Experts alarmed by NSW exit plan

Health experts have expressed concern about NSW’s reopening plan, warning it appears more driven by business than health considerations.

What we know:

  • On Thursday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that fully vaccinated people would be able to visit gyms, pubs and households once the state reaches a 70% vaccination rate (ABC); 
  • Larger gatherings at stadiums and theatres will also be permitted subject to capacity limits for fully vaccinated patrons;
  • Grattan Institute health economist Stephen Duckett said the “extremely risky strategy” was “developed by business for business” (SMH); 
  • University of Sydney epidemiologist Prof Alexandra Martiniuk was surprised that large seated gatherings would ease at 70%, arguing there was insufficient data to indicate whether a fully vaccinated person could trigger a super-spreader event;
  • UNSW vaccine communications researcher Associate Prof Holly Seale said allowing household visits only for vaccinated adults could further entrench vaccine hesitancy;
  • Deakin University epidemiologist Prof Catherine Bennett said the NSW plan was more aggressive than the Doherty modelling used by National Cabinet;
  • NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the plan was “contingent on us getting case numbers down”;
  • NSW recorded 1405 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths on Thursday;
  • The state is on track for the 70% vaccination rate for over 16s by mid October.
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Foreign forces invited on home soil

Indonesian soldiers could train in Australia and French troops could access Australian military sites in two major defence deals under negotiation.

Indonesia:

  • Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with their Indonesian counterparts in Jakarta on Thursday (SBS); 
  • Discussions included the prospect of joint military training in Australia and Indonesian cadets attending Australian academies;
  • Payne indirectly referenced China’s new laws requiring notification from foreign vessels before entering the South China Sea, suggesting Indonesia would cooperate on encouraging “a level playing field”;
  • Agreements were signed over counter-terrorism, defence and cybersecurity, and support for Pacific island nations.

France:

  • Australia has begun negotiations to give French naval ships a permanent presence at naval bases or for troops to rotate through Australian training bases (The Age); 
  • Australia is set to formally agree with the French company responsible for the troubled program to build 12 attack-class submarines on a revised plan, which would see the first pressure hull ready by 2024;
  • France is looking to ramp up its diplomatic and military presence in the Indo-Pacific amid increased Chinese assertiveness.
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WA posts GST windfall

WA Premier Mark McGowan has warned eastern states not to dismantle GST reforms, after his state unveiled the country’s biggest ever budget surplus of $5.6bn.

The surplus was fuelled by surging iron ore prices, with the sector contributing $11.3bn in royalties (WA Today). 

WA also received $5.4bn in GST grants from the Commonwealth, $2.1bn of which came from a recent restructure of the GST distribution system.

McGowan said the other states would be “wildly angry” and “we will do our best to not allow any undoing of the GST deal to occur”.

He claimed if WA were its own country, it would be the second most prosperous in the world after China.

The WA premier added that borders could remain shut to other states until April next year, targeting a 80% vaccination rate with just 36% of eligible residents double-jabbed so far (news.com.au). 

McGowan also praised the economic benefits of closed international borders as it meant more Australians travelled domestically.

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UK plan to turn back boats

The UK has approved plans to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers to its shores, emulating Australia’s controversial border regime.

UK Border Force officials will be trained to turn boats away from British waters, but will deploy the new tactic only when they deem it safe (The Evening Standard). 

New laws will be drawn up to allow the controversial practice, which aid charities branded cowardly and cruel.

Britain’s Home Office said only, “we do not routinely comment on maritime operational activity” (The New Daily). 

The UK also threatened to withhold money promised to France to help step up patrols unless an increase in the number of migrants intercepted by French authorities was seen.

French interior minister G​​érald Darmanin said, “France will not accept any practice contrary to maritime laws, or financial blackmail.”

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Lift off for local space race

Australia’s first-ever major commercial rocket is scheduled to launch from South Australia today.

Adelaide space tech company Southern Launch and Taiwan’s tiSPACE will launch the 10m sub-orbital rocket from Whalers Way on the Eyre Peninsula, weather permitting (InnovationAus). 

“This is the biggest rocket that’s been launched in 40 years in Australia, so it’s a pretty big deal,” said Space Industry Association of Australia boss James Brown.

The Hapith I launch will be used to validate the rocket’s hybrid propulsion technology and other systems.

The federal government claims tiSPACE may manufacture rockets in Australia.

Launch fees have been deferred in this instance, but critics warn that when they are reinstated the cost could send local space companies overseas.

Conservationists have expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the launch site.

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I would say, generally, regardless of the Covid status, that kind of thing shouldn’t generally be part of visiting hours.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern takes a hardline stance on allegations that a coronavirus patient had sex at Auckland Hospital. Perhaps it had something to do with Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins accidently telling people to “spread their legs” instead of “stretch their legs” while getting their lockdown exercise (NZ Herald).

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Postscript: Stranger danger — an American take on the benefits of talking to strangers has a message for Australians

Who among us has not experienced that bilious mix of disappointment, irritation and dread that comes when someone shuffles down the aisle of a plane and claims the empty seat beside us (Inside Story)?

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