Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Colbeck loses Covid-19 authority

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has been stripped of responsibility for activating aged-care emergency Covid-19 measures, as Labor calls for his resignation over the handling of the crisis. Responsibility for mobilising an aged care emergency response operations centre when an outbreak occurs in a nursing home has been shifted to Health Minister Greg Hunt, reports The Australian. It comes as Labor leader Anthony Albanese calls for Senator Colbeck’s resignation over the crisis, pointing to the royal commission into aged care’s finding that the federal government did not enact a specific Covid-19 plan for the sector, and Colbeck’s inability to recall the number of virus deaths in nursing homes at a hearing last week. Colbeck apologised in parliament on Monday, and said 328 people had died in connection to aged care. It comes as an independent report into the outbreak at Sydney’s Newmarch House criticised the government’s claims the sector was prepared, listing “a vicious cycle of staff and PPE shortages, sub-optimal infection prevention and control practice”.     

A report from a New South Wales independent inquiry into the Black Summer bushfires was signed off by state cabinet on Monday night, with the Berejiklian government to accept all 76 recommendations. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that one recommendation will see landowners in fire-prone areas required to carry out hazard-reduction burns on their properties. The Daily Telegraph reports landowners will face “less green tape” when conducting burns, and that Indigenous cultural burning practices will be “examined”. The RFS will also investigate and trial grazing on national parks, a measure previously derided by NSW environment minister Matt Kean. No specific climate change measures were leaked to the media. It comes one day after the Victorian government unveiled a $110 million recovery plan to help fire-affected communities.

Labor will retain majority government in the Northern Territory, with the party securing at least 13 seats in the 25-member assembly following the NT election on Saturday. Northern Territory Electoral Commission figures show Labor ahead in 16 seats as the vote count continues, with the Country Liberals leading in six, independents in two and the Territory Alliance in one. The Country Liberal Party conceded defeat on Monday afternoon. A formal declaration of the poll is not scheduled until September 7.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have reported what appears to be the first confirmed case of Covid-19 reinfection. A 33-year-old man was first infected in late March and  then seemingly contracted the virus again in August while travelling in Europe. Researchers sequenced the virus from the patient’s two infections and found that they did not match, indicating the second infection was not tied to the first. Experts cautioned the patient’s case could be an outlier and that immune protection may generally last longer than just a few months. Previous reports of cases of Covid-19 reinfection have been based on anecdotal evidence and largely attributed to flaws in testing.  


“An aged-care worker hired under the federal government’s Covid-19 surge workforce was tested for the virus. Instead of quarantining, they then continued to work at a nursing home in Melbourne’s south-west ... The outbreak that followed at Benetas St George’s in Altona Meadows has killed four residents, two of whom died on August 12. The centre believes the agency staffer had worked at another home where an outbreak was reported – although the centre was not told.”


“If only saying something over and over again could make it true the Australian economy would by now be well on its way to a gas-fired recovery. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and even more notably his minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, have been using the phrase ‘gas-fired recovery’ ad nauseam for many months now.”


“Any notion that ministers, state or federal, are responsible for anything much appears sunk in the wake of the Ruby Princess. And the ramifications are significant for the quality of our democracy and what we as citizens can rightly demand of our elected representatives and the governments they form. In his final assessment, the head of the inquiry into the cruise ship debacle and one of Australia’s most eminent silks, Bret Walker, SC, concluded that a lot of things went wrong but nobody is to blame.”


“Rio Tinto will cut the short-term bonuses of its chief executive and two other senior executives following a review of the company's destruction of two ancient caves in Western Australia. The world's biggest iron ore miner destroyed two historically significant sacred caves in May which sat on top of a high-grade ore body it planned to mine - against the wishes of Aboriginal traditional owners.”


“Native American groups say Rio Tinto's plan to build a big copper mine on one of their sacred sites contradicts the company's vow to improve management of cultural heritage in the wake of this year's Juukan Gorge debacle in Western Australia. The comments from Apache and environmental groups in the US highlight the global ramifications of Rio's decision to blast through the culturally sensitive gorge in May.”


“Stu Rushfield is National Public Radio’s (NPR) technical director of Weekend Edition but after a seemingly innocent tweet posted Monday, 24 August, he’s now also a ‘nemesis of Australia’. Rushfield wrote on Twitter that the US radio station had finally landed a decision on how to pronounce ‘emu’. Defying all logic, they decided it could be pronounced as ‘ee-moo’.”

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