Slow retreat from Covid zero

Victoria is expected to slightly ease restrictions by September 23, after joining NSW in abandoning the goal of Covid elimination following persistent case numbers.

In Victoria:

  • Victoria will allow people to travel 10km from their homes for exercise and essential shopping, and to exercise outdoors for up to three hours a day (Nine); 
  • Those measures will come in once 70% of over 16s have received at least one dose of the vaccine, expected by September 23;
  • Playgrounds will reopen on Friday for under 12s with one parent or carer;
  • The state recorded 120 new cases on Wednesday;
  • “We’ve thrown everything at this, but it’s now clear that we are not going to drive these numbers down – they are instead going to increase,” Premier Daniel Andrews said (The Age); 
  • Some infectious diseases experts questioned why the curfew was not among the measures to be lifted;
  • A number of restrictions will remain until 70% of Victorians are fully vaccinated, not expected until late October;
  • About 57% have so far received one dose, while 35% are fully vaccinated.

Around the country:

  • NSW recorded 1116 new infections, along with four deaths of unvaccinated people (ABC); 
  • Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned premiers they must open state borders before Christmas as soon as vaccination rates hit 80% (The West Australian); 
  • WA Premier Mark McGowan pushed back against Frydenberg, asking why the federal government wanted “to infect our public”.
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Beetaloo winner tipped off

Email records show a Liberal-linked gas company that won $21m in federal fracking grants asked for information on “eligibility criteria” and the “application process” well before program guidelines were released.

What we know:

  • Empire Energy made the request before winning $21m of a $50m fund for fracking the NT’s Beetaloo Basin (The Guardian); 
  • Documents obtained through FOI reveal that an unnamed Empire staffer asked Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s office “just before Christmas we discussed the Beetaloo Grant Program. Have you been able to identify the eligibility criteria and application process?”;
  • A Senate inquiry had previously been told there had been no correspondence between Taylor and Empire Energy about the grants;
  • Resources Minister Keith Pitt and Taylor have now been asked by the inquiry to explain the emails;
  • Taylor previously attended a Liberal fundraiser along with Empire Energy executives, and flew on a chartered plane with them for a site visit to the Beetaloo Basin (The Saturday Paper). 
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Kelly’s spam calls trigger privacy row

United Australia Party MP Craig Kelly’s spam text messages to thousands of voters have triggered calls for privacy reform and prompted a war of words on social media.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority received 3420 complaints about Kelly’s unsolicited messages, which claim “you can never trust the Liberals, Labor or Greens again” (InnovationAus).  

Kelly said he sent the messages using software that generated phone numbers at random.

Experts claim the messages show the need to reform the privacy and spam acts, which both provide exemptions for registered political parties.

“Other privacy laws around the world do not exempt political parties and there’s no real reason why political parties shouldn’t be held to the same standards as any other organisation,” said Anna Johnston, of Salinger Privacy.

News website Crikey published Kelly’s mobile number and invited readers to spam him back (Crikey). 

Freelance journalist Ben Eltham did the same on Twitter, prompting Warren Mundine to hurl abuse at him (SMH). 

Mundine, whose position on the SBS board has been called into question over the spray, conceded “I shouldn’t be calling anyone the c-word and I accept that was a stupid thing for me to do.”

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Climate test for CBA investments

A shareholder is taking the Commonwealth Bank to court over access to documents detailing its decision to finance fossil fuel projects driving climate change.

Shareholder Guy Abrahams is seeking to inspect “all documents created by [CBA] in relation to CBA’s gas and fossil fuel projects” to see if they are in line with the Paris Agreement goals (AFR). 

Jacqueline Peel, of the Melbourne Law School’s Climate Futures Centre, said the case could create a new form of climate litigation.

“If ... it shows that there’s a difference between what they say they’re doing and what they’re actually doing, that potentially would be grounds for a case for breaching directors’ duties or misleading and deceptive conduct,” Peel said.

A CBA spokesman declined to comment on the case but said the bank is committed to helping meet the Paris targets.

It comes as a committee led by Queensland MP George Christensen will this Friday grill the big four banks over their moves to reduce exposure to coal assets (The Fifth Estate).

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Music lifts lockdown spirits

Researchers have found that Australians are mostly turning to television to feel better during lockdowns, but that music, singing and dancing do more to improve mood.

Australians were asked which activities they turned to to make them feel better, and to rank their effectiveness (The Conversation). 

Watching films and TV was the most common activity, but only ranked 18th out of 27 activities for how much it improved mood.

Listening to music was the second most common activity, but was the most effective at making people feel better.

Singing came in second place in terms of effectiveness, and dancing was third.

The researchers also noted that participants who reported exercising more during the pandemic than before fared much better in terms of mental health and well-being compared to those undertaking less exercise.

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I just feel corrupted, you know?

A former agriculture department staffer is sentenced to nearly two years jail for illegally importing building materials for a company linked to bikies, proving that Australia does not tolerate low-level corruption in the public service. High-level corruption is more our thing, really (GovernmentNews).

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Postscript: White supremacist sentenced to read Pride and Prejudice

A young Nazi sympathizer who downloaded bomb-making instructions has been sentenced to read classic novels including Pride and Prejudice instead. Judge Timothy Spencer QC told Ben John, 21, he could stay out of prison as long as he steered clear of white-supremacy literature and and read books and plays by Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. The former ... student will have to return to court every four months to be tested on his reading by the judge (Leicestershire Live).

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