Tag: Western Australia


‘This is a no-brainer’: Sarah is a qualified nurse, but she’s not allowed to help the COVID-19 fight


Perth 6000

Sarah Parekh completed her nursing degree in Perth, is registered and wants to join the frontline fight against the coronavirus outbreak, treating patients in a public hospital.

Key points:

  • The nurses’ union is calling for visa restrictions to be eased
  • Australia is allowing 20,000 nursing students to work in the health system
  • WA Health minister Roger Cook said he would appeal to lift the visa rules

But she is not allowed to because she is from Germany and not a permanent resident or citizen.

“I’m a registered nurse, I’m registered with our AHPRA [the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency],” she said.

“I’m a fully qualified nurse, so yeah I’ve got all the skills that a nurse needs to help out at the moment.

“I definitely would like to support Western Australia in this big coronavirus crisis.”

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

Restrictions lifted on nursing students

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced restrictions were being lifted on some 20,000 international nursing students working in the health system.

It means they can work more than 40 hours per fortnight, doing simple tasks and freeing up experienced nurses.

WA COVID-19 snapshot

  • Confirmed cases so far: 278
  • Deaths: 2
  • Tested negative: 12,693

Latest information from the WA Health Department

“They’re going to be available to support the health effort right across the country, as directed by our health officials,” the Prime Minister explained at a media conference on March 18.

But when Ms Parekh tried to apply for a job with WA Health, there was a check box requiring candidates to be permanent residents or citizens.

“Why is Australia letting their 20,000 international nursing students work full time, but don’t make it possible for their already qualified and graduated international nurses to help?” she asked.

“If there are 20,000 international student nurses, there must be an equivalent of 20,000 international graduates with full qualification here as well.”

‘This is a no-brainer’

She called for the criteria to be eased and in a letter to WA Premier Mark McGowan requested nurses be added to the graduate state sponsorship list, under which the WA Government can nominate them for a skills visa.

“May I please ask you to review the graduate state sponsorship list, so that registered graduate nurses like me, who have been a part of this community for years and would like to support and strengthen this state with our skills, can join the WA health workforce now that we are so strongly needed,” she wrote.

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Mark Olsen said international graduates like Ms Parekh would be a “wonderful asset” at the moment and there was no question they should be allowed to work.



Photo:

Mark Olsen says it is clear that qualified health workers should be allowed to work. (ABC News: Glyn Jones)

“This is a no-brainer,” he said.

“If we’ve got those who have done their education in nursing education in this country, they’ve recently qualified, then the Government should be putting the call out and saying, ‘Listen, call our office and we’ll arrange to make sure that you find you’re able to work as a part-time or full-time employee’.”

Health Minister says it’s ‘all hands on deck’

Nurses were recently taken off the state sponsorship list because local graduates were struggling to find work.

But Mr Olsen said that was not the case anymore.

WA’s travel restrictions explained
West Australians are told to cancel holiday plans and stay home to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. So you can wave goodbye to that Easter break down south.

“We have to be able to respond if we’re going to meet the challenges of this crisis, we’ve got to be flexible,” he said.

Health Minister Roger Cook said it was “all hands on deck” when it came to fighting COVID-19.

“We’ll take anyone that’s got the qualifications and is ready to give it a go,” Mr Cook said.

“If there are nurses or doctors that don’t fit exactly inside the [visa] arrangements, we’ll certainly be making representations to the Commonwealth to make sure we can help them join our forces.”

The Prime Minister’s office and the Home Affairs Department have been contacted for comment.


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The ordinary Australians saving historical landmarks from demolition


Castlemaine 3450

Volunteers across Australia are pushing to preserve historic landmarks in their towns.

Key points:

  • Communities are preserving about 100 historic landmark buildings each year
  • Everyday volunteers are keeping their heritage buildings standing through advocacy campaigns
  • Not-for-profit organisations like the National Trust are helping to convince councils to apply protections over historic buildings

Community members in regional and urban areas are fundraising, petitioning and enlisting advocacy groups like the National Trusts of Australia to persuade councils to save historic buildings.

Felicity Watson, the executive manager of the Victorian branch of the National Trust, says communities in her state are preserving about 100 historic buildings every year.

“What we find is there are so many competing demands for ratepayers’ funds in council areas that it’s really up to the community to have a strong voice to put their heritage first,” she said.



Photo:

Felicity Watson says competing demands for ratepayers’ funds means it’s up to community members to put their heritage first. (Supplied: National Trust)

“We petition to councils to amend local planning schemes to apply heritage overlays over significant buildings.”

Set up in each state, the trusts are strong voices that have successfully helped volunteers protect and preserve their treasured landmarks through advocacy efforts.

A face from the past

In Castlemaine, regional Victoria, the Castlemaine Market Hall, a 158-year-old building that sits in the heart of town, has almost been demolished twice.

It fell into disrepair in the last century, but through the efforts of residents and the National Trust of Victoria, the building was saved and restored in 1974.



Photo:

The great granddaughters of William Downe, Marion Downe, from Castlemaine, and Margaret Benady, from England, donated their ancestor’s portrait and antique desk. (ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

The historic hall, built in 1862 was originally home to 22 market stalls, selling fresh produce and poultry while also hosting live animal auctions.

It is now the town’s tourist information centre and exhibition space.

The great granddaughters of William Downe, the architect who designed the market hall, have donated their ancestor’s portrait and antique desk to the building’s exhibition space.

Marion Downe, from Castlemaine, and Margaret Benady, from England, returned the heirloom to commemorate Mr Downe’s contribution to the town’s streetscape.

“It’s lovely to have William recognised this way, but it’s really due to the efforts of the local people who did a lot of fundraising and worked in conjunction with the National Trust to save it,” Ms Downe said.



Photo:

Alleyne Hockley says linking personalities and real people to heritage buildings allows community members to feel more attached to their history. (ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Castlemaine Historical Society’s Alleyne Hockley said linking personalities and real people to heritage buildings allow community members feel more attached to their history.

“It’s important to link communities with the personalities of their history,” she said.

“He was an important gentleman in Castlemaine.”



Photo:

William Downe’s desk, upon which he drew up the designs for the Castlemaine Market Building, now sits inside the building itself. (ABC Central Victoria: Tyrone Dalton)

Genuine drawcards

Ms Watson said many councils in regional Victoria were listening to the National Trust and prioritising their heritage buildings as they are “real draw cards for tourism and economic development.”

In the same year, there were 34.6 million visitors to cultural heritage places across Australia and visitors spent $32.2 billion on cultural heritage tourism.

Jane Alexander from Queensland’s National Trust said there were several factors that contributed to a historic building being saved.

“These include effective legislation, willing owners, community sentiment and advocacy from organisations like ourselves,” she said.Ms Alexander said their branch acquired a rare and remote 19th Century brick convent building in Cooktown in the late 1960s, which is now the James Cook Museum.



Photo:

The James Cook Museum in Cooktown, Queensland, was built in 1889 as a convent. (Supplied: National Trust Queensland)

Brick by brick

The National Trusts of Australia are also acquiring buildings to save them from disrepair.

Ms Alexander said their branch acquired a rare and remote 19th Century brick convent building in Cooktown in the late 1960s, which is now the James Cook Museum.

Constructed in 1888, the convent housed the Sisters of Mercy who provided education to day students and boarders from the Cooktown region.

“During World War II, the sisters and their students moved inland to Herberton and did not return, leaving the convent to gradually fall into disrepair,” Ms Alexander said.



Photo:

The National Trust in Queensland restored the convent and it reopened as the James Cook Museum in 1969. (Supplied: National Trust Queensland)

The National Trust in Queensland restored the convent and it reopened as the James Cook Historical Museum in 1969.

In Western Australia, Karl Haynes from the state’s National Trust said their branch operates over 50 heritage appeals a year to fundraise and help prevent the loss of heritage places.

“A successful heritage appeal has been the Holy Trinity Church in Roebourne, located 1,600 kilometres north of Perth,” Mr Haynes said.

“The 1890 church was damaged by Cyclone Christine in 2013, but with the support of community, and grants from the Heritage Council of Western Australia, the National Trust in Western Australia raised

over $400,000 and the church’s restoration is nearing completion.”

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


Coronavirus update: Anzac Day services cancelled, stock market cops record drop while Trump tells shoppers to ‘just relax’


Australia

The Australian stock market has suffered its biggest one-day drop since the 1987 share market crash, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls for calm and travel bans to combat the COVID-19 pandemic come into effect.

This story is no longer being updated. For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow this story.

Monday’s key moments

Anzac Day commemorations cancelled in most states



Photo:

Anzac Day marches will not be held this year. (ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)

The RSL branches across Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia have cancelled some Anzac Day events.

While some dawn services will still go ahead, members of the public have been asked not to attend.

The move, which comes more than a month out from the services, has been made to try and limit the spread of coronavirus and to protect older veterans.

“On April 25, when you can’t go to a local dawn service, the RSL is asking that instead you tune in via radio, social media or television and take a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifice of our veterans and those who are still serving today,” RSL Victoria state president Dr Robert Webster said.

The Australian War Memorial is yet to make a final decision, but said it would act on the health advice of the ACT and federal governments.

Supermarkets to bring in more staff, special shopping times to deal with panic-buyers

Things have, at times, become nasty in some supermarkets as shoppers rushed to hoard items over fears of shortages.

The coronavirus pandemic has lead to panic-buying and scuffles in the aisles so this week Coles and Woolworths are opening exclusively for the elderly and those with a disability for one hour each morning.

“We know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop,” Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said.

“This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open — helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment.”

Coles is also hiring an extra 5,000 casual workers.

Boarding schools could become ‘like cruise ships’

Some parents with children in boarding schools have been told to expect a call to bring them home to prevent a “cruise ship-like” scenario, Association of Independent Schools of NSW chief executive Geoff Newcombe says.

The school names have not been announced as final preparations for remote schooling are still underway and parents are yet to be informed.

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However, the ABC understands several private schools across Australia — so far, as many as 10 — will contact parents on Monday night or Tuesday morning to tell them they are sending students home to start remote learning, which will commence later this week.

“The Department of Health has made it clear to us that they understand that boarding schools have to be considered in a slightly different context to day schools,” Dr Newcombe told the ABC.

“If one boarder became ill then of course health has told us that boarding schools would be put in lockdown similar to the cruise ships.”

The ABC understands NSW Health is formalising advice for boarding schools, which the association will pass on to schools later on Monday or on Tuesday morning.

Airport chaos as Trump urges people not to hoard goods and to ‘just relax’



Photo:

Donald Trump urged people to remain calm. (AP: Alex Brandon)

US President Donald Trump has told Americans to stop panic-buying supplies as the fallout from the spread of coronavirus causes chaos at airports across the country.

Increased screening measures have caused huge delays at major US airports, like Chicago’s O’Hare International where about 3,000 travellers returning from Europe were stuck inside customs for hours over the weekend.

Mr Trump has moved to reassure people that grocers would stay open and stocked.

“You don’t have to buy so much,” Mr Trump said.

“Take it easy. Just relax.”

ASX down after record fall as US Federal Reserve cuts interest rate

The Australian stock market has shed $165 billion, starting the week with its largest ever daily drop as coronavirus fears continue to hammer markets.

The ASX opened 7.12 per cent down but bounced back slightly to 5 per cent down by 11:25am (AEDT).

However, by the end of the day’s trading it had closed down 9.7 per cent at 5,120 points, in the largest daily percentage fall on record.

The broader All Ordinaries also had its largest one-day fall since the 1987 stock market crash, ending 9.5 per cent down and losing $165 billion in value.

The big four bank stocks all lost more than 10 per cent and energy stocks were also hit hard.

Travel-related companies were sharply lower following the announcement of forced self-isolation for all people entering Australia from overseas.

The market fall came after the US Federal Reserve slashed interest rates by a full percentage point in a bid to help the economy withstand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The RBA is expected to announce further policy measures on Thursday to support the economy.

States and territories issue emergency declarations

South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have all issued emergency declarations due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The declarations give the states and territories powers to detain and penalise people for breaking quarantine rules as well as restrict public movement and ban mass gatherings.



Photo:

Daniel Andrews said the state of emergency would remain in place as long as necessary.

Yesterday SA Premier Steven Marshall said coronavirus would be treated as a public health emergency.

This morning ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr followed suit and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mr Andrews said the state of emergency would come into effect from midday today and run for at least four weeks.

Western Australia has also declared a state of emergency and emergency powers have been invoked in New South Wales to force the immediate cancellation of public events of more than 500 people.

Those who defy the cancellation order face fines of up to $11,000.

Patient who travelled to Hamilton Island tests positive for coronavirus

Queensland Health authorities are attempting to trace people who may have come into contact with a man diagnosed with coronavirus who recently travelled to Hamilton Island, off the coast of tropical north Queensland.

The 36-year-old is now being treated in Mackay Base Hospital.

ABC understands the patient recently travelled from New South Wales where they were first tested.

The case was not included in Queensland’s daily tally as it is being handled by New South Wales.

A statement posted by the Mackay Hospital and Health Service said authorities were retracing the patient’s steps.

“Contact tracing is well underway,” the statement said.

“This means that we are directly contacting people who are known to have been in close contact with the person while they might have been infectious.

“If there are further public health alerts, we’ll let you know.”

Scott Morrison calls for coronavirus calm



Photo:

Scott Morrison has done a round of early morning media in a bid to calm fears about coronavirus. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australians need to “help each other out” as the nation contends with the spread of coronavirus.

“A state of emergency is not a state of panic,” Mr Morrison said.

“A state of emergency puts in place special powers for state governments to help manage the spread of a health epidemic.”

He also urged shoppers to stop panic buying, as supermarket chains announced restricted opening hours solely for elderly people and those with a disability.

“Let’s all look after each other and be respectful to each other and help each other out,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison also announced that he would meet with the Treasurer and Finance Minister this afternoon to discuss further economic measures, following last week’s $17 billion stimulus package.

The Prime Minister will also relocate to Canberra to be closer to bureaucrats and make it easier to conduct meetings of the National Security Committee of Cabinet.

Visitors could be banned from aged care facilities



Photo:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with Health Minister Greg Hunt, left, and deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly, at a press conference earlier this month. (ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Health authorities are considering whether to restrict visitation to aged care facilities to protect elderly people from the spread of the coronavirus.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said chief medical officers from around the nation would meet in person this afternoon to consider what more should be done to protect high-risk groups.

“There are a range of measures that we put in place in flu seasons when there’s a large number of influenza cases in the community or indeed if there is an outbreak within an aged care facility,” he said.

Addressing media at a press briefing in Canberra, Professor Kelly also said the Government needed to be “careful and prudent” about its use of testing.

After one testing clinic was opened, 1,600 people were tested but just one was found to be positive.

“You need to look at where you get your best bang for your buck,” he said.

He declined a request to elaborate, saying only that “we’re continuing to test”.

Sydney school closed, but most remain open

While large gatherings are banned, most schools and universities will remain open.

Despite that, a primary school in Sydney’s south-west was closed this morning, after a visitor tested positive for coronavirus.

St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School, in Panania, is closed for cleaning today.

Last Thursday afternoon, about 40 staff from different schools attended a professional development event at the school and at the weekend one of those people tested positive for coronavirus.

According to modelling from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence that Hong Kong — which closed schools — was more successful in containing the virus than Singapore, which did not.

Aussie travellers face uncertainty



Photo:

Adelaide nurse Marcelle is holidaying in Thailand, but now wonders what awaits her on the return home. (ABC: Amy Bainbridge)

Thousands of Australians travelling overseas are weighing up their options for returning home, amid news they must self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive back in the country.

When Adelaide nurse Marcelle left home for Thailand just over a week ago, she closely monitored travel advice before she left.

“We kept an eye on Smart Traveller and it was a moderate risk for Thailand — there was no warning about not going, it was just to exercise a normal degree of caution,” she said.

“We did um and ah, but thought, ‘OK, we’re guided by the government website.’ So this has sort of come as a bit of a shock.”

Marcelle is in Railay in southern Thailand and now faces the prospect or returning home to self-isolation at a time when her workplace needs staff to help deal with the outbreak.

“I’m not sure what it means in terms of work, is it paid leave, is it sick leave? Luckily I’ve got sick leave available,” she said.

“Even things like how do we get from the airport to home, do we have to wear a mask in the taxi?

“I don’t think the enormity of it will hit until we’re actually home.”

A-League and W-League to play behind closed doors, NRL players face pay cut



Photo:

James Johnson says football will continue, but without a crowd. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

The A-League and W-League will continue to be played despite the coronavirus outbreak, with games taking place in empty stadiums, Football Federation Australia (FFA) has said.

FFA chief executive officer James Johnson said the game was facing an “unprecedented challenge” and warned further measures may be enacted as the situation developed.

“This is an unprecedented time and extremely complex for the sport and also the society at large,” he said.

“We anticipate further decisions as the days and weeks go on because we really don’t know how this virus will evolve.”

With the uncertainty around what will happen, NRL boss Todd Greenberg has warned of significant financial and commercial impacts, including reducing players’ pay.

Cutting salaries would be an extreme measure but if matches are cancelled, it could be one of the consequences.

“We have a number of games we have to fulfil to provide content to our broadcasters, and the broadcasters pay us a fee for that,” he said.

“Clearly, if we don’t provide the content as scheduled, there are commercial impacts to that.”

Festival featuring Crowded House and Alanis Morissette cancelled

For the first time in 30 years, the Bluesfest music festival will not take place this year.

The event has been cancelled due to the public health act order the NSW Government enacted on Monday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The festival, which drew more than 105,000 people to Byron Bay across five days in 2019, was set to feature a bill that included US megastars Dave Matthews Band, local icons Crowded House and punk legend Patti Smith.

In a statement, festival director Peter Noble said it was “obvious” the festival, set to run April 9-13, could not go on.

“We are heartbroken as we believe we were presenting one of the best ever bills of talent for you,” he said.

“We are now working through how to move forward and to give you details. I thank you for allowing us enough time to get everything in place for the best possible outcome for everyone.”

Nearly 1,500 now dead in Italy, shortage of intensive care beds



Photo:

Italian authorities are now worried they may begin to run out of intensive care beds in the worst-hit areas of the country. (Reuters: Massimo Pinca)



Photo:

Pope Francis prays before a crucifix that in 1552 was carried in a procession around Rome to stop the great plague. (AP: Vatican News)

Italian authorities say they are worried about how much longer the country’s strained health systems can cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

Sunday’s 368 new deaths brought the country’s death toll to 1,441, with 24,747 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

While the virus has begun spreading rapidly across Europe, Italy remains the second most heavily affected country after China, where the illness first emerged, and the outbreak has shown no signs of slowing.

Lombardy, the heavily populated area around the financial capital Milan, has been the worst-affected region with 1,218 deaths.

Despite Italy’s lockdown, Pope Francis has visited two churches in Rome to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

Britain to isolate older people



Photo:

Britain intends to isolate older people and will move to put those diagnosed with coronavirus into quarantine. (Reuters: Toby Melville)

Britain is planning to isolate older people “within weeks”, and will move to put anyone diagnosed with coronavirus into quarantine.

British Heath Secretary Matt Hancock said people aged over 70 would be shielded from the virus by being forced to self-isolate for up to four months, with an announcement “in the coming weeks”.

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The number of deaths of Britons with coronavirus jumped by 14 to 35, while the total number of people diagnosed rose by 20 per cent to 1,372, health authorities said on Sunday.

Europe ramping up isolation measures



Photo:

Spain’s Prime Minister announced a two-week state of emergency from Saturday. (AP: Alvaro Barrientos)

European nations are closing bars and restaurants, and tightening borders.

Europe is now the epicentre of the outbreak, and the death toll from the disease has gone up dramatically in the last 24 hours.

  • Health authorities in Spain say deaths from COVID-19 have doubled in 24 hours — a day after the Government declared a state of emergency and took extraordinary measures to limit movement
  • Germany has announced it will restrict border entries from neighbouring countries
  • Austria is banning gatherings of more than five people
  • Despite widespread restrictions in France, voters have gone to the polls for local elections
  • In the Netherlands and Belgium, gyms and cinemas are closed as well as most shops — excluding those selling food and medicine
  • Slovenia’s public transport system has been closed and Scandinavian Airlines, SAS, has announced it is suspending most of its activities

Iran sees largest single-day jump

Iran has reported its biggest single day jump in fatalities, with another 113 deaths, bringing its death toll to more than 700 and there are fears the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in the country.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, two of the most sacred sites in Islam, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, have been closed until further notice.


Video: Dr Norman Swan explains some news terms, such as social distancing, that have entered the lexicon with coronavirus.

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This school has been planning for a coronavirus shutdown for weeks. Here is how it will work


Perth 6000

Schools across Australia are facing the prospect of having to close their doors to students after the Prime Minister announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people in a bid to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Key points:

  • The Federal Government has been ramping up its coronavirus response
  • The AMA wants educational facilities closed as soon as possible
  • Perth’s Christ Church Grammar has already taken steps to prepare

Although the advice does not yet extend to schools, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has urged governments to consider closing educational facilities soon to limit the spread of the virus.

In Western Australia, Christ Church Grammar School in Perth’s western suburbs has spent the past three months preparing for a possible prolonged closure.

On Friday morning the school undertook a trial of remote teaching involving 200 of its Year 10 students.

The boys were given the option to stay at home for the first two periods and use a computer program to connect with their teacher online.

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

Student Seb Chandraratna was one of those who stayed at home and tested the new technology.

“I reckon it’s a good idea, because education is important … especially if you want to get a good job,” he said.



Photo:

Student Seb Chandraratna took part in the trial of the technology. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

“I never thought this would actually happen.

“Yes technology is improving every day, but I never thought it would get this far, at least this quickly.”

Using the technology, teachers can see all students in their class via their webcams, with the boys able to raise their hands virtually to gain the teacher’s attention.

Director of studies Mahendra Vaswani said the plan was all about risk mitigation, ensuring students could still access education in the event of a prolonged shutdown.



Photo:

Mahendra Vaswani says the aim is to ensure teaching and learning continuity. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

“We want to be assured and we want to reassure our community that we’ve got teaching and learning continuity no matter what might happen,” he said.

“So as a result of today’s trial we certainly will be looking at how we might scale this.”

School started the ‘what if’ conversation early

The school executive met in early January, when the coronavirus pandemic was in its infancy, to begin contingency planning.

“It hadn’t quite hit our shores, but we started the conversation about ‘what if’, what might happen,” Mr Vaswani said.

Mathematics teacher Hamish McLean led the first online class with students on Friday morning.

“It actually went really well,” he said.



Photo:

Hamish McLean was pleased with the first online teaching session. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

“There were a few teething problems, but that’s what happens with a trial — that’s why we’ve done it.

Mr McLean said the interpersonal relationship was not hugely affected by the loss of face-to-face contact.

“A tiny bit was lost, but the good thing about the software is we can still see students’ faces and they can still react via chat,” he said.

AMA predicts students won’t return after term break

The AMA’s WA president, Andrew Miller, predicted widespread school closures would happen in the near future.

“The schools, we need a bit of preparation time but it will be coming,” he said.

“Sometime in the next few weeks we would expect the Government would be looking closely at that.

“I suspect what will happen is that schools won’t go back after the holidays.



Photo:

The school is now looking at running the online program on a bigger scale. (ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

“I think it is also time to look at tighter travel restrictions.”

Education Minister Sue Ellery said her department was developing materials to help public school students continue learning in the event of school closures.

“Obviously this planning has to take into account the many different locations and types of schools we have around Western Australia,” she said.

“There are a range of options that are being considered, including the School of Isolation and Distance which already delivers online education, as well as online learning platforms which schools already use, such as Connect.

“Public school principals were made aware today that plans are well underway.

“Principals will communicate directly with parents to let them know of any arrangements if and when the need arises.

“I understand non-government schools are making their own arrangements to suit their individual schools.”


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Australia has six ‘new’ species of native gecko


Broome 6725

Six new native gecko species have been discovered during the course of a two-decade long research program by the Queensland Museum and Griffith University.

Key points:

  • Genetic testing has revealed six new species of native gecko, which also have subtle differences to the Asian house gecko
  • The “new” geckos, which are found mostly in northern Australia, have smooth tails and fewer claws than their famous cousins
  • New species are identified in Australia quite frequently, according to one reptile expert

The university’s Dr Paul Oliver, who is also a senior curator at Queensland Museum, said identifying the new species required painstaking detective work.

“Part of the reason these common species have been undiscovered for so long is that they’re very hard to tell apart,” he said.

Tail tips from the creatures were analysed to identify the genetic differences.

“Although we can’t tell them apart, [other geckos] certainly can,” he said.



Photo:

This native Geyhra arnhemica was discovered almost four hours east of Katherine, in the Northern Territory, at the Wongalara Sanctuary. (Supplied: Stephen Zozaya)

The story in a tail

Despite being as common as the Asian house gecko, which can be found in many homes across Australia, native geckos have three distinct differences:

  • Asian house geckos make the famous gecko “clicking” sound, but their Australian cousins are much quieter
  • Asian house geckos have spikes on their tails, while the six native geckos share smooth tails
  • Native geckos do not have a claw on their first toe, whereas Asian house geckos have claws on all their toes



Photo:

The Gehyra lapistola can be found in bushland, like this one that was spotted in the NT’s Fish River. (Supplied: Steven Richards)

Where to find the new species

The newly discovered Australian geckos, according to Dr Oliver, are fairly widespread.

“They’re basically dotted across northern Australia, from Broome to as far south as Brisbane,” he said.

The Northern Territory is home to the Geyhra arnhemica and the Gehyra chimera, found in rocky ranges towards the Top End.

Gehyra gemina occurs widely through the northern deserts of Western Australia and Northern Territory, with the Geyhra chimera and Geyhra calcitectus found mainly in the Kimberley region.

North-west Queensland has the Gehyra lauta, better known as the “ghost gecko” for its pale appearance, and it can also be seen in bushland in the north-eastern Northern Territory.

If you find a gecko a long way away from people in the bush, Dr Paul Oliver said the probability is that it’s a native gecko.



Photo:

Gehyra lauta — better known as the “ghost gecko” — has been spotted in north-west Queensland and the Northern Territory. (Supplied: Mark Hutchinson)

New discoveries nothing new

Steve Wilson, the author of the Guide to Australian Reptiles, said new species were constantly being identified by researchers and wildlife enthusiasts each year.

“We had about 1,100 Australian reptile species, and over the past three years we’ve had another 80 added to that,” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Wilson said there were two common ways to identify new species of animals.

“One is to turn over a rock and say, ‘That’s a new lizard that no-one has ever seen before,'” he said.

“The other way is to look at a species that has a wide distribution and genetically test them [and they] turn out to be different, which is what’s happened with this new discovery.”

Mr Wilson says anyone who finds an unusual animal should take a photo of it and the location and send them to the Queensland Museum.

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


‘Living up here is not easy’: Scrapping of remote-area tax concessions ruled out


Port Hedland 6721

The Federal Government has swiftly rejected recommendations from the Productivity Commission to axe the special tax concession for people living in remote parts of Australia.

Key points:

  • The Productivity Commission has recommended abolishing the Zone Tax Offset — a payment of approximately $300 a year to compensate for the higher cost of living in remote areas
  • The commission argued it was “poorly targeted” and that it should be limited to only “very remote areas”
  • The Federal Government immediately dismissed the recommendation

A report from the Productivity Commission released this week said the concessions were outdated, inequitable and poorly-designed.

But Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar quickly ruled out any changes and moved to calm fears.

“Were they to be implemented, the Productivity Commission’s recommendations would result in significant disruption to existing arrangements,” Minister Sukkar said in a statement.

“Given the challenges faced by regional Australia, including as a result of the impacts of the recent drought, bushfires and now Coronavirus, the Government will not be acting on the Productivity Commission’s recommendations.

“The most important thing we can do at this time is continue to provide certainty and confidence to those living in regional areas that the Government remains fully committed to supporting the growth of our regions and their continued success into the future.”

The report looked at the effects of the zone tax offset, remote area allowance and remote area concessions for fringe benefits tax on people and businesses in remote areas.

It recommended abolishing the Zone Tax Offset (ZTO), a benefit of around $300 a year to help compensate for the higher cost of living in remote areas.

The move would save the Federal Government about $150 million a year.

The commission argued that the concession was “poorly targeted” with almost half the claimants living in large cities such as Townsville, Cairns, Darwin and Mackay.

If it were to be kept, it recommended limiting it to only “very remote areas”.

It also wanted the government to review the Regional Area Allowance, a supplementary payment for income support recipients.

But it was the proposed changes to Fringe Benefits Tax remote area concessions which generated the most angst in remote areas like the Pilbara in Western Australia.

The Commission said the government was forgoing up to $390 million in tax revenue a year because employer-provided housing was exempt from Fringe Benefits Tax, and this should be reduced to only a 50 per cent concession.



Photo:

Under the Productivity Commission changes, remote tax concessions would be scrapped or significantly reduced for anyone living outside “very remote” areas. (Supplied: Productivity Commission)

‘Living up here is not easy’

Queensland LNP Senator Susan McDonald said the concessions were hugely important to regional Australia and the report showed a lack of understanding of life in the bush.

“The Fringe Benefits Tax concessions are crucial for businesses in remote and rural Australia who provide accommodation to employees as part of their salary packages,” she said in a statement.

“Without these concessions, small outback businesses will not be able to attract workers.”

State Labor Member for the Pilbara Kevin Michel described the report as “a kick in the guts for regional residents”.

“I’m totally disappointed with the Productivity Commission report. People don’t seem to understand the cost of living up here in the Pilbara.

“It recognises the current zone allowances aren’t working properly and the inequalities that we face living in the region need to be fixed.

“But at the same time it recommends abolishing the tax rebate, rather than trying to fix these inequalities.

“The Commission should actually be asking for more tax concessions for people living in the Pilbara.

“Living up here is not easy.”

WA Regional Affairs Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the fringe benefits tax housing exemption was vital in attracting workers the region.

“The Pilbara is a major generator of wealth for the entire country and the fringe benefits tax exemption is indeed one of those things that is at least helping to create some balance, and going part way to addressing the problem of fly-in fly-out [workers],” she said.



Photo:

Under the now-shelved proposals from the Productivity Commission, towns like Karratha, 1,500km north of Perth, would not be eligible for concessions available to “very remote” areas only. (ABC Pilbara: Susan Standen)

Tax breaks are needed: Shire of East Pilbara

Shire of East Pilbara chief executive officer, Jeremy Edwards, said the council was very disappointed in the recommendations.

“If the recommendations were implemented, it would have a huge financial impact on a shire like the Shire of East Pilbara,” he said

“The introduction of a 50 per cent rate for FBT on housing would cost the Shire $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

“For a shire like ours we have to provide employee housing to attract people to come to this region and to put FTB on top of that would be a huge cost,” he said.

“To attract people to the regions, you do need to incentivise.

“Having a blanket statement that people want to move to the regions for lifestyle choices is true, but for somewhere like the Shire of East Pilbara and Newman we don’t have a waterfront view, and it is really difficult.

“So the remote area tax concessions and some of the incentives for people to live in the area is really warranted and it’s needed to keep people in the regions.”

Mr Edwards said he is hopeful the proposal is gone for good.

“It scared us a little bit, we are still going to advocate through our local members, and also Senator Dean Smith, we’ve spoken to him in relation to it,” he said.

“So we are just going to keep the pressure on and make sure the government doesn’t implement something like this.

“The news was welcome, but we just hope it doesn’t come back and haunt us in the future.”

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


First case of coronavirus linked to Bali after report Chinese tourist returned positive test


Perth 6000

The West Australian Government says there is no reason for Australian tourists to avoid travelling to Bali, despite reports of the first case of coronavirus being linked to the popular holiday island.

Key points:

  • The tourist from China reportedly tested positive on his return home
  • It is unclear whether they were exposed in Indonesia or China
  • WA authorities say people should not cancel travel to Bali at this stage

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said Indonesian authorities were aware of a Chinese national who travelled through Bali who may have tested positive for coronavirus.

He said health officials were closely monitoring the situation.

“Now obviously we need to monitor carefully the spread of this disease outside China,” Mr Cook said.

“This is a new situation because obviously Bali represents the playground for a lot of West Australians.”



Photo:

Bali is one of Western Australia’s most popular overseas holiday spots. (ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

It was unclear whether the person potentially contracted the virus in China and then travelled to Indonesia, or whether they may have been exposed to the virus in Indonesia.

The Chinese national is understood to have returned to Shanghai, where the positive diagnosis was made.

Don’t cancel Bali plans: Health Minister

Mr Cook said people should not cancel travel to Bali as a result of the development.

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

“We are not saying that people have to curtail their trips to Bali,” he said.

“At the moment DFAT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] has the same travel advisory for Bali, so people shouldn’t be alarmed.

“We are simply providing this information in the interests of transparency to make sure that we continue to provide people with the most up-to-date information as possible.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today confirmed a travel ban from China to Australia would be extended for another week.

Here’s how the coronavirus travel restrictions will affect you
Travelling to China soon? Have friends and family in China planning a trip to Australia? Here’s everything you need to know.

Mr Cook said Border Force officers would continue to meet all flights arriving into Perth Airport and nurses would continue to be stationed at the Airport around the clock to manage people who may require testing.

WA health officials had tested about 10 people per day for the virus over the past week.

In total, 81 people have so far been tested in WA and all had returned a negative result.

“Our situation at the moment remains a very low risk,” Mr Cook said. “We are on top of this situation.”



Photo:

Dr Paul Armstrong said there were no alarming reasons to increase the risk of travel to Bali. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

Communicable Disease Control director Paul Armstrong said there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Bali.

“Officially, Indonesia doesn’t have any cases at all,” Dr Armstrong said.

“Neighbouring countries of Indonesia of course have got several cases each but nothing alarming, nothing that would really elevate the risk of people travelling there.”

Dr Armstrong said Australia had offered support to Indonesia for increased testing if required.

More on the coronavirus outbreak:

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.”



Photo:

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.

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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.



Photo:

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.”



Photo:

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.



Photo:

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.



Photo:

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


Another heatwave is set to sweep across Australia. Here’s where it will be felt first


Adelaide 5000

Brace yourselves Australia: there is yet another heatwave on the way. If you were beginning to think this summer was over, think again.

A pool of heat that has been brewing over inland Western Australia is about to make its way south and east as a lingering high pressure system slowly makes its way across the south of the country this week.

External Link:

Heatwave GIF January 2020

By mid-week heatwave conditions are expected to reach from coast to coast, with severe heatwave conditions for South Australia.

By the end of the week the heat is expected to focus on the south east and extreme heatwave conditions are expected for Canberra, eastern Victoria, south-eastern New South Wales as well as eastern Tasmania.

A heatwave is defined by the Bureau of Meteorology as “three days or more of high maximum and minimum temperatures that is unusual for that location”.

Under extreme heatwave conditions even healthy people are at risk and need to moderate their behaviour accordingly.

Categorising heatwavesHeatwave severityLow-intensityThe level of heat expected is unusual, but injury to people is not generally expected unless inappropriate activities are conducted or sensible precautions are not undertakenSevereVulnerable people are at risk of injuryExtremeLikely to cause impact across multiple areas such as infrastructure, transport, energy, agriculture and both healthy and vulnerable people are at risk of injurySource: Bureau of Meteorology

What’s the forecast?

In the rough order of how the heat will pass from west to east:

Much of inland Western Australia has been impacted by severe heatwave conditions over the past few days. The heat will move west across the Nullarbor, while a patch of heatwave conditions is expected to remain inland of Broome for the rest of the week.

Adelaide is forecast to hit 37 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, 40C on Thursday, and 39C on Friday.

Melbourne should see the worst of the heat Friday at 41C before possible storms and 36C on Saturday.

Be prepared for the heat
Heatwaves kill far more people than other natural disasters. ABC Emergency has a checklist of things you can do to be ready.

Canberra is expected to be above 35C for the whole of the next seven-day forecast, with the heat peaking at 40C on Friday and 41C on Saturday — reaching extreme heatwave conditions for the end of the week.

It was only last week when the capital was blanketed in hail. If you kept any in the freezer it could make for handy ice packs.

Hobart is forecast to reach a maximum of 38C on Friday, with temperatures in the low 30s and high 20s in the lead-up, which constitutes an extreme heatwave for Hobart.

Most of the Tasmanian east coast is expected to experience extreme heatwave conditions for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with the majority of the rest of the state experiencing severe heatwave conditions.

The city of Sydney is forecast to be relatively mild, peaking with 36C on Sunday. But Penrith, just to the west, is expected to be 36C on Thursday, 40C on Friday, 44C Saturday, and 40C Sunday.


Infographic:
A slow moving high pressure system is forecast to move across the south of the country as a low pressure system and trough continue to bring rain to northern Australia.
(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

The daytime temperatures are impressive but when it comes to heatwaves it is the prolonged heat and lack of overnight relief that makes them deadly.

Adelaide is forecast to remain above 22C between Thursday and Saturday, with a minimum of 28C on Friday.

Canberra is forecast to remain above 22C on Saturday and Sunday.

Fire danger

With the heightened temperatures the fire danger would also be expected to rise, despite the recent rain.

It is still a long way out for a fire forecast but South Australia will be the first in the firing line after the heat makes its way across the Nullarbor.

The current forecast is for severe fire danger in the Lower Eyre Peninsula, Mount Lofty Ranges, Kangaroo Island, and the Lower South East on Friday.


Infographic:
There may be a bit of rain in the wake of the heatwave expected over the coming days.
(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology )

As the high moves west it is followed by a trough and frontal system, which is forecast to bring rain in a belt down from the tropics. But the current forecast is for far less rain than has been flooding the north of Queensland over the past few days.

With neutral climate drivers currently in play and with more than a month of summer still to go, this is unlikely to be the last heatwave this season.

So it is time again to: call and check in on your nan, take it easy in the sun, and keep an eye out for those around you.

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


Are there bigger issues than changing the date?


Broome 6725

As rallies encouraging Australians to #changethedate and #paytherent attract crowds across major cities, the situation in Western Australia’s far north will be markedly different.

While January 26 continues to maintain government and some community support as our national holiday, debate around a potential shift in the date continues to gain momentum.

But in the Kimberley, where the Indigenous population sits at close to 42 per cent and residents are at the front line of social issues confronting First Nations communities, the campaign is virtually absent from public debate.

Traditional owners will feature heavily in today’s community events and citizenship ceremonies, but there are no rallies, marches, or concerts planned for the region’s major towns.

Locals said it came down to people being focused on more immediate issues.

‘It hasn’t really been one of my priorities’

Bart Pigram, a Yawuru man born and raised in Broome, has a long line of family history in the area.



Photo:

Bart Pigram has a long line of family history in the West Kimberley. (ABC Kimberley)

He believes changing the date will be good for everybody, but said people in the Kimberley were more inclined to worry about more pressing issues.

“Changing the date for the Kimberley people won’t change the suicide rates, it won’t affect our drug and alcohol problem up here, we have other priorities at hand,” he said.

“We won’t even be able to change the date if our living rates keep going the way they are.

Australia Day 2020
Everyone. Every story, from around the country in one place.

“These other life and death issues in our community are more important to me.”

The Kimberley region has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, with young Indigenous men making up 71 per cent of suicide victims over the last decade.

In 2017 an inquest was held regarding 13 suicides between 2012 and 2016, five of those children between 10 and 13 years of age.

In coroner Ros Fogliani’s opening address, she said they had all been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence in their homes, had poor school attendance, and most had not received any sort of mental health assessment or support.



Photo:

Learning more about Indigenous history at school could be an effective way of generating discussion. (ABC News: Loretta Florance (file photo))

While he was supportive of the rallies, Mr Pigram believes more effective ways of generating discussion around Australia’s past are needed.

“It’s great that protesters do it [but] there are also other strategic ways to do this — one of those is through the education system,” he said.

“This is the whole problem: we’re an uneducated nation, we are, because our schools aren’t teaching the true history of Australia.

“I learnt about pyramids when I was at school. What do I have to do with ancient Egypt? I should’ve been learning about ancient Australia.”

‘We are still oppressed’

Alicia Mclean is a Miriuwung and Gajerrong woman who goes by her traditional name of Lulkbudia.



Photo:

Alicia Mclean Lulkbudia knows of the complex issues, but believes changing the date is a step in the right direction. (Supplied: Alicia Mclean Lulkbudia)

Living in Perth but raised in Kununurra, 3,200km to the north, Ms Lulkbudia is able to see both worlds.

“I would say that we are still oppressed in our country,” she said.

“The incarceration rates, mental illness and how that affects our community, especially in the Kimberley region … There are a lot of problems and they’re very complex.”

Ms Lulkbudia would prefer to abolish Australia Day all together.

“It’s just about acknowledging the history of Australia, and that this day is causing a lot of pain,” she said.

“No day is appropriate to celebrate genocide, stolen generations, and all the horrific things that happened to Aboriginal people.”

Celebrating ‘in a different way’

Warumungu man Ethan Taylor believes the same values celebrated on Australia Day could be celebrated on another day.



Photo:

Mr Taylor hopes we can make another day to celebrate the nation. (Supplied: Ethan Taylor)

“I wish I could celebrate with these people the beauty of this country, the magic that lies on this land, not just on a different day, but in a different way,” Mr Taylor said.

“For me no matter what day you celebrate, it won’t do justice for as long as it’s celebrated the way it is.”

Originally from Geraldton in WA’s mid-west, Mr Taylor said the things that make Australia great could easily be celebrated on a different date.

‘The values that I see celebrated on Australia Day are not bad values — mateship, coming together, sharing a drink — that’s not what’s bad,’ Mr Taylor said.

“When it’s done under [the guise of] celebrating a nation that has committed atrocious acts to certain people, that’s when it becomes bad.”

With many people voicing different Australia Day suggestions, or a new day to celebrate entirely, Mr Pigram said the past could not be ignored.

“The date that Australia became Australia and [was] federated as one whole country was the first of January 1901; that is the true Australia Day,” he said.

“We can’t deny the past; that happened, that’s history.”

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


Has Australia’s climate switch been flipped?


Adelaide 5000

Just days after some of the worst bushfires ever seen in Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology tweeted on January 8 that a climate driver called the Indian Ocean Dipole had returned to neutral.

Around the same time, another climate driver, the Southern Annular Mode, returned to neutral as well.

Then the rains came in eastern Australia. And hail. And floods. And dust storms. And lightning.

“It’s really happened with a bang, or a real switch from unusually dry and stable conditions to this really significant event,” said meteorologist Diana Eadie.

“The system that brought a supercell to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne is the same system that brought the large hail to Canberra, and it’s the same system that’s also been aiding storm development in Queensland.”



Photo:

A dust storm approaches Nyngan, west of Dubbo. (Supplied: Emily Barclay)

Senior BOM climatologist Felicity Gamble said the change in the state of the climate drivers had not caused the wild weather — it just made conditions more favourable for rain.

“You still need to have those synoptic systems come through,” she said.

“But given that the drivers are now neutral, we’re in a much more favourable position for that to occur than we were, say, a couple of months ago.”

Record climate driver events

The IOD has been identified as one of the main culprits behind the drought and this summer’s terrible bushfires.

When waters are cooler than usual off Western Australia and warmer off east Africa (as they were this past spring), scientists call this a positive IOD.

In times of positive IOD, Australia typically experiences drought — last year’s positive IOD event was the second strongest ever recorded.


Infographic:
A positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole can lead to reduced rainfall across Australia.
(Supplied: BOM)

At the same time, Australian weather has also been under the influence of a negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM), bringing strong, dry westerly winds — bushfire winds — further north.

Last year’s negative SAM event was the strongest on record.

Climate drivers change simultaneously

Ms Gamble said that around the start of the year, three big climate drivers changed.

“SAM and the IOD did both decline at the same time, and, tied in with that, the southern movement of the monsoonal trough — it did all just line up at the start of 2020.”



Photo:

A negative SAM in summer favours hotter, drier winds. (Supplied: BOM)

Ms Eadie said easterly winds had begun flowing again across the eastern seaboard.

“We’re seeing a lot more moisture now streaming off the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea,” she said.

“We’ve been in easterly winds along the east coast for the better part of the last couple of weeks, and with that moisture is increased as well.

“So unlike previous systems coming through with a lot of wind but very dry conditions, this particular low was able to tap into a lot more moisture along the entirety of the eastern seaboard.”



Photo:

The IOD can sometimes have a bigger impact on our climate than an El Nino or La Nina event. (Supplied: Rebecca Farquhar)

Positive IOD linked to bushfires, drought

Ms Gamble said there was a strong correlation between positive IODs and rainfall deficiencies, and then negative IODs and above-average rainfall.

“You say ‘El Nino’ and people know, ‘Oh, that means drought in Australia’, or vice versa, people tend to know La Nina means wetter-than-average conditions as well,” she said.

“But you say ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’, and most people wouldn’t really know what a positive IOD means or what a negative IOD means.

“And yet it can have as big, sometimes bigger impact on our climate than an El Nino or La Nina event — perhaps because it doesn’t have quite such a catchy name.”

The drought is not over

The BOM is predicting an equal chance of a wetter or drier-than-average period from February to April for most of Australia.

In other words, with climate drivers returned to neutral, the conditions favour an average amount of rain in most of Australia over the next few months.

Despite recent rain, senior BOM climatologist Andrew Watkins cautioned the drought was not over, tweeting:

External Link:

Watkins Tweet

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


Nullarbor highway reopens after being closed for 12 days


Ceduna 5690

The only sealed road linking Western Australia and South Australia reopened this morning after being closed for 12 days because of bushfires.

The closure of the Eyre Highway left hundreds of Nullarbor travellers and truck drivers trapped on both sides of the border.

Authorities reopened the 1,600-kilometre highway at 7:00am local time after fire conditions eased.

Frustrated and tired travellers were trapped on either side of the Nullarbor Plain while a bushfire burning near Norseman in Western Australia kept the highway closed to all traffic.

WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Superintendent Andy Duckworth said motorists should be patient as they travel through.

“We appreciate everyone is frustrated and tired so we’ve taken these extraordinary measures over the last few days to keep people safe,” he said.

“The last thing we want now is for people to perhaps be involved in a road traffic crash.”

He said people should drive with care, adhere to the speed limits, be patient if they needed to overtake and be sensible on their journey.



Photo:

Some of the stranded truck drivers have not been home since Boxing Day. (Supplied: Norseman Police)

Authorities were staggering the release of traffic to avoid congestion and had flown in extra police officers to patrol the highway.

But Goldfields-Esperance Sergeant Dave Christ said he encouraged people to postpone their travel.

“The advice is to wait at least a day or a couple of days to just give the traffic a chance to clear itself and make your trip a lot smoother,” he said.

The decision to reopen both the Eyre Highway and Coolgardie-Esperance Highway was made after fire conditions eased in the area.



Photo:

The Eyre Highway was closed for 12 days due to bushfires. (Supplied: DFES)

Supt Duckworth said the fires were at advice level but still uncontained.

“There’s still work to be done and obviously as the weather changes so can the situation,” he said.

“We’ll be monitoring and working hard over the next few days, potentially weeks, to get these fires controlled and extinguished.”

Travellers stranded for days

The ABC spoke to visitors from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia who were caught up in the extended closures.

While some were frustrated, most praised emergency services and volunteers in the towns in which they were stranded.



Photo:

Glenn Freestone is one of the hundreds of motorists affected by the road closures. (ABC Goldfields: Andy Tyndall)

Glenda Allen from Warrnambool was in stuck in Esperance for six days and said she was “absolutely ecstatic” to be heading home.

Adelaide truck driver Glenn Freestone said the closures had “crippled” the transport industry.

“Out of the past month, I’ve been stuck for 22 days,” he said.

“I can’t wait to get back on the road, and hopefully if everyone plays nice we will get there safely.”



Photo:

A stretch of the Eyre Highway became an unlikely cricket pitch for motorists at Border Village. (Supplied: Jarron Tewes)

An ‘unprecedented’ situation

Coles and Woolworths said the closure had impacted the supply of some fresh produce in stores this week.

The companies used other transport options like rail to bring in products and minimise the impact.

WA’s peak road transport body said while fresh fruit and vegetables would return to shelves in the next few days, it would take much longer for farmers to recover.



Photo:

An Esperance supermarket was among the stores to suffer a shortage of fresh produce. (ABC Esperance: Emma Field)

Western Roads Federation chief executive Cam Dumesny said closing the vital route for nearly two weeks was unprecedented and would have significant consequences for the state’s economy.

“We have a lot of our produce growers here in WA who were sending their seasonal produce across to the east,” he said.

“Because of this closure, they’ve probably missed a fair chunk of their profits for the season.

“It’ll take some time to stabilise.”

Mr Dumesny applauded DFES, police, volunteers and the communities who supported the stranded motorists.

But he said the state would “need to take a deep breath once this is over and have a hard look at how we’ve managed it”.

“I think there’s some hard lessons we need to learn … how we look after people out there, sustain them and keep them updated with what’s going on.”

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.



Photo:

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.



Photo:

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.”



Photo:

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.



Photo:

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.”



Photo:

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.”



Photo:

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


Facelift to change outback adventure road forever


Darwin 0800

It is one of Australia’s great outback adventure tracks, but the Tanami Road appears destined to change forever with renewed efforts to have it sealed.

Key points:

  • The unsealed Tanami Road goes for 1,000km between Halls Creek and Alice Springs
  • The Aboriginal community believes a $235m upgrade to seal it will bring tourists, and opportunities
  • Some tourists believe a bitumen road will take away the “outback” feel

The Federal Government has committed $235 million for upgrades which are set to improve the lives of remote community residents.

But not everyone is happy, with some tourists bemoaning the predicted loss of the rugged bush track.

The Tanami Road stretches for more than 1,000 kilometres between Halls Creek in Western Australia and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

It is a lifeline for the 400 residents of Balgo on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, who rely on it for essential supplies and as a thoroughfare to nearby regional centres.



Photo:

The Tanami Road is a major link between Western Australia and the Northern Territory. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation chairman Nathaniel Stretch believes the upgrades will bring unprecedented opportunities to his people.

“There will be tourists coming faster and more trucks will come in … it will be a good thing for Balgo,” he said.

Mr Stretch has been working to ensure the community makes the most of the change.

“I’m doing my best to develop these places when the bitumen comes up.

“We have to do road signs and make this into a town.”



Photo:

Wirrimanu Corporation’s Nathaniel Stretch believes the project will bring unprecedented opportunities to his people. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

In the last federal budget, the Commonwealth committed $235 million for upgrades to the Tanami and its feeder roads, which were considered roads of “strategic importance”.

“The Australian Government … wants to ensure more efficient freight networks, improved road safety and better connectivity for communities,” a spokesman said.

“Sealing the Tanami Road will contribute to these goals.”

The Government said planning was underway with the WA and NT governments and would include the development of “investment strategies” and consultations with key stakeholders.



Photo:

The road’s corrugations can make for hazardous driving conditions and lead to serious accidents. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

Slow and expensive

Once a fortnight, Balgo receives a delivery of groceries, with fresh fruit and vegetables among the most coveted items.

The 300km journey from the Halls Creek turnoff takes truck driver Radar 10 hours.

“You’re going from 90 kilometres per hour down to 20kph, so it takes a long time,” he said.

“There’s a lot of rough patches, it’s stony, you’ve got to be careful of your equipment and tyres.”

It is an expensive route and not all goods survive the trip.

“When we order glass or a windscreen, we can’t bring it in the truck because the corrugations shake it too much,” Mr Stretch said.

“We buy a flat-screen TV and it only last one to two weeks from the corrugations.”



Photo:

Communities like Balgo receive a delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables once a fortnight. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

Tourists unhappy

While residents are looking forward to better access, some tourists are dismayed about the change.

Peter Donald travelled from Horsham in Victoria to see the vast and rugged landscape.

“There’s enough sealed roads around so leave some things as they are and make the most of [the Tanami Road],” he said.

“I think it would be a mistake taking the outback feeling away from the outback.”



Photo:

The Federal Government considers the Tanami a road of “strategic importance”. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

Mr Donald said he was convinced the environment would suffer.

“There would be too much rubbish, it would just be like the Hume Highway or any other main road,” he said.

“You get people who don’t respect it and just throw their rubbish out and ruin the whole feeling and whole atmosphere of the place.”

Outback alive

In Balgo, work is underway to preserve the outback atmosphere.

A new tourist road has been carved out, opening up sacred lands for visitors, and there are plans to train local tour guides.

“That bitumen is going to come strong and some tourists will miss the rough roads,” Mr Stretch said.

“But we will still have the outback, that’s why we are trying to maintain the outback from the bitumen.”



Photo:

The Balgo community is busy preparing for the $235 million upgrades. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)

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


2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest year on record


Adelaide 5000

The data is in and 2019 has topped the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) charts for average and maximum temperatures as well as the lowest annual rainfall across the country.

Key points:

  • Australia’s annual mean and maximum temperatures both broke records set in 2013
  • The national area average rainfall was the lowest on record going all the way back to 1900
  • The hot and dry conditions are the result of a strong Indian Ocean Dipole and background warming

It will come as no surprise to those suffering through this horror fire and heatwave season that the conditions leading up to it were the worst on record.

The new figures arrived as large parts of the country brace for more dangerous fire conditions over the next few days.

BOM will comment when its official report comes out next week, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Australia’s annual mean temperature was 1.52 degrees Celsius above the 1961-90 average of 21.8C — well above the previous hottest year (2013) at 1.33C.

External Link:

The difference in annual mean temperatures from the 1961-90 average

Also, the daytime temperature record was smashed, with the average maximum temperature of 30.69C coming in 2.09C above the 1961-90 average.

The previous record, set in 2013, was 30.19C.

External Link:

The difference in annual maximum temperatures from the 1961-90 average

Overnight temperatures didn’t surpass the record, but they were still the sixth hottest on record and well above average at 0.95C over the 15.1C 1961-90 average.

Meanwhile the drought has dragged on.

The national average rainfall total for the year was 277.63 millimetres, well below the previous record of 314.46mm in 1902 during the federation drought.

External Link:

Australia's annual rainfall from 1900 to 2019

The 1961-90 period is an internationally used standard as a period of good weather records used for data comparisons.

These values are calculated based upon gridded data from across Australia.

The country is broken up into a 0.05-degree grid by longitude and latitude, which is roughly 5km by 5km, with each grid assigned a maximum temperature based on the weather stations around it.

The average of all of the grids for every day of the year is then output.

Using the same gridded dataset, Australia broke the record for its hottest day on record two days in a row last month, with the nation’s average maximum temperature smashing the previous record (40.3C) to reach 40.7C and then 41.9C a day later.

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Why so hot?

The record-breaking year was especially noteworthy because it occurred without an El Nino event, the climate driver most commonly associated with hot dry conditions in Australia.

While the Pacific Ocean remained neutral, the main climate driver was the incredibly strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).

The IOD has been working to generate rising air and rain over eastern Africa but hot descending air over Australia.

It is associated with drought and hot conditions over eastern Australia as well as with a delayed monsoon, all of which have been the case this summer.

Late last year, an unusual sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event also added to the hot dry conditions by shifting the westerly winds, which usually lurk over the Southern Ocean, up onto the continent.


Video: This is how sudden stratospheric warming occurs

(ABC News)

This event was also associated with a strong positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), again encouraging hot dry conditions.

And this is all on top of the anthropogenic global warming trend; BOM records show Australia has warmed by just over a degree since 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1950.

What now?

Thankfully the positive IOD and negative SAM have decayed and the BOM’s outlook for the next three months is decidedly more neutral for rainfall, although temperatures are likely to remain above average for most of the country.

It is finally beginning to look like more tropical weather is returning to our north, with the chance of a cyclone developing early next week and tropical rainfall expected to move into inland Western Australia over the next few days.

But for those in the south, while a return to neutral conditions is better than drier than average, average conditions over summer are still hot and dry.

Until there is widespread rainfall, fire and heatwave conditions will continue.

External Link:

The weather bureau's outlook for January to March

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


‘How good’s the gold price?’: Amid an economic slowdown can the value of gold keep shining?


Australia

The former Prime Minister John Howard declared “how good is the gold price!” at last year’s biggest gathering of gold miners in Kalgoorlie in August.

Key points:

  • Gold is tipped to surpass its 2019 highs of $2,297 in 2020
  • Digital technology has made buying gold much more accessible
  • Gold production in Australia has slowed, but is expected to be boosted as new mines open

That exclamation went on to set the tone for the rest of 2019 — and most likely this year too.

As the industry met for the annual Diggers and Dealers mining forum, the price of gold had never been higher in Australia.

Gold peaked at $US1,550.30 an ounce in early August and while that’s not the highest price gold has ever been sold for — in 2011 it recorded its all-time high of $US1,917.90 — the exchange rate meant it was a record high price in Australian dollars.

Buying gold in Australian dollars at that time cost investors as much as $2,297.09 an ounce.

With record low interest rates, global trade wars and continued political uncertainty all set to remain in 2020, coupled with falling gold supply, the first year of the new decade is shaping up to be another big one for the precious yellow metal.

Gold mines shifting back into Australian hands

As 2019 was drawing to a close, one of the world’s biggest open cut gold mines, the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KGCM), colloquially known as ‘the Super Pit’, changed hands, heralding a new era for the 30-year-old mine.

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Australian gold miner Saracen Minerals bought Canadian miner Barrick Gold’s 50 per cent stake for $1.1 billion and exactly four weeks later, Newmont agreed to sell its 50 per cent share to Northern Star for $1.17 billion.

The two transactions mean the Super Pit is now wholly back in Australian hands.

It also means local companies now control 60 per cent of the Australian gold mining industry, after falling to as low as 30 per cent in 2002.

A leisurely 600-kilometre drive north-east of the Super Pit, Australia’s biggest new gold mine, Gruyere, a joint venture between Gold Road and Gold Fields, officially opened last month.



Photo:

The Gruyere gold mine is expected to produce 300,000 ounces annually over its 12-year life. (Supplied: Gold Road Resources)

“I have been privileged to be associated with delivering many new mining projects around the world, but none has been as exciting or as impressive than this giant mining complex in this remote location,” Gold Road chairman Tim Netscher said at the opening ceremony.

“This is one of the largest gold mines built and commissioned worldwide over the past decade and you don’t get much more remote than this.”

The mine is expected to produce 300,000 ounces annually over its 12-year life.

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A week earlier, a smaller operation still in its infancy, the Beacon Minerals-owned Jaurdi Gold Mine west of Kalgoorlie, was also opened by WA resources minister Bill Johnston.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s a modern-day gold boom going on in Western Australia,” Mr Johnston told ABC News.

“We’re seeing all these new gold mines opening up and there’s more exploration going into the ground as well.”

It comes at a time when Australia’s gold production slowed in the September quarter to 78 tonnes — a 5 per cent fall from the quarter before, according to data collated by gold mining consultants Surbiton Associates.

Australia’s gold production reached an all time high of 321 tonnes in the 2018/19 financial year.

“The local gold industry, with its costs predominantly in Australian dollars, is benefitting from the changes in the exchange rate as the Australian dollar continues to weaken against the US dollar,” said Surbiton Associates director Sandra Close.

Outlook for the yellow metal in 2020

Making money out of money isn’t easy these days — with the RBA cash rate at 0.75 per cent, term deposits aren’t delivering the returns investors once relied on.

Profits were sought in equity markets in 2019, with the ASX rising more than 20 per cent over the course of the year.

However, JP Morgan global market strategist Kerry Craig said that’s unlikely to continue.

“The outlook for earnings growth is quite muted, that does translate into quite weak equity returns, not negative, but much lower than we’ve experienced in 2019,” he told ABC News.

While gold is down about 5 per cent from its mid-year high, the political turmoil of the US-China trade negotiations, Brexit and Hong Kong saw prices rise about 18 per cent overall in 2019.



Photo:

The Australian dollar gold price has fallen 5 per cent since August but was still 18 per cent higher over the year. (Supplied: UBS)

Always a winner in times of economic uncertainty, gold looks set to continue its forward march in 2020.

“Low/negative rates make a case for holding gold as a risk diversifier given slowing growth and trade risks,” UBS analysts wrote in a 2020 outlook note.

The Commonwealth Bank expects to see further upside, with gold prices going as high as US$1,600 an ounce at current exchange rates that’s more than $2,300.

CBA’s director of mining and energy commodities research Vivek Dhar said the main driver for gold prices over the long term is US yields.

“We are currently forecasting the US Federal Reserve to cut US interest rates by 50 basis points next year,” he said.

“That should push long-term US real yields lower, therefore supporting higher gold prices.”

An ancient commodity goes digital

Buying gold became a whole lot easier last year when it became available digitally.

Gone are the days of lugging around heavy gold bars — although that is, of course, still an option.

Brisbane-based gold dealer Ainslie Bullion launched Australia’s first gold and silver-backed cryptocurrency in September, just as gold reached its record Australian dollar price.

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Buyers can invest in gold tokens with a few taps on their smartphone, making gold much more accessible.

“Ainslie Bullion’s product Gold and Silver Standard saw 5,000 trades worth over $2.1 million in the first two months and nearly double that ‘over the counter’ through Ainslie,” said Ainslie Bullion director Paul Engeman.

He argues gold is a worthwhile asset class to invest in above many others.

“While some argue gold has no place in a portfolio because it doesn’t yield [return an income stream], they miss that when compared to Australian shares, property and term deposits — with each including dividends, rent and interest respectively — gold and silver have easily outperformed all three over the last 15 years in capital appreciation and preservation alone.”

The Perth Mint launched its own digital gold in 2019.

“Our aim is to make gold accessible to as many people in as many places as we possibly can,” The Perth Mint’s chief executive Richard Hayes told ABC News.

The Reserve Bank is widely tipped to cut interest rates again in early February, which is likely to see the gold price push higher again.

“Low interest rates reduce the appeal of interest-bearing securities,” explained Mr Dhar.

“These securities compete for capital with gold. Therefore, in times of falling interest rates, gold looks more attractive and is generally worth investing in.”

Buying gold could be a popular item on new year’s resolution lists, as global interest rates continue to fall and uncertainty continues.

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




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