Tag: NSW

See if you’re a winner or a loser in this year’s federal budget


Find out who’s getting a cash boost and who’s missing out in Josh Frydenberg’s 2021 federal budget.

Winner: Vaccines

An extra $1.9 billion will be spent on our vaccine strategy over the next five years, with the government also confirming it’s set aside a pool of money to invest in mRNA vaccine production in Australia.

Currently, mRNA vaccines can’t be made in Australia but after the official health advice that the preferred COVID-19 vaccine for people under 50 be Pfizer (mRNA), many called on the government to look at producing them locally.

While mRNA technology was in development before the pandemic, it hadn’t been used in vaccines until companies like Pfizer and Moderna rolled out their treatments.

The government invested heavily in the AstraZeneca vaccine and manufacturer CSL given it was a type of vaccine already used and could be produced locally.

The budget doesn’t say how much funding the government will provide for mRNA production because of “commercial in confidence sensitivities”.

But it does say that it’s asked the Department of Industry to work with the Department of Health to develop onshore manufacturing capabilities for now and long-term use.

The government is also chipping in another $1.5 billion for COVID-related health services like testing and contact tracing.

Loser: Renewables

There is no new direct funding in the budget for renewables, except for $30 million over the next year for a big battery and microgrid project between Katherine and Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Most of the government’s spending on energy is focused at low emissions technologies.

The government’s putting $643.4 million over the next four years into low emissions technologies, including $539 million in funding for two “clean” energy schemes announced before the budget by the Prime Minister.

It includes $275 million towards developing four more hydrogen production hubs in regional areas, and $237 million for carbon capture and storage projects (CCS) and hubs.

Critics from the Climate Council and The Australia Institute have raised concerns with both projects, saying unless hydrogen is produced using entirely renewable power it will still contribute toward emissions.

On CCS, the Climate Council has labelled it an “extremely expensive” technology that does not deliver zero emissions and hasn’t worked around the world.

Winner: Women

Last year’s budget was criticised for its lack of specific focus on funding for women — while this year is a completely different story, the funding across multiple areas falls below what many services and advocates had called for.

In addition to changes to the childcare subsidy, the government’s tipping in $354 million for women’s health.

That includes $100 million for improving cervical and breast cancer screening programs, including extending the free mammogram service to now cover women aged 40 to 74 (previously it was for women aged 50 to 74).

More than $47 million is being put toward depression services for pregnant women and new mothers, $95.9 million on screening of embryos during IVF and $13.7 million to reduce pre-term birth rates, especially among Indigenous communities.

The government’s spending $27 million on programs to reduce eating disorders and $21.6 million on other health initiatives including education and pain management programs for endometriosis.

It’s also putting $998 million over the next four years towards reducing domestic and family violence, and supporting survivors.

That funding covers money for frontline services and specific programs for migrant, refugee and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women.

For perspective, Women’s Safety NSW said it estimated the sector needed $1 billion a year just for frontline services.

There’ll also be a new trial program which gives women fleeing violent relationships up to $5,000 in assistance, split into a $1,500 payment and $3,500 in expenses like rent, legal fees and furniture.

There’s also money for consent and respectful relationship education and $320 million over four years for legal services.

To help women when they retire, the government will now make it so that employees who earn less than $450 a month will be paid the superannuation guarantee.

The change was sparked by the Retirement Income Review which found that of all the people affected by the previous threshold, 63 per cent were women.

But there’s no mention or suggestion of tacking super payments on to Paid Parental Leave payments, which industry advocates say is one of the key ways to close the super gap between men and women.

Building on last year’s budget, there’s more investment to encourage women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, with $42.4 million over seven years for 230 scholarships for “higher level STEM qualifications”.

Lastly, a new four-year scheme will offer 10,000 single parents who have dependent children assistance to buy a home with as little as a 2 per cent deposit.

According to the latest ABS data, 81 per cent of single parents are women, meaning the program could potentially give many a leg up into the housing market.

Loser: International tourism

When the last budget was handed down in October, the government assumed that international borders would begin to gradually reopen towards the end of this year.

But given the issues with the vaccine rollout and ongoing international outbreaks, the government’s now saying the border won’t open until at least mid-2022.

That’s bad news for tourism operators who rely on international visitors.

While the government announced just under $60 million in last year’s budget to help some of these businesses diversify their markets, there’s little extra support this year.

Instead, the government is extending its zoo and aquarium support package and extra money for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Winner: Aged care

The government is putting an extra $17.7 billion toward aged care over five years, or roughly $3.5 billion a year.

While it’s a significant injection, it’s worth noting the royal commission into aged care declared the sector was underfunded by about $10 billion a year.

The money will be spent on 80,000 new home care packages over the next two years, bringing the total to more than 275,000 by June 2023.

As at June 30 last year there were more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for home care packages, with the royal commission recommending the wait list be cleared by the end of this year, something that will not happen with the current spend.

The government is also tipping in $3.9 billion over the next four years to mandate the “care minutes” of 240,000 aged care residents and 67,000 people accessing respite services — another of the royal commission’s recommendations.

By October 1, 2023, providers will be required to provide three hours and 20 minutes of care, per resident, per day, including 40 minutes with a registered nurse.

There’ll also be a new government-funded “Basic Daily Fee” supplement of $10 per resident a day for providers to improve care and services.

Workforce training is also on the agenda, with $216 million over three years to provide more specialised training and $91.8 million over two years for 13,000 new home care workers.

Respite care and support services will also be boosted by $798 million over the next five years.

There is also money to help make it easier for senior Australians to navigate the aged care system, including $200 million for a new star rating system to make the performance of aged care providers clear.

Winner: Child care

After being criticised for not providing any new childcare funding in last year’s pandemic-focused budget, the government is putting an extra $1.7 billion over the next three years into the industry.

The $566 million or so a year will go toward changes to the Childcare Subsidy Scheme which will come into effect in July 2022.

Under the changes, the annual $10,560 cap on households with an income of more than $189,390 will be abolished, matching Labor’s pledge.

If you have one child in childcare, the subsidy stays at 65 per cent but if you have two or more, it’s 95 per cent for each kid.

While the government estimates the changes will help around 250,000 families, others have argued it will still mean childcare is unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of other families who only have one child in care.

Neutral: Young people

An additional $500 million over two years will be directed to the JobTrainer program to create an estimated 163,000 places and reduce to the youth unemployment rate which is sitting at 11.8 per cent.

JobTrainer was unveiled last year and was one of the government’s plans to drive job creation in the wake of the pandemic by up-skilling school leavers or people who are unemployed through free or low-fee courses.

The government will have to work with the states and territories — who fund half the scheme — to have it extended until the end of 2022 like it hopes to.

The government’s apprenticeship wage subsidy scheme is also being extended to the tune of $2.7 billion.

It’s expected to help create 170,000 new positions, but it’s worth remembering the money goes to employers and there’s no guarantee that apprentices will be kept on when their training finishes or when the subsidy ends.

But for school leavers or young people who don’t want to skill up in the areas targeted by JobTrainer like childcare, aged care and IT, or aren’t interested in an apprenticeship, there’s little in the budget.

There is going to be $21 million for 5,000 extra short course places at non-university higher education providers this year, but no extra funding for local university places.

The youth-focused JobMaker hiring credit, which provides incentive for businesses to hire young people, will still be available but is only expected to support 10,000 jobs over the next two years, instead of the 450,000 predicted last year.

Loser: Migration rate

With the international borders still closed until at least mid next year, our migration numbers are expected to keep going backwards.

It’s now expected that net overseas migration will fall by around 97,000 by June this year — a bigger drop than the 72,000-person decrease it predicted in last year’s budget.

Migration will fall by a further 77,000 people between 2021-22 due to the border closure.

The budget predicts that it’ll then increase to 235,000 in 2024-25, but as the last year’s proven those figures really are just estimates that could change amid the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Winner: Preschool

Usually the government provides annual funding for preschool, but this year it’s giving a firmer commitment, promising $1.6 billion over the next four years.

The funding agreement still has to be worked out with the states and territories and will pay for at least 15 hours a week.

From 2024 the money will be be tied to attendance targets, with a goal to introduce a new “preschool outcomes measure” in 2025.

Winner: Gaming industry

The government’s announced a 30 per cent refundable Digital Games Tax Offset to try and attract more of the $250 billion global game market to Australia.

To get the offset, eligible businesses have to spend at least $500,000 on certain games expenditure.

Exactly what that includes is still being worked out, and will be decided after the government consults with the industry.

The offset is part of the government’s $1.2 billion package on a range of measures to improve our digital technology and “digital economy”.

The package also includes money to improve MyGov and My Health Record, as well as research into artificial intelligence and cyber security.

Loser: Universities

Universities around the country which rely on international students are likely to continue to struggle given the delay on borders reopening, the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout and no clearer picture on the future of hotel quarantine.

Making matters worse there is no specific funding for universities in the budget.

The budget now estimates the international border will open in 2022 and while the government is working on a three-step plan to achieve that, it relies on the majority of the population being vaccinated.

Some university heads, like the ANU’s Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt, have already said the number of international enrolments for next year is down on their forecasts as students turn to other countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Students are preferencing going to places that are open, even with COVID running rampant,” he said.

There is some hope, states like Victoria and NSW are considering alternative plans to hotel quarantine — like using empty student accommodation — to get international students back as soon as possible.

Winner: Small brewers

Small brewers and distillers — the little guys of the industry — are getting some more help this year with $255 million in tax relief.

From July 1 this year anyone who is eligible will be handed back up to $350,000 worth of taxes.

That’s a big increase from the 60 per cent refund of taxes up to a $100,000 annual cap at the moment.

But big booze companies aren’t eligible.

Winner: Taxpayers

The so-called “Low and Middle Income Tax Offset” will remain in place for another year.

The tax rebate, which workers receive after completing their tax returns, is worth different amounts to different income groups.

It was supposed to finish on June 30 but it will be extended by another 12 months.

This is how much you can expect to land back in your bank account if you’re in any of these wage brackets:

WageOffset$37,000 or less$225Between $37,001 and $48,000$255 plus 7.5 cents for every dollar above $37,000 up to a max of $1,080Between $48,001 and $90,000$1,080Between $90,001 and $126,000$1,080 minus three cents for every dollar of the amount above $90,000Neutral: International students

While the continued border closure until 2022 may mean students cannot come or return to Australia to study, the government has made some changes so that those who are here can work more.

The fortnightly limit of 40-hours of work for international students with jobs in hospitality and tourism is going to be scrapped.

A similar change was made for anyone working in agriculture, health or aged care.

And while there are plans being considered in Victoria and NSW to bring international students back to Australia outside of hotel quarantine, the budget only goes as far to say that “small phased programs” for international students will start late this year.

Winner: Mental health

An extra $2.3 billion is being invested into the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, and will be shared across five key areas.

Around $250 million has been set aside for early intervention, including a new digital platform that’ll provide online counselling, peer and clinical support, and referrals.

A further $298 million will go directly to suicide prevention. The federal government is going to work with the states and territories to fund aftercare for every person discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt.

The biggest share of cash will go to treatment, with $1.4 billion for a new national network of mental health treatment centres for adults, youth and kids.

A further $107 million will be spent on supporting vulnerable Australians, specifically Indigenous people.

And finally, the government is putting $202 million to increase the workforce, offering scholarships and clinical placements for nurses, psychologists and allied health practitioners working in the mental health space.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also announced a new National Suicide Prevention Office will be formed.

The new money is in response to the findings from a report by the Productivity Commission into Mental Health and comes in the wake of increased pressure on mental health support providers throughout the pandemic.

Loser: New residents

There aren’t a lot of cuts in this budget, but one way the government is expecting to save a lot of money is by making “newly arrived residents” wait four years across the board for “most” welfare payments.

The new rule will start on January 1, 2022 and is expected to save $671 million over five years.

There’s no more detail in any of the budget papers about who counts as a new resident and what payments they will be blocked from receiving, but the change is something the Australian Council of Social Service has already flagged as “very concerning”.

Winner: Businesses

As well as the support announced for particular industries like small brewers, video gaming and medical and biotech start-ups, the budget also has a few perks for other businesses.

Last year’s business write-off perks are being extended by another 12 months.

That means businesses with a turnover of up to $5 billion will be able to write off the full value of any eligible asset like a work vehicle or equipment they bought between last budget and June 30, 2023.

The extension also mean any losses incurred up to June 2023 can be offset against prior profits made going back to the 2018-19 financial year.

Winner: Farmers

Farmers will benefit from the instant asset write-off which has been extended until June 2023, allowing them to immediately deduct the full cost of eligible depreciable assets.

There’s also $200 million for a National Soil Strategy that will include rebates for farmers that share the results of soil testing, and $370 million for biosecurity measures to stop the spread of pests and diseases.

The government will spend almost $60 million trialling ways to reduce emissions through livestock feed and soil management.

It’ll also waive almost $15 million of debt owed by more than 5,000 farmers receiving the Farm Household Allowance from Centrelink.

But those looking for an answer to the shortage of farm workers or a new international trade strategy to deal with the fallout from Australia’s deteriorating relationship with China may be disappointed.

Winner: Medical start ups

One of the new ideas in the budget is a new tax program aimed at encouraging medical and biotech companies to stay in Australia while they develop and then sell their ideas.

In a nutshell the “patent box tax regime” will tax any income from a company’s patent at a concessional rate of 17 per cent starting from July 1, 2022.

For comparison, large businesses are taxed at 30 per cent and small-to-medium enterprises at 25 per cent.

Start-ups are an area the government is focusing on this budget, with $500 million in other new measures to make Australia an attractive place for businesses.

Part of that includes removing red tape and changing tax rules to encourage the use of employee share schemes, which the government says are important for start-ups to attract and retain staff.

Neutral: Refugees

The government is keeping its reduced cap of refugee places at 13,750 a year after lowering it by 5,000 in last year’s budget.

But it is extending funding for support services that help women on temporary visas who may be experiencing domestic and family violence.


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

This week’s floods were ‘nature’s warning’. But the solution creates a potential catastrophe


The Warragamba Dam wall needs to be raised to help prevent the devastating floods seen in Sydney this week — but there is a cost upstream too.

Almost 150 years ago, a torrent of water poured out of the Blue Mountains and filled western Sydney like a bathtub.

Floodwaters rose to nearly 20 metres in some areas, with the high-water line still marked at some parts.

Over the years serious — albeit smaller — floods have hit Sydney several times.

This week was one of the worst ever seen.


The floodplains in Windsor, western Sydney. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


Some of the damage from this week’s floods (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


A house fully submerged in the Windsor area. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )

But as bad as the latest flood is, 1867, by comparison, went even higher.

Almost 100 years later the Warragamba Dam was built.

It was never intended to be a flood mitigation dam. Its purpose to provide 80 per cent of Sydney’s drinking supply.

When not full, it can mitigate floods by catching some of the rainwater that would otherwise flow into parts of western Sydney.

Video: Water spilling from the Warragamba Dam

(ABC News)

But when the dam is full and overflowing — like it was this week — it offers no protection.

Pouring trillions of litres into the basin below.

Leaving devastation in its wake.

And it’s almost inevitable that one day a flood as bad as 1867 — and worse than this week — will come again.

Every year, there’s thought to be a 0.2 per cent chance that will happen.

Development in the floodplain has since exploded: 134,000 people live and work in the area, and that’s expected to double in the next 30 years, according to Infrastructure NSW.

So the NSW government is charging ahead with a radical plan — an idea which, in some form or another, dates back at least to the 1990s — to raise the wall of the dam by between 14 and 17 metres.

It says the move will protect lives and property and would have slowed the peak of the floods this week, likely saving some homes and businesses. Some experts disagree.

But to protect those living on the floodplain there is a cost upstream.


Upstream, pristine wilderness is at risk. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

With a higher dam wall, thousands of hectares of unique World Heritage bushland will be flooded, and according to government documents obtained by the ABC much of that will be severely damaged.

Thousands of sites of Aboriginal importance are also in the development’s path.

The United Nations World Heritage Committee has warned the project would threaten the World Heritage status of the Blue Mountains, risking what’s known as its “Outstanding Universal Values”.

And traditional owners have compared it to a potential Juukan Gorge catastrophe.

But for the minister driving the project, Stuart Ayres, it’s a matter of lives versus heritage.

“We’ve got to trade off some environmental impact to be able to protect properties downstream,” Mr Ayres says.

He thinks recent flooding carries important lessons that can’t be ignored.

“This is nature’s warning that you have to be prepared, you have to get ready and you have to take flood mitigation in the Hawkesbury-Nepean seriously.”

Video: Drone footage of the Warragamba Dam

(ABC News)

But others believe there’s another way.

To show you what’s at stake, we have to travel a long way into the wilderness.

Into an area of enormous global significance.

Far beyond the dam wall.

‘The things that will be lost’

This is Gandangara country, in the NSW Southern Highlands.

The Indigenous people of this land have been displaced before.

To make way for the original dam to be built in the 1950s, Kazan Brown’s grandmother was forcibly removed from her land.

Her home is now at the bottom of Lake Burragorang — the artificial lake created by Warragamba Dam. An area with thousands of culturally significant sites and artefacts.


Taylor Clark (pictured left) and her mother Kazan Brown are fighting to preserve the culturally significant sites left on their country. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


This land is connected to an ancient song line. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


The land contains significant ancient sites and artefacts. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Now, Ms Brown fears history is on the verge of repeating itself.

“If the wall’s raised, once we have the first flood, there’ll be burial sites, there’ll be art sites, scar trees, campsites, shelters, all sorts of things that will be lost,” she says.

Kazan Brown would instead like the government to consider alternative options.

“People think [the raising of the wall] is for extra water supply for Sydney, but it’s not. It’s for development and flood mitigation.”

“There’s got to be a better way.”

Ms Brown’s daughter, Taylor Clarke, 23, is studying law, and determined to protect her culture.

She worries deeply about the loss of even more of her family’s heritage, and its impact on connecting with culture on-country.

“If that’s gone, it’ll never be real to my kids and it’ll never be real to my grandkids,” she says.

“That’s where the connection is built.”

One of the last wild rivers

Tracking further west, the bush becomes dense.

Deep in the Australian wilderness, but right on Sydney’s doorstep, it is an area of enormous global significance, protected by the United Nations as World Heritage.


The Kowmung is the last declared wild river in NSW. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

It’s also home to the Kowmung — one of the last official “wild rivers” in NSW.


Roger Lembit worked as an ecologist on an attempt to raise the height of the Warragamba Dam wall in the 1990s. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Avid bushwalker and prominent ecologist Roger Lembit has been coming here for more than 40 years.

When he was in his 30s he was diagnosed with leukaemia.


Roger Lembit on the shore of what he describes as one the state’s most pristine waterways. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

He would meditate, imagining he was here, on its banks.

“In some ways, it was better than a painkiller because it just took my mind off the other things that were happening to me, it is part of the reason why I’m still alive.”

When the NSW government wanted to raise the dam in the 1990s, he was hired to assess the environmental impacts — impacts he documented that saw the project ultimately shelved.

If the dam is raised, he says, water will back up along these banks during floods.

Mr Lembit says inundation could last up to two weeks, a timeframe which would likely have a permanent ecological effect.

“Last time, [in the 1990s] these sorts of issues were brought to the attention of the [Carr] government,” he says.

“It decided not to proceed partly on the basis of the significant environmental impacts that were going to be caused.”

The proposal


Before the wall (ABC News: Brendan Esposito )


An artist’s impression of the new height. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito and Emma Machan)

The government has not yet released the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the dam-raising project, despite promising it more than two years ago.

Leaked drafts of the EIS, obtained by the ABC, reveal widespread and severe impacts are predicted along the unique upstream environment in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Take the critically endangered regent honeyeater. It’s thought there could be as few as 200 of the small birds remaining.

Many forage and breed in habitat that the draft EIS found would likely be destroyed by the dam-raising project.

It found up to half the remaining population could be impacted.

The expert ecologists writing the draft EIS also warned temporary inundation would cause permanent damage to the environment.


A snippet of the pristine environment. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


The critically endangered regent honeyeater. (Supplied: Lachlan Hall)

So extensive are the projected impacts to endangered plants, animals and ecosystems, that the compensation bill for the government — the amount it could be required to pay to “offset” the damage — amounts to $2.88 billion in a draft assessment from 2019.

NSW Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres argues the government doesn’t need to pay that bill because the inundation is temporary and only occurs during big floods, despite the ecologists saying the impacts would be permanent.

According to Roger Lembit, that assessment “makes no sense whatsoever”.

“It sounds to me like a scientific fraud,” he says.

The choice

Mr Ayres says the recent floods serve as a warning from nature that things need to change quickly.

And he’s clear about the trade-off involved in raising the dam.

“There’s no doubt there’ll be an impact on ecosystems and environment,” he concedes. “We also know the bush is resilient and it will regenerate.

“Ultimately, this is a going to be a choice about where you store floodwater; either behind a flood mitigation dam wall or whether it’s in people’s living rooms.”


Flood damage in a lounge room in western Sydney this week. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Mr Ayres says the government has considered other flood mitigation options, including blasting open Sackville Gorge, in the nearby Hawkesbury River, which acts as a chokepoint for escaping water.

“[But] the best performing option was increasing the height of the dam wall,” he says.

Hawkesbury City councillor Nathan Zamprogno also supports the raising of the wall and believes it is a necessity to keep his community safe.

This week he watched as the newly built Windsor Bridge — built several metres higher than the old bridge — was covered by water for days.

Homes and businesses were destroyed. And in other parts of the state, lives were lost.

“What’s missing from this debate is the voice of people most at risk,” he says.

Michael Micallef is one.


Michael Micallef had to kayak around his property after this week’s floods. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

His house in Pittown flooded and “basically became a houseboat”.

“It was surrounded by water — it came through the walls,” he says.

“We were stuck inside because we couldn’t get in the back or front. So we put the kayak in to get out.”

He lost carpets and furniture, and his neighbour’s house was flooded by more than a metre of water.

But the community quickly pulled together to support him.

Mr Micallef says it has been hard, but with the waters receded — and people coming together — the mood is improving.


Michael Micallef wades through floodwater after this week’s floods.  (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


Jason Adam, from South Windsor, looking on as his home was sandbagged for protection this week. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)


Many communities were hit hard by the flooding. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

According to Nathan Zamprogno, this week is an example of how the economic and environmental costs of raising the dam wall are a small price to pay for the safety of his community.

“You’ve got to balance these things wisely, and I don’t believe the people who are opposed to this project have done that in a way that’s fair.”

Yet many opponents of the project fear it would lure people into a false sense of security that the valley is safeguarded against floods.

There are also fears the project would be used to justify further development of the floodplain, something the government denies

Is there another way?

As the debate rages on, other alternatives are quickly being brought into focus.

Shortly after the Juukan Gorge catastrophe, the Insurance Council of Australia withdrew its support for the Warragamba project, calling “for the exploration of alternative mitigation options to reduce flood risks”.

Kazan Brown thinks they were spooked by the blowback Rio Tinto received after destroying the Juukan Gorge caves, and worried they would invite something similar.

Similarly, since the floods this week, NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliot, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Premier Gladys Berejiklian have all emphasised the need to consider other options.

In 2019, the government released an “options assessment” that concluded raising the dam had the highest “net benefit”. In other words, it was the most cost-effective option.

That assumed the project would cost $690 million. But documents released under FOI laws suggest the construction could cost as much as $1.6 billion.

And the leaked draft EIS documents show compensation for environmental damage could add nearly another $3 billion.

Dam wall compensation bill revealed
Leaked documents show the NSW government tried to avoid paying nearly $3 billion for environmental damage expected to occur as part of its plan to raise the dam wall  

Chief among the alternative options raised by several government ministers this week is to use the existing dam as flood mitigation by leaving the top 12m empty.

It means plans for desalination plants would need to be accelerated to make up for the shortfall.

Jamie Pittock, a water management expert at ANU, says the most important thing to do is to stop development in the floodplain.

“I would really rather see that money invested in a permanent safety solution of moving people out of harm’s way,” Professor Pittock says.

Back along the Southern Highlands, Taylor Clarke worries raising Warragamba Dam will result in the loss of even more of her traditional lands and the continuation of traditions that have survived for tens of thousands of years.


Taylor Clarke is fearful of losing her connection to her country. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“As I stand here and have that whole picture and have that wash over me, I think what I feel is sadness and disappointment,” she says.

“I will continue to fight this until we win, but I’m disappointed this is what it’s come to and that the importance of this doesn’t mean anything to the people who are making the decisions.”


Reporting and research: national environment, science and technology reporter Michael Slezak and the Specialist Reporting Team’s Penny Timms

Photography and additional videography: The Specialist Reporting Team’s Brendan Esposito

Editing and digital production: the Specialist Reporting Team’s Emily Clark and Nick Sas

Design: Emma Machan

Drone videography: Supplied

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

Massive drop in NSW coronavirus infections continues

Sydney 2000

New South Wales has recorded two more coronavirus deaths, bringing the state’s total to 26, as the number of new cases continues to decline.

Key points:

  • Two more passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise have died
  • Sixty-six crew members have now tested positive
  • Only nine new COVID-19 infections were recorded in NSW in the past 24 hours

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said a 74-year-old woman died in John Hunter Hospital, while a 79-year-old man died in the Northern Beaches Hospital.

Both were passengers on the infamous Ruby Princess cruise ship and contracted the virus while on board.

In the 24 hours to 8:00pm on Sunday, the state recorded only nine new COVID-19 cases, despite more than 2,600 people being tested.

The total number of confirmed infections in NSW is now 2,863.

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

The single-figure increase came after seven new infections were recorded the previous day, although only about 800 people were tested then.

“The fact that we had nine new cases clearly indicates that we are moving in the right direction, but we still have a lot more to do,” Mr Hazzard said.

“No one should think that we can slacken off in the efforts that we’re trying to undertake at the moment.”

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

It has also been revealed 66 Ruby Princess crew members have now tested positive to the virus.

Dr Christine Selvey, NSW Health Acting Director of Communicable Diseases, said some of those employees were close to recovery, though, as infections were spread across several weeks.

She rejected calls for all crew members to be tested as test kits only returned a positive result when someone had symptoms, not during the incubation period.

Mr Hazzard said it was still unclear who “patient zero” on the ship was almost a month after it docked at Circular Quay in Sydney.

“I think the jury is well and truly out on that, in the sense of who brought it onto the ship,” he said.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Meanwhile, Mr Hazzard warned aged-care workers to stay home if they were unwell after a nurse at a facility in Western Sydney went in for six days despite having coronavirus symptoms.

Mr Hazzard said the woman, who worked at the Anglicare Newmarch House in Caddens and eventually tested positive, put vulnerable people at risk.

One resident has since tested positive and another is waiting for test results.

“We have talked about this numerous times but now it appears that some staff are still going to work, even when they have symptoms,” he said.

“Please don’t go to work if you’re feeling sick. Just don’t go.”

In a statement, Anglicare said all residents were now self-isolating in their rooms and any staff who had close contact with the infected people were self-isolating at home.

Anglicare said it had deployed staff specially trained in working with COVID-19 to work with the resident who tested positive.

It said all other staff had been directed to wear full personal protective equipment when caring for residents.

NSW Health has also identified several new areas where more testing should be conducted due to community transmission, including Penrith, Liverpool, Westmead, Blacktown, Cumberland, Randwick and Ryde.

Video: Dr Norman Swan looks at some of the drugs that could treat COVID-19 and their drawbacks


External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

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

Want to come home to Queensland? You’ll need a special permit

Brisbane 4000

The Queensland Government is implementing strict new coronavirus rules for Queenslanders returning home from interstate.

Key points:

  • Anyone wanting to go into Queensland will require a permit, including residents
  • Drivers with Queensland licence plates will no longer be freely allowed to enter
  • Annastacia Palaszczuk says border control measures could be toughened further

From tomorrow night, anyone returning home will need a special permit to cross back into Queensland.

Anyone who has visited a virus hotspot like Sydney will need to quarantine for 14 days upon returning home.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her message to Queensland residents was “now is not the time to go into New South Wales”, and warned border controls could get even tougher.

“We are not ruling out further measures into the future, so you do not want to get caught across the border,” she said.

“Everyone please stay in your state.”


The new permit requirements will be in force from Friday night. (AAP: Dave Hunt)

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

Police Minister Mark Ryan said the change meant drivers with Queensland licence plates would no longer be waved through at the border.

“No one is immune to these stricter border controls… this is about making sure we’re all keeping safe and we’re all staying within our state and staying at home unless we’re going out for essential purposes,” he said.

Ms Palaszczuk added: “You’re not supposed to be going on a holiday into NSW. What we’re saying to Queenslanders is, do the right thing, and stay in Queensland.”


The new measures place even tougher restrictions on those wanting to cross into Queensland. (ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

This morning Ms Palaszczuk tweeted the latest coronavirus figures from Queensland Health, which showed 10 new cases overnight, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 953 — 576 of them current.

Qld COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases so far: 987
  • Deaths: 5
  • Patients tested: 72,313

Latest information from Queensland Health.

Queensland Health director-general John Wakefield said having only 10 new cases was a “tremendous result” for the state, and a further indication that the rate of new infections was slowing.

He said that came despite “significantly increasing our testing, over 3,000 patients yesterday” to include people in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns who showed symptoms but were previously not being tested because they had not been overseas recently or been in contact with confirmed cases.

Dr Wakefield thanked frontline healthcare workers and support staff including cleaners, food and services staff.

“Whilst we all retreat from COVID into our homes, those people go out into that environment to care for us and to care for our loved ones,” he said.

Queensland police said as of midnight Wednesday, officers had issued 239 fines for people breaching public health directions.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

They had also refused entry to 947 vehicles at state borders, and directed 2,638 people re-entering Queensland into quarantine.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said too many people were still “recklessly and blatantly disregarding” coronavirus rules.

She said most people had been compliant but it was proving extraordinarily difficult to control the number of people using Gold Coast beaches.

“Last weekend we had so many people descend onto the Gold Coast that those social distancing measures were so extraordinarily difficult to enforce, people were still sunbaking, congregating, and this is what we want to avoid,” she said.

“What we’re saying is please can you just stay home for these next few weeks. You can still get out and do your exercise, but do it locally.

“Our strategy has always been communication, compassion and then ultimately compliance, and I think the messaging is getting across. People are phoning in and genuinely complaining about people because they’re concerned when people are breaching those rules.”

Five Queenslanders have died from COVID-19 and 372 have recovered.

Queensland has done 66,766 tests, more than any Australian state except NSW.

Gladstone region to get dedicated COVID-19 hospital

Meanwhile, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said the acquisition of the Gladstone Mater Misericordiae Hospital would further enhance the capability of the local area’s public health response to COVID-19.

“We have funds set aside to purchase the Gladstone Mater and add it to the central Queensland Hospital and Health Service’s capacity,” Mr Miles said.

“That will, during a COVID-19 outbreak, allow us to have a dedicated COVID ward of 34 beds as well as a dedicated COVID intensive care unit of between four and 12 beds.

“At the end of the pandemic, we will complete a purchase of the hospital, add it to the stock of the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and we are working through a model, which will allow private providers to continue to operate from that hospital.”

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it would be “absolutely superb” as a COVID-19 hospital for when it would be needed.

“It’s got everything that could be needed — in fact, if I designed the facility and built it for that purpose, it couldn’t have been better,” Dr Young said.

Mercy Health and Aged Care, which currently operates the Gladstone hospital, last year reduced its operating hours after closing the hospital’s maternity ward in 2018.


The Queensland Government is purchasing the private Gladstone Mater Misericordiae Hospital. (ABC News: Jemima Burt)

Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher said the city’s residents could be assured health services in the area would “get better and better”.

“Not only can we help Gladstone get through this pandemic — if and when it comes — but we can also afterwards take it under the wing of Central Queensland Health and Hospital Service and turn it into a co-shared facility,” he said.

“Certainly tough times for the Gladstone region, but this is a reason for us to have a big cheer and a big smile without any hugs today in Gladstone.”

Rent assistance measures

Residential and commercial property owners in Queensland are also set to be given tax relief in order to pass on savings to struggling tenants.

Owners will be given a three-month land tax refund, followed by a three-month deferral — if their tenants are struggling from economic hardship.

It also means tenants cannot be evicted during the next six months, if they can’t pay their rent due to the impact of the pandemic.

Queensland Treasurer Jackie Trad said the State Government had allocated $400 million for the measures.

“It includes every land owner — so mum and dads that have a property and that is the source of their revenue — if they are taxed according to our land tax regime, they will be eligible for a refund and they will be eligible for a deferral,” she said.

Ms Trad said the Office of State Revenue [OSR] would be able to take applications from next week.

“There will be the capacity to hop online and have a look already,” she said.

“But in terms of that one-on-one engagement, from next Tuesday, as soon as Easter is over … the Office of State Revenue will be up and running and taking enquiries and progressing registrations and applications.”

Who should present to COVID-19 clinics?

  • People with a fever (or history of fever) or acute respiratory symptoms, AND, in the last 14 days:
  • they were a close contact or a household contact of a confirmed case, OR
  • they had been overseas, including on a cruise

Testing is also possible for people who have a fever (or history of fever) or acute respiratory symptoms, AND:

Queensland Health has set up testing and fever clinics for people who may be infected with COVID-19.
Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results.
For more information about coronavirus call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) or go to the Queensland Health website

Video: Professor Paul Young discusses the search for a coronavirus vaccine


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

NSW Premier says some coronavirus restrictions could be eased next month

Sydney 2000

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the state’s tough coronavirus social-distancing rules could be relaxed as early as next month.

Key points:

  • The Premier said lifting restrictions came with “risks”
  • There were 48 new COVID-19 infections in NSW, the lowest number since March 19
  • NSW Police will increase social-distancing patrols over the Easter long weekend

Yesterday, she described social distancing as “a way of life” that would remain until a COVID-19 vaccine was found.

When asked today about the chances of the restrictions being eased on May 1, she said that was possible, and that the laws would be assessed on a month-by-month basis, based on health advice.

“If the advice in a couple of weeks is that there might be a couple of aspects that we can tweak to provide relief to our citizens, well then, we’ll take that advice,” she said.

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

However, she said despite the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state stabilising, lifting restrictions “comes with a risk”.

“When you do lift any of the restrictions, it does mean that more people will be admitted to our hospitals and more people who will succumb to the virus,” she said.

“Every time you relax a restriction, more people will get sick. More people will die.”

Coronavirus rules explained Can I go fishing? Can I visit my parents? The 16 reasons you can leave home under NSW’s tough COVID-19 measures.

Last week, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the state’s tough social-distancing laws would be in place until the end of June, and that he would not seek to extend them.

“People will have gotten the message by then, hopefully,” he said.

NSW Health confirmed 48 new coronavirus infections this morning, taking the state’s total to 2,734.

It is the lowest number of new cases recorded since March 19 — the day the Ruby Princess cruise ship docked in Sydney.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant said 2,900 people were tested for COVID-19 yesterday, up from 2,100 the day before.

The Premier said she wanted to quadruple NSW’s ICU capacity and that there were 1,000 beds with ventilators available already.

“That is something that we’re working hard on behind the scenes and it’s positive news,” she said.

“We’ve been able to double our capacity already.”

Commissioner Fuller said officers would be out in force over the Easter weekend in a bid to enforce social-distancing bans.

“We will be going through caravan parks early, issuing warnings to people who may think that they can get around these laws,” he said.

“It’s important over this weekend that we continue the good work and we continue to isolate, as frustrating as that may be.”

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Video: Dr Sanjaya Senanayake discusses coronavirus latest and the need to maintain social distancing


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

World-renowned koala bushfire victims released back into the wild

Port Macquarie 2444

Several world-renowned koalas rescued from a New South Wales fireground have now returned home having recovered in the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

Key points:

  • Several koalas rescued from a New South Wales fireground have returned home
  • Following a full recovery, the koalas have been released back to the Lake Innes Nature Reserve
  • The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been temporarily closed due to the coronavirus

It has been more than five months since a bushfire razed a large area of Lake Innes Nature Reserve, a known koala hotspot on the NSW mid-north coast.

One of the first koalas to be rescued and treated at the hospital was Anwen.

“Pictures of her had gone around the world. She was quite severely burnt,” said the hospital’s clinical director Cheyne Flanagan.

The koala became part of many homes around the world through the hospital’s online adoption page and her recovery was closely watched.

“She’s recovered really well, gained weight [and is] looking really good,” Ms Flanagan said.

“Her burns have healed, she’s good claw-return, so it’s all about letting them be koalas again.”

Home at last

Anwen was one of several koalas released back into their habitat.


The hospital’s goal is to get animals returned to where they came from. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Whilst the bushland is looking quite different to what they knew, Ms Flanagan is confident they will settle in nicely.

“There’s good vegetation here and there’s plenty to sustain them so we’re really happy,” she said.

“This is our goal, to get animals returned to where they came from, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

A mother and a joey, a young male, and another female koala were released in neighbouring trees.

There is a method to the release program, aimed at encouraging breeding.

“We’re putting a ratio of males to females to mimic what happens in the wild,” Ms Flanagan said.

“So this young male here, oh boy, he’s in for a surprise in the next few months.

“Hopefully there will be heaps of young koalas in the near future.”


Laundry baskets are used to transport the koalas from the koala hospital to their natural environments. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Koala Hospital volunteer Jeremy Bear said it had been a great achievement to be able to bring them back.

“It’s great to see that we are doing such a good job that we can get these koalas back out there,” Mr Bear said.

“Some of them we obviously lost along the way. But [there are] the amazing stories of the ones that have survived and hung in there and bounced back very well.

“Seeing them up in a tree in their native environment is wonderful.”

COVID-19 closes hospital

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has temporarily closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But hospital president Sue Ashton said it may give volunteers some much-needed respite.

“Because of the bushfires we all worked, our volunteers worked, almost around the clock to keep the koalas in good health, to treat them, to keep the facility open,” she said.

“This is a forced break and I think some of our volunteers are probably well overdue for a bit of a break.”


Final checks before Anwen’s release. (ABC Mid North Coast: Kirstie Wellauer)

Mr Bear agreed, saying it “does just take the pressure off”.

“If someone’s not feeling well they don’t have to feel guilty for not coming in. They can do the right thing and stay home,” he said.

“Most of the volunteers have said they still want to come in, they still want to be there, they still want to help.

“If we’ve got less koalas it’s easier to spread the load between us and it also means we can get in, get the job done, and leave the hospital so we are not having too much contact with other people.”

The outlook for the koalas is “really questionable”, Ms Flanagan said, with potentially up to an 85 per cent decline in NSW with the changing climate.

“It’s a long road ahead. Whether they’ll ever recover good numbers we don’t know,” she said.

“But we certainly are going to do our best to try and achieve that goals with buying land and conserving habitat and trying to breed as many as we can.”

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

NSW is bending the curve but a concerning trend is on the rise


The rate of new coronavirus infections in New South Wales is trending down, but community transmission is on the rise.

In the past week, there has been a 350 per cent surge in infections caught locally with no known link to a confirmed case.

“It’s probably the most concerning component of the figure we’ve had to date,” Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

According to Professor Kelly, it justifies the Federal Government’s tough new ban on gatherings of more than two people.

As of today, police in NSW have the power to issue on-the-spot fines of $1,000 to anyone congregating in groups of three or more.

It’s an extraordinary measure but one other states are adopting too.

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap

If new cases are slowing, is the crackdown necessary?

Here are the numbers health authorities argue justify the crackdown.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

While the data isn’t absolute, it provides clues about how the virus is spreading in the community.

Health authorities have attributed the slowdown in new daily cases to a fall in returning travellers and social restrictions starting to bite.

But community transmission cases don’t appear to be dropping in the same way.

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

Tim Newsome from the University of Sydney says infections transmitted within the community have a higher chance of exploding in size.

“Returning travellers are like a drip-feed of new cases, but when the virus becomes established in the community to some extent the cat is out of the bag,” Dr Newsome said.

He argues cases that can be traced back to a known contact or an overseas traveller are far easier to control.

It is harder to identify lone cases, especially where people are displaying little or no symptoms.

“If we don’t know who has the virus, then each person is infecting around two or three others and that’s when you see the real exponential rise,” he said.

William Rawlinson from the University of NSW cautions against considering the overall figures in isolation.

“The fact the numbers are dropping is a good sign, but you need to take into account that’s the number of positive diagnoses — there might be a much larger number that are untested that have the infection,” Professor Rawlinson said.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

How low does the number need to go?

Professor Kelly says there would need to be a significant downward trend for restrictions to be lifted, but he stopped short of providing a ballpark figure.

“We want to see the curve not only flatten but bend downwards, and then making that decision about when to take the foot off the brake will be very difficult,” he said.

He suggests it could be a staggered approach, but the details have not been finalised.

“How we would make that exit strategy is certainly something we are very much working on at the moment, as much as an escalation strategy,” he said.

Either way, he says, current restrictions are likely to last months as Australia watches how other countries manage their next steps.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

Video: The rate of COVID-19 infections appears to be slowing but don't celebrate yet


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

Border Force boss slaps down NSW Government over handling of coronavirus cruise ship

Sydney 2000

The Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner has tipped a bucket on the NSW Government over its handling of the arrival of a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Sydney last week.

Key points:

  • The total number of coronavirus cases in NSW has jumped to over 1,000
  • In the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday, 211 people returned positive results
  • Many of the new cases are linked to passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship

As the cases of COVID-19 passed 1,000 in NSW today, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said “all of us have to take responsibility” about why the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock.

Later in the morning, Australian Border Force (ABF) commissioner Michael Outram pointed the finger squarely at the NSW Government, saying its health department had given the green light for passengers to disembark, despite several people onboard being tested for coronavirus.

About 2,700 passengers got off at Circular Quay last week and more than 100 have since tested positive for COVID-19.


Passengers disembarked from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay on March 19. (AAP: Dean Lewins )

“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,” he said.

“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”

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

In the 24 hours to 8:00pm yesterday, 212 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in NSW, taking the state’s total number of infections to 1,029.

NSW’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said many of the new COVID-19 cases were linked to the Ruby Princess.

Yesterday a woman in her 70s who contracted the virus on the ship became the seventh coronavirus-related death in NSW.

NSW Premier grilled on COVID-19 cruise
The Government comes under fire for multiple COVID-19 cases on the Ruby Princess cruise ship. Watch the full press conference here.

Mr Outram said the ABF was responsible for customs and migration controls at the border, but not health screening.

“People can make their own minds up about what went wrong and no doubt further down the track there will be lots of inquiries about what happened,” he said.

Mr Outram said having seen the criticism directed against his organisation and officers he felt it was important “to clarify some actual facts.”

A report will be released in coming days on decisions the Berejiklian Government made around the Ruby Princess.

Dr Chant stressed there was nothing NSW Health could have done with the information they had at the time.

She said most passengers displayed symptoms of the virus only after disembarking but confirmed that one passenger was taken straight to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital after the ship docked.

Video: NSW authorities confirm first infections in children under 10.

(ABC News)

Despite the record rise in new cases, the Premier insisted “some” degree of control is being maintained over the virus.

Ms Berejiklian said most people in NSW with coronavirus had been infected overseas or after direct contact with someone who had been overseas.

“That tells us to an extent that we are maintaining some control over the virus,” Ms Berejiklain said.

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

The state has recorded its first two cases of coronavirus in children under 10, after a two-month-old boy and seven-year-old girl tested positive yesterday.

Dr Chant said the cases were not linked, and that both had contact with confirmed adult cases.

She said they were now at home with minimal symptoms.

Last night Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new crackdown on social gatherings, which Ms Berejiklian said she supported.

She acknowledged the tighter measures would likely mean more people would be sacked.

But as a result of added pressure on Service NSW, the Premier announced 1,000 extra staff would be hired to work for the State Government agency.

Video: Dr Norman Swan explains how Australia could beat COVID-19

(ABC News)

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

‘The problem is just over the horizon’: Rise in NSW coronavirus infections, state’s total passes 400

Sydney 2000

Health authorities in NSW have confirmed 83 new coronavirus infections in the 24 hours to 8:00pm on Friday.

Key points:

  • NSW Health has banned travel to Lord Howe Island
  • Four cruise ships have experienced cases of COVID-19 in relation to travel out of Sydney
  • A religious service attended by 300 people on March 8 in Ryde has resulted in seven cases

The new cases take the state’s total number of COVID-19 infections to 436 and represent NSW’s largest increase over a 24-hour period.

A total of 46,456 people have been tested and cleared in NSW.

Out of the 436 cases, 218 were picked up overseas, 92 have been cases caught from a contact and 74 have been diagnosed as locally acquired, but with an unidentified contact.

The remainder are being investigated.

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

NSW Health has also declared a ban on travel to Lord Howe Island from 5:00am on Sunday in a bid to restrict the spread of the virus.

The ban means access to Lord Howe Island is restricted to residents, health workers and other essential service workers.

Any new arrivals within permitted categories will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard encouraged people to heed advice on social distancing, amid the rising number of infections.

“The problem is just over the horizon on the basis of the numbers that we’re now seeing,” he said.

“Particularly here in New South Wales, they are showing a substantial increase.

“We will all remember the numbers in the last few days, they’ve effectively doubled just in the last week.

“Save yourself and save your family. Listen to the messages that are coming out, not just from Government officials but from doctors.”

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

Elsewhere, seven people have been confirmed as COVID-19 cases after attending a church service with a congregation of more than 300 people.

The Sydney Church of Christ service took place at Ryde Civic Centre on March 8.

Close contacts of cases have been put into self-isolation and NSW Health is warning attendees of the service to be alert for symptoms.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Yesterday, Mr Hazzard revealed several people on board the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which docked in Sydney earlier in the week, had tested positive to coronavirus.

He warned the 2,700 passengers that disembarked they could have been exposed to COVID-19, and urged them to self-isolate for 14 days.

Today, NSW Health named three other cruise ships which have had confirmed COVID-19 cases onboard.

A 67-year-old passenger has been diagnosed after travelling on the Ovation of the Seas out of Sydney.

The ship is now at sea with only crew on board.

A woman in her 20s has been diagnosed with COVID-19 after travelling on the Voyager of the Seas, which returned to Sydney from New Zealand on March 7.

On a later trip on the Voyager of the Seas, a 66-year-old man was confirmed as having COVID-19.

The other case involves a passenger on the Celebrity Solstice, who travelled on the cruise ship before it docked in Sydney on March 20.

The Ruby Princess remains at sea between Sydney and Wollongong after recording four confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Video: What is it like to actually have coronavirus?


External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

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

Minister issues warning as number of coronavirus cases in NSW surges past 200


There have been 39 new confirmed coronavirus cases in NSW in the past 24 hours, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has said.

Key points:

  • Minister warns that NSW needs to be prepared for an exponential increase in cases
  • Premier says it’s too early to say whether NSW should shut down bars and restaurants
  • Sydney Opera House cancels all performances until at least March 29

It is the largest increase in a 24-hour period, overtaking yesterday’s record rise of 37 cases.

NSW now has 210 confirmed cases across the state.

There are 1,482 cases under investigation, with 28,552 cases tested and excluded, NSW Health said.

Ninety cases of the 210 were acquired overseas, 54 were likely due to contact with a confirmed case and the remainder were either under investigation or unknown.

The largest age group affected is the 30-39 group, with 52 cases.

Mr Hazzard said the state needed to be prepared for an exponential increase in infections.

“This virus has very much a mind of its own and it knows that at the moment across the world, it’s winning the battle,” he said.

“Here in NSW, I think we’re holding the line but we still need to do a lot more work.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was too early to say whether the state could follow the actions of virus-hit locations overseas by closing venues such as bars and restaurants.

“I don’t want to speculate on that as yet,” she said.

“Please know that we are in regular, daily contact with the health experts. We are motivated by the advice we have from experts.

“We are not at that stage yet [of closing venues]. But I do appreciate all of us, including myself, are taking extra precautions as we should, so there is no doubt been a downturn in what people normally do.”

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

The latest update on cases follows the announcement by the State Government today of a $2.3 billion coronavirus stimulus package, including a $700 million funding boost for NSW Health’s frontline services.

Ms Berejiklian said the package would be split between healthcare and other measures including tax exemptions aimed at keeping people in jobs.

“A huge component will go directly towards the health system, to purchase more equipment, to put on additional staff, and to take care of every patient that comes through,” she said.

“We also appreciate given the extra measures of social distancing and social isolation, the impact this is having on our community.

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

“That’s why the package today includes a huge component to relieve small businesses and medium-sized businesses of payroll tax, but also to ensure that government does its bit in employing more people in certain areas during this difficult time.”

Elsewhere, the Sydney Opera House announced it was cancelling all public performances from today until at least March 29.

Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron said it was the venue’s responsibility to protect the public from the spread of coronavirus.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly but these are unprecedented events,” she said.

Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our artists, audiences, visitors and our valued staff.”

Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

External Link:

Ask us your coronavirus questions

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

NSW handed Sheffield Shield as coronavirus bring season to abrupt finish


New South Wales has been awarded this season’s Sheffield Shield title, with Cricket Australia (CA) cancelling the final.

External Link:

cricketcomau tweet: Final sheffield shield standings

CA has also recommended all grade and amateur cricket should cease, bringing the 2019-20 cricket season to an abrupt end.

The decision to cancel the final round of the Sheffield Shield season was made on Sunday, but there was still a suggestion the decider could be played, starting on March 27.

“By effectively cancelling the remainder of our season, Cricket Australia is playing its part in protecting fans, players, staff, volunteers and match officials during this unprecedented global health issue,” CA boss Kevin Roberts said.

“These are difficult decisions, but the right ones in the circumstances.

“As organisations around the world rally to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important that we also provide decisive leadership.

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

“We hope that by taking these actions now, in addition to those announced in recent days, we can contribute to flattening the curve of coronavirus and society returning to normal as quickly as possible.”

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

New South Wales was awarded the title, its 47th, by ending the truncated season on top of the table, 22.23 points ahead of last year’s champions, Victoria, with one round to play.

The Sheffield Shield season has been decided by a five-day final since the 1982/83 season.

The Australia first-class domestic competition has taken place every year since 1892/93, with breaks for World War I and World War II.

Australia had already cancelled its upcoming international cricket commitments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ODI series against New Zealand was cancelled after one game, which Australia won by 71 runs behind closed doors at the SCG on Friday, after New Zealand implemented tough travel restrictions on Saturday.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

The subsequent three-match T20 tour of New Zealand, set to take place later this month, was also cancelled.

The final two rounds of country’s domestic championship, the Plunket Shield, was also cancelled, with Wellington awarded the title after ending the season on top of the ladder.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Australia’s women’s team cancelled its tour of South Africa where all sport was later suspended.

Elsewhere, England cancelled its upcoming two-Test tour of Sri Lanka, with the players flying home immediately.

In India, the IPL twenty20 competition has been suspended until April 15.

Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

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

Chart shows how many people have recovered from coronavirus in Australia


The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia has surpassed 700 after Queensland health authorities reported a record 50 new cases in a single day — three times the state’s previous daily record of 16.

In NSW, on the other hand, the daily number of new cases has fallen for the first time in eight days.

It is unclear whether the figures for new cases are related to higher rates of testing or other factors that may influence the number of new confirmed cases. This is because state health authorities do not consistently report the number of people tested each day.

(Tap/hover on any chart for more information.)

The figures come from a national database of confirmed COVID-19 cases, compiled by ABC News.

The database tracks confirmed cases by gender, age, location, source of infection and other information published in case reports from state and federal health authorities.

It is supplemented with additional reporting by ABC News and updated daily to show the spread of the disease across Australia’s states and territories.

The latest update was just before 7pm AEDT on Thursday, March 19.

The figures include the details of every confirmed case since January 25, when NSW and Victoria reported the country’s first four cases.

To date, state and territory health authorities have reported 709 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia.

This includes 142 new cases in the past 24 hours, with Queensland, WA and Victoria recording their highest daily count of new cases so far.

Nationally, six people have died and 46 have recovered after being diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 650 confirmed cases are current across the nation.

The NT is the only state/territory without any confirmed cases.

(A previous version of this story said every state and territory had recorded at least one confirmed case. However, the only confirmed case in the NT was a resident of NSW, so this is now recorded in the data for NSW.)

NSW has the highest number of cases, making up 43 per cent of the total number of infections, followed by Victoria, then Queensland.

However, the picture shifts when population size is taken into account. Adjusting the figures for the number of residents shows NSW has the highest rate of infection per 100,000 residents, followed by Queensland, then SA.

The ACT has the lowest rate of infection, followed by Tasmania, then WA.

The database provides insight not only into how and where people are catching the disease but also who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Most confirmed cases are people in their 50s, followed by those in their 30s. In Australia, three times as many people in their 50s have been diagnosed with the virus, compared to people in their 70s.

However, this gap narrows when the numbers are adjusted for the size of each age group, with people in their 50s roughly twice as likely to be among the confirmed cases as those in their 70s.

Age-specific figures show people in their 50s have the highest infection rates, followed by people in their 60s.

Across the country, more men than women have tested positive for coronavirus, but the figures vary significantly between the states and territories.

When a case is confirmed, health authorities undertake detailed tracing to identify the source of transmission.

However, authorities have provided information about the potential source of transmission in less than half of confirmed cases.

Of these, most were acquired overseas, with overseas contact accounting for three times as many cases as transmission via local contact with a confirmed case.

However, these figures also reflect Australia’s testing criteria, which has focused testing efforts on patients who have recently returned from overseas and those who have had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

In a minority of cases, authorities have named the countries visited by people who have tested positive for the virus. Among these cases, the United States was the most common country visited, followed by Italy, China, Iran and the UK.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

Video: Dr Norman Swan explains coronavirus terminology

(ABC News)

Notes about this story

  • Population figures sourced from ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Jun 2019
  • Dates refer to the date the case was reported by authorities, except in these instances:

    – The 5th, 6th and 7th confirmed cases in Victoria have been assigned to the date they were first cited in official press releases. These cases were first announced on March 1, as having recovered from the virus.

    – Dates for the 7th and 8th confirmed cases in Queensland (Diamond Princess cruise ship evacuees) are based on ABC News reports. The 9th confirmed Queensland case, another Diamond Princess evacuee, was first announced in a press release on March 3.

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

Vincent Ryan sexually abused more than 30 children. But he thinks he should remain a priest


Vincent Ryan is a Catholic priest and a paedophile, convicted of sexually abusing more than 30 children. In Australia’s first television interview with a convicted clerical sex abuser, Ryan said there was no reason why he should not remain a priest.

“It’s a duty. I’ve committed myself to it,” he said. “It’d have to be a very serious reason, unless I’m stopped by authority, for me to make that decision and at this moment I don’t see it.”

In the ABC’s Revelation series, filmed on the eve of Ryan’s 2019 criminal trial, the paedophile priest is seen performing mass in his home, wearing holy vestments and blessing the communion wine and bread.

Following his fourth conviction in March 2019 on charges of sexually abusing two boys in the Newcastle region in the 1970s and 1980s, Ryan, 81, is currently serving a prison sentence in NSW of three years and three months.


Following his fourth conviction, in March 2019, Ryan is currently serving a prison sentence in NSW of three years and three months. (Revelation/In Films)

‘I will have a conscience problem’

Survivors of Ryan’s abuse have condemned the Church’s failure to remove Ryan from the priesthood. Peter Dorn was a victim of Ryan’s as a primary school boy in Maitland in the 1970s.

“How does the church want somebody like that? How did they say that’s a person acting on behalf of God? They’ve got no decency, they’ve got no compassion,” Dorn said. “They say they have acknowledged it, but if they still recognise him as a priest, you know that’s disgraceful.”

When Ryan was first arrested in 1995, the church withdrew his “faculties”, meaning he was no longer able to perform religious duties in public, hear confession or call himself “father”.


When Ryan was first arrested in 1995, the church withdrew his “faculties”, meaning he was no longer able to perform religious duties in public or hear confession. (Revelation/In Films)

However, he remained a priest and can still say the Catholic mass in private.

The current bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, told the ABC in August last year that he had written to the Vatican about Ryan’s status.

“The full range of things that have come to light and considerations of the time, all of these things are as matters of fact in what I’ve sent to Rome,” the Bishop said. “So they’ve been raised.”

Bishop Wright confirmed on Sunday in a letter to parishioners that he had received no response from Pope Francis or the Vatican about Ryan.

Ryan questioned whether he would in any case accept a decision to remove him from the priesthood and no longer say mass.

“I will have a real quandary, because I will want to obey the church, but I will have a conscience problem. I don’t know what I’ll do,” he said.

Penance was ‘three Hail Marys and a decade of the Rosary’

Gerald McDonald is another of Ryan’s victims. He was assaulted while an altar boy with Ryan in Merewether in the 1970s and said he felt by allowing Ryan to remain a priest, the church was “condoning a paedophile”.

“It makes me sick … That’s exactly what they’re doing,” he said.

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Ryan enjoyed the protection of the church in multiple ways during the decades of his offending against children, including taking advantage of the secrecy of confession. Ryan told the ABC that he confessed to a priest that he was sexually assaulting children,

“I don’t know the exact words, but they would have been aware that I … that I had offended against children because … I can remember one priest saying, ‘you’ll go to jail if you don’t stop this’,” he said.

Ryan said he knew the priest would not break the seal of confession.

“How could he follow up the seal of confession? What can he do?” said Ryan, who claimed his penance was “three Hail Marys and a decade of the Rosary”.

Ryan said he felt better having been given absolution for his sins by the priest. “Momentarily I felt free, yes,” he said.


Ryan enjoyed the protection of the church in multiple ways during the decades of his offending against children. (Revelation/In Films)

Bishop Wright said he believes the priest, from the Redemptorist Monastery in NSW, was correct to keep Ryan’s confession secret.

“I’m afraid I’d have to say I believe he should have kept his confidence,” Wright said.

‘It’s part of the sex abuse crisis’

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended law reform to lift the protection of confessional privilege for reports of child sexual abuse.

All of Australia’s states and territories have committed to following the recommendation.

Australia’s Catholic Church leaders insist the sanctity of the seal of confession must be upheld even it means protecting priests who are breaking the law.


Ryan was sent to the Vatican to study at Propaganda College, along with a handpicked group of Australian seminarians that included George Pell. (Revelation/In Films)

Bishop Wright said: “Yes, I think the law is intruding into a place of personal conscience where it should not be.”

Ryan was ordained as a priest in Rome by Pope Paul VI in St Peter’s Basilica in 1966.

He was sent to the Vatican to study at Propaganda College, along with a handpicked group of Australian seminarians that included George Pell.

Ryan explained the effect of ordination:

“It meant you were set apart and you had this special mark on you. That was the theology of the church at that stage … If you were an ordained minister, of course you were more important than a married person.”

Bishop Wright explained how that transformation created a damaging culture in some quarters of the church.


Ryan was ordained as a priest in Rome, by Pope Paul VI in St Peter’s Basilica in 1966. (Revelation/In Films)

“Believing that membership of the in-group, the clergy specifically of course, confers a certain status and privilege … It becomes clericalism, I guess, when it’s unanswerable and it allows people to stand on their status and get away with things that as human beings they shouldn’t,” Wright said.

“I think everyone agrees it’s part of the sex abuse crisis.”

Some Cardinals believe children sent to ‘tempt’ them

Ryan blames his immediate superiors in the Catholic Church for not monitoring him closely once they learnt in the early 1970s that he had abused children. He claims the church’s priority was self-defence.

“The church still was in a fortress, defending itself against all these horrible [people] wanting to drag it down,” said Ryan, who went on to abuse many more children in multiple parishes over two decades until he was caught.


Ryan blames his immediate superiors in the Catholic Church for not monitoring him closely once they learnt in the early 1970s that he had abused children. (Revelation/In Films)

When interviewed for Revelation, former president of Ireland Mary McAleese, a devout Catholic and qualified canon lawyer, said there were Cardinals who in her presence had blamed children for the crimes committed against them.

“What they’re saying is these children, you know from the age of seven with the use of reason and the age of discretion, are capable of grave sin,” she said.

“There is a belief that, yes, that the children have been used by the devil to tempt or seduce or to subvert the vocation of a man who was called by God.”

When asked if he could be forgiven for his decades of abuse of children, Vincent Ryan has no doubt: “By God,” he said. “Most certainly.”

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

Dogs sniff out cane toads moving into burnt-out bushland in NSW

Lismore 2480

Cane toads have been a big problem in far-north New South Wales for decades, but the recent bushfires are making matters worse as cleared, charred land makes it easier for the pests to move into new territory.

Key points:

  • Passively trained conservation dogs are sniffing out cane toads that are moving into bushfire-affected land in northern NSW
  • Cane toads find it easier to move across burnt-out land rather than jumping through lush undergrowth and over logs
  • Landcare member Tamar Cohen says dead red-belly black snakes and freshwater turtles are early signs of a cane toad invasion

The village of Rappville, south of Casino, was hit by a firestorm in October that destroyed 15 homes, and is in the buffer area of the newly formed cane toad biosecurity zone.

Tamar Cohen, of the Border Rangers Richmond Valley Landcare Network, said the community needed to work together to eradicate the feral amphibians that could travel as far as a kilometre in one night.

“Burnt land makes it easier for toads to travel as they’re basically lazy,” she said.

“When a bushfire comes through and it clears out a lot of the undergrowth and logs, we’re finding that cane toads can move much quicker through those landscapes.

“So the concern with Rappville, as with other towns impacted by the bushfires, is that cane toads can now move in much easier than before.”

Ms Cohen said the toads picked easy pathways, such as roads and mowed lawns, but found it difficult to move through natural vegetation because they were not good jumpers.


Cane toads find it easier to move through burnt-out land, like this beef property near Rappville in northern New South Wales. (Supplied: Wendy Pannach)

Dogs have high degree of hunting ability

Ms Cohen said cane toads had been found on properties near the Richmond Range National Park.

This was causing concern because the national park was one of the few remaining forests in the area that had not been destroyed by the fires and was home to threatened species that were vulnerable to cane toads.

“We’ve got native frogs and small reptiles that are already struggling to survive, so we don’t want them killed by the poisonous cane toads,” she said.

“The first thing property owners see with cane toad invasions is dead red-belly black snakes, dead pythons, and dead freshwater turtle species.”

A special Rappville team has been established to control the pests and Sydney dog trainer Steve Austin has been using his English springer spaniels, Tommy and Becky, along with cocker spaniel Emma, to help hunt them out.

“The dogs have a high degree of hunting ability,” Mr Austin said.

“They can find the toads by scent and stand and point with their nose to alert me they are there.

“All three dogs are conservation dogs, which means they have been trained in a passive response.

“They stop and stare at their catch, but do not hurt it.”


A toad-buster volunteer finds a string of cane toad eggs in a jelly like substance hidden under leaves in a dam. (Supplied: Scott Lenton)

Built for native birds

Like many Rappville locals, Cathy Cook is upset many native species were lost in the bushfires.

She believed any remaining species must be protected.

“Everyone is spewing about losing the natives but when the first lot of rain came, the first thing you heard was a bloody cane toad,” Ms Cook said.

“There were millions of cane toad eggs in our dam and that was two weeks between the rain — so I was armed with my butterfly net to get them.”

Ms Cook was concerned the toads would also move into Bungawolbin and Whiporie.

“We’ve built our place for native birds and we have a lot of native flowers and trees,” she said.

“We also look after our dams for the native frogs to live in.

“I love hearing the native frogs croaking away in summer and then you hear ‘brrrr’ start up amongst it all, and it’s like ‘You weren’t invited toads! So go away’.”

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

NSW Health to test children who visited nursing home at centre of coronavirus outbreak


NSW Health says it will be testing parents and children who visited a Sydney aged care facility where an elderly resident died after being infected with coronavirus.

Key points:

  • Brad Hazzard has declared NSW is in “a war with coronavirus”
  • He wants it to be easier to access federal funding to deal with outbreaks in nursing homes
  • The total number of positive cases in NSW rose to 22 on Wednesday night

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said a group of 17 children from the Banksia Cottage, at Macquarie University campus, visited BaptistCare’s Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care facility on February 24.

Following the visit there was an outbreak of illness at the childcare centre, with one staff member and the partner of another developing respiratory illnesses.

Both were tested and cleared of having the coronavirus.

Mr Hazzard today said there was no indication the children had been infected with the virus or were responsible for infecting the residents at the nursing home.

However, a clinic will be run tonight where all parents and children from the childcare centre can be assessed for coronavirus.

“This is for the abundance of caution because I think it is really important that we understand what viruses are being spread in this childcare centre and what is the cause,” NSW chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant said.

Chris Zheng’s four-year-old daughter attends the childcare centre and he said he would like her to be tested for coronavirus.

“I’m a bit worried … a test will always help,” Mr Zheng said.

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

Macquarie University said it had been advised by NSW Health that there was no need to close the childcare centre.

Staff failed to turn up for work at the nursing home after a 95-year-old resident died and later tested positive for the disease, in what was the second coronavirus-related death in Australia.

Two other residents and a staff member have also tested positive.


Several residents at Dorothy Henderson Lodge are now in isolation. (ABC News: Liv Casben)

The aged care staff member had contact with at least 13 residents at the home.

Dr Chant said the staff member was not working the day the children visited.

Matters came to a head yesterday when NSW Health was forced to scramble nurses to the aged care facility.

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

Mr Hazzard said he asked his federal counterpart Greg Hunt for emergency funding to cover the cost of nursing staff.

But he said he was told he would need to go through the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority.

“This is now a war, it’s a war with coronavirus,” he said.

“We need to know that the Federal Government’s got our back, and if we make decisions that are nimble, in the interests of patients, in the interests of citizens, and it costs state taxpayers, then the Federal Government will back us on that funding.

“The response I got yesterday indicated a fairly bureaucratic process that we’d have to go through — that’s just not reasonable.”

Tracing the source

On Wednesday night, health authorities updated the total number of confirmed cases in NSW to 22 and was scrambling to ascertain how individuals without recent overseas travel history became infected.

One of the new cases of infection, a 27-year-old female doctor from Liverpool Hospital, was found to have attended a radiology seminar with 77 other medical professionals on February 18.

Another doctor who tested positive to the virus, a 53-year-old man from Ryde Hospital, had gone to the same conference but no other attendees the two doctors had contact with had shown any symptoms of the virus.

At Ryde Hospital, 61 staff have been placed in self-isolation and 56 patients have been identified as close or casual contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case.

“So we have had tracing going on … these are a bit like a police investigation in sense,” Mr Hazzard said.

Your questions on coronavirus answered

He said the situation was evolving.

“NSW Health is doing everything they can to try contain it, but we do know that containment is an unlikely outcome.”

“Our community has to be doing everything they can do to support us in defeating what has really become a war in defeating this coronavirus.”

He called for better cooperation between the states and the Commonwealth to make sure emergency funding was made available when needed.

The ABC has contacted Mr Hunt and Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck for comment.

Video: 7.30's coronavirus special gives you the facts and sensible advice from world-leading experts.


About 100 aged care homes around the country will be audited to make sure they can protect their residents against the spread of coronavirus.

Janet Anderson, the aged care quality and safety commissioner, will oversee the audit.

“We want all of our services … to be compliant with best practice infection prevention and control,” she said.

Health authorities are issuing advice to all aged care facilities to cancel all group visits from childcare centres as a precaution.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

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

Farmers receive year’s worth of rain — and hope — in one week

Gulargambone 2828

A week of unexpected rain in western New South Wales has delivered mixed results, bringing immense relief for some farmers, while barely wetting the dirt for their neighbours.

Key points:

  • Recent significant rain across parts of NSW has brought hope to farming communities
  • Rainfall has ranged from 5mm to 300mm although some properties missed out altogether
  • Farmers says they will be able to stop buying feed and will not need to sell stock

In the first week of February a tropical low from Queensland swept across drought-ravaged parts of NSW, delivering drenching rain and cool temperatures.

Although it has not broken the drought, it was the most significant, widespread rain in three years and has brought hope to farmers and communities — even those who missed out.

In the last fortnight, Dubbo has received 70 millimetres of rain, Warren 103mm, Walgett 82mm, Coonamble 49mm, and Bourke 27mm.

Rainfall on properties has been even more varied, ranging from 5mm to 300mm.


A week ago, this Gulargambone paddock was dusty but after 300mm of rain it has a lake. (ABC Western NSW: Lucy Thackray)

Jim and Jo O’Brien were lucky enough to record 300mm in just seven days at their Gulargambone cattle farm.

“We had no green before and now we don’t need to feed our cattle anymore,” Mr O’Brien said.

“It’s a massive relief — we’ve been feeding since 2017. It’s so good to put an end to that and start moving forward.”


Before the week of heavy rain, there was not a blade of grass in the paddocks. (Supplied: Jim O’Brien)

In just a week, the O’Brien’s prospects have completely turned around.

“We were at the point where we were going to sell 200 of the cows, but we can now keep them,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We stopped buying feed instantly; it’s been fantastic.

“The last couple of months, we’ve been putting out 50 bales of hay and six tonnes of pellets a week. It’s been taking so much money out of our account.”

Some incredibly lucky, others miss out

Paddocks have turned from brown to green, every waterhole is full, and floodwater is still pooled in the O’Brien’s paddocks.


This paddock has become a lake, immersed in floodwaters and surrounded by green grass. (ABc Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

“We haven’t cropped for the last two years; that was the first time we hadn’t cropped since 1994,” Mr O’Brien said.

“I think it looks very optimistic for us to sow a fodder crop in early March now.”

The O’Briens know they have been incredibly lucky.

“People less than 100 kilometres away from us still haven’t had a break; they had 25 millimetres in the last week and we’ve had 300,” he said.

“It’s frustrating and I feel for them because we’ve been through it for the last two years. I feel their pain.”


George Falkiner (left) says prospects have changed after significant rain at Haddon Rig merino stud. (ABC Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

George Falkiner is principal at Haddon Rig merino stud in Warren. His property received more than 160mm in a week.

He said there was no warning before the heatwave conditions suddenly changed.

“It wasn’t forecast; no one said we’d receive rain that would put a big hole in this drought,” Mr Falkiner said.

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“The temperature drop meant the country wasn’t being burnt off with 45 degree [Celsius] temperatures, strong winds, and dust storms.

“The grass has been able to start shooting [so] it’s a complete different scenario to what happened in December and January.”

There had been concerns about how the land would start to recover after such extreme drought conditions.

“The landscape is responding dramatically, it’s already greening up,” Mr Falkiner said.

“The gumtrees are greening up, there are new buds on some of the trees; it’s all responding very quickly.”


Despite local properties receiving between 50mm and 100mm of rain, Tottenham remains parched. (ABC Western Plains: Lucy Thackray)

A week of rain has now changed Haddon Rig’s plans for the rest of the year.

“We were feeding 15,000 sheep and had been for 18 months. In a stud, destocking just wasn’t an option because you can’t rebuy your bloodlines,” he said.

“Now we can stop feeding in about two to three weeks.”

Town has ‘spring in its step’

External Link:

Facebook post showing floodwaters racing down a dry creek bed

The Warren farmer said while they did not expect to profit from the rain until December, the benefits would flow on to local communities almost immediately.

“It’ll be good for the local towns. People are starting to spend money,” Mr Falkiner said.

“We’ll put a crop in in March so we’re buying seed, fertilizer, diesel, and spare parts in Warren.

“There’s already a spring in the step of people in town.

“There was nothing happening here, everyone was laying off staff and no one was spending any money [so] it’s been a huge turnaround in a week.”

Meantime, Tanya Holmes in Bathurst said they were let down by the recent rain event, with just 20mm falling on their property.

“Unfortunately we don’t even have a puddle in our dam; the ground’s dry,” she said.

“You see the clouds coming and think ‘beauty!’ but then they go around you.

“It is disappointing, but I think you get used to knowing the weather report won’t be quite right.”

Despite missing out, Ms Holmes said she hoped this rain was a sign of change to come.

She said the random and often unfair distribution of rain was just the way it was.

“Some people have flooded paddocks and other people, 10 to 15 kilometres from them, get nothing,” she said.

“You get to a point where you just understand that’s how it is and there’s not much you can do about it.”

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

Eden fisherman jailed for abusing two teenage boys 20 years ago

Wollongong 2500

A well-known south coast fisherman has been jailed for four years over the sexual abuse of two teenage boys 20 years ago.

Key points:

  • Reinhard ‘Fritz’ Drenkhahn, 69, assaulted two boys in the NSW towns of Eden and Wagga Wagga
  • The offences happened between 2000 and 2003
  • A victim impact statement revealed the toll the abuse took on the victims

Reinhard ‘Fritz’ Drenkhahn, 69, assaulted two boys in the NSW towns of Eden and Wagga Wagga between 2000 and 2003.

Wollongong District Judge Andrew Haesler handed Drenkhahn a non-parole period of two years and said the local trawler operator had exploited the “confusion and innocence” of his young victims.

“Children are socialised to be respectful and subservient to adults,” Judge Haesler said.

“[Drenkhahn] was otherwise looked up to by children and his actions and motivations would not have been clear to his young victims.”

The small-town fisherman was found guilty of molesting a 13-year-old boy at a south coast rental home.

The victim said on another occasion Drenkhahn tried to put his hands down the boy’s pants and asked if “he wanted to play”.

He was also found guilty of assaulting another boy who Drenkhahn tried to wrestle while naked during a road trip in Wagga Wagga, before the teen pushed him off.

The impact statement of one victim revealed his struggle to escape memories of his abuse.

“I met the offender when I was 10, and he would take me out on his fishing boat,” it said.

“Before I hung out with him, I felt normal. Now I feel like I don’t know who I am.”

The court heard the victim’s life spiralled, culminating in a suicide attempt soon after Drenkhahn was charged.

“I felt lonely at home, I felt lonely at school, but I couldn’t explain what happened,” his statement said.


Reinhard Drenkhahn will be eligible for parole in December 2021. (Supplied)

“I started drinking… I started using heavy drugs and I reduced it, but the memories were too hard.

“I still have a lot to figure out before I can get better… Just thinking about these things makes my mouth dry and I feel sick.”

Drenkhahn was first arrested in 2016, but adjournments delayed his trial for three years.

His lawyer argued the German-born fisherman came from a tight-knit community and had suffered “public humiliation” since his arrest.

But the Crown said Drenkhahn, who has lived in Eden for 50 years, still had “significant support” from some community members and that his case had divided locals.

Drenkhahn has maintained his innocence.

He was last year found guilty on three charges of aggravated indecent assault of a person under the age of 16, one charge of sexual intercourse with a person aged between 10 and 16, and for possessing an unregistered rifle.

He was acquitted of the more serious charge of aggravated sexual assault of a person under 16.

“He should be enjoying his retirement and caring for his wife,” Judge Haesler said in sentencing.

“Now he is a convicted sex offender.”

Drenkhahn will remain in protective custody where he shares a cell with three other inmates.

He will be eligible for parole in December 2021.

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

‘It’s tough times’: Seabirds rescued after wild weather pushes them far inland

Port Macquarie 2444

Wild weather off Australia’s east coast has pushed seabirds hundreds of kilometres inland, with some rescued at Canberra and on NSW’s Southern and Central tablelands.

Key points:

  • A number of the seabirds were found exhausted and underweight; some have since died
  • It’s hoped they will eventually be released back out to sea, certainly not until Cyclone Uesi has had its time impacting the east coast
  • There’s also been another rare sighting of a Bulwer’s petrel, which don’t usually venture too far from the equator

Mick Roderick from Birdlife Australia said it was not unusual for rough weather to knock birds off course, but the latest weather system had resulted in some very rare sightings.

“Even before the wild weather, we saw a lot of sooty terns close to the coast, which is unusual — there may be something going on with their food source,” he said.

“But then the east coast low hit during the week and that has absolutely sent a lot of these seabirds off course.


This white-bellied storm petrel was found in an industrial area in the ACT. (Supplied: Lisa Hood)

“There have been seabirds found as far inland as Canberra and Rylstone, so it’s tough times for seabirds.

“With a cyclone coming down the coast this weekend, there could be more tough times ahead.”

Mr Roderick said the rescued birds were species normally found further north or over open ocean, including two red-tailed tropicbirds, a white-tailed tropicbird, and a small white-bellied storm petrel — a species rarely seen on land.

“The white-bellied storm petrel is a very small bird, about the size of a peewee, and the fact it’s been blown off course as far inland as Canberra is quite remarkable.”


Catherine Wroe is helping care for this red-tailed tropicbird after it was found at Rylstone. (Supplied: Cathy Gilmore)

Exhausted and underweight

The seabirds have been taken back to the coast where they are in care.

“When seabirds are as far inland as Canberra, the chances of them recovering and flying back to the ocean are almost zero,” Mr Roderick said.

Lisa Hood, rescue coordinator at the South Coast branch of Australian Seabird Rescue, is caring for some of the birds at Jervis Bay.

She said one of the red-tailed tropicbirds was found in a paddock at Murrumbateman in the Southern Tablelands, while the white-bellied storm petrel was found in a Canberra industrial area.

The birds were exhausted and underweight, and a juvenile white-tailed tropicbird had died, Ms Hood said.

“There are recordings of this stuff happening, when storm events can drag in pelagic species from right out at sea.

“The storm petrels are ocean-going birds; they go to Lord Howe Island to breed, but they are ocean birds that don’t live on land.


The white-bellied storm petrel weighed just 40 grams. (Supplied: Lisa Hood)

“I’m reaching out to researchers on Lord Howe Island to make sure the rehabilitation is done perfectly.

“We also need to understand where these birds need to be released … otherwise we could just be throwing them out off the coast here in a totally inappropriate environment.

“Ideally, the white-bellied storm petrel will need to be taken right out to the continental shelf on a boat when it’s ready.”

Random discovery at Rylstone

The Central Coast branch of Australian Seabird Rescue is caring for the other rescued red-tailed tropicbird, which was found at Rylstone, about 150 kilometres from the coast, in the Central Tablelands.

Branch coordinator Cathy Gilmore said it was fortunately discovered by a Central Coast resident visiting the area.

“It was just found randomly on the ground in front of the gate of the property she was visiting,” Ms Gilmore said.


This red-tailed tropicbird was found on a property at Rylstone. (Supplied: Cathy Gilmore)

“She picked it up and we gave her advice for overnight, and then she brought the bird back to the Central Coast for us and we are rehabilitating it, getting it ready for release.

“These red-tailed tropicbirds need to actually go back up to Queensland to be released.”

Rare sightings of Bulwer’s petrel

There have been other unexpected seabird sightings in NSW in recent weeks.

A Bulwer’s petrel was rescued near Port Macquarie and released this week, after one was rescued earlier this year at Cronulla.

Mr Roderick said it was an extremely rare bird for Australia’s east coast.


This Bulwer’s petrel was rescued a long way outside its normal range. (Supplied: Peter West)

“There were no recorded sightings in NSW at all until December last year, and only a handful of sightings in Queensland,” he said.

“Since then, I think this has been the fifth bird sighted and the second bird taken into care, after the one in Cronulla in late January.

“They are a long way out of range. They don’t normally stray far south of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. It is quite amazing.”

Hastings Birdwatchers president Peter West rescued the mid north coast bird and said it was a very surprising discovery.

“This bird should actually be off Darwin at the moment, so maybe they are moving further looking for food,” he said.


Red-tailed tropicbirds are usually viewed over the open ocean. (Supplied: Mick Roderick)

Be on the lookout for injured marine life

The east coast is expected to be hit again this week as Cyclone Uesi makes its way towards Australia, with strong winds and large swells expected to impact Lord Howe Island and mainland NSW.

Ms Gilmore said wildlife rescue organisations were preparing for more injured seabirds and other marine animals.

“We always put the word out for people to keep a lookout every time we get storms like this,” she said.

“It’s not just the seabirds that get blown in, you also get other animals, like the post-hatchling turtles, that can’t fight the storms and currents and get washed up on the beach.”


Lord Howe Island is forecast to feel the effects of Cyclone Uesi. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

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

Brisbane teacher allegedly kidnapped, tied to a chair before being hit by a truck in NSW

Cudgera Creek 2484

Police say they are baffled by the death of a Brisbane school teacher they believe was kidnapped before he was fatally hit by a truck on the Pacific Highway in northern New South Wales.

Key points:

  • Police are trying to piece together the final movements of a Brisbane man who was fatally hit by a truck in NSW this week
  • Police have charged two people with kidnapping Anthony Stott, a teacher, who they say had recently returned from overseas
  • The circumstances surrounding Mr Stott’s death have been described by police as “baffling”

Emergency service crews were called to Cudgera Creek, south of Tweed Heads, just after 7am on Monday, and have since identified the deceased as 43-year-old Anthony Stott.

Detectives later arrested a 38-year-old woman and a 46-year-old man, who have been charged with detaining a person with intent to obtain advantage.

Police are now appealing for further information on the case, which Tweed/Byron District Commander, Acting Superintendent Brendon Cullen described as “extremely unusual”.


Tweed/Byron Police District Commander, Acting Superintendent Brendon Cullen. (ABC North Coast: Leah White)

“It’s … quite baffling really to understand how the man from Brisbane would end up down here in these circumstances and now we find that he’s passed away,” he said.

“We are very keen to find some answers and give some answers to the family involved.

Acting Superintendent Brendon Cullen said any information is important at this early stage of the investigation.

“Anthony had only just returned to the country from a trip in Peru, landing in Sydney earlier last week, then at Brisbane Domestic Airport on Sunday afternoon.

“We have recovered his vehicle, which was located abandoned near the scene on the M1 about 2am on Monday morning.

“We’re also wanting to speak with anyone who may have seen his vehicle on Sunday afternoon — a silver BMW with NSW registration ANL 72Y.”


Police are appealing for anyone in the area who may have seen Mr Stott’s vehicle to come forward. (Supplied: NSW Police)

Police allege victim was ‘tied to a chair’

Acting Supt Cullen said the truck driver was extremely shaken by the incident.

“It took the truck driver by surprise and it is particularly traumatic for the driver,” he said.

“The full circumstances are a little bit unclear as to how he came to be on the motorway and again if there are witnesses that may have seen anything we ask them to come forward.

“We still hold that crime scene and we are still processing that crime scene.


Police set up a roadblock near Cudgera Creek to stop traffic entering Pacific Highway after the incident. (ABC North Coast: Donna Harper)

“Until that is completed, the matter is before the court.

“We believe he was tied to a chair within that house.”

The pair charged have been refused bail and are scheduled to appear in court next week.

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

Sydney news: Peak hour chaos after fatal crash closes airport tunnel

Hurstville 2220

Here’s what you need to know this morning.

Mascot tunnel crash

Traffic around General Holmes Drive is gridlocked after a fatal crash in the airport tunnel near the M5 forced the closure of all southbound lanes.

NSW Police said two vehicles, one with five people travelling northbound and another with only a driver travelling southbound, collided head-on on General Holmes Drive around 5:40am.

A passenger in the first car died at the scene, and all others involved in the crash were taken to hospital.

One northbound lane and all southbound lanes were closed, but all lanes were reopened by around 10:30am.


Traffic slowed to a crawl around Mascot after several lanes closed. (ABC News)

Rain continues across NSW

More rain is forecast to hit parts of eastern NSW today, with the heaviest falls in the state’s north.

Parts of the state’s Central West and North-West Slopes received some welcome rain yesterday, including more than 20mm in Dubbo, and more than 30mm in Walgett.

“There’s a great feed of easterly warm, moist air feeding into the system and we’re seeing that kick off in the form of rainfall today,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s Mike Funnell said.

“We are expecting those larger totals and heavier rainfall to come into the north-east coast of NSW and then sort of track slowly southwards.”


The roads near Nyngan resembled rivers after yesterday’s deluge. (Facebook: Robyn Cashion)

Home invasion assault


Police attended the scene of the attack on Springfield Avenue, Roselands. (ABC News)

A man was taken to hospital after he was attacked with a crowbar during a home invasion in Sydney’s south-west overnight.

Just before midnight, a 46-year-old man woke to find two men in dark clothing inside his Roselands home.

The men, armed with a crowbar, assaulted him while demanding cash before ransacking his house and fleeing the scene.

The occupant was taken to Bankstown Hospital and was treated for a suspected hand fracture, cuts and bruising.

Prison service bullying


These former Corrective Services officers say they were bullied at work. (ABC News)

The NSW Department of Corrective Services says six officers have been suspended over the past year due to allegations of bullying or harassment.

A spokeswoman said one officer resigned, another was fined for misconduct and four investigations were ongoing.

Female former prison officers have accused Correctives Services of not doing enough to prevent sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination from occurring in the state’s jails.

Commissioner Peter Severin said he was trying to improve the organisation’s culture.

Aged care nurse charged

A 56-year-old former aged care nurse has been charged over the alleged assaults of eight patients at a facility in Ashfield.

Officers arrested the woman at a home in Yagoona yesterday after an investigation.

NSW Police will allege she assaulted six men and two women — aged 53 to 95 — between February and October last year.

The facility has since fired her, and she will appear at Burwood Local Court next month.

Thursday’s weatherCloudy with a high chance of showers. Min.Max.CBD2225Parramatta2026

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

‘The risk is too high’: Ongoing bushfire threat prompts bird park closure in NSW

Tathra 2550

An animal sanctuary on the New South Wales Far South Coast has decided to close its doors due to the continuous bushfire threat and its inability to guarantee the safety to the hundreds of birds homed on site.

Key points:

  • A bird park in NSW will close because it can no longer guarantee the safety of birds due to the bushfire threat
  • On the Perch Bird Park in Tathra is home to 800 birds, which will be rehomed at other sanctuaries
  • A wildlife park on the central coast of NSW says the ferocity of bushfires is “the new normal”

Steve and Linda Sass opened On the Perch Bird Park in Tathra in September 2015 but, after two evacuations in less than two years, have decided to cease operations due to the stress of protecting 800 birds housed there.

Some of the birds were most recently evacuated over the New Year period but also in March 2018 from the Tathra-Reedy Swamp bushfire.

“The animals always come first,” Mr Sass said.

“We can’t guarantee the safety of the occupants of the sanctuary.”

The Sasses revised their bushfire survival plan following the 2018 fires in the hope they could protect the birds in case of another bushfire.

This included buying generators, installing water pumps, a sprinkler system in the aviaries, and an independent water supply on site.


Owner Steve Sass says he’s putting the animals first. (ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

Despite this, the owners became increasingly uncomfortable of the risks and have decided to relocate the birds to other sanctuaries across Australia.

“To actually capture and relocate fewer than 50 animals takes a couple of hours,” Mr Sass said.

“Even with extra manpower, it’s not a consideration because that manpower needs to be highly experienced with those animals.”


Park manager Steve Sass says birds are fragile, and are susceptible to smoke inhalation and stress. (ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

Although the property has not been directly impacted by fire, the birds have suffered from heat stress and smoke inhalation.

“Birds are quite fragile animals. We’ve had losses,” Mr Sass said.

“Every time we’ve driven out that driveway we’ve thought ‘This could be the last time that we see those animals’ … that’s not fair.”

After consulting with other animal carers, Mr Sass decided that it was unrealistic to successfully evacuate the animals in another bushfire situation.

“The park was likely not defendable, and if we tried we would possibly lose our lives,” Mr Sass said.

“We may never see a fire in 50 years. But you only have to look at the fire map to know this fire season has covered a lot of ground. And the risk is too high.”


Co-owner of the Walkabout Wildlife Park Tassin Bernard captures a kangaroo to relocate during the bushfires. (Supplied: Walkabout Wildlife Park)

‘This is our new normal’

The unprecedented bushfire season has also caused an animal sanctuary on the Central Coast to revise its bushfire survival plan.

The Walkabout Wildlife Park in Calga has evacuated hundreds of animals on four separate occasions over its 14-year history, the most recent being in November 2019 due to the Gospers Mountain Fire.

But co-owner Tassin Bernard said bushfires were not the same as they used to be.

“We have evacuated before, but it’s always been the old days of bushfires,” she said.

“We’ve never faced a fire of this size and ferocity.”

Staff were told they had between three to 10 days to relocate their animals from the sanctuary before the fire front hit.

Following a call-out on social media for travel crates, food containers, and catching nets, 65 species including birds, mammals and reptiles managed to be moved to other sanctuaries in Sydney, Helensburgh, and Blackbutt.

“With nearly 300 animals relying on us to keep them safe, we couldn’t wait until the fire was on our doorstep,” Ms Bernard said.

“We had a lot of work to do and we had to move fast.”

The evacuation was made largely successful by the support of the community and the accessible location to neighbouring sanctuaries.

However, Ms Bernard said plans were in place to make the property more defendable and ensure they adapted to a potential future of unprecedented bushfire seasons.

“This is our new normal. We are going to see it again,” she said.

“I don’t believe that this is a one-off.”


Staff relocated 65 species including koalas, kangaroos, wombats and peacocks during a recent fire. (Supplied: Walkabout Wildlife Park)

Ms Bernard said she felt a responsibility to continue to care and protect animals in need.

“We need to preserve it as a wildlife sanctuary for those animals that are now homeless because they’ve lost their natural environment,” she said.

“We were never ready for a super-charged mega-fire. Now we are.”

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

‘Free hugs go a long way’: NSW town tackles mental trauma to heal bushfire scars

Conjola 2539

A month ago, Alisha Stoneham ran from flames into a neighbour’s dam and as she waited in the water with a blanket over her head, she wondered whether she would die there.

“You don’t let go of that emotion and the trauma of seeing that fire come over,” she said.

Alisha sat submerged in the dam with her partner Dan and dog, Ruby, for 25 minutes as immense bushfire swept through Conjola Park on the NSW South Coast.

She had only just moved to the town a few days before the New Year’s Eve bushfires, which claimed three lives and 89 homes.

All that remains at Dan and Alisha’s uninsured property is the charred shells of their much-loved cars.

“It wasn’t a proper home or anything but it was something to live in so [Dan] could build,” Ms Stoneham said.


The incinerated cars of Alisha and Dan. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

For bushfire victims in communities like Conjola Park, grief is two-pronged — there is the mourning of lost memories, but also for the future that could have been.

The dreams this young couple had have now been abruptly replaced with a web of decisions they never thought they’d be making.

“It’s still sinking in what we could have had,” Ms Stoneham said.

Destroyed houses remain taped off with asbestos warning signs and a clear clean-up plan remains to be communicated to residents.

Short-term financial help has been provided to those who lost everything but as the weeks drag on, the focus is turning to mental health.

Depression and anxiety are now part of Alisha’s life but she is determined to address her trauma early.

Just this week she booked in to see a counsellor through the Federal Government’s bushfire recovery access program, which provides up to 10 free counselling sessions.


Green starts to spurt at Conjola Park. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Free hugs a powerful antidote

At the heart of the rebuild is the volunteer-led Conjola Recovery Centre — a place of refuge where locals can drop their guard, have an honest conversation and shed a few tears.

Walking in the door, there is an immediate sense of comfort, with free hugs on offer.

Lindy Dunn, a coordinator at the centre, says looks can be deceiving and even those with the toughest exteriors have crumpled in her arms.

“It’s knowing that when someone comes in here totally upset, not coping with the paperwork, or they’re not dealing well with the trauma, our free hugs go a long way,” Ms Dunn said.


Lindy Dunn holds flowers she received from a resident who lost everything. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

She herself broke down crying at one point … not from the exhaustion of helping to rebuild lives, but a simple moment of generosity.

A woman she had helped source the bare essentials after losing her home came in and dropped her flowers.

“She has no money. She didn’t need to do that.”

It is the beautiful moments like these that help create the armour of resilience for the volunteers.

“I’ve got to say the beautiful generosity from young Australians has probably renewed my faith in that Australia’s going to be fine,” Ms Dunn said.

A few weeks ago a university student from Sydney walked into the centre with three bar fridges and bags of power boards in tow.

“He said, I thought these might be handy. I said, ‘they’d be fantastic’,” Ms Dunn said.

When she learnt what the young man had given up to buy the fridges, she was overwhelmed.

“He told me he’d saved up to go on holiday in Bali but then thought, ‘how could I go on holiday while other people suffer’.”

“He was just a uni student. That was just gorgeous.”

For locals like Ms Dunn, it’s the small gestures and triumphs, like tourists beginning to return to Lake Conjola, that give a glimpse of a new beginning for this community.

Road to Recovery: How can I help?You can use the following links to search for local accommodation, businesses and other services, or to donate to local appeals:

Please note the ABC does not endorse nor guarantee any services listed via these links, which are provided as a public service.

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

Flight MU749 to Sydney emerges as key link in effort to contain coronavirus


Health officials say there is one more “probable” case of coronavirus in Sydney, and they are on alert for infected travellers who could have slipped through China’s quarantine.

Key points:

  • Authorities are trying to track down anyone who was on board China Eastern Flight MU749 on January 20
  • The death toll from the virus in China has risen to 56
  • Australia has four confirmed cases, and another probable

NSW Health yesterday confirmed three cases of the deadly disease in the state, bringing the national total of confirmed cases to four, after a man in his 50s in Victoria became the first confirmed case in Australia on Saturday morning.

On Sunday afternoon NSW Health said another four people who had been tested for the virus had been cleared.

Earlier in the day, Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said he would not be surprised if more cases were to crop up.

“Knowing what’s happened in other countries and knowing the traffic from that part of China to Australia, it’s highly likely we may see some more,” Professor Murphy said.

He downplayed the risk of an outbreak in Australia because Chinese authorities had locked down Wuhan, which is believed to be ground zero for the infection.

“However … people left the province before the lockdown and could come to Australia over a number of flights,” he said.

Should Australians be worried? Australia has a number of measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus — but with warnings the disease has a week-long incubation period, carriers could already be in the country.

Professor Murphy said every passenger from flights touching down in Australia from China would be given an information sheet asking them to identify if they have symptoms of the disease.

“There is no cause for general concern … there is no risk to Australian population other than people with that travel history or who have been in contact with those people.”

“The chances are they won’t have this condition, the really important thing in Australia is we identify and be able to isolate people with this virus.”

Authorities chasing ‘highest risk’ travellers

Professor Murphy said both NSW and Victorian health authorities were “working flat-out” to track down passengers who sat within two rows of the infected individuals.

He said these were the passengers with “real potential of any cross-infection” and were at “highest risk”.

However, it is proving to be a tedious task, with authorities having to decipher contact details on the landing cards which passengers are required to fill out by hand upon arrival.

Two of the men diagnosed in Sydney on Saturday had travelled to Wuhan, and one person is believed to have had direct contact with a confirmed case while in China.

NSW Health said one of those men arrived in Sydney on China Eastern Flight MU749, which touched down at 11:35am on Monday, January 20.

Video: The flight from Wuhan touches down in Sydney on January 23.

(ABC News)

Another, in his 30s, arrived in Sydney from China on January 6 but did not develop symptoms until January 15, when he saw his doctor. The third man, aged in his 40s, arrived on January 18 after spending time in Wuhan but did not show symptoms until January 24. Because those travellers did not have symptoms during the flight it is believed the risk of spreading the virus was still relatively low.

“We do not believe that they were infectious at the time of their international flight,” NSW chief medical officer Kerry Chant said.

Authorities are urging anyone who has developed symptoms of the virus and was on last Monday’s flight to contact their emergency department by phone.

NSW Health says it had been flooded with calls from concerned passengers since Sunday morning.

China’s coronavirus lockdown
Chinese cities covering more than 20 million people have been placed into lockdown.

Authorities have conducted extensive interviews with people who had come into contact with the infected men but conceded the patients may have come in contact with hundreds of people since arriving in the country.

Dr Chant said some cases could have been caught sooner by GPs, and urged doctors treating those with coronavirus-like symptoms to contact NSW Health.

“Make sure you have processes in place and consider where people have travelled and particularly be conscious of people returning from China,” she said.

Professor Murphy said updated information would be distributed to GPs and emergency departments across the country after reports a doctor failed to flag a possible infection in Victoria.

“That was one of the reasons prompting me to send [the message out again],” he said.

“We have previously provided information but we are trying to reinforce it.”


China is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with the virus. (AP: Chinatopix)

Chinese state media says 13 more people have died from the coronavirus outbreak in the central Hubei province.

Shanghai also reported its first death from the virus, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 56.

The global infection rate has shot past 2,000 — at least 40 of those cases are outside China.

Eighteen people across NSW have now been tested for the virus, with 12 of those cleared, but two are still under investigation.

Some of those being tested are believed to be children.

More on the coronavirus outbreak:

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

Thunderstorm warning eases for Sydney as heavy rain covers most of NSW

Sydney 2000

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has downgraded its warning for severe thunderstorms across parts of Sydney and the Blue Mountains as conditions have eased.

Key points:

  • The Rural Fire Service says it’s seen “good falls” on some firegrounds
  • However, there are fears bushfire debris could prevent water from being absorbed into soil
  • A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for several areas

It said severe thunderstorms were no longer affecting Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong or surrounding areas, however the situation was being monitored closely as it was possible further severe thunderstorms could develop.

A more general warning remains in place for areas stretching from the South West Slopes and Plains and Snowy Mountains districts to the Mid North Coast.

The NSW State Emergency Service (SES) said it had received around 200 callouts across the state, mostly for fallen trees and leaking roofs.

SES Spokesperson Andrew McCullough said much of the damage was in the north of the state, around Port Stephens and in some bushfire-affected towns on the South Coast, while there were 25 callouts at Parkes in the state’s Central West.

“We’re seeing isolated and localised thunderstorms bringing really heavy downpours of rain in some locations so it’s really important that motorists make safe decisions and stay out of the floodwaters while they’re driving their vehicles,” he said.

Heavy rain has already fallen in several regional centres including Tamworth and the Hunter, and thunderstorms will persist throughout the evening.

The BOM warned the rainfall in fire affected areas may contain debris such as ash, soil, trees and rocks.

Trees that have been damaged by fire are also more likely to fall, BOM has warned.

Video: Children play in the rain in the NSW Southern Tablelands town of Dalton

(ABC News)

Ausgrid said power was out for 3,000 customer in Port Stephens, Newcastle and Lake Macquarie after severe storms swept through the Hunter.

More than 10,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the Hunter during the storms.

The rain has offered some relief for fire crews, but there are concerns the wet weather could cause landslides, flash flooding and contaminate water.

Cool, wet conditions are good news for firefighters who have been battling hundreds of blazes across the state since September.

A Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesperson said despite the rain a number of fires continued to burn.

“In some places, the rain has been very beneficial and has assisted in seeing fires moved to ‘out’ — particularly up in the Northern Tablelands area,” the spokesperson said.

“In saying that, it is not state-wide, and a number of fires will continue to burn as a small amount of rainfall is not enough, and can hinder important containment work including backburning.”

The BOM predicted between 30 and 80 millimetres of rain would fall in some areas between now and Sunday.

Video: Rain map for SE Australia over the next few days

(ABC News)

The heavens opened over Sydney Thursday morning and about 20-40mm is set to fall over the next few days.

Hunter farmer Doug Robertson said the rain had given everybody a mental lift.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’re into the third year of what I would call a solid drought.

“If it keeps doing what hopefully it’s forecast to do, it will mean the world to us.

“From a mental point of view that load starts to lift. You can see the light again.”

Meanwhile, the RFS said there had been “good falls” across some firegrounds.

The downpour is a result of a deep inland trough moving through the state which is drawing humid air into the system.


Storm clouds roll into Edgeroi near Narrabri. (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd said he was expecting around 10-15mm to drop on most firegrounds.

However, BOM forecaster Abrar Shabren said debris, which has remained on firegrounds for weeks, could prevent water from being absorbed into the soil.

It could also lead to a significant run-off of ash, soil and other debris which have accumulated in the past months.

“Flash flooding is generally a concern with thunderstorms and ponding of water on roads,” Mr Shabren said.

“Depending on how much vegetation is left, how much bushfire the ground has gone through, that can also add to the impact of flash flooding as well.”

Mr Shabren said bushfire areas, particularly in elevated regions, were also “vulnerable” to landslides and toppling trees during thunderstorms because fires would have weakened the vegetation.


Heavy rain fell in the town of Tingha in the Northern Tablelands. (Supplied: Facebook: Steph Stewart)

The amount of rainfall is also unlikely to replenish dams or break the drought in any regions, according to Tony Weber from WaterNSW.

Warragamba Dam, which supplies water to more than 5 million people living in Sydney and the lower Blue Mountains, is at 43.7 per cent capacity.

External Link:

FAcebook post

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

Bars, clubs celebrate as Sydney’s lockout laws get lifted

Sydney 2000

NSW Police and the hospitality industry are gearing up for the end of Sydney’s controversial lockout laws, which have today been officially lifted.

Key points:

  • The ABC understands NSW Police will increase patrols around licensed venues from tonight
  • Several venues across Sydney are planning celebration parties this weekend to mark the end of the laws
  • The laws led to a dramatic decrease in violence in Kings Cross

The Berejiklian Government last year announced several restrictions imposed on licensed venues would be scrapped across the city’s CBD.

The exception was in Kings Cross, which the State Government said would be up for review in 12 months.

The ABC understands police will increase patrols around licensed venues from tonight.

“The NSW Police remains committed to ensuring safety and security of the community in responding to alcohol-related crime,” a NSW Police spokesperson said.

From today, patrons can enter licensed venues in the CBD and Oxford Street after 1:30am.


The laws saw fierce opposition from Sydney’s nightlife and entertainment sector. (ABC News: Jean Kennedy)

Restrictions on serving cocktails, shots and drinks in glass after midnight are gone and venues with “good records” will have their last drinks extended by half an hour to 3:30am.

Bottleshops across NSW can also stay open until midnight from Monday to Saturday, with an 11:00pm closing time on Sunday.

Some venues in central Sydney will host celebration parties tonight and this weekend to mark the end of the much-maligned legislation.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore declared on Twitter: “Sydney is open again”.

The laws were introduced in 2014 by then-premier Barry O’Farrell in a bid to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence.

They were sparked by the “coward-punch” deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie in Kings Cross.

Assaults in Kings Cross dropped by 53 per cent across a five-year period after the laws were introduced, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).

CBD assaults also dropped to 13 per cent over the first two and a half years, before levelling out to 4 per cent across the same five-year period.

However, many argued the drop in assaults correlated with a drop in patrons caused by the new nightlife rules.

Areas outside the lockout law boundaries saw an increase in violence, with a 30 per cent jump in assaults across Newtown, Double Bay, Bondi and Coogee.


From today, patrons can enter licensed venues in the CBD and Oxford Street after 1:30am. (Supplied: Destination NSW)

The venue restrictions also wreaked havoc on the city’s nightlife, with a NSW parliamentary inquiry last year hearing about 270 venues were forced to shut down.

Analysis by Deloitte Access Economics found Sydney was missing out on $16 billion a year because its night-time economy was underdeveloped.

Tim Piccione, a pub manager in The Rocks, was worried the damage to Sydney’s reputation and hospitality industry was already done.

But he was nevertheless excited by the lockout laws being lifted.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a good thing to encourage people to come in and actually feel like they can stay out late,” he said.

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

It’s cooler and calmer, so why can’t we put these fires out?


Every day, new stories about how people and wildlife have been impacted by bushfires across Australia emerge.

And with so many fires burning across multiple states, there is no sign of them abating.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has emphasised that it will take weeks to put out these fires, even with several days of milder weather forecast for the most affected areas.

But why is this the case, and why can’t more be done on days of lower temperatures and little wind?

Dry, changeable conditions

In the past, firefighters could be confident that a fire would eventually run up against wet ground or plants, which would slow its progress.

Without dry fuel, it would founder and die.


Equipment similar to common garden tools can be used to remove fuel from a fireground. (Supplied: NSW RFS)

But this fire season has come amid a period of severe drought and unprecedented weather conditions, driven by climate change.

That means both drought and strong, gusty winds in combination.

Brian Williams, who has worked as an RFS volunteer and professional firefighter for more than 50 years, said the weather patterns were making it impossible to extinguish the large blazes burning in multiple locations.

“I’ve never seen fire burn so quickly — because we’re in such a dire drought there is no moisture on the ground,” Mr Williams said.

“And that means when a fire runs through it doesn’t lose any energy in igniting fuel in front of itself. It just keeps picking up speed and growing bigger and higher and faster and hotter.”

Waterbombing only works in some areas


Waterbombing can be of limited use in some conditions. (ABC News: Nathan Morris)

Viewed from the ground or via videos from the scene, waterbombing planes appear to be dropping mammoth volumes of water onto the fires.

But several factors impact their efficacy, including the fact that the water usually fails to fall any further than the tree-tops, when dropped on fires burning in wooded areas.

“Our eucalypts are such a big heavy tree, we have heavy canopy, lots of leaf and lots of branches and the water will just not penetrate through,” Mr Williams said.

“By the time the water hits the canopy, it’s a very, very mild amount of water hitting down onto the ground.”

As a result, any waterbombing efforts are directed towards those areas where firefighters are trying to protect property.

Where the Shark Creek fire has been burning in northern NSW, it’s a little different.

There, the fire has been burning in peat underground and waterbombing has only managed to suppress the fire for a few days at most.

“We just can’t put enough water out there [in] large-scale waterbombers, even the supersize waterbombers — they can’t carry enough water,” Mr Williams said.

Fighting fire with fire: backburning makes a blaze bigger


A fire burning at Monastery in Penrose, NSW, on January 10. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

The main strategy used by firefighters now is to manage the edges of each fire, Mr Williams said.

“Because of the sheer size of them, you just cannot get in and put them out,” he said.

When weather conditions ease, backburning is a key tool.

“I think this week we’re forecast to have some very good days, so that gives the opportunity then for planning to go ahead, for getting in and back-burning as much as possible, to try and contain it to hard roads,” he said.

“And that may be along the Kings Highway or major forestry trails, and that then prevents large fire runs on those real, hot windy days.

“If we can take fuel away we’re making the fire bigger but we’re reducing the possibility of the fire breaking containment lines.”

Backburning is conducted on days of milder conditions around the edges of active fires and is different to hazard reduction burning, which is done during colder seasons to mitigate risk once it becomes hotter.

But hazard reduction burning has not been effective in every case, due to the catastrophic conditions, Commissioner Fitzsimmons said last week.

“We’ve had plenty of reports in the recent emergency of the fires just racing through areas that had had hazard reduction burns. There was very little effect from having hazard reduction burns being done,” he said.


The fires’ impacts have been felt by people and wildlife alike. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Firefighter safety

Fires are indiscriminate about where they burn and often find their way into inaccessible places.

This season’s unpredictability meant that was even more of an issue for those battling each blaze, Mr Williams said.

Many fires have been burning in places that are either short on escape routes, or in areas of tough terrain where the risk of injury is high.

“Firefighter safety is paramount,” Mr Williams said.

“We have a rule and we go out to fight fires to save people’s lives — and the general public and the firemen’s lives comes before anything else.

“Going into these remote areas, we know we can get in, but if you look at the worst-case scenario, a weather change, can they get out safely?”


The safety of firefighting personnel is the main priority for authorities, Mr Williams said. (Supplied: DFES incident photographer Evan Collis )

Instead, they focus on breaking the fire down into manageable sections, favouring those parts that are more easily accessible by way of paths such as fire trails.

“We look at areas that we can attack and try and, with planning, break the fire down into grids that you work on,” he said.

“They’re the areas that you attack when the conditions are right, so you can try and mitigate fire spread in those parts of the fire.”

Ensuring personnel get the rest they need is also a consideration for authorities.

Mr Williams said all personnel, including firefighters, would be suffering from fatigue after so many weeks of bad weather.

Long-term heavy rain is our best hope


Bushfires burning in heavily wooded or high areas of forest can be inaccessible for firefighters. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

The message from fire authorities is clear: only heavy, consistent rain will put an end to these megafires before the bushfire season ends.

Even in the Tallaganda National Park, where the blaze first started in November, flames and embers still sometimes flare up.

“We just need a couple of weeks of constant rain,” Mr Williams said.

Bushfire Science Associate Professor Geoffrey Cary of the Fenner School of Environment and Society agreed, saying the drought was a key factor in the scale and ferocity of the fires.

“A key reason these bushfires can’t easily be extinguished during milder fire weather is the severity of the drought combined with thousands of kilometres of the perimeter,” he said.

He said the previous three years of low rainfall had exacerbated those conditions.

“Australia experiences extensive drought from time to time. Notable for this drought is that winter rainfall has been at very low levels for the last three years and its during this period that moisture content typically recharges,” he said.

“What is critical is the capacity of fire agencies to extinguish fires during milder weather conditions to limit the extent of the area burned.”

Stay across our bushfire coverage:

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

This Norwegian-flagged supply vessel answered fire-hit Mallacoota’s SOS

Mallacoota 3892

As smoke lay thick and heavy across Mallacoota, an unfamiliar vessel came slowly into view.

Key points

  • The Norwegian-flagged supply vessel normally services gas and oil platforms
  • It brought food and water for the 4,000 people stranded there and diesel to power generators
  • The crew cared for the sick and elderly until HMAS Choules arrived to evacuate the stranded people

It was much larger than the fishing boats and yachts usually in the area and it was not the much-anticipated Navy.

On New Year’s Eve, without fanfare, the Norwegian-flagged supply vessel Far Saracen arrived at Mallacoota answering an SOS call from Victoria’s emergency services.

Its crew of 14 Australian and Kiwi seafarers were the first to reach the town via the water.

They brought much-needed supplies to the thousands of locals and tourists huddled on the beach sheltering from the fire wreaking havoc on the town.


People sought refuge at the Mallacoota waterfront as bushfires closed in on the town. (Instagram: @travelling_aus_family)

Bringing 30 pallets of food, water and — with the power to the town cut — much-needed diesel for generators and CFA tankers, it was there to help.

“They arrived on scene days before the other services with a crew of 14 Aussie and Kiwi sailors,” said Chris Nairey, in a post on Facebook.

It was another day before the defence force arrived to begin one of Australia’s largest peace-time evacuations.


HMAS Choules evacuated people trapped in Mallacoota after the fires. (Supplied: Department of Defence)

The vessel, usually used to deliver cargo to gas and oil drilling platforms, had been redirected from the Esso gas fields at Golden Beach.

It was one of two boats the gas company sent in response to the unfolding natural disaster.

Supplies were taken ashore before the Far Saracen became a temporary home for the most vulnerable until the Navy arrived.


Pallets of water and food were delivered to the 4,000 people stranded in the town. (Facebook: Chris Nairey)

“They worked tirelessly looking after sick people, the elderly, infants, even special needs teenagers,” said Mr Nairey.

Chris Nairey, a Victorian police officer, was also helping those who were stranded, spending a week on the boat. He said the crew “worked around the clock to keep us going”.

“They fed us, they gave us beds,” said Mr Nairey.


The Far Saracen was met by fisheries and police boats to ferry the supplies to shore. (Facebook: Chris Nairey)

“They maintained our [police] boats and kept an eye on them while we slept.

“This was the most organised and professional workplace that I have ever seen.”

Mr Nairey, who is not a fan of social media, said he put up the rare social media post to ensure the captain and the crew’s work did not go unnoticed.

“Their family and friends need to know how good they are at what they do and what they have done for the town of Mallacoota,” he said.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the crew of the Far Saracen also made a large donation to the Mallacoota Wildlife Centre to help with the recovery effort.

Final Mallacoota evacuees board ship

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of around 200 people boarded the HMAS Choules in the final Navy evacuation from the town.

Premier Daniel Andrews said there were still some people in Mallacoota who had registered for evacuation but were not able to board the ship, who would be flown out by helicopter instead.

Across the state, firefighters are working to put in place about 1,500 kilometres of containment lines around bushfires in a bid to reduce their spread when conditions worsen on Friday.


Firefighters were working on containment lines around the Green Valley fire near Jingellic, NSW. (ABC News: Ashlee Aldridge)

Rescue crews have also been able to get access to most remote East Gippsland communities which had been cut off by the fires, with some supplies delivered to the three which remained isolated.

Power has also remained a struggle for bushfire-hit towns, with around 3,100 people without power across the state’s bushfire zones at 4:00pm.

Those who wish to help communities affected by the bushfires are being urged to donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, which has been set up by the Government in partnership with Bendigo Bank and the Salvation Army.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said there had been reports of fraudsters exploiting goodwill by posing as bushfire victims or charities in cold calls and doorknocking and urged the community to only donate to the official fund or registered charities of their choice.

Stay across our bushfire coverage:

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

‘We can’t use you’: GPs say they were sidelined at bushfire evacuation centres


Regional doctors have reported being sidelined or restricted when offering help at their local bushfire evacuation centres, and are calling for GPs to be formally added to future emergency response plans.

Key points:

  • A Nowra GP says operational barriers hampered her efforts to help
  • She is seeking a meeting with leaders to co-ordinate future responses
  • A medical body suggests creating a register for regional doctors before emergencies happen

As fires burned across New South Wales and Victoria, private GPs in affected areas went to centres where many of their patients had fled.

Yet some say operational barriers and command structures hampered their efforts, and in one case a GP was told she couldn’t work with the official team to treat people.

Kate Manderson is a GP in Nowra and rallied her staff last weekend as NSW braced for extreme conditions.

She raided her four practices and set up a temporary site at a local evacuation centre, bringing nine oxygen cylinders, two cardiac monitors, three defibrillators, and emergency medications.


Dr Manderson brought all the supplies from her own practice. (Supplied)

Dr Manderson said the local authorities were grateful she was there, but she soon hit hurdles.

“I notified the EOC (emergency operation centre) that I was there and willing to help … and the EOC team called me back and said, ‘Well, no. You’re not part of our protocols and you’re not part of our team, so we can’t use you’,” she said.

“It’s not because they didn’t know me, didn’t think I could do a good job … but their protocols, their policies, their governance structures don’t allow someone who is not part of their system to work with their system.

“And that’s what we’re calling to change, to make this part of the system so that these barriers aren’t put in place.”

Some of the supplies Dr Manderson brought to her makeshift clinic.

Dr Manderson said her team treated about 20 people, including those with respiratory issues and an RFS firefighter who had sustained a cut.

She said she had heard similar stories from colleagues in Mallacoota and Merimbula in the past week, and would seek a meeting with people in leadership positions to have GPs embedded in future emergency evacuation plans.

External Link:

Kate Manderson tweet

“The doctors down at Mallacoota, there’s a bunch of GPs who have stepped up to the plate and got stuff done just because they were there and wanted to step up, not because there was a process in place to allow that to happen,” she said.

“The local health district and the ambulance services were just not really interested in helping us out.”

External Link:

Michael Rice tweet

A doctor in Merimbula — who has chosen to remain anonymous — also expressed frustration at the co-ordination of local help.

She said she went to an evacuation centre but was told she could only give basic first aid, and an ambulance had to be called for anything else.

She said ambulances took an hour to arrive and the St John’s Ambulance team that had been helping was evacuated from her area.

“I don’t understand why there would not be better co-ordination of care,” she said.

“If not for the dedication of our lovely group of local GPs … these people were abandoned with not even any access to basic first aid.”

‘We don’t want chaos’

This week Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that, for the first time, Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) specialists were being deployed in a domestic setting to provide support.

The eight specialists — two doctors, two nurses, two paramedics and two logisticians — were deployed to the RAAF base in Sale in East Gippsland to provide clinical and logistical assistance to evacuees.


A family awaiting a community meeting in Narooma on the NSW far south coast. (ABC News: Jonathan Hair)

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Rural Workforce Agency — a peak body for medical professionals — has put out the call for locum doctors to head to regional areas to provide support in the coming weeks and months.

Agency CEO Trevor Carr said he understood the concerns of local doctors wanting to help when emergencies happened, but it had to be done in a co-ordinated way.

“We need to have a command structure, because otherwise things just turn to chaos,” he said.

“I think one of the challenges is when the emergency is actually in play, the emergency command structures don’t necessarily take into account private individuals. And of course a lot of general practitioners are in private business.


Bushfires have torn through the town of Batlow in south-eastern New South Wales. (Facebook: James R Zimmerman)

He said one idea being considered was creating a register of approved local doctors who could help in future bushfires.

“If at least there’s a preregister of practitioners and clinical nurses with appropriate skills, then as soon as they present their credentials they know that they’re credentialed to go in the zone,” he said.

“That would be a different scenario than just trying to assist in the flurry of the emergency.”

Stay across our bushfire coverage:

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

‘Centuries’ to recover: WA bushfires devastate one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots

Stirling Range National Park 6338

Rare and unique flora and fauna in Western Australia’s Stirling Range may never fully recover from a massive series of fires which devastated the national park, which is considered one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots.

Key points:

  • More than 40,000 hectares of land have been burned in bushfires in WA’s Stirling Range National Park
  • The park is home to more than 1,500 species of flora, at least 87 of which are found nowhere else in the world
  • Conservationists say the landscape will take centuries to recover and needs long intervals between fires before they can produce viable seeds

Sparked by lightning, intense fires tore through more than 40,000 hectares of land in the park, about 400 kilometres south-east of Perth, between Boxing Day and the New Year.

The series of fires left almost half the rugged park scorched.

With efforts from over 200 fire crew across the week, the fire was brought to advice level without any lives or property damaged.

But there are now concerns for the park’s unique flora and fauna, which has faced multiple large-scale fires in the past two decades.

Biodiversity hotspot

The south-west of Western Australia is recognised internationally as a biodiversity hotspot, largely thanks to the Stirling Range.

The National Park has more than 1,500 species of flora packed within its boundaries — more than the entire British Isles.


This joey was rescued and treated for burns, after it was lost during the Stirling Ranges bushfires 2019. (Supplied: Ryan Pollock)

At least 87 of those species are found nowhere else in the world — including rare mainland quokkas.

Chief executive of Gondwana Link, a private conservation enterprise, Keith Bradby described the park as “one of the most precious jewels of the region” but said frequent fires in the park had put species under a lot of stress.

He said the landscape would never fully recover.

“It will be changed for decades, if not centuries,” he said.

“If [there is] fire too frequently you’ll be taking out plant species before they have a chance to set seed again.

“You will be favouring a few plant species, you’ll totally change the flora and vegetation and you’ll totally change the whole feeding pattern of wildlife — the whole food chain alters.”


A photo of Bluff Knoll before the fires. Landcare experts say the biodiversity will never be the same. (Supplied)

Mr Bradby said he was most concerned for the Montaigne thickets and the quokka population.

“It’s one of the few mainland populations of quokkas left, and they were in that part of the park,” he said.

“Whether they’re going to rebound I can’t tell.

“And the Montaigne thickets are already damaged because of dieback.

“Whether they’re on a downhill trajectory or whether we’ve terminated it — we don’t know.”

Assessing the damage


Greg Mair from Parks and Wildlife Service and Wayne Green from Department of Fire and Emergency Services in front of the peak of Bluff Knoll. (ABC News: Gianfranco Di Giovanni)

The Department of Biodiversity and Conservation (DBCA) will now begin to assess the damage at the national park.

Yesterday, Parks and Wildlife Officers started inspecting the damage on Bluff Knoll, the park’s highest peak at 1,090 metres.

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DBCA south coast regional manager Greg Mair said they will not know the full extent of the damage until spring, when species start to regrow.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to asses apart from an aerial survey,” he said.

“But we do know that among the very rare and interesting species that are in the Stirling Range National Park, a number of them have been burnt, 14 are critically endangered and there are two threatened ecological communities.”

Mr Mair said similar scale fire had burned in the park in 1991, 2000 and 2018.

“The key to this is the interval between fires,” he said.

“Some of these species require really long intervals before they can produce viable seed and if you have too frequent a fire that starts to reduce the seeding capacity and the reproductive capacity of the plant.”

The Stirling Range National Park will remain closed indefinitely, including the popular Bluff Knoll hike, as DBCA assess damage to infrastructure and walk trails to make sure it is safe to enter.

Stay across our bushfire coverage:

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

Second music festival cancelled as bushfire smoke threatens people’s health

Melbourne 3000

A music festival in Victoria’s north-east has been cancelled at the last minute due to poor air quality from bushfire smoke, which is prompting health concerns for the entire state.

Key points:

  • Air quality has improved slightly in Melbourne but is expected to worsen on Thursday when easterly winds pick up
  • Fire-affected communities in East Gippsland and north-eastern Victoria are experiencing hazardous air quality
  • P2 and N95 masks are running low across the state

A Day on the Green was scheduled to take place today at All Saints Estate at Rutherglen, with a line-up including Cold Chisel, Birds of Tokyo and Magic Dirt.

Roundhouse Entertainment promoter Michael Newton said in a statement that the event was cancelled due to “hazardous” air quality at the site and in surrounding areas.

He said the decision was “extremely” disappointing but was made “to protect the health of patrons … staff and artists”.

“The Bureau of Meteorology has advised that wind conditions are not likely to assist in improving this unsafe situation over the coming hours,” he said.

“We are also concerned about traffic, given the fires in the area.”

External Link:

@ADayOnTheGreen: COLD CHISEL – RUTHERGLEN SHOW CANCELLED. We are deeply disappointed we are unable to proceed but our first priority is to the health and safety of our patrons, staff and artists. Full refund will be provided. More info https://t.co/tLNIIlVlDf?amp=1

Mr Newton said they had to wait until the last minute to make a final call but the conditions were not good.

“Our guys have been up here all week working on the site but it wasn’t until I got here yesterday that I fully realised how bad it was,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“It was quite humbling to see them work through the conditions as they have. I just cannot imagine what it must be like for the firefighters and people closer to the action.”

All those who purchased tickets will be contacted by Ticketmaster and given a full refund.

The cancellation follows the Falls Festival event at Lorne over the New Year period being called off due to extreme weather conditions.

Friday’s A Day on the Green show in the Yarra Valley and Saturday’s show at Mt Duneed Estate near Geelong are expected to go ahead.

The chief executive of All Saints Estate, Eliza Brown, said she had been expecting 6,500 people for the event and businesses in Rutherglen would take a big financial hit.

“Not only is it tickets sales, it’s accommodation, food, petrol people filling up with petrol down the main street,” she said.

“All that money doesn’t come into the community.”

The bushfire smoke blanketing Melbourne set off a handful of smoke alarms in the city on Monday and saw air pollution worsen to “very poor”.

Worsening air quality forecast for Thursday

An Ambulance Victoria spokeswoman said the compromised air quality led to a 51 per cent increase in asthma and pollution-related calls yesterday.

An MFB spokeswoman said firefighters were called to a small number of false alarms across the city due to the “smoky air conditions”.

She said the MFB was recommending building managers set their air systems to recycle to prevent smoke filtering into buildings.


Smoke from Tasmania, East Gippsland and Victoria’s north-east created a haze over Melbourne yesterday. (ABC News: Gemma Hall)

The smoke affected air quality in Geelong, which was upgraded to “hazardous” levels yesterday afternoon but improved to “poor” by the evening.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Steven McGibbony said smoke was still lingering over Melbourne today but had cleared up “substantially”.

But he said conditions would worsen again on Thursday when an easterly wind is expected to push smoke from East Gippsland towards the city.

“Visibility was down to 300 metres yesterday in some areas but is up around 10 kilometres this morning,” he said.

External Link:

@jayawtanitrades: Smoke blanket is slowly going away in Melbourne! Air quality yesterday was hazardous and I could feel it.. started coughing all of a sudden for a couple of hours straight. Yesterday vs today images below. God bless Australia. More than 500 million animals have died

Visibility in Horsham and Mildura dropped to about 2 kilometres this morning.

An EPA spokesman said health warnings issued on Monday urging children under 14, the elderly, pregnant women and those with respiratory issues to limit time outdoors still applied.

Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton yesterday recommended vulnerable people wear P2 or N25 masks if they had to be outside.

But stores appeared to be running out.

A staff member at Bunnings Collingwood said the store sold out of all P2 and N95 masks on Friday.

“We received a whole heap more on Saturday but they flew off the truck,” he said.

The smoke also prompted tennis great Novak Djokovic to suggest Australian Open organisers consider delaying this year’s event if the problem persists.

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