Thursday, January 20, 2022

Rogue Corruption watchdog drops charges against high-profile former mayor

More evidence of their incompetence and dubious motivations. MacSporran must go. See

Misconduct charges brought against a former mayor by Queensland’s corruption watchdog have been dropped.

Former Moreton Bay Mayor Allan Sutherland was facing two counts of misconduct in public office until the crown today offered no evidence on the charges which were dismissed by Magistrate Mark Nolan.

He had been accused of influencing council over a road upgrade past his property and lobbying councillors in relation to a planning scheme.

It’s the latest setback for the Crime and Corruption Commission who charged Mr Sutherland following an investigation.

He was charged and suspended as mayor of the Moreton Bay Regional Council in December 2019.

The Crown had alleged that while mayor he influenced a councillor and/or council employees to change the scope and timing of an upgrade to a road that runs past a property he owns.

At the time council was developing Moreton Bay Sporting Complex at the opposite end of Sutherland’s property on Paradise Rd in Burpengary.

The Crown also alleged he lobbied councillors to change proposed amendments to the planning scheme, as it related to service stations, to assist a future development.

Crown prosecutor Sarah Farnden said the decision to offer no evidence was made after considering submissions from Sutherland’s legal team and a recent appeal decision.

Sutherland’s barrister declined to comment outside court.

Today’s dismissal of the charges mirrors the CCCs collapsed case against eight Logan councillors it had charged with fraud, which triggered a parliamentary inquiry into the corruption fighting body.

The hearing lasted less than five minutes


Novavax has been provisionally approved for use in Australia, which health authorities hope will drive Covid-19 vaccine rates close to 100 per cent

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Therapeutic Goods Administration had given the final tick to the vaccine, making it the first Covid-19 protein vaccine to receive regulatory approval.

The TGA said Novavax was approved for use in Australians 18 years and older, with two doses given three weeks apart.

At this stage, Novavax is only approved for use as a primary course and not for boosters.

Mr Hunt said there were 51 million units of the vaccine on order.

“Obviously we have a first dose national vaccination rate of 95.2 per cent, and we know some people have waited for Novavax,” Mr Hunt said.

“Hopefully this will encourage those people in that less than five per cent to come forward and be vaccinated.”


Controversial Qld MP George Christensen steps down from parliamentary role amid vax stance backlash

Controversial Queensland MP George Christensen will step down from a lucrative parliamentary role amid increasing pressure on the government to admonish the politician for spreading vaccine misinformation.

But the retiring Mackay-based MP said the decision to step down as chair of the joint standing committee on trade and investment growth was one he made himself, and not because of a “demand or request from any third party”.

“When I return to Parliament House on Monday 7 February, I will be advising the Speaker that I intend to stand down as the chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, a decision of my own making and not a demand or request from any third party,” he wrote on social media.

The move comes hours after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce refused to confirm whether or not Mr Christensen would be removed as committee chair.

“I’m not going to go into those deliberations even though I have been in discussions with the Prime Minister this morning about those issues,” he said

Mr Christensen, in promoting an episode of his podcast, inferred parents should not get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 – comments the Prime Minister has labelled “dangerous”.

Mr Joyce, in Brisbane on Wednesday, did confirm he had spoken to the Nationals-aligned Mackay-based MP earlier in the day and on Tuesday. He declined to provide details about the chat.

“His comments are not backed up by the medical evidence of people proficient in that field, and therefore his comments are at odds with me,” Mr Joyce said.


Unemployment lowest since GFC at 4.2pc

Usually over 5%

The unemployment rate has smashed expectations falling to a record low in December of 4.2 per cent, the lowest since the GFC.

The number of employed increased by 64,800, a monthly change of 0.5 per cent. While the underemployment rate fell 1.9 per cent to 6.6 per cent. The participation rate remained constant at 66.1 per cent.

The positive figures continued the tightening of the Australian labour market, after the rate fell to 4.6 per cent in November. It has raised expectations that the Reserve Bank of Australia will increase the cash rate earlier than anticipated.

Taken in the first two weeks of December, however, the labour force figures didn’t take in the full extent of the Omicron outbreak.

The Australian dollar jumped more than 10 basis points on the news to US72.32c, its highest point in two months.




Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Fears Remdesivir antiviral drug supply may be under threat amid growing Covid cases

An antiviral drug that prevents moderate to severe symptoms of Covid-19 is being restricted to the most seriously ill patients amid fears the state’s growing number of hospitalisations could expose a shortfall of supply.

One nurse working inside a Queensland hospital’s Covid-19 response, who is not authorised to speak publicly, has raised fears about the lack of Remdesivir – a drug used with the aim of stopping at-risk people from suffering moderate to severe symptoms of Covid-19.

They said hospitals were ordering, but facing delays in acquiring Remdesivir as the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 reaching 819.

The hospital worker said just a handful of almost 30 Covid patients in one southeast hospital were receiving the drug, and declared some health staff were concerned more could be done to treat patients.

However, a Queensland Health spokesman declared anybody admitted to hospital with Covid-19 would receive “the care they need” and said Remdesivir was one of a range of treatment options.

Patients at risk of developing moderate or severe Covid-19 symptoms are given 200mg of Remdesivir in the first dosage and then 100mg per day for five days.

The Queensland Health spokesman said it was ordering the drug from the Commonwealth’s national stockpile and says there were “no issues” securing supplies.

“To date, all of our requests have been fulfilled,” he said.


Life expectancy in Australia IMPROVED despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Why?

The life expectancy of residents across Australia has improved last year despite the Covid-19 pandemic

Researchers from the Australian National University discovered the average lifespan increased by eight months in Australia for both men and women amid Covid-19 lockdowns.

With lower social mobility, less people died from illnesses such as influenza, cancer and heart disease.

There was also a drop in the number of fatal road accidents.

It was a different story globally, where life expectancies during the pandemic since 2020 shrunk dramatically.

The US experienced a drop in life expectancy - but it increased for male and female residents in Norway and Denmark.

ANU School of Demography researcher Vladimir Canudas-Romo admitted he was surprised by the statistics.

'In the past decade, Australia has not been increasing particularly, our life expectancy is increasing very modestly by one month each year,' professor Canudas-Romo told The Australian.

'For decades it has been like that and the increase has been progressing very slowly, and this year everywhere else there is an excess of deaths... so by protecting ourselves and distancing ourselves from others our life expectancy has been boosted.'

Professor Canudas-Romo went onto point out that the nation's high vaccination rate of close to 95 per cent was a significant factor, with Australia's living conditions envied the world over.

'All these health measures we were asking, the sacrifices of lockdown and social distancing have had a very important effect on public health, and the best example is a life expectancy that has increased by so much,' he said.

According to the Australian Bureau of ­Statistics, the life expectancy for Australian women was 85.85 years and 81.7 years for men in 2020.


COVID and schools: Australia is about to feel the full brunt of its teacher shortage

The Omicron wave is likely to exacerbate Australia's existing teacher shortages and demanding workloads.

As school starts at the end of January and beginning of February across the country, many teachers will be at risk of contracting COVID. They will need to stay away from work, while others may choose to leave the profession altogether.

To address parental concerns about teacher absences, the Prime Minister recently announced teachers will no longer be required to isolate at home for seven days if they are close contacts, and if they don't have symptoms and return a negative rapid antigen test. But unions have slammed this relaxation of rules saying it will only add to safety concerns for teachers and children.

States and territories are putting together a plan to open schools safely, which is set to be released on Thursday. But for schools to operate effectively, and avoid remote learning, Australia must also have a long-term plan for recruiting and retaining teachers. This means lifting their professional status, improving work conditions and increasing pay.


Infrastructure a big problem for governments

One of the points made by advocates of Big Australia is that if there are problems associated with large migrant intakes, it has nothing to do with bringing in people per se. Rather, it’s the ­failure of governments – and ­particularly state governments – to plan adequately and fund ­additional infrastructure and the required services.

The argument is that the complaints about congested roads, housing affordability, overcrowded schools and hospitals may be legitimate, but they have nothing to do with the fact that migrants have been contributing some two-thirds of population growth.

If governments were able to invest in a timely and appropriate fashion, then these problems could fade away. In this way, the benefits of large migrant intakes would be much more apparent and people would be more inclined to embrace high rates of population growth – so the argument goes. (Prior to the pandemic, Australia had one of the highest rates of population growth – between 1.2 and 1.5 per cent per year – of all developed economies.)

But are these claims right? Who pays for this additional infrastructure? Are we any good at building large-scale infrastructure projects given recent history?

Let’s be clear on one issue: it’s not just the recently arrived migrants who pay for the extra infrastructure that is required. It is all taxpayers and/or users of the ­facilities who bear the cost. Had that new bridge/tunnel/school/hospital not been needed, then we would all be better off, financially speaking.

Of course, the project developers and the financiers won’t be so happy with the relative lack of investment in infrastructure were migrant intakes lower, but their interests should never dominate public policy thinking in this area.

Big Australia advocates will often make the claim that there are economies of scale associated with big infrastructure spending and this should be taken into account when considering the link between migrant intake and ­infrastructure.

You build a road that can accommodate a certain number of cars per minute, say, but there are only half this number initially. Having borne the initial expense of the big build, there should be years when the additional costs of greater demand on infrastructure assets can be accommodated at very low marginal costs. (Economies of scale apply much less to service provision where the costs are closely related to the number of people accessing services.)

The trouble with this thinking is that it has been demonstrated on far too many occasions that state governments are hopeless at overseeing the construction of large infrastructure projects. Way over budget and massively delayed are typical features of many projects. (I’m not letting the federal government off the hook here, but it tends to provide funding rather than oversee projects directly.)

Consider the ongoing saga of the West Gate Tunnel project in Melbourne. Having decided to kill the contract for the East West Link project signed by the Napthine Coalition government – action that cost taxpayers over $1bn – the Andrews Labor government instead has embarked on a massive infrastructure spending spree, including the West Gate Tunnel.

This project was proposed by the toll road operator Transurban. This is, in itself, a bad early ­indication given the company’s self-interest in doing so. It’s not as if the Victorian government has any problem raising debt.

The project is made up of a 4km tunnel and some ancillary features. It was initially expected to cost $5.5bn, with the company stumping up two-thirds of the cost. In exchange for this contribution, the company sought an extension of the deal whereby the tolls it charges would rise by 4.25 per cent per year for an additional 10 years. This applies to road users who don’t use the West Gate Tunnel. In addition, the company’s exclusive road toll contract was extended to 2045. By any measure, this was an egregious deal, but its terms were rammed through the parliament.

The project has been a complete disaster. There were many months of delay dealing with the contentious issue of the disposal of the contaminated soil. The estimated costs have been jacked up several times and now stand at close to $12bn – more than twice the initial estimate. Workers on the site are paid at least $200,000 a year, and extremely generous contracts have been locked in.

The Victorian government has been forced to increase its contribution to the inflated cost and the final completion date is still up in the air. The project was originally expected to open in the second half of this year.

The Regional Rail project undertaken in Victoria was a similar ­fiasco. The light rail project in Sydney was over budget and over time. Upgrades to various highways have also been beset with problems.

It is also not just an Australian problem. The high-speed train project in California was finally terminated before completion in the face of substantial cost blowouts and unresolved impediments to project completion. The HS2 project in the UK – another high-speed train project – is riddled with rapidly escalating costs and delays. Some parts of the proposed routes have been scrapped.

All this begs the question of why there are so many problems associated with large infrastructure projects. One fundamental issue is project choice, wherein politics tends to prevail over independent assessments based on costs and benefits. In other words, the projects that get approved and funded are not necessarily the ones most needed but the ones most likely to garner votes.

There is also a crippling lack of competition among the contractors for these projects. A number of projects have been so badly specified in the first instance that it is not surprising that the costs have blown out significantly. A relative shortage of workers with the appropriate skills, particularly in relation to tunnelling, also drives up the ultimate costs.

Of course, when these projects are eventually completed, the users often welcome the added convenience although not the tolls. But it will be taxpayers in the future who are asked to pay off these excessively expensive projects that are funded through additional government debt.

The bottom line is that there are no solutions to these problems in the short term and the prudent action by governments is to limit the amount of infrastructure spending and the size of projects for the foreseeable future. And for this reason, it is also prudent to limit the migrant intake and the additional demands that are placed on infrastructure.




Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Dodgy sex: Parliament House is no different to other workplaces

David Leyonhjelm has been there and not done that. He exposes a fraudulent report. When I was a skeptical academic, I learned to look at the "Results" section of a report rather than the conclusions. It was more work but often showed a severe mismatch between the actual findings and the claims about them. Leyonhjelm has obviously done the same

Late last year we were told that Canberra’s Parliament House is plagued by bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. A 456-page report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, claimed half of all people in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces (CPW), that is Parliament House or electorate offices, have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault, and one in three people working in federal Parliament have experienced some kind of sexual harassment there.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the statistics as appalling and disturbing. Brittany Higgins, whose claims of rape in Parliament House prompted the inquiry, called for ‘immediate action’. Along with most media, the Guardian said that Parliament had a ‘toxic workplace culture’.

Having spent five years in Parliament House, I decided to read the report in full. What I discovered was that while it sets out to show Parliament in a bad light, it reveals the opposite. As a workplace, Parliament is both ordinary and representative — neither sexual assault nor harassment occur any more frequently than in other workplaces, and there is no reason to believe bullying does either. The report is just a shoddy attempt to legitimise social engineering based on cherry-picked data.

The data in the report are derived from a survey of people who work in the Parliament or electorate offices. There are two types of surveys: those in which the data drive the conclusions, and those where the conclusions drive the data. This one is in the latter category.

There were 935 responses from 4,008 people invited to participate. The sample is self-selected, which means those who choose to participate are not necessarily the same as those who do not. The report says responses were weighted to ‘correct imbalances in the results due to any non-response bias’ but gives no details. It is not true.

Given the Higgins allegations, sexual assault is a priority. However, only nine respondents reported such assault, or around 1 per cent of the sample. A 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found 1.1% of Australian adults claimed to have experienced sexual assault in the past 12 months. That is, sexual assault is no more common in CPWs than in the community.

The report says 33 per cent of respondents (40 per cent of women, 26 per cent of men) have experienced sexual harassment in a CPW, with victims including both parliamentarians and staff. This is the same rate as in the broader population and is also unchanged from a similar survey in 2018. In other words, sexual harassment in the parliamentary environment is no greater than in the community and is not increasing.

The report also says 37 per cent of respondents claim to have experienced bullying in a CPW. Women are twice as likely as men to be bullies, women are more likely to be victims, and in three-quarters of cases, the perpetrator was more senior. The most common case is a junior woman claiming to be bullied by a senior woman. However, the report provides no comparisons with other workplaces and no basis for implying that CPWs are exceptional.

Although the survey contained 200 questions, potentially yielding a lot of useful information, the report provides very little. There are literally no responses to individual questions, and none of the tables and crosstabs normally found in opinion research reports. Despite 44 questions about sexual assault, no responses are reported – hence there is no information about location, timing, gender, age, relationships, employment, or about the perpetrators.

It is much the same with the other two issues. Despite 49 questions about sexual harassment, the analysis is brief and superficial. The report notes that reported rates of sexual harassment are higher when specific behaviours are mentioned rather than just a short legal definition. The questionnaire gives the legal definition in one question and mentions ‘Inappropriate staring or leering that made you feel intimidated’ and ‘Being followed, watched or someone loitering nearby’ as examples of sexual harassment in another question. But responses to either question are not provided.

There is little, also, about the responses to the 48 questions about bullying. As with sexual harassment, responses were probably influenced by how bullying was defined: examples in the questionnaire included ‘Others spreading misinformation, or malicious rumours’ and ‘Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job’. Either way, we are not told.

The overall design of the questionnaire is flawed. Well-designed surveys ensure responses to key questions are not influenced by prior questions or information. Not in this survey. All the questions about sexual assault, harassment and bullying are preceded by questions like, ‘Is the workplace safe and respectful? Are sexual assault, sexual harassment or bullying tolerated? Are people treated fairly and equally regardless of age, race or cultural background, sexual orientation, disability or religious beliefs? Are there negative attitudes to women?’ By the time respondents get to questions about their own experience, their thinking might well have changed.

The whole objective of the report is to promote its recommendations, claiming there is an opportunity ‘for meaningful and lasting reform that ensures CPWs are safe and respectful workplaces that uphold the standing of the Parliament and are a worthy reflection of people working within them.’

These recommendations are designed to address the ‘drivers’ of misconduct in CPWs, which the authors of the report say are power, including power imbalances, gender inequality, a lack of diversity and absence of accountability. The report recommends targets to achieve gender balance among parliamentarians and parliamentary staff, and targets to increase the representation of First Nations people, people with disability and LGBTIQ+ people. An Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture is proposed to ‘drive cultural transformation’, accompanied by a code of conduct.

Not one of the recommendations is based on the findings of the survey, and even if the survey had identified a problem with sexual assault, harassment and bullying, the report provides no evidence that a lack of gender balance or diversity is to blame. Naturally, there is no attempt to explain why its recommendations would make any difference. Its aim is to stampede the government into adopting a woke agenda using a dodgy survey.

The report is not worth the paper it is written on. The cost of producing it was a waste of taxpayer funds, and it will be a waste of taxpayer funds if the government takes it seriously and attempts to implement any of its recommendations.


Journal retracts Indigenous article for plagiarism

This fake Aborigine was fake about a lot of things. She was probably relying on the uncritical acceptance that tall tales about Abogiginal ancestry and customs receive

An Indigenous language scholar from Stradbroke Island has had her latest paper recalled after plagiarism complaints.

Quandamooka woman Sandra Delaney had her article ­“Reconceptualising a Quanda­mooka Storyweave of language reclamation”, published by Sage Journals in July, passed by a “double-blind” peer review process.

Shortly after it was published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, the journal was contacted by two First Nations language researchers from the US who said their work had been plagiarised.

In a review, Sage editors found five more cases of plagiarism and this month issued a retraction of the article.

Many of the plagiarised papers were unpublished PhD theses from American and Canadian universities dealing with the ­effects of colonisation on Native American languages and reclamation of those languages.

The rest were published in education and nursing journals and publications specifically relating to colonisation issues.

The paper dealt with colonial theft of land and how it led to the partial loss of local Jandai language and how it had been rediscovered through visual story­­telling. “This article outlines a complex, vibrant, interweaving of language as a decolonising practice through creative outcomes,” the original abstract said.

“I will summarise how the Quandamooka tradition of weaving served as a theoretical framework for the reclamation of Jandai language. Shaped by a paradigm of language reclamation, it describes a Quandamooka worldview which is based on the connection Quandamooka people share with our ­Ancestors and our Country.”

It details the creation of the “Quandamooka Storyweave” as a forum for elders to more comfortably share their stories.

Ms Delaney is a prominent figure among Nunagal, Goenbal and Ngugi people, whose ­traditional homeland, Quandamooka, was the mainland, islands and water around Moreton Bay, off Brisbane.


Why are Australian housing prices so high?

Robert Gottliebsen points to low borrowing costs, perverse incentives to banks and regulation failures

Australia is going to require unprecedented amounts of business capital investment in the next decade as we catch up with the technology revolution, decarbonise, become more independent from imports and cater for world resource needs.

But our banks, including their institutional shareholders and regulators, are not prepared for what is ahead.

And the housing market is certainly not prepared for the change in money directions that will be required. This looming revolution will become one of the nation’s biggest debating points once the Covid problem is brought under better control.

The first step to solving a problem is identifying it.

Here we are helped by a remarkable graph prepared by Dr Wilson Sy, a former Principal Researcher at APRA working on housing credit risk, insurance, superannuation governance and investment performance. He was also a senior adviser to the Cooper Superannuation review. The Sy graph forms the base of a detailed paper on the issue prepared by former ANZ Bank director John Dahlsen.

In the decade before the 1987-89 crash banks poured vast sums into business credit but they were enticed by property developers and the 1987- 89 crash triggered heavy losses. Westpac and ANZ hit deep trouble. Banks began cutting back their business investment and directing money into housing.

Twenty years ago, around 2001, housing credit became greater than business lending and it has never looked back. It played a big part in the latest house price boom. But the gap is not sustainable particularly as we are way out of line with the rest of the world. Residential mortgages represent well over 60 per cent of Australian bank balance sheets — more than double the US and UK and much higher than similar countries.

To restore at least part of the balance requires an understanding what caused the imbalance.

In his paper Dahlsen isolates a series of them:

1. Business banking is much more complex than home lending and it needs relationship managers to understand the business model, its risk , the sector risks plus, most important, the people behind the business. In the business market, the banks have removed a huge number of relationship managers and are now much more reliant on technology, rules and box ticking. The banks have standardised business lending practices often with a narrow product range that does not always fit the customer.

2. APRA deems home loans be far less risky than business bank products, so substantially less capital is required to fund home purchases. The banks are able to leverage the lower capital required to significantly improve return on equity.

3.Where banks satisfy the regulatory authority that they have appropriate risk models, they are free to calculate the capital required for residential mortgages. That freedom set the housing market alight.

4. Interest rates have been lowered to record levels to boost demand for housing and there has been extensive money printing. The Reserve Bank has been too slow to reduce the stimulation so dramatically boosting asset values. Without policy changes house prices and asset values will continue to rise.

5. There has been significant increase in the amount of home lending on each dollar of borrower income. And so in 2011 the average median house price was $480,000 and average earnings were $55,760 — a price to earnings ratio of 861 per cent. Ten years later the average house price was $771,000 and average earnings are $69,862 — a price to earnings ratio of 1104 per cent. Although the rise of two income families has helped, the increase should be ringing alarm bells.

Overheated Housing Market

However, the pandemic caused Australians to recognise that they are over borrowed so they have increased their repayments substantially.

Next year there will be tighter lending standards and if with likely higher interest rates. If this creates a crisis it will be those who borrowed recently who will be most impacted.

House price inflation means that it is now taking the youth of today much longer to fund deposits. Any further house price inflation will greatly worsen the fundamental community divide that has been created with adverse social implications.

The Australian middle class is shrinking as the upper middle class are joining the wealthy and others are dropping into lower income brackets.

More parents and grandparents are paying or contributing to their children and grandchildren’s housing deposits, education and cars.

Superimposed on these massive social challenges is the need for more bank lending for business. But the banks’ institutional shareholders love the high capital returns that come from housing and the relatively low risk.

They are concerned that the banks will not have the management ability to manage a substantial increase in business lending without creating the danger of another 1987-89.

Both the National Australia Bank and the Commonwealth have stepped up their efforts in business lending and the NAB’s housing contribution to profit is lower than any of the other banks.

But there is a long way to go. The Federal government and the regulators have vital roles in the required transformation which must includes a massive rise in cash flow lending to business.

The government has moved well to speed up payments and end the unfair contracts scandal. But it is yet to tackle the broken and unfair business tax collection system.


How to make a martyr out of a molehill

JANET ALBRECHTSEN points out that the grounds given for his deportation were truly obnoxious -- almost Soviet

In his book, "Say Nothing, The Murder and Memory of Northern Ireland", Patrick Radden Keefe recounts one of the more curious ways Margaret Thatcher dealt with Gerry Adams when he was a Sinn Fein MP in Westminster. Apparently threatened by the power of ideological seduction, Thatcher banned the sound of the IRA and Sinn Fein from the airwaves.

This peculiar rule meant Adams could be seen on TV and speaking to radio, but his voice was prohibited. It was a monumentally stupid restriction. Soon enough, broadcasters employed actors to dub the former IRA leader’s voice whenever he appeared on the airwaves. Rather than shut down Adams, this drew attention to him whenever he spoke.

Let’s be clear: Novak Djokovic is no Gerry Adams. Not even close. And lord knows Scott Morrison is no Margaret Thatcher. But dissent and state power frequently rub up against each other and leaders of varying abilities across the ages, even in democracies, have come up with ways to use their power to deal with dissent.

Those who crack down on dissent can be prone to illogical overreaction, often for base political purposes. For example, India, the world’s largest democracy, blocked access to the internet in late 2019 in Kashmir for months, arguing it was trying to avoid “the permanent loss of life”. What loss of life is not permanent? Like I said, logic is not a hot commodity when governments are trying to crack down on dissent.

Covid became the perfect vehicle to shut down dissenters, with governments across the country catastrophising on the grounds of health. State governments banned lockdown protests in the name of safety, while allowing Black Lives Matter protests. A pregnant woman who posted something naughty on social media was arrested in the name of public safety.

Even as the country enjoys one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the Australian Immigration Minister’s decision to deport Djokovic has showcased the Morrison government’s attitude to dissent and the brute force of state power. In the process, it made a martyr out of a molehill.

Alex Hawke didn’t deport Djokovic for having a dodgy visa that relied on faulty medical exemptions or factual errors on his arrival documents. Hawke told the Federal Court he ordered the deportation because of the tennis player’s beliefs about vaccination, claiming his presence would whip up anti-vax sentiment. In other words, Hawke chose to advertise the federal government’s attitude to dissent.

Whether you agree with a person who chooses not to get vaccinated or not – and I don’t – it is not yet illegal to be unvaccinated. Until that happens, there ought to be room in a democracy for idiots, even for foreign ones. But then, Morrison has never been a great friend of free speech, unless it involved playing footsies with opinionated backbenchers to maintain his wafer-thin majority.

Partner at Thomson Geer Lawyers Justin Quill says Australia is tainted by the Novak Djokovic ordeal. “I don’t think… it’s so much the decision to deport him, it’s the whole affair,” Mr Quill told Sky News Australia. “He started it, but the way we handled it could not

Deporting Djokovic also reveals the Morrison government’s attitude to power. If you’ve got it, use it, especially for brazen political purposes. Hawke’s written statement to the Federal Court was so lightweight in its submissions and evidence that it clearly dared the court to interfere with the power of the minister to deport Djokovic

And the Federal Court on Sunday didn’t dare intervene. The full bench of the court held that Hawke’s deportation order was legal under the wide personal discretion vested under sections 133 and 116 of the Migration Act, enacted in 2014.

Legal, yes. But the court’s decision doesn’t render the minister’s decision sensible or logical or fair for the simple reason that those factors are irrelevant to the minister’s exercise of state power.

What makes this case interesting is that Hawke didn’t need to state his reasons. But through his legal team, the minister quoted a BBC article to the court to prove Djokovic’s opposition to vaccination. The minister didn’t bother quoting the rest of what the tennis player said in that April 2020 interview – that as he was “no expert” he would keep an “open mind” and “wanted the option to choose what’s best for my body”.

In fact, section 133 of the Migration Act expressly exempts the minister’s decision from the ordinary rules of natural justice. Out goes audi alteram parte, Latin for “hear the other side”. Out goes nemo debet esse judex in propria sua causa, meaning “no one shall be judge of his own case”.

Therefore, Hawke didn’t have to table evidence that Djokovic’s presence at other tournaments had whipped up anti-vax sentiment. It was also irrelevant to ask other logical questions of the minister. If Djokovic’s presence was that dangerous to the country, why wasn’t Hawke more vigilant in refusing him entry in the first place?

Didn’t the government’s deportation decisions to kick out Djokovic stir up anti-vaxxers, rather than the tennis player’s arrival into the country? After all, he wasn’t planning a countrywide tour to speak against vaccination. He came to play tennis.

The Immigration Minister based his deportation order on another concern – that people may “perceive” Djokovic to have risky views against vaccinations. What a rotten precedent, holding a person responsible for how others may perceive them. If this is the upshot of the minister’s so-called God-like powers, it explains why I’m an atheist.

Deporting Djokovic is worthy of a chapter in any new book about the Morrison government because it points to how Morrison is willing to exert border powers, stifling dissent with phony claims of safety, to win the 2022 election.

It is a “wake up call” to see the Minister for Immigration’s sweeping powers “in action,” according to NSW Council… for Civil Liberties’ President Pauline Wright. Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke used his ministerial powers to cancel tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa last Friday

As the Prime Minister told Ben Fordham on Monday morning, “It’s not our first rodeo, Ben”. That’s true. As a former immigration minister, Morrison understands the politics of borders better than most. The difference is that as immigration minister Morrison had a running rail – a clear instruction from then prime minister Tony Abbott to destroy the evil people-smuggling business model. And he did just that. It was a difficult and ultimately sensible policy.

Calling the shots as PM, Morrison is prone to the reactive politics of populism over carefully considered policy. And why would he change tune now? The country has been conditioned at state and federal levels with fear and hysteria for more than two years. If Australians feared the brute force of state power more than the arrival of an unvaccinated tennis player, the federal government would be more measured. Because the PM would sniff that wind, too.




Monday, January 17, 2022

Statistic that proves booster shots are saving Australians from Omicron

This is dubious logic. LOTS of people have not had a third shot. This could be random or indicate that the people concerned felt too ill to have a third shot

And do we know that the deaths were from Omicron? It could have been Delta

Sixteen of the 17 Covid-19 deaths recorded in NSW overnight were patients who had not received their booster shot.

Chief health officer Kerry Chant said only one person who died had a booster shot, highlighting the importance of getting a third dose.

'We know that for the Omicron variant, having that booster is critical to upping your level of protection,' she said.

'And we know that with both variants, even though the Omicron variant is milder overall, it still will have an incredible impact on people that are elderly and those underlying conditions.'

NSW and Victoria recorded a dip in Covid-19 cases while ICU and hospitalisation rates spiked in both states.


Australia’s medicines regulator has confirmed the first cases of rare heart inflammation after booster vaccines

As of January 9, there have been six reports of likely myocarditis – four after Pfizer and two after Moderna – and 12 reports of likely pericarditis – 10 after Pfizer and two after Moderna – after a third or booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) most recent safety update.

“The TGA is monitoring the safety of booster vaccine doses in adults,” the regulator said.

“It is not expected that the types of side effects will be different to first and second vaccine doses based on the results of clinical trials, and observations from regulators overseas where more booster doses have been given.”

Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, or inflammation of the lining around the heart, are serious but rare side effects associated with mRNA vaccines.

According to the TGA, myocarditis – which it describes as “very rare” – is reported in about one to two out of every 100,000 people who receive Pfizer and two to three out of 100,000 who receive Moderna.

But it is more common after the second dose in teenage boys at 12 cases per 100,000 for Pfizer and 17 per 100,000 for Moderna, and young men under 30 at six per 100,000 for Pfizer and 12 per 100,000 for Moderna.

“To January 9, 2022, we have received approximately 950 reports of suspected adverse events identified after a third or booster dose,” the TGA said.

“This includes a small number of cases of myocarditis and pericarditis. The most common adverse events reported to the TGA following a booster dose are swollen lymph nodes (also called lymphadenopathy), headache, fatigue, muscle pain and fever. Swollen lymph nodes are a normal and known side effect of vaccines and occurs when the immune system is stimulated and were seen in the clinical trials.”

The TGA says it has also received about 3000 reports of adverse reactions after vaccination in children and adolescents.

The most commonly reported reactions in 12 to 17-year-olds are chest pain, headache, dizziness, nausea and fever.

“Reports of more serious effects following vaccination in children in the US were extremely rare with 100 reports from 8.7 million vaccine doses – the most common were fever, vomiting and in some cases seizures,” it said.

“Importantly, myocarditis was also very rare in this age group, with 11 confirmed reports from over eight million doses – these were all mild cases. The TGA is closely monitoring adverse event reports in this age group and will communicate any safety issues if they arise.”

As of January 9, from 28.4 million doses of Pfizer and 2.1 million doses of Moderna, there have been 467 cases of likely myocarditis – 423 from Pfizer and 44 from Moderna – and a further 1048 cases classed as “suspected” myocarditis – 952 from Pfizer and 96 from Moderna.

Suspected cases include those reporting both myocarditis and pericarditis. There have been an additional 2183 cases of suspected pericarditis alone – 2015 from Pfizer and 168 from Moderna.

The TGA stresses that myocarditis is “often mild, and cases usually resolve after a few days with treatment and rest”, but about half of cases are admitted to hospital.

“Five people with confirmed myocarditis were treated in intensive care,” the TGA says.

“This represents about 1 per cent of all confirmed myocarditis cases. Most patients admitted to hospital were discharged within four days.”

According to Health Department figures from Sunday, 92.5 per cent of over-16s in Australia are now fully vaccinated, and nearly five million people over the age of 18 have received more than two doses


Attorney general defends religious schools’ right to sack teachers for views on sexuality

Michaelia Cash’s department has defended religious schools’ right to sack teachers for their views on sexuality and appeared to confirm safeguards for gay students will be delayed until after the religious discrimination bill.

The attorney general’s department’s submission to two inquiries states that changes to the Sex Discrimination Act will wait for a further review 12 months after the bill passes, despite a purported deal with four Liberal MPs to prevent expulsion of gay students at the same time, in exchange for their support of the religious discrimination bill.

Cash also personally walked back her reported commitment in December after a backlash from religious groups including the Australian Christian Lobby and Christian Schools Australia which threatened to scupper their support for the bill over the deal.

Liberal MPs Katie Allen, Dave Sharma, Angie Bell and Fiona Martin claimed they had won Cash’s agreement to remove section 38(3) from the Sex Discrimination Act, which allows schools to discriminate on sexuality and gender grounds.

The department’s submission reiterates that “the religious discrimination bill does not affect the operation of the Sex Discrimination Act”.

“In particular, the existing exemptions for religious educational institutions provided in section 38 of that Act are not affected.”

The department said religious exemptions will be considered by the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry, to report back 12 months after the bill passes.

The department noted although the bill does not affect schools ability to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation it “would allow a religious school to consider a person’s religious beliefs about issues such as sexuality” where it is part of the beliefs of the school.


Supply really is the key to housing: migration and negative gearing are secondary

Any country with as much land as we have and wages as high as ours, should have the most affordable housing in the world, not the least. For years governments, through inaction or special interest lobbying, have denied young Australians their chance at the Australian dream.

The longer the Tax and Revenue Committee investigated housing affordability, the more apparent it became that the usual scapegoats are convenient distractions from the real reasons for this intergenerational theft.

The planners and academics blamed migrants for high house prices. But in the last two years, prices climbed by over 20 per cent while our immigration intake was zero. Next scapegoat was investors. Since 2019 property investors fell to dangerously low levels. Supply of rental properties did not keep pace with demand. Now rent increases are making it more difficult for people buying their own home to save for a deposit.

Rental vacancies across our major cities are at their lowest levels in decades.

When these same special interest groups blame tax and social housing supply, but not private sector housing supply of course, you have to wonder whether they have much credibility.

None of this would matter if it did not drive so much of what our country feels like. Australia’s founders wanted a classless society. They wanted a place better than from where many of them came. The dividing line between the upper class and everyone else was property.

Our founders sought to obliterate that division by ensuring everyone had the chance to own a home. This is known as the Australian dream.

As Reserve Bank assistant governor Luci Ellis said, Australia is on the verge of dividing into two classes. Your future will be determined by whether your parents owned their home.

Widespread home ownership has far-reaching impacts. Firstly, it reduces wealth inequality. Analysis of Thomas Piketty’s data shows that a significant factor in wealth is whether you own your home. Treasury’s analysis of retirement incomes found that a large superannuation balance matters for little if you do not own the home in which you live.

When Tokyo liberalised planning laws, homelessness fell by over 80 per cent. This evidence runs counter to the popular narrative that only public housing reduces homelessness. Why is it that you can count on a butcher’s left hand the number of homeless advocates who have dared suggest that planning is a critical plank in reducing homelessness?

Finally, home ownership creates stable democratic institutions. Why are we undoing home ownership as a feature of Australian society?

The committee heard evidence from a range of experts.

There was the usual special interest pleading, some difficult to understand theories, and then some truly bewildering data which pointed to one inconvenient truth: our affordability challenge comes down to not building enough homes.

This is economics 101 – Marshall’s supply and demand curves. The Centre for Independent Studies, Grattan Institute and CoreLogic all demonstrated that Australia has been under-building for years. The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation provided evidence that builders face untenable risks caused by hidden council and state charges. NHFIC provided $24bn in concessional loans for social housing, but as Shelter Australia pointed out, the supply of social housing has not significantly changed in two decades.

Builders accused of land banking told stories of needing six permits to connect a pipe, waiting six months to get approval for wood in a staircase, or being told by one department to remove trees while being told by another to plant more.

Indigenous groups complained that charges in the Pilbara are higher than the price of a home. Houses do not get built, people go homeless, and homes are overcrowded.

Housing Industry Australia showed that 50 per cent of the cost of a home and land package is state and local government ­charges.

The NSW Treasury noted that to just keep pace with demand, NSW needed to build 42,000 houses a year. Housing targets are short of this. Even then only one out of 35 Sydney councils are meeting these abysmal targets. Just one.

In the US, people have been leaving highly regulated planning districts like San Francisco (city with the worst homelessness), for more liberal Texas. These include Tesla, Facebook and Amazon. Liberal planning systems bring entrepreneurs and jobs that are better quality with higher pay.

The econometric modelling is unambiguous: planning laws are contributing about half of what Australians pay for their homes. Negative gearing is adding, maybe, 4 per cent. The focus of the debate is inverse to the cause.

There could be many reasons for this, but highest on my list is that the very people constraining supply are the ones benefiting from it. The higher home prices are, the higher taxes are.

Shifting the blame to other governments, migrants, investors and builders is just part of their game, while the rest of us suffer the consequences of our nation being unmade before our very eyes.




Sunday, January 16, 2022

Fully Vaccinated Australians In Hospital For COVID-19 Surpass Unvaccinated

This sounds a bit alarming at first but it just reflects that the vaccinated are a much larger pool to draw from

For the first time, New South Wales (NSW) has seen more fully vaccinated patients hospitalised with COVID-19 compared to the number of unvaccinated patients as the Omicron outbreak continues to edge toward its peak.

Data published by the NSW government’s COVID-19 Critical Intelligence Unit has revealed that as of Jan. 9, 68.9 percent of COVID-19 patients aged 12 and over in hospitals had two doses of the vaccine, with 28.8 percent unvaccinated.

The number of double-dose vaccinated patients in intensive care units (ICUs) also surpassed those of the unvaccinated, with 50.3 percent of the vaccinated presenting to ICU with COVID-19, more than the 49.1 percent who are unvaccinated.

However, based on the data presented, unvaccinated individuals appear to be six times more likely to be hospitalised and nearly 13 times more likely to be sent to ICU than those who are fully vaccinated.

This is considering that the number of unvaccinated patients appears to be over-represented in the figures—7.3 percent of the NSW population aged 12 and over at the time were unvaccinated, but they made up half of the COVID-19 ICU patients in the NSW Health system. At present, Australia does not permit alternative treatments, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which are available and used in other countries.

According to NSW Health, 95.1 percent of people aged 16 and over have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 93.7 percent have received two doses as of Jan. 11.

The rise in the proportion of hospitalisations amongst the fully vaccinated comes both amid the spread of the Omicron variant of the CCP virus in Australia, along with the loss in the efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

A spokesperson for NSW Health told The Epoch Times on Jan. 11 that Omicron had supplanted Delta as the primary variant spreading in NSW, but that it also appeared to be less dangerous than its predecessor.

“The Omicron variant is associated with a lower rate of hospitalisation and ICU admission,” the spokesperson said.

While the state recorded 32,155 cases of the virus on Jan. 9, 2,030 were hospitalised, and only 159 had been sent to ICU. As of Jan. 12, the total number of cases has jumped to 53,909, with 2,242 hospitalised and 175 in ICU.

“NSW Health urges the community to continue to practise COVID-safe behaviours to keep themselves and the community safe, including wearing a mask indoors, maintaining physical distancing, and practising hand hygiene.”

The spokesperson also reminded those eligible to receive their third booster dose of an available COVID-19 vaccine—which can now be done four months after receiving the second dose—to raise the effectiveness of immunity granted by the vaccine.

“We continue to encourage everyone who has not yet done so to get vaccinated and anyone who is now eligible for their booster dose to get it without delay. The COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia are safe and very effective at reducing the risk of serious illness and death.”

In the United States, it has been reported that 2 out of the three available COVID-19 vaccines dropped below 50 percent efficacy after six months, according to a study published in November 2021.

To combat this, NSW has mandated booster shots for all education staff, joining other states that have implemented vaccine booster requirements.

NSW is also currently working to better understand the effects of the new COVID-19 variants.

“NSW Health is prioritising the whole genome sequencing of COVID-19 for patients in ICU in order to better understand the impact of both the Delta and Omicron variants,” the spokesperson said


Is Australia weathering the climate storm?

Australia has benefited from the effects of two La Nina years, much to chagrin of catastrophists.

In a land of boom and bust, feast and famine, drought and flooding rains, it is a time of plenty. For the nation’s climate catastrophists, an inconvenient set of realities has captured the natural world. Back-to-back La Nina weather systems plunged Australia’s average temperatures in 2021 to their lowest levels in a decade.

Rains that were predicted by experts either not to come or to fall out of phase with agricultural needs have failed to heed the script. The nation’s great river systems have been recharged after a period of extended drought that some thought would never end. Dams and water catchments are full and agricultural production is at record levels. The Great Barrier Reef is tracking levels of healthy coral cover not seen for decades across its entire system, an area the size of Italy.

Scientists insist the underlying warming trend, suppressed by La Nina, is still there. But for nature lovers everywhere the present conditions reinforce a belief that nature is not broken, the natural cycles continue to operate and that resilience persists on land and at sea.

The Great Barrier Reef has become a proxy for the existential threat of climate change. But the latest results from long-term monitoring by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows that coral growth has been recorded in all regions. Hard coral cover on the Northern Reef has risen from a low in 2017 of 13 per cent to 27 per cent last year. For the Central region, hard coral cover has risen from a low of 11 per cent in 2012 to 26 per cent. In the Southern region hard coral cover has risen from a low of 12 per cent in 2011 to 39 per cent.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the AIMS report “shows that despite a decade of impacts such as marine heatwaves, the Great Barrier Reef is still a resilient ecosystem and can recover from extreme events if disturbance-free periods are long enough”. Despite the bounce-back in coral cover, the Great Barrier Reef remains subject to an international push to have it listed as a World Heritage asset in danger.

For farmers, the news is also positive.

The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics says the value of agricultural exports in 2021 is a record high. When the final numbers are in, production is expected to have increased year on year for every major livestock commodity and almost every major crop commodity – with farmers forecast to produce the largest volume ever. ABARES executive director Dr Jared Greenville says Australia is enjoying an extraordinary combination of favourable conditions and 30-year price highs. “It would be the first time in at least half a century that production will increase for so many products at the same time,” Greenville says.

Things will change, of course. Booming vegetation fed by healthy rains will dry out once La Nina passes, intensifying the risk of bushfire. There is still a chance that elevated sea temperatures will cause problems for some areas of the Great Barrier Reef this year.

But according to the Bureau of Meteorology annual climate statement, 2021 was the coolest year in nearly a decade and wettest since 2016. By the end of 2021 – and for the first time in five years – no large parts of the country were experiencing rainfall deficits and drought conditions.

This week, Sydney’s Warragamba Dam was at 100 per cent capacity and the average across the Greater Sydney catchment is 96.9 per cent. In southeast Queensland, the Wivenhoe Dam, used for water storage and flood mitigation, is at 52 per cent but other dams in the region are full and spilling across the catchment. In Melbourne, storage levels are at 89.5 per cent.

Announcing BoM’s 2021 temperature data, climatologist Dr Simon Grainger says: “After three years of drought from 2017 to 2019, above-average rainfall last year resulted in a welcome recharge of our water storages but also some significant flooding to eastern Australia.”

In 2021, Australia’s mean temperature was 0.56C above the 1961-1990 climate reference period. It was the 19th-warmest year since national records began in 1910, but also the coolest year since 2012. Rainfall was 9 per cent above the 1961-1990 average, making 2021 the wettest year since 2016, with November the wettest on record.

Visitors to Sydney’s Bondi Beach enjoy the arrival of higher summer temperatures. Picture: NCA Newswire/Flavio Brancaleone
Visitors to Sydney’s Bondi Beach enjoy the arrival of higher summer temperatures. Picture: NCA Newswire/Flavio Brancaleone
Of course, Australia is not the world.

According to figures released by US space agency NASA on Friday, Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2021 tied with 2018 as the sixth-warmest on record. Global average temperatures in 2021 were about or about 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the late 19th-century average, the start of the industrial revolution.

A separate, independent analysis by US weather agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also concluded that the global surface temperature for 2021 was the sixth-highest since record-keeping began in 1880.

“The complexity of the various analyses doesn’t matter because the signals are so strong,” says Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS, NASA’s leading centre for climate modelling and climate change research. “The trends are all the same because the trends are so large.”

NOAA says many factors affect the average temperature in any given year, such as La Nina and El Nino climate patterns in the tropical Pacific. NASA scientists estimate the La Nina weather pattern may have cooled global temperatures by about 0.03 degrees Celsius from what the average would otherwise have been.

But at a time when the United Nations has declared “Code Red for humanity” because of climate change, on the ground there is evidence that things are not being received quite as the headlines would suggest. This has implications for green groups wanting to harness public support to push for nature. And for politicians on the hustings looking for advantage in a tightly contested federal poll.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has been testing public opinion on nature and been surprised at what it found.

Ninety-five per cent of those surveyed say it is important to preserve nature for future generations to enjoy.

This sentiment was shared across all voting groups including Liberal, National, Labor and Greens. On the question of feeling deeply connected to nature in Australia, the biggest response was among National voters on 86 per cent, higher than among Greens voters on 79 per cent. Counter to the narrative of environmental doom, respondents overwhelmingly felt the state of the environment was excellent, good or fair. Only 13 per cent thought the state of nature was poor or terrible.

Climate change was listed as a concern by 74 per cent of respondents, behind bushfires, floods and plastic waste. Cost-of-living pressures was the biggest concern for 95 per cent of respondents. Only 32 per cent could be considered “active nature protectors” or “diehard nature worriers”, with the majority “hopeful”, “detached” or “unconcerned”.

According to the report, active nature protectors and diehard nature worriers believe nature is in a fair or poor state while all other segments believe it is good or excellent.

ACF nature campaigner Jess Abrahams says green groups must learn the lessons of the climate wars and have a message other than catastrophe. He uses the cry-wolf analogy of a fire alarm that is tuned out because it never stops ringing. The findings are in line with published research that the indiscriminate use of negative appeals results in emotional burnout and a decreased likelihood of acceptance of any messages – even the important ones.

Abrahams says the survey, conducted by research group fiftyfive5, is a strategy document and represents the new approach that ACF will take.

“We need to speak to more than just the deep green and this has given us a lot of help on how to do that,” Abrahams says.

“It is a love message – tapping into people’s love of nature. People who vote Nationals report a stronger connection to nature than almost the Greens.

“A lot of people who are very sceptical about the climate debate are really knowledgeable and passionate about mangroves and fish breeding and the impacts of dredging. People in regional areas have a deep understanding of these issues.”

For campaigners, there is frustration that positive attitudes to the state of the environment do not properly reflect the full suite of research. That challenges exist will be confirmed in the upcoming State of the Environment report, due for release early this year.

But the results of the ACF research put a fresh perspective on how the major parties can approach their environmental credentials in the looming federal poll. Anthony Albanese has spent the past week on a tour of North Queensland, a vital area for the ALP given its comprehensive loss at the last election on the back of its perceived anti-coal and climate change message. This time, the message from Labor has been love of the Great Barrier Reef but support for mining as well.

Albanese says the market will decide if it was still profitable to dig coal up to burn for energy and, if that was the case, any project that clears environmental hurdles should go ahead.

Albanese told journalists he had no appetite for “these games” on coal.

“We have a positive message for Queenslanders. It’s one of regional jobs. It’s one of making sure there is secure work,” Albanese said in Cairns. “Existing power stations will continue to exist for the lifespan that’s been established. With regard to exports of resources, they’re dependent upon international markets, but they won’t be affected by our policy.”

Albanese says the ALP will “make sure that we provide support for the reef” to “make sure that it’s never ever put on that (World Heritage in Danger) list”.

The challenge for Labor is to narrow the gap between itself and the Morrison government on climate action without surrendering support in inner-city seats where it faces competition from the Greens.

The Morrison government has moved closer to the centre as well, adopting a net-zero target for 2050. The decision was taken in the lead-up to the much-hyped Glasgow climate conference and was in tune with the demands of corporations and international peers. But agreeing to a net-zero target for 2050 has given the Coalition less room to move against Labor. And despite embracing net zero, the Coalition is facing its own challenge in inner-city seats from climate independents bankrolled by businessman Simon Holmes a Court under the C200 banner.

On the hustings, concerns about supply lines and availability of rapid antigen tests are swamping the climate message.

Internationally, two months on from Glasgow, the World Economic Forum has put “climate action failure” at the top of the list in its 2022 Global Risks Report but the global politics of climate change is strained.

Glasgow ended with deep divisions between developed nations and the developing world on plans to stop the use of fossil fuels. Since then, the International Energy Agency has said global demand for coal will reach record levels in 2022 and continue to surge for at least three years.

“All evidence indicates a widening gap between political ambitions and targets on one side and the realities of the current energy system on the other,” the IEA says.

“This disconnect has two clear implications: climate targets are getting further out of reach, and energy security is at risk.”

Increased coal use is being driven primarily by China and India but it is also rising in Europe, Britain and the United States. Rising prices for gas have at least temporarily ended a trend of switching from coal to gas for power generation.

Faced with a shortage of energy partly due to the intermittency of wind generation, the European Union is preparing to approve gas and nuclear energy as “green” fuels, outraging environment groups.

But politicians everywhere are starting to feel the heat of rising energy costs.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the push against coal in Glasgow, is being warned the energy crisis represents a threat to his government.

Climate scientists rightly insist that the La Nina cycle, which has cooled temperatures across the globe, does not undermine the longer warming trend.

But the reverse is also true. Peaks in temperature and heightened bushfires that coincide with the El Nino phase must also be considered outliers rather than the norm.

US climate scientist Judith Curry says the latest IPCC report is less alarmist on future warming, discounting extreme scenarios and reducing the best estimate sensitivity of climate to rising levels of CO2.

The big unknown, Curry says, is the future impact of natural climate variability.

“It looks like all the modes of natural climate variability are tilted towards cooling over the next three decades,” Curry says in an interview published on her website.

“It looks like we’re heading towards a solar minimum. Any volcanic eruptions by definition are negative. And we expect the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation to shift to the cold phase on the timescale of about a decade.

“So all of these modes of natural variability point to cooling in the coming decades. This buys us decades to figure out what we should do.”

But despite lower average temperatures in 2021, NASA says there is no less cause for alarm.

“Science leaves no room for doubt: Climate change is the existential threat of our time,” says NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “Eight of the top 10 warmest years on our planet occurred in the last decade, an indisputable fact that underscores the need for bold action to safeguard the future of our country – and all of humanity.”

NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt told the Associated Press the long-term trend is “very, very clear. And it’s because of us. And it’s not going to go away until we stop increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”.

But Curry says a sustained cooling would force people to reconsider. “If I’m right about natural variability having sort of a cooling effect in the coming decades, this will be the one piece of evidence that people will have to pay attention to,” she says.

“If that transpires, I would say that would be the single most effective thing at bringing this dialogue back to some level of rationality, but how much confidence do I have in that prediction? How much money am I going to bet on that?

“I don’t know, but it’s a very plausible scenario that natural variability will lead to cooling in the coming decades, or at least slow down the warming.

“On the current path, we are not managing this risk in a sensible way that would leave our countries stronger and less vulnerable to whatever may transpire in the future.


Covid-19: The kids are not all right

As schooling systems struggle to manage head-spinning changes to Covid-19 rules, many parents are despairing over possible delays to classrooms reopening. Already Queensland has postponed the start of term one for a fortnight, and South Australia is staggering the return to school for various year levels.

Open-air classrooms on verandas or under trees, air filters, rapid testing and hybrid models of classrooms and remote learning are the most likely scenarios as education departments rush to rewrite the school rules to deal with the wildfire Omicron outbreak.

Despite the eagerness to resume children’s education, many families are reluctant to send kids to school at the peak of a pandemic they have been conditioned to fear.

The Parenthood, an advocacy group for Australian parents, says the changing rules are confusing and distressing for families.

“Parents are unsure of what to do and children are asking lots of questions,’’ The Parenthood executive director Georgie Dent tells Inquirer.

“Many parents are really concerned about children being back in the classroom at the peak of the outbreak, while others are concerned about the mental health impact and do want their kids go back to school.

“Before Christmas hundreds of cases in a single day were of really serious concern and now we’ve ballooned to 100,000 cases a day and (politicians) are saying that’s OK – that’s a really big leap.’’

Teachers, burnt out by two years of on-off remote teaching, are threatening classroom boycotts unless governments do more to protect them in their workplace.

Scott Morrison invoked the wrath of teacher unions when he revealed on Thursday that national cabinet had exempted teachers and childcare workers from close contact isolation requirements.

Promising a more detailed back-to-school plan next week, he hinted that teachers would be given access to free rapid antigen (RAT) tests for regular surveillance testing of Covid-19.

Morrison warned that school closures would worsen the 10 per cent workforce absenteeism rate to 15 per cent, as parents would be forced to stay home to look after children.

“Schools open means shops open,’’ Morrison declared after the national cabinet meeting. “Schools open means hospitals are open. It means aged-care facilities are open. It means essential services and groceries are on the shelves.

“Childcare and schools are essential and should be the first to open and last to close where possible.’’

With 500 childcare centres closed this week due to Omicron outbreaks, the prognosis looks bleak for a seamless return to school at the end of the month. Only 6 per cent of primary school students have had their first dose of Covid-19 vaccines, although 75 per cent of high school students are double-jabbed.

Australian Education Union (AEU) president Correna Haythorpe is furious that teachers are being treated like “babysitters’’ so other parents can go to work.

“The vast majority of children will not be vaccinated for the return to school and that is of deep concern to our members because Omicron is highly transmissible,’’ she tells Inquirer.

“A two-week delay may not be long enough, and some states may have to shift to remote learning.’’

The union is urging teachers to stay home if they don’t feel safe working in classrooms.

“We will be saying to members that if you feel unsafe or uncertain or worried you are potentially putting other people at risk, you should not be going into a school environment,’’ she says.

“You should still be paid. If you are a close contact but not ill, you can work remotely. It’s not industrial action – members have sick leave and so on they can access.’’

The union’s advice flies in the face of national cabinet’s decision to lump teachers in with other essential workers who can continue working even if a household member is sick with Covid-19, provided they have no symptoms and a negative test.

Haythorpe says teachers should have access to free rapid tests, which are now even harder to find than masks were at the start of the pandemic.

“Teachers have worked so hard to provide education, whether remote or face-to-face, to put the students first,’’ she says.

“To be told the reason schools need to be open is for workforce considerations, rather than prioritising the education of our young people safely, is deeply offensive.

“You can’t on the one hand say teachers are essential and must go to work, and on the other hand not provide them with the essential tools that are needed to ensure their safety and the safety of students in their care.’’

National cabinet is working on the fine details of a back-to-school operational plan to cover potential school closures, infection control, mask wearing and surveillance testing for Covid-19.

Under the plan, schools and childcare centres are deemed to be essential “and should be the first to open and the last to close wherever possible in outbreak situations, with face-to-face learning prioritised’’.

State leaders have agreed that “no vulnerable child or child of an essential worker is turned away’’ from classrooms, implying that even if schools shut down, a skeleton teaching staff will be required to supervise children onsite.

As always, the states are going their own way: Victoria and NSW are adamant that schools will open on schedule but Queensland has postponed term one by two weeks, with Year 11 and 12 students starting remote learning a week before other kids head back to class.

South Australia is staggering return dates for different year levels, and is “looking closely’’ at the use of air purifiers in schools as it works to improve natural ventilation in classrooms.

A NSW Education spokesperson says that schools will be “made Covid-19 safe through a combination of physical distancing, mask wearing, strict hygiene practices and frequent cleaning of schools’.’ Rapid antigen test kits will also be used.


International students allowed to work more hours to help ease COVID worker shortage

Foreign students will be allowed to pick up more hours to help alleviate worker shortages as more people are forced into isolation due to Australia's Omicron COVID-19 outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the federal government will remove the 40-hour-a-fortnight cap on student visa-holder workers, meaning they will no longer have restrictions on the amount of hours they can work.

Forty-hour work limits on international student visa-holders were lifted for people in the tourism and hospitality industry in May last year.

Mr Morrison encouraged international students to return to Australia, and backpackers are also allowed into the country under working holidays visas, on the condition they are fully vaccinated.

There have been worker shortages in the food distribution and manufacturing industries recently because a large number of workers have had to isolate due to a surge of coronavirus cases.

Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA) CEO Mark McKenzie told the ABC the decision was welcome news for petrol-station owners.

"The extension of visa hours would provide a major relief in a pressure point we currently have in our workforce," Mr McKenzie said.




Friday, January 14, 2022

The hottest temperature ever recorded in Australia on Thursday

Recorded by whom? The BoM record does not go back very far and gets more unreliable the further back it goes. As Watkin Tench observed, in 1790 in Sydney, birds and bats were dropping dead out of the trees it was so hot. I know of no such indidents in recent times

Australia has recorded its equal hottest day ever on Thursday as large swathes of the country endure hot, humid and sticky weather.

The town of Onslow, on Western Australia's northwest coast, reached 50.7C just before 2.30pm on a sweltering day for the Pilbara.

The previous hottest day ever recorded in Australia of 50.7C was set in the outback South Australian town of Oodnadatta back in 1960.

The weekend is looking milder in other parts of the country with possible rain in Sydney on Friday and Saturday but clearing by Sunday and maximum temperatures not exceeding 30C.

Brisbane will be slightly warmer seeing temperatures reaching the low 30s but there will be relief from the rain with fine weather forecast.


Republic model a hybrid horror doomed to sink

The latest model for an Australian republic is a radical, dangerous and impractical experiment with democracy.

If implemented, it would politicise the election of an Australian head of state and risk undermining the authority of the prime minister by having a popularly elected president.

Under the new model, the constitutional power of the states and territories would be greatly enhanced. Each would be allowed to nominate its own candidate for an Australian head of state, while the federal parliament could nominate up to three candidates.

A direct election would also be required. The public would be forced into choosing the head of state from an unwieldy shortlist of nine to 11 candidates determined by the selections made by state, territory and commonwealth parliaments.

This is not the elegant model Australia needs as it contemplates the shift towards becoming a republic – a transition it should make and which is being brought into greater focus as the Queen enters her final twilight years.

The Australian Republic Movement has instead proposed a model that would present profound new challenges for Australian democracy.

Firstly, the large shortlist at the popular vote would increase the risk of a political-style contest emerging between candidates, each of whom would be free to run their own populist campaigns.

The states would be likely to back their own candidates and there is no bar on former politicians being nominated, meaning a candidate like Julia Gillard could be endorsed by Victoria and pitched against other well-known former politicians endorsed by other states.

Secondly, a preferential voting system would apply under the new model proposed by the ARM. This could see a new head of state or Australian president elected on only a small primary vote of perhaps as little as 20 per cent. It would also encourage politicking. What is to stop deals being struck between presidential nominees just as they are between political parties, with candidates telling supporters who to preference on the ballot paper?

The successful presidential candidate would be the person who maximised the preference flow.

Thirdly, the proposal fundamentally changes the constitutional system where the governor-general is appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister. The states have no voice in this process. But the new model would imbue them with constitutional authority.

What is the reason for this? One explanation is that for any model to succeed, it would need to win the support of a majority of states as well as a majority of the national vote.

The question is whether the ARM is attempting to secure success at the expense of the most constitutionally sound model.

Finally, the objections to a directly elected head of state would still remain. The ARM model still insists on a popular vote to ensure an Australian head of state remains “in the hands of voters”.

This means the president is elected by the people and the prime minister is not.

Tony Abbott, one of the most prominent opponents to an Australian republic, immediately seized on the problem.

“A president accountable to the people would be a rival to the prime minister accountable to the parliament, and government would become unworkable,” he said.

This problem would be especially acute in the event of a demagogic populist making the presidential shortlist.

The unsuccessful 1999 referendum was sunk by the division within the republic movement over whether the head of state should be elected through a special majority of federal parliament or directly by the people.

The new ARM proposal is trying to satisfy both camps – this is a hybrid model. But this is also its weakness. It is too complicated, impracticable and presents unacceptable risks to Australia’s democratic system.

Its chances of winning the support of both sides of politics are slim.


Aged care home bans loved ones from waving at residents through windows to stop COVID spread

How absurd. Sounds like some apprentice Hitler at work

Extreme 'no visitors' policies are being imposed on distressed residents in COVID-19 affected aged care homes in Queensland, with one facility banning visitors from even waving through windows.

The policies, which potentially breach the industry code of practice, are being implemented as the homes grapple with an explosion of COVID-19 cases.

More than 52 facilities in Queensland have now reported at least two infections, according to federal Health Department statistics, and yesterday three people in residential aged care died from COVID-19 in the state.

Aged care homes have brought in rolling lockdowns in some cases to try and combat the infections while dealing with staffing shortages and delays in COVID-19 testing.

However, exacerbating aged care residents' stress appears to have been a mixed interpretation of visitor policies during the lockdowns, some of which have been occurring intermittently since before Christmas.

The Council on the Ageing (COTA) code of practice for the industry states aged care residents are entitled to have an "essential visitor" regardless of the COVID-19 outbreak status in a facility.

But yesterday, the ABC obtained correspondence from a Bundaberg aged care home sent to relatives of the home's residents that appeared to contradict the code.

The January 12 correspondence from the Churches of Christ-operated Gracehaven Aged Care Service stated the Queensland government's "public heath department" had made a "no visitors" ruling.

"While we are in lockdown, relatives are not allowed to visit their loved ones, either outside a window or outside in our garden area,'' the correspondence from the management of the Gracehaven home at Bundaberg said, which was sent on January 12.


Australian-made RATs await bureaucratic approval amid rapid antigen test shortage

As Australians struggle to get hold of a COVID-19 rapid antigen test, several Australian companies have been waiting months for local approval of their RATs.

Currently, only one of the 22 home tests approved by Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is made locally, with 16 sourced from China, two from the US and the others from Korea, Singapore and Germany.

However, with the global Omicron wave seeing demand for RATs surging around the world, there are concerns Australia's current supply shortage could be exacerbated if planned shipments are diverted elsewhere.

In particular, with the vast bulk of Australia's tests coming from China, a worsening Omicron outbreak there could further threaten supply if tests bound for export were requisitioned by the Chinese government.

Several Australian companies have developed COVID RATs locally, although at least two are waiting on TGA approval for tests that are already in use in Europe or North America.

Brisbane-based AnteoTech is one of those.

Its chief executive Derek Thomson, told the ABC that a lack of supply was inevitable during major waves of new COVID variants such as Delta and Omicron without much earlier planning and investment by Australian governments.

"We were always going to run out of supply, and that's exactly what happened over the Christmas period," he said. "It caught the governments on the hop, caught all the manufacturers on the hop.

"And so we're in the position that we're in. We've got a massive wave, we're saying that the frontline defence to that wave is rapid antigen testing, and no-one can buy one. So it's a disaster."

AnteoTech has received some government funding, such as a $1.4 million commitment from the Queensland government early in 2021 and a nearly $2 million refund under the federal Research and Development Tax Incentive Scheme.

However, despite the financial support, the lack of government support for using RATs in Australia meant the company's focus shifted to Europe.

"We obviously could have poured a lot of money into the Australian market but, when we looked at it, the governments had a stance or policy that they weren't going to use RATs," Mr Thomson explained.

"There was really no indication that the governments were going to change their policies or stance around the use of RATs."

Another Brisbane-based company, Ellume, also looked offshore to market its RAT, already selling millions of tests to the US government and through retail outlets there, although the ABC understands it is now also in the process of seeking regulatory approval for its tests in Australia.