NSW drops restrictions as Omicron takes hold

NSW’s move to abandon almost all Covid-19 restrictions is in conflict with the recommendations of the state’s chief health officer, as Victoria eases rules on the unvaccinated.

What we know:

  • NSW on Wednesday scrapped crowd density limits, dropped QR codes and masks in most settings, and eased most restrictions on unvaccinated people;
  • CHO Kerry Chant said it was a “matter for government in setting those mandates” but strongly recommended people maintain indoor mask-wearing, saying it was “a small price” to pay and a “very community-minded action”;
  • NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said modelling by the public health unit at the University of NSW showed “that by the end of January, we could be looking at 25,000 cases of the virus every single day”;
  • As cases hit a three-month high of 1360, driven by the Omicron variant, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet urged people to instead focus on the 166 hospitalisations and 24 people in intensive care;
  • Meanwhile the Victorian government has chosen to retain mask wearing in many settings, but will allow unvaccinated people to attend non-essential retail, weddings, funerals and to use real estate services (The New Daily); 
  • “There are tweaks … informed on a wide measure by a relative uncertainty that the Omicron variant brings,” said Health Minister Martin Foley;
  • The state recorded 1405 cases and three deaths, with 365 patients in hospital and 84 in intensive care;
  • Omicron has reached 77 countries less than a month after being detected, and is on track to become the dominant strain globally (NPR); 
  • In the UK, a record of 78,610 new cases were recorded, more than 10,000 higher than the previous record set on January 8, when the country was in lockdown (BBC). 
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Albanese vows action on pork-barrelling

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese has promised that a proposed anti-corruption commission would examine the alleged pork-barrelling by the Morrison government.

What we know:

  • “I put the Prime Minister on notice that a national anti-corruption commission will be able to look at the sports rorts program and these rorted programs of taxpayer funds,” Albanese said (The Guardian); 
  • It comes after an analysis of more than 19,000 grants found Coalition seats received more than triple what Labor electorates got;
  • Today it has been revealed the western Sydney marginal seat of Lindsay received $23.1m, while three adjacent safe Labor seats received just over $6m combined (SMH); 
  • Lindsay, which was won from Labor by Liberal Melissa McIntosh, secured nine separate community development grants worth a combined $18.4m, including $13.2m to the Penrith rugby leagues club for a conference centre;
  • The seat also secured three railway station car parks in the contentious commuter car park program.
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Budget forecast for more jobs and pay

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will today forecast the creation of one million jobs over the next four years, in a mid-year budget update that predicts unemployment will fall to 4.25% by June 2023.

The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook will estimate that more than 13.8m people will be employed by June 2025 – 150,000 more than the May budget estimated (The Conversation). 

“We have been working to a clear fiscal strategy to drive down the unemployment rate to historically low levels as we emerge from the greatest economic shock since the Great Depression,” Frydenberg will say.

Unemployment is forecast to be 4.5% in the June quarter next year, down from 5.2% in October.

Treasury has also upgraded forecasts for wage growth, predicting a pay rise of about 3.5% each year (SBS). 

That may be more than consumed by inflation, which ran at 3.8% in the second quarter of this year.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said, “We want to make sure that as the economy recovers Australian working families aren't getting absolutely smashed by the skyrocketing cost of living at the same time as their real wages are going backwards.”

He added that the budget would be in better shape if it “wasn’t so riddled with rorts”.

The amount set aside for decisions taken but not yet announced will indicate the size of the election spending spree the Morrison government is planning.

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One Nation treasurer charged with fraud

A senior member of One Nation has been charged with four counts of fraud after a police investigation into election funding.

National executive treasurer Alex Jones has been charged with two counts of uttering forged documents and one count each of attempted fraud and forgery (SMH). 

Queensland police arrested the “financial administrator for a political party” after raids on his Hamilton home in Brisbane and an office at Holt Street, Eagle Farm, on Wednesday morning.

One Nation’s Brisbane office is located on Holt Street.

The police investigation began in January after a referral from the Electoral Commission of Queensland relating to a 2020 election funding application.

In a text message meant for Jones, but mistakenly sent to the media, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts said: “hang in there, Alex.”

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Sun kissed by NASA probe

A NASA spacecraft has “touched” the sun for the first time, with the Parker Solar Probe entering its outer atmosphere.

The craft achieved the milestone in April but it was only confirmed this week, as it took several months for mission scientists to download and analyse the data collected (Nature). 

Scientists confirmed the spacecraft had crossed the much-anticipated boundary known as the Alfvén surface.

This surface marks the interface between the sun’s atmosphere and an outer region of space dominated by the solar wind.

“We have finally arrived – humanity has touched the sun,” said Nicola Fox, director of NASA’s heliophysics division.

As it crossed the Alfvén surface, the Parker probe flew through a “pseudostreamer” of electrically charged material, inside which conditions were quieter than the roiling environment outside.

The spacecraft also studied unusual kinks in the magnetic field of the solar wind.

Since its launch in 2018, the probe has been orbiting the sun, looping ever closer to the solar surface on each pass.

A carbon-composite heat shield protects its instruments from temperatures expected to hit 1370C.

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Dickson must have a very good local member.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes the argument for why exactly the Liberal seat of Dickson got 46 times as much government funding as a neighbouring Labor electorate. The counterargument is that the local member in question is Peter Dutton (The New Daily).

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Postscript: Children tell Santa they’ve been a ‘marginal Liberal electorate’ this year, in hope of getting more presents

Children across Australia are writing to Santa to let him know that they’ve been a good little Liberal electorate on a margin of less than 5 percent, in an attempt to get a greater share of presents on offer. Six-year-old Josh Mahoney said he wanted a Spiderman figure, a PlayStation game and a multi-million dollar road project. “Or at the very least an upgrade to my shooting club” (The Shovel).

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

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