Happy New Year, from one of the thousands of Victorians who rang in 2021 on the road from NSW to Victoria. I was one of the lucky ones – thousands more are believed to be stuck in NSW, with only those granted an exemption allowed to return. The helpline set up to handle exemption applications is overloaded, and the federal government is urging Victoria to help its stranded residents get home as soon as possible. Speaking of overloaded: weary testing staff have been called back from leave, and nurses asked to fill shifts, in an attempt to get on top of Victoria’s testing influx, raising the question of why health authorities were not better prepared. Covid-19 Response Commander Jeroen Weimar is asking people not to give up on getting tested – with the ambitious goal of zero cases and restrictions rolled back by the weekend, The Herald Sun reports. Queensland is facing similar issues after asking anyone returning from Victoria to get tested, with Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young claiming six hour wait times were due to people picking just a few clinics rather than spreading out. On-the-spot fines of $200 for not wearing a mask will begin in greater Sydney today, weeks after Victoria suggested them.
JobKeeper payments will further decrease today, from $1200 to $1000 a fortnight for those who normally work at least 20 hours a week and $750 to $650 for those who work less, ahead of payments ceasing entirely at the end of March. Labor is calling on the government to do more, with outbreaks in NSW and Victoria curtailing business at what is, for some, usually the busiest time of the year. CEO of the NSW Council of Social Service Joanna Quilty argues that states will be left to pick up the tab, with new modelling showing that cutting JobSeeker and ending JobKeeper will leave many struggling to cover basic needs. The number of people on JobKeeper has dropped from a peak of 3.6 million to 1.6 million last month, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg noting in his December budget update that more businesses were “graduating off JobKeeper”. Sounds like they can probably afford to provide those still on it a living wage.
A Melbourne-based Chinese businessman aligned to prominent Liberal Party MPs has been assessed by ASIO as a national security risk, the ABC reports. Huifeng “Haha” Liu is facing deportation after his application for permanent residency was denied, and is under investigation as part of the ASIO-led Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce. Liu, a former soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, is a Liberal Party donor who has links with MP Gladys Liu (no relation) and Assistant-Treasurer Michael Sukkar. Liu told the ABC he believed the assessment was based on his role as president of a popular Australian-Chinese neighbourhood watch, which acts as a middleman in police incidents involving Chinese speakers, and has an agreement to take instructions from the Chinese consulate.
Multiple balls are up in the air, as Victoria and NSW fight to contain their Covid outbreaks. Concerns from the Indian cricket team over having to undergo a hard quarantine for the Gabba Test, after their 14-day quarantine on entry to Australia, have been addressed, with confirmation players will not need to quarantine in their room and will be allowed to mix within the hotel. The NSW government is considering banning western Sydney residents from the SCG Test over the Berala bottle shop cluster, though residents of the southern part of the northern beaches, newly released from lockdown, will be allowed to go. Down in Melbourne, the owners of 36 apartments at The Westin are considering legal action against a plan to quarantine Australian Open players there, threatening to derail months of negotiations between health authorities and Tennis Australia. The outbreaks have increased the odds of an A-League hub being created in one of the Covid-free states, while the AFLW, set to begin on January 28, may require a fixture overhaul.