Thursday, April 30, 2020

Australia could get 90% of electricity from renewables by 2040 with no price increase

On windy nights only, presumably.  What do you do when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine? They talk blithely of pumped hydro and batteries but omit to mention that the costs for both are vast while the output is trivial

Australia could get 90% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2040 without an increase in power prices, according to an analysis by the energy and carbon consultancy RepuTex.

Under current government policies, the country is on track to have 75% of its electricity generated by renewables within 20 years, but the analysis suggests a weak federal policy framework would lead to wholesale prices rising for a period after 2030.

RepuTex’s latest outlook for the national energy market finds investment driven by state policies, including renewable energy targets in Victoria and Queensland, will help keep wholesale electricity prices down throughout the 2020s.
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But it says wholesale prices would rise again in the 2030s without federal policy to encourage investment in new clean energy generation before ageing coal-fired power stations close.

RepuTex examined two scenarios, one that forecasts wholesale electricity prices under current government policies, and another that forecasts prices under the Australian Energy Market Operator’s more ambitious “step change” scenario that uses a carbon budget in line with the Paris agreement. It has made a summary of its report and methodology, but not the full report, available on its website.

Under current policies, Australia would reach 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 75% by 2040, despite the absence of a federal policy framework beyond the underwriting of new generation investment scheme.

The report finds new investment would be driven by state-based policies and renewable energy targets, which RepuTex forecasts would bring about 17 gigawatts of new capacity by 2030, along with 4GW of rooftop solar and 3.5GW of new storage capacity.

The falling costs of clean technology would put pressure on coal and gas generation and lead to 18GW of thermal capacity exiting the market by 2040. It forecasts wholesale prices would remain at roughly the current level, between $50 -$70 a megawatt hour, over the next 10 years. Wholesale electricity prices have fallen by nearly 50% over the past year.
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“As new renewable energy and storage projects such as Snowy 2.0 are commissioned, along with the continued uptake of small-scale resources, traditional volumes for black coal and gas-fired capacity are likely to be eroded,” RepuTex’s head of research, Bret Harper, said.

But the report finds that a disorderly closure of coal-fired power stations would push wholesale prices up in the 2030s in the absence of federal policy to guide investment.

RepuTex found that an increase in wholesale prices could be avoided under the more ambitious scenario, forecasting that average annual prices in the 2030s would remain below $80/MWh. The step change scenario sets out an emissions budget for the electricity sector that would lead to decarbonised energy systems by 2050, in line with the Paris agreement commitment of keeping global heating below 2C.

RepuTex forecasts this scenario would lead to Australia reaching 70% renewable energy generation by 2030 and 90% in 2040, and that the combination of more renewable energy, improved storage technologies and a carbon budget would be “fatal” for coal-fired power.

“The most interesting thing is we can have this decarbonised energy system and it won’t cost any more,” Harper said.

“In fact, it costs slightly less. Just in the last year even, energy storage costs have really come down, whether it’s battery or pumped hydro.”


Coronavirus in Australia: Eased restrictions ‘not too far away’, Scott Morrison says

Eased coronavirus restrictions are “not too far away”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, adding there is one thing all Australians need to do to speed up the process.

So far, more than 2.8 million people have downloaded and registered with the government’s COVIDSafe app.

Morrison likened having the app to applying sunscreen when being in the sun, saying millions more need to download it. “I would liken it to the fact that if you want to go outside, when the sun is shining, you have to put sunscreen on,” the PM said on Wednesday. “This is the same thing.

“If you want to return to a more liberated economy and society, it is important that we get increased numbers of downloads when it comes to the COVIDSafe app,” Morrison added.

“This is the ticket to ensuring that we can have eased restrictions and Australians can go back to the lifestyle and the many things that they previously were able to do, and this is important.”

The PM said he wants Australia to become “COVIDsafe” - which means “we can release the pressure”.

“We can release some of the stress which is in families and individuals across the country from isolation, and ensure they can get back to work, school, back to normal, get back to sport,” he added.

Morrison said he couldn’t see international travel “occurring anytime soon” but looks forward to when life in Australia goes back to normal. “The risks there are obvious,” he said of international travel.

“The only exception to that, as I have flagged, is potentially with New Zealand, and we have had some good discussions about that. “But I look forward to the time when Australians can travel again within Australia.”

He said mass gatherings wouldn’t be happening soon either, but flagged places of worship could open for private prayer.

“I look forward to the time where they can see, whether it is the AFL, the netball, the NRL, or whatever code they support, and being able to watch that again.

“But I can’t see them going along to a game for a while, those larger mass gatherings. “I can see, I suppose, the opportunity for those seeking private prayer in a place of worship, I can see that happening.

“I can’t necessarily, though, see the larger services occurring again.”


Coronavirus Australia: Deal could hold key to PM’s own kids returning to school

In a dramatic escalation of the fight to get teachers back into the classroom, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce a plan to put some “sugar on the table” and allow private schools to bring forward up to 25 per cent of their annual funding.

And the deal could hold the key to his own daughters Abbey and Lily returning to their Sydney private school after the Prime Minister complained he could not send them back until normal classroom teaching resumed.

The Prime Minister has insisted he would send his kids back to school “in a heartbeat’’ this term as long as the school was offering proper classroom teaching.

“I mean, they were sitting in a room looking at a screen, that’s not teaching, that’s childminding,’’ he said. “And schools aren’t for childminding. Schools are for teaching and they’re for learning.”

Sources have told that the NSW Government could be plotting a course towards a similar June 1 deadline for a majority of kids back at school, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirming: “We will see a return of face-to-face teaching from 11 May, and then will consider accelerating a full return to school as soon as possible.”

Education Minister Dan Tehan wrote to private schools on Tuesday night, noting recent claims that some private schools could be forced to close as cash-strapped parents fall behind in fees or switch to the public system. He is proposing to allow private schools to bring forward funding they would otherwise secure in July.

Schools can use the cash to purchase COVID-19 supplies including hand sanitiser and ‘deep clean’ classrooms.

In the letter obtained by, Mr Tehan insists that the medical advice is clear: it is safe for students to return to classes.

“There is very limited evidence of transmission between children in the school environment and … on current evidence, schools can remain fully open,’’ he writes.

“The purpose of this payment option is to financially assist … schools in their response to COVID-19, while also encouraging them to re-engage with their students in a classroom-based learning environment.”

To be eligible for the first payment of 12.5 per cent, private schools must comply with the condition of approval imposed on 9 April 2020 to be open for physical campus learning in term 2 and to have a plan to fully re-open classroom teaching by 1 June 2020.

For the second payment of 12.5 per cent, schools need to commit to achieving 50 per cent of their students attending classroom based learning by 1 June 2020.

NSW Catholic Schools CEO Dallas McInerny said for those schools that had offered parents fee relief the offer could prove attractive.  “There are educational and economic reasons why we want kids back in school. I think from week 3 you will start to see more of our schools heading back to full tilt,’’ he said.

“The main constraint is the availability of staff. Some Catholic schools have responded very generously with fee relief for families affected by COVID-19 and for those schools, this could prove attractive.”

Independent Schools Association CEO David Mulford said increasingly parents wanted children to return to classes. “I think there’s a growing sense parents want children back at school now,’’ he said.

“Noone has ever said it’s going to be the best solution, online learning. Some people thrive and others don’t. Some subjects thrive on it and others don’t.”

But the proposal is set to spark a furious backlash from teachers’ unions, who warn the rush back to classes is “risky” and could spark a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

According to the Independent Education Union representing teachers at private schools in Queensland and the Northern Territory, the current case to reopen schools to all students is a high-risk strategy.

Dr Adele Schmidt said current calls for schools to reopen ignored established research regarding the potential for students to infect scores of contacts with a disease in a given day.

“So much is still unknown about this disease and a shift back to ‘business as usual’ in our schools is a fraught and dangerous one – relying on claims that have not been well tested nor peer-reviewed about the infectivity of COVID-19 in students and students themselves as infection agents,” Dr Schmidt said.

“While early data on transmission of COVID-19 in New South Wales schools would appear to confirm that transmission among children is less common than for influenza – we don’t yet have robust data on virulence of the coronavirus in question.”


Australia Post hires hundreds, puts posties into vans to deliver parcels

Australia Post has put hundreds of its posties behind the wheels of delivery vans in an effort to keep up with a huge surge in demand as self-isolating Australians are buying more online.

The national postal service will also hire 600 casual workers across its network and call centres to manage the surge, which has led to "significant" delivery delays across the country.

Parcel volumes have been at Christmas-like levels for weeks, averaging almost 2 million a day since just before Easter. This marks a 90 per cent increase compared to the same time last year, acting chief operating officer Rod Barnes said.

"For the last four weeks, we have been operating our processing and delivery services seven days a week, with our dedicated staff working on rotation over the 24-hour period, each day," he said.

"We appreciate that delays can be frustrating and want to reassure that our people are working hard to get customers' parcels to them safely and as quickly as possible."

The company has also repurposed 15 sites across the country and turned them into processing facilities to sort parcels, and has chartered an additional eight freighter flights as the shutdown in commercial aviation limits access to passenger plane deliveries.

Australia Post has received regulatory relief from the federal government, which has lifted parts of its community service obligations to allow letter deliveries every two days in metro areas. Letter demand has halved in recent weeks.

Two thousand letter-delivering posties will now be retrained to deliver parcels, which the postal service hopes will reduce strain on the broader delivery network.

"In the last weekend alone this additional staffing allowed us to accept and process an unprecedented 3 million parcels into facilities from ecommerce customers," Mr Barnes said.

"To assist in getting these parcels to customers' doors, we have refocused 700 of our people, a mix of posties and drivers from our StarTrack business, to provide additional van deliveries across the country."

Mr Barnes asked for compassion in this unprecedented time and warned abusive behaviour towards employees would "not be tolerated".


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Solely digital learning isn’t fair or sustainable

If the best that can be said for digital education is that it’s useful for some months during an unprecedented pandemic, then there probably isn’t much to be said for it normally.

While it’s generally good to look on the bright side, it would be incredibly naïve to think the current situation for Australian schools presents more opportunities than threats.

The research on the efficacy of education technology is inconsistent.

Even in normal times, it is not clear that tech helps students to learn – and these are not normal times. It may benefit some highly motivated learners, but others will be worse off.

Making the transition for millions of Australian students to digital learning is arguably necessary as a temporary, emergency measure. But there is no strong evidence it is more effective than face-to-face classes.


Ban on GM crops set to go in South Australia

The South Australian parliament is set to pass legislation to lift a ban on genetically-modified crops on the state's mainland

Legislation to lift the ban on genetically modified crops on the South Australian mainland is set to pass state parliament after negotiations between the Liberal government and the Labor opposition.

Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone says under proposed amendments local councils will have six months to apply to remain GM-free, though a final decision will still rest with the minister.

Kangaroo Island will also remain GM-free.

"This agreement is a great outcome for South Australian farmers who will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of growing GM where that is best for their business," Mr Whetstone said.


Top medical authority says Australia in ‘the same position as New Zealand’

Although Australia has been less strict

Australia’s top medical official has claimed Australia was seeing similar results to New Zealand despite not pursuing the country’s “elimination” strategy.

Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said Australia was in a similar place to New Zealand where PM Jacinda Ardern says they’ve made significant strides towards eliminating coronavirus.

“There’s not a great difference between the aggressive suppression we are seeking, and elimination,” Prof Murphy told ABC’s 7.30 on Monday night.

Ms Ardern yesterday declared the country had “won the battle” against widespread community transmission of coronavirus, as the country eased some of its lockdown measures.

The country’s elimination strategy was enacted through lockdowns, with only essential services operating for more than four weeks and residents urged not to leave home.

But Prof Murphy said he was pleased with the results Australia were getting and said there was very little difference in the outcomes between Australia and New Zealand.

“The sort of numbers we’re getting at the moment … are pretty good, and if we can continue them as we expand our testing … that’s as good as elimination in many respects,” Prof Murphy said. “Elimination just means you’re not detecting any cases. It doesn’t mean you can relax.”

In New Zealand, a country with a population of five million, they’ve recorded a total 1122 cases of coronavirus. Of those infected, 19 have died.

Australia has recorded more than 6700 cases of coronavirus and 83 people have died from a population of 25 million.

Prof Murphy explained there could still be undetected coronavirus cases in the community, or asymptomatic carriers transmitting the virus.

“There’s not a great difference between the aggressive suppression we are seeking, and elimination.

“In fact we’re in pretty much the same position as New Zealand who have stated their claim to be one of elimination.” “We’re in a very similar place.”


‘A terrible tax’: Is it time to abolish stamp duty?

Stamp duty is back in the spotlight as the federal government draws up a raft of emergency plans and structural reforms to get the economy back on track after the devastation wrought by COVID-19.

Many key figures are urging the government to abolish stamp tax as an unwieldy weight on both the property market and people’s flexibility, making homes unaffordable for first-time buyers, and creating barriers for those wanting to move closer to work, upsize or downsize.

However, others argue that now isn’t the time for such sweeping change, when state governments are using stamp duty revenue for a major series of funding measures to soften the blow of the pandemic.

“Stamp duty is a terrible tax, it should be repealed and this is the perfect time to do it,” said Dr Shane Oliver, AMP Capital chief economist.

“It will have to be a gradual removal and replacement with some kind of land tax so later buyers aren’t unfairly affected.

“The problem with stamp duty is that it’s a massive impost on a single transaction which inhibits economic decision-making in a less-than-optimal way. But land tax would be levied on the value of land and applied to all landholders equally and be done in a much fairer way.”

The critical issue is the timing. With the Reserve Bank predicting the economy will shrink up to 10 per cent in the first half of this year, hours worked to plummet by 20 per cent and unemployment to remain over 6 per cent for the next couple of years, the danger is that stamp duty’s abolition could prove a deflationary move.

Yet Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe this week said, in planning the recovery, the first on the list of reform measures was “the way we tax income generation, consumption and land”.

It’s widely believed Dr Lowe was referring to a series of reports commissioned over the years with proposals to raise less money from state conveyancing duties on property transactions and income tax in the future, and more from state land taxes and GST.

Domain Group economist Trent Wiltshire co-authored a Grattan Institute report in 2018 on how to improve housing affordability, and recommended axing stamp duty in favour of a broad-based property tax.

He said removing stamp duty had the almost unanimous support of economists, academics, the Productivity Commission, Infrastructure Australia and government tax reviews.

Now, he still feels the same, but has doubts about the timing of such a move.

“Long term, reform will create benefits for the economy and boost the Gross Domestic Product significantly,” he said. “But those benefits take a while to accrue and whether now is a good time to do it … It’s not something that will provide a short-term boost to the market.

“Abolishing stamp duty and replacing it with a broad-based, flat-rate land tax is a policy that should be pursued and could be part of a whole bunch of reforms once we emerge from this, but it isn’t a policy that will help the market rebound over the next few months, and that’s what we need.”

The arguments for axing stamp duty include that it’s an inefficient tax, levied only on those buying property in any particular year, and makes property more expensive for both purchasers and then, by association, renters. It thus also becomes an obstacle for people – and businesses – wanting to move and is also expensive to collect, costing 70 cents for each dollar raised, according to Treasury modelling.

On the plus side, it raises a great deal of revenue for state governments which they now have never been more in need of, to arrest some of the economic fall-out from the pandemic.

But that sum does rise and fall, sometimes quite dramatically, according to the number of property transactions taking place, and the strength of the property market, making planning difficult.

State budget papers show that in NSW, for instance, stamp duty revenue in 2018-19 was $7.4 billion, down 24 per cent from 2016-17’s $9.7 billion. In Victoria, it slumped by 13 per cent over the same period to $6 billion in 2018-19.

Ken Morrison, chief executive of The Property Council of Australia, pulls no punches.

“There’s a consensus among economists and policy-makers that stamp duty is the worst thing in Australia,” he said. “It distorts behaviour, cripples job creation, lowers growth, and locks people into housing that might not be appropriate for their needs.

“Really, by anyone’s standards, it’s a terrible tax. There’s a lot of debate at the moment about corporate tax, but stamp duty is two times worse for the economy than company taxes and sets a new economic benchmark for worst taxes.

“We need to get the economy going and facilitate construction growth, and getting rid of stamp duty will help.”

However, he doesn’t like the idea of replacing it with a land tax as he says the rate would have to be too high to replace the revenue raised by stamp duty.

“Let’s rewind the decision to five to six years ago when we had GST being put on the table as the centrepiece for reform and getting rid of some of our worst taxes,” he said. “That’s what we would encourage governments to do as they move into reformist mode.”

Economic and policy consultants Urbanised Advisory Services is also advocating for the abolition of stamp duty. Managing director Stephen Albin says the whole system of property taxation needs urgent attention, and the time is ripe.

“It’s a bit of a mess at the moment and we should take the opportunity in the existing circumstances to really review the tax system and create different ways or securing revenue,” he said. “There should be more stable sources of revenue so the ebbs and flows don’t have such a major impact on budgets, and ways of making housing more affordable.

“There are good arguments for land tax to replace stamp duty and the Productivity Commission and Treasury are now looking at how they are going to levy taxes in the future. This is the perfect time for reform.” 

Stamp duty is certainly becoming an ever-greater cost of buying homes. According to Domain figures, stamp duty paid on a median-priced home went up between 2004 and 2019 by 102 per cent in NSW to a high of $42,269, 183 per cent in Melbourne to $44,164, and 189 per cent in Brisbane to $11,013.

“It’s an awful tax,” said Adrian Kelly, national president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia. “It’s most particularly a drag on first-home buyers, with the ANZ ceasing to offer mortgage insurance products – which I suspect the other banks will follow – which means they’re have to raise a 20 per cent deposit plus stamp duty.

“So it’s becoming an even bigger problem in the current climate. It also reduces the mobility of everyone else with the housing stock, including older people wanting to downsize to a smaller home, and people wanting to change jobs. We need a broader tax base, and one that doesn’t provide so many impediments to buying a home.” 


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

New rules for pubs and clubs

Widespread social distancing measures will have to be implemented at pubs, public transport, cinemas and local sporting ovals before they can re-open once Australia begins to ease its coronavirus lockdown measures.

Pub bosses are discussing a raft of rules to minimise social contact - including bans on communal items like pub buzzers, water jugs and plastic laminated menus.

A leading tourist board has also warned hotel buffets will not be open for service - with guests turning to in-room dining during the first phase of restriction easing.

'I think there will be a lot more in-room dining. People won’t be as keen to eat in the restaurant,' Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson told the Sunday Telegraph.

It comes as the federal government, health experts and state leaders work on plans to restart sport and get Australians back to work ahead of a review of coronavirus restrictions on May 11.

With a vaccine yet to be developed, the Australian Hotels Association said a 'new world order' should be expected when pubs open their doors again.

'They [pub owners] are thinking about anything that people touch – water jars at the end of the bar, those laminated menus, the buzzer,' the association's NSW chief executive officer John Whelan said.

'Live music is a real difficult one. Possibly seated. A lot of hotels are giving real consideration to everything. They all accept social distancing is here to stay for a while.'

Australian National University microbiologist Peter Collignon last week told Daily Mail Australia pubs and hotels may not return to normal until September - although they could re-open under strict conditions in July.

Sign-in and sign-out procedures to maintain contact tracing and a 50 per cent capacity limit at venues are among those measures being discussed by hospitality industry leaders.

The implementation of a staggered return to work could also reduce the risk of transmission on buses - accompanied by a ban on standing and preventing passengers from sitting next to each other.

Temperature checks of customers and staff may also become the norm in leagues clubs and cinemas. ClubsNSW, which represents 1,200 member venues, said patrons could be tested on arrival under a plan set to be reviewed by an infectious disease expert and then submitted to the state government for approval.

Spectators at community sports games may also have to socially-distance and keep a safe distance away from each other.

Hoyts CEO Damian Keogh is meanwhile overseeing the creation of a checklist ahead of a tentative plan to return to business for July. The 20-point checklist features a chequerboard-based seating plan in the chain's theatres and online payment being the only way to buy a ticket.


New school rules

Strict new rules have been introduced as children return to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Students in New South Wales will be banned from using playground equipment and bubblers when they return to their classrooms for term two next month.

They will also be banned from sharing food or pens, according to Department of Education rules.

Schools will also have to post any new COVID-19 cases that affect their school to their Facebook page to keep parents and caregivers informed, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Teachers will have to watch young students wash their hands to ensure they are doing it properly.

Hand sanitiser will be available in all classrooms and provisions are in place for at-risk teachers to work from home.

Drop off, pick up, recess and lunchtimes will also be staggered to ensure social distancing.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced this week the plan for children to gradually return to schools from May 11.

The plan will see students return for one day a week to ensure they comply with social distancing measures.

The education department plans to increase the number of days students are at school in a staged way and hope to have all children back at school full-time by Term 3.

During the first stage of on-campus learning, parents will be encouraged to keep their children home except on their allocated day of face-to-face learning. Initially, about a quarter of a school’s students are expected to be on site at any one time. 

Classes will be split across schools, allowing schools to appropriately social distance students and teachers.

'We are grateful to all families who kept their children home from school at the end of Term 1 and to teachers who worked tirelessly to deliver education online,' Ms Berejiklian said.

'This allowed us critical time to prepare our schools to develop better online learning options and for considering additional hygiene measures to allow schools to return.

'We know that nothing is more important than a child’s education, and we must begin to return our students to their classrooms in a considered way.'

Most students began remote learning in March after the Premier asked parents to keep their children at home.


UBI still an unbelievably bad idea

Opportunists across the political spectrum have been emboldened by the current crisis to propose all manner of terrible ideas.

And among the worst is the universal basic income (UBI) —  a payment to all citizens, unconditional on income or wealth, without any obligation to be in work or study.

Supporters have seized on the government’s pandemic JobKeeper scheme as evidence we’re finally ready to embrace a UBI.

Of course, fans see it as panacea in good and bad times alike.

In good times, it’s the supposed solution to virtually all economic, ecological, and social ills. And in the current crisis, they argue a UBI is uniquely suited to deal with the surge of unemployed, the strain on the welfare system, and the apparent fiscal willingness to spend.

But not only are they wrong to equate JobKeeper with a UBI, they’re also mistaken that the coronanomics support their case anyway.

The JobKeeper payment imposes an effective wage floor for those employed in businesses facing an immediate, massive fall in revenue. These extraordinary circumstances are expected to be temporary, and when the crisis eventually ends, so does the payment. The worker is expected to go back to work, or to seek work on Newstart.

That’s a far cry from the UBI, which is not only permanent, but also is designed to remove the obligation to seek work.

Moreover, UBI proponents fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the economic conditions and today’s world of work.

Rather than a permanent reduction in the demand for labour, the present shutdown is a temporary contraction in labour demand due to forced closures and social distancing (with related reductions in short run supply).

Moreover, if economic life under social distancing has taught us anything, it’s that work has been supported, not threatened, by technology (exactly the opposite of what UBI supporters have been claiming). Indeed, technological integration into work — and study for that matter — has been a lifeline, saving jobs and livelihoods for many.

The other claim is that the government’s unprecedented spending allegedly reflects a willingness for meeting a UBI’s exorbitant price tag. But the government’s big-spending economic rescue package has been forced by a temporary crisis; there is no evidence of a commitment to permanently bigger government.

Moreover, when the costs are being counted, there’ll surely be little left in the piggy bank to fund a UBI.

Good policy options in this crisis are hard to come by and there’s no shortage of terrible ones being prosecuted. Despite what the economic illiterates say, a UBI remains an unbelievably bad idea.


'Ready to go': Drought's end in sight after rains and more to come

Garry Hall, a cattle breeder, has had more rain since February than for all of 2018 and 2019, and the Macquarie River is flowing past his property at the rate of a billion litres a day.

And yet, as welcoming as the rains have been, they are well short of drought-breaking for his farm in northern NSW and the nearby Ramsar-listed wetlands. Both have struggled through a once-in-a-century dry spell.

"A large area of the Macquarie Marshes hasn't seen water yet," Mr Hall said. "It's pretty important to get it in there to start the long journey back".

That journey, though, has begun after widespread rain over NSW and other eastern states this year. Catchments have become wetter so follow-up falls will be more likely to create run-off and reach dams across the Murray Darling Basin. Odds for such rainfall have also improved for coming months.

Bureau of Meteorology charts show moisture level in the top 100 centimetres of soil improved sharply between last December and last month. NSW shows some of the biggest changes.

Still, Matthew Coulton, the bureau's acting general manager for water, said "drought means something different to everyone you talk to ... I don't think it's over for anyone yet". "It's important to remember that long droughts can have periods of green. It was 36 months of very hot and dry weather that led to the conditions we saw at Christmas," he said.

"It will take a lot more than two or three wet months to fill dams and get regional communities back on their feet."

Little of the rain has reached the big dams on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Burrendong Dam, which supplies much of the water for the Macquarie River, remains at 16.4 per cent full, while Keepit Dam on the Namoi is at just 13.7 per cent.

WaterNSW data shows catchment inflows of major rivers so far lag the most big flows in 2016-17.

Those dams and rivers, though, could be in for a relative wet winter and even into spring, as climatic conditions favouring above-average rains set in, according to the latest bureau outlook.

Waters in the Indian Ocean off north-western Western Australia are warmer than usual, a set-up that typically produces clouds that deliver moisture across Australia's centre and south-east, said Andrew Watkins, head of the bureau's long-range forecasting.

"If one of those north-west cloudbands interacts with a cold front or a cut-off low − that's when we get some big rainfall totals over a large area," Dr Watkins said.

With higher soil moisture levels and more cloud cover, overnight temperatures across most of Australia will also likely be milder than normal, he said. Days will be closer to average warmth.

"The drought's broken when Burrendong is full," said Mr Hall, adding the outlook for the Macquarie catchment is promising.

"Orange and Bathurst haven't had much rain − you wouldn't say it's oozing water," he said. Still, "it's primed, it's wet and ready to go".


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Monday, April 27, 2020

Coronavirus: We’re paying a high price for saving not many lives

The most absurd document published by an Australian government in recent times must be from Victoria’s Health and Human Services Department, which claimed 36,000 Victorians would have died from COVID-19 without the tough lockdowns brought in by Premier Daniel Andrews.

I understand governments, having made very costly interventions, have a strong incentive to “prove” how necessary they were. But surely the department could have been less ridiculous than claiming more than 0.5 per cent of the state’s entire population would have died? That’s far worse than anything Italy, Spain or New York has experienced so far. That’s a much greater share of Australians left dead than the vastly more lethal Spanish flu managed a century ago (0.28 per cent, according to recent research by Harvard economists), when doctors didn’t even have antibiotics.

Sweden, with a population half as large again as Victoria’s, has endured a little over 2000 deaths, and it has not imposed stage three lockdowns. Its cafes and bars have stayed open, with limited ­capacity.

“Some 36,000 Victorians would have died,” the 10-page analysis warns. “We have acted early and decisively to avoid catastrophic outcomes.”

New Zealand, which has become the poster child for fans of tough lockdown, now has 17 deaths attributed to COVID-19 — more than Australia, where states have gone nowhere near as far, adjusted for population.

Based on the simplistic Victorian analysis, Japan, South Korea and Sweden, which haven’t gone into lockdowns along Victorian lines, can expect deaths of 635,000, 256,000 and 51,500. These ­nations, all flirting with “catastrophe” according to Victoria, have respective death tolls so far of 330, 240 and 2021.

Garbage in, garbage out.

“Currently, the estimated Reff (the number of people an infected person will infect) in Victoria is 0.5; if Reff is kept below 1, an outbreak will slowly wane,” the Victorian analysis says.

Remarkably, analysis presented by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on Friday, based on an analysis of actual infection trends, estimated that the Reff was below 1 in every state and territory before the stage three lockdowns took effect late last month. In other words, the virus was waning in response to stage one and two restrictions (which caused much less economic damage) already.

However many lives the more onerous restrictions have saved, the cost is looking enormous and far more than we typically spend to save lives. If we’d followed the Swedish trajectory we might, crudely, have an extra 4500 fatalities by now (our population is 2½ times the size).

For the federal government alone, that works out at $48m per life saved, given the $214bn in budgeted federal assistance.

That’s more than 10 times the conventional estimate for the statistical value of a human life — “how much society is willing to pay to reduce the risk of death” — according to a 2014 federal government document from the Office of Best Practice Regulation.

And that’s only the raw cost to taxpayers of saving the life, not the bigger social and economic costs flowing from economic shutdown to slow the coronavirus.

Even if deaths mount considerably, as they are likely to, the excess focus on preventing COVID-19 deaths, as opposed to the 3000 other deaths a week in Australia, is likely to remain.

Ben Mol, a professor of obstetrics at Monash University, and Jonathan Karnon, a professor at Flinders University Medical Institute, argue what matters is life years saved, not lives per se. The median age of death from COVID-19 has been around 80 in Sweden and Australia.

This suggests an even greater over-reaction. “Assuming a willingness to pay $70,000 per life year saved, then Australia would, from a rational perspective, be prepared to pay not more than $3.8bn to justify the gained life years,” they tell Inquirer.

That’s about 1.2 per cent of the $320bn the government and Reserve Bank intend to spend to counteract stage three lockdowns, for which there’s no evidence.

“Non-emergency healthcare has stopped, resulting in significantly fewer people presenting with acute heart problems, stroke and other serious illnesses, which is causing unnecessary deaths. Some cancer screening has also ceased,” the two doctors say.

“Sweden is saving the 50-year-old from dying from cancer, stroke or a heart attack, while Australia saves the 79-year-old to die from COVID-19 at an economic cost which is a multiple of what we would normally allow in health care. We all wish we could save both, but that bid is not on the table,” they add.

To be sure, Sweden’s economy, heavily linked to the rest of Europe, still more or less in lockdown, has been hit hard, but its businesses have a greater chance of hanging on. Its jobless rate is expected to rise from about 7 per cent to 10 per cent, a far smaller increase than is expected here.

And people can still sit in the park, swim at the local pool and meet friends for dinner — which, while hard to put a dollar figure on, must be worth something.

Sweden refutes the idea that everyone would be cowering in their home even without severe restrictions. After all, in Europe 5 per cent of deaths from coronavirus are under-60s, and swathes of the population have it already.

Sweden won’t have to borrow as much, either: according to the International Monetary Fund, Australia’s stimulus effort — the biggest in the world — amounts to 10.6 per cent of gross domestic product; Sweden’s is 2.2 per cent.

The crisis has created an opportunity for extremists to remodel society with a much larger role for government, as former treasurer Peter Costello warned this week. Calls to permanently lift taxes, turn the JobKeeper payment into a universal basic income and nationalise swathes of the economy have grown louder.

The health sector unions and doctors will probably use the virus as leverage to obtain pay increases, even though only 43 people were in intensive care as of Friday because of coronavirus. Others simply enjoy seeing the growth of state control. After World War II, businesses that benefited from controls ­wanted to keep things as they were.

“No Australian wants to see hundreds of Australians dying a day of coronavirus,” Murphy said yesterday. No one does, but we need to be aware of the costs of saving some lives over others. Sadly, resources are limited.

We must ask whether we’re prepared to pay similar sums to save individual lives in the future. From the health sector’s standpoint, taxpayers can never spend too much on health. On April 1, Victoria ordered an extra 4000 intensive care beds (from existing capacity of 450), 551 million gloves and 100 million masks and 14.5 million gowns at a cost of about $2.5bn. Only 20 ­people were in an intensive care unit in Victoria yesterday from coronavirus.

When pandemic best-practice guides are written in coming years, having a well-resourced health system is likely to figure more highly than shutting down swathes of the economy. We might not be able to afford another response like this.


Queensland and Western Australia to lift some social distancing restrictions

As Australia successfully flattens the coronavirus curve, some states have decided to cautiously relax restrictions.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced some of the state's strict isolation measures would be relaxed on Saturday, May 2.

Speaking with reporters Sunday, Ms Palaszczuk said Queenslanders would be able to shop for non-essential items, go driving and have picnics.

They will also be allowed to meet with people not from their households and travel within 50km of their home.

Western Australian Premier Mack McGowan followed suit, announcing today that it would relax the two-person limit on indoor and outdoor gatherings from tomorrow, Monday, April 27. Up to 10 people will be allowed to gather for non-work activities, as the state recorded another day of no new COVID-19 cases.

The Premier stressed the changes were minor and that if Queenslanders did not act sensibly, the restrictions would be enforced again.

"I know these sound like strict rules, everyone, but we are in different times and I'm trying to be flexible and listen to what the public is saying," she said.

“So, if you are over 65 or over 70, and I know it’s really difficult for people being at home for long extended periods of time, I would suggest going for a drive during the week, Monday-Friday. Because on the weekends, it’s family time, and you won’t be in contact with children who are either being home schooled or the children of essential workers who are at school.”

She also explained that families would be able to have picnics, or if you are single, you can go with one other person.

“You will be able to go shopping for non-essential items like clothes and shoes. So at the moment, people are going out for essential items like going to the pharmacy and going to the grocery store,” she said. “Well, you will now be able to go to get a pair of shoes or to get a new shirt.

“But once again, we don’t want you spending hours in those shopping areas. It’s about making your list and going there, getting what you need and then coming home.

“Also, you’ll be able to go to national parks. We’ll be reopening our national parks, but the day use areas will not be open, nor will the toilets.”

Queensland was the first Australian state to relax COVID-19 restrictions after recording just three new cases of coronavirus on Saturday.

Here is what you need to know about Queensland’s plans.


 * It starts 11.59pm Friday, so effectively people will be free to move around on Saturday onwards for recreational purposes.


 * Travel has been restricted to 50km from your place of residence to prevent mass movement of people between cities and towns.


 * Definitely not. Social distancing of 1.5m and hygiene must be maintained and if it’s not adhered to, stay-at-home restrictions could return.

 * All other rules on gatherings, including limitations on the number of people who can visit a household, remain in place


 * Only members of the same household are permitted to gather in public, so it’s not a chance to party in a park.


 * You’re allowed to go for a drive for up to 50km from your home

 * You’re permitted to ride a motorbike, jetski or even spend time on a boat for pleasure

 * Shopping for non-essential items is also allowed but it does not mean the business you are visiting will be allowed to open

 * You can have a picnic with a family or visit a national park but be mindful toilet facilities will NOT be open.

 * The Queensland Government will review COVID-19 restrictions again in a fortnight.


Coalition is aiming to change Australia's environment laws before review is finished

The environment minister, Sussan Ley, has flagged the government may change Australia’s national environment laws before a review is finished later this year.

Ley said she would introduce “early pieces of legislation” to parliament if she could to “really get moving with reforming and revitalising one of our signature pieces of environmental legislation”.

It follows business groups and the government emphasising the need to cut red tape as part of the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and comes as the businessman Graeme Samuel chairs an independent statutory review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. An interim report is due in June, followed by a final report in October.

When the review was announced, the government said it would be used to “tackle green tape” and speed up project approvals.
Conservation plans help boost threatened mammals, scientists find

Environmental organisations have stressed the need for tougher environmental protections to stem Australia’s high rate of extinction. Australia has lost more than 50 animal and 60 plant species in the past 200 years and recorded the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world over that period.

Ley said, with the interim report due by the middle of the year, she expected Samuel would “in the course of the review, identify a range of measures that we can take to prevent unnecessary delays and improve environmental standards”.

“Where there are opportunities to make sensible changes ahead of the final EPBC review report, I will be prepared to do so,” she said.

On Thursday, Ley and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said work was already under way to speed up environmental assessments of projects and that the number of on time “key decisions” in the EPBC process had improved from 19% in the December quarter to 87% in the March quarter.

An environment department spokesman said key decisions covered three items in the assessment process: the decision on whether a project requires assessment under the act, the decision on what assessment method will be used, and the final decision on whether or not to approve the project.

“For the December quarter 2019, the Department met 19% of the 80 key decisions due that quarter. This increased to meeting the statutory timeframes for 87% of the 61 key decisions due in the March quarter 2020,” he said.

The environment department also publishes annual data on the percentage of EPBC-related decisions that are made on time. This data covers several types of decisions in the assessment process, not just the final approval of a project.
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In the 2018-19 financial year, 60% of decisions were made on time.

But it is not just project assessments that are subject to delays. Species assessments and recovery planning timeframes have also become longer in recent years.

Brendan Sydes, the chief executive of Environmental Justice Australia, said there was nothing preventing the government from making changes to the act before the review was complete. But he said it would be “a bit strange to act on draft recommendations rather than the final report”.

“Clearly the draft will be the first opportunity people have to scrutinise or see what the Samuel review is likely to recommend,” Sydes said.

He said the review was about more than just streamlining the act and there were other important priorities, including improving protections for threatened species.

“It really ought to be treated as a comprehensive package of reform if there are to be reforms after the review,” he said.

“No one opposes the act being as efficient and effective as possible but we really need to have a focus on the objectives the act is attempting to achieve, rather than streamlining and processes.”

David Morris, the chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office, said there could be instances where it was sensible to propose legislative changes before the review was complete, but it would depend on what was being proposed. “We’re supportive of sensible changes to legislation,” he said.

But he added the government “would want to avoid any perception that they were making poor environmental decisions and then fast-tracking those at a time when people are distracted by a major pandemic”.

Amelia Young, the national campaigns director for The Wilderness Society, warned against the idea that cutting environmental protections could act as an economic stimulus measure once Covid-19 restrictions are eased.

“Weaker environmental protections and fast-tracked infrastructure approvals are not part of a safe and positive future for Australia as we recover from the coronavirus challenge,” she said.

Young said many Coalition MPs had shown concern over the suffering and loss of wildlife during the bushfire season and were aware of heightened environmental concern in the community.

“Many government MPs met with our local membership groups and discussed the issue at length. These MPs well know that there is huge community support towards better protecting Australia’s natural environment,” she said.


'The risk is in the staff room, not the classroom': Scott Morrison takes a swipe at teachers' complaining about going back to work - telling them they are no different to supermarket staff and bus drivers

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised the teachers' unions for protesting the return to classrooms.

Mr Morrison has urged states to urgently reopen schools on advice from Australia's top health adviser - saying that students do not pose a risk of spreading coronavirus.

But Mr Morrison’s insistence that classrooms are safe has drawn mixed reactions, with some unions threatening to stand firm against returning to normal operations.

In some states, teachers' unions have continued to urge families not to send children to school.

'I mean, we’ve got people who are going to work in supermarkets every day,' Mr Morrison told Sky News.

'We’ve got people who are doing jobs all over the community, driving buses, and they’re doing great work and they’re turning up to work to do those things.'

Mr Morrison said the risk for teachers was 'not in the classroom; their risk is in the staffroom'.

There is mounting evidence to back the medical advice that children are less prone to catching and spreading COVID-19.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said NSW Health has done a large study including testing children with no virus symptoms and found no evidence they were transmitting the disease.

'This is quite different from influenza, where we know they are sometimes super-spreaders and can spread the virus,' he told reporters on Friday.

'Most children who have contracted the virus in Australia have contracted it in the family home ... not contracted it in the school environment.'

The health advice says appropriate workplace safety measures should be taken to protect teachers, including cleaning door handles, desks, computers, hand-rails and playground equipment several times a day.

The advice also says classroom furniture should leave as much space between students as possible and children should be encouraged to keep 1.5m apart from others when entering classrooms or during break times.

Teachers have been told to keep 1.5m apart from each other in staff rooms, but Scott Morrison said the measure does not apply to students in classrooms.

'The four square metre rule and the 1.5m distancing between students during classroom activities is not appropriate and not required. I can't be more clear than that,' he told reporters.

Mr Morrison also emphasised there was no requirement for minimum floor space per person, unlike other enclosed areas such as shops.

However, unions have slammed the Prime Minister's advice as contradictory, and are adamant social distancing measures are vital to ensure the safety of their members.

In a statement, the Australian Education Union said the social distancing guidelines 'provide little clarity about how governments are going to ensure a safe working environment for teachers, principals and support staff'.

'It is still not clear how governments expect schools to manage social distancing for adults. It is contradictory to have one set of rules for adults outside of the school gate and another inside,' the union's federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

They also hold concerns the requirements around regular cleaning and making sure soap or hand sanitiser is freely available are not being met.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates indicated he was open to observing the government's notion to gradually reopen classrooms, but more information was needed on why schools are exempt from the 4sqm rule.

The QTU will consult with the state government and examine the findings of the NSW study on Monday. 

The Queensland government will review its decision to close classrooms to all students other than those from families of essential workers and vulnerable children on May 15.

In Victoria, all students are encouraged to learn from home for term two, but schools will remain open for vulnerable children and children of essential workers.

AEU Victorian president Meredith Peace slammed Mr Scott Morrison's directive.

'It is ­bizarre that the Prime Minister has been ­telling us for six weeks how important social distancing is but today he has basically said that it no longer matters for students or teachers,' she said, The Australian reports.

'Throughout this pandemic we’ve been worried that many seem to be neglecting the health and safety of teachers, and these comments only reinforce that. While we’re as keen as anyone to return to normal life, including a return to school, we must plan that return carefully to ensure the ­safety of both staff and students.' 

In a full-page newspaper advertisement published on Friday, the State School Teachers' Union of WA urged parents too keep their children home if possible - against the government's advice.

The union made reference to physical distancing guidelines issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, claiming they can be adhered to when schools have limited numbers 'but not when they are full'.

Education Minister Sue Ellery condemned the advertisement as 'misleading'. 'The AHPPC advice has been from the beginning, and is now, that because of the low risk of transmission, schools are safe for staff and students and should stay open,' she told 6PR radio.

'There is reference to distancing but it's about very specific things.'

In Western Australia, classes will open for all government school students from Wednesday but attendance will not be enforced.

SSTUWA president Pat Byrne later issued a statement claiming the union's position was 'consistent with the state government's approach'.

'Teachers support the managed return of face-to-face teaching, as part of an approach which is consistent with the gradual easing of school distancing requirements by government,' it said.

'Support them by keeping your kids home if you can - then we can make schools as safe as possible until we can all be back at school together.'

NSW schools are due to return for one day a week from May 11, the third week of term two, with a gradual progression to full-time learning as restrictions are eased.

South Australian students will ­return to school next week.

The school debate runs alongside other government initiatives to relax COVID-19 restrictions.

On Friday, the national cabinet ­released ten principles to make workplaces safe, and is focusing on strategies to get people back playing sport.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mesoblast treatment achieves "remarkable" results for critical Covid-19 patients

An Australian-developed stem cell treatment has drastically increased survival rates in trials for ventilator-dependent patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to Covid-19.

Melbourne-based regenerative medicine company Mesoblast (ASX: MSB, NASDAQ: MESO) has been engaged in trials with New York City's Mt Sinai hospital to intravenously infuse its product remestemcel-L in patients, and the early signs are promising.

The sample size of 12 patients may be small, but 83 per cent (10) of them have survived after the stem cell treatment compared to a 12 per cent survival rate for ventilator-dependent Covid-19 patients with the condition at a major referral hospital network in the city.

Mesoblast reports 75 per cent of the patients (9) were able to come off ventilator support within a median of 10 days, compared to a 9 per cent rate for patients treated with standard of care during March and April.

Seven of the patients, who were given remestemcel-L within five days under emergency compassionate use, have been discharged from the hospital.

Using bone marrow aspirate from healthy donors, Mesoblast's proprietary technology is currently used to treat a condition called acute graft versus host disease (aGVHD), which many suffer after receiving a bone marrow transplant (BMT).

But as the Covid-19 pandemic took centre stage, the company hypothesised Remestemcel-L would be able to treat what is known as a cytokine storm in the lungs that often occurs with serious Covid-19 cases.

The company then quickly mobilised plans for trials in the US, Australia, China and Europe.

"The remarkable clinical outcomes in these critically ill patients continue to underscore the potential benefits of remestemcel-L as an anti-inflammatory agent in cytokine release syndromes associated with high mortality, including acute graft versus host disease and Covid-19 ARDS," says Mesoblast chief executive Dr Silviu Itescu.

"We intend to rapidly complete the randomized, placebo-controlled Phase 2/3 trial in COVID-19 ARDS patients to rigorously confirm that remestemcel-L improves survival in these critically ill patients.

The company's chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman emphasises a significant need to improve the "dismal survival outcomes in COVID-19 patients who progress to ARDS and require ventilators".

"We have implemented robust statistical analyses in our Phase 2/3 trial as recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to maximise our ability to evaluate whether remestemcel-L provides a survival benefit in moderate/severe COVID19 ARDS," he says.


Much ado over a minor crisis

Keep a sense of historical perspective

Tom Switzer

This has been the week of doomsayers. Forecasters talk about double-digit unemployment. A major airline has gone into voluntary administration. Businesses of all kinds are retrenching staff. Employees are sacrificing their salaries. We face a massive amount of debt. We clearly face hard times.

But it may help us get through them if the Australian people keep a sense of history and perspective. Remember nothing on the horizon suggests we face sufferings of the kind that were commonplace a century ago. Those were the days of a world war (62,000 Australians were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner), a much deadlier pandemic than Covid-19 (we suffered more than 12,000 deaths during the Spanish influenza in 1918-19) and a Great Depression (many did not find new employment until the Second World War).

As we commemorate Anzac Day this weekend, bear in mind that our troubles in coming months look pretty paltry alongside those of our grandparents and great-grand parents.

Yes, the coronavirus crisis threatens many with disappointments and distress. But we should recognise that the sacrifices demanded from us will be infinitely smaller than those of past generations in crises of war and depression. And we should recognise that if Australia recovers from the Covid-19 economic shock, our leaders should put in place the kinds of economic reforms –- tax, workplace, infrastructure, superannuation, education – that CIS has long supported.



Coronavirus Australia: Everything Scott Morrison announced on Friday

Prime Minister Scott Morrison highlighted how suppression of coronavirus in Australia was working, while addressing several other issues on Friday.

Mr Morrison noted “the good progress that has been made”, pointing out how NSW was now encouraging anyone with symptoms of the virus to get tested.

He said we were now in the third phase of the outbreak, the “community phase”, where the virus actually moved within our own community.

The National Cabinet, after meeting again on Friday, agreed to expand testing criteria across Australia to all people with mild symptoms of COVID-19.

Mr Morrison said this would ensure cases were quickly identified. “This is a very important pillar of how we will be dealing with this virus going forward into the future,” he said.

“We already have one of the most, if not most, comprehensive testing regimes in the world, and this is a key, a key tool for us going forward.”


Mr Morrison said National Cabinet had accepted the advice of the medical expert panel that “it is not recommended” that masks are “necessary to be worn”.

“It's not about protecting you from infection. But that's why, when people were leaving airports and things of that nature, they were wearing them to prevent the transmission,” he said.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy backed him up. “We have very low case numbers in Australia, and these masks often aren't of particularly good quality, and they often provide a false sense of security and make people not practice the social distancing measures that we want,” Professor Murphy said.

“So we are not recommending the general community wear masks. We have been saying that consistently through the pandemic.”

Mr Morrison said the 4 square metre rule, and 1.5-metre distancing between students during classroom activities, “is not appropriate and not required”.

The exemption left some parents confused, but Mr Morrison said the advice from medical experts was clear. “I can't be more clear than that,” he said in a press conference.

Mr Morrison said that was based on advice from Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

The government's expert medical panel is preparing a series of recommendations on easing some restrictions on social gatherings.

In three weeks’ time, National Cabinet will meet to consider a roll back of strict measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus, thanks to Australia’s success in flattening the curve.

Aged care homes across Australia were put on notice to stop leaving seniors locked down in their rooms over coronavirus fears, and banning visitors and carers.

As families complain some aged care homes are taking a draconian approach to patient safety, Mr Morrison urged providers to do the right thing.

“Having people stuck in their rooms, not being able to be visited by their loved ones and carers and other support people, that's not OK,” he said. “We are not going to have these as secret places, where people can't access them. They must.”

The much-discussed coronavirus tracing app still isn't ready, but Mr Morrison said it was “not far away”. “We're making great progress,” he said.

“The app will soon by released. There are still some issues we're working through late in the piece, which is to be expected. We're not too far away now.

“Earlier this week, as I indicated to you, it received the in principle support of the National Cabinet, and we have been taking that through its final stages in recent days.”

National Cabinet has agreed to a set of “COVID-19 Safe Workplace” principles.

“This is all about getting Australians back to work and ensuring that, when they go back to work, that they and their families can feel safe,” Mr Morrison said.

“It's to ensure that there are important principles in place, there are protocols and procedures that, should a COVID-19 case present in a workplace, then the rules that people need to follow.”


'This is not a one-off hit': Sydney universities cut courses and casual staff

Western Sydney University has warned staff it will cut casual workloads next semester as it faces mounting financial shortfalls over the next three years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes amid mounting concern about casual workforces across the state's universities, with Sydney University slashing 30 per cent of its arts courses and one-third of casuals at the University of NSW reporting they've lost work.

"This is not a one-off hit," WSU Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover told staff via video link on Thursday. "The challenge is bigger in 2021 [and 2022] than it is in 2020."

The university has flagged a $90 million shortfall in 2020, which could grow to between $120 and $130 million in 2021 and 2022 as travel restrictions remain in place and anticipated growth fails to materialise.

University of Wollongong vice-chancellor Paul Wellings on Thursday also revealed a shortfall of $90 million linked to COVID-19 restrictions, which he said would have "compounding effects for subsequent years".

Wollongong executive leadership will take a 20 per cent pay cut for 12 months and freeze non-essential external recruitment.

Professor Glover said WSU would compensate by increasing domestic student numbers and reducing expenditure, including by cutting its casual budget in semester two while courses were predominantly delivered online.

Casual staff will be prioritised for work on new six-month online courses created by the federal government's higher education relief package, but Professor Glover said the scheme did not "go far enough for the sector at the moment".

"We don’t believe the Commonwealth has done enough to support international students," he said, noting WSU was considering reducing fees for international students.

But Professor Glover said the University of Sydney and UNSW were in a more difficult predicament, facing budget shortfalls of $470 million and $600 million respectively this year.

Sydney University's arts and social science faculty has been told to cut its courses by almost a third next semester to reduce the cost of casual staff as revenue plummets due to COVID-19.

Academics have been asked to target courses that were not essential to the progress of a degree, even if students had already enrolled in them.

Resources needed to be focused on core units to focus on the quality of subjects still on offer, and to save money "to ameliorate the impact of a downturn on staffing into 2021", one school within the faculty was told in an email. "The 30 per cent reduction will have impacts on student choice, staff teaching and the availability of casual work."

A report compiled by the University of NSW Casuals Network showed that one in three casuals at the university had lost work this month, costing them an average of $626 a week, and 42 per cent were working unpaid hours.

Higher education workers do not qualify for the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme.

A spokeswoman for Sydney University said the reduction of courses offered by the arts and social sciences faculty was unrelated to COVID-19, and was designed to ensure the school could "operate sustainably in the medium to long term".

The university had also asked managers to look at workloads. "We anticipate we will contract fewer casual teachers for semester two than previously projected. To date, we have no plans to terminate anyone’s employment," she said.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Friday, April 24, 2020

Massive win for Israel Folau as footy star beats a discrimination complaint and starts cashing in on Rugby Australia payouts - while his former teammates are forced to take pay cuts

A gay rights activist who likened himself to a vicious dog before going after Israel Folau for a homophobic Instagram post has had a complaint to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board torpedoed for being 'vexatious'.

Campaigner Garry Burns wrote to the government watchdog in December, complaining about the former rugby player's infamous Instagram post claiming 'hell awaits' gay people.

Mr Burns also complained about Folau's comments in a video church sermon linking severe droughts and unprecedented bushfires to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in late 2017.

NSW Anti-Discrimination Board president Annabelle Bennett last week wrote to Mr Burns 'declining' the complaint because she was satisfied it was vexatious and 'a flagrant abuse of process such that no further actions should be taken'.

The major legal win comes as Folau starts to cash in on his payout from Rugby Australia as current players begin to take major pay cuts to keep the game afloat.

Israel Folau and his wife, former netball player Maria Folau, pose together in a selfie posted on social media    +4
Israel Folau and his wife, former netball player Maria Folau, pose together in a selfie posted on social media

Dr Bennett found Mr Burns had not pursued the complaint under the state's Anti-Discrimination Act 'in order to avail himself of the processes afforded under the legislation but for a collateral purpose, as a means to pressure the respondent to settle with him'.

The president wrote that the inference was that the settlement sought by Mr Burns was 'directed to the payment of money'.

Dr Bennett noted the activist had disregarded the confidential nature of the process by issuing a media release which stated, in part: 'Fellas, I'm just like a vicious Alsatian dog. Once I grab hold of the leg, I don't let go until the bone is bare and bloodied. One way or another, I will get that remedy from Mr Folau'.

Dr Bennett also wrote that Mr Burns had sent numerous 'inappropriate' emails to Mr Folau's lawyers.

In response to Wednesday's ruling, Mr Burns has written to the Anti-Discrimination Board seeking his complaint be referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Mr Burns stated that Folau's alleged breach was public 'and so is my work in defence of homosexuals'.  Mr Burns has previously demanded an apology and a $100,000 donation to charity.

The sacked Wallabies star sparked outrage on April 10 last year when he posted the homophobic comments on Instagram.

Folau's lucrative contract was torn up by Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle before he launched legal action and reached a multi-million dollar settlement in December.

The terms of the settlement were kept private but is believed to be worth about $3million - the remainder of his four-year contract, after originally seeking a whopping $14 million.

According to The Australian, the settlement is being paid off in instalments with those payments at risk should Rugby Australia go under if forced into insolvency.

The payout comes as Rugby Australia makes painful budget cuts with some players sacrificing up to 60 per cent of the salaries.

Folau could end up better off financially than his former teammates who can't take the field while the sport is suspended due to the coronavirus.

The former rugby union star has since signed with Super League side the Catalans Dragons.


Brethren church provides food boxes to Queenslanders in quarantine

The Brethren are very fundamentalist -- if being loyal to the Bible makes you fundamentalist  -- JR

Aussie charity, the Rapid Relief Team (RRT), has partnered up with the Queensland Government to deliver hundreds of donated food boxes to Queenslanders in COVID-19 self-quarantine.

The RRT is working with the Queensland Community Recovery service (QCR) to support individuals and families in self-quarantine by providing food boxes to those who may be struggling or otherwise unable to leave their home.

Hundreds of food boxes have been packed by RRT volunteers from the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC), who of course did so while observing Government health advice and social distancing measures.

They will be delivered to individuals and families all across Queensland, most of whom are temporary or casual workers, and who are in self-quarantine at home.

RRT Managing Director Ron Arkcoll said care and compassion were at the core of RRT’s outreach programs and said they were thrilled to be able to offer a small gesture of help to those who needed it.

“While we know the covid-19 crisis continues to throw up never-before-seen challenges for us all, we are so humbled to be able to provide a small amount of relief to Queensland families who are currently in self-quarantine,” he said.

“Our volunteers are committed to supporting our local communities through these tough times.

“Whether that’s filling a family pantry with some staple food items or putting a smile on the face of a neighbour – from an appropriate distance! – we hope these small gestures go towards providing some relief.

“I want to thank the Queensland Government for their assistance and for always putting the people of Queensland first - and I also want to thank our RRT volunteers who go above and beyond every single time, no matter the need.

“In fact, in the last few days, one of our volunteers drove a 6-hour roundtrip to deliver a single food box to a family in quarantine –  it’s stories like these that truly represent the Aussie spirit of mateship – I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.

The RRT is currently supporting people in self-quarantine in Queensland who have been referred by the QCR, however, are working to expand support to other states.

Media enquiries: Lauren Devlin 0449 041 214

Coronavirus Canberra: Crazy Lake Burley Griffin rule amid pandemic

Canberra residents strolling around Lake Burley Griffin must now walk clockwise only following the introduction of an odd new rule designed to combat COVID-19.

The idea behind the policy is that social distancing measures will be more easily adhered to if pedestrians and cyclists are travelling in the same direction around the landmark.

Signs explaining the new requirement have already been placed around the lake, according to the National Capital Authority.

“Clockwise is COVID-wise. Remember 1.5m social distancing. Pedestrians and cyclists, please where possible travel in a clockwise direction around Lake Burley Griffin,” the signs read.

However, the rule will be voluntary only, and will not be enforced by authorities.

The suggestion has caused a stir on social media, where it was described as the “most Canberra solution ever” by journalist Tom McIlroy.

“Peak Canberra – turning the lake into one big roundabout,” one person joked, while another said: “This is surely left over from April 1.”

However, others took issue with the Government dictating “how to walk” while others argued the policy would do little to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“Any traffic engineer will tell you that this will lead eventually to large groups of people in close proximity for a sustained period,” one Twitter user argued, while another said it “won’t stop people coming up behind you and running past ignoring distance”.

A National Capital Authority spokeswoman told the area around the shores of Lake Burley Griffin was always popular with walkers and cyclists, especially during warm autumn days.

“The NCA continues to look for ways to assist the community at these times hence the uptake of the ‘Clockwise is Covid-wise’ campaign and (we) encourage all users to follow the initiative to assist with social distancing on the popular bridge to bridge walk,” the spokeswoman said.

“The walking paths afford plenty of open space for social distancing in a city environment and most users have been doing the right thing (by) complying with the 1.5m guidelines.”

She explained the campaign was an initiative by the Pedal Power cycling organisation and that the signs were erected on Wednesday this week to assist with social distancing.

She said walking and riding in the same direction would help residents maintain a recommended distance.

“We continue to monitor the central basin walk while we review options to reduce risk and encourage all to do the right thing at this heightened time,” the spokeswoman said.

“We also share responsibility of Lake usage with the ACT Government.”

The Canberra rule comes as the Government prepares to roll out a coronavirus tracking app which will be available for downloads within weeks.

The app is voluntary, with Health Minister Greg Hunt insisting to ABC News it will come with “very strong privacy protections”.

“The app is one of the elements that will help us put in place the protections and precautions to take the road out,” he said.

“Our tracing is really doing very well. We have very strong public health units which means they can find out that if I’m diagnosed or you are diagnosed, whom we have been in contact with. The app will assist that process.”

And speaking on 2GB this morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the frustrations caused by strict lockdown restrictions, but warned that easing them too soon could spell disaster.


'Tell that to the families of the 175,000 dead': Model Elyse Knowles is slammed for calling the COVID-19 pandemic a 'GIFT' for the planet

Elyse Knowles called the deadly COVID-19 pandemic a 'gift' to the planet on Wednesday.

It didn't take long for the online backlash that followed, with many people branding the 27-year-old model's comments as 'idiotic'.

As of Wednesday evening, there have been 2,578,930 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, which have resulted in 178,096 deaths. 

'People have lost their lives. This is no gift from the planet. It's a tragic illness killing thousands. Idiotic comments,' one person wrote.

Meanwhile, another person wrote: 'So from Brunswick to Byron and now you're an expert? Yes things have changed but at what cost? Clearly the human cost means nothing to you.'  

But there were some people who agreed with Elyse and rushed to support the model by voicing their opinions online.

'Probably not the context but she’s right. Extremely sad and unfortunate that deaths are occurring but the facts speak for themselves globally with drops in pollution and consumption, higher air quality and clear water channels,' one person wrote.

'Humans are the plague of the earth and in lock down the world is starting to slowly heal itself before we start destroying it again,' another person agreed. 

Elyse's original comments came during an interview with A Conscious Collection on Wednesday for Earth Day. 

'While the spread of coronavirus has been devastating in countless ways, if we look for a silver-lining we’ll find the gift it’s given our planet,' she said.

The Myer ambassador went on to list the benefits including cleaner air, 'glistening' beaches and rivers and wildlife enjoying 'a safer home' as people stay home to practise social distancing.

'Mother Nature has proven to us all that by minimising the collective human footprint, our world can take a breath and re-set,' she continued.

'It’s ignited the fire in my belly to keep advocating for positive change! We have ONE world. We have to treat it with absolute care.'

Elyse is a passionate environmental advocate who moved to Byron Bay with her boyfriend Josh Barker last year in order to live a more environmentally conscious life.

Meanwhile, Elyse was criticised last month for sharing photos from her camping trip to Moreton Island in Queensland.

The former Block contestant left fans fuming after she uploaded a picture of herself and Josh alongside a gushing caption about their 'magical week'.

Responding to the backlash, Elyse explained that she hadn't been aware of the severity of the pandemic when she and Josh set out on their holiday.

'A lot has changed in a week, let alone daily. We were away last week, and it was more so we weren't near anyone,' she wrote.

As soon as they became aware of the severity of the situation, she said, they made every effort to return home to Byron Bay.

There are currently 6,647 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, with 74 deaths.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Zero Qld COVID cases but restrictions stay

Queensland is refusing to relax its COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions despite no cases being recorded overnight.

Queensland has recorded zero coronavirus cases for the second time this week as the health minister urged aged care homes' bosses to allow loved ones to visit.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk beamed as she announced there were no overnight cases and the state's total of confirmed cases remains at 1024. The state has undertaken more than 90,000 tests.

"So, that's two zero cases this week. And we are really on the track to be smashing that curve," Ms Palaszczuk said.

She also called on Queenslanders to download a COVID-19 tracking app, which the federal government wants to roll out to monitor contact people may have with anyone who has tested positive.

She said the app would be a crucial step towards relaxing social distancing restrictions. "If we are going to ease restrictions down the track we will need Queenslanders to sign up to that app," she said

There are 20 people in hospitals around the state with seven in ICU, including six on ventilators.

Queensland Health will release a 'heat' map online from midday on Wednesday to indicate the hot spots for COVID-19 around the state while also detailing the number of recovered cases and those in quarantine.

It will also provide a regional breakdown of local government areas, which some other states are already doing.

"We're also going to have active cases, recovered cases, and community transmission," she said.

Health Minister Steven Miles said reports some aged care facilities were refusing visitors and not allowing residents out of their rooms were concerning. He urged "all of those aged-care homes across Queensland to allow family members in to see loved ones". "There is no need for aged care homes to be in lockdown. Families should be able to visit their loved ones," he said.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young agreed, saying the virus had so far been spread in aged care homes by staff, not visitors. "If you're unwell don't go and visit, but if you are well it's important to go and visit and it's important to go and talk to your relative on a regular basis," she said.

She said there were still monitoring a COVID-19 cluster  connected to Cairns Hospital but there were no new additional cases.

On Tuesday, it had been disclosed three COVID-19 cases were detected in Cairns Hospital after a Brisbane technician [a "diversity" hire] visited the pathology lab and was later diagnosed with the illness.

Testing in the far northern Queensland city is now being expanded to rule out further community transmission.

Initial contact tracing of lab staff found nothing but blood tests revealed three employees contracted the virus and have since recovered.


As coronavirus cases continue to fall in Australia, a debate about the need for balance arises

The value of one human life is an old philosophical debate with no unanimous agreement but that the value is finite is generally seen as persuasive

Most Australians accept that temporarily shutting down large parts of the economy is a difficult but necessary part of beating the coronavirus.

But others are using the tough measures as an excuse to engage in a cruel debate that pits the lives of Australia’s elderly against the cost to the economy.

The journal Science first floated the question in late March when it published research under the headline: Experts weigh lives versus economics.

The article discussed the dilemma being faced by macroeconomists who were “more familiar with gauging how interest rates might influence employment”.

“If it turns out a lot of people get infected and have few symptoms, the economically sensible approach might be to let the infection spread and accept that there will be some death toll,” researchers wrote.

Less than two weeks later, the following headline appeared in the Australian Financial Review: Lives matter but at what cost?

The author, John Kehoe, wrote that “there is a high economic and social price being paid” for Australia’s efforts to flatten the curve and save lives.

“Unemployment is surging, businesses are closing, incomes are being slashed. People are hurting,” he wrote.

Then he took it one step further by making the case that Australians over the age of 70 aren’t worth as much as younger Australians.

“Many seniors have had time to enjoy careers, children and grandchildren,” he began. “My father is 68 and insists he’s had a good run. With the swimming pool and tennis club in his Victorian town now closed, his daily pursuits are off limits. His physical fitness and mental wellbeing are suffering.

“Some seniors like him would not put their own life above the livelihoods of their children and grandchildren, if the economic and social costs become too great.”

Unsurprisingly, the piece caused outrage. Journalist Jan Fran was among those who hit back at the “reductionist” argument. “Maybe I’m wrong but none of the spicy ‘let the virus spread to save the economy’ hot takes are written by poor, sick, old or disabled people,” she wrote on Twitter.

“They’re always written by some legend in a suit who did some maths and worked out that your nan is probs not worth saving as much as — say — a young, healthy person who will contribute more to the economy.

“This is true if you think a human being’s value should be measured by their economic contributions. “If that’s the case then just cut the sh*t and say you think some lives are worth more than others because of the money/capital they make/earn/produce. Actually, say it!”

She argued that those willing to sacrifice the elderly to keep the economy running have “flattened what it means to be human”.

But Kehoe isn’t the only one pushing hard to remove strict quarantine laws and reopen businesses. The Institute of Public Affairs was slammed when it released a bizarre video on April 7 arguing that reopening churches, restaurants, cafes, bars and community sport was a “sensible” idea, despite experts everywhere saying the opposite.

“Our response to the coronavirus outbreak has decimated our society, ruined thousands of lives, turned Australia into a police state and, worst of all, put hundreds of thousands of Australians out of work,” the think tank’s policy director Gideon Rozner argued.

He said it was time for state and federal governments to come up with a plan to win the lockdown and let people rebuild their lives.

“Do it safely with appropriate social distancing measures in place, but do it now, not in six months, not in one month. Now, because Australians were not meant to live like this, and we cannot allow this to go on any longer,” he says. “Enough is enough. It is time to begin to end this lockdown now.”

Of course, to do so would be catastrophic. New modelling from the Doherty Institute and Monash University shows that Australia, plainly, is not ready.

It reveals that if Australia’s reproduction number — how many people could be infected by just one case — increased from below one to somewhere around 2.5, there could be more than 70 deaths in just three weeks’ time.

“If we lift measures, and it depends how much you lift them, but if we were to lift all of them and we get back to a reproduction number of 2.5, then we’re back on an exponential curve,” Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.

“The numbers would get up to 10,000 in a matter of weeks. So we have to keep the reproduction number below one in order to maintain the pressure down on the numbers that we have in Victoria.”


Qld. Government introduces 'fairness formula' so tenants impacted by coronavirus can renegotiate leases and avoid eviction

A 'fairness formula' will be introduced in Queensland to help struggling tenants and landlords renegotiate leases amid the coronavirus lockdown, after proposed new rental laws were widely criticised.

The rental market is one of several sectors that have been impacted by the global health crisis, with many tenants unable to make payments after losing their jobs.

The state government last week proposed a set of measures to help protect tenants who cannot pay their rent from eviction and if their lease expires during the crisis, but landlords complained those steps were too much in favour of renters.

New guidelines are expected to be released on Wednesday after the legislation is passed, The Courier-Mail reported.

'While we expect most tenants and property owners to come to an agreement, where this is not possible, we will provide a compulsory, free, fair and independent conciliation service to resolve issues,' Housing Minister Mick de Brenni said in an email on Monday.

Under the revised proposals, tenants must be able to prove they have lost at least 25 per cent of their income, or that their rent exceeds 30 per cent of their income, to access COVID-19 rental relief measures.

A tenant would also not be able to break a tenancy agreement without being able to prove a a loss of at least 75 per cent income of income.

The original legislative framework was widely denounced by the real estate sector, which said tenants - who could originally claim relief without proof - were being protected at the expense of landlords. More than 400,000 letters of complaint were received by the Labor Government.

Mr De Brenni said the government had made changes that aimed to strike a better balance between protecting the rights of landlord and tenants.

'Tenants and property owners in significant financial distress are also being supported through a $20 million rental grant package, announced with the framework over a week ago,' he said.

Real Estate Institute of Queensland CEO Antonia Mercorella said they are satisfied with the revised framework. 'It also ensures stability for the Queensland property market as well as for consumer confidence going forward,' she said. 'It provides both tenants and property owners with certainty and clarity surrounding the Prime Minister's no eviction moratorium.

'The minimum income reduction threshold for tenants to meet before they qualify for the protection measures is in line with other jurisdictions (stated and territories).


Rule of law meets Covid-19

In the space of just a few weeks, the rule of law in Australia has both triumphed in the High Court’s judgement in Pell v The Queen and taken a battering from state governments’ social distancing rules under emergency powers invoked in the name of fighting Covid-19.

The rule of law does not mean imposing the iron fist of a police state, shades of which are to be found in the states’ restrictions. It means, among other things, transparency and lack of ambiguity in the law and the absence of arbitrary action in its application and enforcement.

Most of us accept the need for some social distancing rules to apply for a short period, but the current restrictions go to absurd lengths, lack clarity, leave too much leeway for arbitrary action by officials – and for all those reasons offend against the rule of law.

The relevant NSW ministerial order, for example, includes a list of acceptable reasons for people to leave their place of residence and puts all other reasons – a very large and unspecified residual – as in the unlawful category. This approach offends against the very idea of a free society in that it is a law defining what we CAN do, not what we CANNOT do. Free societies don’t need to be told what they can do.

The inconsistencies, ambiguities and potential for misinterpretation in the NSW order abound. Little wonder that people don’t know what they can and can’t legally do and police and bureaucrats are making up their own interpretations as they go.

The rule of law isn’t like a decoration to be taken down when it becomes inconvenient to the exercise of state power. It is there to protect our freedoms from abuses of state power. The Berejiklian government should immediately rescind this repugnant ministerial order and replace it with something that is less restrictive, unambiguous and defines what residents of NSW cannot do, not what they can do.

In the meantime, it would not be a bad thing if everyone in possession of one of those on-the-spot police fines exercises their right not to pay it and to have their case heard by a court.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here