What we learned, Sunday 10 July
And with that, we are going to put the blog to bed. Before we go, let’s recap the big stories:
- Elderly Australians with severe medical conditions will be able to access lifesaving Covid-19 antiviral treatments from Monday
- Unions have hit out at the federal government for refusing to extend pandemic leave disaster payments as the nation experiences a dramatic surge in Covid-19 cases
- Queensland deputy premier Steven Miles has encouraged residents to wear masks even as states decline to reintroduce mask mandates
- It comes as Australia reported 13 deaths from coronavirus and the national death toll passed 10,200
- Nearly 415,000 NSW flood victims have received a total of $340m in disaster support from the federal government
- Flood victims returning to inundated homes have been urged to mentally prepare and reach out for support from people around them as evacuation orders ease
Thank you so much for spending the day with us - we will be back tomorrow!
China urges Australia to see it as a partner
The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, has urged his Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, to treat China as a partner, accusing previous governments of treating it as an opponent or threat.
On the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali on Friday, Wang expressed hope that Australia could “seize the opportunity, take concrete actions and come to a correct understanding of China” and accumulate “positive energy” towards it, according to a summary published late on Saturday by China’s foreign ministry.
Brooke Buschkuehl breaks Australian long jump record
Buschkuehl leapt 7.13 metres to smash her own national record, 7.13 metres people! Like, there should be a day off for this!
RACGP welcomes expanded access to anti-virals
The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Karen Price, said:
Labor’s proposed electoral law reforms welcomed by experts
Independents and transparency stakeholders have welcomed news that Labor is considering electoral law reforms including spending caps and truth in political advertising.
The special minister of state, Don Farrell, confirmed in an interview with Guardian Australia that Labor would look to legislate these after a review into the 2022 election, along with changes to improve adherence to one-vote one-value.
On Sunday, independent MP Zoe Daniel said:
Should lying in political ads to get elected on false pretences be legal? The answer seems obvious. Truth in political advertising must be legislated. And let’s open the can of worms on truth in media while we’re at it. These things go fundamentally to public trust.
This was a central pillar throughout my campaign and I will continue to genuinely advocate for this. If Labor is committed to this, great – part of my role is to keep pushing.
Labor MP Kate Thwaites, a member of the electoral matters committee in the last parliament, labelled them “important reforms”.
The head of the Australia Institute’s democracy and accountability program, Bill Browne, said:
The reality is it is currently perfectly legal to lie in a federal political advertisement and it should not be. Without new truth in political advertising laws our elections risk becoming a fake news free for all, putting the very integrity of our democracy at risk.
Today’s news is a big breakthrough that has built on much work by many politicians at state and federal level. Congratulations to Minister Don Farrell for showing genuine political leadership that could be a big step to helping fix politics in Australia.
No extension for pandemic leave disaster payments 'disappointing': unions
Unions have hit out at the federal government for refusing to extend pandemic leave disaster payments as the nation experiences a dramatic surge in Covid-19 cases.
Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed the government would wind up the emergency payments as Australia’s debt swells to $1trn.
“We need to be honest with the Australian people. The budget is in a very bad position. And emergency payments cannot be continued forever,” Butler told Insiders on Sunday.
The pandemic leave disaster payment, which was scheduled to end on June 30, was a lump sum given to those who could not work as a result of Covid-19 transmission.
Steve Murphy, national secretary for the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, said it was “disappointing” that the government had ruled out extending the payments.
Murphy said 44% of Australian workers have no paid leave because they are in insecure work and many more have depleted their leave entitlements during the pandemic.
“As transmission rates grow, workers are now being forced to choose between following public health orders to isolate and putting food on the table,” he said.
“Most workers across manufacturing cannot work from home. Our jobs are physical in nature and require us to work in close contact with one another.”
The federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Annie Butler, said the union is also pushing the government to reverse the decision to scrap Covid leave disaster payments.
“As we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, workers who aren’t supported to stay at home and isolate because they can’t afford to lose money will continue to spread the virus further,” she said in a statement.
“Our health system simply can’t bear this extra pressure.”
Queensland’s opposition has announced it will bring a net zero emissions target by 2050 to the next state election at the LNP’s annual convention in Brisbane over the weekend.
LNP leader David Crisafulli said it was “deeply troubling” that emissions had increased in Queensland over the past several years.
Australia’s past treatment of China as a ‘threat’ cause of tensions, Chinese foreign minister says
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi says previous Australian governments’ treatment of China as an opponent and a threat is the cause of tension between the countries. AAP reports:
Wang met foreign minister Penny Wong on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali on Friday.
Senator Wong afterwards described the meeting as an important first step, but said stabilising the countries’ relationship would take time and effort.
We both recognised it is a first step for both our nations.
We’ve got a path to walk and we’ll see if it can lead to a better place between the two countries.
Wang expressed hope that Australia could “seize the opportunity, take concrete actions and come to a correct understanding of China”, according to a summary published by China’s foreign ministry on Saturday.
The root cause of the difficulties in Chinese and Australian relations in recent years lies in the insistence of previous Australian governments to treat China as an ‘opponent’ and even a ‘threat’.
Greens adopt amendments to Labor’s integrity commission legislation
There is (pending, possible) drama in the senate!
The Greens want to tighten the government’s Icac proposal - and as Paul Karp points out – legislating the changes would require Labor to adopt them in its bill, or adopt an alliance with the Coalition.
WA considers using Covid quarantine facility for housing
Like Victoria and Queensland, Western Australia also had a quarantine facility built that there is not much use for, now borders are a free-for-all.
AAP is reporting the government is considering using the $200m facilities to house overseas workers.
The 500-bed facility, built by the former Morrison government at Bullsbrook in Perth’s north, is due to be handed over to the WA government next month.
It had been expected to house returned travellers who were subject to restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the removal of travel and vaccination edicts has left the premier, Mark McGowan, pondering what to do with the centre.
“This was a decision of the Morrison government to build this. It was on the basis that we may well need it,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“At this point in time, it’s not needed for quarantine purposes but it may be needed for some of those purposes in the future. So the state government has agreed to operate it for the course of one year.
“What we will do is look for a purpose.”
WA is in the middle of a major recruiting drive for overseas workers but has also grappled with a shortage of affordable housing.
Almost all Australian food affected by rising prices
Christina Zorbas, a researcher at Deakin University, has crunched the numbers around how much the price of food has gone up – and continues to go up – in Australia.
The big takeaway: it’s not just lettuce, and it’s hitting low-income families super hard.
Read more here:
National Covid summary: 13 deaths reported
Here are the latest coronavirus numbers from around Australia today, as the country records at least 13 deaths from Covid-19:
- Deaths: 0
- Cases: 945
- In hospital: 134 (with 5 people in ICU)
New South Wales
- Deaths: 8
- Cases: 8,670
- In hospital: 1,945 (with 60 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 0
- Cases: 275
- In hospital: 6 (with no people in ICU)
- Deaths: 0
- Cases: 4,174
- In hospital: 744 (with 15 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 2
- Cases: 3,039
- In hospital: 240 (with 9 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 1
- Cases: 1,355
- In hospital: 93 (with 4 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 2
- Cases: 7,934
- In hospital: 671 (with 32 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 0
- Cases: 5,014
- In hospital: 261 (with 7 people in ICU)
Kyrgios and Djokovic agree to go for a meal after Wimbledon final
Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic have agreed to a tasty side bet alongside the £2m (AU$3.5m) they’ll be playing for in the Wimbledon final.
The unlikely but evidently blossoming “bromance” between the pair, which has come to light as they prepare to do battle in Sunday’s final, took a new tongue-in-cheek twist on the eve of the match when the pair indulged in an Instagram chat, doubtless to the delight of their millions of followers.
Hello everyone – this is Cait Kelly, I will be with you for the rest of the day. A shout out to Royce Kurmelovs for steering the ship over the morning.
First up, I want to draw your attention to this solid piece by Catherine Bennett – who takes us through what is behind the increase in Covid cases and what comes next:
Reports of dangerous driving and theft in Adelaide
Police have had a strange night in Adelaide where someone claimed to be driving a crashed taxi while across town a passenger fled by bicycle from a ute full of stolen goods, AAP reports.
South Australia police were called to Modbury Heights in the city’s north-east to reports of a taxi crashing into the curb at 11.30pm.
They found three men inside, one of them claimed to have been driving. He had allegedly arrived after the crash.
The other two allegedly refused to answer police before officers finally identified who had been driving. The driver, 31, failed a breathalyser test.
The man and his passenger will front an Adelaide court next month, with the driver charged with lying to police and refusing an alcotest. He has also been stripped of his licence for a year.
The 27-year-old passenger is facing charges of lying to police.
In an unrelated incident, police responded to calls of men damaging property at a shopping plaza in Port Adelaide.
The two men allegedly fled in a stolen ute carrying stolen clothes with the car found early on Sunday morning in the nearby suburb of Cheltenham.
Police said the ute initially failed to stop before pulling over. They said the driver fled the scene and the passenger grabbed a bicycle out of the ute and rode off.
The driver was allegedly caught hiding in the front yard of a nearby home but the passenger is still on the run.
Police charged the driver, 33, with offences including trespass, theft, driving dangerously and breaching bail.
The man will front court on Monday.
Flood-affected NSW residents have received $340m in support
Nearly 415,000 flood victims in New South Wales have received a total of $340m in disaster support from the federal government, AAP reports.
The latest crisis has impacted communities from the Blue Mountains to the south coast, with some facing their fourth flood disaster in 18 months.
Residents in 29 local government areas are eligible for the assistance, a one-off $1,000 payment for every adult and $400 for every child affected by flooding.
A disaster recovery allowance is also available for employees and sole traders who lose income as a direct result of a major disaster, and lasts for up to 13 weeks.
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, triggered the federal support payments on Wednesday and people could begin claiming them on Thursday afternoon.
Flood-affected residents are starting to return to their homes to assess the damage caused by days of unrelenting rain and severe storms.
The government has mobilised about 250 Australian Defence Force troops and three helicopters to assist with the flood response and clean-up.
No new Covid-19 deaths in Western Australia
No people with Covid-19 have died in Western Australia overnight, with the state recording 5,014 new cases on Sunday morning, 261 people in hospital, and 7 in ICU.
Two new Covid-19 deaths in South Australia
Two people with Covid-19 have died in South Australia overnight, with the state recording 3,039 new cases on Sunday morning, 240 people in hospital, nine in ICU and two on ventilation.
Experts question the building of homes at Penrith Lakes
In 2015, the MP for Penrith in Sydney’s west, Stuart Ayres, stood at the site of an old quarry in his electorate and told a journalist to imagine homes “as far as your eye can see”.
“There are so many opportunities we can explore,” he told Channel Nine. “Different types of housing, larger homes, smaller homes, and all types of recreational activities will happen there.”
Ayres was talking about Penrith Lakes, a 2,000-hectare site owned by a consortium of businesses, including the Kerry Stokes-owned Seven Group through its majority stake in the building materials supplier Boral.
Eight years later, just how many – if any – homes will be built is subject to some uncertainty. Penrith Lakes is located around the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain, and has been among the areas inundated in the numerous floods to hit that part of western Sydney in recent months and years.
While a 2019 investor presentation from Boral raised hopes for “5,000+” homes at the site, the government has cooled on its enthusiasm because of the flood risk. After expanding the area approved for business development by 40 hectares in 2020, it has since ruled out residential zoning on the site.
Ayres, now the deputy leader of the New South Wales Liberal party, said he is opposed too. In budget estimates earlier this year Ayres said he was “categorically opposed” to large-scale residential development at Penrith Lakes.
Last year he said the suggestion he supported large-scale residential development on the site was “a politically motivated lie”. The footage, he said, was taken before flood mapping showed Penrith Lakes shouldn’t be developed on.
“Residential housing is not appropriate on the Penrith Lakes. Full stop,” Ayres said.
But as flood waters from the Hawkesbury-Nepean again inundate homes for the fourth time since March 2021, the NSW government’s development plans in the city’s fastest-growing region are again under the spotlight.
For more on how NSW is grappling with the consequences of developing on floodplains, read the full story from Guardian Australia’s Michael McGowan.
Skywhale hot air balloon fails to take off in strong winds
The winds of Ballarat have proven too much for beloved Australian artwork Skywhale with the hot air balloon failing to take off after a rip left it unable to be inflated.
Skywhale is the creation of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini that first flew in 2013 and has since travelled around the country. It’s fellow creation, Skywhalepapa also failed to fly in the strong Ballarat strong winds.
In a statement on its social media the Art Gallery of Ballarat apologised to those who came out to see Skywhale.
Sadly due to the wind they won’t be flying today, but we loved hearing Jess Green and the choir play as the sculptures inflated and danced together as the sun rose.
The situation in New South Wales may be easing but the state isn’t totally out of the woods yet.
Meanwhile it’s been a frosty start in the south-east corner of the country.
Queensland residents encouraged to wear masks amid Covid surge
Queensland deputy premier Steven Miles has encouraged residents of the sunshine state to wear masks as the latest wave of Covid-19 spreads across the country even as governments have not yet reintroduced mask mandates.
It will not hurt you.
Miles said the government will “continue to monitor the situation” and will communicate any new decisions as they occur. Until then the public should follow the health advice.
Asked about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for Queensland health staff, Miles said he was not aware of any shortages and the government had “worked hard” to stockpile PPE around the state.
The comments come amid a press conference announcing that Suncorp Stadium will remain the home of the Broncos for another 12 years.
Queensland Health reported no new deaths from Covid-19 on Sunday morning.
Australia’s jobless rate tipped to hit its lowest level in 48 years
Australia’s jobless rate is tipped to hit its lowest level in 48 years when official data is released later this week.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its June labour force survey on Thursday.
CBA Group economists expect around 25,000 jobs to be added in the month, with the unemployment rate easing from 3.9% to 3.8 %, the lowest level since August 1974.
NAB economists say the participation rate should be sustained at 66.7%.
The Commonwealth Bank’s household spending intentions index for June will be released on Tuesday, alongside the ABS’s household spending indicator for May.
– with AAP
Sri Lankan president agrees to resign amid unrest
The Sri Lankan president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has agreed to resign after a dramatic day during which his house and offices were stormed by protesters and the home of the prime minister set on fire.
In a late-night message conveyed through the parliamentary speaker, Mahinda Yapa, the beleaguered president said he would step down from power on 13 July to “ensure a peaceful transition of power”.
It was an historic victory for the protesters who have been calling for him to resign for months and gathered on the streets of Colombo in their tens of thousands on Saturday, as the country continues to struggle through its worst economic crisis since independence.
Earlier prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, had told a meeting of party leaders that he too would resign as soon as a new all-party government was formed.
In extraordinary scenes on Saturday, protesters broke through police barriers and charged into the president’s official residence. Images and witness accounts showed people flooding up the grand staircase of the colonial-era building, with chants calling for the president to go.
As protesters poured into the bedrooms and kitchen and rifled through the president’s possessions, many took full advantage of the president’s luxury amenities which had been denied to them in recent weeks due to rampant food and fuel shortages. Protesters were seen cooking up curries in the kitchen, lying down on beds and sofas, lifting weights and jogging in his private gym and jumping into the outdoor pool.
The president was not at home, having fled the night before under military protection, and he remained in hiding as Saturday’s events unfolded.
Rajith, 50, said he had come to take part in the protests as he had two young children and “there’s no food to eat”. He spoke of his shock at entering the president’s home and seeing that, while Sri Lankans were suffering, “they didn’t lack anything. We saw their luxury rooms, their AC, their cooking gas. They even have so many pedigree pets.”
For more details see the special report from the Observer’s Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delihi and Devana Senanayake in Colombo.
Victoria’s ambulance service issues another ‘code red’ under high demand
Victoria’s embattled ambulance service declares another “code red” overnight after buckling under high demand. AAP reports:
The emergency procedure was implemented at around 2am and lasted one-and-a half hours, during which those in metropolitan Melbourne were urged not to call for an ambulance unless they were in a serious condition.
Staff were forced to operate at limited capacity and restricted access to triple zero meant some calls were potentially unanswered.
The crisis protocol saw managers forced to return to duty to manage hospital transfers, rapid offloading of patients at hospital and lower the number of acuity patients being referred to other services.
Additional staff were recalled and non-emergency ambulances responded to some cases.
It comes amid fresh concerns about Covid-19 outbreaks.
At least two other code reds have been declared in recent months.
Ambulance union secretary Danny Hill said the system is struggling.
The system is busier than it has ever been and that’s not because of an increase in strokes, heart attacks or car accidents, it’s because of an increase in reliance on triple zero.
It means [paramedics] won’t be finishing their shifts on time or getting a meal break and will spend a large part of their shift ramped at the hospital because there’s so many patients they’re bringing in.
Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon is considering filing a class action lawsuit against the state’s triple-zero authority, due to recent deaths linked to internal failures.
Thousands of Victorians could join the lawsuit against the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority, following a series of fatal system errors that have led to at least 15 deaths and multiple injuries including children since 2014.
Coalition is ‘weak’ for criticising PM attending Pacific Islands Forum, Labor minister says
The minister for international development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, has slammed the Coalition for criticising Anthony Albanese for his plans to attend the Pacific Islands Forum.
Conroy told Sky News this morning the Coalition sniping shows they are “weak” and labelled the comments “incompetence” and “completely against the national interest”.
He said the PIF is a key piece of regional architecture, and the new government needs to go to explain that Australia is now taking climate change seriously.
Conroy attended a meeting of Pacific foreign ministers late last week, which he said reiterated the need to look to “our own security first before looking at any outside partners”.
China is “very interested at increasing their presence in the region, as is the US, UK, France, India”, he said, but the “consensus was to look at the region first for security needs, and only look outside if they cannot be met from within the region”.
Conroy said it is harder to convince Pacific nations to look to Australia if the region feels “we’re disrespecting” them on issues including climate change.
South Australian Coalition senator Simon Birmingham, said it was “natural and normal” that the new government wanted to establish relations with other governments, but it’s too early to say if they’re any good at foreign affairs. The proof will be in the outcomes not the having of the meeting, Birmingham said.
No Covid-19 deaths in Queensland
No people with Covid-19 have died in Queensland overnight, with the state recording 4,174 new cases on Sunday morning, 744 people in hospital, and 15 in ICU.
Andrew Barr, chief minister of the ACT has announced he is Covid-positive and heading into isolation.
NSW residents face road closures and train outages after floods
Residents of New South Wales looking to travel back to their homes after the floods should be aware of road closures and train outages across the state.
The Hunter, lower Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains regions, roads remain cut in multiple towns and train services are affected.
The T1 Western, Blue Mountains and Hunter train lines are not operating between some stations, and the Parramatta River ferries are offering replacement transport between some stops.
– with AAP
Flood-affected residents returning home urged to be cautious
Flood victims returning to inundated homes have been urged to mentally prepare and reach out for support from people around them as evacuation orders ease.
Some 37,000 people remained under evacuation orders on Saturday as the State Emergency Service’s Adam Jones said it was working through easing its emergency notices.
There’s obviously ramifications with that. It’s not just a free-for-all, run back in there.
There will be debris, their homes won’t have been checked, so if it has been inundated, there could be structural issues.
The electrics might need to be looked at by an electrician. There could be mud and sewage everywhere.
Flood-affected residents returning to properties should wear PPE, boots, gloves and have sanitiser handy.
Jones also urged people to mentally prepare to see their homes significantly damaged, and to reach out for community support.
Everyone’s going to be a bit stressed under these circumstances.
Recovery efforts in the state will be overseen by former detective Dean Betts and fellow Resilience NSW director Mel Gore, Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said on Saturday.
“These appointments will help to ensure flood-affected communities receive support in a timely and efficient way,” Cooke said.
Flooding continued in the Hunter and lower Hawkesbury regions on Saturday, with more than 1,000 government personnel on standby to assist.
Some 37 Victorian emergency personnel also travelled to NSW to help with the rescue and clean-up, taking the total number of crew from the state to 94.
Cooke said the immediate priorities were damage assessments and making sure displaced residents could access emergency accommodation.
Of 2,285 premises already examined, 239 have been deemed not habitable and a further 973 require repairs.
– with AAP
Coalition’s EV messaging contributed to low uptake, expert says
Australia’s former chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel says the previous government’s messaging around electric vehicles contributed to the low uptake of electric vehicles.
Speaking to the ABC on Sunday morning, Dr Finkel, who is now a special advisor the federal government on low emissions technology, was why Australia lagged Europe in the uptake of electric vehicles.
There are a lot of reasons, historical reasons, one being just the size of the country, one being some of the messaging that has been out there around electric cars. But it is changing very, very rapidly.
Finkel said that sales are rising, the number of available models are increasing and the Albanese government was committing to building more charging infrastructure and tax changes to encourage uptake.
He said Australia had to work to both mitigate climate change and adapt to a different world. Electric vehicles would help achieve this by lowering transport emissions, but another area where work needed to be done was in the construction of transmission lines to allow renewable energy produced in one area moved to another.
If there is a new renewable energy zone, say, in western New South Wales or western Victoria and you want to bring solar and wind electricity from that renewable energy zone to Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle or the LaTrobe Valley, you need new transmission lines. That is the limiting factor.
Finkel said the federal government has set aside a $20bn fund to address this but it will take time to construct them as often these lines are built across private property, native title land, have to navigate local and state regulation or face other geographical challenges.
Covid antivirals available to over-70s from Monday
Elderly Australians with severe medical conditions will be able to access lifesaving Covid-19 antiviral treatments from Monday.
Australians aged over 70 who test positive to Covid will be able to access antivirals on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Access will also be expanded to people aged over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged over 30 with two or more risk factors for severe disease. Immunocompromised people over 18 may also be eligible.
There is also greater access for adults living with disability who have multiple medical conditions.
The new oral antiviral treatments are available through a person’s doctor and can save lives – but must be started soon after testing positive.
More than 73,000 Australians have already benefited from these medicines.
Antiviral treatments, taken as a tablet or capsule, help to stop Covid-19 infection from becoming severe – but they need to be started early after testing positive.
Federal health minister Mark Butler said he was “pleased” millions of people will now be eligible for new antiviral treatments, particularly with the spread of new variants.
The former Morrison government bought hundreds of thousands of doses of these medicines that have been sitting on a shelf instead of being used to help people who are at risk of severe illness.
These oral antivirals dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease particularly for older Australians and will help keep people out of hospital.
Two antivirals are on the PBS meaning these remarkable treatments that normally cost more than $1,000 will only be $6.80 for a concession card holder, and around $40 for everyone else.
However speaking to ABC Insiders on Sunday, Butler resisted calls to reintroduce stronger measures like pandemic leave payments and mask mandates.
We’re beyond ... lockdowns and mandates and emergency payments.
We are at the point where there needs to be maximum information to the community so they can make informed decisions themselves.
– with AAP
‘Emergency payments cannot be continued forever’, Butler says
And that’s it for the interview with federal health minister Mark Butler on how the government is currently thinking about the pandemic at this stage.
But before I let this go I just want to go back and pull out a quote from that exchange. Speers was pushing Butler on the pandemic payment – and it is worth pointing out that it is illegal for people with Covid-19 not to isolate.
This pandemic is a fluid pandemic and it’s not behind us by any means. We need to be honest with the Australian people. The budget is in a very bad position. And emergency payments cannot be continued forever.
There was a lot of information in this statement – and perhaps a timely reminder that governments show you what they care about about how they spend their money.
Butler on winding back telehealth services
The other big issue discussed is the decision to wind back 70 telehealth services. Speers points out medical professionals want the government to reconsider the decision to end these services.
Butler counters pointing to “some doctors” who “have made the point clinically that it’s a very good decision to put a limit on telephone consultations”:
This [decision to end these services] was a decision by the former government. Telehealth is now a permanent feature. It is always best if possible to have a face to face consult with your doctor, if you need to consult with them remotely you can do that. It’s the limit on telehealth consults for up to 20 minutes.
The advice to me and my former colleague, Greg Hunt, there’s good reason for that. For complex longer consultations that face-to-face engagement you get, either in person or through FaceTime or Skyping, face-to-face video consult, is clinically important.
Ending pandemic payments necessary because of budget, Butler says
On pandemic leave payments – which are coming to an end – Speers asks Butler about the decision by the government not to extend them. Butler responds that ending these payments was necessary because of the budget.
This emergency payment was designed by the former government and the state governments. It’s a co-owned scheme that came to end an on 30 June. We are one trillion in debt and at some point emergency payments of this type have to be wound up as we move to a new phase. That’s the decision that former governments took and it’s a decision we have decided to follow as well.
Speers follows up about people who may be casual workers and will be affected if they contract Covid-19 and have to self-isolate, asking should they go without income? Or risk turning up to work with Covid?
There’s state rules to isolate. These emergency payments have to be wound up at some point.
Speers then asks why now?
I accept whenever you end an emergency payment of this type it’s going to impact people. I deeply regret that. But at some point these emergency payments simply have to be wound up. We don’t have the financial capacity to keep making them forever. They were intended to wind up on 30 June, that was the decision taken by the former government, and all state governments who are co-signatories to that scheme and it’s a decision we had to continue.
No advice on introducing broad mask mandates, Butler says
Speers attempts to draw Butler on policies such as mask mandates. Butler says “there’s no advice to me we should introduce broad mask mandates”.
The following exchange is interesting for how it seems we’re back to the conversations we were having at the start of the pandemic over masks.
Butler: In this phase of the pandemic mask mandates and things like that are best done in a targeted way. There’s mask mandates in aged care, in health facilities, on public transport, in airplanes. And if you’re in a crowded indoor space with no ability to socially distance you should give strong consideration to wearing a mask.
Speers: Again... You only need to go to the movies or a shopping centre or the footy to see how ineffectual a recommendation is. So many people not wearing masks. Wasn’t one of the lessons of this pandemic, mask mandates for a fixed period, work?
Butler: But we’re deep into the third year. They did work very well for the first couple of years.
Speers: We’re in a third wave.
Butler: The health advice we’re all receiving and it’s only issued again is these sort of mandates at this phase of the pandemic are best done in a targeted way, particularly focusing on risk of severe disease among the vulnerable population.
‘Maximum information’ about vaccinations is key, Butler says
Butler says it is important people get their booster shots – double-vaxxed is not fully-vaxxed – and Speers asks that if that’s so, why doesn’t the government introduce stronger policies to encourage vaccination?
Butler says his government is starting with an information campaign to reinforce the importance of a third dose that will be especially targeted to First Nations communities.
Still, Speers asks: is that enough?
We moved to a different phase of the pandemic. We’re beyond the emergency phase of seeing lockdowns and mandates and emergency payments. We really are at the point where there needs to be maximum information to the community so they can make informed decisions themselves. And make sure they have available to them vaccines, including the fourth dose, medicines, if they’re at risk of severe disease. That’s the approach I think deep into the third year of a pandemic.
Butler urges people to get third vaccine dose
Question now about whether they should get a fourth booster vaccine or wait for the Omicron-specific vaccines that are on the way.
My overriding message is to get your third dose. There’s still 2.5 million in their 30s and 40s who haven’t got their third booster dose. That’s the real kicker. That’s the thing that gives you a very big boost in immunity against severe disease or even worse. There’s five million Australians who have had that second dose more than six months ago, but haven’t yet had that crucial booster.
The boosters are critical. Third doses are critical. If you have had that, by all means think about a fourth dose. If you’re over 50, it’s recommended you get a fourth dose.
Federal health minister addresses latest Covid wave
Mark Butler is on Insiders now and first question is on who worried he is about the latest Covid wave. Butler begins by rattling off the numbers – 4,000 people in hospital, a few hundred deaths every week.
The unique thing about this particular wave, which is driven by two new subvariants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, is that people are get re-infected. The fact you had Covid earlier this year, the fact you may have only had Covid a couple of months ago, does not necessarily protect you from getting infected again.
Butler talks about increasing pressure on the nation’s health systems and David Speers asks how serious could this wave get?
We expect case numbers to continue to climb for some weeks yet. We’re still relatively early in winter. Hospitals are pressured by influenza as well as a range of other illnesses. There’s real pressure and health authorities are worried that hospitalisations would climb even more quickly which is why we acted so quickly to get the fourth dose broadened, and I announced a much broader access to these very effective antiviral medicines.
Victoria records two new Covid-19 deaths
Two people with Covid-19 have died in Victoria overnight, with the state recording 7,934 new cases on Sunday morning, 671 people in hospital, 32 in ICU and four on ventilation.
Federal health minister Mark Butler has been speaking to ABC Insiders this morning. We’ll bring you the key points as they happen.
NSW records eight new Covid-19 deaths
Eight people with Covid-19 have died in New South Wales overnight, with the state recording 8,670 new cases on Sunday morning, 1,945 people in hospital, and 60 in ICU.
Australia's Covid-19 death toll rises above 10,200
Australia’s Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 10,200 as prime minister Anthony Albanese appeals for people to consider a fourth vaccine dose. AAP reports:
More than 37,000 new infections and 77 deaths were reported across Australia on Saturday with Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 now the dominant strains of the virus.
Almost 42,000 cases were announced nationally on Friday, the third 40,000-plus day in a row, and 35 fatalities were recorded, taking the national toll to 10,225.
Federal government data shows Victoria recorded the highest number of deaths, followed by NSW and Queensland, with the three states together accounting for 9,035 of the national Covid-19 deaths.
The number of Australians hospitalised with the virus tops 4,000, up by more than 1,000 in the past fortnight.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Albanese said restrictions – and if they need to be reviewed or reintroduced – will be examined by individual states and territories.
However, the federal government on Monday will move forward on the issue of access to vaccines.
It’s recommended that those above the age of 50 do get their additional booster shot.
I aim myself to get an additional booster. People, if they are eligible, should do that. It minimises the impact and people should follow that health advice. People of the age of 30 and above as well, they are eligible.
The pandemic isn’t over.
And welcome to another Sunday morning Guardian live blog.
Protesters in Sri Lanka have stormed the residence of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and set the home of the prime minister on fire, forcing the country’s leadership to step down. Rajapaksa announced he would resign from 13 July, following protests about the country’s worsening economic situation.
Flood-affected residents of New South Wales are being urged to prepare as the situation eases and evacuation orders are lifted. State Emergency Services are warning it will be a tough time for the state as people return to their homes, some for the fourth time, to survey the damage and they are urging caution before rushing in owing to the risk of contamination.
Australians over 70 will be given access to Covid-19 antiviral treatments from Monday as the nation has now surpassed 10,200 deaths. The treatments will be made available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme for those who test positive to Covid-19 and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 30 with two or more risk factors of severe disease.
I’m Royce Kurmelovs, taking the blog through the day. With so much going on out there, it’s easy to miss stuff, so if you spot something happening in Australia and think it should be on the blog, you can find me on Twitter at @RoyceRk2 where my DMs are open.
With that, let’s get going...