super and take it out tax free.

The first $10,000 is available between mid-April and July 1, and the second $10,000 is available after July 1 for about three months.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said as of midnight April 8, it had 617,800 registrations of interest, but could not yet estimate how many people would be eligible to draw down.

This figure is up from more than 360,000 it reported as of last Friday, and Australians are yet to be able to fill out the official form which allows them to apply from April 20.

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To be eligible, people must be either unemployed or eligible for welfare support payments including the JobSeeker payment, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Special Benefit or Farm Household Allowance.

The scheme is also on offer to those who have had their working hours reduced by 20 per cent or more, or sole traders whose business has been suspended or seen turnover fall by at least 20 per cent.

While the Federal Government has estimated that Australians facing hardship will be repaid about $27 billion tax free from their super savings, Rice Warner has estimated the figure could be as high as $50 billion.

The Government has repeatedly warned superannuation funds — which reap more than $30 billion annually in fees in Australia’s $3 trillion sector — to act responsibly during this crisis.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had said super fund trustees should have managed their legal obligations responsibly over the years to ensure that they have “appropriate liquidity”.

He warned that if they do not regulator, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has a number of levers it can pull, including directing mergers in cases where a fund is unable to meet the needs of members.



Photo:

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg hoped funds have managed their legal obligations responsibly over the years to ensure that they have “appropriate liquidity”. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)

Funds vow they will allow members to withdraw

There are longstanding clauses in superannuation fund product disclosure statements — which regularly get updated and have been recently revised for unique reasons unrelated to the government scheme — giving the funds discretion about whether to allow early withdrawals.

The funds say these clauses are not new or exceptional, and that they plan to pay out their members.

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But the fine print takes on a new meaning when hundreds of thousands of Australians are now applying for early withdrawals, and it remains to be seen if funds start exercising their discretion more aggressively.

The $44 billion fund representing largely hospitality workers, Hostplus, said in a statement that it recently updated its product disclosure statement.

This was to reflect a clause in Hostplus’ trust deed that gives it “a broad discretion to suspend or delay unit pricing in extraordinary situations to ensure equity, fairness and balance in investment pricing and transactions in the best interests of all members”.

“In Hostplus’ case, this trustee power is not new,” the statement said. “It is not unique. It is not exceptional.”

Hostplus’ chief executive David Elia has publicly defended fund’s liquidity position, recently bolstering its cash reserves to $6 billion.

The fund’s statement said it remained “committed to supporting the Federal Government’s policy to allow members to access up to a total of $20,000 from their superannuation accounts” and that it had “ample liquidity available to support members undergoing financial hardship”.



Photo:

Hostplus’ chief executive David Elia has publicly defended fund’s liquidity position, recently bolstering its cash reserves to $6 billion. (AAP: Daniel Pockett)

REST, the industry fund representing retail employees and managing about $60 billion in retirement savings, is also expected to see a flood of applications.

It has a longstanding clause that states the trustee has discretion to pay out, but a spokesman said the fund had “extensive liquid assets and is currently well placed to support the early release measures when they become available from April 20”.

“We are also stress testing our liquidity position regularly and are currently comfortable with our financial position to handle a variety of early release scenarios,” he said.

“The regulations for the new early release measure require us to pay members as soon as practicable after we receive the ATO’s determination,” the REST spokesman added.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap.

Unisuper the $85 billion fund representing university workers, updated its trust deed this week, but said that had nothing to do with the Government scheme.

“The update reflects the changes that were agreed in 2019 and have no impact to payments for members requesting early access to super,” a spokeswoman told ABC News.

“We have no intention to suspend/restrict payments to eligible members requesting early access to super,” she added.

“UniSuper has a very conservative approach to liquidity management and we’re well positioned to handle the current situation as a result of the pandemic.”



Photo:

Rest, the industry fund representing retail employees and managing about $60 billion in retirement savings, is also expected to see a flood of applications from its members. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Lessons learnt from the GFC

MediaSuper represents those in media and entertainment industry and has more than $6 billion in funds under management.

It told ABC News its clause regarding “absolute discretion” to impose conditions or restrictions on the amount of money members were able to withdraw was “a standard provision” that had been around for years.

“There were no limits or restrictions placed on withdrawals from or investment switches within Media Super during the global financial crisis, and we don’t anticipate imposing any limits or restrictions during the current crisis,” a spokeswoman said.

“Well-run funds are managed with key risks, including substantial market swings or increased switches or withdrawals, considered and factored into investment portfolio strategies and management.”

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

“It is the ATO, not the fund, that determines the eligibility of applicants for early release of their super.”

“We will be processing applications as and when approved by the ATO and have more than adequate liquidity to cover the estimated level of applications.”

Cbus, the fund representing the construction industry, noted that it had no clause that provided a broad discretionary power to freeze payments, but required members to prove eligibility for withdrawal to protect its members.

A spokesman said the fund had “paid close attention to the lessons of the GFC”.

“We have a very robust approach to liquidity and stress testing,” the Cbus spokesman said.

“Cbus is in a strong position with liquidity and we believe we are able to pay all member hardship claims, even prior to the recent Jobseeker payment announcement.”



Photo:

The global financial crisis did not see super funds place restrictions on members’ withdrawals and funds vow it won’t happen during the coronavirus crisis. (Reuters: Brendan McDermid)

Industry has $950 billion in cash and bonds

Alex Dunnin, director of financial services research firm Rainmaker, also argued the industry did not have a liquidity problem and said it was “premature to speculate that some funds will get into trouble”.

While it would “have to wait and see how the rule changes impacts particular funds”, he said the industry had about $950 billion in cash and bonds — $397 billion cash and $549 billion in bonds.

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And should it really run into trouble, the Future Fund was “sitting on the sidelines with $37 billion in cash and bonds”.

“We also need to realise that it’s not the capital market falls that are the issue because super funds appear to have withstood that onslaught reasonably, all things considered,” Mr Dunnin said.

“It’s the forced hibernation of particular industries and the Government changing the early release rules which … regulators had no warning of, much less super funds.”

“To say funds should have seen this coming is disingenuous.”

The industry had a fantastic year in 2019, so the 12-month return was only down 3 per cent despite the recent bushfires and current coronavirus crisis.

“Funds have had a boom 10 years, so they’re weathering the storm,” he said.

All funds would follow the law, he said, “And if not, you have a regulator with a baseball bat”.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

The real test for superfunds was whether funds could handle higher administration requirements as they were faced with a flood of enquiries.

And another challenge would be how funds dealt with the change in priorities from long-term investment to short-term cash management.

Super had now become a form of emergency cash management, and some funds were concerned there would be pressure from the Federal Government to change the way super funds operated in the future.

“They’ve now received a strong message that they must be prepared to play a fundamentally different role in the economy,” Mr Dunnin said.

The industry would have to hold more cash and liquid assets, which “could have profound effects on future returns”.

“Funds are going to have to build reserves for this type of event,” he said.

The big increase in government debt also meant “we might have to rethink the fundamental tax structure of the superannuation tax system”.

“Once again young people may get hit just as they’re getting started,” he said.

“We simply don’t know how this will play out.”

What you need to know about coronavirus:


Video: Take a look at how Australia's hospitals are preparing for the coronavirus peak.

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


ASX falls as COVID-19 relief rally fizzles out


Australia

The Australian share market has closed lower after a volatile session, with the major bank stocks leading the falls

Key points:

  • The ASX 200 ended 0.9 per cent weaker after a volatile session
  • The Australian dollar slipped to 61.25 US cents
  • The Dow Jones wiped out its 900-point surge after oil prices dropped in afternoon trade

At its worst, the ASX 200 dropped as low as 2.5 per cent after a massive rally overseas, which was sparked by hopes of slowing the coronavirus infection curve, fizzled out.

The benchmark index recovered in mid-afternoon trade before retreating again, to finish 0.9 per cent lower at 5,206 points.

The big four banks were a drag on the broader market, with shares in ANZ (-4.9pc), Commonwealth Bank (-3.3pc), NAB (-4.8pc) and Westpac (-5.3pc) all tumbling.

The stocks fell after the financial regulator wrote letters to banks and insurers, asking them to reconsider their need to pay dividends during the pandemic.

Westpac said it had not made a decision yet but would do so on May 4, when its first-half results are released.

BoQ profit dives

Bank of Queensland has confirmed it will defer paying dividends to its shareholders until “the economic outlook is clearer”, citing the “significant disruption caused by COVID-19”.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

This led to a 2.1 per cent slide in the bank’s share price.

The regional lender was also influenced by a letter from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), urging all banks and insurers to “seriously” consider the “deferment of dividends” and “limit discretionary capital distributions in the months ahead”.

It also reported a 40 per cent slump in statutory first-half profit (to $93 million), and its cash earnings after tax dropped by 10 per cent (to $151 million).

BoQ chairman Patrick Allaway said the bank understood the impact of its decision on shareholders but said following APRA’s guidance was a prudent step.

The bank’s revenue was flat at $545 million for the six months to the end of February, while expenses soared 31 per cent to $377 million.

Australia and its banks downgraded to ‘negative’

The Australian dollar has slipped to 61.25 US cents, from its overnight high of 62 cents.

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This was after the Australian economy’s “AAA” credit rating outlook was downgraded to “negative” by S&P Global Ratings.

S&P expects the nation to plunge into recession for the first time in almost 30 years.

It also said there had been a “substantial deterioration” of the Government’s “fiscal headroom” due to its massive debt burden, resulting from its coronavirus stimulus packages, which was worth more than $210 billion.

However, another agency, Moody’s, reached the opposite conclusion and rated Australia as “AAA stable” .

Moody’s said this was due to the nation’s “very high economic strength, reflected in its solid and stable growth history, as well as strong growth potential, notwithstanding current challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak”.

Both agencies agreed Australia’s weakness was its high levels of household debt, which could be a problem if there was a significant housing downturn.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook for Australia’s major banks to “negative”.

Fitch said the big four banks were likely to experience a substantial jump in bad debts as more businesses failed and unemployment spiked amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rio Tinto reveals tax payments

Rio Tinto has disclosed it paid $US7.6 billion ($12.37 billion) worth of tax and royalties across its vast network of global businesses in 2019, including $US4.8 billion in corporate tax.

The overwhelming majority of its taxes were paid in Australia ($US6.2 billion), where the largest part of the miner’s business is located.

It also made significant payments in Chile ($US311 million), Mongolia ($US305m), Canada (US$291m), United States ($US178m), the United Kingdom ($US117m) and South Africa ($US80m), according to the company’s latest “taxes paid” report.

But Rio also revealed the profit from its controversial Singapore marketing hub surged by 73 per cent to $US459 million last year.

Furthermore, it revealed the extent of its latest tax dispute with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

“In March 2020, the ATO issued amended assessments to our company for the 2010 through 2016 calendar years in relation to the pricing of the sale of aluminium between Australia and our Singapore commercial centre,” Rio said in its report.

“The amended assessments are for a total amount of A$86.1m.”

Penfolds may go its own way

Shares in Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) have lifted by 0.5 per cent.

This was after the Melbourne-based company revealed that it wants to spin off its Penfolds wine division as a separately listed company.



Photo:

Treasury Wine Estates may spin-off its Penfolds wine division into a separate company. (Penfolds: AAP)

The company, which also owns the Beringer and Wolf Blass labels, is struggling with falling demand for its wine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Penfolds accounts for about 10 per cent of the company’s total volume, but more than half of its earnings.

Any decision over whether or not to demerge Penfolds would depend on TWE getting approval from shareholders and regulators, as well as market conditions in light of the virus outbreak.

If a potential demerger proceeds, the company expects it to be finalised by the end of 2021.

Shareholders would then own a share in Penfolds and “New TWE” — the remaining business.

TWE is also looking to downsize its commercial wine business, and has considered selling some of its brands and restructuring its supply chain.

“The retained commercial business will comprise a smaller portfolio of profitable and differentiated brands that will continue to appeal to consumer trends and preferences across key markets,” TWE said.

Wall Street volatility

The local bourse’s volatile performance comes after Wall Street’s rollercoaster session, which saw massive gains at the start before ending with slight losses.

The Dow Jones index finished 26 points (or 0.1 per cent) lower at 22,654, a big comedown from its earlier 900-point surge.

Likewise, the benchmark S&P 500 index posted a 0.2 per cent loss, after surging by as much as 3.5 per cent during the day.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq index fell by 0.3 per cent.



Photo:

The Dow Jones surged by more than 900 points, but wiped out all its gains by the close. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Despite the minor falls, US markets have surged by about 20 per cent in the past fortnight, and global markets have also jumped.

This was mainly due to expectations that many countries would fall into short recessions, followed by fast “V-shaped” economic recoveries, and the decisions by governments and central banks to inject record amounts of stimulus into their economies.

Sentiment was also boosted by early signs that the rate of new COVID-19 infections and deaths may be starting to slow down in the epicentres of New York, Italy and Spain.

But Wall Street is still in a bear market, having fallen by about 20 per cent from the record high it reached in mid-February.

‘Premature’ market rally

Some investors believe markets are getting ahead of themselves given the economic fallout from COVID-19 is widely expected to be worse than the global financial crisis (GFC) more than a decade ago.

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The spread of coronavirus across Australia could see unemployment reach about 10 per cent and house prices drop 20 per cent, says one economist.

In previous bear markets, including the GFC, markets had surged several times before hitting a new low within months.

“The rally is sentimental and a little premature because if we lift these lockdown measures too soon and try to resume economic activity, we’re going to get a very severe pandemic rebound,” said Indranil Ghosh, chief executive of Tiger Hill Capital in London.

However, US markets lost their steam as oil prices tumbled in the afternoon trading session.

Brent crude plummeted by 3 per cent to $US32 a barrel.

Investors are concerned about an oil oversupply, particularly when demand for jet fuel has plunged amid worldwide travel bans and widespread businesses closures.

These worries are on top of the rising scepticism that Saudi Arabia and Russia can reach a deal to end their self-destructive price war at their Thursday (local time) OPEC+ meeting.

“Reports suggest they are focused on a three-month cut to output, although volumes have not been discussed,” ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said.

“What is clear is that the US must be involved [and] President Trump said he hasn’t been approached by OPEC yet.

“But following his meeting with oil executives over the weekend, the likelihood of them agreeing to a voluntary cut to output looks unlikely.”

European markets experienced strong gains, particularly London’s FTSE (+2.2pc) and Germany’s DAX (+2.8pc), as they finished trading before the slide in afternoon oil prices.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Frydenberg calls on G20 to put global economy into ‘controlled hibernation’


Australia

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has called for the global economy to be put into “controlled hibernation” during the coronavirus emergency, in a virtual meeting of Group of 20 (G20) finance ministers and central bank governors last night.

Key points:

  • Mr Frydenberg said the G20 should aim to minimise job losses globally
  • The Federal Government has its own economic “hibernation” strategy
  • The G20’s coronavirus plan will be fleshed out over the next fortnight

The meeting saw the economic leaders of the world’s top economies discuss a new plan to address the risk of debt vulnerabilities in low-income countries hit by the pandemic, and deliver financial aid to emerging markets.

Mr Frydenberg said leaders should take quick, strong and co-ordinated action to “minimise the permanent human and economic damage.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

“First, our priority should be putting the global economy into controlled hibernation while quarantine measures are in place,” he said in a statement.

“That is — finance the global health response, maintain financial stability, minimise job losses, keep businesses going, and ensure the basic needs of the global population are met.

“This includes committing to a G20 fiscal support target, to encourage all economies to act urgently, and send a clear signal to citizens that the G20 is doing whatever it takes.”

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

Australia’s own economic hibernation strategy involves $130-billion worth of wage subsidies to try to keep as many people in jobs as possible, even if businesses close for up to six months.

Mr Frydenberg also said the G20 must lead the long-term global recovery once the health crisis passes, and that all members should unblock global supply chains, especially for vital medical supplies.

External Link:

Josh Frydenberg on Twitter: Tonight I joined G20 Finance Ministers & Central Bank Governors to discuss the G20's Action Plan and the importance of the IMF…

A joint statement released after the virtual meeting said details of the plan would be fleshed out before the group’s next meeting on April 15.

It said roles for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in deploying resources and exploring measures to alleviate a lack of liquidity in emerging markets were discussed.

G20 leaders pledged last week to inject over US$5 trillion ($8.2 trillion) into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the outbreak, while working to ease supply disruptions caused by border closures intended to limit transmission of the virus.


Video: G20 leaders have been meeting over video conference due to the pandemic.

(ABC News)

They also committed to fund all necessary measures to stop the virus’s spread and expressed concern about the risks to fragile countries, notably in Africa.

They told their top finance officials to coordinate regularly with each other and with international organisations to develop an action plan in response to the pandemic.

G20 trade ministers agreed on Monday to keep their markets open and ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies, equipment and other essential goods.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

The group has been accused of being slow to respond to the outbreak, which is expected to trigger a global recession as governments impose curfews and shut businesses.

The G20 comprises Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United States, India, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, the European Union, China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.


Video: Under the microscope

(ABC News)

ABC/Reuters

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


A couple of gins may not be a good tonic for the coronavirus crisis


Australia

It might be tempting to drown your sorrows in alcohol when it feels like the world is falling apart, your financial security is evaporating and you’re suddenly confined to the house thanks to COVID-19.

Pubs and bars around the country have shut their doors. There’s been a huge rush at bottle shops, as well as rumours of a beer shortage. It’s enough to make you think that getting a bit (or extremely) drunk is a short-term survival tactic for many.

But is drinking your way through this crisis really the best thing to do?

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

If there’s one thing I learned from giving up alcohol 15 months ago, it’s that drinking dramatically exacerbated my anxiety and negatively affected my physical and mental health — the maintenance of which are now critical to getting through this mess we are in.

So, in the spirit of helping others, I’ve pulled together some alternative strategies and expert advice on why, as the coronavirus crisis escalates, you should seriously reconsider whether cracking open another bottle of wine is a good idea.

Alcohol affects your sleep quality

Trust me, you need your sleep right now.

Nicole Lee, an adjunct associate professor at the National Drug Research Institute, says it’s important for people to find strategies for coping with stress other than drinking after our “rough start to 2020”.

While alcohol might make you feel better temporarily, she says, over the medium to long-term it will increase your anxiety and potentially significantly disrupt your sleep.



Photo:

Flip Prior learned a thing or two by giving up alcohol 15 months ago. (ABC Life: Edwina Storie)

“People who are already anxious and might have a drink to calm down … when they stop drinking, they feel even more anxious than before they started drinking,” Associate Professor Lee says.

While drinking might provide some short-term relief or even knock you out for a few hours, that mental stupor is not going to last through the night.

Do you want to risk waking up at 3:00am with the beginnings of a nasty hangover and a brain rattling with even more anxiety?

Lately I’ve been falling asleep emotionally sapped and waking up full of existential dread, but I’m thankful that I’m at least still sleeping soundly and not starting the day with a headache.

But what about the days, evenings, weekends at home?

As a highly social person who lives alone, the prospect of having to endure long stretches of physical distancing and being cooped up in my tiny apartment has already played havoc with my mind and had me glancing longingly into the bottle shop for the first time in months.

Panic buying and spike in alcohol sales spark warning
Before the coronavirus crisis, experts say young people drank less — but that’s about to change, with people being removed from their normal day-to-day lives.

In the past, a couple of gins may have been a good tonic for this sudden loneliness, but I’m extremely wary of where that could lead — and with good reason, because drinking alone is a primary marker for growing dependence issues.

Su Naseby, a psychotherapist who specialises in substance abuse, says many of her clients started out drinking in social contexts and eventually moved on to drinking alone.

For many people, Ms Naseby says, drinking with others helps to restrict alcohol consumption because of feelings of shame or embarrassment that can result from overdoing it.

But drinking at home alone can take that barrier away, she says: “You’re sitting at home and there is nothing stopping you from being indulgent”.

Drinking can sabotage mental health, just as services are struggling

Current events notwithstanding, giving up alcohol was one of the best things I ever did for my mental health.

In general, I’m calmer, less anxious and my moods are stable most of the time.

Australia’s mental health services are already under significant strain, with many now providing only limited phone services, so keeping your mental health in optimal condition is important.



Photo:

While we already desperately miss congregating in bars, restaurants and pubs, my friends and I have been catching up online over cups of tea, says Flip. (Supplied)

Professor Lee says while everyone is a little bit different in their approach to stress reduction, exercise is a great alternative activity.

“With the social distancing rules, we’re still able to get out and go for a walk or a jog or just get some fresh air,” she says.

“Also, things like meditation and yoga, if you’re into that, can be quite helpful.”

Hard as it might be, Ms Naseby recommends limiting time spent scouring for fresh COVID-19 information, or choosing just one reliable source for news.

I’ve also been trying to switch off my social feeds at least an hour before bed and put my racing brain to sleep with free meditation apps. It’s hard, but it really helps improve my sleep quality.

Alcohol can affect your physical health: practice self-care

Associate Professor Lee stresses that it’s important for people to be aware of the potential negative effects of alcohol on physical health, especially with the threat of highly contagious viruses floating around.

“If you can drink as little as possible, and particularly don’t increase your drinking during this time, you’re much more likely to … maintain your immune system and prevent any colds or flus or other viruses,” she says.

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As a recovered alcoholic of five years, Shanna Whan says her compromised immune system would collapse if she went back to drinking.

The founder of Sober in the Country, Ms Whan also struggles with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the result of her former smoking addiction.

Having recognised that her anxiety over COVID-19 was already impacting her mental health, instead she is using the shutdown period to prioritise basic self-care.

“For me [that’s] exercise, sunshine, nutrition, rest, water, fresh air, moderation and faith,” she says.

Me too. I’ve been sorely missing the morning exercise routine I committed to when I quit drinking.

But I’ve found free online yoga and exercise classes and have started streaming them at appointed times so friends can join in, help each other stay motivated and remember to breathe.

Keep yourself busy and reach out for support

The good news is that you don’t need alcohol to keep socialising with friends and family, even while you are physically distanced from them.

Keeping a sober, clear head while you communicate may even have the added effect of deepening your relationships.

While we already desperately miss congregating in bars, restaurants and pubs, my friends and I have been catching up online over cups of tea to offer each other support.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

We’ve also been sharing interesting things to watch, read, make and do in a thriving Facebook group I set up to provide a temporary distraction from the hectic world outside.

If you don’t have a strong circle of friends or family to lean on, there are many online groups for people wanting to maintain sobriety that stream free meetings — such as the Untoxicated (Booze Free Fun and Friendship) Support Group on Facebook and She Recovers on MeetUp, to name just two.

Ms Naseby says keeping busy and productive will help reduce the temptation to drink, but also potentially deliver a much-needed endorphin boost.

“I’m working from home talking to clients … but I’m loving the fact that I have an opportunity to sit down and work on a writing project I’ve had sitting around for ages,” she says.

“It’s a great opportunity to get out and dust off some of the projects we’ve got sitting around, do something a little proactive. Completing unfinished tasks, something that’s meaningful to us, that’s going to give us a relaxed, endorphin, dopamine kind of buzz.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘Protecting our citizens’: Cruise ship passengers blocked from disembarking in NSW


Sydney 2000

The State Government will block anybody from disembarking cruise ships in New South Wales until new border protections are in place.

Key points:

  • 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.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

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.



Photo:

The Ruby Princess was docked in Sydney while several passengers had COVID-19. (Instagram: Supplied)

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.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.

“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.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

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.


Video: The Virus: Jeremy Fernandez tracks the major coronavirus developments

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘We’ve got to throw everything we’ve got at it’: Coronavirus vaccine to be fast-tracked in Queensland


Brisbane 4000

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced a $17 million package to fast-track a coronavirus vaccine developed in the state.

Key points:

  • The number of Queensland COVID-19 cases has risen to 259 after 38 more people tested positive
  • The state government has announced $17 million in funding to fast-track the development of a vaccine
  • The money is expected to cut the time a vaccine would be available for use by about six months

She said the funding would support the University of Queensland (UQ) as the only Australian organisation and one of six worldwide to be tasked to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

It included:

  • $10 million from the Queensland Government
  • $3 million from the Federal Government
  • $3.5 million from the Paul Ramsay Foundation

“This is now becoming a serious issue here in Queensland and a serious issue here in Australia and we’ve gotta throw everything we’ve got at it, so $10 million today is a great step forward out of a $17 million package,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Queensland is a world leader when it comes to research and the progress that is being made here is very encouraging.”

The money would allow researchers to bring a large-scale manufacture of the coronavirus vaccine forward to run parallel with clinical trials.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

Professor Paul Young, head of UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, described the work as a “radical approach”.

“We are living through remarkable times and remarkable times sometimes need radical ideas, and that is what the funding announced today is about.”



Photo:

Annastacia Palaszczuk warned the media to practise social distancing at Sunday’s press conference on coronavirus. (ABC News)

“The typical timeline for vaccine development has been thrown out the window, with many referring to the possibility of a vaccine in 18 months.

“A vaccine is required even sooner than this.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

“We’re not cutting any corners in ensuring this vaccine is going to be safe and efficacious in humans, we will go through those clinical studies, but we should be ready to deploy as soon as that is done.”

“With this approach we should carve about six months off our timeline.”

Coronavirus questions answered
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Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones said if successful, there could be a coronavirus vaccine available for emergency use among healthcare workers and vulnerable populations in early 2021.

Biotechnology researcher Professor Trent Munro is a team leader on the vaccine project and welcomed the funding.

“We have to be careful in saying there are no guarantees of success. This is going to be technically very, very challenging but this funding lets us push forward in a way that we wouldn’t have dreamed possible just a few weeks ago.”

‘Stay in your village’

The funding announcement came as 38 more people tested positive to coronavirus in the state, bringing the total number of Queensland’s COVID-19 cases to 259.

“We want to contain this virus as long as we can so we can develop a vaccine and ultimately save lives,” Health Minister Steven Miles said.

He said the cases were concentrated in south-east Queensland among those returning from overseas where coronavirus had already spread.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

The Premier is urging people not to travel outside their immediate community except for work.

“In the coming weeks and months, I need everyone to stay near your village,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“That means you can support things in your local village, you can shop in your local neighbourhoods, but as much as possible you need to restrict your non-essential travel and stick close to home.

“That’s what we do during cyclones, that’s what we do during floods.

“We all pitch in and help together.”

Library queues in last-minute borrowing rush

Keen readers at Indooroopilly were met with long queues and a 40-minute wait to get into the library.

“I was a bit surprised, I wasn’t expecting to see so many people here,” one woman told the ABC.

“You never see a line at a library.”



Photo:

One borrower described the queues as “panic-borrowing”. (ABC News: Jess Rendall)

On Saturday, the Brisbane City Council announced it would be closing all 33 of its libraries to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s closed until the end of June, that’s a long time to not be able to come to the library.”

Some locals are making the comparison to panic-buying, which saw Australia’s supermarkets stripped bare of toilet paper and other necessities.

“I think it’s better for books… at least people are looking for knowledge, I’m happy with that.”

“Everyone just wants to read, to do something if Australia goes into lockdown.”

Your questions on coronavirus answered:


Video: Q+A: Coronavirus testing criteria slammed

(ABC News)

External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Mother asks panic buyers to consider their actions after child left without medication


Maroochydore 4558

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”.

Key points:

  • 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.



Photo:

Sunshine Coast mother Natalie Benson with her three-year-old son Oliver Dionysius. (ABC Sunshine Coast: Tara Cassidy)

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

“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.



Photo:

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president, Associate Professor Chris Freeman. (Supplied: Pharmaceutical Society of Australia)

“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.



Photo:

Staff at a Sunshine Coast Terry White chemist were abused by a customer earlier this week. (ABC Sunshine Coast: Tara Cassidy)

“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

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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.”

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:


Video: Q+A: Coronavirus testing criteria slammed

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Australia is now a nation in self-isolation — but are we ahead of the curve?


Australia

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.


Video: Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg announce latest coronavirus measures

(ABC News)

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.


Video: TWU boss Michael Kaine slams Qantas for forcing workers to bail out airline

(ABC News)

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.

A trade-off

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.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

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.


Video: Scott Morrison's comments came as supermarkets struggle to cope with shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

(ABC News)

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.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

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:


Video: Dr Norman Swan answers some of your questions about the coronavirus outbreak

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


The Government has the power to save struggling households. Here’s how


Australia

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.



Photo:

Some airlines may not survive the coronavirus. (Reuters: Kham)

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.

How will businesses cope?
Businesses are struggling with questions such as who will pay workers forced to self-isolate in a coronavirus outbreak.

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.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Sydney cafe owner sacks workforce amid coronavirus downturn as landlords refuse to budge on rents


Parramatta 2150

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.

Key points:

  • 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.”

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

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.



Photo:

Malik Houchar and head chef Ahmed Abdelrahman are hoping to just earn enough to pay rent. (ABC News: Maryanne Taouk)

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.

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“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.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

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.


Video: Question of whether to close schools divides medical experts

(ABC News)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


‘Mince is like gold’ as panicked city shoppers descend on regional supermarkets


VIC

No flour. No rice. No milk. No meat.

Dora Kordos saw it happening in Melbourne but never thought the spread of panic buying would reach her.

She even laughed when supermarkets in the big smoke were forced to put limits on food, tissues, and toilet paper because of people hoarding stock.

But once Melbourne’s shelves were bare, city-dwellers turned their focus on regional Victoria, including her own town of Kinglake.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

ABC Radio Melbourne was inundated with calls on Tuesday from people in Kyneton, Woodend, Ararat, Leongatha, Daylesford and Castlemaine, who were outraged that people from the city had travelled hours to clear out supermarkets in their region.



Photo:

FoodWorks at Kinglake has been inundated with people from out of town for days. (Supplied: Dora Kordos)

Ms Kordos’s family owns a FoodWorks supermarket, north-east of Melbourne, and she said the out-of-towners began arriving on Friday.

“We’ve seen people from Essendon. People we’ve never seen before. Somebody shared on the Eltham Facebook page that we were fully stocked and we’ve been inundated from all over the state,” she said.

“It started on Friday but it ramped up this week. Monday’s takings were three times what a normal Monday would do.”

At the start of the week, 10 boxes of chicken sold out in two hours.



Photo:

FoodWorks owner Dora Kordos limited customers to two packs of meat each but it was not enough to stop it almost completely selling out. (Supplied: Dora Kordos)

She has ordered 30 more boxes of meat for Wednesday but has been told she will be lucky to get five because suppliers are so stretched.

“It’s been decimated. I haven’t eaten today. Just coffee.”

There is no flour left, no rice, no potatoes, no bread. A small amount of pasta sits on the shelves because she limited customers to two packets each. Eggs are beginning to sell out. The milk has gone, the mince is “like gold”.

External Link:

Kinglake Community Foodworks is at Kinglake Community Foodworks: We ask our customers to show compassion, support and respect to our staff members and others during these tough times. We are working hard to ensure we have stock on our shelves however our deliveries have been cut back. We cannot control if a particularly product is unavailable due to the current conditions and we are doing our best to ensure we have supplies for you all. So please be kind and together we can get through this.

“We’ve pulled all our specials because people were hoarding it,” Ms Kordos said.

She said some locals had begun to panic buy after seeing the FoodWorks, which is the only supermarket for 30 kilometres, being stripped by visitors.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

“You can’t have a swarm of locusts in your store, stripping it bare and not have anything for your regular customers.”



Photo:

Woodend Coles was also stripped bare by shoppers on Tuesday. Locals said most of the food was taken by people arriving from Melbourne, an hour away. (Supplied)

Pasta, canned food, meat, and frozen vegetables were all limited to two packets per person, which angered a few customers.

Ms Kordos said her staff had been verbally abused by customers, including one woman calling a staff member a “f**king bitch” for not letting her have more pasta.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

“We have signs and people still tried to buy more. People say I’m buying for my neighbour, my father, my brother,” she said.

People have taken to social media to ask local supermarkets to only sell to locals, but Ms Kordos said that was unrealistic.

“We’re in business to make money, let’s be honest. How do you police it? I don’t know if it’s legal to turn people away. The best we can do is limit,” she said.

But people had tried to fool her; a three-month supply of toilet paper sold in two days last weekend so a man she had never seen before asked if there was any out the back “for locals”. She turned him away.

“We’re a small community. We’re not a major city store, we didn’t expect this.”

‘No fundamental shortages’, Woolworths CEO says

Advocacy groups have warned disadvantaged people are the hardest hit by the supermarket shortages.

Many cannot afford to buy in bulk and are worried some supplies might run out.

The chief executive of Woolworths Group, Brad Banducci, said the “surge buying”, which had accelerated since the weekend, was not necessary because there were “no fundamental shortages”.

“We have enough product in Australia to feed all of our customers,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne’s Mornings program.

“If we all buy what we need and treat our team with respect we will rapidly get back into full supply or 99 per cent of supply of most of the products our customers have come to enjoy.”


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Chart shows how many people have recovered from coronavirus in Australia


Australia

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:


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

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.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Road trips should be a time of wonder, but for Oscar Cruz they are a nightmare


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.

Key points:

  • 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.



Photo:

Jose Vanegas has to help his nephew Oscar Cruz get changed on a toilet seat. (ABC Riverina: Jake Lapham)

‘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.”



Photo:

Oscar Cruz hopes to see more investment in adult change facilities. (ABC Riverina: Jake Lapham)

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.”



Photo:

Annette Pham cares for her son Liam, who has cerebral palsy (ABC Riverina: Jake Lapham)

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.

The ABC’s commitment to accessibility
We are committed to ensuring our coverage of the disability royal commission is accessible to all Australians no matter what their abilities or disabilities.

“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.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Michelle wants to speak out about her abuse. An archaic law stops her from going public


Darwin 0800

Michelle* looked out of a window, across a sweltering street in Darwin’s central business district, while she recounted her “greatest secret.”

Key points:

  • 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.”

Gagged by law, finally this woman can tell her story
Grace Tame was groomed and abused by her maths teacher when she was 15. For the first time, she can finally share her story.

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”.



Photo:

Michelle and Jessica say the abuse took place in after hours “prayer sessions”. (ABC News: Emma Machan)

‘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.”

Unpursued in the Top End
The NT has the highest percentage of sexual assault reports not pursued by police.

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.



Photo:

Jessica says she lost “all faith, all trust” after being called into a “prayer session”. (ABC News: Emma Machan)

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.

A ‘horror show’ for victims
The typical sexual assault reported to police has shifted, experts say, and the current legal system is “totally ill-equipped”.

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:

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.



Photo:

Nina Funnell, creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, said she had “major, serious concerns” over the bill. (ABC News: Jerry Rickard)

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.



Photo:

NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles says there are some survivors in the NT who want to share their stories. (ABC News)

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.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Peter Dutton diagnosed with coronavirus


Australia

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed he has coronavirus.

Key points:

  • 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.”

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

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.



Photo:

Scott Morrison will not go into isolation despite being at a meeting with Peter Dutton on Tuesday. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

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.”

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

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.



Photo:

The Prime Minister spent Friday with premiers and chief ministers. (AAP: David Gray)

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.


Video: Biosecurity expert Raina MacIntyre assesses Australia's response to the coronavirus

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Mount Everest shut to foreign climbers over coronavirus fears


Nepal

Nepal says it will ban foreigners from climbing Mount Everest this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Key points:

  • 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.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

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.



Photo:

Andrew Lock said the bans would devastate Nepal’s mountaineering businesses. (Supplied)

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.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

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.



Photo:

A man stands in front of the garbage collected on Mount Everest in 2019. (Reuters: Navesh Chitrakar)

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.”


Video: Biosecurity expert Raina MacIntyre assesses Australia's response to the coronavirus

(7.30)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Coronavirus has closed our school for six weeks and counting. This is how we make it work


Australia

There’s no playground or lunch bell at this school, but some 8,000 kilometres from Beijing, Angela Steinmann and Jaima Holland are preparing for another day of class.

From the confines of a renovated Queenslander in Brisbane’s northern suburbs, the pair have found themselves grappling with the residual impacts of the coronavirus crisis: school shutdowns.

Angela is the elementary school principal at Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), where Jaima is a physics teacher and Grade 9 mentor.

As the Chinese New Year rolled around in late January, the pair — like “50 per cent of our staff and students” — left the capital to travel overseas, opting to holiday in the Philippines.

Then, the outbreak occurred.



Photo:

Angela is the elementary school principal at the Western Academy of Beijing, where Jaima is a physics teacher and Grade 9 mentor. (Western Academy of Beijing)

“At the beginning of the holidays [Chinese authorities] announced that schools would be closed, so we had to very quickly make a plan of action to begin online learning when we came back a week later,” says Angela.

“Rather than quickly return to China, we decided there wasn’t really any need for it. We weren’t going back to school, so a decision was made that students and teachers could operate from wherever they were.”

With friends and family in Brisbane, the pair returned to Australia (“The internet connection here is better than the Philippines,” Jaima quips), where they have spent much of the year navigating the ups and downs of their new classroom.

They are now almost finished the sixth week of delivering an online learning curriculum to 1,400 WAB students aged from 3-18 who represent the many cultures and nationalities who attend this international school for expatriate children.

‘We went from zero to full-on in a week’

As authorities work to contain the spread of COVID-19, more than 290 million students across the globe have been disrupted by school closures (much to the chagrin of parents).

While China was the only nation mandating closures some three weeks ago, as of the beginning of March, at least 22 countries in three different continents had followed suit in announcing or implementing contingency plans of their own.

It means schools have had to pivot to an online curriculum, as they stare down the barrel of an uncertain future.



Photo:

Using online applications like Zoom, Skype and WeChat, teachers set the usual daily course work for their students. (ABC News: Bridget Judd)

As if the transition wasn’t hard enough, the Western Academy of Beijing, an international school in the north of the city, has been forced to confront another hurdle: many of their more than 150 staff, who had been overseas on holidays when the outbreak occurred, remain in all corners of the world (“We have people in Europe, America, Asia, Australia — everywhere,” Angela says).

“We all follow Beijing time, so the time zone has been the trickiest one,” she adds. “It has been a huge challenge; we went from zero to full-on in a week.”

Using online applications like Zoom, Skype and the Chinese social media app WeChat, teachers set the usual daily course work for their students, interspersed with parent workshops, forums and teacher staff meetings.

It is very much business as usual (“Our swimming teacher, for example, is still doing swimming lessons online,” Angela says), but that is not to say there have not been challenges.


Infographic:
Despite being stuck in different corners of the world, staff still have weekly meetings.
(Supplied: Angela Steinmann)

“In any classroom you’ve got a range of abilities. Not just academic abilities but self-management abilities, the ability to make sure they’re engaged and can organise themselves,” Jaima says.

“And when you go into an online learning platform, suddenly that range becomes so much larger.”

In the case of WAB’s multicultural student body, a range of English-language skills, particularly among younger pupils, add another layer of complication into the mix.

“The real difficulty of [taking lessons online] was, how are we going to do this to accommodate the needs of such a diverse range of students, but do it in a way that’s relatively streamlined?” Jaima says.

So what does an average day look like?

For Angela and Jaima, communication and engagement with both students and parents has been paramount in ensuring they do not slip “through the cracks”.

The wider community is acutely aware of the predicament they are facing, and until the school closures are lifted, students and staff simply don’t have any other options.

But while online learning may be part and parcel of modern life, the pair are quick to admit that the transition to a virtual classroom has been a matter of trial and error.

“At first I thought, this will be great, we’ll just post one email for the week and it’s not too overwhelming,” Jaima says.

“It was the opposite, students felt overwhelmed because they were getting a weeks’ worth of work for each class and it was just too much.”

The school has used this feedback to hone its approach.

Students are given their weekly coursework each Monday, and are then tasked with devising a timetable for the days ahead (“For example, when are they Zooming with their teachers?” Angela says).

Teachers also upload a video of themselves every morning, welcoming students into the new day and outlining their daily tasks, which have already been posted online.


Infographic:
An example of the course material posted online for students at the Western Academy of Beijing.
(Supplied: Angela Steinmann)

“Every class in elementary has a class blog, all children also have their own blogs, so if they have to do work, they can take a picture or upload it to the blog, so their parent and teacher can give feedback,” says Angela.

“I spend a lot of time just in correspondence, checking in with students, tracking students, giving feedback, communicating with mentors and counsellors if you feel a student is getting too far behind,” adds Jaima.

Virtual classrooms in use in Australia

While Australia has so far been largely immune to the brunt of the crisis, the premise of online learning is not an entirely foreign concept.

Classes have already been cancelled in New South Wales, while similar scenes have been observed in Victoria, as more people test positive for coronavirus.

Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.

In anticipation of further closures, the NSW Education Department has confirmed it is working with its major IT providers to create virtual classrooms so teachers can provide work to students over the internet.

This technology is already in use at Epping Boys High School, which is using Google Classroom across all year groups and subjects to provide daily online lessons for students in self-isolation. At Willoughby Girls High School, also in Sydney, students have access to lessons and content from Edmodo and Google Classroom.

While Queensland is yet to be affected by school closures, its education department has also confirmed it has “online learning materials and virtual classroom capability that can be used by schools where appropriate to support sustained curriculum delivery”.

But should Australian schools have to transition to online learning in the event of a shutdown, it’s may not mimic the experience of Beijing’s WAB.



Photo:

Should Australian schools have to transition to online learning in the event of a shutdown, it may not mimic the Beijing experience. (ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)

“The technical infrastructure in public schools just doesn’t exist,” says Dan Hogan, a public school teacher.

“You’d be lucky to find a public school in the country where each student in a class of 30 has a device like a tablet or a laptop. They always have to be shared between two, or three, or more.”

‘There are equity and access issues’

Australia has one of the largest resource gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged schools in the OECD, while research has found the gap between high and low socioeconomic high schools is widening.

Should schools be forced to pivot to an online curriculum, some fear this education divide could become more pronounced.

Here’s how 8,500 schools rank on the income ladder
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“There are many students, either because of the failure of infrastructure in their community or the socioeconomic status of individuals where they don’t have access to a computer or suitable device, who will be unable to get access to any virtual learning spaces,” says Kevin Bates, president of the Queensland Teachers Union.

“I’m also concerned that the sort of work we would be expecting people to pick up would involve a set of teaching materials that many teachers have never used.

“There are equity and access issues, and there are issues associated with the practicality of having 40,000 teachers familiarise themselves with the curriculum documents and effectively deliver a program for students in such a short timeframe.”

While teachers have always used technology as an “integrated part of their daily work”, the NSW Teachers Federation says, delivering an entire school curriculum on online platforms will not be able to occur overnight.

“That will require the department to provide additional resources in the areas of IT, in terms of accessibility of course across the state,” says senior vice-president Amber Flohm.

“But also in professional learning, that’s not something that could be rolled out across the state overnight.”

What can Australia learn from the overseas experience?

Jaima concedes the transition to online learning was aided by their “incredibly well-resourced” school, which had already purchased online learning platforms and software for teachers to use in classes prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

But being able to streamline those tools, and ensuring teachers were competent in them, was a learning curve in and of itself.



Photo:

Jaima says the school had already purchased online learning platforms and software for teachers to use in class. (Western Academy of Beijing)

“We’ve had teachers teaching teachers sessions, because some teachers are more IT savvy than others,” Angela says.

“Everyone has had to upskill in certain programs just to get them up and running. And that includes kids and parents as well.”

With no end in sight, Angela and Jaima are looking towards the year ahead.

There are senior exams to plan for, and other milestones they need to take into consideration, should their new classroom become a longer-term fixture.

So what can Australia learn from their experience?

“Look after each other, check in with your colleagues. It’s going to be difficult, but persevere and stick with it,” says Jaima.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of connecting with others. The isolation is really hard to deal with,” adds Angela.


Video: Biosecurity expert Raina MacIntyre assesses Australia's response to the coronavirus

(7.30)

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Senior Catholic Bishop voluntarily steps down amid sexual misconduct investigation


Broome 6725

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.

Key points:

  • 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.



Photo:

Bishop Christopher Saunders at a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome. (Supplied)

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.



Photo:

Pope John Paul II with Bishop Christopher Saunders at the Vatican in 1998. (Supplied)

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.



Photo:

Bishop Saunders (right) with Bishop of Geraldton Michael Morrissey, Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe and Bishop of Bunbury Gerry Holohan during a trip to Rome. (Supplied)

“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.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


First case of coronavirus in regional Australia shuts down two university campuses


Sydney 2000

Southern Cross University (SCU) has closed two of its campuses for the day following detection of the first coronavirus case in regional Australia.

Key points:

  • The Lismore and Gold Coast campuses are shut for the day
  • A staff member who attended workshops earlier this month has tested positive to coronavirus
  • The University is yet to decide when the campuses will re-open

The Lismore campus in northern NSW and Gold Coast campus in Queensland are in lockdown to stop any potential spread of the virus after a staff member tested positive.

The decision means an estimated 8,000 students will have to study at home but are not required to self-isolate.

A university employee from the Philippines attended a series of workshops at both campuses between March 2 and 6 before falling ill.

The male staff member returned a positive test for coronavirus on Tuesday but told the university his symptoms had subsided the previous day.



Photo:

The Southern Cross University campus at Coolangatta is closed today. (ABC News: Steve Keen)

“He is a strong young man and said that by Monday he felt fine,” SCU spokesman Dean Gould said.

“From what we know he is recovering well [but] we know we had a staff member on campus with this highly-contagious virus so it’s a duty of care really that we want to intervene straight away and break that potential cycle,”

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus continues its steady rise in NSW with the total reaching 65.

Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

SCU has identified and contacted 45 people who came into contact with the man but only 16 of those people had frequent contact.

The campuses will undergo thorough cleaning today.

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Acting director of the North Coast Public Health Unit Dr Jane Jeffs said anybody who had not been contacted had no reason to be concerned.

“Generally close contact is someone who has been face-to-face for 15 minutes or more,” she said.

She said the unit is awaiting further information from their counterparts in the Philippines to gain better insight into where the man visited.

Dr Tony Lembke who is a GP in Alstonville, near Lismore, lauded the university’s decision as prudent and sensible.

He said lockdowns should be the emphasis to stop the virus “cascading” through high-traffic institutions like universities.



Photo:

Jonathon Manitta arrived at the Lismore campus to find it was closed due to coronavirus. (ABC News: Bronwyn Herbert)

But engineering student Jonathon Manitta said it was “a little bit scary” arriving to a locked-down Lismore campus this morning.

“How many weeks ago was it just in China and now all of a sudden it’s at Southern Cross Uni in rural Lismore,” he said.

“It’s unsettling, it’s eye-opening but we do have systems in place to deal with it so hopefully they keep us safe.”

Marine science student Sarah Daynes was pleased the university was being cautious.

“I’m not really too worried, it’s up to them, whatever they think is right. They’ve got to take in the safety of the students and that’s what they’re doing,” she said.

Southern Cross University’s coronavirus taskforce made up of senior executives will meet today to discuss when the university should re-open.

“There could be some online delivery of our courses but there’s a whole lot of other stuff that happens outside of the classroom that’s also suspended at the moment”, Mr Gould said.

Anyone who is feeling unwell has been asked to self-isolate and seek medical attention.


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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Umpire abuse: Why do we do it?


Darwin 0800

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.

Key points:

  • 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.



Photo:

Arguments on the football pitch have been known to get particularly heated. (AAP: Rob Prezioso)

“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.

Stressed-out society

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.



Photo:

Daly Cherry-Evans remonstrates with referee Gerard Sutton after another player was sent to the sin bin. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

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.



Photo:

Charles Sturt University School of Communication and Creative Industries Associate Professor Peter Simmons. (Supplied: Charles Sturt University)

“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.”



Photo:

Associate Professor Robert Gill (to the right of screen, wearing black) says jovial Australians like to butt heads with authority. (Supplied: Robert Gill)

Colonial attitude

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.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Keeping feral cats in check could come down to the devil you know


Hobart 7000

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.

Key points:

  • 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.”



Photo:

A study has shown devils keep feral cat numbers at bay. (Supplied: Calum Cunningham)

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.



Photo:

More than 80 per cent of the devil population has been wiped out by a facial tumour disease. (Supplied: Rodrigo Hamede)

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.”



Photo:

Calum Cunningham has been studying the devil and its role as an apex predator. (Supplied)

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.



Photo:

It’s unclear how foxes and devils would interact. (Supplied: Office of Environment and Heritage)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


University of Queensland student is state’s 10th case of coronavirus


QLD

A 20-year-old University of Queensland student from China is the latest case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Queensland.

Key points:

  • The student, who is from China, travelled to Dubai for at least two weeks last month
  • His housemate, who is also a UQ student, is being tested as a precaution but is feeling well
  • The Department of Health says Queensland has now recorded 10 cases of COVID-19

A statement from the Department of Health said the man was in a stable condition and in isolation in the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

The man had travelled to Dubai for at least two weeks before entering Australia, via Brisbane, on February 23 and becoming unwell two days later.

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said authorities were looking into where the man may have contracted the disease.

“The male has recently returned to Brisbane and we are working closely with relevant authorities to undertake contact tracing,” Dr Young said.

“The male lived with one other housemate in Toowong.

What you need to know
Here’s a rundown of all the facts about coronavirus, and how you can make sure you’re protected.

“Our contact tracing methods are tried and trusted and we will take every opportunity to raise awareness of this case in the community if there has been any community exposure.”

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said the man became unwell a week ago but only presented to hospital two nights ago.

“Our understanding is that he has not attended campus at all and so that means the risk of person-to-person transmission is very low,” he said.

“He does however have a housemate who is currently being tested and we expect those results in late tonight.

“The public health unit is currently doing contact tracing with him [the patient] and they are very experienced in that work.”

In a statement, the University of Queensland said it was providing support to the student.

“We extend our best wishes for a speedy recovery,” the statement said.

“At this time, authorities do not believe that the student had visited any UQ campuses after arriving in Australia.

“We understand the student complied with the Federal Government’s travel requirements.

“A flatmate and fellow student is understood to be feeling well, and has been tested for the virus as a precaution.

“The university is in contact with Queensland Health and is working swiftly to assist with any measures necessary.

“All staff and students are advised to practice healthy hygiene habits in line with government advice, including frequent handwashing and staying home if unwell.”

In an email to staff, Metro North’s executive director of medical services Dr Elizabeth Rushbrook said the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital had admitted a patient with COVID-19, along with another person who had been in close contact with him.

“This is not a cause for alarm,” she said.

“As healthcare providers, we are trained to manage these situations and have the experience and knowledge to do it in a calm and professional manner.”

She also urged staff to continue to wash their hands and remember their “cough and sneeze etiquette”.

The Department of Health said Queensland had now recorded 10 cases of COVID-19, including the three people from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship.

The previous person diagnosed, a 63-year-old woman, remains in isolation in a stable condition at Gold Coast University Hospital.

The other eight patients have been cleared and discharged from hospital.

The Queensland Government urged anyone who had been overseas in the last 14 days and felt unwell to call 13HEALTH, or present to a GP or local hospital.

The ABC has full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Why this 11-year-old is getting injections to block puberty


Adelaide 5000

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.



Photo:

Olivia feels less anxious about body changes since starting puberty-blocking injections. (Four Corners)

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.”


Video: Mother Jane Russo explains the difficult decision to put her child Olivia on puberty-suppressing injections.

(Four Corners)

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.”



Infographic:
Olivia has a wide range of hobbies and toys.
(Four Corners)

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.



Photo:

Parents Justin Purdie and Jane Russo sit in a session with Olivia and adolescent psychiatrist Georgie Swift. (Four Corners)

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.



Photo:

Audrey Mason-Hyde also identifies as non-binary. (Four Corners)

“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.”



Photo:

Mother Jane Russo has been very supportive of treating Olivia’s gender dysphoria. (Four Corners )

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.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


McDonald’s announces single-use cutlery ban as big business meets at national waste summit


Canberra 2600

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.

Key points:

  • 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.



Photo:

Business, experts, government leaders and school children will work to find waste solutions at the National Plastics Summit. (ABC News: Mark Moore)

“[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.



Photo:

The Federal Government wants to help create interest in making recycling a profitable business opportunity. (Supplied: Britta Denise Hardesty)

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.”



Photo:

The Federal Government is expecting businesses to commit to reducing plastic or helping recycle materials. (ABC News: Jessica Hayes)

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news


Vinyl is now worth some serious money, but it’s nothing to do with the sound of music


Perth 6000

This year vinyl records are set to generate more revenue for the Australian music industry than CDs.

Key points:

  • The popularity of vinyl has increased as streaming becomes widespread
  • The trend is in-part being buoyed by people who enjoy collecting rare LPs
  • But a fierce debate remains about which medium delivers the best sound

It is a stunning rebound from 15 years ago when vinyl, which was once the biggest and most valuable music format, was banished to an audio graveyard full of cassettes and 8-tracks.

But in an era when virtually any song ever commercially released is available to anybody with a mobile phone, an age-old debate rages on among audiophiles.

Does music really sound better on vinyl?

“You’ve got to be delusional to think that vinyl sounds better,” ABC audio engineer Adrian Sardi said.

“If people knew what has to be done to the audio before it’s even cut onto a disc, let alone the stages that it then goes through to be pressed …”

Sardi would know — he has had a love affair with vinyl since his days DJing in sweaty nightclubs across Perth in the 1990s.

But perhaps of greater relevance, he is one of only a handful of people in Australia who own a short-run vinyl record cutting lathe, which he keeps locked inside a sleek home studio.



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Adrian Sardi owns one of the only short-run vinyl record cutting lathes in Australia. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

“Vinyl is a flawed and compromised medium and I do have to laugh when a lot of audiophiles will rave about vinyl and spend $20,000 on a turntable,” he said.

“If you want to talk purely analogue, tape sounds better than vinyl.

“You don’t have crackle, you don’t have surface noise, you don’t have issues with distorting higher frequencies.”

However, Sardi said the question of preference was entirely subjective.



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Mr Sardi uses software to compress audio files ahead of the music being pressed on a vinyl LP. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

“I like the medium — warts-and-all kind of thing,” he said.

“There are guys that will swear black and blue that records sound better. I think they sound different.

“It is not as clean and pure as digital. There’s something about vinyl … the sound, but also the feel.

“But when people say vinyl sounds better than a digital file — no, it really doesn’t.”

Who is buying records in 2020?

Sardi said the rise of the compact disc in the mid-1990s and its dominance of the market in the early 2000s made vinyl obsolete.

“It was almost on death’s door,” he said.



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DJs are credited with keeping vinyl alive while CDs dominated the mainstream music market. (Supplied: Unsplash/zaya odeesho)

“The only industry that was keeping vinyl alive at that point were the DJs because they were buying everything on records to mix them with their turntables.

“But now the DJs have gone fully digital and it’s kind of all the bands and the indie kids who are into records now.

“So, it’s kind of a weird full circle.”

The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) has predicted the revenue generated from vinyl sales would outstrip both CDs and digital downloads at some point this year.

“CDs are pretty much null and void as a medium now, virtually no one buys them,” Sardi said.



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The packaging of Kanye West’s popular 2013 album Yeezus was pegged as an ‘open casket’ tribute to the death of CDs. (Supplied: Philip Rechter)

“The cool thing about vinyl is … you listen to the music in a different way as opposed to sticking on a Spotify playlist because you physically have to get up and change the record.

“When you put on a playlist you’re kind of passively listening to it in the background — a lot of the time you’re driving, or walking, or at the gym.

“I think music in general has become this secondary thought for a lot of people.

“It’s not like back in the day when you’d sit in your lounge room and you’d put a record on and you’d have these fantastic hi-fi speakers.”

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Compare how a song sounds at different bitrates

Sardi said he believed the yearning for a physical product is sustaining the sale of vinyl, much in the way books are still popular even with the advent of e-readers.

“You’ve got the artwork — and the artwork looks amazing on a big 12-inch disc you know, it’s beautiful,” he said.

“You don’t get that with digital files, you just get a tiny little jpeg [image] on your phone.

“The liner notes … I used to read ‘who produced this? Who was the guest musician?’

“You don’t get any of that information anymore with digital files, at all.”

The ‘romance’ of a record

At 27, vinyl collector Matt Coniglio grew up in an era when CDs were king and online music piracy was at an all-time high.



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Matt Coniglio describes himself as a ‘crazy, vinyl enthusiast collector nerd.’ (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

He is part of a new generation of vinyl enthusiasts where the appeal is everything but the actual sound.

“For me, it’s the romance of owning a record,” Coniglio said.

“From playing it front to back and it touches a memory or an emotion, because you might play a certain record with a certain person.

“You have all these different connections so it just makes the music more than what it is, because you’ve got this physical connection with it.”

He began collecting vinyl before he even had a record player.

“It’s a way of supporting an artist, but also you’re a teenager, you want to put that up in your room, it just looks cool,” he said.



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Modern vinyl records are being increasingly pressed with coloured, marbled and picture prints. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

For Coniglio, the greatest appeal was the thrill of hunting and collecting rare records.

“It becomes an experience, record shopping,” he said.

“I would find a record that I’d have no idea what it was. I’d just like to play a guessing game — you might win, you might not.

“I found a couple of my favourite artists through doing that. It was a lucky dip.”



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Matt Coniglio says there is a certain romance to collecting vinyl. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

The hunt then turned into a lucrative obsession.

“That’s when I started subscribing and following all of my favourite artists on their social media platforms, and making sure I would have notifications set to my account so when a small or rare, limited release of like 500 or so copies dropped, I would get an instant notification,” Coniglio said.

“I could instantly buy these records — some of them sell out within minutes so it was like, woah, I’m obsessed, I need this record.

“It’s honestly just crazy what people could spend on a record — I think the most I’ve spent was under $200.”



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The revenue generated by vinyl sales in Australia is set to bypass CDs in 2020. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

He then began selling his collection to other hungry vinyl hunters.

“The most expensive I’ve sold a record for was around $650,” he said.

“There are people out there who will drop thousands of dollars on a single record and that’s something to be cashed in on.

“There’s a market for everything.”

Vinyl here to stay

The so-called “vinyl revival” has become so big in Australia, ARIA launched a chart in 2018 specifically to track vinyl sales.

The top-selling record last year was Queen’s Greatest Hits compilation, an album originally released in 1981.

Legacy artists such as The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John were also best-sellers, alongside releases from contemporaries like Billie Eilish and Tame Impala.



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A close-up of the grooves on a copy of John Farnham’s Whispering Jack. The louder the track, the wider the grooves are. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

Sardi said he only saw demand for the medium increasing as music consumers became more entrenched in the digital world.

“I think there’s a lot of people who buy them, put them on the shelf and just listen to the digital file,” he said.

“I think they like also supporting the artists.

“I think where vinyl has increased is the more indie and underground sort of stuff … but at the same time you’re getting Katy Perry on vinyl.

“I like the fact that this is something that’s staying alive, something that I grew up with.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news