Friday, March 20, 2020

Temporary visa holders face uncertain future

Migration advocates are calling on the federal government to provide support to two million temporary visa holders, as a travel ban on non-citizens and non-residents comes into force tonight. Migration Council of Australia chief executive Carla Wilshire told Guardian Australia that those already in the country on multiple-entry tourist visas and temporary work visas are “potentially impacted by unemployment and closures as businesses, particularly in the services industry, wind down” because they do not have access to Centrelink benefits. Labor warned such visa holders may lack medical support in a pandemic. Agriculture minister David Littleproud has flagged possible “tweaks” to the visa status of more than 140,000 backpackers and 7000 seasonal workers, who play an important role in food production. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned there are “limitations to what can be done” to rescue Australians stranded overseas in lockdowns to contain COVID-19, with one group struggling to crowdfund a chartered flight from Peru.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has defended standing down two-thirds of its 30,000 workers, including some forced to take leave without pay, despite making a $891 million profit in 2018/19 and benefiting from a $715 million government airline bailout. He had been speaking to Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci about redeploying some Qantas workers as shelf stackers.  Meanwhile, more than a thousand sacked SAS airline workers in Sweden are being offered fast-track healthcare training to help address COVID-19.

The total number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy reached 3,405 on Thursday, for the first time exceeding China’s total, where new cases have dramatically slowed. Germany’s number of cases has spiked by a third in a day, with 10,999 people now infected. Israel’s spy agency procured 100,000 extra test kits, only to be told that they were the wrong kits.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has cut interest rates ($) to a record low 0.25 per cent and pledged to purchase Australian government bonds in its first-ever quantitative easing program. The RBA will also provide a three-year funding facility to provide $90 billion in loans for Australian banks. At state level, airlines are suspending flights to Tasmania after the state imposed an interstate travel ban.

In sport, the AFL and NRL have held their first crowd-free matches as they introduce COVID-19 safeguard measures. Richmond beat Carlton 16.9 (105) to 12.9 (81) in front of empty stands at the MCG, while in the NRL, North Queensland defeated Canterbury 24-16 at Sydney's Olympic stadium.


“Australia’s key independent national security legislation watchdog is concerned about a law that gives police and spy agencies access to encrypted communications because government ministers and the agencies have the power to authorise its use, without needing any approval from a judge. The independent national security legislation monitor, Dr James Renwick, is also concerned that provisions designed to protect tech companies from being forced to build ‘systemic vulnerabilities or weaknesses’ into their products to give security agencies access are still too vague.”


“Tap–tap–tap. Felicity Baker knocks her fingers on the table; an insistent percussive beat. It could get annoying. We are in an otherwise tranquil room at the Southbank home of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, where Professor Baker (small, intent, energetic) is head of music therapy. It is a field whose previous lack of recognition was once a source of frustration to her. But that is not why she’s tapping.”


“There was something ‘Captain Australia’ about it when Morrison pleaded ‘we need your perseverance, your planning, your enterprise ... we need your patriotism as well.’ That patriotism seems to involve companies risking putting themselves out of business by keeping their workers employed even if there is nothing for them to do ... Morrison did say the government would play its part. But many in the room wondered how big a part and for how long.”


“Vendors in the wedding and events industry are facing mass cancellations and months without substantial work, but many say they are not eligible for government support and stimulus measures because they operate as sole traders. Advice to avoid large gatherings of more than 100 people – in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus – has already prompted many couples to cancel, downsize or postpone imminent wedding ceremonies.”


“While the rest of Australia’s hospitality and entertainment industries grapple with the newly set 100-person COVID-19 gathering ban implemented by the Morrison Government, curiously enough Melbourne and Perth’s Crown Casino gaming floors appear to be exempt ... Premier Daniel Andrews has designated Crown Casino as a ‘unique’ space in Victoria, giving it an exemption from the otherwise blanket ban on non-essential indoor gatherings over over 100 people.”


“In locked-down sites across the country, social media is spawning a new genre of quarantine humor. On Weibo, WeChat and Douyin, memes of quarantine boredom and stir-craziness proliferate. Netizens record themselves singing the lockdown blues by rescripting classic tunes, fishing from home aquariums, playing mahjong with plastic bags over their heads, playing solo mahjong, playing living-room badminton and choreographing wacky dance moves.”

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