Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Unanimous vote for Covid-19 inquiry

The World Health Assembly has unanimously voted in favour of a resolution calling for an impartial and independent review into the Covid-19 pandemic. The European Union motion was formally adopted at a virtual meeting hosted in Geneva on Tuesday evening, with both China and the United States among the co-sponsors. Australia had lobbied world leaders for an independent probe. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the decision as a “mandate to identify the source” of the virus, after lobbying for an independent inquiry. China’s state-run Global Times reported the resolution was a “slap in the face” to Australia. Hours before the motion passed, US President Donald Trump threatened to permanently leave the World Health Organisation, falsely claiming it had ignored reports from The Lancet in late 2019. The medical journal noted it first reported on the virus in late January. 

A new report for the United Workers Union has found Australia’s undocumented workers are at elevated risk of catching Covid-19 and creating “new clusters of infection”, due to crowded living conditions and a reluctance to get tested out of fear of deportation. Up to 100,000 workers live in Australia without legal work rights, reports The Age, with many working on farms during picking seasons. The report found multiple workers live in the same poorly ventilated room and are regularly exploited by middlemen. Migrant workers living in substandard conditions were linked to a second wave of infections in Singapore. The union and the Victorian Farmers Federation want an amnesty for them to work legally. Migrant workers with temporary visas also face tenuous circumstances, due to being excluded from JobKeeper.

Santos, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and the Minerals Council of Australia have welcomed the Morrison government’s plans to reshape the $2.5 billion emissions reduction fund following a review, reports Guardian Australia. Changes include allowing the fund to support carbon capture and storage projects for fossil fuel projects. Richie Merzian, from thinktank the Australia Institute, said the changes would increase fossil fuel industries’ access to limited climate funding, and criticised the lack of process behind the review. Energy Minister Angus Taylor is planning to fasttrack changes to the fund, and will consider putting changes to the parliament. The debate comes ahead of a National Press Club address by industry minister Karen Andrews today on her ambition for more gas production, faster project approvals, and lower company tax to strengthen Australian manufacturing.

In the latest easing of restrictions steadily being implemented around the country, the New South Wales Government will allow regional travel within the state for any reason, including holidays, from June 1. It comes as new data from the Australian Taxation Office revealed that coastal holiday destinations such as the mid-North Coast of NSW and the adjacent Coffs Harbour-Grafton area have economically been hit the hardest, with payroll numbers down 11.8 per cent and 11.2 per cent respectively.


“It has contributed at least $50,000 to both the Labor and Liberal parties in the past decade. In recent months, the company has managed to secure more than $57 million in contracts for a range of work connected to Covid-19. This includes the provision of 35 surge staff to contain an outbreak at the Newmarch House aged-care facility ... 100 pop-up respiratory clinics around the country; screening and testing crew members on the cruise ship Ruby Princess; and sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) for the federal government’s national medical stockpile.”


“O makes a keening sound. It is too early for him: I see this now. I have struggled with anxiety this week, and now wonder if I’ve allowed this to infect the entire household, to the extent that it has exterminated the Easter Bunny. I take O into my arms, and carry him, barely, into the bathroom, where I run him a bath. As I soap his back, I reassure him of the existence of other magics – the Big Bang, the miracle of human conception, parental love as the true source of chocolate eggs – but he remains inconsolable.”


“From the outside it could look as if the medical profession is feeling around in the dark. In terms of understanding, Covid-19 has quickly gone from an unusual pneumonia, to a new respiratory condition causing a flu-like illness with fever and cough, to a disease being linked to all kinds of specific but rare complications. So, what is true and what isn’t?”


“The union representing some fast food workers in Australia is considering joining an international complaint against McDonald's alleging systemic sexual harassment at its franchises. The Australian Retail and Fast Food Workers Union has accused McDonald's of a serious culture of sexual harassment and abuse of female employees, many of them children.”


“Change to pay and conditions rules at McDonald's has been approved by the national industrial tribunal. The change to the Fast Food Industry Award, which traded some working hours and overtime pay for greater job security during the coronavirus pandemic and covers McDonald's' 107,000 mostly young employees, caused a stoush within the union movement. The Retail and Fast Food Workers Union opposed the deal, arguing the changes would not save jobs but would effectively casualise part-time workers in the industry.”


“There’s the classic Höuse silhouette in which some sheets are draped over a table and secured by leaning books. Förtress puts the couch to use by transforming the sofa cushions into walls. And Cåmpintent hangs sheets over a clothing rack.”

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