Monday, February 03, 2020

Evacuation from Wuhan begins

Australian travellers are being evacuated by plane this morning from the central Chinese city of Wuhan for a two-week quarantine stay on Christmas Island. On Sunday a Qantas flight operated by a volunteer crew, left Sydney for Wuhan in Hubei province, source of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 14,500 people.  Federal health minister Greg Hunt said a medical assistance team with a mobile hospital had already arrived at the Christmas Island detention centre ahead of the anticipated 14-day quarantine period for passengers, for which they will not be charged. The Australian ban on foreign arrivals from China has caused significant disruption at airports, with 12 flights cancelled on Sunday and families separated at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport. The death toll has risen to at least 305 people, including a 44-year-old Chinese visitor to the Philippines, the first death recorded outside of China. The response to the virus could cost the Australian economy ($) up to $13 billion in the first half of the year, including $6 billion to $8 billion from education fees due to the travel ban.

NSW/ACT Bushfires: Firefighters hope widespread rains across New South Wales fire will help contain 70 bushfires burning across the state. Crews used the favourable conditions to contain the 23,000-hectare Morton fire and the 333,900-hectare Dunns Road blaze. Dangerous conditions on Saturday night pushed the 177,000-hectare Border fire towards Bega Valley, while three blazes burning southwest of the region merged into one. Bega Valley Shire Council mayor Kristy McBain said an unconfirmed number of homes were lost in the blazes. More than 50 per cent of the ACT’s Namadgi National Park has been lost to the Orroral Valley blaze. The news comes as more than 200 scientists have put their names to an open letter calling on Australian politicians to respond to the bushfire crisis by urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions and working diplomatically to achieve global climate action.

Superannuation contributions: The bipartisan plan to increase the amount employers have to contribute towards superannuation should be abandoned, as most of the money would come out of reduced pay increases, according to a new report from the Grattan Institute. The report found about 80 per cent of the cost of increases in super is passed to workers through lower wage rises within the life of an enterprise agreement. According to The Australian Financial Review ($), the Australian Council of Social Service also came out against the plan to increase compulsory superannuation contributions to 12 per cent of wages, urging the Morrison government to first cut superannuation tax breaks for the wealthy. Greg Combet, chairman of Industry Super Australia, argues that the current 9.5% contribution rate is inadequate for a dignified retirement. The Morrison government is currently undertaking a review of the retirement income system.

Australian Open: Novak Djokovic has come back from two-sets-to-one down to secure a record eighth Australian Open men’s tennis title on Sunday, beating Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena. In the women’s final on Saturday, American Sofia Kenin had a similiar fightback after losing the first set in her 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Garbine Muguruza.

The prime minister and the dung beetle
Don Watson on why Scott Morrison is not really a politician, and how the collapse in difference between the major parties has created a vacuum of meaning.


“Former Sport minister Bridget McKenzie authorised a $2.5 million bailout grant for Netball Australia in 2018, bypassing the board of federal funding agency Sport Australia and enraging its chairman … The Saturday Paper has confirmed that McKenzie, an avowed netball fan and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Netball, authorised the one-off payment to be made through the Health Department at a time when netball’s peak national body was struggling financially.”


“Arriving in Nelligen, I could see mushroom clouds of smoke pulsing hundreds of metres into the sky with incredible energy. Small spot fires were breaking out closer to town, one behind a caravan park. Car doors were slamming, and people were screeching in and out of driveways as they raced to be wherever they needed to be. Some stood transfixed, talking loudly into phones, eyes locked on the fire. The local cafe was closing its doors. I was struck by a sense of collective fear, and I remember thinking this was a remarkable thing to feel, in a place like this.”


“My response was, really, raising questions about the award itself: What did this say about the honours processes, one of the rare recognitions of unpaid merit efforts? Mine, given in 1995, was for years of effort and some positive outcomes for childcare and social policies, particularly those aimed at women’s needs. Her being given an AM has made me seriously consider handing back my own award.”


“Australian wildlife groups have been inundated with pouches, mittens and crochet nests for injured animals, more than enough to last them through the months of recovery ahead. Now, they'd like their well-intentioned supporters to stop, please. The Animal Rescue Craft Guild, which since December has led a global effort to craft items for animals injured in the bushfires, has asked donors to hit pause on sewing and siphon their aid elsewhere. ‘PLEASE do not send any more items to Australia,’ the guild wrote in an announcement to the 233,500-plus international members in its Facebook group.”


“Victorian wildlife authorities are investigating reports of a ‘koala massacre’ in the state’s south-west, with hundreds of the marsupials alleged to have been starved when their habitat was logged, their bodies then bulldozed into waste piles. Volunteers and government workers were on the scene at Cape Bridgewater on Sunday, trying to rescue dozens of surviving koalas.”


“People have been told to stay indoors - except where absolutely necessary. Perhaps understandably, they are struggling to keep themselves entertained. So they're turning to livestreams of two hospitals being built - and have created characters and heroes on the building site … The popularity of this footage has led to the construction vehicles at the Huoshenshan Hospital earning unusual fame. Cement mixers have found themselves with nicknames like ‘The Cement King’, ‘Big White Rabbit’ and ‘The White Roller’.”

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