Monday, February 17, 2020

Backpackers to rebuild firezones

The federal government will today unveil changes to the working holidaymaker program that encourage backpackers to help in the reconstruction effort in areas hit by bushfires and boost regional tourism. Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge told The Australian ($) that the visa incentives would mean that working holidaymakers could help with “demolition (and) land clearing, and repairing dams, roads and railways”. The program allowed participants to claim volunteering and construction jobs in affected regions, which were at risk of permanently losing residents, as “specific work” towards securing second and third-year visas. Meanwhile, AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver warns the bushfires could fan an exodus from the regions, with new research showing rural areas are increasingly less financially comfortable than urban regions.

Bushfire relief: Queen performed its 1985 Live Aid concert set at the Fire Fight Australia bushfire fundraising concert at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night, in front of 75,000 fans. The night, which featured artists including John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John, raised $9.5 million to support bushfire recovery efforts. Comedian Celeste Barber, whose fundraising campaign brought global attention to the crisis, hosted the show wearing at one point a T-shirt of a mural of Mr Morrison in a Hawaiian shirt. The news comes as former RFS volunteer Paul Parker claimed that he was let go from the organisation for criticising Morrison on camera in a video that went viral.

Australians in Syria: Doctors say a three-year-old Australian girl, enduring a bitterly cold winter in al-Hawl camp in Syria, will likely lose her fingers to frostbite. One of 47 Australian children detained in the detention camp for the family members of Islamic State fighters, Amirah also suffers from pain in her kneecaps and malnutrition, reports Guardian Australia. Other Australian children in the camp are reported to be suffering developmental disorders, diarrhoea, seizures, and rickets. 

Coronavirus evacuations: The United States began evacuations of American passengers quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan on Sunday. They will be taken on a charter flight to U.S. military air bases to undergo a 14-day quarantine. The Morrison government says it is working on plans to evacuate the more than 200 Australians on board the cruise ship, although Japanese officials said the quarantine should end on February 19. There were 70 new coronavirus infections on board the ship, but no fatalities. The news comes as hundreds of Australians quarantined on Christmas Island are due to travel onwards today, with none testing positive for the virus.


“Saadat was held in mainland detention centres for five years – first in Curtin in Western Australia, then in Baxter. In both centres, he claims, he suffered dehumanising treatment. He says he was denied psychiatric support for some time, was randomly strip-searched and was subjected to ‘the indignity of being called by number instead of name’. As a result, he has been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder as well as chronic, ongoing depression. As a lead case, Saadat’s success would mean likely and significant compensation for the 62 other former detainees with similar claims.”


“If we put to one side the over-egged speculation on the court splitting on this decision, which in my mind is not material, it does not create a new category of person. Nor does it create special rights. The assertion that it is some judicially activist Mabo court is absurd. Nobody reading each judgement could possibly argue such a point. The case should be confined to its facts: there are not too many blackfellas who are born overseas and need a visa to come back home.”


“All of these deaths are entangled with – caused by – almost everything we do: growing food, making clothing, building houses, travelling from place to place. They are enmeshed in the culture we make. Every human enterprise, profound or grotesque, is compromised. What does it mean to watch as human society slowly devastates wildlife populations around the world, to watch as climate change–fuelled bushfires, habitat destruction and hunting push them into extinction? What kind of art can make up for what we’ve done? Can any kind of art make it stop?”


“The ACT's Chief Minister says Canberrans could be turned away from health providers and have hatred incited against them if the federal government's proposed religious freedom laws go ahead in their current iteration. A territory submission on the second draft of the coalition's religious discrimination bill — attributed to Andrew Barr — said it was unclear whether it would let health practitioners refuse people medical treatment on religious grounds.”


“Laws requiring clergy to report child abuse to authorities — even if it's heard in the confession box — will come into effect on Monday, ending the ‘special treatment’ for Victoria's religious institutions. The seal has now been lifted for the suspected sexual abuse of children, with spiritual and religious leaders required to report the abuse or face up to three years in prison.”


“There is anecdotal evidence — much of it from the 1970s and early ’80s, before MDMA and psilocybin became illegal — that drug-assisted couples counseling can be therapeutic for both partners, even when neither of them has a mental illness. This work continues today but is unfortunately happening mostly underground and out of sight, through a secretive network of renegade counselors who have developed their own protocols.”

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