Tag: Federal Government
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.
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And should it really run into trouble, the Future Fund was “sitting on the sidelines with $37 billion in cash and bonds”.
“We also need to realise that it’s not the capital market falls that are the issue because super funds appear to have withstood that onslaught reasonably, all things considered,” Mr Dunnin said.
“It’s the forced hibernation of particular industries and the Government changing the early release rules which … regulators had no warning of, much less super funds.”
“To say funds should have seen this coming is disingenuous.”
The industry had a fantastic year in 2019, so the 12-month return was only down 3 per cent despite the recent bushfires and current coronavirus crisis.
“Funds have had a boom 10 years, so they’re weathering the storm,” he said.
All funds would follow the law, he said, “And if not, you have a regulator with a baseball bat”.
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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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SA Premier quashes ‘ludicrous’ talk of statewide lockdown as five more coronavirus cases are confirmed
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has quashed the idea of a statewide or CBD lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak, as a further five new cases are confirmed in the state.
- The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 37 in SA
- People are being urged to only present at testing clinics if they meet the criteria
- It follows news of a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people
SA Health this afternoon announced the new coronavirus cases, which takes the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 37.
The new cases include a female in her 30s who travelled to the Philippines, as well as a woman in her 60s and a 50-something man who had both been in the United States.
Despite the rising number of cases, Premier Steven Marshall today said any suggestion of a statewide or Adelaide CBD lockdown was “ludicrous”.
“I’m hearing stories right across South Australia at the moment that we’re in for an imminent lockdown of the CBD, this is wrong, it’s unhelpful and, in fact, it’s quite ludicrous,” he said.
“The reality is that there are further restrictions which will be put in place … but these continuing snippets of incorrect information are really starting to … undermine the public health messaging.
“There is no state lockdown, there is no CBD lockdown.
“Our focus is on slowing the spread of this disease so that we can put the resources in place to cope with the anticipated peak demand when it comes later in the year.”
It comes as the Federal Government announced a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, while Australians are also being told not to travel overseas, regardless of the country.
Mr Marshall urged the public to obey public gathering restrictions and self-isolation orders that were announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning.
People presenting to clinics that ‘don’t meet criteria’
SA Health today said there had been a significant increase in the number of people who do not meet the criteria who are presenting to get tested for COVID-19.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said those who are sick but do not meet the criteria should go to their GP for advice instead.
“I’d like to make it clear to people, we are going to look after your health needs no matter where we deliver that service,” he said.
“For people who meet the criteria — who have travelled, who have the symptoms or have had close contact with a known case — we want to deliver that test in a more controlled environment, a dedicated COVID-19 clinic.”
Earlier today, Mr Marshall said the “worried well” should stay home and not overcrowd coronavirus testing clinics.
“We have the most advanced community transmission screening tests in the world, there’s no evidence to suggest there’s community transmission in Australia but this will come so we’re trying to push off the time when community transmission occurs in SA,” he said.
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Premier says closing schools ‘increases the risk’
Mr Marshall also backed the Federal Government’s call on schools remaining open around the country.
Adelaide’s Scotch College will remain closed until Monday after a student test positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.
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However, Mr Marshall said closing all schools would “increase the risk” posed by the coronavirus.
“Children should go to school, and to pre-school and to kindy here in South Australia and around the country,” he said.
“And not to do so doesn’t diminish the risk, in fact, it increases the risk … it will harm our ability to tackle the coronavirus.”
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Masks, antibiotics and hand sanitisers: Amid coronavirus, Australia’s secret medical stockpile is now open
It could be any warehouse in Australia. In fact, you may travel past it every day and not even know.
In multiple secret locations across Australia, about $100 million worth of medical supplies — including 20 million masks, antibiotics, vaccines and equipment such as basic hand sanitisers — is sitting on huge pallets wrapped in plastic, ready to be deployed.
It has been gradually accumulated over more than a decade in case of a bioterrorist attack, medical emergencies or pandemics.
It’s known as the National Medical Stockpile (NMS).
And with coronavirus almost certain to be declared a pandemic, according to the Prime Minister, the stockpile is now, according to health authorities, set to become a critical element of the response to COVID-19 — its first major use in more than a decade.
How does it work?
States and territories request access to the stockpile — which is described by the Department of Health as a “strategic reserve of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment” — with final approval given by chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.
So far during the coronavirus epidemic, more than 1.4 million surgical masks have been handed to GPs, health workers, pharmacists, and government agencies dealing with “at-risk or high-risk individuals at the border”.
Some stock is pre-positioned in the states and territories to ensure more rapid access to products in emergency situations, a Department of Health spokeswoman said.
The equipment is held in various nondescript warehouse locations across Australia, each one kept secret and under tight security because of concerns of terrorist attacks.
Last month, Health Minister Greg Hunt gave a rare insight into the warehouses, posting a photo on social media that showed hundreds of pallets of face masks stacked up over five levels.
Since the coronavirus became a worldwide medical emergency, the Federal Government has been building up its supplies.
In January, Mr Hunt said they had 12 million facemasks. On Friday he revealed they had 20 million in storage.
“We are well stocked,” he said on Friday.
“The priority is obviously in protecting the frontline clinicians and we will work with states and territories and primary health networks or whatever bodies to make sure that supplies are delivered to where they are needed.
“We do have strong supply chains. As part of our job, that is one of the items that was a specific Commonwealth action item.”
There is no vaccine, but some drugs, such as antiviral medicine remdesivir, have been shown to help. However, Mr Hunt gave no indication that the Federal Government had been stocking up on remdesivir, or any other drugs.
The last high-profile use of the stockpile came during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. More than 900,000 courses of antivirals, valued at about $29 million, were deployed, with 2.1 million pieces of personal protective equipment also handed out.
COVID-19, SARS and the flu
Weeks after the novel coronavirus was first discovered, experts say incomplete data from China is limiting their ability to understand it — but they are seeing some differences between it and other infectious diseases.
Are there shortages of anything now?
Experts have raised concerns over gaps in the supply chain as Chinese factories remain closed because of the COVID-19 threat.
According to the World Health Organisation, China makes up about 20 per cent of the global output of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
However, some experts contest that figure and have gone as far as to describe China as having a “global choke-hold” on the chemical components that make up key pharmaceutical ingredients.
UNSW global biosecurity professor Raina MacIntyre said Australia “will see an impact” in supplies of some medical equipment and drugs in the general public.
“We have just-in-time economies where we don’t have huge stockpiles that’ll keep us going for months and months,” she said.
“It is possible that patients will be affected by shortages, there might be very specific drugs that are made only in China.”
“Although, China is gradually opening up factories and trying to get back to business as normal.”
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said there were “some reports” of certain medications and masks not being available.
“One of the key sources of supply is obviously the Chinese manufacturing sector and clearly they are confronting their own issues regarding logistical supply,” he said.
On Friday, the president of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Harry Nespolon, said GPs urgently needed more protective equipment — including goggles and protective suits — so they could safely assess people who might have COVID-19.
Reports have already emerged of people panic-buying masks this week, following on from earlier panic-buying when the virus first came to light.
What else is in the National Medical Stockpile?
Over the past 15 years, the total investment in the NMS has been about $900 million.
According to the Department of Health, about 80 per cent of the stockpile’s value was tied up in pharmaceuticals, including antivirals such as Tamiflu and Relenza.
A 2014 auditor-general’s report — one of the few publicly available documents online about the NMS — found as antivirals typically lasted for seven to 10 years, the “significant cost” of the NMS came because most drugs had to be thrown out.
It also holds a limited supply of “highly specialised drugs” which, in an emergency, may not be available elsewhere in the Australian pharmaceutical supply system.
In 2014, it said 14 per cent of items were related to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence including “responses to anthrax and human influenza pandemics”.
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Two state governments from opposing sides of politics have teamed up to accuse the Federal Government of short-changing people with a disability.
- NSW and Victoria are demanding the Federal Government release money to help people with a disability
- The last federal budget revealed a $1.6 billion underspend in the NDIS
- The Federal Government dismissed suggestions it withheld funding from people with disabilities as “ridiculous”
In an extraordinary bipartisan attack, the New South Wales and Victorian governments have argued a $1.6 billion underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was being used to prop up a budget surplus.
Liberal NSW Disability Minister Gareth Ward and his Victorian counterpart Luke Donnellan have joined forces to demand the Commonwealth release the money.
The state ministers have penned a letter to the federal minister responsible for the NDIS, Stuart Robert, saying they had been trying to work collaboratively to access the funds.
Mr Ward said he had approached Mr Robert several times over the issue but had been unsuccessful in getting the money released.
“I want to make sure that money doesn’t sit in a bank account offsetting the Commonwealth’s budget, which is what it’s doing,” he said.
“I want to see it improving the lives of people.”
The last budget revealed a $1.6 billion underspend in the NDIS, which boosted the Federal Government’s bottom line for the 2019-20 financial year.
The Coalition has consistently said that was because of the transition of the scheme’s rollout, and no eligible Australian was deprived of the funding they needed.
But Mr Ward said there were significant barriers for people outside of affluent areas in NSW to access NDIS assistance.
“I don’t want postcodes to determine who receives support,” he said.
“Particularly in regional areas, Aboriginal people and people with disabilities from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds haven’t been on the same level playing field as everybody.
“For example, if you have a disability and you live in Bronte, you’ll have access to phenomenal opportunities. But the further away from city and metropolitan areas you go — the less opportunities.”
Rich families getting faster access to the NDIS
An ABC investigation reveals children with developmental delays like autism living in poorer suburbs are waiting hundreds of days more than those in wealthier suburbs for access to crucial diagnosis they need to access the NDIS.
The states and the Commonwealth have agreed to establish a NDIS reserve fund, but documents from the last COAG disability reform council meeting show discussions around how the fund will operate are still taking place.
Mr Ward said the states have been told the reserve fund won’t be finalised until after the May Budget.
The timing is significant, given the Federal Government’s promised budget surplus is under threat as the country deals with the economic fallout from the coronavirus and a bushfire emergency that ravaged communities for months.
But Mr Ward said in the interim, people with disabilities were suffering.
“There’s $1.6 billion sitting on the Commonwealth balance sheet that we want to spend on people with disabilities,” he said.
“I’ve heard cases of people who sit in a room all day with no support, looking at the four walls. I’ve heard people who want and need things like occupational therapists, who need allied health supports and have not been able to find them. That is a product of a lack of action.”
Federal Minister refutes underspending allegations
Mr Robert dismissed suggestions his Government had withheld funding from people with disabilities.
“It is a ridiculous story from a ridiculous letter written by two governments that want money to spend on other projects,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“I can’t refute this more strongly than that.
“The New South Wales and Victorian governments just want their half of it so they can spend it to prop their budgets up. And that’s not what it’s designed for. It’s designed to be spent over time.”
On Sydney radio station 2GB, Mr Robert also accused Mr Ward of playing politics with the issue, saying he leaked the story after failing to obtain funding.
But Mr Ward strongly refuted the allegations, describing them as an “unfortunate deflection.”
Mr Ward, who is the only minister with a disability to hold the portfolio in the country, said he was unusually placed to fight for the funding.
“Unlike Minister Robert, I have lived experience of disability,” he said.
“I want people with disability to reach their full potential and I don’t want this money sitting in a bank account anywhere.”
Federal Labor NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten accused the Coalition of “stinginess” in failing to meet the needs of people with a disability.
“They have been sprung breaking a funding deal with Liberal and Labor state governments,” he said.
“It’s time Stuart Robert stopped the handballing and obfuscating and started taking responsibility for people with disability.”
Mandy is not a fan of politics or any of the speculation around the resignation of former sports minister Bridget McKenzie, but the Horsham woman joins a chorus of voices across the country asking for an explanation in the wake of the so-called sports rorts scandal.
- Sport Australia scored Horsham’s aquatic centre project to improve disabled access 83 out of 100
- It received no funding by then-minister Bridget McKenzie, who instead approved 94 projects in the first round that scored below 74
- More than 20 per cent of the Horsham Local Government area live with a disability
One of the applications rejected by the Federal Government was a project to improve disability access to Horsham’s aquatic centre, in western Victoria, for upgrades that disability advocates rallied for many years for.
Sport Australia, which assessed applications on merit, gave the aquatic centre project a score of 83 out of 100.
Ignoring the recommendation, Senator McKenzie instead funded 94 projects that scored below 74 in the first round of the grant program.
“My question would be, ‘Why?'” said Mandy, who requested her last name not be used.
“I’d want to be made to understand why things were done the way they were.
“If someone could explain it fully, in detail to me, then maybe I could understand.”
Mandy said the changeroom facilities were sorely in need of the upgrade, but were now on the backburner.
“I think that’s been a common perspective, for quite a while, amongst people who attend the centre regularly,” she said.
“They are quite outdated in their tiling and railing and shower facilities.”
Senator McKenzie quit Cabinet and resigned as deputy Nationals leader on Sunday after an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet found she breached ministerial standards by failing to disclose her membership of a gun club that received almost $36,000 from the controversial sports grants program.
The Labor Party has called for a Senate inquiry into the scheme.
Disability service provider Uniting Wimmera said it was the next chapter in a story that failed to consider a large segment of the community.
More than 20 per cent of the Horsham local government area live with a disability; 6 per cent of the population need assistance to complete core tasks, like having a shower.
Horsham was a regional centre for residents from a long list of surrounding rural and regional towns.
“Pool upgrades have been completed over the years, however the need for people living with disability have been overlooked or not catered for,” said Uniting Wimmera senior disability support worker, Loucas Vettos.
“Horsham, Nhill, Warracknabeal, Balmoral and Natimuk are just some of the towns within the Wimmera region that access the facility, and for some people, entering the front door is the only access they have.
“Unfortunately there are people that need to sit on the sidelines, or in the cafe, and do other activities while others enjoy a swim.”
Horsham Rural City Council, which owns the facilities, has just completed a $1.5 million upgrade to its outdoor pool.
It was not until stage one of the project was complete that the council expanded plans to include a ramp into the pool, to allow for wheelchair access.
Service manager of local disability support agency Aruma, Luke McArthur, said it was a “surprise” the ramp was not considered in initial plans.
“It comes back to human rights; why should anybody be restricted access to any facility?” Mr McArthur said.
“Everybody needs to be accounted for.
“People with a disability need to be able to access facilities as everybody in the community should be able to.”
The grant application to the Federal Government’s community sport infrastructure program was submitted by the council, which acknowledged the ongoing need for access improvements.
Council was reluctant to answer questions about the former sports minister’s rejection and this week banned the ABC from entering the aquatic centre to cover the story.
“Currently we have facilities up at the aquatic centre for disabled folks — that’s the family changeroom — and we want to improve them; that will happen eventually,” Mayor Mark Radford said, before walking out of an interview.
Physical relief, exercise, social outlet and identity
Water has played a huge role in Mandy’s weekly routine, allowing her freedom of movement and exercise that was difficult to achieve in a wheelchair.
“It gives me physical relief, [after] being in the one position a heap of the time,” she said.
The aquatic centre also offers her a rare opportunity to meet new people.
Mandy said that was essential to help break down barriers in the community.
“A lot of people, sadly in this day and age, are still made uncomfortable by disability,” she said.
“They don’t always know how to appreciate or react to someone with a disability and often it’s [about] taking the time to get to know the person.
“The movements, or the words, or the way of communicating may be different; that doesn’t mean that there’s not a bright mind inside there that would love to communicate with you.”
People who once marvelled at the way she manoeuvred the wheelchair and achieved difficult tasks no longer seem to notice.
“It’s a very social atmosphere and there’s quite a group of us who meet every week at the same time,” she said.
“I would put money on it nowadays that 98 per cent of them do not even see the chair.
“I’m a person, I’m not wheels.”
The project to improve the Horsham Aquatic Centre was among the highest-ranked projects in the country not to receive funding under the sports grants program.
Senator McKenzie came under fire after it was revealed the fund was used to pay for projects in electorates the Coalition wanted to target leading into last year’s election, while other more deserving projects were ignored.
A report from the Prime Minister’s office did not find evidence Senator McKenzie allocated grants for political reasons, after a separate audit found the former minister did funnel money into marginal seats.
But the ABC revealed emails sent by Sport Australia executives to Senator McKenzie’s office raised concerns in March last year about political interference, just weeks before Scott Morrison called the election.
The Prime Minister’s office said Senator McKenzie had legitimate discretionary power to disregard advice from Sport Australia.
The new era of Q+A kicked off with a bang under new host Hamish Macdonald, with Liberal senator Jim Molan taking centre stage as the nation’s bushfire crisis was discussed.
- Senator Jim Molan defended the Federal Government’s response to the bushfire crisis
- The senator said while some might say the science on climate change was settled, he was “not relying on evidence”
- He was heckled and laughed at by the live audience in Queanbeyan
The show was originally set to be broadcast from Bega but, due to the ongoing fire risk, was moved to Queanbeyan.
Many Australians who have suffered through the bushfire disaster were on hand to ask their questions of the panel and Senator Molan did not prove popular with the audience.
The retired Army Major General was laughed at for an early response to a question from a woman who lost her house in the devastating Mallacoota fires but when he was asked about climate change, things only got worse.
Taking part in a discussion opposite one of the world’s leading climate scientists, geophysicist and climatologist Michael Mann, Senator Molan was pressed on the issue of human-caused climate change.
In response to a previous question, Professor Mann had said the summer’s weather conditions were not the “new normal” but things could get worse if Australia and the rest of the world did not work together to lower carbon emissions.
“[For] every scientific institution in the world that’s weighed in on this matter, climate change is real,” Professor Mann said.
“It’s human caused. It’s already leading to disastrous impacts here in Australia and around the rest of the world. And it will get much worse if we don’t act.”
Macdonald then repeatedly pressed Senator Molan on whether he thought climate change was caused by humans.
Initially, Senator Molan said: “I accept the climate is changing. It has changed and it will change. What it’s producing is hotter and drier weather and a hotter and drier country.
“As to whether it is human-induced climate change, my mind is open.”
Macdonald then pressed him further on the issue and asked him why his mind was open and whether Senator Molan questioned the science.
“Michael might say that the science is settled,” Senator Molan said.
“And I respect very much scientific opinion but every day across my desk comes enough information for me to say that there are other opinions.”
@neighbour_s: “I’m not relying on evidence, Hamish” says @JimMolan on #qanda
Asked once again to answer the question and “what is the evidence you are relying on?” by Macdonald, the senator gave an unpopular answer.
“I’m not relying on evidence, Hamish,” Senator Molan said, prompting heckles from the crowd, as well as parliamentary peers and commentators on social media.
“Oh dear Jim Molan, it’s gone from a car crash to a train wreck,” senator Jacquie Lambie tweeted.
Tales of tragedy from Mallacoota
It was not the only time during the evening Senator Molan came under fire and he had already been the target of Senator Lambie’s social media scorn earlier in the program.
@JacuieLambie: For god sake @JimMolan you’re not in the Army anymore – speak the bloody truth! #qanda #climatemergency
A guest who had lost her home and pets in the Mallacoota fires and had not been able to return to the area asked what the Government would do to aid recovery and prevent a repeat.
“What strategies are now being formulated and implemented by the Government to help those of us left homeless? And what strategies are being implemented to save us all from a national disaster of this magnitude in the future?” she asked.
While other panellists spoke of community spirit and learning how to embrace communities and governments working together to help the people, Senator Molan was asked pointedly by the host about the Federal Government’s response and why it had not implemented plans before the fire season.
Senator Molan began to deflect with his answer before saying there was little to do for individual cases at a federal level.
“In any of these disaster situations, we start at the bottom and we manage up. And the role of the Federal Government in this is not to get down to the individual,” Senator Molan said after indicating he “mourned” the dead.
“We gave a million dollars to every one of the fire-affected councils because they can touch the people. Andrew [Constance] knows where the people are and they can touch the people,” he said, referring to the state Member for Bega, who was also on the panel.
“What is the strategy? If I could put it very, very simply, the strategy, the strategy was first to support the firefighters. That was the most immediate strategy.”
The senator was again pressed by Macdonald, who asked: “Why didn’t you [the Federal Government] step in earlier?”
His response of “I think we did step in earlier” was greeted by laughter from the audience.
‘Speak the bloody truth’
Senator Molan was heavily criticised on social media, with Senator Lambie calling on Senator Molan to “speak the bloody truth” and Walkley Award winner Jane Caro also calling him out.
“It wasn’t until December 12 that the Federal Government announced a funding boost for aerial firefighting services. Why wasn’t that done before?” Macdonald asked.
At that point, Senator Molan said the fires and the response were planned for.
“A lot of people say it’s an unprecedented fire, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t planned for; it was planned for at an incredible detail,” he said, before suggesting combatting fires was not the Federal Government’s responsibility.
@JaneCaro: #QandA Jim Molan is neatly avoiding the question. Hamish holding him to the point. ‘Fighting fires is a state responsibility’ with a smirk. And climate mitigation is everyone else’s responsibility, apparently. What hope do we have?
“Fighting fires is a state responsibility and what the PM has done, he has seen that there has been a change in the attitude of people in relation to this,” Senator Molan said.
“It’s very, very difficult for the Federal Government to be prepared for bushfires when we’re not fighting bushfires.
“We have got to look at who is responsible for fighting bushfires. Now that’s changed and the PM has made a statement in the future that will change.”
When the Federal Government was criticised by panellist Bega Mayor Kristy McBain, who blamed a lack of foresight, Senator Molan pointed to the relief packages the Federal Government had handed out.
“We’ve paid out 75,000 people on that $1,000, plus the $400, plus the $400 to a tune of $105 million. And that’s immediate money,” Senator Molan said.
If there is one thing that unites the nation on Australia Day, it is clichés. And on Australia Day weekend 2020, we seem to be surpassing our usual ration of clichés about beaches, barbecues, and revelling in our egalitarian ordinariness.
Of course these days we pay at least some respect and recognition to Indigenous Australia, while skirting around the controversy of what they think about the marking of our national day on January 26.
But this year there are more than just the usual clichés about Aussie-ness. We have drought and fire and rain all at once, and on a scale that has made the world sit up and take notice.
We even have what now seems to be another Australian cliché in the form of a sordid political scandal involving a political party breaking every rule to help itself win an election with our money.
Whether or not Bridget McKenzie is made to pay for the Coalition’s use of a $100 million grants scheme to favour electorates it was targeting in last year’s federal election, the truth is that the entire Government is tarnished by its transparent misuse of taxpayers’ money for partisan purposes.
Political bad behaviour seems an appropriate cliché for what we are, or what we tolerate, these days.
The conversation has been hijacked by culture wars
But Australia Day should be a chance to reflect much more broadly on who we are, and what we value, particularly this year, when so many of us are grieving either personal loss from bushfires, or just grieving for our national loss amid the destruction of millions of hectares of our country, and an estimated one billion animals.
Our national conversation in the past couple of decades has been hijacked by culture wars that have, too often, characterised what should be rational conversations and positions as ideological divides.
As Australia burns, Scott Morrison is rattling off an alibi
Bushfires are changing our lives and that means they are changing our political conversation. This is what we must start talking about, writes Laura Tingle.
Climate change is the most obvious of these.
The current catastrophe has seen the ideological culture war over climate change — both here and internationally — enter a new phase; one where even the heir to the British throne (and of course our next head of state) feels emboldened enough to publicly plead with world leaders to do something urgently to change the future.
Our Prime Minister may continue to stubbornly hold out, dodge and weave, or even double down on climate change policy, but things have changed.
The Australian summer has made climate change a thing of the present, not the future.
Where do we celebrate excellence these days?
Australia is now seen differently around the world. We are front-page news globally as a stark example of what a frightening future looks like.
The Government throws $76 million at the advertising industry in the hope that it can persuade tourists that there is still something here to see amid the smoking wreck.
But the bushfires have also changed the way we see ourselves. And climate change is not the only front in the culture wars.
Our culture itself — in all its forms — has been under assault in the mad attempts to paint everything and everyone as a foot soldier of “The Left” or “The Right”.
Think about it. Beyond sport, where do we celebrate excellence these days, or even something that helps define us as a people?
The Monthly is running a piece at the moment about 1983, casting back to a time when the world suddenly looked at Australia as an intriguing, interesting place.
Not only had we won the America’s Cup with some technological ingenuity, our musicians were making a splash on the world stage, our movies were in demand and we were taking big decisions about our economy.
A country that had spent decades valuing culture from anywhere else but home, and which only came to value its great artists and performers if they made it overseas, suddenly had a sense of confidence and self-worth.
Technology is changing how we see ourselves
With the broader cultural establishment now generally consigned to just being “Leftist” loonies or “elites”, our national conversation is deprived of a diversity of views and we don’t celebrate, or even promote, what is new and excellent and Australian.
While we don’t seem to celebrate our achievements in areas like film-making any more, film festivals in the most unlikely places, like one in Marrakech late last year, dedicate themselves to celebrating Australian film-making.
Should Netflix and Stan have local content quotas?
While Australian free-to-air networks and Foxtel have a quota to create Australian content, streamers do not, and many industry figures are arguing for this to change to support local creatives.
This is all happening at a time when technology is changing what we see, and how we see ourselves, at lightning speed
The advent of platforms like Netflix and Spotify offer us unprecedented access to film, television and music. They are driving an absolute, and welcome, explosion in the commissioning of new work.
Yet evidence to a Senate inquiry last year was that the Australian Netflix catalogue contains very low levels of Australian content — estimated most recently at around 1.5 per cent.
This perhaps says more about us than Netflix: the Netflix global catalogue of Australian content is considerably higher.
This isn’t necessarily just an argument for higher local content requirements, though it is notable other countries see this issue as a significant one.
The EU, for example, has just approved a 30 per cent European content quota.
The language has changed
Before we can even have that debate, we need to talk about whether culture actually matters to us.
Recent research has highlighted how the Federal Government’s spend on culture in its broadest forms — everything from film and music to museums and local events — has fallen in the last decade, and fallen as a share of the total spend by different levels of government.
The Federal Government now contributes 39 per cent of total government spending, down from 45.7 per cent a decade ago, while state and territory governments contribute 34.8 per cent, up from 31.9 per cent, and local governments contribute 26.2 per cent, up from 22.4 per cent.
It’s not that the Federal Government isn’t supporting industries like film production. But the language, and therefore the rationale, around such support has changed.
It seems we don’t mind government support for job subsidies in an industry, but we don’t want to provide government support based on the idea that there may be any intrinsic merit in cultural or artistic output.
It’s not just our natural landscape that’s bleak
It is striking that submissions to last year’s Senate inquiry on the economic and cultural value of Australian content emphasised the impact film sets had on local economies; on how much had been spent at the local Bunnings store, rather than the intrinsic merit of the stories that were being told.
And it isn’t as if the Federal Government isn’t spending money on the stories of who we are.
It’s just that spending half a billion dollars expanding the Australian War Memorial, while cutting the funding of many of our other museums and galleries, suggests a certain lopsidedness in what it is we value remembering these days.
Our natural landscape may have become a vast barren and bleak place this summer.
But we have to ask ourselves whether our cultural landscape has to be that way too.
Laura Tingle is 7.30’s chief political correspondent.
The NSW Government has committed $1 billion to help rebuild bushfire-ravaged communities, as authorities confirmed blazes have destroyed 1,870 homes around the state this season.
- The money is on top of $200 million already committed by the NSW Government
- It will be spent on infrastructure
- The NSW Treasurer said he wanted fire-impacted communities to “thrive”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the cash injection this morning, and said her Government was “stepping up”.
The money will go towards repairing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure such as roads, rail lines, bridges, schools, health clinics and communications facilities.
It comes on top of more than $200 million already committed by the State Government, and a $2 billion national fund provided by the Federal Government.
“Of course, we are always standing shoulder to shoulder with those impacted by this devastating catastrophe that’s come to New South Wales,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“We are stepping up to the support.”
The Premier said her Government’s money would be used for infrastructure, while the Federal cash would go directly to people.
“It’s been determined that the Federal Government’s contribution, our [state’s] share of the $2 billion, will go towards direct payments, to individuals, local businesses or councils,” she said.
The figures come as the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) confirmed 1,870 homes have been razed by bushfires this season — a number likely to rise as assessments continue.
The RFS said a further 753 homes had been damaged this season.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday announced his Government would commit an additional $2 billion over two years to set up a new national bushfire recovery agency.
The agency will be led by former Australia Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin.
That investment is in addition to existing assistance available, such as income replacement payments and support from the Defence Force.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the NSW Government was committed to helping fire-affected communities.
“We don’t want simply to rebuild the communities, we want them to thrive, and this $1 billion investment will do just that,” he said.
“We know that this won’t happen overnight’s that this will take time and those who are affected, we say to you that we have your back now and well into the future.”
Fire crews have been taking advantage of cooler conditions this week to prepare for another challenging day tomorrow, with hot weather expected in several areas.
Bureau of Meteorology acting state manager Grahame Reader said temperatures were set to be around the low 40s tomorrow, reaching the mid-40s in Western Sydney, with strong winds stoking fire danger.
“After a relative respite in the weather this week, we are expecting another significant spike in conditions tomorrow,” he said.
Hot and dry north-westerly winds will move to a vigorous southerly change in the afternoon, bringing with it gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour.
Fire danger will reduce over the weekend but the smoke that has been lingering all week is unlikely to dissipate, he said.
Stay across our bushfire coverage:
- Bushfire smoke plume expected to lap the globe, NASA predicts
- Government pledges $50m for fire-affected wildlife as koalas may become endangered
- First all-Indigenous NSW firefighting crews protecting sacred sites, remote communities
- Australia fires photos show startling transformation before and after destruction
- We crunched the numbers on bushfires and arson — the results might surprise you
- Analysis: As Australia burns, Scott Morrison is rattling off an alibi
- Wildlife experts say over a billion animals now dead in NSW bushfires
Tarbuck Bay 2428
A Sydney mother has described how she and her children were forced to flee on foot through the bush as a fast-moving bushfire closed in on the wooden holiday house they were renting.
Tracey Corbin-Matchett and her family were staying in the rental at Tarbuck Bay, north of Newcastle, on Saturday.
She said they had just sat down to eat dinner when her husband Greg noticed something was wrong.
“Hubby went to get a glass of water to have with dinner, and there was no water, so he said, ‘Oh, the power must be out’,” she told the ABC.
“He went [outside] to check the fuse box and saw further down that there was smoke coming up, there must be a fire down at the road, not realising it was actually on our property.”
Ms Corbin-Matchett said the family decided to leave immediately, only taking some clothes with them in the car.
They figured they wouldn’t be gone too long.
“[We] left behind everyone’s Christmas presents and surfboards and stuff and drove down the driveway of the property, which is quite a long, winding driveway.”
But as they neared the end of the path, Ms Corbin-Matchett said they realised the fire was right in front of them. Strong winds had brought down a tree at the edge of the property, which then knocked over a power line, sparking the blaze.
Making matters worse, the fallen tree and powerline were blocking the end of the driveway.
“We had to reverse back up the driveway, with the car in reverse as the fire was chasing us, thinking that if we could sort of scramble into the house it would be safe,” she said.
Ms Corbin-Matchett (second from right), her daughters Sage and Aurora and son Zahn (centre), all had to flee the property on foot — her husband Greg (second from left) stayed behind. (Supplied)
‘My son only had socks on — he ran like a champion’
Back inside, the family realised staying put was not a safe option either.
“By the time we got to the house, fire had come over the balcony,” Ms Corbin-Matchett said.
In video footage shot by one of her teenage daughters, flames are seen shooting up trees just near the edge of the wooden balcony. Ms Corbin-Matchett can be heard in the background, talking to emergency services over the phone.
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“Hubby in his quick thinking said, ‘Get out of the house, this is not going to be safe, you guys run through the bush,'” she said.
“My son only had socks on, he’s only nine — he ran like a champion. My daughters are 17 and 15, they just ran.
“I was running on pure adrenaline, it honestly felt like I was running through quicksand … I was trying not to show panic, but I was absolutely panicked.”
Ms Corbin-Matchett and her children ended up in a neighbouring property owned by an elderly couple, who she said were “a bit surprised” to see them running into their backyard.
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) soon arrived and sent a truck to the holiday house, helping Mr Matchett get the family’s car off the property through a back way, avoiding the downed powerline.
“The RFS came, they were amazing. They’re so calm and they just know what to do, what to say,” Ms Corbin-Matchett said.
“They were cuddling the kids, the waterbombers were going over, they were giving us instructions on where to go and how to get out.”
The fire ended up circling back towards the neighbouring property, which also needed to be evacuated.
Ms Corbin-Matchett said the elderly couple, who had a little wildlife sanctuary on their property, were picked up by friends and taken somewhere safe.
“I hope for that beautiful old couple — that was their home that they’ve lived in for a very long time — that it’s okay and that their animals are okay,” she said.
“We don’t know what the [holiday] house is like, it was pretty close, as you can see from the video, the flames were right on the house … Hubby’s gone back today to see what’s left.”
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Now back home in Sydney, Ms Corbin-Matchett said what happened to her family could happen to anyone, and praised the “brilliant” work of the RFS firefighters who helped them.
“We were literally just sitting down for a lovely roast lamb dinner, ready to go for a surf — just the quintessential Aussie holiday — and that happens.”
The Smiths Lake area where the family was holidaying did not have any active fires at the time of the blaze, so there were no warnings in place at the time.
“It was a bit of a series of unfortunate events, but we’re very lucky, we’re back home today in the Shire thanking our lucky stars that we are safe,” Ms Corbin-Matchett said.
“It just happened in a minute, and with no warning, absolutely no warning.”