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.
- 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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Passed on through the generations, could Indigenous cultural burning save Australia’s landscape from another catastrophic bushfire season?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Producer: Ben Cheshire
Feature writer: Susan Chenery
Photography: Ben Cheshire, Greg Nelson, supplied, AAP: Dean Lewins
Digital producer: Megan Mackander
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Mortgage stress tipped to rise due to coronavirus
As job losses continue to rise because of shutdowns, the number of Australians struggling to repay their mortgages is expected to lift to higher levels than seen during the global financial crisis.
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”.
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.
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.”
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.”
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“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.”
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.
Sharp rise in unemployment could trigger house price crash
The spread of coronavirus across Australia could see unemployment reach about 10 per cent and house prices drop 20 per cent, says one economist.
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”.
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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.”
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The Australian share market has closed lower after a volatile session, with the major bank stocks leading the falls
- 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”.
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.
RBA slashes interest rates to 0.25pc
The Reserve Bank cuts interest rates to a record low and announces a quantitative easing program for the first time in its history to help prevent a coronavirus-driven recession.
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.
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.
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.
Sharp rise in unemployment could trigger house price crash
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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
Coronavirus can only be controlled if 8 out of 10 Australians stay home
The success or failure of Australia’s coronavirus fight relies to a remarkable degree on just one thing, new modelling has found.
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.”
The State Government will block anybody from disembarking cruise ships in New South Wales until new border protections are in place.
- NSW strengthened its rules for cruise ships after being criticised over Ruby Princess passengers disembarking in Sydney
- The Federal Government last week restricted all cruise ships from entering Australia
- About a dozen cruise ships waiting to dock are now in limbo
The move will leave thousands of people who have been trying to get back to port stranded.
The Federal Government last week restricted all cruise ships from entering Australia for 30 days.
The ABC understands there are close to a dozen cruise ships wanting to dock because they were at sea when the restriction was put in place.
But they are now in limbo.
“No-one will be allowed to leave any of these cruise ships until we have settled on the agreed new measures,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
The State and Federal Government are working on new guidelines, but what they will include and when they will be decided upon is unclear.
“Today I have personally spoken to the Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram and Minister Peter Dutton and we agree we stand shoulder to shoulder on protecting our citizens,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The move came after a war of words broke out between federal and state authorities over who was to blame for allowing 2,700 passengers to disembark from the Ruby Princess cruise ship last week.
More than 130 passengers from the vessel have tested positive for coronavirus, including a 77-year-old woman who died earlier this week.
When the ship docked in Sydney 13 people were suffering from respiratory problems and were tested, but passengers were allowed to leave before the results came back.
Earlier on Wednesday Ms Berejiklian said “all of us have to take responsibility” for the Ruby Princess being allowed to dock.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) said it was NSW Health that allowed the passengers to disembark.
“The Department of Agriculture officials advised my officers that New South Wales Health had conducted a risk assessment, had rated the risk as low and that health officials would not be attending the vessel,” Mr Outram said.
“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”
But NSW Health has defended itself, saying it followed national protocols and even exceeded them.
The state has already strengthened its rules for cruise ships after being criticised for its handling of the Ruby Princess.
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If there is any suspicion of coronavirus, tests must be carried out and results returned before passengers can disembark.
A report will be released in the coming days on the decisions the Berejiklian Government made about the Ruby Princess.
A Queensland mum has pleaded with the public to stop panic-buying medication, after she was unable to buy her son life-saving drugs that prevent his “lungs shutting off”.
- Pharmacy staff told a mother they had been abused attempting to stop a man without asthma purchasing puffers and planning to store them
- New regulations combat bulk-buying behaviour, limiting the purchase of prescription medications and critical over-the-counter drugs to a month’s supply
- The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia says warehouses have reassured them there is enough of these medicines
Sunshine Coast woman Natalie Benson said she tried to source Ventolin from four chemists for her three-year-old asthmatic son Oliver, after he fell sick earlier this week, but coronavirus panic buyers had left pharmacy shelves empty.
On Thursday, the Federal Government enforced new regulations to combat bulk-buying behaviour, limiting the purchase of prescription medications and critical over-the-counter drugs to a month’s supply.
Ms Benson said it was disappointing the Government had to step in, and that people were choosing to put others’ lives at risk.
“My son is sick at the moment, and as soon as the asthma comes into that he cannot breathe. It can be very dangerous for him, his lungs can shut off,” Ms Benson said.
“If he doesn’t have that Ventolin on hand, then it’s a trip to the hospital where he can get it.
“He’s up having to spend a night or two there trying to get his oxygen levels back up.”
Staff copping abuse
According to Ms Benson, staff at a local pharmacy said they had been abused after attempting to stop a man from purchasing four puffers upon learning he didn’t have asthma and planned to store them.
“It’s so disappointing people are doing that, I can usually go to any chemist and there’s always a supply,” she said.
“If you don’t have asthma or need it then don’t go stockpiling it, as people like my son really need it.
“It doesn’t actually help people who don’t have asthma, so it’s a waste and then the people who need it end up in hospital taking up an oxygen mask instead.”
Customers buying ‘many months’ worth of medicine
According to Australia’s peak pharmacy body, pharmacists across the country were reporting panic buying along with “physical and verbal abuse” toward staff who try to intervene.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Chris Freeman said the behaviour was “worrying” and widespread.
“We had many pharmacists contact us describing people coming in and purchasing many months’ worth supply of life-saving medicines like Ventolin,” Mr Freeman said.
“People have then been physically or verbally abusing pharmacists trying to get these medicines.
“Then we’ve had pharmacies unable to stock them, which is critical for people to access.
“Medicines aren’t things like toilet paper, people can actually die without them.”
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‘We have supply’
Mr Freeman said he hoped the new restrictions on purchases would help mitigate the problem.
“Warehouses have reassured us multiple times that there is enough of these medicines out there, we have supply. It’s just about getting them into the pharmacies quick enough,” he said.
“Wholesalers have had increases in the range of 50 to 60 per cent above their normal ordering amount, and they’re delivering more but it’s difficult with such high demand coming in.
“With these new measures to curb bulk buying we’re hoping to get stock into pharmacies quicker, so people who genuinely need these medicines can access them at any point in time.
“But to do that we need people to reduce the amount they’ve been buying over the past two to four weeks.”
Panic buyers could cause drug outages
Pharmacy Guild of Queensland president Trent Twomes said panic buyers choosing to over-purchase for fear of stock running out would be the only reason an outage ever occurred.
“As we’ve said, all critical medications are in stock, we’re just experiencing delays in the supply chain due to a spike in demand,” he said.
“So we have drug shortages, that is a fact, but those shortages are solely being caused by panic buying.
“We don’t want shortages to turn into outages.
“What we need is for Australians to realise we have the strongest Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the world and by going out and panicking, like they’ve done with toilet paper and other issues, it is actually going to be the thing that will cause problems down the track, not a lack of supply in Australia.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
- Coronavirus pandemic could see house prices plummet by 20 per cent, economists warn
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There’s new official lingo about tackling COVID-19’s economic challenge. A “bridge” is being built to take us to the other side of the crisis.
Meanwhile, the government is preparing a “cushion” for businesses and individuals who are already or soon will be its casualties.
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe came up with the bridge metaphor, Scott Morrison loves it and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is using it.
The Reserve Bank on Thursday unveiled its bridge-building package. It cut the cash rate again, to 0.25 per cent. It will also put a staggering $90 billion into the banking system, with the government injecting another $15 billion, to encourage low interest lending targeted at small and medium sized businesses.
But the bridge requires constructing a foundation of confidence, at a time when many businesses and consumers feel only fear.
In present circumstances, normal economic incentives have a much lesser effect. The market signals don’t work properly. If small businesses have their customers disappear and don’t expect them back any time soon, owners won’t be too interested in cheap loans.
The nation self-isolates
Morrison has stressed Australia is not in shut down. Not officially. But out of a combination of alarm, caution and government measures to contain the virus’s spread, many activities have shut down and more do so every day.
Less than 90 minutes after the Reserve Bank produced its measures, Morrison announced the government was closing Australia’s border to foreigners, which will take effect late Friday.
As a health measure, this is sound, given the spread of the virus overseas and the extent to which arrivals have driven its early stage in Australia.
But it will be yet another brake on the economy, even though foreign arrivals have already fallen drastically.
Two days earlier, Australians were told not to leave the country. Australia is in national self-isolation. And unlike for individuals, there is no set end point.
Qantas has stopped international flights and stood down 20,000 staff. It is hoping flexible leave arrangements will preserve jobs, but for how long?
A measure of the strange times is that Qantas is talking to Woolworths about some of its employees working there. The hoarding frenzy has become a job creator.
During this week, Morrison seemed on top of his messaging and the pioneering “national cabinet” of federal and state leaders was showing there is such a thing as “co-operative federalism” (albeit it has taken a national emergency to put it on display).
But federal and state governments and the community are a long way from having any certainty what measures — health or economic — might eventually be needed.
In circumstances unprecedented in living memory, difficult judgements are being made day by day that juggle health, the economy, and public sensibilities.
Devising rules for nursing homes pitted health against the humane. COVID-19 is lethal for the frail aged. But this week the government decided visits to these facilities should be restricted rather than stopped.
It was a trade off. A ban would have been safer in medical terms, but for residents a devastating isolation from family.
A ban could have carried another danger. Families are often watchdogs on how people in these institutions are being treated. Even after the royal commission’s indictment, constant eyes are needed.
The balance struck was sensible and has been generally accepted as such.
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The school question
In contrast, the debate about schools has been fraught and is unfinished in the public mind. The government advanced several reasons for not closing them (at this stage). Few children are affected by the virus. If kids were not at school, many would be minded by grandparents in the most at-risk age group.
And shutting schools could mean a 30 per cent hit on the health workforce.
The last is crucial in the government’s thinking. The health system will be under enormous pressure in the next few months, with no guarantees about how well it will cope, despite the reassuring words.
Rejecting the arguments of health officials and governments, certain schools have closed and some parents are removing their children from others.
If the schools are eventually closed under public pressure, it could be devastating for many students in their final year.
Anger and bad behaviour
Clearly, the bad behaviour the crisis has triggered has not abated — the out-of-control supermarket scenes, and the abuse of shop staff, health workers at some testing places, and even teachers.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly went to the length of highlighting the last by referencing the experience of his sister, a teacher.
Country town residents are angry at their shop shelves being stripped by non-locals.
On Thursday, restrictions were announced for the dispensing and sale of drugs by pharmacies.
Is the binge buying just panic? There is a great deal of that, with people unreceptive to the indisputable point there would be plenty of supplies if everyone behaved normally.
Morrison had a strong message for the hoarders: “Stop it”.
But anecdotal evidence also suggests some of the “hoarding” may be for other reasons.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (who is still quarantined with COVID-19) claims some people are “profiteering”; he declared the police are in pursuit of them.
“They’re hoarding, not for their own consumption — I think they’re either sending some of the products overseas or they’re selling it in a black market arrangement in Australia,” Dutton told 2GB.
Are we ahead of the curve?
The government maintains that on the health front it is keeping ahead of the curve, although critics says it has been tardy and should even now be doing more.
On the economic front, however, it knew it was behind the curve immediately after announcing last week’s $17.6 billion stimulus measures.
Now it is finishing its second package, which could dwarf the initial one; the combined measures will be legislated by the “mini” Parliament early next week.
Last week the imperative was to keep growth going to try to avoid a recession; now the goal is being cast differently.
“What this second package will be designed to do is to cushion the blow for Australians, particularly those who have lost their jobs, but also for those small businesses who are facing this very, very difficult moment,” Frydenberg told the ABC on Thursday night.
Earlier, after the bank announced its measures, Lowe said in his speech, “At some point, the virus will be contained and our economy and our financial markets will recover”.
At what point and at what cost? That bridge could need to have a very long span.
Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
- Coronavirus is changing how we work. Online scammers are taking advantage
- Scott Morrison’s coronavirus stimulus package shows he has finally learnt to love deficits
The Federal Government’s second COVID-19 economic rescue package will focus on supporting businesses and households that are likely to take a hit to their income in the coming months.
This is the right economic response. Doing it well will not come cheaply or without controversy. But as with the public health response, speed and scale must trump perfection.
Two policies should form the centrepiece of Stimulus Two: wage and rental relief for businesses and cash for affected workers.
For business, the biggest challenge will be keeping the lights on during a prolonged but ultimately temporary collapse in revenue.
“Social consumption” businesses will be on the economic frontline: airlines, accommodation and food services, tourism, retail services and arts and recreation will all take a significant hit to their cashflows. And many other businesses that provide supplies to these sectors will also be hit hard.
The first stimulus package provided some cashflow relief.
The $25,000 income tax write-off for businesses with turnover of less than $50 million is effectively a cash bonus for all small and medium businesses with staff.
The Government has also offered deferral of GST, income and other tax payments for four months on a case-by-case basis, in effect an interest-free loan. These will help, but more will be needed.
What should be on the stimulus hitlist?
The biggest costs for most businesses on the frontline are rents and wages. A well-designed assistance package would give businesses some breathing space on both.
State governments should enforce a rental holiday or discount for businesses during the worst-affected months, effectively asking landlords to share the pain.
Some landlords are already offering these types of rental discounts. They’ve realised keeping their existing tenants afloat is better than an empty shop.
But we can’t rely on the market getting to the right answer quickly enough: landlords in denial could force small businesses to the wall.
The consequences of a short-term haircut for landlords aren’t insignificant, but they are a lot smaller than the economic hit from losing a swathe of restaurants, retailers, gyms and hairdressers.
Rental discounts are a matter for the states, but the policy will work best if it is coordinated nationally. The national ‘war cabinet’ arrangements give us an opportunity for federalism at its best.
Many firms will be struggling with wage bills in the coming months. The policy response should focus on supporting businesses that would otherwise retrench staff to put them on leave without pay, a better result for both business and workers. But this can only happen if workers have access to government income support.
Stimulus Two should provide this support. Ideally this would mean offering short-term assistance to any worker who is sick or does not have paid work or leave during the crisis. This will be a large group.
More than one third, about 37 per cent, of Australian workers do not have paid leave entitlements, including 2.4 million casual employees and 2.2 million people who are self-employed.
Many more will exhaust their leave entitlements. And the lowest paid will be hit hardest: half of Australians who earn less than $800 a week do not have paid leave entitlements. And many workers with leave entitlements but in the employ of severely affected industries could otherwise see their employers go bust before they’re able to claim them.
‘Claim now, ask questions later’
We could support these groups via the welfare system, offering broad-based “claim now, ask questions later” access to Newstart-level insurance payments for anyone not working.
But there are legitimate concerns about Centrelink’s capacity to get this rolled out quickly and to cope with the volume of demand in a period when their own workforce will be under pressure.
The US experience is telling: in Massachusetts, more people filed for unemployment benefits on Monday than in the entire month of February.
Rate cuts can’t cure COVID-19
Reserve Bank interest rate cuts will do little to keep Australia out of a deep recession if coronavirus becomes a severe pandemic, but there are some unconventional policies that could help save the economy.
A less targeted (and therefore more expensive) but far easier and faster approach would be to give means-tested cash payments to all working households during the worst months of the crisis.
For example, the Government could give payments at the Newstart rate of $1,200 a month to all employees with incomes less than a threshold of, say, $100,000 last financial year, covering nearly 10 million workers.
This would cost about $12 billion a month, or 7 per cent of Australia’s monthly GDP. But it would be the best way to ensure that working households get timely support to manage the hit to their income.
Fast-tracking early access to superannuation or offering HECS-style loans to workers could help ‘top up’ the safety net for those who need extra cash to stay afloat.
These policies are bold, but they need to be.
The Government has shown it will take the necessary steps to manage an unprecedented health crisis. Let’s hope it is willing to do the same for the unfolding economic one.
Danielle Wood is Budget Policy Program Director and Brendan Coates is Household Finances Program Director at the Grattan Institute.
A Sydney cafe owner says he has been forced to fire four employees in the past week as small businesses across Australia stare down the threat of a coronavirus-induced recession.
- Business at Malik Houchar’s cafe has dropped by about 60 to 70 per cent
- Mr Houchar has been left “disgusted” by his landlord
- Coronavirus means some businesses “won’t make it”
Malik Houchar runs Samira’s Lebanese Kitchen in Parramatta and said sales had plummeted by about 70 per cent over the past week.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
“These people I’m letting go, they’re my mates, they’re not just workers … and they have rent to pay and families to look after.”
On a busy day, Mr Houchar would normally have seven staff rostered on, now he has one.
“That’s how much it’s dropped, it’s devastating.”
Economists are forecasting a recession in Australia this year and say businesses face solvency problems.
But Mr Houchar holds no bitterness towards his customers for staying away.
“People are just genuinely scared for their lives, for some people, this is life or death,” he said.
However, the cafe owner said some of the burden should be shared by landlords, who could reduce or suspend rents.
Mr Houchar said his own negotiations to do that had not been successful yet.
“Everyone is going to be affected, we have got to think about who’s going to be affected the least,” he said.
“The big guys should be taking some hits, not the workers who work for $17 or $18 an hour.”
NSW Business Chamber spokesperson Damian Kelly said landlords should be as “sympathetic as humanly possible”.
“We are absolutely encouraging tenants to have those conversations during this crisis,” he said.
Mr Kelly acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic would be the final blow to some small businesses who had already suffered extensively through bushfires and drought.
“Some businesses won’t make it,” he said.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
- Should I keep my children home from school due to coronavirus?
- A recession is probably around the corner, and it’s not all thanks to 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.
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:
- What does self-isolation mean and how does it work?
- Can I get a refund on my holiday?
- Why are schools still open in Australia?
Notes about this story
- Population figures sourced from ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019
Dates refer to the date the case was reported by authorities, except in these instances:
– The 5th, 6th and 7th confirmed cases in Victoria have been assigned to the date they were first cited in official press releases. These cases were first announced on March 1, as having recovered from the virus.
– Dates for the 7th and 8th confirmed cases in Queensland (Diamond Princess cruise ship evacuees) are based on ABC News reports. The 9th confirmed Queensland case, another Diamond Princess evacuee, was first announced in a press release on March 3.
Wagga Wagga 2650
People living with profound disabilities are being forced to change on the floor of public toilets, as a funding skirmish between the New South Wales Government and local councils rages.
- People with profound disabilities need adult change facilities with a hoist and adjustable table
- These facilities are scarce at rest stops on regional roads
- State and local governments are at odds over who should fund their installation
A critical shortage of adult change facilities, including hoists and adjustable tables, on regional roads has seen a push from politicians and the public to improve the standard of rest stops across the state.
Getting changed is often taken for granted, but for Oscar Cruz it’s a daily struggle. The 24-year-old has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
He has endured the undignifying ordeal of changing on the seat of public toilets when travelling to and from his hometown of Wagga Wagga in the state’s south-west.
“There’s a strong chance of falling out of the toilet seat, slipping off it, and if I slip off too far and can’t push myself back up, someone else has to help me do that,” Mr Cruz said.
Adult change facilities in regional NSW are scarce, with only Denman, Gundagai, Muswellbrook, Orange, Wagga Wagga and Deniliquin installing them in town centres.
It leaves people like Mr Cruz and his carer to navigate hundreds of kilometres on highways linking rural towns without adequate facilities.
‘Not an economic issue’
Annette Pham, a longtime advocate for more adult change facilities, successfully lobbied last year for them be included in the National Construction Code.
Ms Pham also cares for her 18-year-old son, Liam, who has cerebral palsy.
“This is not an economic issue, this is a human rights issue. It cannot be based on cost-benefit analysis. It is a need that people have, and that need is not quantifiable in an economic way.”
The funding war
Between 2015 and 2017, the NSW Government allocated $280,000 to councils to help fund 10 adult change facilities across the state.
Quotes provided to the ABC by local councils put the cost of one facility at between $186,000 and $248,000.
Wagga councillor Dan Hayes argued that because rest stops were managed by Transport for NSW, adult change facilities on regional highways should be funded by the Government.
“We’ve been building these within our town centres. As we see in Gundagai, a perfect example of when their council installed it, they installed it in the centre of their town,” he said.
“They’re not there to provide services for people passing by on a highway; that is for the State Government to provide those.”
Plan being reviewed
In 2017, a truck stop near Wollongong was upgraded at a cost of $8.2 million, funded by the State and Federal Governments. It has no adult change facilities.
NSW Minister for Disability Services Gareth Ward declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement that the Government “encourages councils to plan for and improve disability access in line with their disability inclusion action plans (DIAPs)”.
Under the Disability Inclusion Act, all councils in New South Wales are required to have a DIAP, which the Government said supported its “commitment to remove systemic and attitudinal barriers”.
The Act is under review.
It lacks several critical functions, according to Serena Ovens, who is on the Government’s Disability Inclusion Plan Implementation Committee.
Ms Ovens said she hoped the review would address funding shortfalls to help local councils “actually make the infrastructure changes that are needed to include people”.
Transport officials are considering a trial of the facilities on key routes.
The ‘unconscionable’ state of Australia’s train stations
For the 1.6 million Australians with a disability who use public transport, the nation’s train network is often a source of frustration and grief.
Mr Cruz, meanwhile, urged a bipartisan approach.
“It all boils down to the political climate in Australia at the moment, where we’re not planning for the future more diligently,” he said.
“We’re not planning for the next 50 years, we’re planning for the next five years, which, in a country like Australia, would seem a bit strange because we’re a modern, progressive country and we should be thinking ahead very, very easily.
“It shouldn’t be this hard.”
‘It gives people and carers their lives back’
Without a hoist and adjustable table, carers and family members are left to attempt the fraught task of lifting their loved ones.
“If I’m travelling with a family member, such as my mother, who is quite a small lady, she can’t pick me up or do anything,” Mr Cruz said.
Ms Pham routinely has to lift her son, who weighs 50 kilograms; she was recently diagnosed with a herniated disc in her back, which required surgery.
The social cost of the lack of facilities was high, she said.
“It’s really difficult for carers to have a full and meaningful day, to participate in activities as anybody else does, without having access to these adult change facilities.”
Freedom to travel
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 4.3 million people live with a disability. Of those, 32 per cent (1.38 million) have a severe or profound disability.
The prevalence of disability increases with age, with one in every two people over 65 living with a disability.
Ms Pham said she wanted investment in accessible infrastructure to address the growing reliance on change facilities.
“People have to realise that all of us are getting older, and as we live longer and we age more, we get more disabilities,” she said.
“All of us one day will have a disability, whatever it is; if we don’t start to build for our society now, we are all going to suffer from social isolation, lack of community participation.”
For Mr Cruz, he said he hoped to one day be able to enjoy a road trip with dignity.
“It would be great to encourage more people with disabilities to go out there and just live the life they can at the time, and make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable, and being able to just go and do the stuff you enjoy,” he said.
“It’s one of the most important things about being a person.”
Michelle* looked out of a window, across a sweltering street in Darwin’s central business district, while she recounted her “greatest secret.”
- Sexual abuse survivors in the NT are not allowed to speak to the media
- Journalists face up to six months’ jail and hefty fines for naming survivors — even with written consent
- Proposed changes to NT legislation will allow sexual assault survivors to speak to the media under certain conditions
A woman who is at the top of her field in the public service and played a senior role in Australian embassies around the world, was vulnerable.
She said her abuse started when she was 11 years old.
“I was just a child. We were in a small class. I was 11. I loved school, but then it came to be a place I dreaded to go.”
She was born in the Northern Territory and pursued a career in the public service in Canberra after graduating from university.
The ABC cannot reveal her identity, even with her consent.
Unlike other Australian jurisdictions, “gag laws” in the Northern Territory prevent sexual assault victims from using their real name or showing their face when speaking to the media.
Journalists face up to six months’ jail and hefty fines for naming them — even with written consent.
In a bid to change that, the NT Government tabled a bill late last year to allow victims to share their stories — and while it needs to be debated in Parliament before being passed — advocates have slammed the draft legislation.
Despite years of campaigning for change, Nina Funnell, creator of the #LetHerSpeak campaign, said she had “major, serious concerns” over the bill.
“I’d say it has been reactionary it has been rushed through because of the pending election and in its current form, it still suffers several weaknesses,” she said.
“It would be a major victory for paedophiles and rapists if it’s passed in its current form as it continues to silence victims for protracted periods of time.
“It produces a double standard where perpetrators can talk to media from the get-go [after being committed to stand trial] and control the narrative but their victims need to wait till all avenues of appeal are exhausted.”
But the NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles defended the changes, and said the bill was going “through the same process all legislation does”.
‘He said he saw something special in me’
Michelle went to a Catholic educational institution. She said she excelled at mathematics and was a diligent student. That changed, she said, when a teacher at the school told her she needed to go to an after-hours “prayer session”.
“He started by picking me out from the classroom one day. He said he saw something special in me, and that I needed to go to these prayer sessions with other students. But only some special ones could go,” she said.
“It was the late 1960s and a time when people just trusted teachers and priests.
“There was nothing inside me that told me this was unusual or wrong.”
But Michelle said she quickly realised that something was terribly wrong.
“It started with him asking for us to strip. We were confused, I remember thinking as a 10-year-old girl, what has this got to do with prayer?”
“Then it changed to more hand-on abuse. And progressed to penetration.”
The teacher died in the early 2000s.
Jessica* was also present in those after-hours “prayer sessions”. She said “pairs of girls” would be brought to an alcove space in the school after-hours and “touched up”.
“It was messed up. I remember my heart was beating so quickly when he put his hands on me, on my chest. I felt so disgusted,” she recalled.
A downward spiral
Jessica, a self-confessed drug addict living in the suburban outskirts of Darwin, said she had struggled with depression and anxiety since her teens and blamed that moment in 1970 when she was called into a “prayer session” as “stuffing my life up”.
“I lost all faith, all trust, and still struggle with a sense of hopelessness,” she said.
“I am not proud of some of the decisions I have made but feel that in some ways I didn’t stand a chance after what happened because I was in pain.”
Neither Jessica nor Michelle’s matters were heard before the royal commission or received any out of court settlements.
While Michelle was overseas at the time at the time of the royal commission, both friends said they were also reluctant to go through the process of testifying — fearful of how painful and drawn out it would be.
Sexual assault support services:
- 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
- Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Ruby Gaea (NT): 08 8945 0155
But they said they still wanted to share their personal stories of alleged abuse to encourage others to “tell someone”.
And they said any decisions about identifying themselves in that process should be up to them.
“It is a weight off you, as corny as that might sound,” Michelle said.
“It’s as if there is this black hole in my life, this part of me that I can’t confront. But by sharing the evil, it takes on less of a spectre.
“But I feel it is wrong that NT laws haven’t caught up with the rest of Australia.
“The decision to come forward and publicly share our stories isn’t an easy one, but it should be ours to make.”
A push for new laws
On November 28 last year, the NT Government tabled a bill to amend the existing Sexual Offences (Evidence and Procedure) Act 1983.
The bill is being examined by a parliamentary scrutiny committee but if approved in its current form, the changes mean adult sexual assault survivors in the Northern Territory will be able to speak to the media and show their identity as long as they provide prior written consent, have no mental impairments and do not identify other victims who want to stay anonymous.
The proposed bill will also allow the media to identify people who say they are victims, including Michelle and Jessica, where no charges have been laid.
In October last year, Tasmania’s Attorney-General Elise Archer committed to amending section that state’s Evidence Act, a similar piece of legislation which also barred Tasmanian survivors from talking to the media.
Tasmania is expected to change its law early this year, which means until the Northern Territory follows suit, it will be the only jurisdiction in Australia which does not allow survivors to self-identify.
But the NT Government’s draft legislation has been heavily criticised by Ms Funnell.
“The reforms they are proposing only go halfway,” she said.
As it currently stands, the draft bill only allows survivors to speak to the media after all avenues of appeal had been exhausted by the offender, a process which could take years.
“There’s absolutely no legal reason for that,” Ms Funnell said.
“The onus should be on the defendant to apply for a suppression order if they think there is a particular reason why a victim should not be able to speak out.
“There are already appropriate safeguards in place to protect trials and to protect the interests and rights of defendants.”
“We are robbing survivors of the basic dignity of being able to use their name and we are robbing them of the right to stand on the steps of a courthouse on the day of the conviction and tell the world that they won.”
Ms Funnell said allowing survivors the right to be named gave them back power and control and could also inspire other survivors to come forward.
Fyles defends draft bill
Ms Fyles was asked why the proposed bill banned survivors from speaking until the entire appeals process was finalised.
“This timing is proposed to ensure a fair trial for the defendant and that there is no prejudice,” she said.
She defended the changes in the bill.
“Off the back of the #LetHerSpeak campaign which encourages victims of sexual offences tell their stories, the Territory Labor Government acknowledges that there may be victims who want to tell their stories and therefore waive the prohibition on publication,” she said.
“Some victims of sexual assault want privacy and anonymity, and this Government respects that too.
“These amendments will allow those who want to share their stories the opportunity to do so without legal parameters preventing them.”
In NT, a person charged with sexual offences cannot be named until they are committed to stand trial.
Ms Funnell said she was disappointed the NT Government did not attempt to change this section of the law, by allowing the media to name a person from the point they were charged — as was in the case in most Australian jurisdictions.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed he has coronavirus.
- Peter Dutton tested positive after waking up with a temperature and sore throat
- He will remain in hospital where he will be treated for the virus
- The Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers will not go into self-isolation
The Federal Government frontbencher said he felt fine but woke up with a temperature and sore throat.
“I immediately contacted the Queensland Department of Health and was subsequently tested for COVID-19,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.
“I was advised by Queensland Health this afternoon that the test had returned positive.
“It is the policy of Queensland Health that anyone who tests positive is to be admitted into hospital and I have complied with their advice.
“I feel fine and will provide an update in due course.”
Mr Dutton was in Sydney for a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and returned to Brisbane on a commercial flight on the same day.
“In advice provided to the Prime Minister this evening, the deputy chief medical officer has reiterated that only people who had close contact with the Minister in the preceding 24 hours before he became symptomatic need to self-isolate,” a spokesperson for Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“That does not include the Prime Minister or any other members of the Cabinet.”
Mr Morrison will not be tested for COVID-19, based on medical advice.
Mr Dutton participated in Cabinet’s national security committee meeting on Thursday, during which the Government decided to extend its China, Italy, Iran and South Korean travel bans, via phone.
The US deputy press secretary, Judd Deere, released a statement saying the White House was aware Mr Dutton had tested positive for COVID-19.
Mr Dutton had been in the US last week, where he met with Ivanka Trump, Attorney-General William Barr and officials from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance on March 6, according to a Twitter post from Australia’s embassy in the United States.
“He was asymptomatic during the interaction,” the statement said.
“Exposures from the case were assessed and the White House Medical Unit confirmed, in accordance with CDC guidance, that Ivanka is exhibiting no symptoms and does not need to self-quarantine.
“She worked from home today out of an abundance of caution until guidance was given.”
When someone contracts COVID-19, health officials alert people who have been in contact with them.
They are then expected to self-isolate at home and monitor their health for 14 days after the contact with the infected person.
“Following confirmation the Minister for Home Affairs has tested positive for coronavirus, he has been isolated according to the policies of Queensland Health,” the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said.
“Queensland Health will undertake the appropriate contact tracing.”
Earlier on Friday, Mr Morrison met with state and territory leaders to assess Australia’s response to the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Dutton missed his usual Friday morning appearance on commercial TV, at the time being described as having a “stomach bug”.
On Monday, he opened a new Moreton Bay campus for the University of the Sunshine Coast, alongside Education Minister Dan Tehan and former defence chief Angus Houston.
Mr Dutton met with United States Attorney-General William Barr and US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka while in Washington DC last week.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone into 14-day isolation after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for coronavirus.
Nepal says it will ban foreigners from climbing Mount Everest this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The peak climbing season is from March to May and attracts a large number of Australians
- Nepal makes more than $5 million a year just from the permit fees it charges climbers each year
- Clearing Everest of climbers may allow local authorities to clean up the rubbish and place new ropes on the routes
The move will devastate the nation’s economy and stop thousands of Australian adventurers from visiting the tourist hotspot.
Nepal has also halted its popular visa-on-arrival scheme, which will make it almost impossible for Australians to visit the country.
More than 30,000 Australians travel to Nepal each year, with the spring climbing season beginning in March and peaking in April and May.
Nepal relies heavily on tourism revenue, with hotels, airlines and the huge mountain-guiding community all set to suffer losses from the decision.
Australian high-altitude mountaineer Andrew Lock has travelled to Nepal most years and said closing Everest for a season would have a devastating effect on the mountaineering business in the country.
“That’s going to be totally cruelled and a lot of money will be lost to the country,” Mr Lock said.
The impoverished nation makes more than $5 million just from the permit fees it charges foreigners to climb Mount Everest.
Millions more tourist dollars are poured into restaurants, hotels, remote villages and go to local porters and trekking companies.
Mr Lock says villages near the mountains will be hit hard.
“Virtually the entire economy is based on mountain tourism,” he said.
“They employ locals as porters, then as you get into the upper regions where Sherpas are sourced, those Sherpas will miss out on that employment so it will be a massive hit.”
A single trekking season allows many villagers to earn more than they would in a whole year’s subsistence farming.
Tourism brings more than $1 billion into the Nepalese economy each year.
The last tourism downturn of this scale was caused by the 2015 earthquake, which killed 9,000 people including 21 climbers at Everest Base Camp.
Nepalese authorities said the ban on visa-on-arrival for tourists would last until the end of April and extend to all nationalities.
Until the ban is lifted, Australians wanting to travel to Nepal but not climb Everest will have to visit a Nepalese embassy or consulate in Australia and present a medical certificate proving they are not sick.
Clearing Everest of climbers for a season may have a silver lining for the Himalayas themselves.
Last year, a record number of permits meant Mount Everest was overrun with climbers last year, leading to human traffic jams on the summit.
It was also one of the deadliest seasons on the peak, with 11 people dying in their bid for summit glory.
Environmental advocates have long called for climbing to be reduced or paused to allow for the collection of tonnes of rubbish and debris, including bodies, that have been left on the mountain over the years.
The closure could also allow for local Nepalese mountaineers to improve ropes and other infrastructure on the overworked climbing route, however, there are doubts as to whether that will happen.
“That won’t happen unless they’re paid and the Government is most unlikely to pay them to do that,” Mr Lock said.
Mr Lock said he hoped the Nepalese visa he was issued a few days ago was still valid because he planned to head to the mountains regardless.
“At this stage, if they will let me in then I’m intending to travel there,” he said.
He said dedicated mountaineers would not be too bothered if expeditions are cancelled.
“If people are serious about going off to climb a mountain, then people are serious about going off to climb a mountain, then being put off by six months or a year shouldn’t be the end of most dreams.”
One of Australia’s most senior Catholic Bishops has voluntarily stepped down after the Vatican ordered a review into the diocese of Broome, amid an ongoing police investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct.
- Christopher Saunders has been Bishop of Broome since 1995
- He has worked for the Catholic Church across WA’s north for over 40 years
- He voluntarily stepped down as the Vatican reviews the Broome Diocese
Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders, 70, voluntarily stepped down on Monday, pending the review.
Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe said in a statement the Emeritus Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham, had been appointed to oversee the diocese effective from Tuesday.
“Bishop Christopher Saunders … has voluntarily stood aside from the ordinary administration of the diocese for the duration of the visitation,” he said.
The move comes as police continue to investigate an allegation of sexual misconduct against Bishop Saunders received 18 months ago.
Church authorities were not drawing a connection between the police investigation and the decision to review the diocese.
A WA Police spokesperson said any allegations of criminal sexual misconduct would be investigated, as per normal procedures.
The spokesperson said WA Police would not comment on allegations made against specific individuals.
The ABC has been unable to contact Bishop Saunders, but he told Seven News that he denied the allegation.
Church veteran spoke out on abuse ‘shock’
The Broome diocese is one of Australia’s largest with parishes, including a number of former Catholic missions, scattered across 770,000 square kilometres.
Bishop Saunders’s career has been intertwined with the Diocese. He joined the Broome Parish in 1975 after completing theological studies at St Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide.
After working as a deacon, he was ordained as a priest the next year, working at La Grange (now Bidyadanga), Lombadina and Kalumburu missions throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
He returned to Broome in 1989 as diocesan administrator and was appointed bishop in 1995.
Testifying before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2017, Bishop Saunders said the church had failed to respond appropriately to the problems raised by the commission.
He told commissioners data indicating one in 10 priests in the Perth Archdiocese were abusing children had left the organisation in a “state of shock”.
“I would agree that there has been a massive failure on behalf of the church to respond appropriately to the issues and the matters and the allegations of sexual abuse throughout Australia,” he said.
“But to see the picture as clearly painted as it is, has been a tremor and a shock to all of us.”
The Bishop also nominated greater psychological testing for priests and seminarians as a key method to help stop and expose abusers.
The Perth diocese did not specify how long the internal review of the Broome diocese will take.
Bishop Ingham will lead the overall review, while Monsignor Paul Boyers will oversee the day-to-day administration of the diocese.
Perhaps we’ve been shouted at by the boss. Perhaps it’s a healthy disrespect for authority. There are many reasons why we shout at the umpire.
- An NT soccer club has teams rejected from the 2020 league after poor behaviour by some players, officials, and spectators
- It follows similar problems at Aussie Rules and basketball fixtures in Darwin
- Academics applaud the teams’ rejection, but say abuse of officials is increasing
A Darwin soccer team has been rejected from the local league because of the behaviour of its players and spectators toward referees and opposition teams.
It follows NT AFL umpires calling on match managers to eject unruly spectators, and the cancellation of the entire round 9 of Darwin’s basketball fixtures in 2019.
Darwin Olympic Sporting Club’s men’s premier league and division one teams were refused entry to the 2020 competitions in the Northern Territory.
Football NT president Stuart Kenny blamed “a catalogue of demonstrable breaches of the code of conduct by officials, some players, and some spectators”.
There have been media reports of young female referees leaving the pitch in tears, umpires refusing to attend Olympic’s games, and the club’s spectators costing the club points for abusing referees.
“There has been a consistent pattern of poor behaviour, which included threats and offensive language directed toward match officials,” Mr Kenny said.
“After much deliberation we believe it is time to protect the young children and adults who play and officiate in our game.”
The club’s new president has since had a “mutually beneficial” meeting with Football NT.
Luxembourg’s Lunex University Sport and Exercise Psychology senior lecturer Dr Fraser Carson said umpire and referee abuse was increasing.
“Some people believe umpires are there just for them to shout at and take their anger out on,” he said.
Dr Carson said accurate TV replay technology was putting more pressure on umpires and eroding respect.
“Because we can play back things in 15 frames per second to try to analyse a decision, as opposed to what the umpire is actually seeing in real time, that becomes a problem for them,” he said.
That, coupled with an angry, stressed, and frustrated society was a perfect storm for umpire abuse.
“People are looking for ways to remove that stress or even take some control back over what they do,” Dr Carson said.
“Potentially, they’ve just been shouted at by their boss.
“So they want some way to release that stress.”
Everyone makes mistakes
Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Peter Simmons is a lifelong soccer player and fan, qualified soccer referee, and now plays for Panorama Football Club in Bathurst, NSW.
After one of his son’s games, Dr Simmons saw the opposition coach enter the referees’ changing rooms.
“He was just so angry, he seemed to be on the point of violence. His face was red. He was shouting. It was just the most bizarre thing,” he said.
And he once saw a referee get physically assaulted by a goalkeeper in a game in which he was playing.
“He threw the ball so hard at the back of the referee’s head his head nearly bounced off,” Dr Simmons said.
“There are a lot of referees, I think, who would be pleased to see this move by Football NT.
“The biggest problem is when it’s away from televised games.
“It might be just a rope or even nothing between you and the angry mob.”
Dr Simmons said interactive sports such as football, rugby, and basketball caused the biggest issues for umpires.
“The referee’s actions have a real consequence for the flow of the play,” he said.
He has some advice for umpires.
“Mistakes will be made by anybody at every level,” he said.
“Be competent, dependable, and respectful, and you’ll improve the chances that your decisions will be perceived to be fair.”
While an angry mob and an unprepared referee will always be a match made in hell, dislike of authority may be in our DNA.
Swinburne University of Technology Associate Professor Robert Gill has played, coached, and umpired AFL and rugby union semi-professionally in Australia and in the UK.
“There’s the syndrome of being a colony that has a paternal father figure, like the UK that settled Australia, and the authority figure that the jovial Australian likes to butt heads against and be a little bit rebellious,” he said.
He pointed to rugby union as having a high standard of respect for officials.
“The way that a rugby union official conducts themselves on the field, it’s very much: ‘I’m in charge. I’m in control here. And my word is the decision. And if you want to jack up against that decision, then your team may be penalised’,” Dr Gill said.
“And that seems to work.”
The sinister growl of the Tasmanian devil went silent on mainland Australia about 3,000 years ago.
In more recent times, the screech has also faded on the island state where the creature is iconic, with 83 per cent of the devil population succumbing to disease.
- An expert says Tasmanian devils can be used as a conservation tool and that there’s a case to reintroduce them on the mainland
- A study found a significant decline in feral cats where devils are present, while bandicoots are only abundant at sites where cats are rare
- The devil was found across mainland Australia until it disappeared from fossil records 3,200 years ago
University of Tasmania researcher Calum Cunningham has been studying the broader effects on the ecosystem as the marsupial’s numbers declined.
“We found in areas where devils have declined severely, that feral cats were 58 per cent more abundant than areas where devils were healthy,” he said.
The devils’ natural pest management was also found to benefit small prey like bandicoots.
Mr Cunningham said he believed devils could be used as a conservation tool and a case could be made to reintroduce them to the mainland.
“We could see if it could have ecological benefits there too.
“Devils could reduce the number of feral cats, in turn returning benefits for the animals that cats eat.”
A bandicoot’s friend
The study, published in Ecology Letters, monitored areas in Tasmania that had seen devil populations decline to varying degrees.
“We were careful to match habitat types — we surveyed rainforests, dry areas and coastal habitat,” Mr Cunningham said.
Camera traps were installed to monitor cats, using markings to identify individual cats.
“We were able to run statistical models that estimated the abundance of feral cats at a given site.”
The models showed a significant decline in feral cats where devils were present.
“We found that bandicoots were only abundant at sites where cats were rare,” Mr Cunningham said, adding that devils mostly ate larger animals like wallabies and pademelons that were already dead or older and sick.
Devils vs foxes
The devil was found across mainland Australia until it disappeared from fossil records 3,200 years ago.
The extinction is said to be linked to the introduction of dingoes, changes to climate and human population growth and advances.
Mr Cunningham said any reintroduction of devils to the mainland must start with a controlled experiment.
“No ecologist would be suggesting an open-slather introduction of devils to the mainland,” he said.
“It should be very carefully controlled in a fenced, bounded landscape.”
Tasmania’s fox-free status means it is unknown how devils would interact with the mainland pest.
“We expect they would compete, and I think devils would have some negative impacts on foxes,” Mr Cunningham said.
“We can hypotheses about it all we like, but without an experiment, we wouldn’t know.”
While Tasmania has had evidence of foxes present, there has never been a population.
“People have hypothesised that perhaps the presence of the devil was one of the reasons why foxes never established,” Mr Cunningham said.
The research shows devils also reduced the abundance of possums and wallabies.
“Farmers in particular have problems with this, so that’s another service the devils could be providing to the ecosystem.”
“But the community has to want it as well.”
The study on apex predators also looked at the impact that a lack of devils had on possums and wombats on Maria Island.
Without an apex predator, the possums spent more time foraging for food on the ground.
When devils were released into the wild, the possums returned to the trees, and wombats increased day-time activity to avoid interacting with the devils at night.
Olivia Purdie is medically delaying puberty because the 11-year-old doesn’t want to develop the body of a woman.
“I am non-binary, which means I have no gender. I am just me,” Olivia said.
The Year 6 student is one of a small but growing cohort of children around Australia seeking treatment because they don’t identify as either a boy or a girl.
“The world basically revolves around boxes and those two boxes are a male and a female box,” Olivia said.
“People try to duct tape the box so then you’ll stay like that. But I cut the duct tape and opened up into my own box.”
Two years ago, Olivia was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition where a person experiences extreme distress due to the mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.
Olivia’s mother Jane Russo said her child was particularly stressed about growing breasts.
“I think part of that was saying, ‘Well, I don’t want to have breasts’,” Ms Russo said.
“Olivia felt breasts weren’t part of Olivia’s body.”
Doctors recommended puberty blockers, drugs used to postpone puberty and to help Olivia cope with anxiety caused by pubescent body changes.
The injections have stopped Olivia developing breasts, menstruating and developing other female characteristics.
“I’ll probably be coming off the puberty blockers when I’m 16. I have five years to think about this. There’s no rush with this. No point in rushing anyway,” Olivia said.
Puberty suppression for young gender diverse people has been the subject of much controversy.
Some critics say the children are too young to consent and should not be on any hormonal medication.
According to Olivia’s psychiatrist Georgie Swift, all medication has side effects and risks.
“The biggest ongoing risk with puberty suppression, [is] the potential for a lower bone density as you grow up and therefore a high risk of osteoporosis in adulthood,” she said.
“The paediatricians who prescribe the leuprorelin do monitor that and we’re aware if it becomes more of an issue for a particularly young person. So there are some concerns about a young person staying on puberty suppression for a long period of time.”
Ms Russo said she weighed up the health risks but believed puberty suppression was what Olivia needed.
“We were informed about the risks of Olivia going on puberty blockers … about reduced bone density, but we believed this risk was low and we weighed it against Olivia’s mental health and wellbeing.”
Olivia is under the care of two specialists at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Dr Swift and paediatric endocrinologist Jemma Anderson.
Dr Anderson said the medical impacts of puberty blockers were generally reversible and only prescribed “after a very long and considered process with extensive and in depth psychiatric evaluation for both Olivia and her family”.
Dr Swift acknowledges there are strong critics who believe the children are going through a passing phase.
“I wonder if they’ve ever spoken to a young gender-diverse and non-binary person or really thought about what it would be like to walk in their shoes, rather than seeing it from a distant and more academic perspective,” she said.
Ms Russo said she was appalled at accusations parents and doctors were committing child abuse by supporting medical intervention for gender diverse children.
“If I was to disregard Olivia’s thoughts and how Olivia was feeling, I’d lose my child,” she said.
“By saying ‘this is a fad’, that ‘this is child abuse’ … it’s actually not the reality.”
“Because the reality is, I could have no child if I didn’t respond to what I was hearing from my child. The need to go onto puberty blockers is actually saving Olivia’s life, because Olivia can be what Olivia wants to be.”
Dr Swift said not allowing someone to have medical intervention could result in significant mental health problems.
“When young gender-diverse people get support from family, friends, school, education, they do much better in terms of their mental health,” she said.
“Their number of suicide attempts are less, their deliberate self-harm is less, and their general wellbeing is improved.”
Nine of the 65 gender-diverse children under Dr Swift’s care identify as non-binary.
There is a waiting list for medical support of at least 12 months at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide for this type of treatment.
“It is concerning because waiting is probably the biggest fear that these kids have as their bodies start changing,” Ms Russo said.
Not all non-binary young people want medical intervention like hormone therapy or surgery.
Audrey Mason-Hyde, 14, went to the same primary school as Olivia.
Audrey’s sex was assigned female at birth, but Audrey does not identify as either male or female.
“I think a lot of people do identify as non-binary and want to change their body to fit what they see as the ideal body,” Audrey said.
“I think that is great, amazing, go for it. But I also think you don’t need to change your body to be valid as a non-binary person.
“And I love my body the way it is.”
Hospitals in Australia are treating a growing number of children who identify as non-binary.
“I get asked quite a lot about why we’re seeing so many more gender-diverse and in particular non-binary people coming out now,” Dr Swift said.
“I don’t think it is a new identity or a new type of being a person. I think non-binary people have existed as long as we have. But up until more recently there hasn’t been a language for it.”
Olivia’s father Justin Purdie has had a steep learning curve.
“As a parent, with the journey through puberty with a non-binary child, there’s lots of questions,” he said.
“I’m quite analytical. But there’s no nice clear-cut solution. So, in many respects, you do just have to roll with it.
“I just want what’s best for my child.”
Watch ‘Not a boy. Not a girl’ on Four Corners tonight at 8:30pm or livestream on the Four Corners Facebook page.
Big businesses have laid out their plans to cut down on single-use plastics as part of a national summit targeting Australia’s waste problem.
- Companies including Nestle and McDonald’s have made commitments to lower plastic usage
- The Federal Government summit also featured other commitments from businesses and groups
- Labor has warned the summit needs to be more than just a day of discussions
The goal of the first National Plastics Summit, held in Parliament House on Monday, was to create solutions to the growing pile of recyclable materials.
Most of the nation’s recyclables have traditionally been sent overseas but countries like China and Indonesia are no longer importing as much waste, leading to Australia’s looming ban on exporting some materials.
Businesses, experts, government leaders and school children put their heads together to try to find solutions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Government would partner with industry, states and territories to boost Australia’s recycling capacity.
“The state of our recycling and remanufacturing facilities, as well as the economics behind our collections systems, are under severe strain, we need to invest in this industry,” he said.
Mr Morrison hinted May’s federal budget would include new spending measures for recycling.
“Investing in the sector is not just good for the environment, it is incredibly good for our economy as well,” he said.
He also said the Federal Government would change its procurement policy to increase the use of recycled materials by Commonwealth agencies.
Nestle, McDonald’s to makes pledges
Food company Nestle will reveal its plan to save plastics from making its way to landfill.
The company’s head of corporate and external relations Margaret Stuart said Nestle was working on a trial to collect soft plastics from people’s kerbside.
“[Nestle is] aiming to collect about 750 tonnes of plastic and we will be going to more than 100,000 homes as this trial rolls out,” Ms Stuart said.
The company has spent about $2.3 billion on buying “food-grade recycled plastic” globally, to help create interest in the market.
“We need the systems to collect packaging, sort packaging, process packaging and make it back into things that are valuable to people,” Ms Stuart said.
McDonald’s has already announced it is ditching its plastic straws this year, but it is expected to announce at the summit it will also ban single-use cutlery.
The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation pledged to lead the development of a global plastics initiative domestically.
It revealed its plan to help governments, businesses and non-government organisations create a common goal for an improved plastics economy, from producer to consumer and thereafter.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley, speaking before the summit, said a major focus of the summit would be getting people and companies interested in making waste valuable.
She said it was all about solving problems and looking for opportunities.
“We see waste as a resource, as an economic opportunity, as a driver for jobs, particularly in regional Australia,” Ms Ley said.
“We will see displays, and we will have panels of some of our top industry minds when it comes to recycling, innovative methods, remanufacturing and avoiding using too much packaging and plastic in the first place.”
Labor has warned the summit needs to be more than just a day of discussions.
“We can’t just talk rubbish, we need to make change,” Josh Wilson, Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment, said.
“And if the Government doesn’t get its skates on, we are going to see more stockpiling of plastic — which of course is a fire risk. We’re going to see more plastic going into landfill, and potentially into our oceans.”