Sunday, April 05, 2020

Australian news: stories you may have missed during the coronavirus crisis

Here are the stories you may have missed over the past week.
Pell verdict on Tuesday

The high court will hand down its judgment in George Pell’s final appeal on Tuesday in Brisbane.

The final arguments from both sides finished up in March, and we will find out at 10am on Tuesday whether his conviction on five counts of child sexual abuse will be upheld or overturned.

XPT train was doing 100km/h in a 15km/h zone

The Sydney to Melbourne train that derailed in February, killing two people, was travelling at more than 100km/h in a section limited to 15km/h.

That section was part of a diversion, introduced that afternoon, from the normal route with a speed limit of 130km/h, according to the preliminary report on the crash, which came out on Friday.

Chris Dawson formally pleaded not guilty on Friday to murdering his then wife on Sydney’s northern beaches nearly 40 years ago.

The former teacher and Newtown Jets rugby league player has repeatedly claimed that Lynette Dawson is still alive and several people have seen her since her disappearance in January 1982. The matter is scheduled to return to court on Wednesday.

Earliest known Homo erectus skull discovered

The oldest known skull of Homo erectus was discovered by Australian researchers on Friday. The fossil has been dated at two million years old – 200,000 years older than the previous record.

Victoria renews logging

Late on Wednesday night, the federal and Victorian governments decided to extend five regional forest agreements that exempt the logging industry from conservation laws.

Environmental groups immediately criticised the move, given the summer’s devastating bushfires will already have deforested large swathes and impacted wildlife.

Nine days in North Korean detention

You may remember Alek Sigley, the Australian student (and lover of Korean literature) who was arrested in North Korea over nine harrowing days in 2019. After days of diplomatic wrangling, he was released, but wouldn’t share the details of what happened.

Now, writing for Guardian Australia, he has.

    I saw the black Mercedes-Benz, which had a black plastic bag covering its licence plate. ‘Fuck, you’re in deep shit now,’ I thought to myself.

Big polluters increased emissions

One in five of Australia’s biggest polluting sites actually increased their greenhouse gas emissions last year, above the government limit.

Under the safeguard mechanism, companies that breach their limit have to buy carbon credits or pay a penalty. But the Australian Conservation Foundation found that 729,000 tonnes of emissions went unpunished.

Queensland panel recommends legal voluntary euthanasia

A year-long inquiry has concluded that Queensland should legalise voluntary assisted dying. On Tuesday, the state’s health committee found a majority of Queenslanders are in favour of voluntary euthanasia for terminally-ill adults.

Water flows into Menindee

In good news, water has flowed into the drought-stricken Menindee Lakes, the site of infamous mass fish kills last year.

For the first time in years, significant flows and water releases are under way, meaning the lower Darling River will finally reconnect with the Murray.

Government allows coalmining under Sydney reservoir

The New South Wales government has approved the extension of coalmining under the Woronora reservoir.

It’s the first approval in two decades for coalmining directly beneath one of greater Sydney’s reservoirs, and environment groups say it could affect the quality of drinking water.

Death in custody

An Aboriginal man, aged 30, died in Victoria last week after he was arrested and taken to a regional police station.

Police said the man was arrested on Thursday last week in Horsham. When he was taken to the police station, his “condition deteriorated”, and he died in hospital on Sunday.

2019 was the century’s worst year for the environment in Australia

The annual Australia’s Environment report came out on Monday, finally confirming something we may have already seen coming.

Unprecedented bushfires, record heat, record low river inflows, dry soil, low vegetation growth and the 40 new species that were added to the threatened species list meant that 2019 was the worst year since 2000.

In other environmental news, land-clearing approvals in NSW increased 13-fold since the Coalition government changed laws in 2016, according to a secret report provided to the state cabinet.

$550m to be refunded from robodebt

In an exclusive obtained by reporter Luke Henriques-Gomes, we revealed the government will refund hundreds of millions of dollars under the botched robodebt scheme.

Confidential government advice obtained by Guardian Australia revealed that the government has already privately admitted that 400,000 welfare debts worth $550m were wrongly issued.

Christchurch shooter pleads guilty

Last Thursday, the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre suddenly changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, after being charged with the murder of 51 people.

The shock announcement meant that Australian Brenton Tarrant was immediately convicted of all charges. He had originally been set for trial on 2 June, but that has now been called off. He will be sentenced later this year.


The shutdown will be deadlier than the virus

We are in the midst of the strangest event of our lives. Societies have shut down. Families and whole nations face financial ruin. Walking the streets is now a crime from Paris to Sydney to Mumbai. And all of this has occurred not despite the will of the people but because of it.

The reasons are well known. There is a virus on the loose. It is transmitted by humans and is killing tens of thousands. It is an existential threat at which all resources must be thrown and all energy expended.

This is the popular mantra. And if true it would justify the incredible events we are witnessing. The problem is that it appears not to be true, a fact few are willing to entertain amid the hysteria that prevails. Yet its falsity is indicated on a cursory review of the best available data.

That data is provided by Italy, an early epicentre of the virus with many deaths recorded.

On March 26, the country’s peak health organisation — the National Institute of Health — published a report with details of the 6801 deaths the country had recorded to that point. This is a considerable sample size, and the figures are revealing.

The first statistics of note are those about the average age of casualties, which is 78. The median is 79. A little more than 95 per cent of victims were over 60, and zero deaths were recorded for people under the age of 30.

Then there is the method of designating the virus as the cause of death, which includes anyone who had tested positive for it before dying. In other words, many were said to have died from the virus when in truth they merely died with it.

Third, 98 per cent of casualties of a random sample of patients had a pre-existing chronic illness, or comorbidity, at their time of death. About 21 per cent suffered from a single comorbidity, 26 per cent from two, 51 per cent from three and just 2 per cent with none.

Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s Health Minister, recent­ly reported: “On re-evalua­tion by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus.”

The overwhelming majority of Italy’s deaths involved chronically ill and elderly patients.

This is not to diminish these tragedies. But the questions arise: why are we surrendering our hard-won civil liberties and committing economic suicide when this virus poses a danger to only a small portion of our society? Why do we not pour all of our resources into protecting the vulnerable?

The answer is that a 24-hour news cycle, with its morbid tallying of deaths, images of corpses and sensationalist reporting of outlier cases has whipped the public into a frenzy that politicians have had to take extreme measures to appease.

And anyone who questions the collective unreason is denounced on social media as a bloodthirsty mercenary who favours the economy over human life.

History shows time and again the reaction to a perceived crisis becomes the true catastrophe. Like the execution of witches until the mid-18th century or the scapegoating of Jews for poisoning wells during the Black Plague, evidence and logic are of no use to us now. There is an existential threat, and anyone who denies it is not just a denier but the cause.

None of this is to say this virus is not dangerous. It is. But the level of threat it poses is being exaggerated, and the response to it exaggerated as a result.

This is especially true in Australia, where infection rates appear to be relatively low and the government containment methods are among the most draconian worldwide.

If the government has compelling data to support this strategy, it should release it. But there seems to be no correlation between the scale of the threat and the economic and social damage we will suffer responding to it.

There is a disaster afoot. But it is not the COVID-19 virus. It is the putative remedy, a fact we will not appreciate until it’s too late.


Coronavirus and homeschooling: How the tables have turned

I have four at home underfoot, ranging from a uni student, one in Year 12 attempting final year studies, one diving into the huge adventure that’s Year 7 and one in Year 3 trying to learn his tables.

Eight and eight went to the store, to buy Nintendo 64. 56 = 7 x 8 because it’s 5, 6, 7 and 8. Stop! Stop right there! Because we’re no longer meant to learn these natty little short cuts to times tables, we’re not meant to teach our children this way. The current mode of thinking is that kids need to understand the concepts behind the sums, rather than just reeling off the answers by rhyme or rote.

But these ditties are extremely handy in unprecedented times. I have four at home underfoot, ranging from a uni student, one in Year 12 attempting final year studies, one diving into the huge adventure that’s Year 7 and one in Year 3 trying to learn his tables. Let’s just say I begin this whole exercise every morning feeling like Snow White, crisp and clean and contained, trilling away with imaginary bluebirds flying around my head, but end up every afternoon feeling like a combination of Tom (as in Jerry), Oscar (from The Odd Couple) and Cinderella (pre-ball). God I admire teachers, always have, but now … they are my superheroes. This is hard.

So, times tables. The current mode of thinking is that kids need to understand the concepts behind the sums, rather than just reeling off the answers by rote; and through the example of my three older kids I know that schools no longer teach them the old way. I know mine – they were drilled into us every morning, stopwatch hovering, to get us into the correct state of mental alertness for the day. But do our eight-year-old children know theirs? I have primary school memories of the times table grid fresh on the blackboard first thing, to limber us up. Numbers across the top and down the left hand side aaaaaand … go! It was mental arithmetic, it was a race, and it embedded the sums that would be used in some form for the rest of my life.

Through four kids in various schools across two western countries I’ve wondered again and again who’s actually teaching these dear little sums anymore. Is this situation, gulp, actually up to us, the parents? How does it work in all those Asian countries with their amazing PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores? Discipline, structure and sheer grit, I suspect. In 2018, Australian 15-year-olds lagged 3.5 years behind their Chinese counterparts in maths, and we’re now in long-term decline.

So how to raise mathematical standards in Australian kids? Parents, dive in, because I suspect it’s the only way for the time being, and of course some of us have so much free time on our hands now to do this. I asked the school of my Year 3 son what age kids are meant to know their times tables by. End of Year 4, I’m cheerily told, and it’s not necessarily up to teachers alone. The more tigerish parents around me talk of charts on bedroom walls and times tables CDs playing in cars. I panic. I was that mother once. Long ago. God help Child Number Four.

But Aussie maths guru Eddie Woo says it’s essential that all students lock down times tables, because they’re a key form of mathematical fluency. “They’re the bedrock for students to become confident in dealing with fractions: the former is about multiplication and the latter is about division, making them natural partners. Children who struggle with times tables will often find fractions, decimals and percentages very difficult to comprehend … you can see how a child’s difficulties with mathematics may have been sown many years in the past.”

Righto. A few years back the British schools minister declared all pupils should have instant recall of times tables by age nine. And our Aussie kids? I don’t think so. “Six times 6 is 36, now go outside to pick up sticks.” Literally, so Oscar from The Odd Couple can transform into Snow White again.


Murdoch to shutter 60 newspapers in Australia

The coronavirus is hitting the newspaper industry hard Down Under. Rupert Murdoch’s Australian flagship media group News Corp announced on Wednesday it would stop printing around 60 regional newspapers, as the troubled sector received a fresh blow from a Covid-19 advertising downturn, The Global Times reported.

News Corp said papers in the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia would cease printing and move online, the report said.

“We have not taken this decision lightly,” News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller was quoted as saying by the group’s Australian newspaper title.

“The coronavirus crisis has created unprecedented economic pressures and we are doing everything we can to preserve as many jobs as possible.”

“The suspension of our community print editions has been forced on us by the rapid decline in advertising revenues following the restrictions placed on real estate auctions and home inspections, the forced closure of event venues and dine-in restaurants in the wake of the coronavirus emergency,” he added.

Many Australian media groups had already been shifting focus to online content before the pandemic began, the report said.

The announcement follows a series of media closure statements, including national wire AAP, which is due to cease work later this year, the report said.

The move has echoed a global trend.

The largest US newspaper publisher, Gannett, said on Monday it was making unspecified furloughs and pay cuts for its staff, the report said.

Falling readerships and the rise of Google and Facebook as dominant players in advertising has made news organizations less profitable.

Meanwhile, UK print newspaper sales have fallen by as much as 30% since the start of the government-ordered coronavirus lockdown, according to industry sources, with journalists at many local newspapers placed on leave and warnings that hundreds of reporters could be left without jobs as the advertising market collapses, The Guardian reported.

Thousands of independent newsagents have closed, commuter traffic is non-existent, and supermarkets are expected to cut the numbers of copies they take from next week because of reduced footfall, the report said.

With many readers also self-isolating, one of the British news industry’s main sources of revenue has taken a heavy hit.


 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

1 comment:

Paul said...

28 confirmed diagnoses around Cairns (including down the Cassowary Coast), all being managed at home, none in the ICU. Yarrabah being locked down with no-one coming out and only essential workers allowed in. With Yarrabah and Auruakun out of the picture the Cairns crime rate should hit zero soon, until the mass unemployment kicks in.