And that’s where we’ll leave you today. It’s been a week! Here’s a summary of Friday’s contribution to it:
• Prime minister Anthony Albanese announced that national cabinet has unanimously decided to scrap the mandatory five-day Covid-19 isolation rule from 14 October, with the exception of those working in health or aged care. Sick leave payments tied to the isolation period will also be phased out.
• Optus has agreed it will pay for the replacement of passports for people caught up in last week’s massive data breach. Meanwhile, the Australian federal police announced Operation Guardian to protect people whose data was leaked from associated crime.
• Peak medical bodies the AMA and RACGP called on the federal health minister to again postpone the introduction of strict telehealth rules due to come into place on Saturday.
• The wife of Australian economist Prof Sean Turnell, who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by Myanmar’s military junta, has said his sentence is “heartbreaking” for his family and pleaded for his release.
• Former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith was announced as the new UK high commissioner.
• And Ben Boyd national park on the NSW south coast has been officially renamed Beowa national park, after an independent report showed Boyd’s involvement in blackbirding in the mid 1800s was viewed by many at the time as a form of slavery.
Thanks so much for sticking with us. Have a lovely Friday night.
Got Covid rules questions? We’ve got answers
The indefatigable Cait Kelly has all the details on the Covid rule changes, including answers to questions like: what’s changing? What was behind the decision? What should I do if I test positive to Covid? What if that, and I need to go to work? How do I know that I’m not infectious?
Find all the answers here:
A largely wet long weekend
Rain, rain, rain for NSW and ACT next week, though some bursts of sun before Tuesday, the Bureau of Meteorology says.
Ben Boyd national park renamed over blackbirding past
Ben Boyd national park on the NSW south coast has been officially renamed as Beowa national park.
State environment minister James Griffin has just made the announcement, saying the chosen new name means “orca” or “killer whale” in Thaua language.
The decision to rename the park was made last year by the former environment minister Matt Kean after an independent report showed Boyd’s involvement in blackbirding in the mid 1800s was viewed by many at the time as a form of slavery.
Griffin said in a statement on Friday:
The Aboriginal community in this area called for us to rename Ben Boyd National Park because of Boyd’s shocking legacy of blackbirding.
Through an extensive consultation process with more than 60 representatives from the Aboriginal and South Sea Islander community, we listened and learned, and a new, culturally-appropriate name for this magnificent national park was chosen.
The name ‘Beowa’ celebrates the important connection between the park’s coastline and the spiritual lives of its first inhabitants, as well as their beliefs and cultural practices associated with the ocean, in particular orcas.
The NSW South Coast has a long history and association with whaling, particularly around Eden, where the relationship between orcas and Aboriginal people goes back thousands of years.
I want to sincerely thank the Traditional Custodians for their patience and open involvement in the renaming process.
The statement from the minister’s office also includes comments from Faye Campbell, one of Aboriginal representatives involved in the consultation process.
We are saltwater people and our ancestors were the best whalers going.
My ancestor Budgenbro used to communicate with the killer whales and there are a lot of stories to share, now we can.
You can read more about the background to this name change in this story from 2021 by Christopher Knaus:
Is it still the Queen’s birthday long weekend?
If you live in NSW, Queensland, South Australia or the ACT then you might get Monday 3 October off work – it’s a public holiday in those states.
In NSW, SA and the ACT it’s Labour Day, celebrating the vast achievements of Australian workers, including the eight-hour day, most famously (but by far from only) the stonemasons going on strike in 1856 because their bosses wouldn’t agree to reduce their extremely long working hours.
In Queensland, though, Monday is a holiday for the monarchy. Here’s the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, explaining what they’re going to call it from now on.
Sean Turnell’s family speaks
The wife of Australian economist Prof Sean Turnell – who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by Myanmar’s military junta – has said his sentence is “heartbreaking” for his family and pleaded for his release.
In a statement published in Burmese and English, Ha Vu said her husband’s sentence – imposed after a secret trial in which Turnell was denied proper legal counsel – had devastated his family.
It’s heartbreaking for me, our daughter, Sean’s 85-year-old father, and the rest of our family.
Sean has been one of Myanmar’s greatest supporters for over 20 years and has worked tirelessly to strengthen Myanmar’s economy.
Ha Vu said her husband had already been held in a Myanmar prison for almost two-thirds of his sentence.
Please consider the contributions that he has made to Myanmar, and deport him now.
Read the full story from Rebecca Ratcliffe and me here:
Anger at end of Covid isolation
Disability advocates are among those expressing distress and concern at the scrapping of mandatory Covid-19 isolation periods.
Victoria closes state-run Covid vaccination centres
In the end of an era, Victoria is closing its vaccination centres today.
Opposition accuses Labor of diplomatic appointments hypocrisy
The Coalition has accused the Labor government of “hypocrisy” in announcing several diplomatic postings today.
The shadow minister for foreign affairs, Simon Birmingham, said changes to diplomatic postings were “rightly a prerogative of the government of the day”. In a statement, he added:
However, it is disappointing to see the curtailing of effective and respected appointments occur under the guise of reducing political appointments at the same time as a Labor political appointment is made.
Appointments outside of government officials have made profoundly positive impacts. Think of the relations built and outcomes secured by Kim Beazley or Joe Hockey in Washington.
Aukus owes much to the relations built by Arthur Sinodinos and George Brandis, along with our UK FTA. While our trade deal with India and their enhanced role in the Quad has occurred during Barry O’Farrell’s tenure.
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, announced earlier today that a replacement for Sinodinos in Washington would be revealed before the completion of his posting in February 2023.
She also indicated that Hodgman, the former Tasmanian premier, would finish up as high commissioner to Singapore in February – the same month former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell leaves India. Former Liberal senator Mitch Fifield will conclude as ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in June.
Wong revealed that the former Labor defence and foreign minister Stephen Smith would be heading to London, but only after he completes a defence review ordered by the Albanese government that is due early next year.
Birmingham said he acknowledged “the skills and capabilities of Stephen Smith, who is well qualified for the role as Australia’s high commissioner to the UK”. He said the opposition congratulated Smith on his appointment and would support him in his new role:
However, Mr Smith will need to manage his work on the Defence Strategic Review carefully to avoid any conflict on Aukus matters, given his new appointment and the crucial decisions yet to be made about the class of nuclear powered submarines that Australia will secure.
It is also of concern to see the London post left vacant for so long during sensitive Aukus deliberations, along with unnecessary changes in the Washington post, which is contrary to advice reportedly provided to the Foreign Minister. The government needs to guarantee that these changes will not jeopardise any progress on critical Aukus cooperation.
Some happy bird news! Because who doesn’t like birds, especially at Guardian Australia?
Peregrine chicks typically fledge around 40 days after hatching, so we’ll be glued to the livestream over the coming weeks as we watch these tiny balls of fluff grow into the rulers of Melbourne’s skies. We wish the next generation of Melbourne Peregrines all the best!
While it gained a cult following through Melbourne’s lockdowns, the livestream was started five years ago by Victorian Peregrine Project (VPP), one of BirdLife’s Raptor Group’s initiatives. Falcons have been living in the nest-box on the building’s ledge since the early 1990s.
ABC defends Hawthorn Football Club reporting
The ABC has released a statement addressing “misleading public commentary” against journalist Russell Jackson’s reporting on the Hawthorn Football Club.
It has been stated or implied that the three former Hawthorn employees named in the story were denied a fair opportunity to properly respond to the ABC’s reporting. This is incorrect.
On Monday 19 September and into the following day all three were contacted multiple times by the ABC, via email, phone call and text message. Also contacted were the media teams at Hawthorn and the Brisbane Lions and the personal management of one of the individuals.
They were provided with all relevant information about the allegations. They were asked detailed and open-ended questions that gave them the opportunity to fully respond to all the allegations.
After initially receiving no response, the ABC contacted all the parties again and offered them more time in which to respond. We again received no response to the questions.
Statements provided by Hawthorn and the AFL were included in the story and the ABC has reported comments that have subsequently been made.
While Russell Jackson’s story reports on the existence of the external review commissioned by Hawthorn, and some allegations made within it, his story was not based on that review and does not quote its contents. His reporting was based entirely on original interviews conducted with primary sources after he was alerted to this difficult and important story. His reporting has been accurate, fair and ethical.
Back on reactions to the Covid isolation decision, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation (ANMF), which gave Anthony Albanese some big plugs through the election, has savaged the move to scrap mandatory iso.
ANMF federal assistant secretary Lori-Anne Sharp:
We are yet to see the real impact of dropping the isolation period from seven to five days, let alone removing the isolation period altogether. It’s a risk to remove all COVID safety precautions that will lead to an increase in cases and place further stress on our already stretched health and aged care systems.
She voiced fears about “further pressure on our healthcare systems”, and called on national cabinet to be “flexible” in considering reinstating public health orders if and when they may be needed.
We believe the suggestion that Covid-isolation is a matter of ‘personal responsibility’ is just a way of Governments shifting their responsibility onto the individual when it should be theirs.
But Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has shared a statement giving his backing for the move. My colleague Benita Kolovos asked Andrews (who didn’t get a chance to speak during the earlier press conference) what he thought about the change. His office told her:
Victoria supports the unanimous decision taken today and the continuation of a nationally consistent approach. It’s important that additional arrangements remain in place to protect vulnerable Victorians in aged care, disability settings and hospitals.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president, Michelle O’Neill, appeared on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing earlier following the national cabinet decision to scrap the mandatory isolation period for Covid-19.
She said the ACTU had “said all along” it was important decisions about health were based on the best expert advice, and was concerned at the impact on the one in three workers in Australia without access to paid leave.
We understand that this is based on health advice and we also understand that that’s going to be released. So we’re keen to have a look at that.
Our worry is always about workers who don’t have access to paid sick leave and even before we were in Covid-19, we were in a pretty shocking situation where one in three workers in Australia don’t have access to paid sick leave and that has got a lot worse over the last decade. This is something that is an underlying problem that we’ve got to fix .
We reported this morning that processing times for an important skilled regional worker visa have more than doubled and the number of migrants languishing on bridging visas has increased six-fold.
The figures come from a new report by the Migrant Workers Centre, which has also slammed the department of home affairs for under-resourcing its visa processing teams.
The report said:
An important reason for the visa processing delay and the existing backlog of onshore visa applications is the Department having not allocated enough resources to the services.
When it took office, the Labor government said it would treat the visa processing backlog as a priority. It also said it would divert extra staff to help better resource the visa processing area.
The Guardian understands that, since May 2022, 215 extra staff have been placed into roles supporting temporary and migration visa processing.
Recruitment and training is also expected to fill an extra 500 positions to work through the visa processing backlog.
Until then, the Migrant Workers Centre warns that the tenuous nature of bridging visas is putting more and more migrants at risk of exploitation.
Its report said:
Living on a visa with an impending expiry makes anyone insecure.
Australia gains nothing from not allowing people to get settled and making them vulnerable to exploitative work conditions.
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, says it has been “pleasing” to see the end of mandatory isolation requirements for Covid-19.
It’s time for us all to take responsibility for our actions and get on with life to the greatest extent possible.
A controversial $4.5bn fertiliser project near ancient aboriginal rock art in Western Australia has been handed a $220m government loan in a step that has angered campaigners trying to protect the art.
Resources minister Madeleine King announced the loan this afternoon for Perdaman’s urea project on the Burrup peninsular, bringing total support for the project from the Northern Australia Infrastructure facility to $455m.
The peninsular is the base for three major industrial facilities – Woodside’s gas processing plant, Yuri’s ammonia plant and the Perdaman project – close to ancient rock art and culturally important sites.
The loan to the Perdaman project comes a month after the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, refused a request from campaign group Save our Songlines to block the plant.
The minister instead requested an assessment of the threat to cultural sites in the area from the three projects.
Murujuga traditional custodian Raelene Cooper, a Mardudhunera woman and former chair of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, said:
This bailout from the federal government is aimed to reassure investors who are spooked about supporting a project that will remove sacred Murujuga rock art over the objections of Elders.
The amount of the money the government have pumped in would be enough to move the Perdaman plant off the Burrup to the Maitland industrial estate, where it would not damage and desecrate Murujuga sacred sites.
More concerning and contradictory is the government propping up this toxic project when they have just commissioned a full cultural heritage assessment of all industry on the Burrup.
It is bizarre that the Federal government would lash themselves in lockstep with the WA government’s support for toxic industry at the Burrup Hub but this latest Perdaman bailout just gives more proof that no one else is willing to back it.
Plibersek visited the peninsular in August and said she denied the request to pause the project because the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation had an agreement with Perdaman over how the cultural sites would be treated.
Minister King said on Friday the project would be “transformational” for the state and would cut reliance on urea imports and secure farmers’ access to fertiliser. She said:
The project is also a good example of how Naif-funded projects can align with the Government’s net zero agenda. The project has been designed using the best available technology to minimise emissions, with reductions to be achieved in the short to medium term through efficiency gains and solar power imports. The project has committed to net zero by 2050, with an aim to achieve a 45% reduction by 2030.
A new parliamentary inquiry will examine how Australia makes decisions to send service personnel into international armed conflict.
The inquiry was referred by the minister for defence, Richard Marles, to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on Wednesday.
JSCFADT chair Shayne Neumann:
One of the most significant powers vested in the executive government is the decision to deploy Australian servicemen and women into armed conflict where they are at risk of serious injury and death.
This review of course does not alter the fact that Labor’s defence policy is founded on the principle of Australian self-reliance and the government and Australia’s armed forces need to be able to defend Australia and its interests against credible threats in a dynamically changing geo-strategic environment unimpeded by dissenting or short term political opinions.
Former Labor minister Stephen Smith has been named as Australia’s next high commissioner to the UK – but the Albanese government has yet to reveal who it will send to Washington.
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, defended the political appointment, noting that the London post had long been held by senior former ministers as a sign of the “eminence of Australia’s relationship with the United Kingdom”.
Read the full story from Daniel Hurst here:
Federal housing minister Julie Collins has responded to the release of the productivity commission’s review of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement, released today.
As we reported this morning, the commission found the $1.6bn intergovernmental agreement to facilitate safe, affordable housing in Australia was “ineffective” and national reform was sorely needed. Among the recommendations were an overhaul of commonwealth rent assistance, a focus on fixing the rental crisis, and winding back concessions and grants for homebuyers in favour of funding stretched homelessness services.
Collins released a statement today that characterised the agreement as having “shortcomings” before placing the blame for that at the hands of the previous government:
This report confirms that the last decade of policy inaction by the former Liberal-National Government has left us with serious housing challenges across the country.
The Albanese Government has an ambitious housing reform agenda to increase supply and improve affordability through the establishment of a National Housing Supply and Affordability Council and the development of a National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
The findings from this report will help inform the design and implementation of these reforms. We are also taking immediate action to address housing challenges.
The housing and welfare sector has also started to respond as it comes to grips with the 600+ page report.
Farah Farouque from Tenants Victoria told Guardian Australia:
This is a detailed report, but the big picture it paints confirms yet again how housing affordability challenges are so adversely impacting on renters - especially people on low incomes who have no choice but to rely on the precarity of the private rental market. Along with many others, we believe there should be an increase in the Commonwealth Rent Assistance so it’s good to see the renewed focus on its adequacy - or rather, the inadequacy.
Meanwhile, Kristen O’Connell from the Antipoverty Centre saw problems in the report’s recommendations for CRA reforms that included suggestions that market rents could be introduced to public housing under a revised scheme:
Housing is a human right. Treating it like a commodity is what caused the housing crisis in the first place.
The Productivity Commission report papers over the fundamental problems that have ultimately been caused by chronic underinvestment in public housing and extraordinary tax incentives for property investors. If the government does nothing more than follow these recommendations they will continue to fail us.
Read more about the report itself here:
A bushwalker has discovered human skeletal remains while hiking along Darwin’s outskirts, AAP reports.
Northern Territory police have established a crime scene near Lee Point Beach, about 20km north of the CBD.
The remains were discovered on Wednesday and a large number of bones, including a skull, have been recovered.
Detective acting superintendent Karl Day said on Friday:
The scene has been painstakingly processed with the use of medical experts, including a forensic pathologist.
Further analysis will be undertaken by forensic specialists and until that time we cannot expand further.
He of the electoral expertise, Antony Green, has made some interesting comments about Victoria’s upcoming election, and a quirk in the state process regarding Senate ballots. The short version: how you number your ballots matters!
Further downthread, he says the Bracks government implemented this system. “They copied the Senate system then in place. Every other jurisdiction has since abolished the system but Victoria hasn’t.”
AMA and RACGP call for delay to new telehealth limits
Peak medical bodies are calling on the federal health minister to again postpone the introduction of strict telehealth rules due to come into place on Saturday.
The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have sent a joint letter to Mark Butler urging him to delay the introduction of the of the 30/20 rule, pressing the Covid pandemic isn’t over with further waves expected later in the year.
The rule would result in any GP providing more than 30 daily telephone consults on 20 or more days over a 12-month period being referred to the professional services review – the body responsible for reviewing possibly inappropriate practice at the extreme end of non-compliance.
It was initially due to come into effect on 1 July, but was delayed to “at least September” following lobbying by the RACGP.
Karen Price, adjunct professor and RACGP president, said telehealth consults remained an essential service, particularly for vulnerable patients unable or unwilling to use videoconferencing:
This pandemic is not over and now is not the time to tie our hands behind our backs. Ask any GP and they will tell you that being able to utilise phone-based services for patients remains a vital tool. Phone consults are especially useful when patients are Covid-19-positive, a close contact of someone with the virus or when the practice has multiple staff down with Covid-19.
Keep in mind too that many patients still aren’t confident or comfortable using video technology for telehealth consults, so phone services remain an essential option.
This is no time for complacency and no time to limit a tool that we can use to help our patients, especially older people and those with multiple, chronic conditions that need to be carefully managed through regular consultations. GPs and general practice teams on the frontline are doing all we can to ensure patients get the care they need when they need it.
The RACGP has been calling for longer telephone consultations to become a permanent fixture of telehealth and for Medicare phone items for chronic disease management and mental health services to be reinstated as part of the permanent telehealth model.
Thanks Natasha for all your work today! I’ll be with you through to this evening. Stick with us as we wrap up this big week of news.
This is where I leave you in the very excellent hands of Stephanie Convery. Have a good weekend!
Backlash from crossbench and experts against national cabinet decision to scrap mandatory isolation
National cabinet’s decision to scrap Covid isolation was said to be unanimous among first ministers at the meeting, but not everyone agrees – with a number of doctors and other politicians already voicing concerns and opposition to the change.
Dr Monique Ryan, the member for Kooyong and a paediatric neurologist, called for the health advice on the move to be made public, saying it was “deeply disturbing” if the decision hadn’t been considered by expert medical panels.
Ryan said in a statement:
All health advice provided to national cabinet, including the health advice upon which this decision was based and the minutes from today’s national cabinet meeting must be made available for public scrutiny.
At this stage, it is unclear if the decision to scrap isolation requirements was considered by the Health Advisory Committee. This is deeply disturbing and must be clarified to the public.
At the national cabinet press conference, chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the health advisory committee “haven’t specifically discussed this matter”. Prime minister Anthony Albanese was asked if it had been discussed by the Australian health protection principal committee, the grouping of each state’s chief health officer.
Albanese didn’t answer that specifically, and would only say, “It was a unanimous decision by the national cabinet.”
Ryan raised concerns that sick people would return to work without mandatory isolation and the provision of sick leave payments by government. She said:
Removing Covid 19 isolation will have significant impacts on our local and national economies and on workforces that are already struggling with absenteeism, both from Covid infection and reinfection and from the emerging public health crisis of long Covid.
Numerous infectious disease and public health experts also weighed in with their concerns:
Professor Brendan Crabb, of the Burnet Institute, told the ABC he found the change “disappointing”, “illogical” and “distressing.”
Rally held in environment minister’s backyard for Save the Koala Day
We brought you the news a little earlier of the alarm bells the Australian Koala Foundation are ringing on National Save the Koala Day.
Earlier today, protesters took to the streets of Manly, which is the seat of NSW environment minister James Griffin, with banners and signs advocating for the beloved marsupial.
Members of Save Sydney’s Koalas, the Bob Brown Foundation, Knitting Nanas and the Animal Justice Party all braved drizzly Sydney conditions to demand action to protect koala habitat.
Market braces for another RBA rate rise
Come next Tuesday, we’ll have another Reserve Bank board meeting, and more than likely another rise in its key interest rate.
Three of the four big banks expect we’ll get the fifth rise in the cash rate of 50 basis points in a row, taking it to 2.85%.
Assuming the banks all pass the increase on to their borrowers, here’s how much more it will cost for a typical loan, according to RateCity.com.au. For those with a $500,000 loan, the extra monthly payments will be $760 a month.
The CBA, Australia’s biggest bank and mortgage issuer, is more conservative (or optimistic), betting the RBA is more likely to go with just a 25bp rise to 2.6%.
“We believe the domestic backdrop does not warrant another super‑sized rate hike, particularly given the RBA has recently acknowledged that, ‘the full effects of higher interest rates yet to be felt in mortgage payments’,” said Gareth Aird, the bank’s chief economist.
ANZ economists, meanwhile, see the case for 50bp as “reflecting strength in recent domestic data, including solid household spending, ongoing inflation momentum and near-record job vacancies”.
However, their expectation is that the central bank will then ‘soften’ its message “by removing the reference to ‘over the months ahead’ in the context of further rate increases”, the economists said.
ANZ expects the peak rate will come in at 3.35%, or a full percentage point more than the cash rate is now.
Ahead of the RBA’s move, here’s how interest rates in the market stack up (at least among the big banks), according to RateCity.com.au.
If the UK serves as any example this past week, you would expect the RBA to avoid sending any mixed messages.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has issued a short statement following the national cabinet decision to end Covid-19 isolation from 14 October:
Victoria supports the unanimous decision taken today and the continuation of a nationally consistent approach. It’s important that additional arrangements remain in place to protect vulnerable Victorians in aged care, disability settings and hospitals.
New diplomatic postings announced for Singapore, New Delhi, Tokyo and the UN
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recruitment process will be carried out to appoint experienced public servants as heads of mission in Singapore, New Delhi, Tokyo and at the United Nations in New York.
Will Hodgman will conclude as high commissioner in Singapore in February 2023. Barry O’Farrell will conclude as high commissioner in India in 2023.
Mitch Fifield will conclude as ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in June 2023.
She also announced the appointment of six career diplomats to lead Australian overseas posts:
Dr Simon Twisk as Ambassador to Argentina
Dr Axel Wabenhorst as Ambassador to Egypt
Ms Melissa Kelly as Ambassador to Kuwait
Ms Indra McCormick as Ambassador to Portugal
Mr Tony Huber as Consul-General in Istanbul, Türkiye
Mr Andrew Goledzinowski AM as Ambassador to Vietnam
Our foreign service is the driver of Australia’s engagement with the world. And today, I am announcing a team that complements the existing personnel who we have across the world pursuing Australia’s interests.
Can I thank all those who have served Australia, the outgoing ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls generals for their contribution in advancing the nation’s interests in those countries during their respective tenures.
Stephen Smith new UK high commissioner
The foreign minister, Penny Wong, is speaking in Adelaide.
Wong says the government will continue to “advocate strongly” for economist Sean Turnell, who yesterday was sentenced to three years in prison after a closed trial in Myanmar.
Wong says the government rejects charges against him and will advocate through public and private channels for his return to Australia.
Wong then began to make announcements about new appointments she says will “strengthen Australia’s diplomatic capability and match people with the right qualifications and expertise to senior postings.”
I want to make clear our Government is reversing the previous government’s approach and we are rebalancing appointments towards more qualified senior officials consistent with community expectations and position requirements. In circumstances, there is also a clear advantage for Australia to be represented by people who have had distinguished careers beyond the public service such as business people and former Parliamentarians.
Wong announced former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith as the new UK high commissioner.
The eminence of Australia’s relationship with the United Kingdom has long been reflected in the appointment of the former senior Cabinet Minister. So in keeping with this tradition, the Albanese Government is appointing Steven Smith as Australia’s next High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
Mr Smith was a member of the Australian Parliament for 20 years and he served as Minister for Defence and prior to that Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
He will commence his posting after submitting defence strategic review in early 2023. Until then Lynette Wood will continue as Australia’s acting High Commissioner and I thank her for that. A replacement for Arthur Sinodinos will be announced ahead of the completion of his posting in February 2023.
South Australia records 19 Covid deaths and 31 people in hospital
There were 3,104 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and one person is in intensive care.
OECD upbeat on global minimum tax rate
The OECD secretary general, Mathias Cormann, says he is “quietly optimistic” that a global minimum corporate tax rate will be implemented by 2024, AAP reports.
Cormann is in Sydney today to close the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration (FTA) Plenary, which this week hosted officials from around the world focusing on how to boost international tax cooperation.
A key issue is implementing an OECD-brokered deal to rewrite cross-border taxation rules to deal with challenges from the digitisation of the economy, including tax avoidance by large multinationals.
The “pillar one” portion of the deal would replace unilateral taxes on digital services with a new mechanism enabling multinationals to be taxed in part based on where they sell products and services, rather than where they situate their headquarters and intellectual property.
Under the plan’s second pillar, a floor rate would be put under corporate income tax via a minimum global corporate tax rate of 15%, with the aim for countries to use it to protect their tax bases.
The former Australian finance minister, in closing remarks, said once a “critical mass” of countries legislated the global minimum it would very quickly become “self-perpetuating”. Cormann said:
As It will not be in any country’s interest to leave money on the table for other jurisdictions to collect at their expense.
That is why we are quietly optimistic that the momentum is there to ensure that pillar two of this historic agreement will be implemented in time for 2024.
Albanese says Optus’s actions “unacceptable”
Further to the Optus agreement to pay for replacement passports, prime minister Anthony Albanese has tweeted that the company’s actions were “unacceptable”.
In a tweet thread saying Optus would pay for the passports, he said:
Australian companies should do everything they can to protect your data. That’s why we’re also reviewing the Privacy Act – and we’re committed to making privacy law stronger.
We’re still waiting for an update from Optus to confirm this, and we’ve asked for information about how the company plans to do it, by which date, and how much they expect it to cost. There’s been no word publicly from Optus at all on the passports issue since foreign minister Penny Wong asked them to foot the bill.
We’ll keep you posted.
“No family should ever have to experience the devastation”: findings from Mackay Base Hospital investigation
Inadequate care at the Mackay Base Hospital contributed to the deaths of three children, an independent investigation has found.
The report, released by the Queensland government this morning, found “systemic failures” within the hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology services had caused many women to suffer “sustained lifelong physical and mental harm”.
The state’s health minister, Yvette D’Ath, offered her “sincerest and unreserved apology” to the 96 women who participated in the investigation, with 81 women found to have suffered substandard care and 12 more under review.
The report said 26 cases resulted in personal injury or harm, while D’Ath said three cases identified inadequate care leading to the loss of three children.
Those three cases span over 10 years. No family should ever have to experience the devastation of the loss of a child and certainly not under these circumstances.
Our health system can and must do better.
At least 40 vehicles have had their tyres slashed in the north-west Melbourne suburbs of Essendon and Moonee Ponds last night.
Victoria police are appealing for assistance from the public after the damaged vehicles were found in Buckley Street, Salisbury Street and Primrose Street in Essendon, and Montague Street in Moonee Ponds between 9pm-10pm.
In a statement, the police said:
Police have spoken to several victims today and would like to hear from any victims who have not yet spoken with police.
Investigators would also like to speak with residents in the area with security cameras on their properties.
CMO warned PM that further waves of Covid-19 infection “highly likely”
Back on Covid isolation being abolished by national cabinet, we can share some interesting details from chief medical officer Paul Kelly’s advice to prime minister Anthony Albanese.
The PM’s office shared the letter that Kelly wrote, in which he wrote that the proposed changes were “a reasonable approach”:
In the current Australian context of low community transmission and high hybrid immunity from vaccination and recent infection, it is my view that removing mandated isolation requirements in the current period would not materially detract from Australia’s pandemic response and would be consistent with the current aims of that response.
However (and this is the point I went to in the question I asked Kelly in the press conference about whether isolation rules might be returned at some point in future), the CMO also specifically notes his advice is tied to this point in time and current trends.
While backing the cut to isolation, Kelly also suggested national cabinet commission commission “a detailed transition plan which would adequately prepare Australia to respond to a surge in cases” in the event of a new Covid variant in future.
I asked Kelly whether he would ever see a moment where he would provide health advice to reinstate mandatory isolation. He didn’t say no.
In his letter, he warned it was “highly likely that further waves of infection will continue to occur over the next two years at least”, citing new virus variants of higher transmissibility or severity, low use of masks and low adherence to public health guidelines.
Kelly warned Australia would need “constant vigilance and a strong commitment as well as continued capacity to surge the response”.
Just on that koala story, the reason we’re hearing the warnings today is because it has been dubbed “Save the Koala day” by the Australian Koala Foundation.
I highly recommend you have a look at this useful explainer from Guardian Australia’s environment reporter, Lisa Cox.
Koalas at risk of extinction, experts warn
One of Australia’s most iconic native animals is at risk of being functionally extinct and urgent government action is needed, according to wildlife experts, via AAP.
Over the past two decades, koala populations have nearly halved because of urban expansion, loss of habitat, disease and climate change, and experts believe they remain under threat. Rolf Schlagloth, Central Queensland University’s koala ecologist, said:
There is a risk of extinction. The time frame is pretty difficult to determine. The biggest threat has always been and still is the loss and the fragmentation of habitat. We are still losing more habitat every year, and in some states it’s worse than others.
Exact koala population figures are largely unknown because of the 2019-20 bushfires, but government estimates show in 2001 there were roughly 184,748 koalas in Queensland, NSW and the ACT. By 2021 this figure had dropped to about 92,184.
It is estimated there are about 450,000 koalas in Victoria, but this figure is often disputed.
Post-covid flight cancellations continue
The Australian singer-songwriter Alexandra Lynn, known better as Alex the Astronaut, has taken to social media to reveal the trouble Lynn’s drummer has had in travelling from Sydney to Brisbane with the national carrier.
It comes as the entire travel industry struggles to get back to the pre-Covid normal.
Optus to pay for replacement passports
Optus will pay for the replacement of passports for people caught up in the data breach, prime minister Anthony Albanese has announced.
The foreign minister, Penny Wong, wrote to Optus earlier in the week calling on the company to pay for replacement passports for those who had their passport numbers exposed in the leak. Today, Albanese said Optus had agreed to the request.
Optus have responded to my request that I made both in the parliament and that senator Wong made in writing to Optus [confirming] they will cover the costs of replacing affected customers’ passports. I think that’s entirely appropriate. I find it extraordinary that the federal opposition called upon taxpayers to foot the bill.
It’s been a busy hour with announcements from both the national cabinet about scrapping Covid-19 isolation period and the Australian Federal Police revealing a new operation in relation to the Optus breach.
(Suffice to say the team at the Guardian heartily approve of its new name)
Both those press conferences are over now, but if you want to read more about Operation Guardian, my colleague Josh Taylor has this report:
‘Isolation itself cannot be seen in isolation’: chief medical officer
Just circling back to the to those opening comments from chief medical officer Paul Kelly who spoke about how the government is balancing the need to move away from Covid-19 exceptionalism at the same time as acknowledging the infectiousness of the virus:
It is a time, though, now to consider that we have other things that we can do to protect those most vulnerable people, and that is absolutely our key aim.
Isolation itself cannot be seen in isolation. It needs to be seen in the context of that high vaccination rate, high previous infection giving further protection, the availability of treatments, the availability of vaccines, including the new … vaccines and all the measures we have in place to protect vulnerable people where they are. It is time to move away from Covid exceptionalism, in my view, and thinking about what we should do to protect people from any respiratory disease.
That does not mean we have somehow magically changed the infectiousness of this virus. It is still infectious. This is an important epidemiological point: We can’t look at isolation by itself. We need to look at those measures and the protections we have as well as other protections. It is important that we keep an option for a change to these settings in the future … to keep that vigilance for new variants, for example, for changes in the epidemiological situation in Australia, for signs that we have strain on our health care system, and be prepared to make different decisions at the that moment.
For now, as I’ve stated, I believe removing isolation at this time is a reasonable cause of action from the public health point of view.
‘There’s not a role for government in running every bit of people’s lives forever’: Albanese
Back to the Covid-19 isolation period being scrapped. Journalists are asking Albanese about treating Covid like the flu or any other kind of virus:
Q: It’s pretty clear that Covid does have long-term implications for some people who do get it. Number one what, are you doing to help people who may have those more long-term issues with Covid infections, and for Prof Kelly, are you expecting an impact on the general population by having Covid more freely spreading and how will that work with people getting long Covid?
[As] public decision-makers we have a responsibility to listen to the health advice but we’ve also got a responsibility to make decisions which are proportionate. That is what we have done.
Covid is still out there. We understand that, we talked about that need to continue to run campaigns to get people vaccinated. We continue to provide support in high-risk areas. We’ll continue to monitor these issues and we’ll have another discussion in December.
But as prof Kelly said, we’re making the decisions based upon the circumstances we’re in right now, just as [in] over the winter period – where we had a combination of an increase in Covid infections, with a severe flu season as well – that had a combined impact on the health system that required a continuation of emergency measures.
… The nature of emergency measures is that they’re not there with no end date in sight. And it would not be responsible to do so because if this was a media conference, a year ago, a whole range of things would’ve been different … People are responding differently. I was at the MCG last week with just over 100,000 people. That was not happening, borders were closed.
We are changing our position based upon changing advice and changing circumstances. And that has to occur. There’s not a role for government in running every bit of people’s lives forever. And that is my firm position. You know, this isn’t an ideological thing. This is a practical outcome that was agreed across the board.
Albanese is asked about the Optus breach and whether the Telco has responded to government calls for them to pay for replacement passports for affected customers.
I think that’s entirely appropriate. I find it extraordinary that the federal opposition called upon taxpayers to foot the bill.
I note Paul Fletcher’s comments that attempted to play politics with this issue and blame the government, him having sat in a cabinet for nine years and his failure to provide any criticism on a serious level on Optus. I leave Mr Fletcher to explain why that was the case.
Albanese emphasises need to move away from ‘Covid exceptionalism’
Back to lifting mandatory Covid isolation and the lifting of Covid payments: what is the incentive for a casual worker to stay at home when they are sick if they risk not getting any money if they stay home?
One of the statements that Prof Kelly has used here today … was moving away from ‘Covid exceptionalism’. The flu has existed, and health issues have existed, for a long period of time, and the government hasn’t always stepped in to pay people’s wages while people have health concerns.
It is not sustainable to have in place a system whereby the government steps in permanently. We understand the pressures that are there, it is one reason why my government has focused as well on reducing the incidence of casual work and … the priority for my government is on creating permanent work, permanent employment, it’s one of the risks that there with the increased casualisation of the workforce that we have seen.
The head of the Australian Medical Association, Prof Steve Robson, had earlier told ABC News Breakfast:
If you think the flu is Covid, you’re living in fantasy land. Covid is long-term infectious, we’re already seeing a massive effect of long Covid on the workforce and the community. You don’t have it with long flu or long cold. It’s fantasy.
Albanese: ‘it’s never been about the dollars, it’s about good health outcomes’
Albanese is asked about his agreement to work further on policy options for patients pathways and reducing pressure on hospitals. Does that mean the government is looking at eight separate deals of the national 50-50 funding agreements for hospital funding?
Look, we will continue to discuss healthcare as long as the commonwealth and states exist … That’s just a reality of the system which is there.
But one of the things that we have agreed, and we have made this point before, is that it isn’t just about a dollar amount. Part of the pressure that’s now in emergency departments is people who should not be going to hospitals but are going because there isn’t primary healthcare available, because people in nursing homes don’t have access to healthcare, so someone who is an aged care resident who could have been assisted by having a nurse in a nursing home as identified by the aged care royal commission, and ends in the emergency department because health concerns become acute rather than dealt with in a timely manner.
There are people with disabilities who end up in emergency departments and in hospitals as well. We’ll continue to work on ways in which we can get better health outcomes … it’s never been about the dollars, it’s been about making sure that we get good health outcomes in the interests of the population. … Others are continuing to work on that, and we will have more to say in the future including at the December meeting of the national cabinet.
Kelly: We will continue to monitor aged care going forward
Guardian Australia’s very own Josh Butler asks Paul Kelly two questions:
Could you talk us through what impact you think this change would have on cases, hospitalisations, deaths, and you mentioned at the end of your comments about potentially changes to settings in future?
Our concern about the healthcare system in particular around the end of July, early August, at that time we had over 1,200 aged care facilities with outbreaks. Thousands of cases in aged care, hundreds of cases amongst healthcare [and] aged care workers. As of yesterday we have … just over 200 aged care outbreaks, less than 1,000 aged care residents with Covid, and 314 staff. Things have changed a lot since that time, and that’s included in a month where we decreased from seven days to five days, not in aged care but in the broader community.
Aged care is a really helpful way of looking at and monitoring the situation going forward because of the close attention we are giving to that particularly vulnerable setting and will continue to do that. Your second question was?
Q: Do you see a moment where you could recommend going back to mandatory isolation as a health recommendation? Your comments at the start seem to be emphasising … we’re in a low-risk setting, low community transmission setting. If we go back to a high-risk or high transmission setting, what would be your advice?
We have been tasked to come back with that advice. This comes back to the discussion about AHPPC (the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) who have been very much involved with our charting-out of community protection framework for the next phase, a non-emergency phase of the pandemic response. And other parts of the government have looked at, the Health Department more broadly, had a transition approach. That would fit into that. We will … provide that advice in due course.
Prime minister says decision was unanimous
Q: Should we describe the decision today as unanimous by National Cabinet or is it better described as a consensus decision?
It was a unanimous decision by the national cabinet today and had the support of all premiers and chief ministers.
Recommendation ‘does not in any way suggest that the pandemic is finished’: CMO
Chief medical officer Prof Paul Kelly follows Albanese:
Yesterday the prime minister did ask me for some specific medical advice in relation to this proposal to remove the isolation period as it currently stands, so I provided him with that correspondence and that will be circulated as the prime minister has said.
I would like to stress that this is a context-specific and timing-specific set of recommendations. It recognises that we are in a very low … community transmission phase of the pandemic here in Australia. It does not in any way suggest that the pandemic is finished. We will almost certainly see future peaks of the virus into the future, as we have seen earlier in this year.
However, at the moment, we have very low rates of both cases, hospitalisations, intensive care admissions, aged care outbreaks and various other measures that we have been following very closely in our weekly open report.
We also have, at the moment, very high hybrid immunity from previous infection[s], as well as high vaccination rates particularly and specifically in those highly vulnerable communities – older people, people in aged care in particular, people living with a disability and the ones that we have talked about many times before.
Covid isolation period to end on October 14
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, began his address acknowledging the “devastating” impact of Hurricane Ian in Florida and to extend his deepest sympathies on behalf of Australia to all of those who have been affected in the Florida peninsula, the Cayman Islands and Cuba.
As for the national cabinet meeting, he says it’s been “a very successful meeting”:
We wanted to make sure that we have measures which are proportionate and that are targeted at the most vulnerable. We want to continue to promote vaccinations as being absolutely critical, including people getting booster shots. And we want a policy that promotes resilience and capacity-building and reduces a reliance on government intervention.
We have agreed to that … states and territory also end their respective mandatory isolation requirements on 14 October.
The pandemic leave disaster payments will end at that time as well, with the exception of people in high-risk settings, which need to be given particular support. So, aged care, healthcare, the measures, disability care, the areas that have been previously identified.
Optus hacker concealed their identity, police confirm
Just circling back to the Optus presser …
Gough was asked if the attack was a sophisticated attack or a basic attack as the home affairs minister said:
I am not going to go into the details of the cyber attack because it is the subject of our ongoing investigation, but the cyber criminal behind this hack has used obfuscation techniques to conceal their identity, but that is part of the ongoing investigation.
Mandatory Covid isolation period scrapped
The mandatory covid isolation period has been scrapped following the latest meeting of the national cabinet, which means there is no more stay at home orders if you are diagnosed with covid.
The exception is for those working in health or aged care settings. But for everyone else, the five day isolation period is gone.
Which raises questions about the sick leave payment – it was only in place while the isolation period was mandatory. For those who do not receive sick leave as part of their job, “doing the right thing” and staying at home when sick just got a lot harder.
We’ll bring you more on that very soon.
AFP expects Optus investigation to be ‘long and complex’
Justine Gough of the AFP says the investigation into who is responsible for the breach is continuing.
We expected to be long and complex. Operation Hurricane is an AFP priority. You can be assured that our very clever and dedicated cyber investigators are focused on delivering justice for those whose personal information has been compromised.
Gough is giving details about what the investigation involves:
Monitoring online forums, the internet and the dark web for other criminals [who are] trying to exploit the personal information released online. Engaging with the financial services to detect criminal activity associated with the data breach. Analysing reports to determine whether there are links between individuals who have been exploited. And identifying and disrupting cyber criminals.
The JCP3 will give collective legislative powers [and] experienced investigative and intelligence capabilities of all Australian policing jurisdictions [sic]. It will also complement other agencies including the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
Optus is fully cooperating with the investigation and a number of other agencies are working with us to help protect Australians.
AFP announces 'Operation Guardian' to protect customers affected by leak
Assistant commisisoner with the AFP Justine Gough has taken to the mic to discuss the Optus data breach.
The initial investigation into who is responsible for the breach is continuing but a new operation known as ‘Operation Guardian’ will give priority to helping the 10,000 affected by the leaked data that was part of the ransom demand.
Today I am announcing a further measure to help protect those individuals who are most at risk from cyber criminals. The AFP and state and territory police have set up ‘Operation Guardian’ to supercharge the protection of more than 10,000 customers whose notification credentials have been unlawfully released online after the Optus data breach. Customers affected by the breach will receive multijurisdictional and multilayered protection from identity crime and financial fraud.
The 10,000 individuals who potentially had 100 points over the notification released online will be prioritised. Under the AFP lead policing cybercrime coordination centre, a joint partnership between law enforcement, the private sector and industry, to combat the growing threat of cybercrime, operation will focus on key measures to help shield affected customers, including identifying the 10,000 individuals across Australia now at risk of identity fraud and working with industry to enable further protection for those members of the public.
Reports National Cabinet scraps Covid-19 isolation
Guardian Australia is waiting to independently confirm this. A post-cabinet media conference is due to be held shortly.
Matt Kean supports Natasha Maclaren-Jones’ nomination for Pittwater
The New South Wales treasurer, Matt Kean, has thrown his support behind Natasha Maclaren-Jones for preselection in the seat of Pittwater after Rob Stokes announced he would not stand at the upcoming election.
While she had not spoken with him about this before making public her intention to run, he said she would be a “great member for Pittwater’’. Speaking in Haymarket on Friday morning, Kean said:
She’s certainly a strong candidate and I look forward to other strong candidates sticking up their hands to be part of our team.
He said Stokes leaving would be a “huge loss” for the NSW Liberals.
Rob Stokes has been a big champion to see more women coming into parliament and I look forward to Rob Stokes supporting a woman into the seat of Pittwater.
Kean brushed aside suggestions there would be a lack of experience within the Liberal ranks at the upcoming election.
We’ve got a new, young, dynamic Liberal premier, with a new, fresh team setting a bold, new vision for the state.
Queensland records 77 Covid deaths and 116 people in hospital.
There were 8,061 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and five people are in intensive care.
AFP to speak about Optus breach shortly
The Australian Federal Police are holding a press conference in 15 minutes about the massive Optus data breach.
We’ll bring you more updates shortly.
ACT revokes public health emergency declaration
The ACT’s Public Health Emergency Declaration has been revoked after more than two and a half years.
The ACT government has transitioned the Territory’s Covid-19 public health response to a Covid-19 management declaration and associated directions.
Natasha Maclaren-Jones to nominate for Pittwater
Just an hour after the New South Wales infrastructure minister, Rob Stokes, announced he would not contest the March election, the families and communities minister, Natasha Maclaren-Jones, has announced she would put herself forward for preselection in the seat of Pittwater.
If successful, the move would see her shift from the upper to lower house of state parliament.
Pittwater has always been very special to me having been a part of this wonderfully diverse community. It is from my love for Pittwater and my commitment to continuing to serve our community that today I announce I will be putting myself.
She thanked Stokes for his longstanding service to the community and wished him well.
In his statement, Stokes said it was time to “give others the opportunity to stand as Liberal candidate for Pittwater” in March:
It’s time to make room for a different perspective and a new voice for Pittwater. We now need a contest to elect a new representative to serve the Pittwater community in the parliament of NSW.
Queensland land tax scrapped
The Queensland government has scrapped its proposal for land tax increases for interstate landlords.
Under the proposed changes, interstate property holdings would have been taken into account when determining whether an investor meets the threshold for land tax concessions.
The Courier Mail reported that the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, made the decision on Thursday night after speaking to interstate leaders who have heavily opposed the proposal.
It comes after a dogged campaign by the real estate industry that included what experts have described as “baseless” claims that rents would rise in Queensland due to the changes.
Queensland health minister announces statewide safety and quality improvement program
The Queensland health minister Yvette D’Ath is addressing the media, responding to a report that investigated Mackay Base hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department today.
Of the 84 determinations, 26 cases fell below the expected standards.
Of the 26 identified the women have been advised of a compensation pathway.
D’Ath said the board at Mackay Base hospital would be given a show cause notice but that the investigation showed stronger clinical governance was needed across the state. She also said the government was launching a statewide safety and quality improvement program.
eBay fined for NRL Grand Final scalping
E-commerce giant eBay has been slapped with fines for alleged breaches of scalping laws after it listed tickets to Sunday’s sold-out NRL grand final on the platform, AAP reports.
NSW Fair Trading said on Friday it had issued eBay with “multiple penalty infringement notices as a result of NRL grand final tickets appearing on the platform” in contravention of state ticket scalping laws.
The fair trading commissioner, Natasha Mann, said officers from the agency attended eBay’s Sydney offices and issued the penalty notices for grand final tickets being advertised contrary to regulations.
Under state laws, companies found breaching ticket reselling laws can be fined up to $110,000, while individuals can be fined up to $22,000.
Mann said in a statement:
To protect consumers, NSW laws require advertisements for the resale of tickets to specify the original cost of the ticket and a resale price that is no more than 10% above the original cost.
NSW Fair Trading is actively monitoring other platforms where grand final tickets may be resold and will take similar actions where tickets are being sold contrary to NSW laws.
She said the investigation into eBay was ongoing.
Comment has been sought from the agency on how much eBay has been fined and the number of infringements, and eBay has also been contacted for comment.
Sunday’s match between the Parramatta Eels and Penrith Panthers in Sydney is officially sold out after the last public allocation of tickets was snapped up on Tuesday. The crackdown on the tech giant comes after the consumer watchdog publicly warned about the risks of ticket scalping at major events such as grand final.
If you have seen advertisements in breach of the ticket scalping laws, please contact NSW Fair Trading.
Government committing resources to ensure Safety in Sport hotline able to handle demand
We brought you the news a little earlier about the federal government’s new Safety in Sport division, to be part of Sport Integrity Australia. The minister for sport, Anika Wells, said a key measure will be an expansion of SIA’s existing 1300 number hotline to allow for anonymous reporting of abuse in sport.
If you were left a little confused about the announcement, so were we – is the hotline is newly taking abuse allegations, or is it that it’s new that they’re anonymous?
Guardian Australia clarified with Wells’ office and understands the hotline previously existed in a “low-key way”, with many unaware of its existence. It was established two years ago with the government expecting 60 complaints a year, but instead received 600 each year.
The government is now committing the resources to make sure the hotline is better able to handle the volume of complaints.
Female Antarctic expeditioners forced to ‘go to great lengths to make their menstruation invisible,’ review finds
The Australian Antarctic Division has commissioned an independent review of its HR practises and complaint systems after a damning report found widespread evidence of sexism and sexual harassment at remote science stations, including unwanted physical contact, displays of pornography, and limited provision for women menstruating.
The ABC earlier first broke the story of the report by associate prof Meredith Nash, an AAD senior advisor and University of Tasmania researcher. The report found evidence of gender inequality and inappropriate behaviour at Australian stations in Antarctica, including reports of sexist jokes, inappropriate drinking culture, uninvited physical contact or gestures, unwelcome requests for sex, displays of offensive or pornographic material, and a homophobic culture on stations.
The report made particular note of female expeditioners in the program being forced to “go to great lengths to make their menstruation invisible”, including “attempts to practically conceal menstruation in Antarctica in environments where the infrastructure for them to do so was absent or inadequate.” Reports included women being forced to change menstrual products without privacy or adequate sanitation, including carrying used products in the field with them, improvising menstrual products when no fresh supplies are available, and keeping products in their bodies for longer than recommended due to inadequate toilet stops.
The report recommended widespread action to address gender inequality, including more regular surveys about station culture, diversifying application pools to attract a wider variety of staff, and major reforms to internal culture such as providing free menstrual products, better health training, training around sexual harassment and complaints, and “a major outreach effort to address sexual harassment”.
The secretary of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, David Fredericks, said in a statement that the report’s findings were unacceptable.
He said the department was already working to implement Nash’s recommendations, including developing action plans, training and policy to improve culture. Fredericks noted that the AAD’s senior executives had been all men just 12 months ago, but that now 50% of station leaders were women.
He noted updates had already been made to recruitment, manuals, and leadership training. The department has also commissioned its own independent review of actions already taken, and what is left to do. That report will be delivered by 12 December.
Dutton: Australias should be ‘white-hot with anger’ over Optus data breach
Opposition leader Peter Dutton has criticised the government for not introducing new privacy legislation to parliament following the Optus data breach, AAP reports.
Dutton said Australians should be “white-hot with anger” after their sensitive information was stolen by hackers.
The attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, earlier this week said the government is seeking to put legislation to the lower house by the end of this year. But this was slammed as being too slow by the Coalition. Dutton told Nine today:
It should have been in the parliament this week, the government was aware of this problem.
I think 10 million Australians should be white-hot with anger that their information was compromised, and the home affairs minister went missing for three days.
The telco is also being pressured to cover the cost of replacement passports and other documents stolen in the data breach last week.
The opposition has called for the government to unfreeze “critical” cyber security funding, which is being reviewed along with other industry grants given by the former Morrison government. More than $60m in cyber security training grants have been withheld.
The opposition industry spokesperson, Sussan Ley, said delaying funding from the Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund was inexcusable.
Labor have already been forced to retract unfounded political attacks on other initiatives which supported some of our most critical sectors to boost sovereign capability – and now his failure to support our cyber security industry has left our country weaker.
The deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, labelled the breach a “wake-up call” for the corporate sector.
Showers in NSW to ease Monday
Rob Stokes retires from NSW Parliament
Here is the statement from NSW minister for infrastructure, Rob Stokes, who has announced he will retire from politics ahead of next year’s March election.
I’ve had a great go, and now is the time to give others the opportunity to stand as Liberal candidate for Pittwater at the election next year.
I am immensely grateful to the people of Pittwater and the Liberal party for the amazing privilege I have had to serve our community as an elected representative for more than 15 years. I’m now excited to support someone else to have that chance.
It’s time to make room for a different perspective and a new voice for Pittwater. We now need a contest to elect a new representative to serve the Pittwater community in the parliament of New South Wales.
In the meantime, I will use all my energy, experience and enthusiasm to support the Liberals and Nationals team as we fight to return the Perrottet-Toole Government in 2023.
What an honour it has been to serve as part of a government that has fought to transform New South Wales into a freer, fairer and more prosperous society.
Public service is a team effort. I am thankful to my family, friends and everyone I’ve worked with for their support on an amazing journey representing Pittwater in parliament.
Stokes served as the member for Pittwater for 16 years and confirmed he will not nominate for pre-election in his Northern Beaches seat.
Push to scrap Covid-19 isolation puts public at risk, peak medical body says
We brought you the news a little earlier from AMA President Steve Robson that the true waiting times for elective surgery in the public system are often three or four times longer than what is publicly reported because the wait times for specialist appointments aren’t being accounted for.
Robson was on ABC News Breakfast discussing that new report, and was also asked by the team about the National Cabinet Meeting today, which could consider scrapping Covid-19 isolation periods entirely.
I think people who are pushing for the isolation periods to be cut are not scientifically literate and putting the public at risk and need to understand that.
What would the consequences if National Cabinet did remove that period today?
We’re seeing overseas a huge upswing in the numbers of Covid cases again. It’s coming into holiday season when people will be travelling around the world. We think it’s a period of significant risk and we’re urging caution because we need to protect the health system and we need to protect vulnerable people like those in aged care and people with a disability.
Robson was asked about the argument put forward by NSW premier Dominic Perrottet and others that there is no other mandatory isolation period for other illnesses, where it becomes people’s personal responsibility to stay home if sick.
Why is that not a valid argument?
If you think the flu is Covid, you’re living in fantasy land. Covid is a long-term infectious, we’re already seeing a massive effect of long Covid on the workforce and the community. You don’t have it with long flu or long cold. It’s fantasy.
Environment minister shocked by report into culture and harassment at Australia’s science stations in Antarctica
We’re reading through the damning report into culture and harassment at Australia’s science stations in Antarctica, but environment minister Tanya Plibersek – the government member with responsibility over Antarctica – said more change is needed to urgently fix the issues identified.
In a statement, Plibersek said she was “shocked and disappointed” at the report’s findings, stressing the government’s commitment to implementing the Respect At Work improvements in all settings.
Plibersek’s statement is below and we’ll bring you more from that report shortly:
I was recently informed about a report, conducted by Prof Meredith Nash, into culture and behaviour at the Australian Antarctic Division. Professor Nash spoke to staff who have experienced sexual harassment, exclusion and marginalisation, particularly while stationed in Antarctica.
When I was briefed on this for the first time, and when I read people’s stories, I was shocked and I was disappointed. Let me be absolutely clear: there is no place for sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour in any workplace.
Just this week the government introduced the Respect at Work legislation. This legislation backs in our commitment to safe and respectful workplaces, everywhere. The Australian Antarctic Division is no exception. Our remote stations in Antarctica are no exception.
I take this report incredibly seriously. The treatment outlined in the report was, and is, unacceptable.
The department is working through the recommendations of the report. I know that cultural change has already begun at the Australian Antarctic Division. I want to thank everyone who has been part of this. More change is needed.
The work the division does is critical: for our national interest, for science and the environment, for the future of this planet. It’s far too important to be tainted and diminished by prejudice and harassment.
Victoria records 59 Covid deaths and 145 people in hospital
There were 9,458 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and nine people are in intensive care.
NSW records 82 Covid deaths and 1,057 people in hospital.
There were 12,592 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and 24 people are in intensive care.
NSW government loses another minister from politics
Rob Stokes, the current NSW infrastructure minister, will announce this morning that he is leaving politics.
The former Macquarie University lecturer in planning was twice NSW’s planning minister and has lately been the state’s infrastructure and active transport minister.
Stokes was well-regarded by his fellow MPs and knew his planning portfolio better than most of his department staffers.
He was also a firm supporter of environmental issues (and was environment minister for a stint), and for taking action on climate change – not always easy positions to hold within a Coalition government.
Stokes joins an exodus of senior MPs from the government who won’t be standing at next March’s elections, potentially making it harder for Dominic Perrottet to hold on to office.
Tasmania supports scrapping isolation but will be guided by health advice, premier says
The premier of Tasmania, Jeremy Rockliff, together with the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, is pushing to end the mandatory Covid isolation period ahead of the national cabinet meeting today.
This is what Rockliff told the ABC in Canberra:
I said we support that in principle, but in Tasmania we have always taken the best of public health advice including national advice, of course, and look forward to the discussions today. But in principle, as was the in-principle support of the reduction from seven days to five days, I think it’s a natural progression.
In Tasmania, we have always been guided by the best of public health advice and so we will consider the advice that’s presented to us and the discussions that we have with public health officials and they’ll be very informative.
Rockliff said it was also important to consider people’s mental health as well as business and workforce issues. However, he also said:
Health is always been, right throughout the pandemic, the No 1 priority.
Gale force winds warning for the Gold Coast
Russian oligarch with stake in Queensland Alumina Limited charged by US Department of Justice
Overnight, the US Department of Justice charged the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska with the evasion of sanctions against him, including by using shell companies to hide his assets in America and through an elaborate scheme where he is alleged to have tried to bring his pregnant girlfriend into the country to give birth.
Deripaska is probably best known in Australia for owning a minority stake in Queensland Alumina Limited – the remainder belongs to Rio Tinto, which runs the refinery.
The EN+ group, founded by Deripaska, owns 20% of QAL. Deripaska’s effective interest is less because he reduced his shareholding of EN+ to 45% after the US slapped sanctions on him in 2018.
Deripaska wasn’t initially among the oligarchs sanctioned by the Australian government following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but they caught up with him a few days later.
Rio took full control of the refinery in response to the sanctions – a move that EN+ group subsidiary Rusal is now suing it over.
Scrapping Covid-19 isolation is ‘natural step’, Perrottet says
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, says he is confident that Covid-19 isolation will be scrapped at the national cabinet meeting today.
We will have some health briefings today … the old days of having a situation where different states are doing different things … it’s better for consistency and national harmony [for] everyone to move together.
It has been over 900 days [from] where we have had this public-health orders in place, and I think this is the natural step. We made significant inroads as a country, we have a consistently balanced public health with broader health issues, mental health and particularly young kids … and we have to balance that with the financial and economic impacts of these public health orders. But ultimately we also need to get to this position where people look out for each other, that we care for each other, and that we make sure if we’re sick we stay at home without there being a public health order in place.
There are many factors you have to take into consideration. In our state over the last two years we have balanced the public health advice with the broader health advice and economic impacts that come with that as well … making the decision that is in the best interest of the country, and I’m pretty sure we have that today.
Victoria waiting more than 900 days for urgent neurosurgery appointments
Here are some of the key statistics from the Australian Medical Association report out today:
In Victoria, a patient will wait more than 900 days for an urgent neurosurgery appointment (target 30 days).
In Queensland, a patient will wait more than 150 days for an urgent gastroenterology or rheumatology appointment (target 30 days).
For non-urgent appointments (target 365 days) in Queensland and Victoria, most specialities are not meeting the target. Waiting times for ophthalmology, orthopaedic, and plastic/reconstructive appointments are all more than 700 days in both states.
The average waiting time in Tasmania was 101.2 days for urgent patients (target 30 days).
When it comes to wait times for specialist appointments, we know Australians living outside capital cities can be some of the worst affected:
Top medical body warns of hidden waiting list 'scandal' in new report
Australia’s “hidden waiting list” for specialist appointments adds months and sometimes years to the time patients wait for essential surgery, the Australian Medical Association says.
AMA’s president, Prof Steve Robson, is today launching a new report, titled Shining a Light on the Hidden Waiting List, which highlights the unreported time it takes patients to see a specialist in public hospitals.
These hidden figures are a scandal that affect hundreds and thousands of patients and impact a health system already in logjam, including general practice that has to deal with the pressure of looking after many of these patients in the meantime.
There are no reliable data on the time it takes a patient to see a specialist in a public hospital outpatient clinic after seeing their general practitioner, but we know it can be years.
Elective surgery waiting times are reported nationally each year, but these numbers don’t reflect the time someone waits to see the specialist in an outpatient clinic. How can any system properly operate or be properly managed if we don’t know how many patients are waiting for care?
Patients, many of them in pain, aren’t just waiting years for surgery. Sometimes they are waiting years just to see a specialist who can get them on the official surgery waiting list. During this wait, they often develop other health issues, such as mental health issues and diabetes, which further affects their quality of life and ends up costing the system more.
It’s like counting emergency waiting room times without counting the hours someone is waiting in an ambulance to get into the waiting room.
The only way we can fix our hospital system is by having total transparency on the number of people who are waiting for care – this means counting people from the time the general practitioner refers them to a specialist.
How can we possibly know how many doctors, nurses and beds we need if we have inconsistent and unreliable data? We’ve been calling for years for public hospital waiting times to be published.
Robson said while the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare was working with jurisdictions to include outpatient waiting data, a national plan was needed now to address the backlog.
We need a plan, and we need immediate action to take pressure off our hospitals that are in crisis — including 50-50 funding and removal of the 6.5% cap.
Car fire on M1 Motorway outside Newcastle
No changes to aged care Covid-19 settings, regardless of national cabinet decisions
The ABC Radio interview with Anika Wells turns from sport to her other portfolio – aged care.
Wells is asked about the upcoming national cabinet meeting’s potential changes to Covid policy settings. She said the rules for nursing homes will remain the same regardless of the decisions by state leaders.
The Australian defence force support in aged care homes is also ending, and Wells confirmed she does believe it is the right thing to do. She said the program was never intended to be in place as long as it was.
Government announces 'world-leading' initiative to tackle abuse in sport
The minister for sport, Anika Wells, is speaking to ABC Radio about an announcement to expand the government’s scope to help people in sport report racism, abuse and mistreatement.
It comes after a range of high-profile cases in elite sport, including the damaging review into Hawthorn Football Club which contained allegations of serious mistreatment of First Nations former players, as well as the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report into the culture of gymnastics, the findings in Swimming Australia’s review of the treatment of female swimmers and the Do Better report.
Wells said the federal government is announcing a new Safety in Sport division to be part of Sport Integrity Australia, which will be “world-leading.”
She said the division will include a broad focus on cultural and intersectional issues under the National Integrity Framework, which will be culturally informed and trauma-led.
Another key measure will be an expansion of an existing 1300 number hotline to allow for anonymous reporting of abuse in sport.
Wells said the hotline will be expanded to a toll-free triage, referral and reporting service “so that truth-telling is fostered”.
‘Action will be taken’: Husic on Antarctic sexual harassment allegations
Ed Husic, the minister for industry and science, was asked by ABC Radio whether the government will be investigating allegations of bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment for Australians sent to work in Antarctica detailed in a report (see previous post).
It absolutely is concerning ... it’s shocking and certainly action will be taken.
Antarctic expeditioners complain of ‘predatory’, widespread sexual harassment
Allegations of widespread sexual harassment at Australia’s Antarctic research stations have emerged from an external review of the culture commissioned by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).
The ABC’s Henry Belot reports that:
Australians sent to work in Antarctica have complained about a widespread and predatory culture of sexual harassment with unwelcome requests for sex, taunting, displays of offensive pornography and homophobia.
Prof Meredith Nash, who is an associate dean at the Australian National University and wrote the report completed earlier this year, told the ABC that women “have to work in the field with their abusers for weeks at a time because they simply can’t leave”.
The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek has responded to the report saying its findings are unacceptable:
Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace anywhere. I was actually gobsmacked to read some of the reports here talking about, you know, pornographic images upon walls. Like, you know ... I really did think we had eradicated this sort of thing from Australian workplaces decades ago. It’s not acceptable.
The report made 42 recommendations on how to change the culture at the stations, including the creation of an “equity and inclusion taskforce”. All recommendations will be accepted by the division.
Industry minister ‘very’ concerned gas will never get back to $10 a gigajoule
Tony Wood, an energy expert from the Grattan Institute, said he doesn’t think gas will ever get back down to $10 a gigajoule, and that could lead to some manufacturers closing.
Asked if he agrees, Husic said:
I’m very concerned about that.
Gas producers need to work for public interest, not against it, industry minister says
Is the government still allowing multinational gas companies to continue making profits while domestic manufacturers struggle to keep going?
The gas producers have to recognise they have a role to play in meeting the national interest not working against it.
There is room there to supply and there is definitely room there to supply at prices – for an Australian resource – that meets the needs of Australian manufacturers and households.
Why isn’t there a price trigger?
Because this work needs to continue, the biggest priority was to ensure we had supply ... so that’s happened.
We’re trying to ensure we boost local self-sufficiency, we address supply chain shortages and we can ensure we aren’t just dependent on one or two markets for all our products ... the gas producers have a very important role to play in meeting that national interest.
Gas prices need to come down for manufacturers and households, industry minister says
The minister for industry and science, Ed Husic, is speaking to ABC Radio after the government yesterday struck a deal with gas companies to keep more Australian energy at home.
Is it good enough that the deal won’t bring the cost down to what it was before the war in Ukraine?
The additional supply is really important, the ACCC flagged there would be a shortfall if that did come about you would see what that would do to prices and it wouldn’t be pretty ...
The other thing is there is a protection in place to make sure the prices don’t go above export prices ... the next part of this job is to ensure prices come down for manufacturers and households.
Private rental market ‘the epicentre’ of Australia’s housing affordability problem, report finds
A $1.6bn agreement to help facilitate affordable housing in Australia has failed to reduce inequity and national reform is now imperative, the Productivity Commission has found.
The commission on Friday released the findings of its review into the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA), the key document that governs federal funding to the states for housing services. The sharply worded report urges the government to overhaul commonwealth rent assistance, focus on fixing the rental crisis, and wind back concessions and grants for homebuyers in favour of funding stretched homelessness services.
National cabinet meeting to consider Covid public health settings
State and territory leaders will meet in-person in Canberra on Friday, with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to convene the latest national cabinet meeting. Covid health briefings will again be high on the agenda, with discussion expected around public health settings for the virus.
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, has long called for mandatory Covid isolation periods to be scrapped. Recent national cabinet meetings have rebuffed those calls, but after the last meeting in mid-September, Albanese said Friday’s meeting would “have a discussion about future arrangement ... what we are seeing is gradually a move towards Covid being treated like other health issues”.
That last meeting also locked in an agreement for the pandemic leave disaster payment, to support those isolating without sick leave, to remain available for as long as mandatory isolation periods are applied.
Friday’s meeting will also discuss the budget positions of the commonwealth and state governments, as well as receive a briefing from the Bureau of Meteorology and the National Emergency Management Australia (Nema) body on the coming La Niña weather season.
Leaders will consider scrapping Covid-19 isolation rules when they meet as part of national cabinet today.
The New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, is pushing to scrap mandatory isolation entirely, after the last national cabinet meeting saw the isolation period reduced from seven to five days.
The state and territory leaders will also be briefed by the new emergency management agency on the threat of storms and flooding as the country heads into its third La Niña summer.
This week the government released its highly anticipated national integrity commission legislation, but one of the details that has come under the fire is how often hearings will be public.
Crossbenchers have raised concerns the “exceptional circumstances” threshold for public hearings is too high but the government says closed hearings would be the default.
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, said he doesn’t want public hearings to become “show trials” and believes the government has the balance right.
However, the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship, Dan Tehan, isn’t convinced.
Playing on its acronym, NACC, Tehan expressed concern the integrity commission “will become a knackery” in a tweet sharing the Australian columnist Henry Ergas’s article drawing comparisons with the Salem witch trials.
To give a flavour of the article, Ergas begins with saying “what was new about the Salem witch trials was that they were held in public”. It concludes that “no self-respecting Australian government ought to permit a form of lynch justice” but that had “the Greens and the teals … been at Salem, they would have been rushing forward with the matches.”
Let’s get going!