Military deployed in Sydney

Troops will be posted to control Sydney’s worsening Covid-19 outbreak, as National Cabinet meets to consider the vaccination target needed to open up the country.

Army deployed in Sydney:

  • Up to 300 soldiers will patrol the streets of Sydney, after NSW identified a record 239 new cases and two deaths on Thursday (Nine); 
  • Troops will door-knock homes of positive cases and close contacts to ensure they are isolating (SMH); 
  • Thousands more police will be deployed to enforce tightened restrictions, with masks now mandatory outdoors in Sydney’s west and fines for breaches to rise from $200 to $500;
  • Western Sydney outbreak hotspots will be particularly targeted by the military, sparking fears of racial profiling;
  • “The situation in Sydney demanded a redoubling of public health education, urgent re-prioritisation of vaccination, and working in partnership with local communities. Instead we have the military called into the streets,” said former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane (SMH). 

Vaccine targets:

  • National Cabinet will today see confidential Doherty Institute modelling on vaccination numbers needed to reopen the country (ABC); 
  • Treasury estimates on the economic cost of lockdowns will also be considered in the meeting;
  • New Grattan Institute modelling suggests lockdowns can end once 80% of the population is vaccinated; 
  • A growing list of walk-in vaccination clinics are opening up in Sydney, with anyone over the age of 18 able to get AstraZeneca without an appointment (news.com.au); 
  • Public health orders needed to enforce the vaccine mandate on aged care workers have not been made, six weeks ahead of the deadline to bring in the measure (The Guardian). 
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Anti-frackers seek day in court

Environmental activists have launched legal action against Resources Minister Keith Pitt’s decision to hand $21m in grants to a gas company seeking to frack the Beetaloo Basin.

The Environmental Defenders Office filed proceedings in the Federal Court on Thursday that allege Pitt breached the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 when allocating grants to Imperial Oil and Gas (AFR). 

The EDO alleges Pitt failed to reasonably inquire about the increased risk of climate change if the basin was fracked.

The group also argued that he failed to account for economic risks facing the project as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

“This latest case of green ‘lawfare’ declared on legitimate projects threatens to delay an estimated 6000 new jobs being delivered for the Northern Territory,” said Pitt.

A NT parliamentary inquiry heard this week that Imperial Oil and Gas is run by a prominent Liberal Party donor, and was awarded the funding despite not having secured key environmental approvals.

The EDO challenge follows a landmark legal action that found Environment Minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to children in assessing a coalmine expansion.

That decision is currently under appeal.

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Tudge threatens student unions

Education Minister Alan Tudge has threatened to cut off funding to student organisations in a bid to force them to accept the presence of anti-abortion groups and the defence force on campus.

Tudge’s move comes in response to the Australian National University Students’ Association not allowing the ADF and anti-abortion organisations to open a stall at an induction day for new students (The Australian). 

He threatened to block student unions from taking compulsory fees, which fund their services on campus, and tying them to a model code of free speech that currently applies only to university administrators and staff.

“It is particularly appalling that they would reject the Australian Defence Force ... one of the most revered institutions in Australia,” he said.

The union said it had received complaints over fanning militarism and anti-abortion views over stalls opened by the groups at a previous event.

Tudge has recently warned universities they must adopt his free speech code for academics or he will legislate it (Research Professional News). 

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First use of WA euthanasia laws

A terminally ill Western Australian has become the first person to use the state’s euthanasia laws to end their life.

WA’s voluntary assisted dying laws, passed in 2019, came into effect last month after an 18-month implementation period.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said it was a “historic moment for our state” and that the family wanted to keep the matter private (ABC). 

A person must be suffering from a medical condition that is expected to cause death within six months, or within 12 months in the case of neurodegenerative disease.

Euthanasia laws are already in place in Victoria and Tasmania, while SA will be the next state to implement them.

Queensland is currently debating its own laws, while NSW will debate a bill next month (SMH). 

The ACT needs the federal government to repeal laws that forbid the territory from even considering voluntary assisted dying laws (Canberra Times). 

Lifeline: 13 11 14

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Invasive species cost $390bn

A new study estimates that invasive species have cost the Australian economy $390bn over 60 years.

The study found feral cats were the most costly individual species at over $13.5bn, largely spent on population control (NeoBiota). 

Rodents, pigs and rabbits were the next most expensive.
Weedy plants were the most expensive class of pest, with species like ryegrass, parthenium and ragwort costing more than $200bn to control.

The study did not attempt to put a figure on environmental damage, such as the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of species or the loss of cultural values (The Guardian). 

“The big stick in the spokes here is that we are still looking at a huge underestimate of the costs,” said study lead author Prof Corey Bradshaw of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Biodiversity and Heritage.

About 20 new weed species take root in Australia every year, and the broader management costs and production losses because of invasive weeds is estimated at $5bn a year, according to the CSIRO.

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I would rather be on welfare here in Australia than anywhere else in the world going through this global pandemic.

Emergency Management Minister Bridget McKenzie defends the exclusion of unemployed Australians from Covid disaster payments. To give her credit, at least the former Minister for Sports Rorts isn’t providing support based on whether people live in a marginal electorate this time (SBS).

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Postscript: Meet the Storm-Chasing Photographer Who Can Also Shoot Your Wedding

“At weddings, you’re posing people at times for sure,” he says. “But like storms, they’re events happening before your eyes, and you’re trying to find the best spot to shoot a moment in time that no one is ever going to see again.” (Atlas Obscura)

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.