What we learned, Monday 11 October
With that, I’ll leave you to enjoy the evening, whether you’re winding down with a drink in a pub or from the comfort of your locked-down living room.
Here’s what we learned today:
- NSW has enjoyed its first day of eased restrictions after 106 days, on a day the state recorded 498 cases and eight deaths. NSW premier Dominic Perrottet and opposition leader Anthony Albanese both enjoyed a beverage in a pub to celebrate what Perrottet described as “Freedom Day”, though he forgot to follow his own regulations on drinking while seated.
- Perrottet said the state was “certainly” expecting rising case numbers as it opened up but was confident the health system would be able to cope, and hoped to reopen the international border on 1 November.
- The Everest raceday this Saturday has doubled its capacity to hold 10,000 punters, the same density limits as the Melbourne Cup.
- Victoria recorded 1,612 new local cases and eight further deaths as the mRNA vaccines eligibility at state-run hubs is expanded to all people over 12.
- Some 70,000 Victorians downloaded the Victorian Services app today and acquired their vaccination certificate online, as trials for fully vaccinated regional Victorians began.
- Victorian minister Luke Donnellan has resigned on the first day of IBAC hearings due to alleged rule breaches for branch stacking.
- Prime minister Scott Morrison emerged from 14 days of quarantine at the Lodge in time to announce 400,000+ vaccines delivered in Australia, the biggest numbers since the vaccination program began.
- There were 32 new cases in the ACT, with the territory on track to reach 90% fully vaccinated by the end of October.
- South Australia has recorded three new cases including a Melbourne mine worker as the Adelaide airport becomes an exposure site.
- At least 286 Australian citizens and permanent residents remain in Afghanistan, an official has told a Senate inquiry, while it has been revealed Australia has received 26,000 applications for visas in the past four weeks.
- And Liberal MP Katie Allan told Afternoon Briefing she supports the establishment of a commonwealth integrity commission.
Father and son who sparked Byron Bay lockdown plead guilty
A father and son who travelled from Sydney’s east to Byron Bay, sparking a lockdown in the region, have pleaded guilty to most of the charges they faced, AAP reports.
Neither Zoran Radovanovic, 52, who was treated for Covid in Lismore base hospital after testing positive to the virus, nor his 19-year-old son appeared in Lismore local court on Monday when their cases were mentioned.
Police alleged the pair violated public health orders after going to Byron Bay in late July. The region was plunged into a one-week lockdown in August after the father’s positive test.
Radovanovic’s lawyer on Monday emailed guilty pleas to four charges of failing to comply with electronic registration, being QR codes.
He is also facing three charges of not complying with Covid directions.
His son entered guilty pleas to all four charges against him: two of not complying with electronic registration, one of not complying with directions and one of not wearing a face mask in public transport or a taxi.
Both remain on bail, with the father’s case to be mentioned again at Lismore in mid- November and the son’s matter to be mentioned in Waverley local court a week earlier.
More on that new positive Covid-19 case in SA from AAP’s Tim Dornin.
A fly-in, fly-out mine worker from Victoria is the latest positive Covid-19 case to cause concern in SA, prompting a number of new exposure sites.
The woman in her 30s flew into Adelaide on Sunday evening, was tested at the airport and then went by taxi to a city hotel. Given her test result, she was considered highly infectious at the time, prompting SA Health to declare the hotel and the Jetstar flight JQ778 from Melbourne to be tier-one exposure sites.
The taxi driver who picked her up at the airport has also been forced into isolation for 14 days.
Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said anyone on the flight, including the crew, would be contacted, but should already be in home quarantine after coming from Victoria. She said officials would also look at CCTV footage in the airport and hotel to identify any other potential issues.
A second Covid-19 case has also been reported in a co-driver of an interstate truckie who tested positive last week. Spurrier said it was not surprising the second driver had now contracted the virus.
But she said it had also emerged that the first driver had travelled through SA on an earlier occasion in late September when he would have been infectious, prompting new exposures sites in the SA Riverland.
Despite the new infections, Spurrier reiterated earlier comments that SA still expected to ease border restrictions with NSW and Victoria in time for Christmas and that would likely mean more virus cases.
However, she said some restrictions and border arrangements could remain in place, depending on the level of disease in those states:
We are going to be opening the border in such a way that we will be getting some people with the disease here. We will have arrangements for people who are double vaccinated to come into our state. But some of those people may need to be tested, some of those people may need to be doing symptom checks and some of those people may, indeed, need to be doing quarantine.
SA currently has nine active infections, including seven acquired interstate and two acquired overseas.
Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest has been keeping busy today.
Adelaide airport listed as exposure site
A contract for fixed-wing aircraft as part of Operation Sovereign Borders has blown out by 29% and delivered fewer services and aircrew than agreed, AAP’s Paul Osborne reports.
Operation Sovereign Borders is the federal government’s strategy to deter and disrupt people-smugglers. Part of the operation is a contract for 10 Dash-8 aircraft with specialised surveillance equipment, providing 15,000 flying hours a year.
The auditor-general found there had been 40 changes since the time the contract was entered into, with the variations boosting the cost by more than 29% to $1.541 billion.
At the same time, 64% of missions had been fully completed as briefed, 25% had been partially completed and 11% had been cancelled or aborted. The number of aircrew on average each month has been 33% below that contracted.
The audit report tabled in parliament on Monday concluded:
The department’s management of the ... contract has not been effective and, as a result, while surveillance services have been provided, the quantum and range of those services has fallen short of the contractual requirement.
Home Affairs agreed to four recommendations for improvement, saying they would be “factored into the development of the next aerial surveillance procurement process and contract framework:
It is not unusual to expect changes over the life of a contract of this length, complexity, and operational nature. The department and the Australian Border Force have also adapted during this time and continued to mature the approach to contract management in the years since this contract was established.
The auditor-general noted that as at August, with four months left on the existing contract, there were “no arrangements in place for the next contract”.
Never say die.
Minister for women’s economic security Jane Hume is now on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing.
She says there has already been a commitment to introducing legislation for a federal Icac or commonwealth integrity commission:
I suppose what we are adamant about, there should be procedural fairness. An integrity commission has to engender trust in our political system and in our public service. If it can be used as a political weapon, then it does the opposite. It diminishes trust. We want to make sure there is no opportunity for show trials.
It is not an easy issue. It is a complicated one. The legislation has been out for consultation for a considerable period of time and the government has been considering the results of that consultation and that consultation went far and wide. It came from academics, experts and lawyers and all of that has to be considered in the process. To not do it right the first time has pretty serious consequences.
Interesting timing for a Tweet on a day a report was released on vaccine inequity.
The Department of Social Services has been quizzed about government rules that force most cancer patients onto the $44-a-day jobseeker payment.
At a Senate hearing examining the disability support pension on Monday, department official Troy Sloan was asked about a Guardian Australia report showing more than 7,000 people on jobeeker were recorded as having “cancer/tumour”.
The story included the experience of Lynette Penfold, 65, who was only granted the disability support pension – paid at more than $338-a-fortnight than jobseeker – once she was diagnosed as terminal.
Sloan insisted, as the story pointed out, that the rules requiring applicants to have a “fully diagnosed, treated and stabilised” condition were not new. He said these requirements had existed since new “impairment tables” were introduced in 2011.
Campaigners say changes are needed to the rules to allow those with cancer or other chronic conditions to access greater support while they are undergoing treatment. Others argue all welfare payments should simply be lifted to the poverty line.
“It’s about the fact that this is a permanent payment for life,” Sloan said. In response to questions by the Labor senator Nita Green, Sloan added:
I would hope, as I think we all would hope, that people who are suffering from cancer would have successful recoveries and would be able to return to a normal life. Having said that, there is within the manifest criteria, for those people who unfortunately, it’s not expected that they will live longer than two years, are manifestly granted it. It’s a streamlined processed to get onto the DSP.
This architecture has been around for a long time and nothing has changed in that. But we do hope people have speedy recoveries from cancer and are able to rejoin society as they were before they had the unfortunate diagnosis.
Liberal MP Katie Allen is up on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing now. She says she supports the establishment of a commonwealth integrity commission:
I think branch stacking is something that’s not acceptable and we need to shine a light on all of this activity, whichever party this sort of thing is happening. It is interesting Anthony Byrne himself said, “Branch stacking is corrupt.” He says it has been rife for a long period of time and he seemed remorseless when he was talking about it. It was amazing to watch him talk about it during the proceedings. We need a federal ICAC.
I believe we need a commonwealth integrity commission that would look at these issues. I think the Australian public expects that and I’d like to see an integrity commission delivered in this parliament.
Three new local Covid-19 cases in SA
The department of treasury has defended the decision not to include a clawback mechanism in the JobKeeper wage subsidy, saying it could have diluted the success of the program, AAP reports.
JobKeeper was introduced in March 2020, when there was economic uncertainty about the outlook of the pandemic.
Treasury estimates that more than 700,000 jobs were saved during the depths of last year’s recession.
It also says JobKeeper saved the unemployment rate from peaking five percentage points higher than eventuated and prevented the rate staying above 12% for the following two years.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement today:
It confirms the JobKeeper program was well-targeted and highly effective in maintaining employment and supporting the economy during the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression.
Labor has argued that billions of dollars were wasted in the program with firms not forced to pay back the subsidy if they performed better than they had feared during the economic downturn.
A mechanism to claw back payments from businesses that performed better than expected was not included, reflecting a desire to avoid any disincentives for businesses to adapt and recover. The introduction of such a mechanism would likely have reduced the overall level of activity and muted the recovery.
French ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thébault will address the Smart Energy Council on Australia’s approach to climate change and renewable energy this month.
The Treasury today dropped its report into the first six months of Jobkeeper.
Hundreds of Australians who travelled to New Zealand earlier in the year and became trapped there when the trans-tasman bubble arrangement collapsed are calling for the Australian government to allow flights from the country.
More than 500 Australians stuck in New Zealand have signed an open letter to Scott Morrison petitioning him to relax rules to allow flights, given the lower risk of importing the virus from New Zealand currently when put into the context of local transmission in New South Wales and Victoria.
Specifically, the South Island of New Zealand has not recorded a single case of Covid since May 2020, and double-vaccinated Australians who have been stuck there since the Australian government suspended all quarantine-free flights from the country in mid-August, in response to Auckland’s Delta outbreak, are now pleading to be allowed to fly home.
The open letter says “there is no rational reason why those who are currently wishing to enter Australia from New Zealand should not be permitted under the condition that they are double-vaccinated and willing to live under the Covid management conditions as applied to the state or territory they enter”. It says:
It is callous and short-sighted of the Australian government to leave thousands of Australians abandoned, separated, and suffering in the South Island for over ten weeks now, despite the fact that:
there have been ZERO cases of Covid in the South Island of New Zealand since May 2020; those wanting to return are double-vaccinated or prepared to be vaccinated to return to their homes; there is a risk for those in the South Island to be exposed to Covid as people from Auckland travel to the South Island once vaccination numbers have increased; and anyone from the South Island or areas outside of Auckland and the Waikato in the North Island pose absolutely no Covid risk to Australia should they enter the country.
The organisers of the petitions also surveyed hundreds of Australians stuck in New Zealand, who report that commercial flights they have booked have routinely been cancelled due to the fact that carriers from New Zealand are subject to the same international caps limiting travel from all foreign countries. Others complain of being stranded without regular income in New Zealand, and several of the survey respondents are pregnant.
Guardian Australia has previously reported that some Australians desperate to return from New Zealand are chartering their own flights - at a cost of up to $40,000 – to return home. There were 35 new cases of Covid-19 reported in New Zealand on Monday – all in Auckland.
The Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has released a statement in response to the snap resignation of Luke Donnellan:
Luke Donnellan advised me this afternoon that he would be resigning from the ministry effective immediately.
I thank Luke for his contribution to the government in his various ministerial portfolios, particularly his hard work in child protection, disability and ageing.
He has been a passionate advocate for vulnerable kids, people with disability and older Victorians and he leaves a legacy of reform of which he can be proud.
Luke’s work has seen a transformation of the system for children and families in Victoria, investing in hundreds of dedicated child protection workers and navigators to do their important work supporting families and kids – making sure they have the stable foundation to begin their lives.
Due to inquiries currently afoot, I will not be making further comment. Further announcements about the ministry will be made in due course.
Luke Donnellan resigns in wake of IBAC hearings
Victorian minister Luke Donnellan has resigned on the first day of IBAC public hearings.
Here is a full statement:
Today I called the premier to inform him that I’m stepping down as a minister in the Andrews government.
I accept that I have previously breached party rules while a minister. But let me be very clear: I never misused public funds or resources in any way. And this has absolutely nothing to do with my staff.
However, I don’t believe it is possible or appropriate to maintain my ministerial responsibilities given these rule breaches. The work to support vulnerable Victorians is too important, especially during the pandemic.
Serving as a minister in this government has been an incredible privilege and I thank the premier and my colleagues for that opportunity. I also thank my staff and all the department officials who have been working so bloody hard to support the community. You’ve been marvellous.
Earlier today, Victorian health minister Martin Foley said there was concern over growing case numbers in south-eastern Melbourne, particularly the City of Casey. Casey is right next to Greater Dandenong, which has the lowest second dose vaccination rate in Victoria according to the latest data.
This is similar to what we saw in the badly hit LGA of Hume, where cases have begun to stabilise in recent days following a vaccination blitz.
Some 70% of eligible Queenslanders have received at least a single dose of a vaccine.
Guardian Australia’s Carly Earl has been snapping some lovely photos of friends reuniting in Sydney pubs.
For reference, this is how you’re meant to consume beverages under the current roadmap at 70% vaccination rates (seated).
The Victorian premier Daniel Andrews copped $400 in fines for neglecting to wear a mask while in public last week.
It will be interesting to see whether NSW premier Dominic Perrottet will see a similar fate.
Australia risks losing investment if leaders keep playing 'really bad politics' with climate change, Andrew Forrest says
Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest warns Australia risks losing vital investment if leaders keep playing “really bad politics” with climate change, AAP’s Georgie Moore reports.
His comments come as prime minister Scott Morrison and energy minister Angus Taylor put the finishing touches on the Liberals’ emissions reduction plan to present to the Nationals within the next week.
Forrest has added his voice to calls for the prime minister to attend the upcoming Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow instead of sending a senior minister:
The head of our country, with a carbon neutral date which we can all be proud of, will be immensely welcomed in Glasgow by all other national leaders.
He warned politicians who dismissed the risk of increasingly climate-conscious businesses and investors withdrawing from Australia for other markets did so at their own peril.
As institutions start to withdraw their capital from countries and companies which have no climate targets then it’s going to impact the lifestyle of every single Australian. If a politician pops up and says ‘that doesn’t matter’, then all I can say to you is that’s really bad politics.
Morrison acknowledged the need to bring Coalition partner the Nationals along with the government’s plan for the “new energy economy”, which is expected to show how to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
It is now a question of how, not if, we can ensure that those communities right across rural and regional Australia can look at this change and understand that there are big opportunities and there is a way through.
The Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has shared the government’s latest vaccination ad on social media, which features shots of the Great Ocean Road, crisping sausages and cuddles with yiayias.
Prime minister Scott Morrison is out of two weeks of quarantine, touting the comeback of the economy as NSW emerges from lockdown after more than 100 days.
He spoke to reporters outside The Lodge:
As we open up, the economy will bounce back strongly. People will be back in work and we will see that month after month after month, as we get more and more people back at work, back in jobs, back in the economy.
The ACT is due to start easing its Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, while Victoria will emerge from lockdown later this month.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the economy has been hit hard by the Delta variant, with lockdowns in NSW and Victoria costing about $2bn a week.
Figures due later this week are expected to show the damage this has caused the labour market, with economists predicting another 100,000-plus jobs were lost in September, AAP reports.
There have been new exposure sites listed in Singleton and Tamworth in regional NSW.
Some 97.8% of ACT residents over 12 have received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
At least 286 Australian citizens and permanent residents still in Afghanistan
At least 286 Australian citizens and permanent residents remain in Afghanistan, an official has told a Senate inquiry.
Simon Newnham, an acting deputy secretary and crisis coordinator at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said:
Our best estimate with a level of confidence around this figure is that there are 129 Australian citizens remaining in Afghanistan as at 1 October who have registered on our database as requiring assistance from government.
Newnham said there were a further 157 Australian permanent residents remaining in Afghanistan who had registered as seeking Australian assistance, adding to the 286 figure.
Home affairs doesn’t have a clear figure on how many Afghan nationals holding Australian visas were unable to get out of the country. But a home affairs official says Australia has received 26,000 applications for visas in the past four weeks.
The Northern Territory will reach more than 80% of its eligible population to have received their first vaccination dose this week, as latest figures show 78% of Territorians have received a first dose.
Some 66% are fully vaccinated. Remote communities, though, lag behind the national average. In remote NT communities, more than 61% of Territorians have received their first dose, while 44% are fully vaccinated.
Health minister Natasha Fyles said the NT was on track to enjoy “more freedoms sooner”:
We will continue to focus our efforts on achieving an even spread of vaccination across the Territory working in partnership with community leaders, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and our expert health professionals.
From today, indoor aquatic centres have reopened in Sydney, which is a huge win for swimmers as well as people with chronic pain or people undergoing rehabilitation who use hydrotherapy pools.
Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre chief operating officer Anthony McIntosh is “delighted” that indoor aquatic facilities are now open.
It has been an incredibly challenging time for the leisure sector in both regional and metropolitan areas of New South Wales.
With aquatic and leisure venues now open, McIntosh sees “an opportunity” for Belgravia Leisure to “contribute to the recovery of the physical and mental health needs of the local communities in which we operate”:
Access to these important community assets has never been more important.
If true, this is a worrying development. Expression Australia project officer Sherrie Beaver has commented on the lack of Auslan interpreters at Dominic Perrottet’s press conferences:
The chief of the ADF, General Angus Campbell, has clarified when the Australian government first notified the families of victims of the potential release of the former Afghan soldier known as Hekmatullah.
Hekmatullah was convicted of murdering three Australian soldiers – Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Private Robert Poate and Sapper James Martin – as they played cards at a patrol base north of Tarin Kowt in August 2012.
Campbell previously alluded to conversations with the family members over the weekend. But he told a Senate committee a short time ago there was an earlier conversation when the information was less certain:
We first notified the families that Hekmatullah may have been released, or may be about to be released, from Qatari custody on 18 August. And then we followed up again this weekend, believing that he had been released from custody.
Opposition leader and member for Grayndler Anthony Albanese is, as they say, “on the beers”.
The Everest race day doubles crowd capacity to 10,000
Spectators at this weekend’s The Everest race day at Royal Randwick will be doubled to 10,000 people, less than a week after Sydney first eases lockdown restrictions.
Only 5,000 people are permitted at events under the current NSW roadmap with 70% of the eligible population double-dose vaccinated. But premier Dominic Perrottet has given the Australian Turf Club the green light under a detailed Covid-safe proposal to have one person for every four square metres.
The $15m race on Saturday is set to the be first major event in Sydney since the Delta strain plunged the state into lockdown.
The Victorian Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission has started public hearings as part of its investigation into branch stacking within the Australian Labor Party.
Chris Carr, SC, counsel assisting the commission, opened the Operation Watts hearings by saying the investigation started in May 2020 – a month before the Age published a series of explosive allegations regarding factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek.
The first witness is Anthony Byrne, a federal Labor MP representing the electorate of Holt, in Melbourne’s south-east.
He told Carr that he had been involved in branch stacking, and had paid for the party memberships of people since 1999. Party members are to pay for their own memberships under party rules. Byrne said he believed Somyurek and current Andrews government minister Luke Donnellan, who he was in an alliance with at the time, had also paid for other people’s memberships.
Carr asked Byrne about a text message he sent to a friend after the news reports broke about the alleged branch stacking by Somyurek, and the subsequent dissolution of the Victorian branch of the party while the allegations were investigated as part of an independent review led by Labor elders Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin.
The Age and 60 Minutes reports featured audio and video recordings of Somyurek taken from Byrne’s office.
Byrne wrote to the friend, who was not named: “My comfort is that it looks like something will finally be done to clean up Victoria.”
He told Carr he could not recall sending the message, but that “I absolutely felt those sentiments, not just then but for many years”. Byrne added:
I thought the party was completely out of control. I saw things and heard things that I just didn’t think I’d ever see in my own Labor party.
Ibac is expected to hear from Ellen Schreiber, an electorate officer and former ministerial office executive assistant, on Tuesday, and Adam Sullivan, a former electorate officer and ministerial advisor, on Wednesday.
ACT on track to reach 90% full vaccination target by end of October
The ACT is set to reach the milestone of 90% of its eligible population being fully vaccinated by the end of the month, putting the territory on track to be one of the most vaccinated cities in the world as it approaches the end of its lockdown.
ACT chief minister Andrew Barr said there would be a renewed focus during the next four days to distribute first doses to the remaining unvaccinated sections of the population.
The government’s mass vaccination clinic at the Australian Institute of Sport will take walk-up appointments, while further pop-up clinics will also be established.
The next four days are about those remaining first doses, and with the interval of three or four weeks we’re looking forward to see the fully vaccinated figures match the first-dose figures. What this means is Canberra will be among the most vaccinated places in the world, and this is just so critical to our economic recovery and to protect Canberrans as we emerge from lockdown.
No one believed that we would get here. We should be ambitious about the national vaccination program, but none of the modelling was based on 90, 95 or 99% coverage, but would much rather be there than at 70%.
Many thanks to Matilda Boseley for guiding us through this morning’s news. I’ll be with you into the evening.
With that, I shall hand you across to the wonderful Caitlin Cassidy who will be with you for the rest of the day.
See you tomorrow!
Senate inquiry into Afghanistan:
The Senate inquiry into Afghanistan issues has turned to the recent release of the former Afghan solider who murdered three Australian soldiers.
Hugh Jeffrey, a first assistant secretary at the defence department, said the Australian government became aware of Hekmatullah’s release from Qatar “through highly sensitive intelligence which the government is not able to comment on directly”.
The precise circumstances of his release are unclear.
Penny Wong wanted to know when the Australian government first became aware of the release. That question will be taken on notice, but the chief of the ADF, General Angus Campbell, said he understood army advised the families of the victims “over the weekend in coordination with other interested parties”.
Geoff Tooth, an assistant secretary at Dfat and a former head of mission in Kabul, said Australia had made “around 180 representations” on the issue of Hekmatullah over the last couple of years, at all levels of government. That includes representations made by officials and at the highest levels.
When asked whether the Qatari government had put Hekmatullah on a plane to Afghanistan, officials also said they would take the question on notice.
Some 70,000 Victorians have downloaded the Victorian Services app and acquired their vaccination certificate online, Martin Foley says:
It’s a seamless and quick process. I think that speaks volumes of the desire of Victorians to get on and support the vaccinated economy trial. They want to get back to the life they know awaits us to a high vaccinated support in Victoria.
He says NSW’s reopening today will be a “live laboratory” for Victoria to trial its own easing of restrictions amongst the fully vaccinated.
In the minutes after midnight struck on Monday morning, Sydneysiders descended on pubs and met with hairdressers as they sought to make the most of their 107-day lockdown lifting.
The new freedoms for fully vaccinated residents that came into effect on Monday – as part of the 70% vaccination coverage milestone on New South Wales’ reopening roadmap – also include allowing visitors to the home, abandoning the 5km travel limit and the reopening of most retail and service businesses.
Read the article below to find out all the freedoms that fully vaccinated people in NSW now have.
It looks like unvaccinated Victorians will be locked out of public life for several months yet. Health minister Martin Foley says if you choose to remain unvaccinated, you place yourself “outside of that process” but also place Victorians at risk.
Our public health orders are now focused on staying with the vaccinated economy processes to protect Victorians and to safely and sustainably reopen ... in terms of how the public health orders are planned out now, we’ve got no plans to change those.
The emphasis is totally on supporting the vaccinated economy plans while supporting our public health and health systems. What is going to happen in three, four months time, let’s wait and see what happens in three to four months.
New Zealand records 35 new local Covid-19 cases
New Zealand has reported 35 new community cases of Covid-19, as it follows Australia in purchasing a new antiviral treatment that can prevent hospitalisation from the deadly virus, reports Ben McKay from AAP.
While all of Monday’s reported cases are in Auckland, public health experts predict the spread of Covid-19 further into regional New Zealand this week.
This morning prime minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the government has made a purchase order with US pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD) for 60,000 courses of molnupiravir.
Antiviral medicines are an additional tool the government is adding to our toolbox to fight Covid-19...
The most important thing people can do to prevent themselves, children and vulnerable people getting Covid is to get vaccinated.
However it’s important we have medicines to help those who pick up the virus to avoid having to go to hospital.
Ardern says New Zealand’s order of 60,000 treatments is not an expectation of a forthcoming Kiwi Covid-19 breakout of the virus.
As of Monday, 79 % of eligible Kiwis are at least partially vaccinated and 55% double-dosed.
Coverage is lower in many regions – including Northland, Tairawhiti and Taranaki – and among Maori. Cases have steadily risen in the week since the government green-lit a relaxation of rules in locked-down Auckland.
Martin Foley is asked about ongoing Ibac proceedings into the alleged misuse of taxpayer-funded staff community grants, which kicked off today with witness Labor MP Anthony Byrne. Should the premier step aside if he is the subject of an inquiry?
As expected, Foley says it would be inappropriate to run commentary on a live process:
I’m not here to run the commentary on an independent commission that has clearly now started its public hearings. That’s a matter for Ibac and it would not be appropriate for me to run a commentary on a live series of matters and I won’t be.
Afghanistan Senate inquiry:
Two-thirds of the 4,100 people airlifted from Afghanistan in the military evacuation operations in August were women and girls, Australian government officials say.
The department of foreign affairs and trade is among several departments currently giving evidence to the Senate inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.
Simon Newnham, an acting deputy secretary and crisis coordinator at the department of foreign affairs and trade, said 4,100 people were airlifted on Australian-run evacuation flights “amidst the most challenging of circumstances”.
Two-thirds of the evacuees were women and children.
Newnham said Dfat acknowledged the “desperate circumstances” of those who went to the airport in the world seeking to depart, as they suffered crushing crowds, violence, and the “depraved terrorist attack of 26 August as the evacuation window closed”.
A generation of Afghans have seen a better world, but much of this progress is now at risk, and with our partners we will do what we can to ensure as much as possible is preserved.
Victorian press conference:
Martin Foley is asked whether it is a double standard for 10,000 people to be able to attend the Melbourne Cup before all students return to school. It will also come at a time home visits remain off the cards for fully vaccinated adults.
He says the “safe, steady and sustained” reopening of schools has always been the government’s priority:
We know in regulated settings throughout the global pandemic, particularly in this Australian context, if you have a Covid-safe plan in place, if you have the bubble arrangements, if you have the active cooperation of responsible partners like the VRC and Racing Victoria, you’ll have a safe event. What we’ve seen throughout the course of this pandemic, it’s in private settings that we let our guard down.
A recurring concern for businesses reopening in Lakemba was how they would be managing vaccine certificate checks.
Some told me they’d be directly barring entry for the unvaccinated, and others were more cautious, saying they were worried about having to kick people out.
Jaylan Gul, who works at Urban Culture Lakemba, a popular fashion retailer, said she felt it was a little unnecessary.
I feel like I’m asking for something private, to ask if people are vaccinated. It feels unnecessary.
I don’t think I can find it in my heart to kick someone out, but if my job requires me to do it, I’m just going to have to do it.
On the other hand, Sandy Kourouche, who works at Big Sahara Cafe, said she was ready to deny people entry if they weren’t vaccinated.
I’m a little worried how people will react, and we’ve already had some problems with that, and with implementing the restrictions. I’ve had to tell some of my customers they can’t sit together, I have to keep telling them ‘we might get fined’.
We’re nervous about the police coming and fining us, but we do our best to avoid these things.
More from the streets of Sydney:
Dewey Nipatpokai, at Toby’s Coffee Estate on Castlereagh in Sydney’s CBD, says today feels both “great” and “weird”.
We got used to only doing takeaway. So it was weird this morning, setting up shop with signs and cleaning tables.
Nipatpokai says he looks forward to going back to normal but is nervous when he sees people not following Covid-safe rules.
A lot of people just sit down, without showing their vaccination passport. They’re impatient, and even though it feels like we are getting better, if we keep acting like that we fear we might go back down into lockdown again.
Foley says that despite the high daily case numbers, Victoria is still within the acceptable range to begin the reopening process according to the roadmap.
Is there a threshold that you want to reopen at? If we are at 2,000 cases a day on 26 October will you hold off?
The Victorian roadmap ... and the modelling from the Burnet Institute talked about a range of measures that we would expect to see case numbers increase.
So far, we remain within that band. We are confident that on projections we have seen and the experience as we have seen that we will sustain those efforts within those bands.
Having said that, do not underestimate the stresses and challenges that will place on both our primary care system and the public health network.
Foley has been asked if he is comfortable with the state reopening if sky-high daily case numbers continue.
We want to make sure that we take the careful, cautious but sustained steps to reopen. That is what the Victorian roadmap to deliver the national plan for reopening is all about. What we have to do is navigate our way through very tricky processes.
On one hand, deliver the national plan to be open at 70-80% double doses. At the same time, making sure that we protect the capacity of our health system to sustain the increased numbers of cases that that will bring...
We are more than hopeful but we know that the challenges in that system will be very real.
Bromley said a worrying number of older Victorians were now becoming infected with Covid-19.
With regard to the age of positive cases, 22% of yesterday’s cases are over the age of 50. That has been slowly increasing in recent days. This is concerning because we know Covid can have a devastating impact for older Victorians.
This is demonstrated by the 50% of yesterday’s hospitalisations being over 50. Of course, the best way to protect yourself from ending up in hospital with severe illness is to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
For younger people, it is really important to have that conversation with your grandparents, your parents, your aunties and uncles, make sure that everyone in your family is protected.
Victoria’s deputy secretary of Covid response, Naomi Bromley, is running through Victoria’s regional cases.
In regional Victoria, there were 122 new cases, now 8% of the total new cases.
60 cases in Latrobe, 15 in Greater Shepparton.
36 new cases from Mildura, which is currently on lockdown. That brings the total in Mildura 290 active cases. Yesterday, 1,600 tests done in Mildura, that means that over a two-day period, 80% of the population has been tested. A fantastic effort and our thanks to that local community and all the local providers there that have been doing a huge amount of work to boost those testing rates.
The Senate inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan has been told of concerns for the safety of Afghan guards who worked with Australia but were left behind.
Kay Danes, a humanitarian advocate with GAP Veterans and Legal Services, told the Senate inquiry:
We’re hiding the guards. We’ve been hiding them in safe houses. They are under direct threat. They’ve been told they’re under direct threat. They’ve had the night letters, they’ve had the visits. We had one guard only a day or two ago beaten up by Taliban. His mother, thank God, saved him, bless her. She was hanging on to him and wouldn’t let them take him away from the house.
Danes said the Taliban sometimes “mark your door and then they come back later” to “keep you stewing in your own anxiety for a while”.
And so we’ve had to now move that guard again. And this is the sense of urgency, because he’s one of the guards that has full requisite information to government, but he somehow slipped through the loop and didn’t get his 449 [humanitarian visa from Australia].
Sitarah Mohammadi, of the Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network, said the people of Afghanistan were now living under “fear and uncertainty” under Taliban rule. She said the Taliban was “brutal and ruthless”. She said the future “looks grim” for women and girls.
Mohammadi raised concerned that Australia’s promise to take 3,000 refugees was part of existing humanitarian intake. She urged the Australian government to announce a special humanitarian intake targeting particularly at-risk groups.
Victoria will be open for summer, health minister says
Foley has confirmed today that Victoria will have, what the kids are calling a “hot vax-summer”. (And by that I mean that the state will be open by the time the warm weather hits.)
We can also announce that with Victoria preparing to open in time for summer, based on our implementation of the national plan for reopening, we’ll also be launching today a new campaign to remind everyone that your vaccination is your ticket...
Dine in, sport, travel, work, but perhaps most importantly of all, reconnecting with family and friends and those we love. As they announced as part of the Victorian roadmap to deliver the national plan and to protect the community and the health system, we know that the safest way to do that is to apply those measures to Victorians who are vaccinated.
If you are not vaccinated, these freedoms won’t apply to the same way that it will to those Victorians that are vaccinated.
As of yesterday, we were sitting at 86% of Victorians aged 16 and over had received their first dose. This includes 93% of people aged over 50, and more than 95% of people aged 70 and over.
And indeed, that age group, between 12 and 16, 64% of that group are now single dosed and an increasing number of them are in fact double dosed. And just reflect on the fact that less than a month ago, that group became eligible.
So, I want to thank those young people and their families and carers for stepping forward in such an extraordinary rate of support for the vaccine program.
mRNA vaccines available to all ages at Victorian state clinics
Victoria’s health minister Martin Foley has announced that people of any age can now access Pfizer and Moderna doses at state hubs. Previously the over 60s demographic was only eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Today we are confirming those mRNA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, will be available to people of any age, through our state-run vaccination centres, not just those under 60.
As we push to 70 and 80% double dose and beyond, it’s time to throw open the doors of all of our clinics, more than 60 of them across the state, to the mRNA vaccines, particularly Moderna and Pfizer, for all.
This change, which is now in effect, has been made possible by the relative certainty we now have for both Moderna and Pfizer and the extraordinary number of young people who have come forward over the past three and a half weeks.
More from our team who are out documenting the first day of Sydney’s reopening.
In regards to hospitalisations, there are 677 people currently in hospital with the virus. Some 133 are in the intensive care units across the state. And 94 of those 133 are on a ventilator.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, is speaking now and has given details of the eight deaths the state recorded today.
Tragically, we had eight people lose their lives in this reporting period from Covid-19.
They were a woman in her 70s and a man in his 60s from the Darebin area.
- A man in his 40s from Port Phillip.
- A man in his 80s from Maribyrnong.
- A man in his 80s from Brimbank.
- A man in his 70s from the city of Melbourne.
- A man in his 70s from Glen Eira.
- And a woman in her 70s from Whittlesea.
Can I take this opportunity to pass our condolences to the families, friends, and communities of those Victorians.
ACT records 32 new local Covid-19 cases
The Australian Capital Territory has recorded 32 new local Covid-19 cases today.
25 are linked to known outbreaks, but only 11 were in quarantine for their entire infectious period.
Queensland has recorded zero new local cases of Covid-19 after a Sydney man visited Brisbane airport while infectious over the weekend, reports AAP.
In the 24 hours till Monday, the state recorded 6,825 tests while 21,712 vaccines were administered by Queensland Health.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state will hit a major milestone on Monday, with 70% of the population receiving their first vaccine dose and 52.25% both.
So that is excellent news.
But the state wasn’t without a Covid-19 scare over the weekend however, after a traveller with the virus tried to enter Queensland before being turned around by police last week.
Queensland Health said the man arrived in Brisbane on Virgin Airlines flight 91 from Sydney on Friday morning, but he did not have a valid border pass to enter.
He was put into hotel quarantine and tested, while authorities waited to send him back to Sydney on another flight.
The man then flew back to Sydney on Qantas flight 509 on Saturday morning.
Queensland Health then received his positive test results.
Brisbane airport had been listed as a low risk exposure site on Friday and Saturday mornings.
The domestic terminal’s departure gate 24 has been listed as a close contact exposure site between 6.18am and 7am on Saturday.
We are just standing by now for the Victorian Covid-19 daily press conference, which is scheduled for 11.15 am.
NSW Health has released more details about today’s cases, including information about the eight Covid-19 deaths the state recorded today.
Sadly NSW Health is reporting eight deaths: six men and two women.
One person was in their 40s, one in their 50s, three in their 60s, one in their 70s, one in their 80s, and one in their 90s.
Four people were from western Sydney, two from south-western Sydney, one from Sydney’s north shore, and one from Sydney’s inner west.
A woman in her 90s from south-western Sydney died at Liverpool hospital. She had received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and had underlying health conditions. She was a resident of the Allity Beechwood Aged Care Facility in Revesby, where she acquired her infection. It is the sixth death linked to an outbreak at this facility.
NSW Health extends its sincere condolences to their loved ones.
City goers are also excited to be back inside shop doors and on city streets. Alex Topalov, 20, was happy to be waiting at a table in a coffee shop for a friend.
It is my first time properly out in almost four months.
When lockdown hit, Topalov lost work as a sports coach at her local school. Today, she is in the city with a friend to complete her RSA.
Now I can finally get a job in a bar, now that they’re all open.
It has been tough ... But today, I am so happy.
Two tables over, Elijah Innes, Isabella Feek and Stella Morrison catch up over breakfast before work. The friends haven’t seen Feek during lockdown.
“We are excited for the catch-up today, because Issy has been 5km too far away,” Innes says.
“We got up much earlier than we needed to, just for this moment,” Morrison says. “I’m so excited.”
The Strand in Sydney’s CBD is bustling again after shop doors have been closed for almost four months.
Tony Kwok has been running the Quali-Tea store in Sydney CBD’s Strand for fourteen years. He says the past two years have been filled with uncertainty. “But this latest lockdown has been the hardest.”
We have not been able to open the shop. It has been so difficult. So today, we are excited, we are able to open again.
It feels unreal.
Kwok says it will “take a long time to recover” from the shock of NSW’s lockdown.
People are still scared to approach one another.
We are lucky to have a strong regular base of customers that we have known for more than ten years.
He says, although business has been hard, reopening after lockdown reveals “the beauty of being human” and “being able to connect with people again”.
And tea is at the centre of that.
For Pierre Germani of Pierre Jewellery, managing Covid has been a struggle. His shop in The Strand has been open for three years.
Unfortunately, of those three years, we’ve had to close twice.
The past two years have been “very depressing”, he says. “At the beginning of this lockdown, we thought it would pass in a few weeks.”
After an unprecedented few months in lockdown, Germani says the overwhelming feeling of today is very positive. “It is like we are being reborn again.”
The Australian government has expressed “sorrow” after a former Afghan soldier convicted of murdering three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan was released from custody in Qatar.
Hekmatullah was convicted of murdering three Australian soldiers – Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Private Robert Poate and Sapper James Martin – as they played cards at a patrol base north of Tarin Kowt in August 2012.
The Australian newspaper reports that Hekmatullah was released from house arrest in Qatar, soon after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August, and that he is presumed to have returned to Afghanistan.
Hekmatullah had been in Qatar since being transferred from Afghanistan in September last year. When contacted for comment, an Australian government spokesperson confirmed Hekmatullah’s release.
You can read the full report below:
By the way, this is Queensland’s sixth consecutive day without a Covid-19 case.
Queensland records no local Covid-19 cases
Queensland really has managed to avoid about 18 different Covid-19 disasters this year, haven’t they!
There have been no new cases in the state today.
The Morrison government says it is focused on “ensuring our region is not left behind” after a new report called on it to commit more to efforts to vaccinate the world.
The report – backed by a coalition of aid, health, business and civil society groups – warns the pandemic “will not end for anyone until it ends for everyone”. It urges the Australian government to promise to share another 20m vaccines through the Covax facility, while also investing an extra $250m in the same initiative. The call is in addition to previously announced pledges.
Zed Seselja, the minister for International Development and the Pacific, has issued the following statement in response to the “constructive” report:
Australia is absolutely committed to equitable access to Covid vaccines, including for developing countries, with a particular focus on ensuring our region is not left behind. We welcome End Covid for All’s constructive contribution to ending this pandemic.
Australia has committed more than $750 million to support vaccine access initiatives to date. Australia has proudly committed to sharing 60m vaccines with our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022, and we have shared over 3.57m vaccines directly with our region to date.
Our vaccine support for the region is end-to-end, strengthening local health systems to deliver vaccines safely and to those who need them most, and addressing vaccine hesitancy through technical advice and communications campaigns.
Australia will continue to provide practical, timely support for our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region to save lives, advance economic recovery, and build health systems to protect against future pandemics.
Perrottet on speaking with the Victorian premier about the NSW/Vic border:
We had a discussion around where we were sitting in our commitment to opening the border. That’s something we want to do together.
From Dan’s perspective, he has got higher case numbers, they’re still in a lockdown period and he’s got to deal with what’s front and centre for Victoria. And here in New South Wales, I’m focused on making sure we open up safely.
We’re going to have some issues, as I said, in terms of making sure this is done in a seamless way as possible. But we’re focused on it. It was worthy enough of a discussion.
Now you might be asking, what does all this “reopening” business mean for the NSW/Victorian border.
Perrottet says he spoke to his southern counterpart over the weekend.
I spoke to Daniel Andrews on the weekend about that issue. We want to work very closely together on it.
They’re a few weeks behind us. Their case numbers are still higher. Our road maps are similar, whilst theirs is slightly more conservative than ours. I don’t think they’ll be too far behind.
I want that Victorian and New South Wales border open as quickly as possible. So does the Victorian premier. But their main focus at the moment, they’re dealing with what we were dealing with just a few weeks ago. I wish them well.
I know it’s a challenging time and hopefully to everyone in Victoria today, that New South Wales gives them some hope this is what lies ahead...
But, to them, today, I think, this should not be seen as something that’s negative*. They should see this as a beacon of hope of where they’ll be shortly. And once we get to that point, you will see the Victorian and New South Wales border open. Our discussions have started. But right now we want to make sure that both states get through this period.
*Now academically I know it isn’t something negative, I know this is a hopeful day. But, as a Melburnian, I’m struggling not to give in to the spiteful part of me. I’ll be happy for you eventually Sydney, I swear!
Vaccine passport news from Victoria.
Speaking about the international border opening, the reporter has asked how on earth NSW will have time to trial and scale home quarantine arrangements before the gates swing open on 1 November.
But from Perrottet’s response, it’s clear that this small scale trial will not be the deciding factor. Home quarantine is coming no matter the results, and if he can move that start date forward he will.
We’re working through that this week. The jobs minister, Stuart Ayres, has responsibility for that. We commenced the trial a week ago or so. A very small trial, 30-odd people involved in that trial. But that was mainly focused in terms of what we’re trialling, we’re trialling some of the technology to make sure when people are quarantining at home, there are systems in place to ensure it’s occurred in a safe and responsible way. And that people can abide by those rules.
But, the reality is, there is really no point into the future of having people who are double vaccinated coming back into Australia and sitting in a hotel for two weeks when they could sit at home for a shorter period of time. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
So the faster we can move through that – I have spoken to the prime minister about it, I know Stuart Ayres is speaking to the federal government about it, and we’ll have a paper that he intends on bringing to our subcommittee of cabinet this week.
I will review it and if we can bring the date forward, we will.
Perrottet has been asked if there are particular areas of Sydney that he is concerned about or watching closely, now that the city has opened up.
The Canterbury-Bankstown area and some of the areas in western Sydney are a focus. And we’ll still continue to monitor that...
We’ll be going through some of that health advice today and see how things are tracking. I don’t want a tale of two cities.
I want our city to open up as one, together, and the people of western Sydney have made more sacrifices than most during this period of time, being in those affected LGAs.
It was the beaches last year, it’s western Sydney this year, and what a great thing today that Sydney as one opens up together and we’ll continue to monitor the situation as we move through.
More from our reporters on the ground in Sydney today:
The premier has been asked how big a problem will it be if people simply download screenshots of a vaccine passport in order to try and trick venues into letting them enter.
Businesses should take a look, and makes sure, to the best of their ability. It won’t be perfect, I accept that, that the information that’s provided is connected to the person who is displaying that information. But, there should not be fraudulent activity.
And I ask everyone across the state to follow the laws that are in place, you know, and the fact is that over 70%, seven in 10 people across New South Wales are fully vaccinated and will be able to download that vaccination certificate on the Medicare app.
I accept there will be challenges and issues along the way. I ask businesses where you can, check that data is correct.
Obviously we can’t police everyone.
Regarding 80%, it looks like the way we’re tracking, we’ll hit that benchmark next Monday, potentially. That means you have to wait another week for a rule change. Would you consider adjusting that week-long wait?
I won’t make policy on the run. We’ll do things in a considered way. We had a lot of interest and pressure from people from bringing the day forward from Monday back to last Friday. We didn’t do that.
As Dan will know, the consultation with industry has been key in providing certainty and stability for businesses and that commitment and understanding where the road map was at is important. We always said it would be the Monday after we hit those milestones.
But we’ll always look at it. We’ll make tweaks and changes as we go along. It’s not a set and forget. But as much certainty and stability that we can provide in relation to the road map we will.
'It is a freedom day,' says Perrottet
Oh, you heard it here first, today is a “freedom day” according to Perrottet, despite the former premier Berejiklian repeatedly stating that it wasn’t.
But the new premier did warn people not to get ahead of themselves.
Some people are calling it freedom day. Others are concerned it’s being called freedom day. How would you describe it?
I see it as a day of freedom. It is a freedom day. Businesses are opening up. But that means it needs to be done in a measured and safe way.
Let’s not get caught into semantics about how we want to classify the day. What is most important is for the first time in a long time, people are getting the opportunity to go back to work.
Businesses who have been closed and businesses who have been crippled are excited today about having the opportunity to open once again. And what a fantastic thing that is.
People can call it whatever day they want to call it. I just think it’s a great day for the people of our state based on the efforts and sacrifices that everyone has made.
The premier has been asked if he is disappointed that Gladys Berejiklian can’t be with him to celebrate today.
Oh, it’s disappointing. Glad, as you know, has led us through this pandemic. And it’s a great day for the state.
I’m sure we’re all disappointed that she’s not here to celebrate this great moment with the people of New South Wales.
Because she was, I think, an outstanding premier, the most outstanding premier we’ve had.
As all the media know, she was out every single day, daily press conferences, and it hasn’t just been the last 100 days, we’re talking 18 months here of challenge for our state.
It’s been a very, very difficult time on government, on her, as the leader. But I know she’s here in spirit and you never know, Glad may go out and have a beer herself tonight and celebrate.
Lakemba was a mix of excitement and trepidation this morning, after residents woke up to the first day out of lockdown in months.
After 106 days under stay-at-home orders, a large part of that spent under even tougher restrictions because it was deemed part of an LGA of concern, business owners told me they were feeling overjoyed to be back at work.
But there are lingering concerns, about how the new vaccine rules will be policed, about whether it was too early to open up, and about a potential rise in case numbers.
Moustafa, a barber at Lakemba Hairdressers, told me he couldn’t sleep from excitement, as he cut his first customer’s hair:
When I opened my eyes today, I was crying, I swear to God. I hadn’t opened the shop in months, I’ve had to pay my bills and everything. It was tough.
But today, I’m very happy, the reopening is very good. I normally open at nine, but today I decided to open early for my customers.
But Hassan, the owner of the famed Lakemba Pizza, an institution for locals that serves traditional Lebanese breakfast pizzas, Manoush, said people were still nervous:
I’m not too excited at this moment, it’s still too early. Maybe after a week or so, when things have settled down and we can see how things are going, maybe then I will feel better.
We’re worried, but we’re used to it. It’s been two years now with the virus, and we’re still here.
Hassan still can’t have seated customers at his shop, because it was too small. Although the dreary weather reflected some of the caution, there were still pockets of joy.
Next door, a local butcher waved me away, grinning:
We’re too busy!
The new deputy premier, Matt Kean is up. He mostly repeats all the usual talking points, but he ends with a promise that Perrottet will buy all the media a round.
Can I say, the premier was pretty tight when he was the treasurer, hard to get cash out of.
But he’ll shout everyone a beer if you’re here after 11 today. The optimism is out in the regions and I’m going to call the beer today the freedom frothy.
NSW premier wants to 'bring forward' international border reopening date
Perrottet says he is trying to bring the reopening of international borders forward to address labour shortages in NSW, stating that we cannot live as “a hermit kingdom”.
We’ve been in discussions with the federal government in terms of labour shortages. It will face our state and the nation. It was probably an issue we had prior to the Delta outbreak. So it’s a challenge we’re going to face moving forward.
We’re working with the federal government at the moment, in terms of trying to bring forward that date for the opening of our international border.
We can’t live here like a hermit kingdom on the other side of the world, we want returning Australians to come back. If New South Wales can play a role in helping other states bring their Australians home too, we want to be part of that and we’ll work with the other states and territories.
As you know, there’s rules in place and there’s still restrictions in place. They’re not there for the sake of it, they’re there because we obviously want to make sure that we look after people’s healthcare, particularly at a time as we’ll no doubt see case numbers increase, we’ll see hospitalisations increase but invested significant amounts in our health system.
We need to learn to live alongside the virus. There will be challenges but our state is poised and ready. That’s on our people. That’s not the government, the ones making the decision, it’s the great work, the efforts, the sacrifices of everyone across the state.
I say to everyone today, New South Wales you have earned it, enjoy it, it’s a great day, it’s a day we should all be pleased at arriving at.
The new NSW premier Dominic Perrottet is speaking now from a bar in Sydney.
Fittingly he is speaking about how bars such as these are now open as NSW comes out of lockdown.
There are going to be challenges, we know that. I ask again everyone right across our state to treat everyone with kindness and respect, take personal responsibility, there’s no doubt there will be teething issues but there will be many young people pulling beers today ... serving tables at restaurants and cafes, who will be doing this for the first time and adjusting to a new system.
So please be patient and look out for them as we move through this period of time. But, you know, as Matt will speak out, this is incredibly important for the economy. It’s not just a health crisis, it’s an economic crisis too.
New South Wales is leading the nation out of this pandemic. There will be challenges. We need to keep people safe.
Here is the full statement from Scott Morrison who briefly spoke to the media while leaving quarantine this morning.
And here is a look at today’s Victorian cases on the outbreak graph.
Victoria records 1,612 new local cases and eight deaths
The Victorian numbers are finally in and they are slightly down from the weekend’s totals, with 1,612.
However, the state records a large number of deaths with eight people infected with Covid-19 dying in the last 24 hours.
The question we are all asking right about now:
‘Freedom day’ was somewhat subdued at Bondi, thanks largely to ceaseless rain and a howling onshore.
Monday’s quiet morning on the beach with the Glastonbury-type scenes on the ‘grassy knoll’ at Bondi’s north end Saturday night when the weather was more favourable.
But even under inclement skies Monday morning, the renaissance was apparent still.
The pool and gym have reopened at Bondi Icebergs. Long-time local swimmer Meg – savouring the effects of a restorative post-swim flat white – told the Guardian “it’s so nice to be back, it’s been a long lockdown”.
Everyone was starting to struggle with it by the end, and while this might seem a small thing, it’s important for those of us who come here. This is our community too, as well as just exercise.
She said the reopening, however, came with a hint of trepidation.
I think we are all a bit nervous, but everyone is double-vaxxed and following all the rules. I think we’ll be okay.
Well, if this is true it could be worse. ABC is reporting that case numbers will be in the 1,600s today. This has yet to be independently confirmed.
We are out on the streets of Sydney today asking people what they feel about the state opening up:
This is so strange to have the NSW number before Victoria. Fingers crossed that the delay isn’t heralding bad news.
And here’s what those NSW numbers look like on the outbreak graph. Thank you to Josh Nicholas for that!
Afghan soldier who murdered three Australian soldiers released from custody
The Australian government has expressed “sorrow” after a former Afghan soldier convicted of murdering three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan was released from custody in Qatar.
Hekmatullah was convicted of murdering three Australian soldiers – Corporal Stjepan Milosevic, Private Robert Poate and Sapper James Martin – as they played cards at a patrol base north of Tarin Kowt in August 2012.
The Australian newspaper reported overnight that Hekmatullah had been released from house arrest in Qatar, soon after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August, and that he is presumed to have returned to Afghanistan.
A government spokesperson confirmed the news this morning, sending us the following statement:
The Australian Government is aware that that Afghan Army deserter Hekmatullah, who murdered three off-duty Australians, has been released from custody. His whereabouts cannot be verified.
The government’s position has always been that Hekmatullah should serve a just and proportionate sentence, appropriate to his crimes, and not be granted early release or pardon.
We made repeated representations over a long period advocating this position to relevant governments. We share the sorrow of Australians at this outcome and again offer our condolences to the families and the loved ones of our three fallen soldiers.
Hekmatullah had been in Qatar since being transferred from Afghanistan in September last year, a move that government officials said at the time was part of “a compromise organised by the US government with the government of Qatar to enable the commencement of the Afghanistan peace negotiations”.
Scott Morrison last year wrote to Donald Trump as part of Australia’s lobbying to ensure Hekmatullah’s continued detention.
Side note. Absolutely hate the new NSW Health Covid-19 number graphic layout.
Like dudes, come on. Just because you put the new case numbers as the sixth box doesn’t mean we can’t see them.
NSW records 498 new cases and eight deaths
NSW has recorded 496 new local Covid-19 cases and two acquired outside the state.
Sadly, eight people infected with Covid have died.
'Enjoy the moment': Morrison congratulates NSW on opening up
Prime minister Scott Morrison, now emerged from his post-US quarantine, has just spoken to media about the NSW reopening and continued vaccine rollout:
This is the day so many have been looking forward to, the day when things we take for granted we celebrate. Being with family and friends, getting a haircut, grabbing a meal together, going to the pub and having a beer with your mates. These are things that across New South Wales and particularly in Sydney people will be able to do again today ...
Over the weekend, more than 400,000 vaccines were administered across the country. That is the biggest weekend we’ve had throughout the entire vaccination program and that tells me one thing: Australians have been totally up for this the whole way through. They are getting the job done.
Whether you are in a state like New South Wales which is opening up today, a state like Victoria that soon will be, or over in the west or up in Queensland where the impact of Covid has not been the same, but still we need those vaccines to sure that when Covid eventually comes that in those states you will be able to continue on as you have ...
To all those, particularly in Sydney and across New South Wales who are opening up today, enjoy the moment, enjoy it with your family and friends.
But not everyone in NSW is ready to just forgive and forget the hardship of lockdown.
Canterbury-Bankstown mayor Khal Asfour told ABC News Breakfast that it will be more difficult for his community to move on, given the “double standard” his community faced, but urged people to work towards “forgiveness”:
Look, we had 106 days of pure hell, to be honest. Businesses shut, people stuck at home, no one being able to leave other than for an hour of exercise for most of it. We had a curfew, had extra police ...
There certainly was a double standard. We won’t forget the way we were singled out and targeted unfairly by the government.
But I think it’s important that we work on forgiveness, try to work on making sure we heal and bringing Sydney together, and to do that, the new premier needs to come good, come good on his promise to invest in western Sydney. To invest in my city, in my community, to invest in jobs for my residents and to invest also in infrastructure, and I think that is important and that will help us heal and get out of the pandemic that we went through and the terrible time we went through over the past three months.
So, you might be asking, what does all of this “opening up” business mean for the Australia economy.
Well, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg says it’s good news. He has been doing the round this morning talking about the tremendous bounce back we are about to experience, helped along by a Deloitte Access Economics forecast which showed the economy would grow to 4.5% in 2022 after a 3.2 % expansion over 2021.
Here he is on Seven’s Sunrise:
It’s very significant, the economy is ready for liftoff and it will reignite the national economy. New South Wales success will be Australia’s success [story].
After 100 days of lockdown this is the reward for millions of people across New South Wales.
We know the economy has been hit hard by the Delta variant but we also know from other experiences through this pandemic that the economy does bounce back.
Once obstructions are raised, businesses reopen and the kids get back to school and people get back to work, that’s what we are hoping for, that’s what we expect.
We are just standing by for the Victorian numbers, which tend to come out any time between 8.45 and 9.15am.
Cases have stretched up towards the 2,000 mark in recent days, so we shall see if it reaches that grim milestone today.
The Queensland government has stripped back mental health support for people isolating in its hotel quarantine system, prompting accusations of neglect from former occupants.
In March the government stopped its contract with Red Cross Australia to do daily mental health checks, moving the service to a call centre and limiting the number of welfare checks performed over the 14-day period.
Guardian Australia spoke to a number of former hotel quarantine residents who say they did not receive sufficient help for serious mental health concerns after calling the government-run call centre, including one who suffered a breakdown.
The Guardian can also reveal that staff at the government-run call centre are given just one day of training in psychological first aid.
You can read the full story below:
And here is some more Kmart content for you:
Just jumping back to new NSW premier Dominic Perrottet for a second. While speaking to ABC News Breakfast he was asked if he was ruling out the possibility of lockdowns in the future:
Look, our intention is not to go backwards. But as you say, there will be challenges that come our way which we may not foresee.
We’re committed to the national plan and from time to time, it may be the case that we need to target restrictions in certain places at certain times. And we will look at that and work through the health issue that arise going forward.
But with the higher vaccination rates that we’ve seen in our state, the enormous efforts that people have made, that’s been the key to opening up our state as safely and as freedom as possible.
And you know, we to go back to a situation of statewide lockdowns and our intention is to target restrictions going forward. But the key to that is still getting that vaccination rate up.
So if you’re in New South Wales and you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please go out and do it.
And here is a look at the most important place to shop the moment the clock strikes midnight … ahh. *checks notes* Kmart?
And here are a look at those crowds on TikTok.
Here’s a look at some of the midnight scenes as the clocked ticked over to an open NSW:
Not an ideal situation:
Afghans who have applied for Australian humanitarian visas say they are living in fear as the Taliban are “hunting us down like animals”.
Accounts of their “painful” experiences under the Taliban regime – including testimonies of beatings, interrogations and threats to family members – are to be provided to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, which begins public hearings today.
A Hazara man described being interrogated by the Taliban as they demanded to know whether he was a civil activist and had any links to foreigners. The man, whose name cannot be published for safety reasons, said he had been taken into a cell where he was blindfolded and gagged.
You can read the full report below:
Federal health minister Greg Hunt has been asked if his home state of Victoria would be lagging so far behind NSW if Sydney hadn’t received those (somewhat covert) extra Pfizer doses along the way.
Victoria is at 58.6% double vaccination, compared with NSW’s 73.5%.
But Hunt says he isn’t convinced that that’s the reason:
Well, the first [dose] vaccination rate in Victoria is 85.5% and [in] NSW it is at 90.3%, so they’re very close.
The second vaccination rate is increasing. What we saw in fact, that really drove NSW was a massive uptake of AstraZeneca through the general practices and that’s the huge difference in the two states. That’s uncapped supplied available to both states.
When queried on this, given Victoria is heavily reliant on AstraZeneca as well, Hunt stick to his guns:
I think you’ll find that there is a very large volume of AstraZeneca, which was taken out through general practices, the population raced through western Sydney, south-western Sydney. And so there was an extremely high take-up.
But what we’re seeing is rapid vaccination across those states.
Dominic Perrottet says the state is “certainly expecting to see an increase in case numbers”.
There will be naturally a lag. Our health system is ready. We’ve invested in it. The alternative is to stay closed ...
And I’m confident as premier of the state*, based on what we’ve seen from the health team, that the easing of restrictions that we’re putting to today are measured and ensuring that we can keep people safe.
*Just in case you forgot.
Host Michael Rowland:
Your predecessor Gladys Berejiklian warned that cases would go through the roof when this happened, when the state reopened. Are you still expecting that?
We’re expecting it to increase mobility across the state.
So far, if you look at the case numbers and hospitalisation numbers, we’re below where we expected to be. So that’s positive ...
We’ve invested significant amounts in our health system and I’m very confident that we’ll get through this period of time. But it’s not going to be without its challenges.
Even with the vaccination, there will hospitalisations as we know and that’s why, as you said earlier, it’s really important that we continue to follow the rules that are in place. They’re not there for the sake of it. They’re there to keep people safe as we open up.
Dominic Perrottet has been asked what he thinks of headlines declaring that it’s “party time” in NSW and if he thinks people should temper their enthusiasm:
Really, I think so. We want to make sure that we don’t go backward.
There are obviously rules still in place as we stage the opening up. People need to be patient as well because there will be challenges as we go through this period. But there are a number of restrictions still in place. Vaccination has been key to us being able to open up.
There’s obviously a lot of excitement but it certainly has to be tempered by making sure that we continue to look out for each other. That’s been our success in the past. Everybody making enormous efforts to get vaccinated.
We get 90% first-dose on Saturday. That’s been incredibly pleasing and if we can keep that momentum going through this period, we’ll be able to open up as quickly as possible. But importantly, as safely as we can.
It’s all happening right now, with new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet speaking to ABC News Breakfast about his state opening up. He’s asked if he’s nervous:
Oh, excited. I think that it’s a big day for our state after a long 100 days of lockdown ...
There are going to be challenges as we move through this as the first state in the nation that’s going down a path where those coming out to visit pubs and restaurants and cafes need to be double vaccinated. That will have its challenges along the way.
But I think if everyone treats it and each other with respect and kindness during this period, we’re going to open up safely.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt is out and about this morning to do a tiny bit of a victory lap as NSW opens up.
On ABC radio he says lockdowns and stay-at-home orders will increasingly be consigned to history as we move forward with the vaccine rollout:
These will be decreasingly relevant as we [go along] ...
A friend said to me from Sydney yesterday, ‘What am I looking forward to this week, being able to go and see my mum. Take her to a cafe, later on in the week go bowling.’ That’s his thing, you know, it’s people being able to live their lives, and so we know that this disease is moving from a pandemic to being what’s called endemic, meaning, meaning of the global environment, but high vaccination rates.
And we’ve now passed the US. We’ve passed Israel, we’ve passed new EU over the weekend, Germany and the OECD. And so Australians are really stepping forward more.
Good morning everyone it’s Matilda Boseley here, ready to dive into the week of news.
Obviously, the biggest story today is the reopening of greater Sydney. After 106 days, almost 63,000 Covid-19 cases and 431 deaths, stay-at-home orders were lifted across NSW this morning. This comes after the state reached its milestone of 70% of the over-16 population fully vaccinated last week.
Gyms, cafes, restaurants, pools, shops, hairdressers and beauticians can now reopen, people can have 10 people over to their home, gather in groups of 30 people outdoors in public, and travel more than 5km from their home. But these new freedoms are only available to the fully vaccinated and those who have a medical exemption.
Unions are concerned that staff members tasked with checking people’s vaccination status at the door may be in the firing line for abuse and mistreatment.
The United Workers Union is calling for clearer, binding rules for bosses to protect staff as well as penalties for non-compliance.
NSW on Saturday reached 90.3% first-dose vaccination coverage for the eligible population, while 73.5% of the adult population are now fully jabbed.
On the final day of the lockdown on Sunday, the state reported 477 new local Covid-19 cases and six deaths.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, 15 regional venues are taking part in a “vaccinated economy” trial, whereby they can increase the number of patrons available in the facility providing all can prove they are fully vaccinated.
There are also plans for double-vaccinated Victorians to attend the Melbourne Cup and live music events within weeks when the state hits an 80% double dose vaccination for over-16s. This is expected around 5 November.
With that, why don’t we jump right into the (“freedom”) day?