What happened today

Let’s wrap up some of the main events of today.

  • Victoria recorded 15 new cases and five new deaths, as the premier Daniel Andrews revealed the government was considering going beyond plans for minor easing of restrictions planned for Sunday.
  • There were six new cases in NSW, and the second day with no community transmission, while there were no new cases in Queensland.
  • NSW also extended its rental eviction ban moratorium for a further six months.
  • In non-corona news, the government announced a new NBN plan that was seen as a backflip that took the project much closer to the Labor model.
  • And in sad news, 380 stranded whales died in Tasmania, with grave fears for 30 more that remain trapped.

With that, we’ll leave you for today. Thanks for reading.


Some news on the app from the Covid-19 committee.

The interesting stat here for Victoria is only around 10% of cases have had the app, and despite all the community transmission they still haven't found any other contacts in that data.

— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) September 23, 2020

South Australia’s border reopening with NSW will officially go ahead but the good news has been tempered by new cases, a travel exemption breach and a quarantine bungle, reports AAP.

The border restrictions with NSW will lift at midnight after the state recorded its second day of no community transmission cases of Covid-19.

NSW residents travelling to SA will no longer have to go into 14 days of self-isolation so long as they do not enter via Victoria.

But authorities have been left red-faced after 11 Victorian family members of Port Adelaide AFL players were wrongly granted travel exemptions to enter SA.

Port will host Geelong in a qualifying final at Adelaide Oval on 1 October.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier says the exemptions were granted by a member of SA Health’s exemptions committee who has since been counselled.

Five of the 11 who have already arrived in SA will undergo 14 days’ hotel quarantine at their own expense and then will be free to remain in the state.

The others have had their exemptions revoked. “It is absolutely entirely inappropriate at this point in time,” Prof Spurrier said on Wednesday.

“We do have a very rigorous exemption process and as people would know, we have quite a hard border with Victoria at the moment.”


My colleague Josh Taylor has been busy. Here is explainer on what the government’s NBN backflip means for you.

Kevin Rudd was just on ABC Radio Melbourne to talk about the NBN. After that conversation host Raf Epstein has asked him what he thinks of the media’s coverage of Daniel Andrews during the pandemic.

Rudd compares it to the way he was personally blamed for deaths in the home insulation scheme, or “pink batts” scandal.

He says when people start “waving the figure at a head of government” for the “second shift at two o’clock in the morning” in a program like hotel quarantine, it “frankly doesn’t pass the common sense test”.

He also repeated his oft-made assertions that the coverage received by Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk from their home town News Corp tabloids was entirely different to what was directed at Gladys Berejiklian and Steven Marshall.

The Victorian Hotel Quarantine inquiry rolled on today. Still, though, no one can say whose idea it was to use private security guards in the program.

That includes two government ministers who gave evidence today: Lisa Neville, the police minister, and Martin Pakula, the jobs minister.

Daniel Andrews will front the inquiry on Friday.

My colleague Josh Taylor’s report from today’s hearings is here.

Stay for the explanation of using !! in a text message. https://t.co/tkejYMEN7B

— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) September 23, 2020


The always-colourful Paul Keating has turned his fire on the Reserve Bank today, as my colleague Ben Butler reports.

The former PM accuses the RBA of “indolence”, saying it’s failing to do enough to support employment in Australia.

As I said, always colourful.


Graham Readfern has our report on the sad news that 380 stranded whales have died in Tasmania.

And some more very sad news today.

This is the news no one wanted. William Wall has been found. But sadly, he has passed away @9NewsMelb pic.twitter.com/UoSHjq3RC7

— Lana Murphy (@LanaMurphy) September 23, 2020

My colleague Melissa Davey update on the supreme court legal challenge to Victoria’s lockdown.


Beware of the latest #COVID19 themed government impersonation scam. If you receive this text, don't click the link, just delete it. Not sure if a text is legitimate? Contact the relevant agency using details you’ve sourced yourself or visit the official website via your browser. pic.twitter.com/SoetaiD6Xb

— Scamwatch_gov_au (@Scamwatch_gov) September 23, 2020

Australian shares have bounced back strongly after four consecutive days of falls, but the Aussie dollar tumbled, dogged by talk of the Reserve Bank easing monetary policy further.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed 139.8 points higher, or 2.4%, to 5,923.9 on Wednesday, AAP reports.

The All Ordinaries index rose 137.8 points, or 2.3%, to 6,111.3.

At 1615 AEST the Australian dollar was 71.19 US cents, only just above an earlier low of 71.16 US cents, a level not seen since early August.

It had closed at $72.14 US cents late on Tuesday.


Victorian contract tracing ready for fast-tracked opening – Finkel

Back on Alan Finkel, he is asked by the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas whether Victoria is ready to go beyond its roadmap. Daniel Andrews suggested the state could open up a little further on Sunday than earlier planned.

Finkel says:

I think it is, given that the low caseload level that the government has driven down to through the lockdown, the improved system should be able to cope and should keep us at low levels, even if we come out of lockdown.

He also says:

I would say the system is significantly more capable today than it was. It is not yet where we want it to be, but, gosh, it is making a lot of progress and I personally, as a Victorian, feel much more comfortable with how the rapid contact tracing system is working in Victoria now.


How awful.

#BREAKING: Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service confirms 380 whales stranded off the state’s west coast have died.

— ABC News (@abcnews) September 23, 2020

Some interesting comments here from Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, who is working with the Victorian government on its contract tracing program.

He tells the ABC:

Look, the Victorian system got overwhelmed. I can’t comment on what it was that led to the caseload getting as high as it did, but it did, and the system just wasn’t designed to deal with such a high caseload ...

What I’ve been doing with the Victorian government, and it’s their work, but I’m advising and helping to support them on developing a new system that will be fully digitised, or an electronic system, if you like, from end to end, from the time that someone goes to have their test done, so no longer will there be paper pathology forms when they get their test done, everything is digital, all the way through the path labs to the reporting on the department of health.

The interview process will be digital and supportive of the trace app through the people being contacted. It is a big job, the department is working hard on it, and a lot of progress has been made, and the result is that, as of now, through that and other improvements that are being made, the end-to-end time has been dramatically reduced.


The communications minister, Paul Fletcher, has agreed it was “unethical” for infrastructure department officials to claim it was “reasonable” to pay $30m for land at Western Sydney airport, 10 times its fair value.

Full report from my colleague Paul Karp here.


Senior Victorian government ministers Martin Pakula and Lisa Neville have distanced themselves from the state’s botched hotel quarantine program, which led to the state’s devastating second coronavirus wave.

The duo placed the blame squarely on the Department of Health and Human Services when they appeared before the state’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Wednesday, AAP reports.

“It was a health emergency, therefore the control agency was DHHS,” the police and emergency services minister, Lisa Neville, told the inquiry.

The ministers said they don’t know who made the decision to hire private security companies to guard the state’s quarantine hotels, rather than Victoria police or the Australian Defence Force.

The inquiry has previously heard it was the Victoria police chief commissioner Graham Ashton’s preference that private security be used, while the emergency management commissioner, Andrew Crisp, maintained there was no need for ADF “boots on the ground”.

Neville had a scheduled meeting with Ashton and Crisp at 2pm on 27 March, immediately after national cabinet announced the hotel quarantine program.

“I believe that private security was raised by Commissioner Crisp. I’m pretty confident the ADF issues were raised by Mr Ashton,” she said.

Crisp previously told the inquiry he couldn’t remember what was discussed at the meeting but didn’t think he would have brought up security.

Pakula said his department was tasked with contracting hotels and security companies for the program but it was clear the DHHS had “overall responsibility”.


Security companies involved in the Victorian hotel quarantine program are facing a class action.

The suit against United Security Group and MSS Security has been brought by Dragan Markovic, whose father, Nenad, died in hospital from coronavirus last month.

Markovic is suing for psychiatric loss and injury. “I’m just looking for justice,” he told 3AW on Wednesday.

“I think the government is very responsible (for the second wave).”

AAP reports that a writ filed in Victoria’s supreme court alleges United Security and MSS Security breached their duty of care by failing to train guards properly or put in place effective infection control measures.

Arnold Thomas and Becker Lawyers said the class action could end up encompassing about 20,000 people infected with Covid since 1 June.

It follows two lawsuits filed against St Basil’s Homes for the Aged and Epping Gardens Aged Care over virus deaths in those facilities.


McMillan says today’s numbers are “extremely encouraging”.

She says:

As we have seen reported widely, the 14-day rolling average now ... is less than 30.

As I said, NSW has now seen two consecutive days without any community transmission. These are all really encouraging signs and evidence of the tremendous work that you are all doing across the community to help prevent the spread.


Australia’s chief nursing and midwifery officer, Alison McMillan, has just started speaking in Canberra.

She says Australia has 22 new cases in the past 24 hours, with six in NSW, all return travellers, and one in South Australia, also a return traveller. The remaining 15 cases were in Victoria.


Here is an interesting idea out of Tasmania.

The state government is issuing tourism vouchers that residents can claim for free to use on experiences such as tours.

An initial giveaway was snapped up in less than 40 minutes, AAP reports, prompting the government to announce another $5m in vouchers on Wednesday.

Residents can claim accommodation vouchers worth $100, and $50 vouchers for experiences such as tours.

About 21,000 vouchers were claimed earlier this month in the first $7.5m wave of the scheme, and some 800 have already been used.

“The feedback from around the state has been very positive. We’re hearing of people visiting the regions, staying mid-week,” said the premier, Peter Gutwein.

Only people who missed out on the first round or have already used a voucher can apply for the new giveaway, which opens online on 30 September at 7pm.


Remember this?

He’s resigned to keeping three children occupied with messy craft, a 1000 piece puzzle and LEGO dinosaurs. 🤪

— Chief Health Officer, Victoria (@VictorianCHO) September 23, 2020

NSW extends Covid rental protections

Laws protecting residential tenants from being evicted during the pandemic will be extended for six months, the NSW government says.

According to a statement from the better regulation minister, Kevin Anderson, the protections being extended are:

  • Preventing landlords from evicting Covid-19 impacted tenants for rental arrears unless they have attempted to negotiate a rent reduction in good faith.
  • Allowing tenants impacted by Covid-19 to apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to end fixed-term agreements in certain circumstances.
  • Stopping landlords or agents from listing a Covid-19 impacted tenant on a tenancy database if they go into rental arrears.
  • Extending the 90-day minimum period of notice landlords must give tenants for certain other evictions not related to rental arrears.
  • Extending boarding house eviction notice periods where the landlord has not attempted to negotiate in good faith.

Legislation will be needed to extend some of the protections, which expire on 15 October.

Anderson said:

We know the pandemic has resulted in financial difficulty for so many people in NSW, so it’s been heartening to see tenants, landlords and agents reaching out to Fair Trading to take advantage of this support.

As the impacts of Covid are ongoing, we intend to extend the measures until March next year which will allow more time to return to normal.

The move contrasts with the Queensland government, which has elected not to extend its moratorium.


Thanks Amy. Hello all, it’s Luke Henriques-Gomes here.

To get started, he is my colleague Paul Karp’s report on the very strong criticism levelled at Alan Tudge by a federal court judge.


There is a national Covid update coming up with chief nurse and midwifery officer, Alison McMillan at 3.30pm, which Luke Henriques-Gomes will take you through.

But congratulations – we all made it through the hump of hump day, in this hump year. I’m going to go listen to some of the sad songs you have sent me on Twitter and enjoy some healthy wallowing. I’ll be back tomorrow morning – but in the meantime, take care of you. Ax


Here we go again.

The Federal Court has again slammed the Morrison Government for unlawfully detaining a man in defiance of orders to release him.

It's a scandal that Government Ministers think they can simply ignore court orders they don't like. No one is above the lawhttps://t.co/LlrAa3anxX pic.twitter.com/xGkKNTBZMx

— David Burke (@DavidHRLC) September 23, 2020

That this is not the first time we have heard of this – and that so many people just sort of shrug it off, says a lot about Australia’s humanity in general this last decade.


Approximately 20 people have now been arrested and fined at protests at the University of Sydney.

Earlier, we told you that hundreds of students and staff had gathered without arrests in an outdoor classroom that coincided with a protest against the federal government’s changes to degrees, and universities cutting jobs.

That was a far cry from previous weeks, where protestors were broken up even in groups of fewer than 19, spaced apart.

This afternoon, arrests were made after the outdoor classroom finished, and dozens of students then moved off the campus and down City Road and through Victoria Park in Sydney.

Protesters sit down on City Rd pic.twitter.com/wWdxkGUO2F

— Honi Soit (@honi_soit) September 23, 2020

Earlier in the day, academics and students gave lectures on the importance of protest, the issues with university casualisation and other criticism of the higher ed changes – all without arrests.

Yesterday, staff spoke out against against “political censorship” from NSW police and the suppression of freedom of speech, after students were arrested last week for gathering in spaced out groups of 19, even as other students had lunch in larger groups nearby.


In Victoria at the current time:

  • 4,268 cases may indicate community transmission – no change since yesterday.
  • 554 cases are currently active in Victoria.
  • 75 cases of coronavirus are in hospital, including eight in intensive care.
  • 18,713 people have recovered from the virus.
  • A total of 2,609,485 test results have been received which is an increase of 15,741 since yesterday.

Of the 554 current active cases in Victoria:

  • 537 are in metropolitan Melbourne under the First Step of our roadmap.
  • 14 are in regional local government areas under the Third Step of our roadmap
  • Three are either unknown or subject to further investigation.
  • Colac Otway has five active cases, Greater Geelong has two active cases, Greater Bendigo has one active case and Ballarat has no active cases.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media in Melbourne, Tuesday 22 September 2020.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media in Melbourne, Tuesday 22 September 2020. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Of the total cases:

  • 18,710 cases are from metropolitan Melbourne, while 1,192 are from regional Victoria.
  • Total cases include 9,581 men and 10,506 women.
  • Total number of healthcare workers: 3,510, active cases: 73.
  • There are 284 active cases relating to aged care facilities.

Active aged care outbreaks with the highest cumulative case numbers are as follows:

  • 256 cases have been linked to BaptCare Wyndham Lodge Community in Werribee.
  • 219 cases have been linked to Epping Gardens Aged Care in Epping.
  • 166 cases have been linked to Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer.
  • 140 cases have been linked to Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth.
  • 131 cases have been linked to BlueCross Ruckers Hill Aged Care Facility in Northcote.
  • 128 cases have been linked to Twin Parks Aged Care in Reservoir.
  • 124 cases have been linked to Cumberland Manor Aged Care Facility in Sunshine North.
  • 122 cases have been linked to Japara Goonawarra Aged Care Facility in Sunbury.
  • 121 cases have been linked to Estia Aged Care Facility in Heidelberg.
  • 108 cases have been linked to Glendale Aged Care Facility in Werribee.
An outdoor photography exhibition of healthcare workers in Melbourne.
An outdoor photography exhibition of healthcare workers in Melbourne. Photograph: James Ross/AP


Victoria Health has put out its daily data sheet:

Victoria has recorded 15 new cases of coronavirus since yesterday, with the total number of cases now at 20,100.

The overall total has increased by 24 due to nine cases being reclassified.

Within Victoria, 10 of the new cases are linked to outbreaks or complex cases and five are under investigation.

Of today’s 10 cases linked to outbreaks, four are linked to aged care (Baptcare Wyndham Lodge, Estia Keilor, Japara Elanora and Edenvale Manor), four are linked to existing outbreaks (Alfred Hospital and Dandenong Police Station) and two are linked to complex cases which remain under investigation.

Of today’s 15 new cases, there are three cases in Greater Dandeong, two cases in Manningham, Moreland and Wyndham and singles cases in Boroondara, Frankston, Melton, Moonee Valley and Whittlesea. One case is subject to further investigation.

There have been five new deaths from Covid-19 reported since yesterday. One man aged in his 70s, two women in their 80s, one man in his 90s and one woman in her 100s. Three deaths occurred prior to yesterday.

All of today’s five deaths is linked to a known outbreak in an aged care facility. To date, 771 people have died from coronavirus in Victoria.

The average number of cases diagnosed in the last 14 days for metropolitan Melbourne is 29.4 and regional Victoria is 1.1. The rolling daily average case number is calculated by averaging out the number of new cases over the past 14 days.

The total number of cases from an unknown source in the last 14 days is 41 for metropolitan Melbourne and zero for regional Victoria. The 14-day period for the source of acquisition data ends 48 hours earlier than the 14-day period used to calculate the new case average due to the time required to fully investigate a case and assign its mode of acquisition.


In other news, the Victorian government IS seeking to claim public interest immunity in the supreme court challenge to its Melbourne curfew.

BREAKING: the state government will seek to keep secret the data relied on to continue Melbourne’s curfew. A public interest immunity claim will be made in the Supreme Court on Monday when the curfew is challenged at trial. #springst #auspol #auslaw

— Shannon Deery (@s_deery) September 23, 2020


So what does that mean.

Paul Keating thinks the Reserve Bank is not doing enough to head off the worst of the economic crisis.

He criticises the RBA for being timid – not stepping outside central bank orthodoxy. By that, he mentions the banks unwillingness to consider what we know of as ‘money printing’ – that’s what’s he means when he sarcastically pings the RBA for not considering ‘buying bonds directly from the Treasury’.

The RBA has been buying bonds from the secondary market – PJK is saying it could cut out the middleman and just buy directly from the Treasury – which is essentially, the Treasury printing money for the bank to distribute straight into the economy.

Keating thinks this is because the RBA’s leaders are a bit too concerned with what their international colleagues will think about them at their annual bank for international settlements meeting in Switzerland.

Instead, he says we need out of the box thinking – and he’s saying that as someone who had trust in the RBA, even when it came at great political cost to him.

Keating also thinks the central bank needs to start concentrating on helping the government meet the task of full employment.

The theory there is, if you have full employment, the budget takes care of itself.

If you think it is sounding very MMT-ish, that’s because it kinda is. There has been a big push for Australia’s central bank to adopt some of the MMT measures to get Australia out of the coronacession, and some of its biggest points are what PJK is touching on here.


And he finishes with:

The RBA should return its eye to the Reserve Bank Act. Its job is to help the government meet the task of full employment. Price stability has been more than achieved.

So, the Reserve Bank might do as it was set up to do – help the government.

Be a utility. Shoulder the load. And in a super-low inflationary world, that load is funding fiscal policy. Mountainous sums of it.

In an economic emergency of the current dimension that means putting the orthodoxy into perspective and doing what is sensibly required.

Reserve Bank of Australia building in Sydney.
Reserve Bank of Australia building in Sydney. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The problem about central banks, and this is true of the Reserve Bank of Australia – it has become a sort of deity, where lesser mortals might inquire, however respectfully, what the exalted priests might be thinking or have in mind for their prosperity or the country at large.

The only difference between the deity and those to be governed is that the Governor and his deputies do not wear clerical collars and black suits. But that is the only difference in their comport and attitude.

Deputy Governor Guy Debelle’s meandering thoughts yesterday about the Bank and monetary policy is way not good enough. Not good enough for those likely to be unemployed. Not good enough for those who have already lost their retirement savings.

Not good enough for a government trying to fund a massive support program for an economy in distress.

The Reverse Bank has to quickly rediscover the gear stick and make the shift back to forward.


PJK continues:

Knowing full well that monetary policy can now no longer add to nominal demand – something that now, only fiscal policy is capable of doing, the Reserve Bank is way behind the curve in supporting the government in its budgetary funding measures.

For a moment, it showed some unlikely form in pursuing its 0.25% bond yield target for three year Treasury bonds and a low interest facility for banks.

But now, after 600,000 superannuation accounts were cleared and closed down, with 500,000 of those belonging to people under 35 – a withdrawal of $35bn in personal savings, and further demands arising from the employment hiatus in Victoria, the Deputy Governor of the Bank, Guy Debelle, yesterday strolled out with debating points about what further RBA action might be contemplated.

As history has shown, when a real crisis is upon us the RBA is invariably late to the party.

And so it is again.

The Reserve Bank Act has two objectives – price stability and full

Well, for the moment, we don’t need to worry about price stability. One would need a microscope to find any serious impetus to inflation. But we do need to worry about full employment. And that is where the Reserve Bank Act is relevant.

The Act says the Bank and the government should endeavour to agree on policies which meet that objective – in this case, employment.

In other words, the Bank should be explicitly supporting the government so the country does not experience a massive fall in employment – impacting particularly on younger workers – those who have already been obliged to wipe out their superannuation savings to support themselves.

But instead of that, in funding a level of government outlays by buying appropriate levels of government debt and locking it away on its balance sheet, thereby making the government’s funding task much easier and support for the country better, the Deputy Governor conducts a guessing competition on what incremental step the Bank might take to help.

It has to be remembered, these are the high priests of the incremental.

Making absolutely certain that not a Bank toe will be put across the line of central bank orthodoxy.

Certainly not buying bonds directly from the Treasury – wash your mouth out on that one – what would they say about us at the annual BIS meeting in Basel?

Not even ambitiously buying sufficient bonds in the secondary market, like the European Central Bank or the Bank of Japan.


Paul Keating has put out one of his rare (although not so lately) statements.

This time, it is on the Reserve Bank and monetary policy.

I would never presume to be able to summarise Paul J Keating, so here it is:

In my office during the latter part of the 1980s and the early 1990s, we had a nickname for the Reserve Bank – the Reverse Bank.

And what earned the Bank that nickname was that the Bank was too slow lifting interest rates in the face of the commercial bank credit bubble of the late 1980s and too slow in getting rates down in the early 1990s.

This gave Australia a recession deeper than it would have otherwise had, notwithstanding that the commercial banks’ crazy credit behaviour had to be stopped and gains against inflation had to be protected.

Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating.
Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

As Treasurer, I personally wore the cost of the Bank’s indolence in the task of smashing inflation – as it turned out, an outcome which gave Australia 30 years of low inflationary growth thereafter.

And as a measure of my voluntarily agreeing to give the Bank more discretion over interest rates, as prime minister, I wore the Bank increasing interest rates by 2.75%, 275 basis points, in 1994 – at great political cost to me.

No one in Australian public life had done more to lift up the Reserve Bank while giving it a singular discretion over interest rates than I did. And no one carried a greater cost of it.

Peter Costello’s letter later about so-called independence was simply a costless acknowledgment of a structural change that I had already set into place.

But the Reserve Bank is now having another one of its dalliances with indolence.


Graham Readfearn has the latest on the stranded Tasmanian whale pods. It is not good news:

AAP has an update on what is happening with the icare bonuses:

NSW Labor has introduced draft legislation to end executive bonuses at scandal-ridden insurance agency icare.

The opposition’s move follows claims that eight icare executives shared $8m in salaries and bonuses over two years.

NSW opposition spokesman Daniel Mookhey said the State Insurance and Care Governance (Employees) Bill would strip icare of the power to pay its executives more bonuses and introduced it to the upper house on Wednesday morning.

“icare should never have paid them millions in salaries and bonuses,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The agency is an employer-funded workers insurer, owned by the state and overseen by the NSW treasurer, but independent from government. It was one of three organisations that replaced WorkCover in 2015.

It provides workers compensation insurance to more than 326,000 businesses, insuring 3.6 million employees.

The insurance agency has been under scrutiny since July when NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet came under fire after reports of poor financial management and staffing issues with the agency.

There was further scrutiny when it was revealed two icare-paid ministerial staffers had been recruited to work on secondment in his office.

“icare’s top executives ruined the NSW workers compensation scheme,” Mookhey said.

“I expect Dominic Perrottet to vote for Labor’s legislation. If he doesn’t, he’s voting to pay icare’s top executives more bonuses.”


This rule is one of the reasons I am not allowed an office cat at parliament house.

This story has everything https://t.co/1Wten6jjOd

— Tom Richardson (@TomRichardson) September 23, 2020

And that’s that for Paul Fletcher.

Daniel Hurst will have a story on that for you soon.

Back to Paul Fletcher for one last question:

Q: Just on some of the laws that the Right to Know campaign want to change. One of them is around defamation which was touch on earlier. I wondered in your opinion, there’s a lot of people in the sector who say that it is no longer fit for purpose. Do you still think that the defamation laws in this country are still acting as they’re intended to?

Australian communications Minister Paul Fletcher at the National Press Club in Canberra 23 September 2020.
Australian communications Minister Paul Fletcher at the National Press Club in Canberra 23 September 2020. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Paul Fletcher:

Defamation is a very complex area, and to be honest with you, I’m not going to venture an opinion on it.

The policy responsibility for the area primarily sits with the attorney general and the commonwealth government, and actual frankly, attorney generals, because the state laws to a material extent.

Clearly, I have an interest as communications minister in having a vigorous media sector. But beyond that, I’m not going to wade into what is a very complex area unless and until I’ve done the recognise which amount of study that mix me feel my opinions are worth expressing.


There have been, surprisingly, no arrests made yet at a protest against the federal government’s changes to higher education policy, held today at the University of Sydney.

Previously, dozens of students and staff have been arrested and fined at earlier protests held at the university, even as they stuck to groups smaller than 20.

Yesterday, staff spoke out against “undemocratic” behaviour from NSW police, saying it was suppressing freedom of speech to arrest protestors under Covid regulations, while letting other students have lunch, or even attend classes of 30 to 40 people.

Today, the protest has coincided with an outdoor teaching event, held by staff, who are delivering lectures on the importance of protest, the issues with university casualisation and other criticism of the higher ed changes.

There are over a hundred students and attendees sitting outdoors listening currently.

The student newspaper, Honi Soit, report that the university asked the police not to break this event up today.

Today’s outdoor seminar on “Higher Education and Democratic Society” getting going on New Law Lawns. pic.twitter.com/ldlca3dUsS

— David Brophy (@Dave_Brophy) September 23, 2020

Friends and readers in the arts, feel free to respond.

Q: So ministerial responsibility – could you explain what it actually means?

Paul Fletcher:

Let’s take the questions one at a time. So let’s come to your question about jobkeeper. The facts are clear, there’s been about $330m paid out through jobkeeper for people who are in what’s called the performing and creative arts subsector. That’s at Australian Bureau of Statistic’s terminology. There’s about 40,000 people in that subsector. About two third of them are getting jobkeeper. When you look at the job types of people in the sector, about 99% are eligible for jobkeeper.

So this line that jobkeeper is not well adapted to people in the arts sector is completely wrong.

It’s a Labor talking point.

It does not stack up with the evidence and over $330m has been paid out to people working in the performing and creative arts.

On the question of ministerial responsibility – the point that I would make is that the focus of the auditor general’s report, rightly, was that officials at a certain level within the department provided a misleading brief, an inadequate brief to the deputy secretary, who was the decision making minister. The deputy secretary made the decision – not the minister.

And it’s very clear from the auditor general’s own conclusions – not my conclusions but the auditor general, that what was provided to the deputy secretary and what went to the minister was seriously deficient.


Q: A simple yes, no and don’t know. Firstly in regard to a follow up from the question. Isn’t the doctrine of ministerial responsibility actually that you are responsible for what happens within your ministry? And haven’t you failed to actually follow that through by doing nothing about the auditor general’s report?

Secondly – in regard to Annika Smethurst’s issue – you have said how concerned you’ve been over the last 11 months about the raids on journalists, but the reality is that you have done absolutely nothing. Is that correct or not?

And thirdly – in regard to your other portfolio, which is arts – we know for example that ushers in cinemas receiving jobkeeper – isn’t it true that there has been no special support for the arts ministry, for those people who are actually producing content and contributing to the arts in Australia? You asked for a simple answer.

Paul Fletcher:

My answer to all three of these is no. I disagree on all three.


Q: What are you doing about phone scammers who are terrorising people, pretending to be from the Tax Office, threatening people with arrest and what not, if they don’t hand over money. It is actually a thing at the moment?

Paul Fletcher:

Yes, we do have a significant issue with scams. The ACCC leads project called Scam Watch and the ACMA, the Australian communications and media authority within my portfolio, is leading a major portfolio within the industry on how we can crack down on scams. One of the issues has been that a lot of scammers have been using so-called spoofing or over-stamping of the number from which the call appears to originate.

So Australians will get a phone call. It will look like it’s coming from a well recognised number that’s used by the Australian Tax Office or another well known organisation that advertises inbound numbers.

There’s been a number of things that the industry has done on that particular issue, including the use of software to identify a lot of these calls which originate from overseas. They’re very large scale criminal operations, so use of software to identify a particular source as these numbers come from.

Just in the last week, my colleague Stuart Robert, who has responsibility for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, where there’s also been some of these scams, announced some arrangements with Telstra to work on these.

So we are working. The industry is focused on this. Working with the regulator and we’re also working with some of the largest organisations whose name and brand are being used in the scams.


Q: I have a question about the code to force Facebook and to pay for the value of the Australian journalism that they distribute. Labor and the Greens have both suggested that in the interests of getting cross party consensus that absolute and SBS should be included in the code. Are you open to that? And secondly as a way to resolve disputes are you open to anything other than final offer arbitration?

Paul Fletcher:

Well, what I’d say is that we’re going through a process right now in relation to the draft code that the ACCC prepared, the draft of the mandatory code it prepared as asked to by government which was publicly released by the treasurer and by me on 31 July. August was available to stakeholders to provide their comments and submissions. Certainly Facebook and Google have done that as have many other stakeholders. The ACCC is now working through all that. It will give its final advice to government and that advice will look at the issues that have been raised including – both ABC and SBS have put in submissions arguing unsurprisingly that they ought to be – they ought to have the benefit of the remuneration provisions of the code. It’s clear they’ll have the benefit of the other provisions but the remuneration provisions. And quite a number of submissions have been made about the mechanism, the arbitration mechanism and so on. We’ll weigh all of that up in the mix. That’s the whole purpose of putting out a draft and getting comment on it. The ACCC will give its final advice to government. We’ll develop the legislation, formally introduce it to the parliament. We aim to do that before the end of the year. So we’ll weigh up all of these issues as part of that process.

Australian communications minister Paul Fletcher at the National Press Club in Canberra 23 September 2020.
Australian communications minister Paul Fletcher at the National Press Club in Canberra 23 September 2020. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Q: I take your point the advice will come up the chain but would you say you’re open minded to those sorts of proposals?


What I’d say is in the broad we’ll weigh up on the merits all of the feedback that’s been received before making final decisions. So all of the issues you’ve raised are things that will will weigh up and make a final decision.

Q: Lastly, do you have some sort of ideological position against the ABC and SBS receiving the benefit of this code?


Not at all. The policy logic for the position we’ve taken is that it is Facebook and Google’s very strong position in the advertising market which has greatly eroded the advertising revenues that privately owned media businesses depend upon to in turn be able to pay for journalism which as we all know is expensive. By contrast, ABC and SBS to a large extent have – their revenue comes from government. So the underlying policy problem which exists – the challenge which exists in terms of the privately owned businesses does not exist in terms of the national broadcasters. That’s the policy logic for the position we have taken.


Paul Fletcher will not say if anyone should lose their job over the Western Sydney airport land purchase.

That too, is a matter for the department.

Q: Finally on the NBN Australia is ranked 62nd in the world in terms of broadband speed, is the announcement on the upgrade today a concession that our system, our networks not up to scratch for 2020?

Paul Fletcher:

Not at all. What it is is the logical next step in the development of the NBN. We put in place a plan in 2013 which we have consistently executed which said we need to get this network rolled out as quickly as possible.

I remind you of the filling I cited earlier. When we came to government after six years there were 51,000 premises connected to the NBN. Why was the number so hopeless? Why has the previous government done such a terrible job?

Australian communications minister Paul Fletcher delivers an address at the National Press Club in Canberra 23 September 2020.
Australian communications minister Paul Fletcher delivers an address at the National Press Club in Canberra 23 September 2020. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

One of the reasons was the network architecture they chose takes a very long time to rollout. And our judgement was that one of the several advantages of having a significant element of fibre to the node in the mix of technologies we used was it would allow a more rapid rollout as well as being more capital effective because the cost of a fibre to the premises connection is about $4,500, cost of fibre to the node is less than half that, and I make the Labor’s design strategy, deeply flawed in our assessment was that fibre to the premises could be connected to every home whether the customer had any interest in broadband at all let alone the ultra fast speeds that need fibre. Our approach consistently has been different. More careful with capital, and we’re maintaining that in this next phase by saying we’ll only build the fibre lead in if the customer orders a service.


It is quite amazing how little ministers seem to be responsible for, these days.

This is not the only example and it won’t be the last.

Q: We are in a Westminster system, you’re the minister responsible. Wasn’t it a failure on your part not to be across that brief?

Paul Fletcher:

Ultimately ministers make their decisions based upon briefs that are provided to them by their department. The auditor general has said two things that are of critical relevance in answering the question you just posed. One, the decision wasn’t taken by me, it was taken by a senior official of the department. And, two, the brief that the department provided was manifestly inadequate.


And yet the questions raised in the auditor general’s report into sports rorts still remain unanswered.


Q: In the brief that went to you, were there figures in that brief?

Paul Fletcher:

The report itself – the auditor general’s report itself says there were not, and it says that there was an expression of opinion by the department that what was being paid was reasonable. Let me clarify that.

It used some formula about $30m less than amount to be received in exchange for another parcel of land.

But what the report is very clear about is this. The decision was made by the deputy secretary of the department, not the minister of the day.

The information that went to the deputy secretary of the department from lower level officials in the department, the same information that was provided to the minister was deficient, did not lay out properly the basis for the valuation and contained an expression of opinion by departmental officials that the price being paid was reasonable and an expression of opinion that the auditor general has strongly contested based upon the work done in that report looking at other [instances].

Q: You were the minister at the time. Do you concede that you might lose some skin over this, ‘cause it’s not a good look.


Well, I think if you look at the auditor general’s report itself and identify what it said, what it said was, in essence, junior officials or mid-level officials in the department produced a highly inadequate brief that went to a senior official in the department, the deputy secretary, and went to the minister. So, it’s very clear that there was not adequate information provided and that’s what the auditor general concludes.

So I think – you know, what’s more important than my view is what the auditor general says. It’s very clear from the report that the concerns the auditor general expresses go to the conduct of departmental officials not the minister of the day.

Q: If you could answer the first question, you wouldn’t have allowed the acquisition to go ahead if you had been across all the facts.


Look, I’m not in a position to answer a hypothetical question but clearly what’s on the face of the auditor general’s report when it compares what was paid and other valuations the auditor general has cited at the very least it raises very significant questions so if I had had that information in front of me and if I was the decision maker and I make the point I did not have information in front of me and I was not the decision maker, would it certainly have raised further questions? I’m sure it would have done.


Then we get to the purchase of land for the western Sydney runway. (Which the auditor general found the government paid 10 times the $3m valuation. The owner was a Liberal party donor.)

Q: You say you were briefed on the acquisition but you didn’t have all the facts in front of you because of the department. If you did have all the facts in front of you, if you had known that the federal government was paying 22 times as much as the New South Wales government, they had requested a quote from one supplier, there was potential conflict of interest problems, that there were coffee shop meetings with the landowner without properly recorded records of those conversations, would you have allowed the acquisition to go ahead?

Paul Fletcher:

You’ve rightly referenced quite a number of things that are set out in the auditor general’s report about in question of the price that was paid by the Commonwealth for a piece of land and now forming part of Western Sydney airport.

The auditor general’s report makes it very plain that officials within the department provided briefing material to a deputy secretary of the department who made the decision to proceed with the transaction.

So it was made by a deputy secretary, not by a minister. And the auditor general makes it plain that in his assessment, and I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment, information that should have been provided to the decision maker was not provided. He also makes it plain or the report also makes it plain that that information was not provided to the minister.

So, it was a decision taken by the deputy secretary of the department. The provision of information, as to the land valuation and its methodology, the auditor general finds was inadequate and he describes the report uses the language unethical. Certainly as I have looked at the auditor general’s report I have absolutely learned things that I did not know before, and I think the auditor general is right to have made the recommendations that he has. I welcome the fact that the department of infrastructure has said that it accepts those recommendations and will implement them and obviously that’s with a view to making sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.

Q: I’m going to jump in there. You said this morning you talked about ethics and lack of due diligence. Could you - when you talk about ethics, what do you mean there? Do you worry that this is potentially corrupt?


What I mean is that the auditor general, in its report, described what occurred as being “unethical”, and specifically I read that as a reference to the fact that in the briefing material that went to the deputy secretary of the department who made the decision and in addition what went to me that key pieces of information were not disclosed including information that would help make an assessment of whether the valuation - whether what was being paid was reasonable.

And in particular what the brief did say, this is from the Auditor-General’s report, what the brief said was the price that is proposed to be paid is reasonable.

Now, the auditor general has – his conclusion is that this process amongst other things was unethical. What I would say is I welcome the fact that the auditor general has made these recommendations, that the department has said it’s going to follow them, and this is exactly what an auditor general is there to do.

If processes to deal with public money raise questions or are deficient, then the auditor general is there to look at that. He’s identified that and he’s made recommendations to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


Q: At the National Press Club we are the home of free speech here. Do you worrying about the chilling implications of that?

Paul Fletcher:

As communications minister, there’s a lot that concerns me about free speech and the vibrancy of our media. A free and rigorous media is critical to the functioning of our democracy. Amongst the issues which need to be considered there are the economic sustainability of large parts of our media sector. We have seen the business model that underpins media organisations other than the ABC and to a substantial extent the SBS come under great challenge. We’re obviously working through that issue when it comes to the mandatory code that the ACCC has been charged with developing. So I think governments in a democracy and certainly the communications minister of the day as well as many other ministers absolutely are concerned about the importance of a free press, the importance of a vigorous media and the importance of the press doing its job in a democracy.



It’s been 16 months since the raid on the ABC and on my (Annika Smethurst’s) house and at the time you said our government very strongly supports press freedom, it really is a bedrock principle and you went on to say it had understandably caused a lot of anxiety among journalists.

I wondered 16 months on do you think your government’s done anything to ease that anxiety and what’s to stop it happening again?

(And again, a reminder that the story in question, written by Annika, was proven right, despite the repeated denials.)

Paul Fletcher:

Well, of course, we are working through a range of processes in response to what occurred, including the PJCIS, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security reviewing these issues and making recommendations.

And of course what we have also seen is some of those legal processes play out, and it is important to be clear that actions by the Federal Police as mean by any other organisation or entity in our society are subject to the rule of law and are subject to court challenge. So we’ll continue to work through these issues. We’ve made it clear that nobody’s above the law, the law has to apply to everybody. But there are a set of issues that have been raised and we’ll continue to engage on those issues.

Q: Dan Oaks (ABC) has this hovering over his head, Annika had this hovering over her head for such a long time. Do you understand the anxiety that they lived through?


Of course the impact of this personally has been very challenging and fronting for the individuals affected, and, of course, it’s been a subject of great interest from journalists. That is understandable. As a government, we obviously have to weigh up a whole range of considerations and make sure they’re all properly balanced in our legal and regulatory framework. We have provisions for example in the Crimes Act to talk to one of the provisions that was I guess the root cause of one of these police actions which deal with conduct on the part of the public servant in relation to confidential Commonwealth information. So, what’s important is that the democratically elected Parliament work through these issues, strike the right balance. I have made the point before that the relevant provision of the Crimes Act has been there for a hundred years, so these issues are not necessarily novel. But there’s been a range of specific suggestions that have been made. The attorney general, I, others, have indicated that we’ve got processes to consider those suggestions including through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.


We are on to the questions with Paul Fletcher:

Q: I am going to read to you a quote, you are familiar with the website ZDNet. They’ve written about your announcement today saying “Seven years too late” and the line of their story, “What is a useless and wasteful argument that was”. Your response to that?

Paul Fletcher:

My response is first to make the point that what we’re focused on is delivering this project, delivering performance and we’ve got the rollout to 99% of the premises in Australia.

We’re now at a point where we can move to the next stage.

I certainly agree that we’ve had lots of pretty sterile political arguments. What our government is much more interested this is delivering a network that meets the needs of Australians. Today we’re announcing a step change in that. So building on of course the way the network succeeded in meeting the needs of Australians particularly through the Covid period and so I think we’ll let the performance of the network and the project do the talking.


Greens senators Sarah Hanson-Young and Peter Whish-Wilson want to know why the federal environment minister Sussan Ley, has stayed so quiet on the whale strandings in Tasmania:

Sarah Hanson-Young:

The stranding of more than 450 pilot whales is an environmental disaster and the federal environment minister should be responding accordingly.

It’s important for minister Ley to do what Australians expect of the government and to step up and assist the marine biologists, rescuers and volunteers with whatever support the experts coordinating this enormous rescue operation need to save these whales.

The clean up operation is going to be a mammoth task and the federal government should be lending a hand. These magnificent animals deserve a national response.

The question everyone is asking is ‘why has this happened’. We’re calling on the Morrison government to establish an inquiry and fund the research needed to help find the answers.

A member of a rescue crew stands with a whale on a sand bar near Strahan, Australia.
A member of a rescue crew stands with a whale on a sand bar near Strahan, Australia. Photograph: Brodie Weeding/AP

Peter Whish-Wilson:

All eyes have been on Tasmania in the fight against the clock to save as many whales as we can.

As these researchers and rescue crew do so, they need every bit of support they can get.

High-level research will also need to be carried out on the deceased whales to help us understand why this has happened.

Cetaceans are protected under federal environment laws, so the federal government has an important role to play in providing research funds and mitigating risks associated with whale strandings.

I hope something good comes from this tragedy in that we substantially step up efforts to better understand the ‘why’ of this beaching.

The level of public distress over this beaching event indicates just how much Australians care about whales and marine life and the environment minister should reflect this in backing our scientists with the support they need.

I’m sure the Tasmanian government would appreciate the assistance.


Thinking of my colleague Josh Taylor, who has reported on issues with the NBN for years, and is now watching this all play out from lockdown in Melbourne.

Fletcher says the upgrades boost "internal rate of return from 3.2% to 3.7% and add significant value to this critical national asset."

Then why didn't you do it in the first place?

— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) September 23, 2020

To all the tech reporters, we heard you and we feel your frustrations.


Here is the beginning of Paul Fletcher’s speech – you have heard it before, but just for context for the coming questions:

I’m proud that our Liberal National government took a failed project and got it back on track.

Under three successive ministers, Malcolm Turnbull, Mitch [Fifield] and now me, we have followed a consistent plan.

We have wanted to get the NBN rolled out fast and thankfully when Covid hit 98% of households were able to connect to the NBN.

And in line with our plan, today we’re announcing the next stage of growth for NBN, so today I want to speak first about where the NBN has got to and how we got here.

Then I’ll talk about the next stage for NBN that we have announced today with 8m homes and businesses including 90% of all businesses in Australia able to have one gigabit per second blazing fast broadband by 2023.

And lastly I want to talk about how important this is for our economic recovery with 25,000 jobs to come from this major infrastructure investment.

Let me start by reminding you that in 2013, Labor had spent $6.5bn on the NBN, contracted to spend many billions more, and yet had connected barely 51,000 premises to the fixed line network.

We moved quickly when we came to government.


Paul Fletcher is continuing his ‘forget everything we have said about fibre to the premises previously’ announcement at the national press club.

Daniel Hurst is there and can hear me screaming from 10km away.


The Qantas Wallabies decision comes amid intense financial pressure on Qantas due to sweeping state and international travel restrictions that have devastated the entire aviation industry.

Qantas last month announced a $2bn loss, driven mostly by the cost of making workers redundant due to the coronavirus pandemic and sweeping write-downs of the value of its fleet of planes, which remains in large part grounded.

Its total borrowings have soared by more than $1bn after it borrowed more money to help get it through the aviation sector’s lean times.

Workmen working on the Qantas flying kangaroo logo.
Workmen working on the Qantas flying kangaroo logo. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

Rival airline Virgin Australia, which has just ended a spell in administration after being driven to the brink of collapse due to the pandemic, continues to sponsor the AFL.

The deal is reportedly worth between $5m and $10m a year to the code, and was thrown into doubt when Virgin Australia’s board put the airline into administration in April after it was refused a government bailout.

However, earlier this month Virgin Australia was formally taken over by a new owner, US private equity group Bain Capital.


Over in the hotel quarantine inquiry:

Victorian Police Minister @LisanevilleMP tells @HotelInquiryVIC inquiry she learned of plan for forced quarantine for overseas travellers at. 2pm on Friday March 27. It was enforced less than 24 hours later and she doesn’t recall whose idea security guards was pic.twitter.com/zIO2dvDQsW

— Samantha Maiden (@samanthamaiden) September 23, 2020

Embattled Rugby Australia has been delivered another blow after major sponsor Qantas ended its 30-year partnership with the code. The Australian airline has also pulled back in its deals with cricket and football in a bid to save up to $20m a year.

Qantas said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was the reason behind the rugby decision, rather than last year’s Israel Folau controversy. Folau’s homophobic social media posts raised questions over the continued involvement of Qantas, whose chief executive Alan Joyce said at the time that sponsorship deals were “supposed to be a positive”.

But on Wednesday, Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said the virus had been “the undoing” of the partnership, which will expire at the end of this year.

Wallabies jerseys are displayed in their change room.
Wallabies jerseys are displayed in their change room. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

“In an environment where thousands of our people have lost jobs and thousands more are stood down while they wait for flying to restart, we can’t maintain these sponsorships in the way we have in the past,” Tully said.

“While we’re dealing with this crisis and its aftermath, the cash cost of our sponsorships has to be zero. Without exception, our partners have been incredibly understanding of the situation, particularly as most are facing their own Covid challenges.

“Qantas has had a very long association with Rugby Australia and the Wallabies, and we’ve stuck with each other during difficult times. Unfortunately, this pandemic has been the undoing.”


I don’t know why, because there has been a lot of tragic news this year, and all of those individual tragedies resonate with me – but this story has broken me this week:

About 470 whales now stranded after another 200 found further down the inlet. Most of the second pod are already feared dead.

This is now considered the worst mass whale stranding in Tasmania's history. An absolutely heartbreaking tragedy.https://t.co/6Faw39Osfi

— Amber Wilson (@ambervwilson) September 22, 2020



"I’m not sure which does the most harm: the cut of A$150 per week in #JobSeeker payments due this Friday or the sudden and coincidental volley of media reports about unemployed people refusing jobs, including fruit picking."

Coincidental? https://t.co/KaqL9rpnXl

— Rachel Siewert (@SenatorSiewert) September 23, 2020


It’s also bi-visibility day, so happy day to all our bi-readers.

You are valid and have nothing to explain to anyone.

More people should learn Auslan.

Happy #InternationalDayofSignLanguages! Thank you to all our #Auslan interpreters for everything you’re doing to help keep our deaf and hearing impaired community informed during this COVID crisis. I'd encourage all Australians to learn some Auslan and give it a go! #IDSL2020 pic.twitter.com/PSWP5HekYg

— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) September 23, 2020


Retail trade down $1.2bn

The ABS is looking at retail trade today.

A 4% fall is A LOT (but it is mostly because the nation’s second largest economy had closed shop).

  • The seasonally adjusted estimate fell 4.2% (-$1,276.3m) from July 2020 to August 2020.
  • In seasonally adjusted terms, Australian turnover rose 6.9% in August 2020 compared with August 2019. This compares to an annual movement of 12.0% in July 2020.
A deserted shopping strand in Melbourne on 18 September 2020.
A deserted shopping strand in Melbourne on 18 September 2020. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Included in the note:

  • Victoria led the falls, down 12.6% compared to July 2020. Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne, and stage 3 restrictions in regional Victoria, restricted trading for non-essential retail businesses.
  • Excluding Victoria, the rest of Australia fell 1.5% from July 2020 to August 2020.
  • All industries fell, primarily driven by the Victorian result, although there were falls in most states and territories.
  • At the industry level, Household goods retailing led the falls, although sales in this industry remain 20% above the levels of August 2019.
  • Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing, department stores, and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services, also saw large monthly falls, with the largest falls recorded in Victoria. New South Wales saw a large fall in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services.
  • Food retailing saw a small fall, with mixed results amongst the states and territories.


There is a bit of confusion over what ‘community transmission’ means in NSW. Casey here clears some of that up

NSW is using the term "community transmission" to mean something different to most other states.

What NSW Health is calling "community transmission" is more consistently referred to as "locally acquired"

Victoria uses "community transmission" just to refer to mystery cases.

— casey briggs (@CaseyBriggs) September 23, 2020

Here’s an interesting note from Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans.

Evans thinks the Reserve Bank will be cutting interest rates on the day of the federal budget.

He says it will be a “Team Australia moment” because the RBA will be directly supporting a “bold” federal budget.

The prospect of the RBA “sitting back” to assess the Budget, which has been seen as the “norm” in previous years is not appropriate for these unique times,” Evans has written in his note to clients this morning.

Reserve Bank of Australia in Sydney.
Reserve Bank of Australia in Sydney. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

Readers of this blog will already know that the official interest rate is already sitting at a historically low 0.25%.

So how much more can the RBA cut?

Well, Evans reckons the RBA will cut the cash rate to 0.1%.

He also suspects it’ll adopt a 0.1% three-year bond target, and adjust the rate of any new drawdown of the Term Funding Facility to 0.1% – both of those rates are currently set at 0.25%.


In the last 24 hours, Victoria police have issued a total of 83 fines to individuals for breaching the chief health officer directions, including:

  • Eight for failing to wear a face covering when leaving home for one of the four approved reasons.
  • Seven at vehicle checkpoints.
  • Twenty for curfew breaches.
  • 26,966 vehicles checked at the vehicle checkpoints.
  • Conducted 1,863 spot checks on people at homes, businesses and public places across the state (total of 455,214 spot checks conducted since 21 March).
Victoria police officers patrol through a shopping centre in Melbourne.
Victoria police officers patrol through a shopping centre in Melbourne. Photograph: Reuters

Examples include:

  • Seven people who were located in an apartment in Melbourne having ‘going away’ drinks. All seven people were issued with a fine.
  • Four people who were located in a car which was parked at a sports centre in Greater Dandenong. None of the occupants in the vehicle were from the same household and did not have a valid reason for being together. All four were issued with a fine.


What else happened in that hour? Daniel Hurst has the latest from Paul Fletcher:

At the end of the NBN press conference, the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, took a series of questions about the saga surrounding the government’s purchase of land owned by a Liberal donor to allow for the future growth of the Western Sydney airport.

He said the auditor general’s report - released on Monday - indicated that the valuation methodology for the Leppington Triangle purchase was not made clear to senior officials of the department, let alone to him as the former minister for urban Infrastructure and cities:

“I think the auditor general is right – it does raise issues.”

As my colleague Paul Karp has reported, the auditor general found taxpayers stumped up $26.7m too much for land owned by billionaire dairy farmers to build a second runway at Western Sydney airport after 2050. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found the $30m price tag paid by the infrastructure department was almost 10 times its fair value.

Labor will push for a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, while the infrastructure department has launched an investigation into alleged unethical conduct by its staff and a review of the transaction.

Yesterday the cities and urban infrastructure minister, Alan Tudge, distanced himself from the controversy by saying there was “no question of ministerial involvement”.

Fletcher was asked this morning to say when he became aware of the cost of the land purchase. He pointed to the auditor general’s report’s finding that the valuation methodology was not shared up the chain.

“It was not in the brief that came to me ... Information was not provided to senior officers of the department let alone to ministers.”

Would he expect ministers to be fully informed of such matters?

He said it was “a question that would be best put to the department”.


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has taken time out from his campaign of hate against the state of Victoria to extend rules watering down what companies have to tell the stock market.

The watered down provisions, which were greeted with dismay by investors, were part of the government’s war against class actions and were supposed to provide companies and their directors temporary relief during the coronavirus crisis and expire at the end of next month.

But Frydenberg today extended them by another six months, to 23 March next year.

The announcement was dropped to financial tabloid the Australian Financial Review yesterday, which rewarded the favour by giving the article a prime spot on, er, page 4.

Investors are concerned that the watered down rules will allow companies to get away with avoiding telling the market about bad news.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA

Frydenberg today defended the move, saying that “evidence to date shows that the temporary exemption has assisted companies to continue to update the market during this difficult and uncertain time”.

Corporate Australia, which has been lobbying for the weaker rules to become permanent, will enjoy the extra six months of lax regulation.

Class action lawyers and litigation funders were, unsurprisingly, unhappy.

“This is a cynical use of Covid-19 to justify the long-held goal of reducing corporate accountability for misleading the market,” said Keep Corporations Honest spokesman Ben Hardwick, who is head of class actions at law firm Slater & Gordon.

“The Morrison government’s decision to extend softer disclosure rules is a clear signal to corporate Australia to relax and get loose with the truth.”


Six new Covid cases in NSW

Moving on to New South Wales, there have been six new cases reported in the last 24 hours, but all are returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

From NSW Health:

Six new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 4,023.

All six are returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine

There were 16,759 tests reported in the 24-hour reporting period, compared with 7,616 in the previous 24 hours.

This marks the second day in a row with no community transmission of Covid-19. The last time NSW had consecutive days without community transmission was July 3, 4, and 5.

A medical worker administers a test for Covid-19 in Sydney.
A medical worker administers a test for Covid-19 in Sydney. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

While there were no locally acquired cases recorded in the past 48 hours, the virus is likely still circulating and it is imperative anyone displaying mild symptoms get tested immediately and not delay their test.

Testing numbers were higher today, but they have declined in recent weeks. NSW Health is appealing to the community to come forward for testing right away if you have a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, fever or other symptoms that could be Covid-19.

If people don’t come forward and get tested, we can’t keep the pandemic at bay.

We would like to see testing levels above 20,000 as achieved last week, particularly in South Western Sydney, and ahead of school holidays. For the sake of your friends and family, get a test. And if symptoms recur even a few days later, test again. It’s free.


Q: Premier, seeing as we’re ahead of schedule in terms of the 14-day average, will you consider lifting the curfew before the end of October?

Daniel Andrews:

I have no announcements to make about the curfew. Curfew provides police with an easily enforceable rule. It means less people going visiting friends and accordingly, it will be in place for as long as it needs to be in place to get these numbers down and keep them down. It won’t be there forever. It’s there whilst ever it serves a useful purpose, to make sure that people are not out and about and it gets into a situation where Victoria Police have to have interminable lengthy discussions with people having all sorts of manifestly incorrect false statements about where they were going. You’ve either got a reason to be out or you don’t and the curfew makes that easier to enforce. It doesn’t change the reasons for which you can leave your home. I’ve gone to this point in some length. The curfew does not change the reasons for which you can leave your home and to the best of my analysis, you can’t leave your house to exercise in the middle of the night or to go shopping in the middle of the night. I apologise for any inconvenience that causes.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews speaks during a press conference on 23 September 2020 in Melbourne.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews speaks during a press conference on 23 September 2020 in Melbourne. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Q: But there’s no health risk if someone wanted to exercise in the middle of the night, right?


Well, that is not allowed so that question doesn’t really need answering.


Given the public housing tower lockdown we saw at the beginning of the second wave in Melbourne, why does the government need more powers to detain people?

Because they’ve already got powers.

Daniel Andrews:

I think it’s important to look at those two examples. So, for instance – sorry. I think it’s differ to draw broader examples because... We’re the landlord and Victoria police essentially secured that site.

The notion of anybody wandering off, as it were, and potentially spreading the virus was not a material consideration, because they were literally locked down and no one was allowed to go in or out from a resident point of view I mean, unless we had approved that, so if somebody had to go to another setting to isolate away from their family we, of course, made that happen.

So I don’t know that the example is actually useful because that site was absolutely security so the whole issue of being non-compliant with the chief health officer’s orders were a non-issue because we literally surrounded the place, locked it down and people couldn’t leave and that did contain the spread of the virus and whilst there were some positives there and there was some limited tragedy there as well, it was nothing compared to what it would have been.


Q: Can we ask the minister for mental health because these rules in part target people with, perhaps, mental health conditions.

Daniel Andrews:

I wouldn’t want to target anybody and I’d look to be very careful with that. It’s simply a fact. It’s not a judgement. It’s not a commentary. It is a fact that for some people, they will find it easier to be compliant with the rules than others. There will be some people who, for many different reasons, have a greater awareness of the risk that they and their conduct might pose. That is in no way a value judgement against any individual or class of person and we’ve got to be careful.

...But it is a fact and it’s not helpful to go through a list but some in the community will find it harder to act in accordance with the rules for lots of different reasons. We have many, many complex people or people with complex needs and on that basis we provide care and support to them in the most holistic way. The notion of involuntary treatment for instance is a well-established principle of Victorian law and well-established principle, particularly, of our Mental Health Act. None of those decisions are ever made lightly. Ever. And there is absolute oversight as to all of those matters.

If Martin [Foley] can add to those comments, I’m sure he will.

Q: My question would be how would these rules be applied in a way that perhaps they haven’t been in the past six months? What would be different?

Mental health minister Martin Foley speaks during a press conference on 23 September 23 2020 in Melbourne.
Mental health minister Martin Foley speaks during a press conference on 23 September 23 2020 in Melbourne. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Martin Foley:

We know that powers to compulsorily detain someone for mental health treatment are a very high bar. And necessarily so. But we also know that a small number of people with highly complex needs, would sometimes expose themselves in all kinds of vulnerable circumstances and we know from the experience of the past six months that those people can be challenging in out they engage with the rest of the community. And the kind of powers - short of compulsory detention for mental health support, but for public health support - are precisely the measured, reasonable circumstances that the omnibus bill contemplates. We know that you have to deal with the reality that this is a wildly infectious virus, and that a very, very small number of people who may be exposed to it in limited circumstances sometimes need – short of compulsory detention for mental health issues but for their public health wellbeing for themselves and the wider community, those are the kinds of circumstances envisaged for the omnibus bill.


Q: Have there been situations in the pandemic so far where having these rules have changed the outcome?

Daniel Andrews:

I’m not sure. We’ve certainly had some examples of people. It would always be a fine judgement about whether these powers are used. These are not blanket decisions and the fact that someone has the power and authority to do something doesn’t presuppose that they will. They will be required to make detailed, personal, on the merits of the individual circumstances and the case, those fine judgements and that in itself is a very important part of any process. These are not blank yes rules but we certainly have seen some people who have had the virus and been unwilling to follow the rules. We’ve had lots of different examples. I wouldn’t say it was hundreds or thousands of people but it doesn’t need to be. But these would not be powers that would be exercised easily or lightly. They would be the subject of a chain of command, structure, authority, oversight and detailed and thorough analysis of the risk that person posed and the likelihood that they would ... That that risk would be real...


But the bill does have touches of the Minority Report about it - detaining people before they have done anything - which is a very dangerous thing (although not the only example which any minority can tell you)

Q: Why does the bill need to give people the powers to detain people before they do anything wrong?

Daniel Andrews:

They’re based on a reasonable belief principle and proportionality principle about the risk of spreading Covid. There are some people who are not compliant, refuse to act in a responsible and safe way. Those powers would not be frequently used. They would be, I think, rare. But they are important.

Q: We only have your word for that. But, again... I’m not questioning your word. But your intention could be interpreted differently.


Of course you aren’t and I’m grateful for that. The key point here is that there are structures and oversight and accountabilities, there’s a formality to this and, again, the debate can be had on the floor of the Parliament. We’ll brief and discuss and talk through those issues in good faith. We wouldn’t take these steps if we didn’t believe they were proportionate to the challenge we face. We are in unprecedented times. Nobody is particularly pleased about that but once you against to the point where - Allen made the point, when chance becomes an important part of it, a small number of people doing the wrong thing can have implications for everybody and would have implications for everybody.

Q: Have police been the ones who suggested these changes?


There’s been a long discussion over quite some time about the number of authorised officers we have, the fact that different powers sit with different people and some improvements to the whole complaints arrangement. As to detailed correspondent and all of that, I’d need to come back to you on that but it’s been an ongoing discussion that I know the Department of Justice and community safety and all of their stake-holders have been an important part of that.


Q: A large number of very senior lawyers have raised fundamental concerns with the omnibus bill calling it unprecedented excessive powers and unconstrained powers to detain people before they’ve essentially done anything wrong. What assurances can you give the Victorian public that these powers won’t be abused, that people won’t be locked up before they’ve done anything? Will you consider perhaps tweaking some of these rules?

Daniel Andrews:

We’ll have a good-faith negotiation process with the crossbench as we do on all issues.

We saw the results of that when we last went to the Parliament with a COVID-related matter.

Those discussions continue. I don’t have an update on where they’re at but our normal practice is to engage meaningfully and in a good-faith way.

In terms of the concerns that are raised, people are free to raise concerns, I would say there’s a structure and form amount to this, whether it’s reclassifying people as authorised officer, whether it be from Victoria Police, PSOs and other people that work within frameworks with oversight and work to a rulebook and we can agree, I think, on the first of the three.

It is unprecedented because we’re in unprecedented times. If you want workplaces inspected to make sure that people are doing the right thing, if you want all the different compliance work that we do to be as effective as possible to keep us open, then have you to have a bigger team.

And you always have to make sure that rather than a workplace being inspected by, for instance, because the legal structures have different powers and responsibilities sitting with different people, there’s got to be someone from police, someone from WorkSafe, somebody from the Health Department, that doesn’t make any sense.

If you essentially double or triple the resource available to you, it stands to reason that we’ll have more people doing the right thing.

And that’s what shouldn’t be missed in this.

There are many, many industries who have worked extremely hard to be as safe as they possibly can and today there - they’re more COVIDSafe than they’ve ever been and that’s why a range of options become open to us.

To take supermarkets from in the 60s - so 60%, 65%, town a much higher number. Looking at abattoirs and all manner of different settings.

Has Daniel Andrews spoken to Gladys Berejiklian about the NSW-regional Victoria border?

I think our offices have spoken. I haven’t spoken to her but I’ll speak with her at the appropriate time. We talk when we need to and when we do it’s always cordial and particularly productive.

Q: What was the conversation between the offices?


I’m not sure. They speak about all sorts of different things. That is good news and the most important thing I can do is probably not be on the phone to other premiers but work to get the numbers down and get the borders open. That’s how we’ll do it. I’m sure that Gladys and Steven [Marshall] and Peter [Gutwein] and all manner of other people will look at these numbers today and they’ll see the trend and see that this strategy is working and that we are being successful, all of us, as proceed Victorians in getting these numbers down and finding that Covid normal and part of that will be the notion of being able to travel much more freely within the state and indeed to travel beyond it.


It has been raining in Victoria, which means hospitality venues in regional Victoria have had to turn people away because they can’t sit outside.

Asked whether there will be further allowances made for regional Victoria, given that there are now only 14 active cases in the regions, Daniel Andrews says:

Indeed. Weather is always challenging. That’s why there are grants there to not just put up ... to try and support the most robust outside structures that meet the rules in terms of air flow and are still outdoors.

It’s not building structures that are essentially indoors, look, we’re looking at all of the different options available to us based on the principles I mentioned before.

... The middle of the following week will mark two weeks if I’ve got my dates right and that’s when we’ll start.

A week from today will be essentially two weeks since the third step was taken in regional Victoria.

And we’re closely monitoring what the virus is doing, testing, all of those sorts of things.

As soon as we can take further steps that are safe, we’ll do that. That’s not just in regional Victoria. That’s guiding us in metropolitan Melbourne as well.

You do get to the point where the numbers could tell you it’s safe to go faster than we had planned and that was made clear in that road map but not enough time has passed for you to have that underlying confidence that we’re not missing something. That’s the passage-of-time issue I’ve talked about a few times.

Of course, it goes back to the central point that the facts are, logic tells you that not everybody who has system tomorrows gets tested.

There will be more out there than the case numbers I’ll report every day. Question is are they a good proxy for what’s out there?

At this stage, we believe they are, but we’d always reserve the right to have further days pass before making decisions. Once the decision is made - as to the question before about superspreaders, you know, one person and the issue of chance, so one person who happened to find themselves and spend time in some unfortunate locations where they were mingling and mixing with quite a lot of people, otherwise known as the place being opened up, that’s when you can have not one to 30, but five or six become 300 or 400.

That’s the really challenging part about it. So within all of that, we look each day at the data and take whatever steps we can when we can do that safely. On Sunday we’ll be able to account for some of those and it’s a continuous process.


How many lawyers will Daniel Andrews have with him on Friday for his appearance at the hotel quarantine inquiry?

Daniel Andrews:

I have no idea. I have legal counsel, as all ministers do, as all public servants do, as is custom and practice for many decades.

Should those documents be made public?

Daniel Andrews:

Rules practice around public interest immunity, Cabinet in confidence and a what’s happening of things are well known and understood. It is difficult to make broad statements unless you know and understand the context and nature of the documenting being sought. I have no such knowledge and am in no position to provide even a broad commentary on that. These matters are before the court and it’s appropriate they work through that process and they may have views on whatever claims or are not made. That’s why I can’t engage in that nor do I have the knowledge. It’s not on my desk.

Will the Victorian government be claiming public interest immunity in the court case against its curfew?

Daniel Andrews:

I can’t give you an answer to that. I have no knowledge of the status of that. I can say that it’s obviously before the court, as your question end casecates, so I’m limited in what I can say.

Q: Will you claim public interest immunity?


The absolutely frank answer to you is I do not know, nor am I acquainted with what documents the court has sought or parties to that action have sought and that speaks to the fact that I’m in no way involved in that matter. That matter is being dealt with by appropriate legal teams and others who are called in that action. That’s not a matter that is on my desk.

We move on to this exchange:

Q: Members of the community were told not to search for the missing 14-year-old autistic boy in the bushland because of the curfew.

Daniel Andrews: I’m not sure what advice Victoria Police gave. It’s not a matter I would have been ... I’m not involved in that but I’m more than happy to refer your question to Victoria Police.

Q: Even if they didn’t give that advice, though, do you think the curfew has driven so much fear into Victorians that they won’t be searching for a missing boy out of fear they’d get fined?

Andrews: I don’t believe that’s the case at all ... you’ve asked me about something that you say Victoria Police said. I’m telling you go to speak to them. That’s the most important thing to do. They can confirm what, if any advice they gave. On the second, broader point you made I don’t accept the logic. There’s a big team of SES volunteers, Victoria Police and other people helping with the effort. I thank them and I hope that William is found as soon as possible. We send our best wishes to his family. This will be a difficult time for them. As to what was or wasn’t communicated from a member of Victoria Police, Victoria Police are the best people to clarify for you.

Q: Just to clarify in your view, should an exception be made for members of the public who might be out after curfew looking for ...

Andrews: My understanding was that there may have been some decisions made in relation to Covid safety for instance – I’m only speculating. That’s what I was briefed this morning. As to exactly what’s occurred there, police are the ones ...

Q: What do you mean about Covid safety?

Andrews: It’s difficult to congregate in large groups at the moment. There are a range of rules. And they’re not to prevent anything other than the spread of the virus. But I’ve got no advice that says the rules have impeded the amazing work being done as we speak and hopefully they find him soon. All the volunteers who turned up this morning were told to go home and instead spread the word on social media.

Q: If they’re searching through bushland, maintaining social distance, what could be the issue.

Andrews: Again, I’m not the one who told them to do that so I’m more than happy to facilitate a Victoria Police spokesperson answering those questions.

Q: Can you send a message through the media right now that that’s not a good idea...

Andrews: It’s not my practice to communicate with the chief commissioner of police through the media. With the greatest of respect, that’s not my role or the way I do things. I will contact the chief commissioner’s office and police media and make it clear that questions have been asked that need answering and I’m confer dent that the chief commissioner and his team will provide you with the answers that you’re after.

Q: Should those people have been turned away if all they were doing was going through the bush looking for a missing boy?

Andrews: With respect, I don’t know that’s occurred. I know there are social media reports. The best thing to do is to have the people who have apparently made that choice explain to you whether they have done it, and if they have done, it for what reasons.

Q: Surely it’s an example that the curfew has driven so much fear into Victorians ...

Andrews: I think you’ve answered that question already and I’ve rejected the premise of that question. That is not accurate in my judgment. The curfew has served to help bring these numbers down. That’s what the curfew has done and I do not accept the – it’s not really a question. I think you’re putting a statement to me. You’ve done it twice now and I don’t accept it.


Q: In the road map, you forecast limited steps come Sunday.

Daniel Andrews: Yes.

Q: Given the numbers and what Allen said it about doing a bit better than you might have expected, are you looking at going a bit further than you’d outlined a few weeks ago?


Yes, I am. But I’m not in a position give you the full list of what we’re looking at. We’re looking at those and they become a detailed and look at what the risk is.

We don’t want to do something that might seem quite small but could present a significant challenge to us in a couple of weeks’ time. That’s part of the nature of this virus.

I know I’ve made the point many times but it’s worth repeating again that what we do on Sunday, the full effect of that won’t necessarily be apparent to us until a couple of weeks after then. That’s why they have to be cautious steps, steady steps and all the steps we take have to be safe.

Q: Can you give us an idea of the areas?


They’re along the same lines. Again, I’ve answered the question on scene but equally, frankly, I can’t give you a list of all the things we’re looking at because a lot of them are nowhere near settled. It’s all about modelling. It’s all about a deep analysis of the actual data from the last couple of weeks and then trying to extrapolate about what that tells us the next couple of weeks might look like and the couple of weeks after that. I know it’s frustrating. I know everyone wants answers to these questions. I am among those who want answers to these questions but what is beyond doubt is we’ve got to do this in a gradual, safe and steady way. Otherwise we finish up running the real risk of giving back everything that we’ve been able to build but the strategy is working. The numbers are coming down, the trend is positive and that’s a credit to everybody who has helped to deliver this outcome.

Daniel Andrews hints restrictions will be eased in Melbourne on Sunday

There does seem to be some light around the corner for Melbourne, although it is still a bit too early to say for sure, about what Daniel Andrews will reveal on Sunday.

Asked when the next step will be coming, the premier says:

At this stage I’ll be making announcements on Sunday. That’s certainly my intention. And they’ll come into effect some time therefore, whether it’s midnight Sunday or midnight Monday, we’ll work that through.

That will be, in some respects, determined by the announcements we make. The band we’re chasing is 30 to 50 and right now we are in that ... We are, in fact, better than that, just under 30. The key point is we’ve still got a few days to go and we’ve got to refine things and make sure that we’re confident that the numbers we’re getting is an accurate reflection of how much virus is out there. But these numbers are a positive trend. The trend is with us, the strategy is working and that’s why it’s so important that we stay the course and move through each of these safe and steady steps and not rush to do too much too soon. Otherwise all the hard work of Victorians won’t count for much.


What else does the modelling show?

Allen Cheng:

I mean it does suggest that we’re sort of on track for Sunday. We’re below the 30 at this stage so I think we’re doing better than we had hoped but we really need to make sure that that continues. As I said, because who the people are that have the infection is an important determinant of what will happen.

Q: Are you confident we’ll stay under 30 now?


It really goes to who these last cases are. So I think, as I said before, the easiest and hardest thing about this is this superspreading event phenomenon. If we keep a lid on all the last cases, it could actually fall fairly quickly but one ... You know one case that happens to be in the wrong place before they become symptomatic or in a situation where they can spread to a lot of people and it can be away very quickly and Colac we’ve spoken about many times – one case resulted in 30 additional cases. They’re the sorts of situations where we obviously get concerned about and we’re trying to prevent.


What is the Ref number at the moment?

Allen Cheng:

The last number I saw was 0.66 from our internal modelling. That number becomes a little less relevant when we get to these sorts of figures because it’s an average and it’s becoming increasingly important so it’s important that we chase down every last case. That’s certainly encouraging that the number is relatively low.

Is Allen Cheng worried about some of the clusters?

There still are cases popping up. Brimbank didn’t have any cases yesterday but had five cases the day before. So the numbers do vary. These are ... I mean obviously, when we’ve been looking at these cases over the last month or so, these are the areas that have been ... They have had higher incidents than other areas. I think I was asked yesterday about where the unknown cases are, and they’re pretty much distributed throughout about 18 different LGAs in Melbourne. So most of those are still in the areas where we are concerned, so they’ve been ... I think Casey had four unknown source cases, mystery cases. Brimbank 3, Hume 3 and Hobson’s Bay 4. So again, just the hint that there’s other cases out there. But these cases have been coming down and continue to come down, so I’m encouraged by that.


On aged care, Allen Cheng says:

So there are 284 active cases in aged care, and a total of 609 deaths in aged care. I think that that is the five deaths that were reported yesterday were all in aged care.

On the known clusters, professor Allen Cheng says:

We’ve been looking at a few other things, so the Hallam cluster is going well so far.

There’s still close contacts that are undergoing monitoring but there’s been no new cases for now, over the last three days in Casey.

There were 834 tests done in Casey yesterday. Throughout Metropolitan Melbourne, the rate of testing over the last 14 days has been fairly constant, so there hasn’t been a drop off in test, which is encouraging and obviously, I thank everyone who has come forward for testing, for being tested and to make sure that they don’t have the virus.

The test rate has been more than 2 per-100 of population. So if we assume that everybody only had a single test, that’s more than 2% of the population of Melbourne has had a test in the last 14 days.

In areas where we’re particularly concerned, where there’s been more cases, Brimbank, Casey, Hume, Windham. It’s substantially more than 2%, so pushing into the high 2% to 3%.

At the moment, there are 554 active cases and 1,054 close contacts. So just reinforcing that there are still 554 people who are infectious out there.

Obviously, we will keep in contact with them very carefully to make sure that they don’t continue to transmit to anyone else, and then of the close contacts, some of those will become cases obviously over the next incubation period, but that number is also decreasing, which is encouraging

Deputy chief health officer, professor Allen Cheng then steps up to explain the case numbers:

So there were 15 cases, new cases diagnosed yesterday, but there’s been an increase of 24 cases, and these relate to the difference relating to historical corrections.

So they’re made up of two patients that were duplicate, and we always get, every time the lab makes a new diagnosis or a new positive test, they tell us and we go through our process to make sure that they are, in fact, an old patient that has been tested again, rather than a new case that needs follow-up.

The 11 cases that were changed to confirmed were taken off the system inadvertently during the process of follow-up.

And they were followed up at the time. They date back to July and August mainly, and they were inadvertently taken off the system. So as part of quality checking, we go back to make sure that the record is correct. But they were all followed up at the time. It was only in the process of taking them off from being an active case that they were removed.

Victoria will spend an additional $21.3m on drug and alcohol addiction support services.


Daniel Andrews:

I’ll just make the point that this is a day when all Victorians can see that this strategy is working. Because of your hard work, because of all of the things that you’re doing and giving up, the numbers are coming down. And as they continue to fall, we will be able to find that Covid normal. Because once you get the numbers low, you can keep them low. That’s the experience, that’s what we’re aiming for and that’s what the strategy is fundamentally delivering. And it is a point of pride that Victorians, while staying apart, maintaining that social distancing, are sticking together in the fight against this virus. We are winning this battle and we will prevail. It’s just a matter of us staying the course. Not letting our frustration get the better of us. Not allowing our desperate hope and wish that this were over, to lull us into a sense of pretending that it is. There’s still a ways to go, for we are making very, very significant progress, and it’s a credit to every Victorian who is playing a really important part in that.


Behind every sign is a story. Same goes with ‘just to clarify’ points in Covid press conferences.

Daniel Andrews:

I now just want to turn very quickly to some clarifications around regional Victoria and workers who live in Melbourne but need to travel to regional Victoria, because of course, businesses are now open, when they previously were closed at an earlier point.

So since we’ve moved regional Victoria to that third step, there have been some queries raised about whether a person who lives in Metropolitan Melbourne can travel to regional Victoria for work, including working in an industry that is operating in regional Victoria but not operating in Metropolitan Melbourne.

I can confirm that people can travel to regional Victoria for work more broadly, and are not bound by the permitted industries requirements in Melbourne.

However, there are some conditions that do remain and these are very important given the different circumstances that regional Victoria and Metropolitan Melbourne find themselves in from a virus point of view.

The primary rule that if you can work from home you must work from home, remains in place.

Regardless whether you’re in Metropolitan Melbourne or in regional Victoria.

A person travelling from Metropolitan Melbourne to regional Victoria to work must have a valid work permit.

The worker permit allows them to issue a permit to a worker who lives in Metropolitan Melbourne.

When a person from Metropolitan Melbourne is in regional Victoria, the Metropolitan Melbourne restrictions apply to them, even though they’re not in Metropolitan Melbourne, the rules follow them to their work in regional Victoria. For example, they can’t be going out to a restaurant for dinner.

They can’t be engaging in that activity of the they are permitted, they have a permit to go to work and then to return back to their home in Metropolitan Melbourne.

This, in the main, although it won’t be exclusive, but in the main, this relates to people that live quite close to the metro regional border and then work on the other side of that border.

This was not so much an issue while their place of work was not open, but now that it is open, we think that this is a reasonable balance.

On the rolling averages, Daniel Andrews says:

This is as at September 22 - Metro 29.4. Regional - 1.1.

That’s very important obviously to see that continued stability, and indeed, further reductions in the case numbers in regional Victoria given the steps we’ve taken.

Although I would make the point that the latancy issue and it takes two weeks plus to get a really complete picture.

While regional Victorians have different rules to follow, they are still rules. And we have to remind people that you have to continue to follow the rules.

That’s how you stay open. It’s only when we start to let our guard down in some ways that we can be contributing to the spread of this virus, and that, of course, compromises everything.

In terms of the average daily cases falling below 30 for metro Melbourne, coming down to 29.4, as I think all Victorians and particularly Metropolitan Melburnians are very well aware, this Sunday marks a next step provided we are in that band of 30-50 cases.

So this shows, without any doubt, that our strategy is work, the numbers are coming down.

We are very pleased with these numbers and very grateful for all the hard work and sacrifice and the commitment that every single Victoria is showing.

You can’t achieve these outcomes, you can’t get to that Covid-19-normal without an amazing effort by the vast, vast majority of Victorians and to each of them, I say thank you. And that we are very proud of the work that you are doing.

Premier Daniel Andrews and mental health minister Martin Foley arrive for a press conference on Wednesday.
Premier Daniel Andrews and mental health minister Martin Foley arrive for a press conference on Wednesday. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images


There are just 14 active cases across regional Victoria.


Daniel Andrews press conference

As always, we start with a breakdown of the day’s numbers.

Daniel Andrews:

There are 15 new cases since yesterday’s report. Ten of those are linked to known outbreaks in complex cases and five are those are under further investigation by the public health team.

There are a small number of historic corrections that Allen [Cheng] will speak to in just a few moments.

There have been, I’m sad to say now, 771 Victorians who have passed away as a result of this global pandemic.

Five since my last report. One male in their 70s, two females in their 80s, one male in their 90s and one female in their 100s.

All of these deaths are linked to aged care.

Can I, on behalf of all Victorian, extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the five families.

There are 75 Victorians in hospital – eight of those are receiving intensive care and six of those eight are on a ventilator.

A total of 2,609,485 test results have been received since the beginning of the year, with an increase of 15,741.

So 15,741 results received since yesterday. That’s a strong number. I want to thank everyone who got tested the day before.

It’s a powerful contribution and I’ve said it many times, but it is critical in order to have a clear picture of how much virus is out there and the impact of restrictions and therefore the tolerance of easing those is, to make the best and most well-informed decisions.

We need to have the clearest picture of the virus. If you have symptoms, however mild, don’t delay an hour. Certainly don’t delay days. Please go and get tested as soon as you register those symptoms.


Oh good. The government is still planning on selling the NBN.

Because no service has ever become worse, once privatised.

Fletcher has also confirmed that the government's policy on privatising NBN: "Our position has not changed. We've consistently said in due course it's our policy as it was under the previous govt" that NBN would go into private hands. But he added this would not happen this term

— Daniel Hurst (@danielhurstbne) September 23, 2020

In the context of this tweet from Daniel Hurst, here are some more 2010 Tony Abbott NBN gems:

I’ve already described it as school halls on steroids, and we can be certain the NBN will be to this term of government what pink batts and school halls were to the last term of government.


As far as I’m concerned it is far more important to get the Pacific Highway duplicated than it is to spend $50bn-plus doing what the private sector could easily do with vastly less money with the National Broadband Network …

Asked whether his announcement was hypocrisy on steroids - a reference to Abbott previously calling the NBN school halls on steroids - Fletcher says: "On the basis of clear evidence of consumer demand, we're now taking the logical next step in the evolution of the network"

— Daniel Hurst (@danielhurstbne) September 22, 2020


Queensland’s deputy premier (and health minister) is still obviously still cranky at the federal government over how the last couple of months have played out.

Queensland heads to the polls at the end of next month (happy Halloween) and the discourse has been, at the risk of understatement, quite messy.

As reported by the Courier Mail yesterday, the federal government is pulling ADF troops off Queensland border patrols soon, to re-deploy them elsewhere.

That comes as Queensland opens up its borders to northern NSW, meaning more people will be heading through its checkpoints, meaning the Queensland Police Union is also cranky, because more police will have to be moved to the border to fill the gaps.

The federal government would say it has never been the advice of national cabinet to close the borders, so that each state has to manage its own closures as it sees fit.

So Steven Miles is cranky. But he took time out to talk about the CovidSafe app:

The app hasn’t been particularly useful but our public health unit staff have been incredibly useful.

Not enough people downloaded the app. We never achieved the level of density with the app.

He thinks there should be someone looking at how it was marketed to people.

While my brain finishes rebooting after listening to that interview, you might also notice that Paul Fletcher also invoked the pandemic:

When Covid hit, and millions of Australians shifted to working and studying from home, it was vital that we had good broadband as widely available as possible.

So apparently, fast, reliable internet coverage was not necessary before then.

Q: Did you know at all the other party involved happened to be Liberal party donors?

Paul Fletcher: Not to my recollection, no.

Q: So, you had no knowledge of who they were and their ties to the party?

Fletcher: I received a brief. The auditor general’s report makes it clear that the brief deficient in key points, and specifically the auditor general makes it clear that it did not set out what the valuation methodology was. This is all clear...

Q: Just to make it very clear, for my purposes – you had no knowledge that the people who taxpayers were buying the land off just happened to be donors to the Liberal party?

Fletcher: That certainly was not known to me.


And then, like someone trying to watch a movie on the NBN during high-traffic times, we get an exchange which appears to show the minister buffering in real time.

Q: Let’s go to something that happened in your previous portfolio, when you were in charge of the infrastructure department. I speak, of course, of this scathing auditor general’s report that showed taxpayers forked out close to $30m for a parcel of land for Sydney’s second airport. The land was only worth a 10th of that, and it turns out the money was paid to people who just happened to be Liberal party donors. That, minister, is far from a good look?

Paul Fletcher: And the auditor general’s report makes it very clear that the valuation of the land and the methodology used was not disclosed even to senior officials of the department, let alone the minister.

Q: Should it have? I’ll ask you, did it ever pass your desk?

Fletcher: Well, the auditor general’s report itself makes it very clear this information was not provided to the minister of the day ...

Q: Did you ever see any documentation regarding this planned purchase when you were minister?

Fletcher: The auditor general’s report makes it clear that there was a brief that came to the minister, which did not disclose the valuation basis. The report is rightly critical of that. It’s made recommendations about things the department should do differently, not the minister, the department. And I welcome the fact that the department has now said that it will accept those recommendations.

Q: So, you saw a brief that had the close to $30m figure on it?

Fletcher: I did not. And the auditor general’s report makes it clear. There was a brief about the purchase of this piece of land. It did not include the valuation basis, and that is what the auditor general’s report, on its face, makes clear, and the report is critical of the department for concealing information, not just from the minister but, indeed, from senior officials of the department itself.

Q: Rightio. We’re talking about a large lick of taxpayers’ money here. Should you, as minister, have been more involved in this?

Fletcher: Well, ministers have to work on the basis of the briefs provided to us by a department. The auditor general, I think, has rightly identified that the department did not do the right thing. And the information that was provided to senior officials of the department was inadequate, by less senior officials, let alone what was provided to the minister.

Now, the department has rightly accepted the recommendations of the auditor general as to how they should change their procedures in the future, and I welcome them.


Thankfully, in 2013, industry publication Computer World compiled Tony Abbott’s comments on the NBN, which includes:

Do we really want to invest $50 billion of hard earned taxpayers money in what is essentially a video entertainment system?” (That was 2010)


Of course I appreciate the importance of these things. But let’s not assume that we should put all our eggs in the high fibre basket either.

I mean all of the people who are making daily use of telecommunications services, increasingly they’re using wireless technology.

All those people who are sending messages from their iPhones and BlackBerries, all those people sitting in airport lounges using their computers, I mean they do not rely on fixed line services.” (also 2010)


Still on Paul Fletcher, the ABC host asked him:

Do you regret, though, there wasn’t a bit more foresight? I do have memories of then prime minister Tony Abbott coming into the office, dismissing fast broadband as something only gamers and people watching movies would want?


I would absolutely reject that. We’re following the plan we laid out in 2013. Labor made a mess of the NBN. We set – out our strategic review, which was to roll it out as quickly as possible, using the multitechnology mix, and then be able to upgrade when there was demand. And so we are in that position now. And with this $4.5bn investment, financed by NBN borrowing from the private sector markets, because we have been able to prove up the business model, because we’ve got to a point where revenues are now – last year $3.8bn and growing strongly – that means we can now move to the next stage of this upgrade, with 8m premises by 2023 able to order a speed of up to one gigabit per second.

The minister for communications Paul Fletcher.
The minister for communications Paul Fletcher. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian


Paul Fletcher is having a doozy of a morning explaining why, after arguing against it for years, the government is now switching to fibre to the premises.

It apparently, was all part of the plan for the plan. And all is going to plan.


Well, first of all, the multi-technology mix was critical to getting the NBN rolled out as quickly as possible.

When COVID hit, and millions of Australians shifted to working and studying from home, it was vital that we had good broadband as widely available as possible.

And at that point, 98% of premises able to connect. If we’d stuck with Labor’s plan, it be would have been almost 5 million fewer homes.

But, secondly, what this now allows is for more homes to be able to, should they choose to, order a higher-speed service.

And by 2023, 8 million premises will be able to order home ultrafast, which is up to 1,000 megabits per second, one gigabit per second.

But very importantly, it will be based on the principle of demand. So, we’ll roll the fibre down the street, but then the fibre lead into the home will only be built when there’s a customer order.

That’s the same principle used in the very successful broadband rollout in New Zealand, and so we’re being more careful with capital, and this is a sensible business approach, just as our approach the whole way along has been to be careful with taxpayers’ capital.

Queensland reports no new Covid cases

Queensland has just five active cases of Covid, after reporting no new cases today.

It’s coming up to two weeks since the last community transmission of the virus was recorded.


Australia - where it is always some version, of 2012

Fibre to the home, gas as the transitional fuel of choice, major economic crisis - we are back to the Rudd/Gillard era #auspol

— Katharine Murphy (@murpharoo) September 22, 2020

Daniel Andrews will hold his press conference at 10am

Greg Hunt also spoke to ABC News Breakfast this morning, about Australia’s involvement in what is essentially, an international vaccine co-op (if, and it is still an if, one is successful)

It means that we’ll have access to any of potentially dozens and dozens of different vaccines that are being developed. Australia’s contributed, along with over 80 other countries, to have that right.

It guarantees us vaccines at a minimum for 50% of the population, on top of the almost 85 million doses that we’ve secured from the Oxford and University of Queensland vaccines. So, it’s about making sure we have additional protection, additional access, additional support, and that’s extra security for Australia. It’s also a facility which means that the developing nations, whether it’s in Africa or Asia or Latin America, will be guaranteed access. And that protects Australia by protecting the world, as well as doing the right humanitarian thing.

One of South Australia’s many Stephens, the health minister, Stephen Wade, is pretty excited the SA borders will be opening again to NSW.

Here he is earlier this morning talking to the ABC abut the benefits:

Well, last year we had 800,000 New South Wales residents come to South Australia for tourism. They’re very welcome here. Last year they spent almost $800m in enjoying the South Australian experience. We’re delighted to see them back. Not only as tourists but also as friends and family. This is a very stressful time for many people. We appreciate these restrictions have been disruptive. But we’re delighted that we’re able to bring them down.


In more heartbreaking news:

#BREAKING: Rescuers have spotted another pod of about 200 whales stranded further south in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s West Coast. That takes the total number of whales stranded on Tasmania’s west coast to 470.

More to come. pic.twitter.com/WnJKQ8Ddjm

— ABC Hobart (@abchobart) September 22, 2020

Or, as Jason Clare says:

Hey Fletch, your credibility is shot mate. You have been railing against fibre to the home for years. This is the biggest backflip in Australian political history. No one will believe anything you say ever again. https://t.co/20dG8B8vXf

— Jason Clare MP (@JasonClareMP) September 22, 2020

But at least it is now being done? Ugh. Just the letters NBN give me an eye twitch.


Here is Paul Fletcher announcing the NBN funding. Which will bring NBN connections closer to people’s homes. Which is a big deal and SOMETHING THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Our multi-technology mix plan, adopted in 2013, rolled out @NBN_Australia much more quickly than Labor’s plan. The speed of the NBN rollout has been vitally important during #COVID19.

— Paul Fletcher (@PaulFletcherMP) September 22, 2020

The $4.5bn @NBN_Australia investment plan announced today means 75% of fixed-line premises will be able to order ultra-fast broadband (up to 1gbps) by 2023

— Paul Fletcher (@PaulFletcherMP) September 22, 2020

Anyone who has followed the NBN creation, knows it has been, as my Oma would have said, a complete fakakta.

After years of telling us the connections were fine and we didn’t all need fibre to home – that fibre to the node (which then went to the home) was fine, well, now it turns out, it’s not.



There is still some time to go but that result puts Melbourne under the 30-50 rolling 14-day average set down in the roadmap as the benchmark for taking the next step on 28 September.

The next announcement about what restrictions will be eased is due on Sunday.


So what does that mean for the rolling 14-day average?

Good things.

For the last 14 days (9-22 September):

Metropolitan Melbourne

Total cases – 412

Average cases a day – 29.4

Regional Victoria

Total cases – 15

Average cases a day – 1.1

Overseas, interstate or no fixed address

Total cases – three

Average a day – 0.2

Total cases – 430

Average a day – 30.7

Rolling 14-day number of cases of unknown source of acquisition: 41


Victoria records 15 new cases and five deaths

After yesterday’s figure of 28 new cases, the last 24 hours of tests have brought just 15 positive results:

#COVID19VicData: Yesterday there were 15 new cases & the loss of 5 lives reported. Our thoughts are with all affected.
The 14 day rolling average & number of cases with unknown source are down from yesterday as we move toward COVID Normal. Info https://t.co/eTputEZdhs #COVID19Vic pic.twitter.com/aMHDJvWfWk

— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) September 22, 2020

The liquid assets test is back in place tomorrow, for anyone newly seeking the jobseeker payment.

As Linda Burney points out:

Under the liquid assets waiting period, singles with as little as $5,500 in liquid assets must wait to access income support. Those with $11,500 or more will be forced to wait 13 weeks.

Liquid assets can include savings; a redundancy that is owed but not yet paid; loans to family members; or superannuation that has been accessed early.

Australians will be expected to draw down on their savings before they can access help.

The test was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic but, with mutual obligations returning, the liquid asset test is back too.

The government’s own figures predict a further 400,000 people will be out of work by the end of the year.


And Daniel Hurst has the NBN announcement covered:

Paul Fletcher will be at the National Press Club later today.


Michael McGowan has an update on the conspiracy theorist who targeted the federal MP Anne Webster:


AAP has a vaccine update:

Australia is now eligilbe to buy COVID-19 vaccine doses, when they become available, through the global COVAX facility.

Australia is now at the front of the queue to access coronavirus vaccines, when they become available, after joining a global pool backed by the World Health Organization.

The COVID-19 facility known as COVAX gives Australia access to a large portfolio of vaccine candidates and manufacturers across the world.

Australia has committed an initial $123.2 million to be part of the facility’s purchasing mechanism, making it eligible to receive offers to buy vaccines when they become available.

This opens up supply options in addition to Australia’s current vaccine supply agreements with Oxford University/AstraZeneca and the University of Queensland/CSL.

“Whoever finds a Covid-19 vaccine must share it,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Australia signing up to the Covax facility is an important part of our commitment to this principle.

“We’re giving Australians the best chance of accessing a safe and effective vaccine, but also our neighbours in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and partners overseas.”

The Covax facility was established by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance as part of an international vaccine partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the WHO and other organisations.

It aims to ensure equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines by facilitating purchases, funding access for developing countries and allowing countries to trade or donate doses.

This is Australia’s second commitment to the Covax facility after it donated $80 million in August to the Covax Advance Market Commitment to provide doses to developing countries.

Eighty countries, including Australia, have joined the Covax Facility and a further 92 countries are eligible to access vaccines through the Advance Market Commitment.

In addition to individual country allocations, 10 per cent of manufactured doses will be retained by the Covax facility to address sporadic outbreaks and for humanitarian use.


Good morning

Welcome to another hump day in what feels like a hump year.

The Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry continues. We were originally going to hear from Daniel Andrews today but the inquiry has rejigged its timetable, so now we won’t hear from the premier until Friday.

Instead, up today is:

  • Hon Martin Pakula MP – minister for the coordination of jobs, precincts and regions
  • Hon Lisa Neville MP – minister for police and emergency services
  • Ms Kym Peake – Department of Health and Human Services

In NSW, it’s all about getting testing rates back up, after a drop in the number of people coming forward. It’s more important than ever, with fears a taxi driver could have spread the virus across Sydney and parts of the south coast. Queensland is watching to see what happens with that case before opening its borders more widely to NSW (northern NSW will be added to the border zone from 1 October, while ACT residents can fly in from Friday) but South Australia has decided to reopen to NSW from Thursday.

In political news, the government is spending $4.5bn on the NBN, to, among other things, bring the connection slightly closer to the kerb. It’s another pre-budget announcement – these things come out ahead of time because they’ll get no attention once the budget documents are released.

We’ll bring you all the day’s news as it happens. You have Amy Remeikis with you again. Being hump day, I’m already hunting for my third coffee.




Luke Henriques-Gomes and Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

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