Friday, April 03, 2020

Concern over heavy-handed policing

Police in New South Wales and Victoria have used new laws restricting public movement to fine more than 50 people for reasons including eating a kebab on a bench and sitting in a car. With police in most states empowered to arrest or heavily fine people caught outside of their homes without a vaguely defined “reasonable excuse” in order to enforce social distancing safeguards and slow the spread of COVID-19, Guardian Australia reports the laws have sparked concerns from civil liberties activists. Police accountability solicitor from the Redfern Legal Centre in Sydney, Samantha Lee, is concerned the fines (up to $11,000 in NSW and up to $19,800 in Victoria) are not means tested, and warns the measures could disproportionately impact young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the jobless. Homelessness NSW chief executive Katherine McKernan expressed concern to The Sydney Morning Herald that a window-washer was fined under the measures, noting that it was a common source of income for homeless people, who are supposed to be exempt from the laws. NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller defended the crackdown, pledging police would “act on unnecessary gatherings in public including people sitting down to drink take-away coffees and sunbaking in parks”.

The national cabinet of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state leaders will this morning consider a range of measures to protect commercial landlords, as businesses struggle to pay rent during the economic slowdown. Victoria is expected to push for commercial landlords to be eligible for the $130 billion JobKeeper scheme, while NSW favours waiving or deferring land tax. Measures to assist residential landlords and tenants will also be discussed. In Queensland, The Courier Mail reports that renters are being kicked out of their homes by landlords despite the six-month moratorium on evictions. The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal said it is powerless to prevent evictions because the Palaszczuk government has not yet changed the law, with State Parliament not planning to resume until April 28.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed childcare and schools remain safe for children to attend, as he unveiled a $1.6 billion plan to extend free childcare to all workers for a six month period. The plan, which seeks to address drops in occupancy at childcare centres estimated to be between 15 per cent and 50 per cent, will start from Sunday and include after-school care for children of parents who work from home.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power has called for Australia to emulate Portugal's decision to treat migrants, including asylum seekers, as permanent residents during the coronavirus crisis to ensure they have access to public services. With concerns that 1.1 million temporary workers in Australia could be ineligible for almost all welfare measures, Power told SBS News: “We all know that the virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of people’s citizenship or permanent residency or the nature of their visa.”

Reported COVID-19 cases around the world have doubled in the space of a week, surpassing 1 million infections on Thursday. The worldwide death toll passed 50,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The United States has been hit with the highest number of infections, accounting for more than 20 per cent of cases globally. There are concerns that the virus is establishing footholds in countries across the African continent, from South Africa where 1300 people have been diagnosed through to Algeria, where 900 cases have been reported.


“It was in the dying minutes of a conference call to his workforce last Friday that Alan Joyce began a tirade about the possibility of the government nationalising Virgin Australia. The calls, which the Qantas chief executive bills as ‘virtual town halls’, have been running twice a day, on average, since Covid-19 infections pushed the aviation business into a tailspin. Joyce had just finished telling the workforce – some 20,000 of whom had been ‘stood down’ a day earlier – that he believed Qantas would get through the present moment ‘better than any other airline group’ before he broached the subject of nationalisation.”


“Over the past 18 years or so we’ve had periodic public health warnings about one or another bad bug that’s out to get us. In 2002-03, there was severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-1), H5N1 bird flu in 2002, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009 and then Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012 … Understandably, this pattern of media blitz and relative non-event led to a measure of scepticism.”


“From bitter experience overseas we know that this virus is particularly lethal for people with existing chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. One legacy of dispossession and successive waves of state violence and neglect is that Aboriginal people are spectacularly over-represented in this cohort. A member of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) warned the eventual mortality rate among Aboriginal people could be as high as 20 to 30 per cent. The risks are highest for elders.”


“Qantas and its chief executive Alan Joyce have received a letter from SafeWork NSW saying it is investigating the airline's suspension of an aircraft cleaner in early February who raised concerns about workers being exposed to coronavirus. The employee, who is a union delegate and elected health and safety representative, was stood down on February 2 pending an investigation for raising concerns about coronavirus exposure at work at Sydney Airport.”


“The corporate regulator is examining whether Qantas breached the law and engaged in false or misleading statements about rival Virgin Australia which could have influenced moves in the share prices of both airlines. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission probe follows earlier allegations that Qantas spread rumours to the media that Virgin was running out of cash and had appointed Korda Mentha as its administrators.”


“A Sardinian specialty made by allowing cheese skipper flies to lay thousands of eggs in a wheel of pecorino, casu marzu is served with a host of tiny yet visible larvae alive and writhing in it. (Dead maggots are a sign that the cheese has gone bad.) When you scoop some of the creamy-mealy cheese out of the rind and make to eat it, the maggots protect themselves by coiling up like organic springs and leaping up to half a foot away from danger, all too often onto your face.”