Tag: WA

Two new local COVID-19 cases in WA, both believed to have been infectious in the community

Western Australia has recorded two new local COVID-19 cases, both of whom are believed to have been infectious while in the community.

The two women who tested positive are linked to previously reported cases and are now in self-quarantine.

The new cases come 11 days after WA recorded its first case of the Omicron variant, with three cases of the variant confirmed so far.

The variant of the new cases is unknown.

One of the women is linked to "previously reported cases", according to WA Health, while the other is a close contact of a separate case. 

WA Health has added the Margaret River Chocolate Factory in the Swan Valley as a new exposure site, but has warned more sites could be added as contact tracers confirm the movements of the two women.

The venue was visited on Monday, January 10, between 1.45pm and 2.30pm, and on Thursday, January 13, between 1pm and 2.15pm.

There are also seven travel-related cases — six from interstate and one connected to an overseas traveller — all of whom are in quarantine.

It brings the state's total case number to 1,294.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said it was likely Omicron was in the community.

WA is set to open its borders to the rest of the country on February 5.

On Friday, 1,657 tests were completed, with 120 current active cases in WA, all in quarantine.

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

An isolated WA has prepared for 300 daily COVID cases. It’s likely to get more than 3,000

As an explosion of COVID cases on the east coast obliterates government projections of how quickly the virus spreads, questions remain about how the WA health system will cope as the reclusive state finally moves to open its border.

Behind its hard border, Western Australia is the last place in the nation where daily case numbers remain in single digits.

Since April 2020, WA has seen minimal impact from COVID, with a little more than 1,200 cases recorded in the past two years. The state has only had three lockdowns, two lasting less than a week.

The WA government announced late last year it was opening its border on February 5.

Premier Mark McGowan promised the "softest landing" for the people of WA if they reached a target vaccination rate of 90 per cent.

This was informed by modelling — where different scenarios were played out mathematically — by the WA Health Department.

It assumes there will be public health safety measures, including mask mandates in some circumstances, medium levels of testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine and mandatory PCR testing pre-departure and testing upon arrival in WA for all international and domestic arrivals.

According to these numbers, the base model assumes community infections will become prevalent 120 days from the border opening.

The numbers looked far worse with just 80 per cent vaccination.

That model predicted 313 West Australians would die within 360 days of the outbreak, compared to 117 at 90 per cent.

And it forecast 987 cases per day at the peak of infection, with 178 general hospital ward and 32 ICU beds needed.

The WA Health Department points out that, as is the case for all models, actual outcomes are influenced by multiple factors that cannot be predicted or accurately modelled.

The scenarios provide a simulation, not forecast, of epidemic growth of the virus to 360 days following the onset of an outbreak.

Do you know more about this story? Contact Rebecca Trigger

The Omicron effect

With the advent of Omicron, the rate of infection in the eastern states far outstrips the base model numbers.

Jurisdictions similar to WA that also had border controls in place have much higher daily case numbers.

WA has a population of about 2.7 million people.

In South Australia, which has a population of about 1.8 million people, daily infections this week have averaged 3,200.

Tasmania, where 540,000 people live, recorded 1,489 COVID cases on Friday, almost double the previous day's 751 cases.

WA Deputy Premier Roger Cook said on Friday the state was still on track to relax border restrictions on February 5.

"That's the date we're working to, that's the date everyone's working to," he said.

"Obviously we continue to be advised and there's a few weeks to go yet."

Still waiting on updated modelling

Mr Cook said the WA government was watching what was happening with Omicron over east.

"Anecdotally, what we see is that there is a high uplift in relation to the number of … cases because of the transmissibility of the Omicron variant," he said.

"But we see it's not as impactful in terms of the acuity … in our hospital settings."

How bad is the Omicron COVID variant?

With the Omicron variant spreading fast around the world and set to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the UK, there is one question everyone wants to know.

Read more

Mr Cook said while there was a large number of cases in ICU in the eastern states, it was primarily Delta cases making their way through the system.

He said the type and level of restrictions post-February 5 would not be set until closer to the date, and "would ultimately depend on the situation we're confronting".

"We know masks go a long way to making our people safer in the community. We know vaccination goes a long way," he said.

"We also know keeping people away from high-risk events and venues is another way we can keep people safe."

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 3 minutes 6 seconds3m 6s Western Australia is about to let COVID-19 back in. How will the state's reopening work?

He said the government was waiting on stronger evidence about the impact of Omicron to come through from the east coast and internationally.

WA Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said new modelling taking into account Omicron data was underway and he expected to deliver it to the government in about a "week or so".

Dr Robertson said waiting to open the border until after other states' infection rates peaked wouldn't make a difference.

"[Post-peak] they'll still have large numbers of cases within their community, so the actual total cases in the community will still be widespread," he said.

Doctors, nurses warn of outbreak impact on hospitals

Earlier this week, Dr Robertson and acting director-general of health Angela Kelly released an update reassuring hospital staff the health service was ready to respond when COVID arrived in WA.

Not everyone agrees, with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) raising serious concerns.

The ANF called on the government to delay reopening the border by a month, to better assess the impact of Omicron and allow time for fit testing of PPE to take place.

They also wanted to delay the reopening so the hundreds of graduate nurses due to start in February did not immediately become overwhelmed amid the outbreak, which the union warned would lead to high numbers leaving in their first year.

Nurses are concerned WA hospitals will be swamped once Omicron arrives in WA.(Supplied: Alyssa Currie)

They said this would further deplete a hospital system already struggling with staffing levels, and which would be placed under pressure as medical staff with COVID can't work.

ANF state secretary Mark Olson said if there was a serious Omicron outbreak, he expected elective surgery in WA would be cancelled within six weeks.

AMA WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said his expectation was the government would re-introduce public health controls similar to what was recently seen in Western Australia.

What you need to know about WA's reopening date

Life will change dramatically when WA opens its borders to the rest of Australia and the world on February 5. Here's how. 

Read more

Dr Duncan-Smith said strong public health measures "all the way up to lockdown" post-February 5 should be considered to slow the burn of COVID through the community.

"I don't expect lockdown would be needed unless we get the ultimate crisis, which is a medical system that is imminently about to collapse," he said.

But he said the hospital system didn't have the capacity to do business as usual at the moment, without a flood of COVID community cases.

"As evidenced by wards closing in Broome, going from 31 to 21 beds in the general wards, Geraldton emergency department struggling to find doctors to keep it open, Bunbury Hospital having one theatre shut because of staff shortages," he said.

"South Australia lasted less than two weeks before it had to compromise its elective surgery, and I expect that will happen in Western Australia."

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

WA’s single-use plastics ban takes effect, but makes little difference for businesses

Western Australia's laws might be leading the way on banning single-use plastics, but for many businesses, they just cement what businesses have been practising already.

Key points:

  • The WA government wants to bring forward its single-use plastics ban
  • Under the current stage plastic plates, bowls, cutlery and straws are banned
  • Many businesses have already adapted to the changes

Under new rules that came into effect on January 1, a variety of single-use items were banned, including plastic straws and cutlery, as well as certain types of polystyrene containers.

But for Angie Kosse, who owns two cafes in Perth's south, the rules reflect what she has been doing for years.

"When we started changing about three, four years ago, it was more about reducing waste, reducing plastics, reducing everything," she said.

Angie Kosse's cafe switched to paper straws years before they were banned.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Plastic straws were the first item to go, followed by cheaper plastic containers in the kitchen.

It was all part of an effort to reduce rubbish across her cafes, including the amount of food sent to landfill.

"I'm from Europe, we have been doing this for a very long time," she said.

"I remember growing up for us, recycling was a day-to-day thing because we had to do it.

"Coming to Australia, it was new to me that actually, people do not recycle here."

Now, she has switched to sustainable alternatives for everything she can.

Plastic ban follows changing attitudes

Under the current stage of the plan, the following single-use plastic or disposable items are banned:

  • cutlery
  • stirrers
  • straws
  • plates
  • bowls
  • cups
  • thick plastic bags
  • helium balloon releases.

Polystyrene takeaway containers of a certain density have also been banned, although trays used for meat and seafood packaging are exempt.

The restrictions are already in effect, but the government said they won't be enforced until later this year, so businesses can use up current stock.

Many cafes have already switched from plastic cutlery to more sustainable alternatives.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

From 1 January 2023, the following further single-use plastic or disposable items will also be banned:

  • barrier/produce bags
  • microbeads
  • polystyrene packaging
  • polystyrene cups
  • coffee cups and lids
  • cotton buds with plastic shafts
  • lids for cups and bowls.

The second stage will also ban oxo-degradable plastics, which are designed to more rapidly break up into fragments under certain conditions.

Many types of takeaway coffee cups will be banned on January 1, 2023.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Environment Minister Reece Whitby said the government recognised many were already reducing their reliance on plastic.

"The community has shown overwhelming support for moves to reduce single-use plastics," he said.

"The time has come for us to back that sentiment up with action."

The next challenge: coffee cups and lids

Ms Kosse said while adjusting to the first stage of the ban had been relatively easy, finding suitable coffee cups and lids would take a bit longer.

"Because it's a hot beverage most of the time, so we have to make sure that it's safe and that it's closed," she said.

Finding suitable alternatives to takeaway coffee cups could prove to be a challenge.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Her cafes currently use a sustainable alternative, but she was not sure if that would be allowed under the new rules.

"I think we can do better, so I believe that … reusable cups will be the goal," she said.

Ms Kosse also encouraged people not to use takeaway cups and containers if they were dining in.

"We've got all the equipment here to make sure everything is sanitised and clean," she said.

Ms Kosse encourages people to use dishes provided by cafes if they are dining in.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

"It costs us about 50 to 80 cents, or even sometimes a dollar depending on the container, on top of everything else, and it just goes in the bin."

WA leading the nation: WWF

In its annual plastics scorecard for 2021, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ranked Western Australia as the best in the country for reducing the use of single-use plastics.

In part, that is because the second stage of the ban will prohibit polystyrene cups and containers, as well as certain types of coffee cups and lids.

The World Wildlife Fund has praised WA for its action on reducing single-use plastics.(Supplied: WWF-Australia)

"We discard about a billion plastic coffee cups in Australia every year and many of these end up in landfill or our oceans where they can do damage for hundreds of years," WWF-Australia's Kate Noble said.

"Australia has to tackle this needless mountain of waste, so we hope WA's commitment will inspire other states to take action."

Queensland, the ACT and South Australia were placed just behind Western Australia, WWF-Australia said, because each government was working towards banning plastic plates, cutlery, straws and polystyrene containers.

The WWF rated the Northern Territory and Tasmania as the worst performing jurisdictions in the country.

'It's going to make a really big impact'

In 2011, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz founded the global Plastic Free July movement to try and encourage people to reduce their plastic waste.

She has been part of the group that helped formulate the current rules, and said she was proud WA was leading the nation.

"These items are commonly found as litter in our parks, on our streets, and we know that they end up in the marine environment," she said.

"It's really critical that we make this small choice and take this step because it's going to make a big difference."

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz says she's delighted to see WA leading the way on reducing single-use plastics.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Ms Prince-Ruiz hoped the ban would encourage people to think about the single-use items they use, and whether they even need to be replaced with alternatives.

"Some items like plastic stirrers, we don't need them," she said.

"There's a real opportunity to reduce, there's also an opportunity to switch to reusable packaging so we're creating less waste overall and not just tackling the plastic litter issue."

Limited access for people with disabilities

One exception to the ban is that businesses will still be able to provide plastic straws on request to people who need them because of disability, or for other medical reasons.

The straws have to be kept out of view, but a person will not have to show any evidence they need a straw when they request one.

Pharmacies, local governments, and charities have also been given permission to provide straws, if they choose to.

The CEO of People with Disabilities WA, Brendan Cullinan, says the ban balances environmental concerns with the needs of vulnerable people.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The CEO of People with Disabilities WA, Brendan Cullinan, said the exceptions were important because some sustainable alternatives weren't suited.

"Some of them aren't appropriate in the fact of they either retain heat or aren't flexible," he said.

"So therefore it is vital that people who still require the flexible straw items have access to those items."

Mr Cullinan was involved in the consultation process that shaped the current rules, and said he was pleased the government had allowed those exceptions.

"I think the key now is going to be the education campaign around that," he said.

"If businesses understand that these items are vital for people with disabilities and vulnerable people for their wellbeing, we are confident that businesses will still be able to provide these items."

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

Everything you need to know about where and when to get a COVID booster shot in WA

With less than six weeks to go until Western Australia's border opens to the rest of the country and the world, eligible residents were already being urged to get COVID booster shots.

Earlier this week, the state became the first to put an expanded mandate in place, requiring workers already covered by vaccine rules — around 75 per cent of the WA workforce — to receive a third dose of a vaccine.

When announcing the move, Premier Mark McGowan said vaccination was the state's best defence ahead of the planned border easing on February 5.

"Everyone is strongly urged to receive their third dose when eligible, even if not covered by this [mandate] policy," he said.

Now, with a positive case visiting multiple locations across Perth, hundreds of casual contacts sent to get tested, and masks in place for the festive period, that push is even stronger.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicWhen am I eligible for a booster?

Changes to the booster time frame were announced on Friday. 

Currently, boosters are recommended for anyone over 18 who received their second dose of a COVID vaccine five months ago.

This will change in coming weeks, after advice from the Australian Technical Advisory group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

From January 4, the time frame will be four months after your second dose, and from January 31, three months.

Many states had been pushing for a shorter time frame.

Professor Jaya Dantas from Curtin University's School of Population Health said a shorter time frame made sense with the growth in the Omicron variant.

Epidemiologist Jaya Dantas agrees with shorteing the timeframe to get the booster shot.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

"With the Omicron variant already in Australia and over the world, I think reducing that timing from five months to between three and four months will be much more effective at this stage," she said.

What difference does a booster make?

AstraZeneca does not appear to provide good protection from Omicron infection but does offer protection from severe illness. 

How bad is the Omicron COVID variant?

With the Omicron variant spreading fast around the world and set to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the UK, there is one question everyone wants to know.

Read more

mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna are also less effective at stopping Omicron infections, although early data suggests a booster helps restore this protection.

Essentially, two doses of a vaccine will help protect against severe disease and death, but a booster will help prevent infection.

A booster shot pushes your antibody levels back up to around where they were just after you were fully vaccinated.

Pfizer and Moderna are both recommended for use as a booster vaccine, while AstraZeneca can be used for people with contraindications to those vaccines.

If you are not eligible for a booster before the border opens but have had two doses of a COVID vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has reassured people protection does not suddenly disappear.

Vaccination rates in Western Australia remain lower than other states.(ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

"Just because you get to three months, four months, five months or six months, you do not immediately lose your protection, that's not the case," he said.

But, he said a booster will push your Omicron protection back up towards the same level you had against the Delta variant.

How does the vaccine mandate expansion affect me?

All WA employees already mandated to be vaccinated for work purposes will be required to get a booster.

Those rules cover around a million people.

Group 1 industries — those deemed to have high transmission risk, like police, care services and border control — need to have two doses by December 31.

Group 2 industries — those deemed critical to the ongoing delivery of key services to the community like supermarkets, public transport and child care providers — need to have two doses by January 31.

The state government said after that second dose, people in the mandated industries need to receive their booster within a month of becoming eligible.

Mark McGowan has made the booster shot mandatory like first and second doses.(AP: Tatan Syuflana)

Due to the changing booster time frames, when that needs to happen will vary, but if someone in Group 1 got their second vaccination on the December 31 deadline, they would need a booster between the end of March and the end of April, as the three-month recommendation will be in place.

Likewise, if someone in Group 2 got their second vaccination on the January 31 deadline, they would have to get a booster between the end of April and the end of May.

Where can I get a booster?

There are lots of places to get a booster shot around WA, including state-run clinics like Claremont Showgrounds, GPs and pharmacies. 

How do you find out when you're eligible?

WA Health says a combination of email and SMS notifications are used for those who received their first or second vaccination at a state-run clinic.

But not everyone has received those, so it's worth keeping an eye on the time passed since your second vaccine dose yourself.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said, "they are working on the reminder situation".

"It's also good to check your vaccine certificate and you can ring up and get advice about booking a booster shot," she said.

How many people have had their booster?

Police Commissioner and Vaccine Commander Chris Dawson said that as of December 23 around 100,000 people had had a third dose of a COVID vaccine.

What you need to know about WA's reopening date

Life will change dramatically when WA opens its borders to the rest of Australia and the world on February 5. Here's how. 

Read more

Professor Dantas said it would take a significant effort to get people boosted before the border opened.

"We knew that between now and February 5, we needed 200,000 West Australians to get their second dose," she said.

"Those who have actually taken both the doses, to get them to have the booster dose would be a big effort."

As of December 23, 83.2 per cent of the WA population aged 12 and over had received two doses of a vaccine.

Vaccination rates in Western Australia remain lower than most states and territories.

How many boosters can be given before the border opens?

WA Health says as of December 24, with new booster time frames in place, around 950,721 people will be eligible between then and February 5 to receive a third COVID vaccine dose.

Some of those third doses will be as part of an immunocompromised person's regular schedule — they get three doses as standard.

Will children be vaccinated in time?

The Pfizer vaccine will start being offered to kids between five and 11 from January 10 — that dose will be one-third of the dose given to people 12 and over.

The WA Government said that date is in line with the expected vaccine supply from the federal government.

The recommendation for this group is that two doses are given, eight weeks apart, so there will not be time for a second dose before the border opens.

That interval is based on data from Canada, and it can be shortened to three in special circumstances like a significant outbreak. 

Professor Dantas suggested one shot would be sufficient until young children could get a second.

"One shot in those kids would be enough — we've had other populations in other parts of the world who've been vaccinated with Pfizer for five- to 11-year-olds," she said.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

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

WA records one new local case of COVID-19, as doctors warn against early border reopening

Western Australia has recorded one new local case of COVID-19, which has also been linked to the French backpacker who arrived in the state earlier this month. 

Key points:

  • Eight COVID cases have been linked to the French backpacker
  • The latest case attended the rave at the Perth Mess Hall 
  • Doctors warn against bringing forward WA's border reopening

WA Health said the latest case attended the Perth Mess Hall event, which the unvaccinated 25-year-old backpacker attended last Sunday night.

The person also stayed at the Old Fire Station Backpackers in Fremantle, which has been linked to another local case.

The hostel was evacuated on Friday night, with dozens of backpackers moved into hotel quarantine in the Perth CBD.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 13 seconds13s Backpackers being moved from the Old Fire Station hostel into hotel quarantine.

A WA Health spokesperson said the latest case tested positive while in quarantine and is not considered to have been contagious while in the community.

"This brings the total number of locally acquired cases to eight," the spokesperson said.

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicPolice charge backpacker over hotel breach

A different 25-year-old French tourist, who was among those evacuated from the hostel, faced court today after he left the hotel room he was supposed to be quarantining in. 

WA COVID-19 snapshot

Latest information from the WA Health Department

Police said he took the lift down to the hotel foyer, where he allegedly threatened to damage property and harm security staff. 

"It is further alleged when officers attended his room to place him under arrest, the man obstructed and resisted officers, yelling abuse and was required to be physically restrained," police said in a statement. 

He has been charged with three offences and will reappear on January 7.

It comes after Busselton Police charged a 25-year-old woman for failing to comply with a direction to isolate after she attended the Perth Mess Hall event, which was packed out with about 400 revellers.

Police allege the Beaconsfield woman went to Yallingup Beach on Christmas Eve when she was supposed to be isolating until she received a negative COVID test result. 

The Bloody French restaurant in Subiaco is an exposure site. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger )

One non-locally acquired case was detected overnight in an overseas traveller who is in hotel quarantine.

There are now 18 active confirmed cases in WA —15 in hotel quarantine and three in self-quarantine.

All cases related to this outbreak are assumed to be Delta, given that was the strain contracted by the French backpacker at the centre of the cluster.

He arrived in WA from Queensland on December 12 and is believed to have been infectious since December 16 and to have visited several nightclubs in the city as well as busy supermarkets in Mirrabooka. 

WA health said it was working to identify more contacts and confirm more exposure sites, having so far identified 548 close contacts and 998 casual contacts. 

Testing clinics in Perth have been quiet over the festive period. (ABC News)

Testing clinics around Perth have been quiet over the last couple days, with just 3,387 West Australians swabbed on Christmas day.

AMA urges people to get tested

The WA branch of the Australian Medical Association has urged people who have been to exposure sites to get tested.

"If you're a close contact or a casual contact of any of these places, then you must get tested," WA AMA President Mark Duncan-Smith said.

"You owe it to yourself, you owe it to society, and you owe it to all the people in Western Australia to try to minimise the outbreak."

Dr Duncan-Smith said getting tested would help contact tracers identify the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.

Dr Duncan-Smith does not support bringing forward the WA border opening date.(ABC News: James Carmody)

"There's always a chance of more cases out there than we know about," he said.

"But that's what our contact traces are doing. They're putting rings around these areas, around these people.

"If you are a close contact or a casual contact, get out there and get tested and help protect West Australian society."

Warning against early reopening

While the AMA has supported the WA Government's response to the current outbreak, it has hit out at the possibility of bringing forward the state's border reopening.

How bad is the Omicron COVID variant?

With the Omicron variant spreading fast around the world and set to become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the UK, there is one question everyone wants to know.

Read more

WA Premier Mark McGowan suggested last week that if COVID became widespread in the community, the February 5 reopening date would become redundant.

"I definitely do not think it's an idea to open the borders earlier. The borders are not redundant," Mr Duncan-Smith said.

"We're dealing with Delta. What's out there on our doorstep is Omicron and we need a slow burn through society.

"The date should not be brought forward. We need to protect our children.

"We have zero per cent of our five to 11-year-olds vaccinated, and that doesn't start till January the 10th."

The state's total number of COVID cases stands at 1,143, with 1,116 people recovered.

To date, 196 cases of variant strains have been detected in Western Australia, including 118 with the Delta strain, nine with the Omicron strain, 53 with the Alpha, 15 with the Beta and one with the Gamma strain.

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

‘At what cost?’: Fears TAB sale could trigger spread of electronic gaming machines across WA

A financial counsellor to some of the most vulnerable people in Western Australia says the state government should "hang its head in shame" if it allows electronic gaming to be rolled out in TABs across the state.

Key points:

  • Electronic simulated racing games may be introduced in TAB outlets
  • The games will be permitted under the terms of the TAB sale
  • There are fears the move could increase rates of problem gambling

Alan Gray travels throughout the Kimberley helping Aboriginal people in financial crisis and has seen the bank statements of people with gambling addictions who find themselves with no money for their children.

So he does not want to see the introduction of simulated racing machines into TAB outlets in the Kimberley, which could happen with the sale of the WA TAB.

"I just see these machines as a drift to further entrench poverty through gambling," he said.

Mr Gray said he was concerned the state government could be unwinding one of the great things about WA society — having addictive gaming machines restricted to the casino and therefore somewhat difficult to access.

Alan Gray says the potential introduction of electronic gaming machines in TAB outlets could further entrench poverty.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

While there are TAB outlets offering opportunities to gamble in the Kimberley — not to mention plenty of online gambling options — it is a 2,000-odd kilometre drive from Broome to the Burswood casino.

"I hear people laugh about how if they got a lump sum they would go to the casino," he said.

"It's what they want to do."

TAB sale looms amid tumultuous period for gambling sector

Poker machines are banned by law in WA and electronic gaming machines (EGMs), as well as simulated racing games, are only allowed at Crown Perth casino.

But the McGowan government decided to allow the successful WA TAB bidder to offer electronic simulated racing games, like Trackside, in TAB agencies when it first called for expressions of interest in 2019.

Currently, electronic gaming machines are only permitted in WA at the casino.(ABC News)

The sale of the state-owned betting agency was put on hold last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but is now back on track.

But it has been kickstarted in one of the most tumultuous periods for gambling in WA, with the TAB under increasing pressure from online gambling and the state's monopoly casino and gambling watchdog facing the scrutiny of a royal commission this year.

The inquiry, which will hand down its findings in March, has looked into WA's policy of banning poker machines and whether, over time, EGMs have changed to become very similar to poker machines

During the inquiry, the commission heard of new research which found that WA's low level of problem gambling — despite having the highest proportion of gamblers in the country — was because of the restricted availability of EGMs.

Expert warns of 'increase in harm' from gaming machines

Lead researcher Matthew Rockloff, of CQUniveristy, called EGMs "the most dangerous form of gambling that we know of".

"The closer you are to a venue that has gambling opportunities, the more likely you are to have gambling problems," he said.

Matthew Rockloff says electronic simulated racing games allow people to gamble without taking a break.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

Dr Rockloff said that while Trackside was slower than poker machines, he was concerned it would allow TAB gamblers to gamble without a break, instead of waiting for the next race to start.

"It turns what's a non-continuous form of gambling into a continuous form of gambling," he said.

"There's no doubt it will be associated with some increase in harm."

Like Mr Gray, Dr Rockloff questioned why WA would undo its good work in restricting gambling opportunities by allowing simulated racing games in TABs.

"Let's not kid ourselves, that's what it's all about: making that sale come off with a better payoff," he said.

"But the downside to that, of course, is expanding gambling opportunities right at a time when we've just shown that gambling problems are a lot lower in Western Australia.

"They're a lot lower because Western Australia has restricted gambling opportunities."

Elements of sale process unclear

The WA TAB has hundreds of agencies throughout Perth and regional areas, including standalone betting shops as well as outlets in pubs and clubs.

One of the frontrunners to buy the WA TAB, Tabcorp, runs the betting agencies in every other state and operates the Trackside simulated racing game.

The ABC asked former Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby about how many TAB agencies would be able to offer simulated racing products under the sale, but received no response.

In addition, the government did not respond when questioned about whether the successful bidder would still have to make a $1.2 million-plus payment to Crown Perth if they decided to offer simulated racing products, which was an element of the previous sale process.

A government spokeswoman said there was healthy interest in the expression-of-interest process of the sale.

She said requests for binding offers were likely to be issued early next year and a new operator could be in place by the end of the year.

"The racing industry will continue to be consulted through the sale process, with a focus on the development and refinement of the racing industry funding model," she said.

Fears 'de facto' introduction of pokie machines possible

Under the new sale process, the WA government has removed the requirement for the successful new operator to fund the racing industry.

During the previous sale process, it said that allowing simulated racing products would help the new operator to meet this condition.

The sale documents highlighted the opportunity for growth in a market that was "relatively under-penetrated relative to other jurisdictions", with "significant scope for product innovation via new products and bet types".

The WA Council of Social Service (WACOSS) has questioned why the new operator would need the revenue of these games, given it no longer had to fund the racing industry.

Louise Giolitto is concerned electronic gaming machines in TABs will morph into pokie machines over time.(ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

Chief executive Louise Giolitto has called on the WA government to ensure the wagering licence of the new operator does not include the ability to offer simulated racing games.

"We understand the desire for the WA government to achieve the best price possible for the asset, but at what cost?," she said.

Ms Giolitto said WACOSS did not want Trackside to lead to the de facto introduction of poker machines at TABs, like at Crown Perth.

"Our concern is that over time, these products will morph into full-blown pokie machines, and they will be spread all over WA," she said.

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

Fears, hope and excitement as border opening brings mixed feelings in WA’s north

Fear remains in some communities in Western Australia's most northern region about what reopened state borders could bring, but many are more than ready to reconnect with the rest of the nation.

Key points:

  • Kimberley residents have a mixture of feelings from fear to excitement about the return of interstate travel
  • Remote communities are renewing efforts to increase vaccination rates or preparing to remain closed to the outside world
  • Industries, including tourism, are preparing for a big year ahead with a backlog of market demand

None more so perhaps than Chris Coleman, who lives in Canberra, but has family in Broome including one grandson he's never met.

"To meet our new grandchild for the first time is going to be pretty special," Mr Coleman said.

"I'm just so excited that we're going to be able to get back over into the West, and into the north-west, a great part of the country that I haven't seen enough of, and to see family as well is going to make it an extra special time."

But the path for reopening Western Australia's remote regions is not without challenges.

When WA Premier Mark McGowan announced February 5 as the day that vaccinated visitors would no longer be required to quarantine, he also said some parts of WA with "dramatically lower vaccination rates" would need stronger restrictions.

"At present, the Pilbara, the Goldfields, and the Kimberley have lower vaccination rates than the rest of the state," he said.

"The Pilbara has a double-dose vaccination rate of 46.1 per cent, the Kimberley is at 60.8 per cent and the Goldfields at 65 per cent.

"If those regions do not reach at least 80 per cent by February 5, they will be subject to enhanced public health measures."

The WA/NT border will open for fully vaccinated people on February 5.(ABC Kimberley: Rebecca Nadge)Vaccination catch-up

With a deadline set for the state's remote regions to get to 80 per cent double vaccinated, leaders and health authorities a renewing their push to protect vulnerable people and avoid f tougher restrictions.

Those measures would be:

  • Proof of vaccination at pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, bottle shops, indoor entertainment venues and gyms
  • Mask-wearing at other indoor venues, such as supermarkets and roadhouses
  • No air travel allowed into the region without proof of vaccination for people aged 12 and over

Tony Uhl, chairman of the remote Wangkatjungka community in the central Kimberley, says he is worried about what a return of interstate visitors will bring.

"We're frightened people will come into our community. We don't usually go into town, we're afraid all our people might get infected," he said.

"We need people to be safe, to get that needle and be safe, it's our Indigenous people we have to protect.

"Get vaccinated, and do the best for our mob."

Wangkatjungka community chair Tony Uhl is concerned how opening the borders will affect his community.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

It is a message echoed by leaders across the Kimberley including David Menzel, the president of the Shire of Wyndham/East Kimberley.

"We will end up with COVID here, so I encourage people to get double vaccinated well before that February 5th deadline," he said.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

Balancing concerns for the health of vulnerable people and the local economy which depends on interstate visitors and workers, Mr Menzel welcomed the certainty after the spate of snap border shutdowns.

"I think it's a relief to hear we aren't considering locking down regions," he said.

'We don't want to go there again."

Balancing health and economics

The Kimberley's tourism industry has had two very difficult years with many visitors not having the confidence to book expensive travel and accommodation.

The CEO of Australia's North West, Natasha Mahar, says there is now a light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's fantastic to finally have a reopening date, and it's now more likely that visitors can book their holidays with confidence that WA is opening up finally," she said.

"It's given clarity for our operators to plan ahead for the dry season."

Natasha Mahar says tourism is set for a bumper year in 2022.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Broome-based owner of Kimberley Wild Adventure Tours Simone Kapiteyn said 88 per cent of guests normally come from eastern states, and she is now hoping for a busy year ahead.

"We're nearly capacity booked for 2022, 20 per cent are re-bookings and the rest are a true desire to travel to this beautiful region," she said.

"There's a lot of relief because this cements in everybody's mind they will be able to travel and reach the Kimberley."

The certainty around reopening WA's state border is good news for other industries as well with Kimberley cattle vet Peter Letchford saying it will help animal welfare.

"I'm the only vet for 500 kilometres to the east and there are other vets able to provide the same services 1,000 kilometres to the west," Dr Letchford said.

"So we're a little bit thin on the ground and under the current border restrictions, I can't go over the border without quarantining for 14 days on return.

"And that means essentially if I go over the border, I leave the East Kimberley without a large animal veterinary presence."

Vaccinations or shutdown

The race is on for remote communities to either get vaccination rates up or be prepared to remain isolated.

Wirrimanu chief executive Gary Kairn said community organisations, including Balgo's store, had found inventive ways to encourage people to get the jab.

"You get a $50 shopping voucher for anyone who's doubled vaxxed," he said.

"It's just been effective. It sounds like you're buying a vax, but it's not., it's just about creating awareness for people to roll up their sleeve."

Helicopter tours of the Bungle Bungle Range at Purnululu National Park are a popular activity for people who visit the East Kimberley.(Supplied: Helispirit)

But Kalumburu chief executive Madeline Gallagher-Dann said the feeling among residents at a meeting in November was that the community should remain closed in 2022,  especially given the proximity of coronavirus across the border in the NT.

"[The] majority of the community, of the people who we talk to in regards to making decisions, have said they're afraid of COVID. They're afraid of losing loved ones," she said.

"We'll definitely be putting the brakes on [reopening] and keeping Kalumburu closed, regardless of the vaccination rate."

For families who have been separated by border closures, the fears are dwarfed by the desire to reconnect, and Chris Coleman is counting the days before he can fly west.

"It's going to be exciting for my son and my daughter-in-law, but very exciting for myself and my wife to meet our newest grandchild," he said.

"I just can't put it into words."

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 35 seconds2m 35s Why we hear about some COVID-19 variants more than others

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

The COVID-19 tests expected to form a ‘line of defence’ when WA opens its doors to the world

When Western Australia lets COVID back into the community early next year, the state will need to step up measures to limit the spread of the virus. 

Key points:

  • Rapid antigen tests were approved for personal use on November 1
  • But they are not permitted in WA and SA as a diagnostic tool for COVID
  • The ban may be revisited when WA opens its border early next year

Vaccination will remain the most important line of defence when WA opens its doors, with face masks, contact registers and the SafeWA app to continue playing central roles in the reopening road map.

But there is another measure that has been widely used overseas, including in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, which is gaining traction in Australia's eastern states hit hard by COVID. 

Rapid antigen self-tests have been a useful screening tool that can achieve early detection to allow isolation of positive cases sooner.

They could prove instrumental in preventing outbreaks if scientists discover the new Omicron variant is more infectious, and more resistant to vaccines, than other strains of the virus.

The tests have been used successfully in aged care settings over east, including in TLC Healthcare homes in Melbourne. (Supplied: TLC Healthcare)

In some parts, a daily swab of the throat or nose has become a part of everyday life for people wanting to gain access to indoor venues like theatres, cinemas, nightclubs and restaurants.  

The tests can be undertaken at home or in the workplace, making them more convenient, cheaper and faster than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests West Australians have become accustomed to.

The downside is they are less accurate than PCR tests, which remain the gold standard for confirmation of a positive result. 

Tests hit supermarket shelves over east

Testing kits are already being sold at major supermarkets and chemists on the east coast after the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved their supply in Australia on November 1, but they have not been given the tick of approval by state governments in WA and SA.

The TGA has approved more than a dozen types of tests for sale in Australia. (Reuters: Denis Balibouse)

The absence of COVID in the community means the tests are currently of no value in WA, where they can be sold but are not approved as a diagnostic tool without specific approval from the Chief Health Officer — such as their use on mine sites and to screen truck drivers entering WA from high-risk states

Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said the ban was currently "appropriate" because they were not as accurate as PCR tests in places where there is a low prevalence of COVID, due to a high rate of false positive and negative results. 

Mr Duncan-Smith says the tests will have a place in WA once the virus starts circulating in the community. (ABC News: James Carmody)

"When COVID does become more prevalent in society such as in Victoria, NSW, Europe, USA for example, this prohibition would be reassessed and the use of the test would become appropriate," Dr Duncan-Smith said. 

"RAT has a role when there is COVID in the community. As such, it will have a role in WA after we allow travel and invite the killer virus COVID-19 into our state."

Mr Duncan-Smith said if a close contact of a COVID case tested positive with an antigen test, they could be placed into full isolation pending the outcome of a PCR test.

Where could rapid tests be used in WA?

The Victorian government has led the way in Australia by rolling the tests out in schools, after The Doherty Institute recommended a "test to stay" approach rather than locking down entire schools when a student was exposed to a positive case.   

Free, at-home rapid antigen tests have been made available to Victorian schools. (ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

In its final modelling delivered to state and territory leaders including WA Premier Mark McGowan earlier this month, the institute stated incursions of the virus into schools would be "inevitable" as community transmission becomes established. 

"Returning students to in-person learning and keeping schools open safely during this phase has been identified as a national priority," it stated.

"Daily rapid antigen testing of contacts, with exclusion only if positive, is as effective for outbreak prevention as 14-day contact quarantine and dramatically reduces days of missed face-to-face learning."

Professor Catherine Bennett says the tests could be effective in high-risk settings. (Supplied)

Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said the tests could be used to screen the class of a child who has a COVID-positive family member. 

"If no students test positive, you keep screening them for a week while keeping the school open and allowing them to come to school if they continue to test negative," Professor Bennett said.

What is a rapid antigen test?

Australians will be able to buy rapid antigen tests from November 1 that will allow them to test at home whether they have COVID-19. Here's what you need to know.

Read more

She said the tests had a place during an outbreak or in high-risk settings such as hospitals, aged care homes, mine sites and isolated communities.

"It's a way of managing local exposures when there is a real risk rather than saying everyone should test themselves everyday before they leave the house," she said.

"If you do too much testing in low risk settings, it starts to become meaningless and more disruptive than it's worth."

Professor Bennett said tests could also play a role at large indoor events and venues like nightclubs. 

"A strength of the test is their ability to detect the virus in people when they're most infectious," she said.

"So if you knew the virus was circulating in the communities that your attendants are coming from, then you might use rapid antigen testing because it's a high-risk spreading environment, so you could screen people as they come in."

The tests are used to screen visitors at the Nellie Melba Retirement Village near Melbourne. (ABC News: Michael Barnett)

She said the they could also be used to screen staff and visitors to prevent outbreaks in aged care homes. 

"Sometimes testing actually helps people realise they are very low risk and that might ease their minds to go visit their elderly relatives.

"People need reassurance because that is the scary thing about a virus, it is invisible in the community and testing is one way giving the community better eyes on what is happening and I think that can be important during your transition.

"As long as people realise, these tests are not perfect tools, they're just another layer, like a Swiss cheese with all the different strategies we put in place to manage the risks."

Tests a 'line of defence' in aged care homes

The federal government is making rapid antigen test kits available to aged care services and providers in high-risk local government areas. 

Brightwater Care Group was the first aged care provider in Western Australia to use rapid antigen tests, which it used to screen staff and residents during a trial at two of its homes, in Subiaco and Inglewood.

Brightwater will submit a research paper on the trial to the Australasian Journal on Ageing in the next week. (Supplied: Brightwater)

Brightwater CEO Jennifer Lawrence said the trial was aimed at testing the operational feasibility of the technology to their environment, and whether it would be accepted by staff and clients. 

"Overwhelmingly we had no pushback and the trial proved this could be a really effective line of defence in the event of an outbreak," she said.

"There have been some really sad situations on the east coast in aged care of people losing their lives and the industry and the government has really stepped up to put in a number of [measures] like face masks, infection control, training and vaccination.

"But during an outbreak, if you are able to get two days notice that there is COVID circulating by doing some rapid testing, it will make a big difference.

"If we're able to pick up a staff member who may be carrying the virus early, before it circulates within the aged care home, that saves a lot of pain down the track. 

Brightwater CEO Jennifer Lawrence said a trial of the tests was well received among staff and patients. (Supplied: Brightwater)

"Not only for our logistics and the care of our clients, but it just gives us a head-start with a positive case, which will obviously be confirmed by the government PCR testing.

"I think once COVID is circulating in WA, I suspect many homes will consider it."

Tests gain support from pharmacists

Pharmacy Guild of WA branch president Andrew Ngeow said the current ban on the use of the tests as a diagnostic tool in WA was limiting the state's ability to protect itself against COVID-19. 

WA COVID-19 snapshot

Latest information from the WA Health Department

"The Delta variant will enter Western Australia at some point," Mr Ngeow said.

"In order to reduce its impact on both public health and the hospital system, its early detection is paramount." 

"What we currently have is policy madness, as RATs can be sold legally in Western Australia, but not used by the vast majority of people."

Woolworths started selling self test kits online and in stores in NSW, Victoria and the ACT this month.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 3 minutes 18 seconds3m 18s What COVID-19 travel insurance doesn't cover you for(Emilia Terzon)

A WA Health spokesperson said PCR tests remained the most accurate diagnostic tool for COVID, but the rapid tests had been approved for some companies with a structured program to manage the detection of positive cases.

"Currently, rapid antigen testing is of little or no value in WA given that there are no community cases of COVID-19.

"It is likely that false positives could be detected, causing undue concern in the current climate.

"National guidance is being developed in regards to the use of rapid antigen testing. 

"Once complete, WA Health will consider any recommendations and may change its position if required."

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

‘Devastating for regional communities’: WA government uses majority to overhaul state’s electoral laws

The WA government has used its parliamentary majority to overhaul the state's electoral laws, which critics say will diminish regional representation.

Key points:

  • Regional voters had more say than city electors under the old system
  • That will be replaced by a one-vote, one-value system
  • The opposition says regional representation will be eroded

Rather than Upper House MPs being chosen from six regions of varying size, the whole state will serve as a single electorate with 37 members elected under a "one-vote, one-value" system.

Group voting tickets, which critics argue are used to 'game' the system using complex preference deals to elect candidates with tiny shares of the vote, will also be abolished.

The changes will come into effect after the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Bill 2021 passed the Legislative Council overnight.

Under the previous system, Perth voters only elected half of the Upper House MPs despite making up 75 per cent of the state's electors.

In the most dramatic example, 4 per cent of voters who lived in the Mining and Pastoral region were able to elect nearly 17 per cent of Upper House members, meaning their vote carried six times more weight. 

WA Premier repeatedly claimed reforms were not on the cards

Despite repeatedly claiming it was "not on the agenda" during the state election campaign, Premier Mark McGowan swiftly moved to introduce electoral reform after securing a majority in both houses.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 43 seconds2m 43s Mark McGowan said Upper House reform was "not on the agenda" six times when quizzed by the ABC in March 2021.

In April, he announced a panel of electoral and constitutional law experts had been tasked with "modernising" the Electoral Act 1907.

The panel was led by Malcolm McCusker QC, a former WA governor, and included three electoral and constitutional law experts.

The report's primary recommendation was to abolish the three metropolitan and three non-metropolitan regions in favour of a single electorate, as exists in the New South Wales and South Australian Legislative Councils.

Reforms will rip regional representation from WA Parliament: Opposition

The state opposition warned the changes would slash regional representation.

Liberal MLC for the South West Region Steve Thomas said the bill's passage marked a "devastating day for regional communities".

Steve Thomas says regional voters will be worse off under the changes.(ABC News: James Carmody)

"Labor's success in their 120-year campaign to cut regional representation will mean that the disadvantages regional people face are about to get worse," Mr Thomas said.

"The standard of your highways, your schools and your hospitals are dependent on the level of your representation and slashing that representation will inevitably impact badly on regional communities.

"No truly regional Labor MP spoke [on the bill] beyond a few desultory comments in the third reading stage after all the substantive debate was over."

When he released the report, Mr McCusker said the recommended changes would not necessarily lead to regional voters having less representation.

"It depends on how people in the regional areas wish to vote," he said in September.

The Daylight Saving Party's Wilson Tucker was elected despite getting just 98 first preference votes.(ABC News: Laura Gartry)

Mr McGowan has previously pointed to the election of Daylight Saving MP Wilson Tucker, who was elected despite getting just 98 first preference votes, to highlight why the reform was needed.

"The March 2021 state election clearly demonstrated that the current system was outdated, broken and not operating in the best interests of democracy," he said in September.

"The Group Voting Tickets system in the WA Legislative Council has been roundly criticised.

"In addition, the Council currently is the most undemocratic of any State or Territory in Australia.

"It lags behind most parliaments in the developed world."

Do you know more about this story? Contact Rhiannon Shine

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

Live: All the COVID-19 news you need to know in the one spot

Catch all the latest COVID-19 updates from across Australia, all in the one place.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

Follow all of Thursday's live updates in our blog below.

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Live updates18m ago18 minutes agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 9:17pm

By Nicholas McElroy

France at the beginning of fifth wave of pandemic, Health Minister says

France is at the beginning of a fifth wave of the coronavirus epidemic, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday.

"Several neighboring countries are already in a fifth wave of the COVID epidemic, what we are experiencing in France clearly looks like the beginning of a fifth wave," Mr Veran told local media.

The health ministry registered 11,883 new cases on Wednesday, the second day in a row with a new case tally over 10,000.

New cases have seen double-digit percentage increases week-on-week since around mid-October.


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20m ago20 minutes agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 9:15pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Crowds of up to 100,000 expected at Australian Grand Prix each day in 2022, says organiser

Australian Formula One Grand Prix chief executive Andrew Westacott expects as many as 100,000 people to attend each day at Albert Park in April.

The race hasn't been held in Australia since 2019 but huge numbers of spectators have flocked to Formula One races around the world this year.

Mr Westacott is expecting a similar turnout to last weekend's event in Mexico City.

"They've had a hundred thousand plus there, the same sort of numbers in Austin Texas, there's 140 thousand in Silverstone, and because we've got such a large park, 176 hectares, we're expecting massive crowds."

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29m ago29 minutes agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 9:05pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Concern over Victorian Government's proposed pandemic laws

The Victorian opposition says it will delay debate on the government's proposed pandemic laws to allow parliament and the public more time to consider the legislation.

The proposed laws have already passed the Victorian Parliament's Lower House and will come before the Upper House next week. 

Sixty QCs have signed an open letter calling for amendments to the bill.

The letter expresses concern that the bill could allow the government to "rule…by decree for the foreseeable future".

Shadow Attorney General Matt Bach says the government and cross bench MPs should pay more attention to concerns from the legal community . 

"The Labor government rammed these laws through the Lower House in just a matter of hours and what they'd like to do is ram them through the Upper House," he said.

"Now because these laws are so significant at a minimum there is more time for the community to engage." 

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40m ago40 minutes agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 8:55pm

By Nicholas McElroy

The Drum: How do we keep aged care safe, but give residents full lives?

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40m ago40 minutes agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 8:54pm

By Nicholas McElroy

New exposure sites identified after a mystery COVID case on the Gold Coast 

By Elizabeth Cramsie

Robina Town Centre, Earle Plaza at Nerang, and JB Hifi at Bundall have all been listed as low risk or casual contact venues.

A 32-year-old man tested positive after being infectious in the community for six days. He had received one dose of the vaccine.

So far three of his family members have tested negative.

Contact tracing also continues in Warwick on the Southern Downs, where an unvaccinated man in his 20s has contracted the virus.

He may have been infectious in the community for 10 days, and authorities believe there's a link to an outbreak at Moree in New South Wales.

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48m ago48 minutes agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 8:46pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 4 minutes 29 seconds4m 29s How Australians who lost their job after the outbreak of the pandemic are at risk of long-term unemployment.Share post

1h ago1 hours agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 8:33pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Where is the link to yesterday's COVID blog?

Looking to catch up on some extremely recent history? Or is there a specific post you were looking for? It might be in yesterday's COVID blog.

Here's a quick recap of the updates from Wednesday:

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1h ago1 hours agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 8:22pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Queensland and Tasmania have reach new COVID vaccination targets. 

By Madeleine Cross

Queensland has met the state government's threshold for the easing of mask rules.

More than 80 per cent of those over 16 are now at least partially vaccinated.

This means people in south-east Queensland will no longer need to wear masks indoors including at schools, workplaces and hospitality venues.

The state has also flagged new contact tracing locations on the Gold Coast after two new community infections were reported in the state.

It comes as 80 per cent of Tasmanians over the age of 16 are now fully vaccinated.

The state reached the target a week later than the state government had originally aimed for.

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1h ago1 hours agoWed 10 Nov 2021 at 8:15pm

By Nicholas McElroy

Good morning and welcome to the ABC News COVID blog

Let's get into some updates.

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

COVID-19 case in WA is not where Government’s map says it is

Carnarvon 6701

Concerns have been raised about the true number of COVID-19 cases in Western Australia’s mining hub because of the way the Government collects data.

Key points:

  • The WA Government says a heat map showing COVID-19 cases shows a person’s address rather than their physical location
  • This sparked confusion in Carnarvon, but it turned out the resident was in Perth — a fact that in turn has raised concerns about FIFO workers’ data
  • The AMA says the only way to improve the accuracy of data is to gather more of it, and is urging private pathology firms to get involved

The Pilbara region’s thousands-strong force of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers has been deemed essential in order to keep the economy moving.

But a red flag was raised last week when WA Health released a heat map revealing local government areas where COVID-19 cases were located.

The data showed a previously unreported case in the Gascoyne town of Carnarvon, sparking panic and demands for more information from the Shire of Carnarvon.

“The Shire is aware of the map showing a possible case in Carnarvon, however we have no more information than the general public,” it said in a post on social media.

“We are requesting for the Department of Health to provide further information for the public to calm any fears, but no additional information has been received.”

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


Roger Cook admitted some of the Government’s data was “skewed”. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Carnarvon resident in Perth hospital

When the Government clarified the details around the case, it was revealed the person had listed their home address as being in Carnarvon, but had not physically been back in the region since returning from overseas.

They were isolated and receiving treatment in Perth.

The confusion sparked concern the data had not reflected the true number of the cases in the Pilbara, because of the high number of FIFO workers with addresses elsewhere, including interstate.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook acknowledged some data was skewed.

WA begins to ‘flatten the curve’
The stream of COVID-19 cases in WA has slowed to a trickle in recent days, but there are some big risks if the state limits the outbreak too effectively.

“There’s a range of criteria that goes into actually identifying the location of the particular virus — sometimes we will utilise the residential address, sometimes it will be the location,” he said.

“There are clear protocols that are really driven by the World Health Organisation in terms of how we report these numbers.

“One of the issues that we have in Western Australia is that we have to report the numbers from the cruise ship Artania, even though none of them are actually Western Australians or contracted the disease in Western Australia.

“These are sometimes just the skewing that you get with the numbers and it’s just a matter for us sitting inside those protocols so there’s a consistent way we report those numbers right across the nation.”


The WA Government wants the Artania to leave Fremantle Port urgently.
(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

‘It’s not about a heads-up’

Mr Cook acknowledged people wanted to know if there were more cases in their communities, but said they should trust the Government was protecting their health.

“I’ve had a number of enquiries saying, ‘Well, we should know where these people live so we can protect ourselves,'” he 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.

“Obviously we provide the community with all the information they need to make sure they understand we are protecting their public health.

“I understand the cases are aggregated across the regions to the regional centres.

“For the purposes of the Kimberley, it presents the [Halls Creek] cases as occurring in Broome, and obviously there are other cases around the place.

“I’ve asked the department to refine the map so that we make sure we are presenting a truer case of the situation.

“These [heat map] arrangements are really in place simply for the community to understand how the spread of the disease is starting to progress.

“It’s not about providing people with a heads-up so they can take extra precautions to protect themselves.”

How fast is coronavirus growing around the world?

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

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

More testing needed, AMA says

Australian Medical Association (WA) president Andrew Miller said more testing was needed to get a clearer picture of the disease’s spread, and noted that current figures reflect an uneven spread of monitoring across the state.


AMA president Dr Andrew Miller says it’s time to “test, test, test”. (ABC Perth: Evelyn Manfield)

Dr Miller said the ratio of positive tests returned from the Kimberley — where 14 cases had been confirmed — was much higher than in other parts of the state.

“There seems to be a roughly 4.8 per cent positive rate in the Kimberley as opposed to a 2.5 per cent positive rate in the rest of the state,” he said.

“Which suggests we’re just not getting enough testing done in the regions.

“We know that we need more testing done in the Kimberley, and we need more testing everywhere to make sure we haven’t got a whole bunch of spread that’s going on behind our backs at the moment.

“What we all know is that we can’t fight a war without the information about knowing where the enemy is.

“If the information is inaccurate because the information about a FIFO worker is recorded as their home base rather than where they actually are, or their address is recorded as a region and they’re actually in the metro area, then that makes it very difficult for us to keep a track of this enemy, which only can get carried around by people.”


The AMA is calling on private pathology firms to help process coronavirus tests. (ABC Pilbara: Susan Standen)

Dr Miller said more testing was the only way to ensure accurate data and that private pathology labs should be involved in processing the results.

“We need to be testing as many people as we can,” he said.

“The answer to Carnarvon is to not worry too much about whether that individual is there, or are they not, but to test as many people as you can in Carnarvon.

“That gives you a much clearer picture of what the disease is doing.

“The World Health Organisation is very clear: the greatest tool we have at this stage is to test, test, test so let’s get on with it.”

Who should present to COVID-19 clinics?

  • People who have EITHER a fever of 38 degrees Celsius OR acute respiratory infection
  • Symptoms to look out for include fever, shortness of breath, cough or sore throat
  • Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results.

Major clinics have been set up at Perth hospitals including Royal Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner, Fiona Stanley, Joondalup, Armadale, Rockingham and St John of God Midland.
They are open from 8:00am–8:00pm daily.
In Southern WA a clinic is operating at Bunbury Health Campus from 10:00am–4:00pm daily.
In Northern WA a clinic is operating at Broome Hospital from 8:30am–4:00pm daily.
Outside these areas, people with symptoms should present to their local hospital.
For more information go to the Health Department website.

As of Tuesday WA had conducted more than 19,000 tests, with 18,731 people returning negative results, 3,787 of whom were from regional areas.

Of those, 302 were in the Pilbara, which has had five positive results.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Video: The Virus: latest developments on COVID-19 for April 10

(ABC News)

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

WA announces major expansion in COVID-19 testing starting tomorrow

Perth 6000

Western Australia will significantly increase coronavirus testing starting from tomorrow, with anyone who has had a fever or acute respiratory infection in recent days now eligible to be checked for the virus.

Key points:

  • Anyone with a fever or respiratory infection can be tested from tomorrow
  • There are now 481 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in WA, an increase of 11
  • Random community testing has so far not detected any cases

Health Minister Roger Cook made the announcement as he confirmed WA had recorded 11 new cases of the virus, taking the state’s total number of infections to 481.

WA’s COVID-19 death toll remains at six, following two fatalities yesterday.

Mr Cook said the expanded testing criteria meant from tomorrow any person with a fever of 38 degrees Celsius or higher — or who had one in recent days — or an acute respiratory infection would be eligible to be tested.

That would include anybody with symptoms such as a shortness of breath, cough or sore throat.

“This is a significant change and means we will capture a much wider proportion of the public,” he said.

“This will ensure we are able to find new cases, protect the vulnerable and ensure we track the movement of the virus in the community.

“If you have symptoms, then please go to the clinics and be tested.”

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

Second testing change in last week

The revamped testing rules is the second time testing criteria has been expanded in barely a week, with previous restrictions eased after concerns over a shortage of testing chemicals dissipated.

Until just a week ago, only people who had recently returned from travel or who had come into contact with a confirmed case of the virus was able to be tested.

WA COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases so far: 517
  • Deaths: 6
  • Tested negative: 22,601

Latest information from the WA Health Department

Anyone who meets those criteria will still be eligible for testing at one of WA’s nine COVID clinics — seven of which are in Perth, with one in Bunbury and another in the Kimberley.

Patients in other regions can be tested through hospitals.

WA has already been conducting random examination of testing samples of people being checked for respiratory infections, but that process is yet to pick up a single case of COVID-19.

More than one-third of WA cases linked to cruises

One of the new infections today is in the Kimberley, taking the total in that region to 15.

Mr Cook said the latest Kimberley case was a close contact of a person previously identified as infected, but was not a healthcare worker.

WA begins to ‘flatten the curve’
The stream of COVID-19 cases in WA has slowed to a trickle in recent days, but there are some big risks if the state limits the outbreak too effectively.

“We are very encouraged by the numbers … but at the moment we need to keep our foot down on the break,” Mr Cook said.

“These are early days and we are not going to see a quick fix for this.”

But significant concerns remain about cruise ships, which are responsible for 176 — or 37 per cent — of WA’s cases, after seven new cases stemming from those vessels.

Premier Mark McGowan confirmed Commonwealth health authorities had reboarded the Artania, which remained docked at Fremantle, to assess 18 crew members.


The Artania cruise ship remains a cause for concern for the WA Government. (ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

Thirteen of those assessed have now been removed from the ship and taken into quarantine on shore.

“Clearly the Artania continues to be an issue,” Mr McGowan said of the ship, which still has about 400 crew members on board.

Thirty-four passengers from the crew remain in WA hospitals, with many more in quarantine.

Six more cruise ships heading to WA

The State Government is also concerned about six cruise ships heading into WA waters, having departed from Sydney or Melbourne.

Mr McGowan said between them, they had 6,000 crew members on board but all had been directed to return to their home ports.

“We don’t want those cruise ships coming here because it would be very difficult for us to deal with,” the Premier said.

“It is obviously a matter of some concern.”

Sailing into a cruise ship storm
It is a problem creating headaches for authorities around the world — what to do with hundreds of foreign passengers aboard a cruise ship infected with coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Mr Cook defended the handling of a case where a man with COVID-19 was denied permission to visit his wife in intensive care before she died of the virus.

“These protocols are in place to make sure we can protect the public, other patients in the hospital and healthcare workers,” he said.

“We don’t want to have people who are COVID-positive coming into ICU unless they are the patient.”

Mr McGowan described the situation as “shocking and awful”, saying he had raised it with Health Department director general David Russell-Weisz.

“He committed to me that there would be a review of the protocols around that and I look forward to that review taking place,” Mr McGowan said.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Video: The Virus: latest developments on COVID-19 for April 10

(ABC News)

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

‘Incredibly encouraging’ result as WA records just nine new cases of COVID-19

Perth 6000

There have been just nine new cases of coronavirus recorded in Western Australia over the past 24 hours.

Key points:

  • WA Health Minister Roger Cook called the result “incredibly encouraging”
  • It continues a downward trend in new WA cases over the past few days
  • Mr Cook said the state was still “sailing into this storm, not out of it”

The new cases bring the state’s total to 364.

WA’s death toll remains at two.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook labelled the new numbers “incredibly encouraging”, but said it was no time for the state to let its guard down.

“To have single digits at any point in time in terms of the corona pandemic is amazing. To have them at this point in the cycle … is particularly encouraging,” he said.

“But we’re not out of the woods. We are sailing into this storm not out of it.

“We need to continue to be vigilant. We can’t be complacent.”

WA COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases so far: 422
  • Deaths: 3
  • Tested negative: 16,022

Latest information from the WA Health Department

Mr Cook urged the community to continue following the guidelines in place to help slow the spread of the virus.

“I just emphasise to everyone that we need to make sure that we continue to practise good physical distancing, good personal hygiene and ensure that we listen to medical authorities,” he said.

“And [follow] all the guides from the Government to ensure that we can actually flatten the curve and push this pandemic out as far as possible.”

Coronavirus update: Follow the latest news in our daily wrap

Seven-year-old child tests positive

All nine new cases are from Perth’s metropolitan area, including five females and four males.

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 Cook said four of them had travelled from overseas and three were close contacts of those people.

Two of the cases remain under investigation.

The ages of the latest patients range from seven to 77.

“So we have another small child,” Mr Cook said.

“I understand that child is currently isolated with his or her family.”

Mr Cook said there were only eight people out of the total number of diagnosed cases whose infection origin remained unknown.

Seven Artania patients in intensive care

The Minister said 54 COVID-19 patients remained in hospitals across WA, with 12 of them in intensive care units (ICU)— including seven people from the Artania cruise ship and two from the Ruby Princess.

A total of 30 patients from the Artania have now been admitted to Joondalup Health Campus after being transferred from the vessel while it was docked in Fremantle.


Coronavirus patients from the Artania arrived at Joondalup Health Campus yesterday. (ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

Mr Cook said three were in intensive care and 27 were in a stable condition, while another four Artania patients remained in intensive care at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

The two Ruby Princess patients are also being cared for in Joondalup’s ICU.

“The patients in ICU are very sick and our thoughts go out to them,” Mr Cook said.

“We wish them all the very best in their struggles and the challenges that they have.”

The Artania cruise ship remains at Fremantle Port but the Australian Border Force has issued a directive for the ship to leave Australian waters.

“I hope to see it leave as soon as possible, there is no reason why it should remain in Western Australia,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak

Regional borders to close from midnight

Of the total number of confirmed cases, 34 are from regional WA.

The State Government’s ban on intrastate travel comes into effect at midnight on Wednesday in an effort to limit the virus’s spread across the state.

From Wednesday, all non-essential travel will be prohibited between the state’s regions.

WA police will set up checkpoints and mobile patrols to ensure people are adhering to the restrictions.

People have been urged to carry employment documentation with them if they travel for work.

The construction and freight industries will continue to operate despite the bans as they have been deemed essential services.

Hundreds of new ventilators, ICU beds ordered

The Government has ordered more than $15 million worth of additional medical equipment to help the health system cope with the pandemic.


WA’s public hospitals are set to receive 200 new ICU beds along with other equipment. (ABC News: Margaret Paul, file photo)

The new equipment includes 301 ventilators, 201 humidifiers and 200 ICU beds.

Mr Cook said health authorities were working day and night to ensure the system was prepared.

“This equipment is being sourced from a range of global suppliers and will arrive in batches. The first is due in the coming weeks,” he said.

The Government has also begun what it called a “major capacity building program”, creating hundreds of new beds in public hospitals across the state.

“[That] will enable us to significantly expand our services, commissioning literally hundreds of beds across out hospital system,” Mr Cook said.

“Our system is now actually starting to realise significant capacity and I am very pleased to say that we’ll be able to support all the patients that come forward.”

The Government also wants COVID-19 patients to have access to cutting edge treatments on trial around the world.

It had planned to introduce legislation into Parliament on Tuesday to allow guardians or next of kin to consent to medical research and experimental treatments.

Currently, guardians or next of kin can only make decisions regarding medical treatment, not participation in medical research.

Your questions on coronavirus answered:

School attendance plummets

Meanwhile, WA Education Minister Sue Ellery said public schools had on average experienced a drop of between 70–90 per cent in attendance this week.


There has been a massive drop in attendance at WA public schools. (AAP: Paul Miller)

Parents were last week asked to keep children at home if possible, where they could learn from online education resources.

Ms Ellery said the education sector was now working tirelessly to prepare for term two.

“People are working on that very hard now, on establishing essentially a virtual school,” Ms Ellery said.

“I appreciate it’s a bit confronting for parents this week, but I remind them there is access to learning online.

“We are not asking parents to become teacher. We are just asking for their assistance.”

Program launched to help homeless

The WA Government has also introduced a pilot program to help some of Perth’s homeless population, as circumstances meant many could not self-isolate or follow social distancing measures.

A total of 20 people experiencing homelessness will be moved into Perth’s Pan Pacific hotel.


The program to help some of Perth’s homeless may be scaled up if the trial is deemed a success. (ABC News: Graeme Powell)

“The State Government recognises that there are a number of cohorts in our community that are more vulnerable to COVID-19,” Community Services Minister Simone McGurk said.

“The Hotels with Heart pilot learns from similar initiatives happening interstate and around the world, including in the United Kingdom, America and Canada.

“With the help of community service organisations, this initiative will take the pressure off the health system in Western Australia and potentially help to flatten the curve as the state fights to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

The program could be scaled up if the trial was deemed a success.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Video: Under the microscope

(ABC News)

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

‘The world has changed dramatically in just one month’: WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt decides to stay

Perth 6000

Western Australia’s Treasurer, Ben Wyatt, has reversed his decision to quit politics at next year’s state election, citing the coronavirus pandemic as his motivation.

Key points:

  • WA’s coronavirus outbreak struck after Ben Wyatt announced plans to quit
  • The Treasurer now says he wants to serve his state in its time of need
  • He says WA is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis

Mr Wyatt announced a month ago that he would not continue in State Parliament beyond 2021, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

But in a statement, he said WA was facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis because of the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been 140 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state so far, with businesses across WA closing yesterday and thousands of people left unemployed as a result of shutdown measures.

WA COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases so far: 231
  • Deaths: 2
  • Tested negative: 11,288

Latest information from the WA Health Department

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused me to reflect on my decision last month, to not stand as a candidate at the 2021 election,” Mr Wyatt said.

“The world has changed dramatically in just one month. As the Premier has warned, the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis are going to be dire.

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

“I know the recovery is going to be a significant task, one of which I am determined to be a part of.

“I want to serve my state in its time of need.

“It is for this reason that I will no longer be stepping down at the next election.”

Economy set to take hit after return to surplus

Mr Wyatt steered the WA economy back into the black for the first time in five years last year, with the mid-year review later revealing the Government was eyeing off a $2.6 billion surplus for the 2019–20 financial term.

But the coronavirus crisis is sure to leave its mark on the state’s finances.

Speaking to ABC Radio Perth this morning about his decision to stay on, Mr Wyatt said did not want to leave the state during major changes to the economy.

Video: WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt announced last month he would quit politics at the next election

(ABC News)

He said the next few budgets would be “how we go about recovering out of this”.

“I think it’s important for the stability of the Government, stability of the Premier’s leadership as he goes about having this conversation with Western Australians, that I don’t leave that hole at this time,” he said.

“When you see the rapid changes to the economy and the finances and to health, I think it wouldn’t be right to leave in that environment.

“I didn’t want to hand that over to somebody else, that would be unfair.”

WA’s coronavirus stimulus package explained
The WA Government announces a $607 million economic stimulus package targeting households and small businesses, so what does it mean for you?

The Treasurer thanked Premier Mark McGowan and his Labor Party colleagues for their understanding, and also acknowledged his family for what he described as their continued sacrifices.

Mr Wyatt said while he was confident in his decision to reverse his resignation, it was a little embarrassing given the warm farewells he had received.

“It was like reading your obituary whilst still having breakfast,” he said.

“And that was flattering, but hopefully that means that people have some confidence the decision that I’ve just made.”

The first Indigenous treasurer of any Australian parliament, Mr Wyatt was a 31-year-old lawyer when he was elected as the MP for Victoria Park in 2006 in a by-election triggered by the sudden resignation of then-premier Geoff Gallop.

He made an ill-fated tilt at the leadership of the WA Labor Party in 2011, mounting an unsuccessful challenge to then-opposition leader Eric Ripper.

Hannah Beazley, the daughter of WA Governor and former federal opposition leader Kim Beazley, had been pre-selected to succeed Mr Wyatt as Labor’s candidate in Victoria Park.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

Video: Q+A: Coronavirus testing criteria slammed

(ABC News)

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

The latest push to ban police radar detectors in WA may also restrict mobile phone apps

Perth 6000

The WA Government’s latest push to ban radar detectors is facing a backlash amid warnings proposed changes to road traffic laws would give authorities sweeping new powers to ban a wide range of devices in vehicles.

Key points:

  • The proposed laws allow police to prohibit any device from vehicles
  • WA has repeatedly attempted to ban radar detectors without success
  • The Police Minister says the state needs to keep up with new technology

The proposed legislation would also give officers the power to ban any other devices either from being attached to a car or used within a vehicle, with no restrictions on what those prohibited “devices” could include.

It has led to warnings from driving groups that the powers could also be used to ban a vast array of technology, such as mobile phone apps that warn users of speed cameras.

Those changes could be made without the prior approval of State Parliament, although Upper House MPs would be able to veto them subsequently.

Police Minister Michelle Roberts has promised the powers would be used responsibly, but said they were necessary to ensure the proposed radar detector ban could keep up with emerging technology.


Advocates say the ban could be extended to include driving and navigation apps. (AP: Seth Wenig)

But Glenn Secco from the Australian Drivers Rights Association, who has contacted most Upper House MPs encouraging them to block the Government’s plans, said the proposal was legislation by stealth.

“This legislation could affect all drivers by granting the power to WA Police and Office of Road Safety to decide what devices on vehicles could be banned in WA,” he said.

“This bypasses the usual legislative scrutiny.”

The bill is currently before the Upper House, with a final vote on it expected at some point this year.

Phone apps, cameras could be banned, MP says

Liberal Democrats MP Aaron Stonehouse, who opposes a radar detector ban, is seeking support from parliamentary colleagues to have the legislation scaled back.


WA is the only state where speed camera detectors in cars are not banned. (WA Police)

“These are broad powers that would allow them to ban basically any device they like,” he said.

“They could ban bull bars, cameras on motorcycles, using a phone as a GPS device.”

But Ms Roberts hosed down suggestions the power would be used broadly, labelling those claims a “phoney opposition” to a radar detector ban.

“Anyone that is opposed to this regulation-making power is just trying to appease those people who for decades have wanted to keep a radar detector in their car,” she said.

“They are trying to curry some favour with people who want to be able to speed and get away with it.

“Every other state has done this [banned radar detectors], so this is something that is long overdue.”

WA lags other states

While Upper House MPs could overturn regulations made under powers like those proposed for the radar detector ban, successful disallowances were relatively rare.

The legislation is the latest attempt to ban radar detectors in WA, a measure that has been repeatedly proposed but never implemented.


WA is the only state in Australia that still allows radar detectors in cars. (Flickr: mtneer_man)

Plans to outlaw the devices first emerged three decades ago but have never eventuated.

WA is the only state in the country yet to ban radar detectors, but jammers, which are designed to interfere with speed cameras, were banned in 2017.

Ms Roberts said she would only push ahead with a radar detector ban if she could get assurances from the Opposition they would not seek to overturn it in the Upper House.

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

Wild dog attacks woman, kills the family dog at popular WA tourist beach

Exmouth 6707

An Exmouth woman is demanding action after she witnessed a pack of wild dogs savage her pet at a popular beach in Western Australia’s north west.

Key points:

  • An Exmouth woman needed six stitches for intervening when wild dogs attacked her dog on a local beach
  • Her Maltese-Jack Russell cross was mauled by the dogs, and later died
  • The incident comes as Exmouth gears up for its whale shark season starting in April

Asha Haegel said residents had complained for two years about the wild dogs, and she now intended to sue the Shire of Exmouth for failing to act.

Warning: This story contains images that may disturb some readers.

“I want that beach closed until those dogs — or dingoes, or whatever they are — are dealt with,” she said.

“There have been complaints about this for at least two years [and] the shire has sat on its [hands].”

Exmouth Shire president Matthew Niikkula posted a warning on social media on Saturday and said the council had implemented increased ranger patrols following the incident.

Ms Haegel was walking her Maltese-Jack Russell cross, Mickey, with her partner on Saturday when the wild dogs appeared.

“[We] were down at the beach, it’s the main beach that all the pet owners take their dogs to for walks, and my little one would have been 5 or 10 metres behind us,” she said.

“And he was just having a scratch around.

“I looked [at him], I looked back at the ocean, and the next thing I heard was a little yip.

“I looked back at him and there were three wild dogs basically pulling him apart like a rag doll.

“We both charged at them screaming as loud as we could to intimidate them and they just weren’t afraid of us at all.”

Wild dogs fearless of humans

Ms Haegel said the wild dogs were not deterred as she and her partner got “in amongst them” and tried to rescue Mickey.


Mickey the dog died after being mauled by a pack of wild dogs. (Supplied: Asha Haegel)

She received a large cut to her lip, which required six stitches, a tetanus needle, and a strong course of antibiotics.

She said it was only when her other pet dog came to the aid of them that the pack was eventually scared off.

“Thankfully our other dog, a red heeler, he got to them before we did and he scared them off,” she said.

Ms Haegel rushed Mickey to the vet, but he later died.

She said she met with a ranger from the Shire of Exmouth, but said she was disappointed with the response.


Asha Haegel needed six stitches to her face after trying to save her dog Mickey from a wild dog attack. (Supplied Asha Haegel)

“I met with the ranger this morning and made a formal statement,” she said.

“They’ve done nothing. There were no signs [and] no warnings.

“Hundreds of people go there every day.”

Shire of Exmouth chief executive Cameron Woods told the ABC wild dogs had been relocated or destroyed in the past, depending on circumstances.


Exmouth is a popular tourist destination, with an average of 151,000 visitors to the shire each year. (ABC Pilbara: Rebecca Parish )

Mr Woods said the shire was now looking at numerous options including erecting signage at the location and dealing with the worrisome pack.

“It’s not as easy as turning up tomorrow at a particular time and hoping the three dogs wander out and deciding whether you’re going to shoot them,” he said.

“People need to also realise if they have been sighted there, if you’re going to walk your dogs [then] walk your dogs on leads. Try not to be alone with your dogs.

“Don’t have small children outside of the car and leave them unattended.

“Some common sense [is needed] around living in a remote, rural area that has dingoes for a start.”

Mr Woods said when wild dogs become aggressive or stalk people the shire would act.

He added his staff were now trying to ascertain whether part of the land where the pack has been sighted belongs to the Australian Defence Force.

If so, that would ascertain which agency would deal with the matter.

Dogs or dingos?

The incident has ignited debate over whether the dogs were dingoes or whether they were wild dogs. However Ms Haegel told the ABC one of the dogs was black in colour.

Reports of another incident in Exmouth on the same day were posted on social media, with a woman stating she was with a friend when she encountered a pack of three dogs that were scared off by another person who was in their car nearby.

“We didn’t have our phones on us so we would have been stuck if it wasn’t for other crew on the beach,” the post read.

The incident comes as Exmouth ramps up for its busiest time of the year, which kicks off in April with the beginning of the whale shark tourism season.

According to Tourism WA statistics, more than 151,000 visitors make their way to Exmouth each year.

Not just a problem for Exmouth

Further inland, the community of Tom Price has also been dealing with numerous reports of wild dog encounters.


A wild dog crosses Yardie Creek Road in the Cape Range National Park. (ABC Pilbara: Rebecca Parish)

Ashburton Shire president Kerry White said, in the past two weeks, there had been five reports of dog attacks in the shire.

“Pets are being taken and we are very frightened that they might attack people if they are out walking late at night,” she said.

“We’ve had this problem once before. In the past, rangers have trapped them and dealt with the situation, which we are expecting to happen this time as well.

“The rangers have caught some … They are onto it in collaboration with the police, so there is not a lot we can do until we eradicate them again.”

In 2018, a 58-year-old woman was attacked by a pair of dingoes at a Pilbara mine site.

Three rules for dealing with dingoes:

  • Don’t run
  • Don’t make sudden movements
  • Never turn your back
  • Victim Deborah Rundle required surgery for deep wounds after she said one dingo took her phone as she was having lunch.

    “I stepped forward to pick up my phone but saw the dingoes looking at me,” she said.

    “I started to back away, facing them, when they attacked me.

    “They grabbed at my arms and legs while I screamed for help.”

    Her case against Newcrest Mining remained before the District Court.

    The Shire of Exmouth was contacted for comment.

    The shire’s website stated that dog attacks were taken very seriously.

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

    Long before coronavirus, a disease kept millions of people like Denese Griffin isolated from the world

    Perth 6000

    Denese Griffin’s teenage years were far from normal after being struck down by a rare infectious disease that meant she could only see her parents once a week.

    Key points:

    • Denese Griffin was one of 1,400 Indigenous people who lived in a WA leprosarium
    • She spent five years as a teen living in isolation, but still has happy memories
    • Leprosarium artefacts will feature in Perth’s new museum opening in November

    From the age of 15, she spent almost five years living in a quarantined hospital facility for people with leprosy — now known as Hansen’s disease — in northern WA.

    The stigma that was long attached to the sickness means that, 45 years on, it still makes Ms Griffin uncomfortable to talk about.

    “It was sad to be there because we were essentially locked up,” Ms Griffin said.

    She was one of at least 1,400 Indigenous Australians who lived at the Bungarun Leprosarium in Derby throughout its 50 years in operation, until a cure was found for the condition and it closed in 1986.


    Members of the orchestra at the Bungarun Leprosarium in Derby in 1948. (Supplied: State Library of WA)

    But despite spending a significant part of her teenage years living in isolation, Ms Griffin still has plenty of fond memories to look back on.

    “I didn’t want to be there, obviously, but my memories sustain me,” she said.

    “I can’t say that I never want to remember because there was a lot of happy times.”

    Music brought joy to patients

    Ms Griffin was part of the social orchestra at Bungarun where she learnt to sing and play the piano.

    “I think music was something that just rippled right through Bungarun,” she said.

    Decades later the melodica, an instrument she kept from Bungarun, still brings a smile to her face.


    Denese Griffin looks over pictures from her five years spent at the Bungarun leprosarium as a teenager. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

    Many of the instruments used in the orchestra were tossed away when the facility closed.

    But a violin and a microscope were kept and preserved by The Sisters Of St John Of God at the Heritage Centre in Broome.

    They help tell the complex story of Bungarun — one of sickness and sadness, and of recovery and joy.

    “While we were all there because we were unwell, and there was rigorous testing and everything like that, we had, at the end of the day, music,” Ms Griffin said.


    Denese Griffin spent much of her teenage years in isolation, but still has fond memories from the experience. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

    “The orchestra … was an opportunity for people to practice using their hands,” Helen Mary Martin from the Broome Gallery said.

    “The microscope was the thing that put people in there and kept people in there,” she said.

    Leprosarium artefacts sent to new Perth museum

    The artefacts are part of a small collection being sent to Perth’s new museum ahead of its opening in November.


    Helen Mary Martin from the Broome Gallery holds a violin once belonging to the Bungarun Leprosarium that will be featured in the new Perth museum. (ABC Kimberley: Tom Forrest)

    Some Bungarun residents like Ms Griffin have shied away from sharing their stories for years.

    “Even with my work colleagues I haven’t shared it,” she said.

    But the new exhibition in Perth will shed light on the leprosarium and its residents.

    “Because the disease was so stigmatised and such a feared thing it was hard for them to talk about and it’s only now that a lot of people are being able to talk about it to their families,” Ms Martin said.

    “It’s never had the attention that it deserves.”

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

    With a stepfather dead and a mother vanished, a family’s worst-case scenario has been realised

    Perth 6000

    The daughter of a woman feared dead in WA’s outback says her family’s worst-case scenario has been realised, with authorities unable to find her five years after her disappearance.

    Key points:

    • Raymond Kehlet died and his wife vanished on a WA prospecting trip
    • A coroner has been examining what happened on the fateful journey
    • The ordeal has had an immeasurable impact on the couple’s family

    Kelly Keegans read an emotional statement at an inquest examining the death of her stepfather Raymond Kehlet, 47, and the suspected death of her mother, Jennie Kehlet, 47, during a prospecting trip to Sandstone, about 700 kilometres north-east of Perth, in March 2015.

    The couple’s disappearance sparked the most expensive search in WA’s history, which ended after Mr Kehlet’s body was found down an abandoned mine shaft.

    The inquest has heard his cause of death could not be ascertained.

    No trace has ever been found of Mrs Kehlet.


    Kelly Keegans (centre) told the inquest her mother’s presumed death was the worst-case scenario for her family. (ABC News: Charlotte Hamlyn)

    Ms Keegans broke down as she read a statement to the court saying her mother had been full of life.

    “She created warmth and she was the tightest hug,” Ms Keegans said.

    “When this all started our worst-case scenario was that mum would never come home at all.

    “They deserve so much more than the death they’ve been reduced to in the eyes of the world.”

    Daughters learnt of stepfather’s death through the media

    Ms Keegans said she and her sisters learnt of the discovery of Mr Kehlet’s body through the media.

    “No one checked to see if we had been told,” she said.


    A coronial inquest into Raymond and Jennie Kehlet’s deaths is likely to conclude Ms Kehlet was no longer alive. (Supplied)

    “It’s a terrible, sick feeling when I think of him down the bottom of that mine shaft.

    “He should be here with us.”

    She also described her family’s pain at learning the bank had foreclosed on the pair’s house in Beverley, in the Wheatbelt, before a death certificate had been issued for her mother.

    Family has hopes for justice

    Mr Kehlet’s brother Malcolm also addressed the inquest, saying the impact the couple’s deaths had on his family was immeasurable.

    “Ray and Jennie were always together and an inseparable pair,” Mr Kehlet said.

    “These years have taken a heavy toll on our family and friends.”


    Malcolm Kehlet, pictured with his wife, told the inquest the whole ordeal had taken a heavy toll on his family and friends. (ABC News: Charlotte Hamlyn)

    He said he hoped there would ultimately be justice for his brother and that Ms Kehlet could eventually be found and laid to rest.

    Last month, a man named by police as a suspect in the case gave evidence at the inquest.

    Graham Milne had accompanied the Kehlets on the prospecting trip to help them search for gold.

    During his testimony Mr Milne told the inquest the last time he saw the couple alive was on Saturday March 21, two days after they arrived and set up camp.


    Graham Milne was the last person to see Raymond and Jennie Kehlet before they went missing. (ABC News: James Carmody)

    That day he had gone out prospecting on his own, before returning in the early hours of the next morning, packing up his things and leaving the campsite without saying goodbye.

    He denied having anything to do with the pair’s disappearance.

    Coroner Ros Fogliani will hand down her findings at a later date but today indicated they would include a conclusion that Ms Kehlet was no longer alive.

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

    Cyclone Damien downgraded after WA’s north hit with flooding, gale-force winds and storm surges

    Karratha 6714

    Former Tropical Cyclone Damien has been downgraded to a tropical low after the storm — which brought destructive winds and torrential rainfall to Western Australian’s north — weakened to below cyclone intensity

    Key points:

    • Former tropical cyclone Damien has weakened below cyclone intensity
    • The system is still producing heavy rainfall over the Gascoyne region
    • The cyclone brought winds of up to 195 kilometres per hour

    In their latest advice at 5:00am AWST on Monday, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said ex-Tropical Cyclone Damien was continuing to move southwards and was over the north-east Gascoyne.

    All communities, including Tom Price to Nullagine and Marble Bar have now been given the all-clear.

    The system is still producing heavy rainfall over the north-east Gascoyne, with conditions expected to moving into the south-east Gascoyne and northern Goldfields by the afternoon.

    Strong and squally winds are also possible and there is still the risk of flooding in coming days.

    The storm crossed over the coast as a category three system about 3:30pm on Saturday, bringing severe, destructive winds, torrential rainfall and storm surges.

    A Karratha man says he was forced to shelter under his kitchen table with his cat while it peeled the roof off his house as it tore through Western Australia’s Pilbara region on Saturday night.

    Karratha resident Beau Corps, who has lived in the town since 1985, was forced to crawl under a table with his cat, called Gary, as the storm hit.

    “There was a big crash and I could see, through the vents in the roof, the light coming through and I realised my roof had peeled off,” Mr Corps said.


    Mr Corps sheltered with his brother after his house was damaged by the cyclone. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine )

    “I grabbed the cat and went to run outside but it was really, really strong obviously and I knew the tree was blocking a hole, a gap in the fence to my brother’s house.

    “We were hunkered under the table. My brother rang and just asked where I was and I told him I was under the table. He said ‘just stay there’.”

    Mr Corps said he ended up sheltering at his other brother’s house, who had phoned and told him it was safe to run across.

    Fridge among debris caught on camera

    Renae Moss and Ryley Hinchcliffe filmed a fridge surfing down a street in the Karratha suburb of Nickol.

    Video: Residents filmed as Cyclone Damien wreaked havoc on Karratha and sent a fridge skating down a road

    (ABC News)

    Ms Moss said she tried to warn authorities for days about the empty public housing home next door as preparations were made in the lead-up to Cyclone Damien.

    But she said nothing was done about the large items lying in the yard.

    A spokesman for the Housing Authority said the property had been recently vacated.


    Tropical Cyclone Damien has downed trees and damaged roofs in Karratha, in northern WA. (ABC News: Rebecca Parish)


    Locals and the SES are helping clean up the damage after the storm. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

    “The Department attempted to schedule works however, due to the short time frame, this was unable to be completed ahead of the cyclone,” the statement said.

    “The property will be assessed for damage as soon as it is safe to do so, as will be the case for all reports of cyclone damage to our properties.”

    ‘Our house was shaking like a leaf’

    Stuart Otto, who has lived in Karratha for more than three decades, said the “horrendous” cyclone was the worst he had experienced.

    “My house is 50 years old and at the end of the day, it held up well,” Mr Otto said.


    Stuart Otto has lived in Karratha 30 years and said he never experienced anything like Tropical Cyclone Damien. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

    “My brother lives four doors down and he’s got a brick house, but his verandah out the back is absolutely decimated (with) three fences down, I haven’t seen a direct hit like this before.

    “Right up to the eye it was bad, and then you go okay, she’ll be fine dropping off the other side, but after the eye it was worse.

    “Our house was shaking like a leaf.”

    Cyclone downgraded but caution urged

    The BOM said the system had weakened as it moved inland, and by 9:00am AWST on Sunday had been downgraded to a category one system.

    Karratha was given the all-clear about 11:20am on Sunday.

    Video: Destructive winds from Cyclone Damien pummel the WA coastline.

    (ABC News)

    Mr Blackshaw said the DFES had received more than 100 calls for assistance, but he expected that figure to “increase significantly”.

    Most requests for help through St John Ambulance were dealt with “relatively quickly” and no significant calls were made overnight on Saturday.

    Cyclone Damien moves inland

    Karratha recorded 235.2mm of rain by 9:00am Sunday, while Roebourne saw 234.8mm.

    DFES incident controller Mr Blackshaw warned flooding would be the next big risk to the Pilbara and he reminded people not to drive onto flooded roads.

    Power outage hits thousands

    About 10,000 customers were affected by power outages on Saturday night and some suffered intermittent phone reception issues.


    The water level is rising at Paraburdoo, a mining town about 390 kilometres inland form the coast, and south of Karratha where the cyclone is heading. (Supplied: Peter Tooby and Charity Schoen)

    Horizon Power spokeswoman Michelle South said crews had successfully restored power to a number of Karratha suburbs on Sunday morning.

    “Network patrols will continue in daylight hours to assess further damage and restore power to any remaining areas,” she said.

    “The process of complete restoration and repairs will likely take some time and we thank customers for their patience and understanding as we work through this process.”


    Trees have been uprooted all over Karratha by cyclone Damien. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

    The loss of power also caused issues with the wastewater network in Karratha, Wickham and Roebourne.

    Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said problems caused by flooding were still to play out.

    “When the rainfall’s quite close to the coast, the water gets out to sea quite quickly so you don’t have a flooding issue,” he said.


    Sharpe Avenue, the main street of Karratha, after Tropical Cyclone Damien passed through. (ABC News: Rebecca Parish)

    “It’s more the rainfall that falls further inland that can cause issues and that will play out over the next day or so.

    “A lot of it is damage to trees and the like and then the damage of that, those trees onto structures, I will say it’s early days yet in terms of exactly what the extent of the damage is, but certainly vegetation impacting sheds and houses and the like is where we’re at right now.”


    Karratha residents have been warned to stay away from floodwaters as their depth is unknown. (ABC News: Rebecca Parish)

    BOM forecaster Neil Bennett said the area would not have experienced such severe winds since 1989.

    “For many people in Karratha, even though they’re long-term residents there, this will be the first time they’ve lived through a direct hit with a severe tropical cyclone, and I think it’s a sobering experience for many of them.”

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

    Rare sea fog shrouds Perth coastline and Fremantle Port in a ghostly haze

    Perth 6000

    A rare sea fog has moved over Western Australia’s south-west coast, prompting a warning for people on the water to take extra care.

    Boaters have been urged to be aware of the conditions as the thick fog moves past Rottnest Island and south off Perth’s coast.

    “We’ll definitely see some fairly reduced visibility over the coastal waters during today, which is potentially quite hazardous for boats out there,” Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) duty forecaster Max Strack said.


    The fog reduced visibility on the water and prompted a warning for boaters. (Supplied)

    The fog emerged off the coast of Geraldton last night and gradually developed south.

    Ms Strack said the fog was caused by a low pressure trough drawing warm, moist air from the north.


    It was an unusual morning at Peasholm Dog Beach in Perth as the sun was blocked out. (Supplied)

    “It usually occurs when we get a really warm and moist air mass that moves over some cooler water and that’s precisely what happened last night,” she said.

    Sea fog is only seen off WA’s coast a couple of times a year, with the current conditions likely to last into the afternoon.


    The sea fog could easily be seen over the water from coastal suburbs. (Supplied)

    “It is a moderately unusual event to have such a broad event of sea fog off the coast of WA,” Ms Strack said.

    The BOM said fog formed the same way as clouds and happened when the air temperature cooled to the dew-point temperature, which is when condensation occurs.

    Fremantle Port said while the fog had been pronounced at the port, it had not disrupted its operations in any way.


    The fog created an eerie scene at Fremantle Port but did not cause any disruption. (Supplied)

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

    Google chief’s ship carrying Neverending Story-themed tech sets sail to explore mysterious deep sea canyon

    Bremer Bay 6338

    Details of what lives in the depths of a unique deep-sea canyon are set to be uncovered in an expedition underway on the south coast of Western Australia.

    Key points:

    • A state-of-the-art research vessel is set to probe uncharted territory off the WA coast
    • Australian scientists are excited at the chance to use technology they normally cannot access
    • The Bremer Bay Canyon is a hotspot for marine life, but no one knows what lives in its depths

    The Research Vessel Falkor, which is owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute — founded by former Google chief executive Eric Shmidt and his wife, Wendy — set sail for the Bremer Bay canyon on Sunday.

    Among those on board is seasoned Italian researcher and co-chief scientist, Paolo Montagna, who said the depths of the canyon remain a mystery.

    “We know the shallow part of the Bremer canyon,” Dr Montagna said.

    “We know this is a biodiversity hotspot and a unique place for killer whales and other whales.

    “But we don’t know much about the intermediate and deep water, so it would be really an adventure, a true discovery actually.

    “We have discovered new species also using the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and other research vessels, but we don’t know anything about this part of the ocean.”


    The ROV SuBastian can operate at a depth of 4,500 metres and a speed of 0.5-3, knots depending on depth and currents. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)

    SuBastian on board

    The RV Falkor comes equipped with a Remotely Operated Vehicle capable of diving to 4,500 metres.

    The ROV SuBastian was named after the character, Bastian, from the German fantasy novel The Neverending Story. Falkor is also a character from the book.

    Want more local news? Subscribe to The Great Southern WeeklyLocal news, in your inbox

    Co-lead researcher Julie Trotter, who works at the University of WA, said using the ROV technology is particularly special for the Australian scientists on the mission.

    “We have a very rare opportunity as Australian researchers to be able to utilize Remotely Operated Vehicle technology, because this deep-sea submersible is not available for scientific research in this country,” she said.


    The control room inside the RV Falkor where the ROV SuBastian is operated from. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)

    “We will be capturing the first images of the deep-water canyon systems and inhabitants, and we will then be collecting some of those samples to do analyses back in the lab.

    “Our main goal for collecting those samples is to try and reconstruct environmental conditions.

    “We’re going to be targeting live organisms, and we’ll presumably come across dead samples and potentially fossil samples as well.”


    A baby killer whale blows water as it reaches the surface of the water at the Bremer Bay canyon. (ABC Rural: Fiona Pepper)

    International attention

    The canyon is the first stop on the RV Falkor’s twelve-month tour of Australia, but its visit is not the only international attention Bremer Bay is receiving.

    In the coming months, Japanese public broadcaster NHK will be creating a documentary on the area, spearheaded by filmmaker Dave Riggs.


    Filmmaker Dave Riggs is thrilled the RV Falkor is exploring the Bremer Bay canyon. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)

    “It’s a pretty amazing development to have the Falkor turn up and be pushing right down to the sea floor,” Mr Riggs said.

    “They’re live streaming so anyone can watch it … I’ve been really fascinated by what could be down there.

    “There’s a lot of killer whales, a lot of sharks, seabirds — a lot of life out there, and that’s a lot of mouths.


    The 82-metre RV Falkor will be conducting deep-sea exploration of submarine canyons and coral ecosystems around Australia this year. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)

    “There’s something feeding it and it’s a really special place.”

    The Falkor’s expedition is set to last for 32 days and include two more canyons on the west coast.

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

    Popular Stonehenge replica in WA up for grabs after subdivision prompts price drop

    Esperance 6450

    The owners of Esperance’s Stonehenge replica will keep the unique tourist attraction on Western Australia’s south-east coast open as they continue to seek a suitable buyer.

    Key points:

    • The full-sized Stonehenge replica was built in 2011 on a cattle farm 18km from Esperance
    • The replica consists of 137 stones of granite, some weighing up to 50 tonnes, that were quarried less than 1km from the site
    • Esperance Stonehenge was built to align with the summer and winter solstices, when the sun’s rays align with the station stones and shine through to the altar stone

    Kim and Jillian Beale are retiring to Bridgetown where they grew up before moving to farm near Esperance, 700 kilometres south-east of Perth, as newlyweds 48 years ago.

    The couple built the replica of the prehistoric English monument in 2011 after a millionaire’s plans to build it near Margaret River fell over due to financial problems.

    The property has been on the market for nearly six years, initially advertised for $5 million in 2014.

    But after a sub-division sold off large sections of the cattle farm last year, 87 hectares — which includes the Stonehenge replica and an adjacent three-bedroom house — is now listed for offers above $2.1 million.

    The Beales will make the move on February 4, with two full-time staff to keep the tourist attraction open five days a week.

    They claim it continues to grow in popularity.

    “Esperance really does need some more tourist attractions rather than just talking about beaches all the time,” Mr Beale said.

    “There were about 8,000 people in the first year [after their Stonehenge opened].

    “Every year there seems to be more and more, and last year it was around 16,000.

    “Sometimes you think they’ve got to be crazier than the bloke who built it when they’re coming from the other side of the world.”


    Marion and Kevin Simpson at Esperance Stonehenge as their grandchildren play in the background. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

    ‘Interest’ from potential buyers

    Mr Beale did not say if there have been any formal offers but said there has been significant interest from potential buyers.

    External Link:

    Instagram Stonehenge comparison

    “It’s obviously a bit flat [the market] at the moment, but we have got interest at present,” he said.

    “We’ve got huge numbers of people who would love to buy it but they’d have to win lotto first.

    “I just really hope whoever takes it on can see the potential … because if you want to be in the game of tourism the potential here is massive.

    “You could put in a lot of different infrastructure here to accommodate tourists.”

    The couple believe there needs to be either a cafe, accommodation, brewery, or some other reception venue for Esperance Stonehenge to reach its full potential.

    Mrs Beale said prospective buyers could take the concept to the next level.

    “This was originally just our home but now it’s a tourism precinct,” she said.

    “I think you could do a lot more than just a cafe.

    “It depends on what you want to do. There’s certainly a lot of meat on the bone.

    “The Instagram generation do a lot of our PR for us, along with the grey nomads.”

    External Link:

    Summer solstice

    No shortage of Stonehenge replicas

    The website clonehenge.com lists 96 large, permanent replicas of Stonehenge around the world, including five in Washington State in the United States.

    The owners of Esperance Stonehenge describe their creation as the only astronomically aligned, full-scale, “exact” replica of a pristine Stonehenge in natural stone granite.

    Construction of the replica took about 10 months.

    According to the charity English Heritage, construction of the original Stonehenge in the United Kingdom is believed to have begun more than 5,000 years ago.

    The Wiltshire monument has been a World Heritage Site since 1986 and archaeologists still debate theories surrounding its use and meaning.

    Today, nearly one million people visit Stonehenge every year.

    External Link:

    Stonehenge Tweet

    How does replica compare to the real thing?

    The ABC spoke with Kevin and Marion Simpson from Midlands in central England while they visited Esperance Stonehenge with their grandchildren.

    “It’s something different, isn’t it,” Mrs Simpson said.

    “We have been to the original in Wiltshire, it’s impressive and has the same feeling. It’s a spiritual feeling.

    “It’s definitely the same [layout]. It’s just the stones look a bit more ancient [in England].”

    Mr Simpson said the Esperance Stonehenge was worth the trip.

    “There’s more of it. A lot of the original stone [at Stonehenge] is missing or put back where they think they were,” he said.

    “There’s about 4,000 years of weathering on the original stone as well, so this looks quite new.”

    Esperance tourism looks to new strategy

    Tourism is the region’s second-largest industry behind agriculture, with more than 60 accommodation providers in Esperance.


    Esperance Stonehenge tour guide Susan Ashman speaks to visitors. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)

    The pristine white sands of Lucky Bay at Cape Le Grand National Park is one of the main attractions, with the park on track for record visitor numbers this year.

    The Shire of Esperance closed tenders last week seeking submissions from consultancy groups to develop a new tourism strategy.

    Mrs Beale said a new approach is desperately needed as the tourism industry is growing at a rapid rate.

    External Link:

    Stonehenge Instagram

    “I think Esperance has to move forward in the tourism business,” she said.

    “For many years we’ve been this sleepy little town with gorgeous beaches right at the corner of Western Australia.

    “But with all the social media photographers coming here, it has opened up Esperance to a lot more people in the tourism world.

    “We need to capture those people. You only have to look at the overflow we have here at Christmas when people think they can grab a caravan or camp site easily.

    “It’s no longer like that, we are growing, and if you are going to captivate people and give them a really good experience you have to expand on what you’ve got.”

    Grey nomads remain the largest tourist market, along with cruise ships which dock in the port town.

    Tourism Esperance chairman Wayne Halliday said the Stonehenge replica would be a big part of future strategies.

    “We’re very fortunate to have such a unique attraction,” he said.

    “I think those things [extra attractions at Stonehenge] will evolve. I can see that area being used as a tourist precinct in the future.”

    He said Stonehenge needs the right buyer.

    “Of course it will sell,” he said.

    “I’m no expert but you never know who’s in the wings. It might take an international visitor.”

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

    Runaway rapist who fled WA unlikely to face punishment for supervision order breach

    Broome 6725

    A man who violently raped two backpackers in Broome appears likely to go unpunished for breaching an order meant to supervise his behaviour after his release from prison.

    Key points:

    • Convicted rapist David Gundari breached a supervision order and went on the run from WA into the Northern Territory
    • There is a warrant out in WA for Gundari’s arrest, but police say further action will only be taken if he returns to the state
    • Concerns have been raised that under-resourcing is hampering the ability to enforce the orders

    David Gundari served 12 years behind bars after bashing and raping the women in separate attacks in 2006 that terrified WA’s Kimberley community.

    One of his victims suffered a fractured jaw, eye socket, and cheekbone, while the other had teeth knocked out and received cuts to her head.

    Gundari was released from prison under a post-sentence supervision order (PSSO) in late 2018, despite significant concerns about his lack of effective treatment while in jail.

    Introduced by WA’s then Liberal-National government in 2017, PSSOs are aimed at preventing re-offending and protecting the community.

    The independent Prisoner Review Board makes the decision to place an offender on an order, which lasts for two years and imposes extended supervision beyond their served prison term.

    The level of supervision is also determined by the board and offenders are subject to various conditions.

    Management of offenders, based on their conditions, is the responsibility of Corrective Services Community Corrections Officers, and breaching an order can result in up to three years in jail.

    Violent rapist fled to the NT


    David Gundari failed to appear in Wyndham Magistrates Court in October (ABC Kimberley: Vanessa Mills)

    Gundari, 45, was due before Wyndham Magistrate’s Court in October last year, accused of breaching his PSSO, but failed to appear.

    A week later, he was arrested in the Northern Territory town of Katherine, where he was charged with new offences, including engaging in violent conduct.

    Gundari was found guilty and jailed for nine weeks, before being released from prison in Darwin on January 17.

    There were no public warnings issued by authorities during the time Gundari was on the run.

    No active pursuit by WA Police

    WA Police confirm there was a warrant out for Gundari’s arrest and he had been charged over the breach.

    A spokesperson said the outstanding warrant meant an alert had been put on his name, but they would only deal with him if and when he crossed the border.

    “As per normal warrant issues, if he enters Western Australia and police become aware of his whereabouts, he will be arrested,” the spokesperson said.

    Murdoch University law lecturer Lorraine Finlay said all PSSO breaches needed to be treated seriously.

    She said she wanted to see Gundari sentenced in WA.

    “It is important that when these orders are breached there are consequences and it isn’t just swept away, due to either time elapsing or the person being in another jurisdiction,” she said.

    “If we’re just going to ignore breaches of the orders, well, why bother having them.”

    Community ‘has a right to be concerned’

    Lorraine Finlay said what had happened with Gundari was an example of the PSSO system failing to deliver.

    “We have a convicted violent rapist, who the Prisoner Review Board said was at medium to high risk of re-offending,” Ms Finlay said.

    “He not only breached his post-sentence supervision order, but he went on the run.”

    Ms Finlay acknowledged monitoring offenders was a complex undertaking, especially in remote areas, but argued the Gundari case highlighted enforcement issues due to insufficient resourcing.


    Legal academic Lorraine Finlay says the Post Sentence Supervision Order regime seems to be lacking. (Supplied: Lorraine Finlay)

    “I don’t underestimate the challenges in this area, because we are dealing with people who have complex problems,” she said.

    “People who are often difficult to manage and we’re dealing with a lack of resources in the area.

    “It’s not good enough to simply have the law in place, you actually have to enforce the law.

    “The community, I think, has a right to be concerned that a system that is in place to protect them doesn’t seem to be implemented properly and seems to be lacking.”

    The latest available statistics, from mid-2019, show there are there 141 offenders on PSSOs in WA.

    “That’s actually an increase of 70 per cent over the previous year,” Ms Finlay said.

    “You actually need to put the resources behind them to make sure that people who are on these orders are properly supervised.”

    The office of WA Minister for Corrective Services Fran Logan declined to provide a response.

    In a statement, the Department of Justice said funding had been received to boost community corrections resources, including hiring 48 new officers.

    Four of the new officers were located in the Kimberley region.

    Caseload pressures

    Rikki Hendon, branch secretary of the Community Public Sector Union and Civil Service Association, said the additional officers hired in 2019 were welcome but represented “a drop in the ocean.”


    Union Branch Secretary Rikki Hendon says workload pressures for Community Corrections Officers are an ongoing issue. (Supplied: CPSU/CSA.)

    “Overall, our Community Corrections Officers are under-resourced,” she said.

    “We have a department trying to monitor more people, many of whom have very complex histories of offending, with less staff.”

    Ms Hendon said her organisation was concerned by the caseload facing Community Corrections Officers and that resignations occurring due to workload pressure were robbing the system of talent.

    “This issue now requires additional funding to train up and retain officers who could supervise clients with confidence, attain the best rehabilitative outcomes and keep the community safe,” she said.

    “Feedback from union members suggest amendments to the relevant PSSO legislation could improve the ability of Department of Justice staff to intervene with clients earlier.

    “Any amendments which could encourage better collaboration within the Department of Justice and WA police could also improve the system.”

    Legislative change underway

    Proposed legislation currently before WA’s Upper House aims to close some constitutionally contentious areas of the PSSO regime.

    It will also open up the provisions of the Dangerous Sexual Offenders Act to a wider range of offenders, including murderers, and establish a High-Risk Offenders Board to oversee them.

    Ms Findlay says it will be interesting to see if the changes help the system work more effectively.

    “Whether it works in practice remains to be seen,” she said.

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

    Friend of missing prospecting couple refuses to testify, fearing trap by police

    Sandstone 6639

    A man named as a suspect in the case of two prospectors who disappeared in remote Western Australia has been compelled to answer questions at an inquest, after voicing concerns his evidence may “incriminate” him.

    Key points:

    • Raymond and Jennie Kehlet travelled to remote WA with Graham Milne
    • Both went missing, and Mr Kehlet’s body was later found down a mine shaft
    • Mr Milne, the last person to see them alive, is still considered a suspect by police

    Graham Milne is the last known person to have seen Raymond and Jennie Kehlet alive, when the three of them went on a prospecting trip to Sandstone, about 700 kilometres north-east of Perth, in March 2015.

    Mr Kehlet’s body was found down a mineshaft about three weeks later, but no trace has ever been found of Ms Kehlet.

    On the first day of the inquest last week, police identified Mr Milne as a suspect in the case, testifying some of the information he told investigators was not supported by evidence.

    The inquest was also told police had intended to charge him, but the move was rejected by state prosecutors.

    Milne fearful of being charged: lawyer

    At the start of proceedings on Wednesday, Mr Milne’s lawyer, Glenn Cridland, said his client wanted to “exercise his right not to answer questions” on the grounds “they may have the tendency to incriminate him”.

    Mr Cridland said since the investigation first began, Mr Milne had fully cooperated with police.


    Graham Milne was concerned any testimony would be used against him by police. (ABC News: James Carmody)

    He provided four written statements, allowed his property to be forensically searched and took part in two video recorded interviews — one of which lasted more than 12 hours.

    But Mr Cridland said it was “starkly obvious” from the evidence of police that they had wanted his client to be charged and the answers he provided at the inquest could be an opportunity “to fill in the missing bits of a prosecution case”.

    “One can see where the police case is going,” he said.

    “If this matter was where he had refused to cooperate before, then it would be expedient for him to answer questions in a fact-finding exercise.

    “It’s not expedient, it’s oppressive because of the cooperation which has been remarkable to date.”

    Offer of immunity

    WA coroner Ros Fogliani ruled that “for the ends of justice” Mr Milne should be compelled to answer questions, but said if she was satisfied he was truthful at the end of his evidence, she would consider granting him a certificate of immunity.

    That would mean any answers Mr Milne gives to the inquest could not be used in any criminal prosecution of him.


    Raymond and Jennie Kehlet went missing while prospecting near Sandstone in the WA outback. (Supplied)

    When Mr Milne’s testimony proceeded he described Jennie and Ray Kehlet as “good friends” he met at the mine site where they all worked.

    He described the couple as “being two peas in a pod” and said their friendship developed when Mr and Ms Kehlet showed an interest in prospecting and he agreed to train them.

    Mr Milne has denied having anything to do with the couple’s disappearance and he has never been charged.

    The inquest continues

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

    Dog may be behind disappearance of prospecting couple in WA outback, expert says

    Perth 6000

    A search and rescue expert has told an inquest into the mysterious disappearance of two prospectors in WA’s outback that it is possible they met their deaths after they chased their dog when it ran away from their campsite.

    Key points:

    • The Kehlets were reported missing on March 19, 2015
    • They had been prospecting in a remote spot about 700km north-east of Perth
    • Mr Kehlet’s body was found down a mineshaft, his wife remains missing

    The inquest is examining the case of Raymond and Jennie Kehlet who were last seen alive in March 2015 while on a prospecting trip with a friend, Grahame Milne, to Sandstone, about 700 kilometres north-east of Perth.

    Concerns were first raised for their safety about 10 days after they left home, when their dog, a great dane called Ella, was found wandering in a caravan park in Sandstone.

    The town was about 30 kilometres from the Kehlets’ campsite, which was found abandoned with clothes on the line, half-drunk cups of tea and a wasps nest inside one of their unlocked vehicles.


    Raymond and Jennie Kehlet went missing while prospecting near Sandstone. (Supplied)

    An extensive land and air search was conducted and Mr Kehlet’s body was found down an abandoned mineshaft, but no trace of Ms Kehlet has ever been found.

    The inquest has been told Mr Milne, who claims he left the campsite to return to Perth three days into the trip, is a suspect in the case but he denies having anything to do with the Kehlets’ disappearance and has not been charged.


    Graham Milne accompanied Raymond and Jennie Kehlet on their fateful prospecting trip. (ABC News: Joanna Menagh)

    Quad bike points to dog search, expert says

    Senior Sergeant Jim Whitehead, a search and rescue expert with Queensland Police, was asked to review the search operation undertaken by the WA authorities and provide a possible scenario for what happened.

    On Friday, he testified that based on information he had been given and an examination of the scene, it was his opinion the Kehlets left their campsite hastily on their quad bike to look for their dog, which liked to chase animals.

    He said at some stage he thought they had got off the quad bike, which was found about 300 metres away from the camp, and as Mr Kehlet was running up a rise leading to a mineshaft, he had tripped and fallen into it.

    Sergeant Whitehead said the discovery of cigarette butts with Ms Kehlet’s DNA on them near the mouth of the shaft suggested she remained at the top of it for some time.


    Raymond and Jennie Kehlet went missing while prospecting near Sandstone. (Supplied)

    “She may have sat at the mouth of the shaft … hoping that he had just hit his head … and maybe that he would come to,” Sergeant Whitehead said.

    “Partners tend to stay together and maybe she was hoping Ray would come to and they’d be able to work their way out of it.”

    Sergeant Whitehead said darkness then may have fallen quickly and Ms Kehlet had tried to find her way back to the campsite, but she had got lost and perished.

    He said his theory was purely from a search and rescue viewpoint, saying he was not a detective and had not addressed anything to do with the possibility of a third party being involved “at all”.

    He said his scenario was also based on a number of assumptions, including that the dog ran away from the camp to chase animals.

    “If that is incorrect, it could impact on the conclusions,” he said.

    “It’s possible, if that’s incorrect, then everything that follows is incorrect.”

    Original search failed to find body

    The inquest later heard Mr Kehlet’s body was found down the mineshaft days after search teams had originally “cleared” it.

    The body was discovered on April 8, 2015, by senior firefighter Ashley Gasmier, who testified he ended up going back to the mineshaft as part of an exercise to provide the media with footage of what searchers were doing.


    Emergency crews searched the area near Sandstone for the couple in 2015. (Supplied: WA Police)

    He said that particular mineshaft was chosen for ease, because it was closest to where his team and equipment were, and they decided to do what was called a “quick and dirty descent” in a harness attached to a rope.

    “I went about three quarters of the way down and thought I’m here I might as well look around. That’s when I located the body,” he said.

    Mr Gasmier said the body could not be seen from the top, because it was located off to the side where the mineshaft widened at the bottom.

    He described the position as “not common”, saying if a person had fallen down the shaft, he did not think that would be how their body would end up.

    “If someone has fallen down a mineshaft … they would be located in view,” he said.

    “If someone falls down it, they go straight to the bottom, the body doesn’t roll. If they’ve hurt themselves they move to a position to be located, to be seen from the top.”

    He also said there was a red 20-litre jerry can on the other side of the shaft, which was positioned upright and “looked as if it had been placed there”.

    The inquest continues next week when Mr Milne is expected to give evidence.

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

    This may be as close as we get to a ‘shark proof’ Western Australia

    Perth 6000

    Every day, in the soft morning light, hardy souls venture out into the Indian Ocean from Cottesloe Beach.

    Key points:

    • Cottesloe Beach installed a shark barrier in November last year to improve safety
    • Mayor Philip Angers says there are more swimmers and beachgoers as a result
    • Shark prevention measures are in focus following a fatal attack off Esperance

    They stroke across the bay, regardless of wind or weather.

    Many have wispy white hair and the kind of skin you get after a lifetime in the sun.

    They remember vividly when Ken Crew was killed by a shark while swimming in knee-deep water at North Cottesloe in 2000 and the suspected fatal shark attack on Bryn Martin in 2011.

    But this year, something is different. Their ranks have grown.

    The Town of Cottesloe has put up a shark net and it has attracting ocean swimmers in their droves.

    Video: Elleka Healy takes a dip to show you what the shark barrier looks like underwater.

    (ABC News)

    As he emerged from the surf, Chris Chalwell confirmed it was the net that had drawn him here — he was not game enough to swim at Cottesloe before it.

    “I think it’s a wonderful addition to Cottesloe Beach, I can come down here and I feel quite safe,” he said.

    “It’s just fantastic to swim out there with that knowledge, or that hope, actually, that that barrier will work.”

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    Mr Chalwell said swimming in the shark net was the safest he could feel.

    “I’ve actually been lucky enough to see a seal on the other side of the net, looking back at me, saying ‘how do I get onto your side’?” he said.

    “So it gives you an idea or a feeling of safety.”

    Nets dotted up and down the coast

    Shark attacks were again front of mind in WA this week after Gary Johnson was killed on Sunday while diving off the coast of Esperance.

    The search for Mr Johnson’s body was called off by police this morning, pending any new information being received.


    Gary Johnson was taken by a suspected great white shark near Cull Island. (Facebook: Esperance Dive Club)

    In an all-too-familiar drill, the attack has left concerned community members calling for more action to protect ocean users, the WA Government restating the measures it is taking, and a grieving family calling for calm, saying their loved one knew the risks.

    Until now, Chantal Barrett has only ever done distance swimming at Cottesloe in organised events.


    Chantal Barrett (blue bathers) previously only swam distance events at Cottesloe in a group. (ABC News: Eliza Borello)

    “It almost creates a nice sea lane swimming pool, but you’re always feeling safe as well,” she said.

    “It definitely gets everyone outside, being fit, happy, active. I definitely see a lot more people swimming and training down here.”


    A man takes an early morning swim inside the shark net at Cottesloe Beach. (ABC News: Andrew O’Connor)

    Other shark nets are dotted along the WA coastline, including at Sorrento in Perth’s northern suburbs, Coogee near Fremantle and in the regional towns of Dunsborough and Albany.

    Des Lord, who swims in the nets at Coogee and Dunsborough, was impressed with Cottesloe’s barrier.


    Des Lord also swims at other netted beaches. (ABC News: Eliza Borrello)

    “If you see the size of the mesh of the net, you’d probably get some small wobbegong-type sharks through, but nothing more than that,” he said.

    The beach nets are part of a range of measures different levels of government have employed across WA to help mitigate as much as possible the risk of shark attacks.

    Since February 2019 a smart drumline trial off Gracetown has caught and tagged two great white sharks.

    Video: Great white shark caught on a SMART drumline in WA's south west

    (ABC News)

    In 2017, the State Government introduced a $200 rebate on shark deterrent devices to make them more accessible to divers and swimmers.

    Enhanced monitoring has also been installed at beaches including Gracetown and a SharkSmart app has been launched to better track shark activity.

    According to WA Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley, there are an estimated 1,600 endangered white pointer sharks between WA and Victoria.

    Tourists think Australia is ‘full of sharks’

    Cottesloe Mayor Philip Angers said he welcomed the positive response to the net.

    “We’re now getting very strong crowds very early in the morning, like 5:30am, where people would never swim before, mainly because that’s the dusk and dawn period and people are a bit scared,” he said.

    “That goes through until about 7:30am, quarter to eight, and then after that we tend to get a lot of tourists and just ordinary beachgoers, who probably don’t want to do laps for the Rottnest Swim but they just enjoy the beach.”


    Cottesloe Mayor Philip Angers says visitor numbers had swelled since the barrier went in.

    The perceived boost to tourism and local businesses, in particular, has pleased Mr Angers.

    “I looked the other day when I was here and I went past so many hire cars,” he said.

    “Tourists tend to think Australia is just full of sharks.

    “In reality the risk of a shark attack is very low, but I think it’s in your mind and the net or barrier takes that away.”


    Cottesloe Beach is one of Perth’s most popular destinations for locals and tourists. (ABC News: Eliza Borrello)

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

    National forecast update: Yet more dangerous fire conditions on the way

    Adelaide 5000

    With another cold front on the way, the end of the week looks set to bring more challenging conditions to fire grounds in Australia’s south-east.

    Key Points

    • Fire danger is set to ramp up again at the end of this week, with hot weather forecast for SA, the ACT, NSW and Victoria
    • Rain is expected to fall over parts of WA, and it’s hoped a hot air mass over the centre will begin to disperse
    • More promising is the Indian Ocean Dipole’s return to neutrality, but forecasts don’t show any strong trend towards rain

    The front, currently impacting Western Australia’s south-west coast, will drag down hot air from the centre as it moves across the country, increasing temperatures and fire danger in the south-east into the weekend.

    There is also likely to be rainfall in northern and central WA, and the potential for some of the hot air mass that has been lurking over central Australia for the past few months to be cleared out.

    Early next week there is a chance of a sprinkling of rain over the east coast, but the coast is only tipped to receive about 10 millimetres, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

    Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

    External Link:

    BOM provides an update about the elevated fire danger

    “Ten millimetres isn’t a particularly significant amount of rainfall, so it is unlikely to do any significant contribution in terms of easing the conditions,” senior climatologist Agata Imielska said.

    “Right now there isn’t really any significant rainfall on the forecast that would either ease the fires or the drought conditions we’ve been experiencing for quite some time.”

    The bad news

    The current reprieve from the worst of the heatwave and fire conditions in the south-east will be short.

    The west has gotten the heat first with catastrophic fire danger forecast for the Goldfields region on Thursday and temperatures reaching well over 40C in the state’s south-east.

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    South Australia will be next, with six districts expected to experience extreme fire danger conditions on Friday.

    Adelaide is forecast to reach 42C on Friday, while Bordertown, in the state’s south-east, is also set to peak at 42C.

    Meanwhile, in the state’s north, Oodnadatta is forecast to get up to 47C.

    But the heat is not forecast to linger long, with the temperature in Adelaide expected to plummet to a maximum of 25C on Saturday.

    Southern and eastern Victoria are also expected to be hot on Friday, and the heat will extend into Saturday for the north-west of the state.

    The mercury will push 39C in Bairnsdale, while Mallacoota, in fire-ravaged East Gippsland, will hit 41C on Saturday.

    Saturday will also bring dangerous conditions for NSW, with a wind change coming up the coast in much the same way as the change that came through on New Years Eve.

    The NSW Rural Fire Service has declared a tourist leave zone along the South Coast, from the Victorian border to Batemans Bay.

    The NSW RFS declared a “tourist leave zone” between Batemans Bay and the northern edge of the Victorian border.
    (Supplied: NSW Rural Fire Service)

    Sydney city is forecast to miss out on the worst of the heat, but Penrith, in Western Sydney, is forecast to get up to 45C on Saturday.

    Canberra is expected to swelter through a 42C day on Saturday.

    The good news

    It is still a long way our so don’t get your hopes up too much but there is rain forecast for the south east-early next week. Bigger totals are expected for Western Australia over the next few days.
    (Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology )

    Luke Huntington, duty forecaster at the BOM in WA, said northern Australia is expected to get their usual showers and thunderstorms over the next few days, with totals increasing inland on Friday and into Saturday.

    “We will see increased moisture from just offshore from the Kimberley Coast,” Mr Huntington said.

    “That’ll be dragged along the mainland later in the week.

    “It looks like on the Saturday there will be a rain band stretching from the Kimberly right through until the Eucla region and that’ll cool the air through that region.”

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    There is also a cold air mass expected to move over the south of the state on Friday, which will get pushed up into central parts of the state by a strong ridge of high pressure with south-easterly winds.

    Mr Huntington said that should also help to flush out the hot air.

    “Without that hot air in that region we are unlikely to see any of those really hot temperatures … at least for the next couple of weeks, before that hot air could build up once again.”

    It is not looking like NSW, SA or Queensland will get that sort of reprieve, but at this point something is better than nothing — and there is other good news.

    IOD finally backing off
    External Link:

    Understanding the Indian Ocean Dipole

    The last year has been hounded by one of the strongest positive Indian Ocean Dipoles (IOD) on record, but it returned to neutral territory this week.

    Usually the IOD breaks down as the monsoon approaches the Northern Territory in early December, but better late than never.

    “[The return to neutrality] will contribute to less of a warm air mass over the state,” Mr Huntington said.

    External Link:

    Andrew Watkins Tweet

    “With that breaking down, we typically get the increased rainfall and perhaps the monsoon trough eventually beginning to form over the northern part of the state.”

    Despite the monsoon still not having begun, things are starting to look decidedly more tropical up north.

    “Some of the guidance is going for increased rainfall over that northern part of [Western Australia] and perhaps a tropical low may form over the weekend and into early next week,” he said.

    “We may also see an increased risk of a tropical cyclone — at this stage it’s pretty uncertain, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

    With the positive IOD gone and Australia’s other major climate drivers also forecast to remain neutral, the rainfall outlook over the next few months does not show any strong trend towards wetter or drier conditions.

    This map is looking decidedly less brown than it has in recent months.
    (Supplied: BOM)

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

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