Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Visa extensions for seasonal workers

Temporary visas will be extended and welfare recipients offered incentives to take farming jobs, as a new report warns of a critical labour shortage. The upcoming federal budget will allow JobSeeker and Youth Allowance recipients to earn up to $300 per fortnight from farm work before welfare payments are reduced, report The Australian ($) and The Sydney Morning Herald. Reforms will also allow backpackers, Pacific Islanders and seasonal workers able to exten­d their temporary visas, and the age limit of 30 on the working holidaymaker visa will be scrapped. A report from consultancy EY found growers expected to fill six out of 10 short-term roles in the next six to 12 months as travel restrictions reduce the number of available workers. It comes as a range of inquiries investigate claims of exploitation of workers in seasonal agricultural labour. Efforts are also underway to open up the border for farm workers, with more than 160 mango pickers from Vanuatu arriving earlier this month under a trial for the Pacifi­c labour scheme.

Conservation groups have criticised the Queensland Government over approval of the state's third-largest coal mine, reports the ABC, highlighting the threat it poses to koala habitats. Construction will begin soon on Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Coking Coal Project in the Bowen Basin. The mine will have a life of 80 years and is expected to produce up to 15 million tonnes of metallurgical coal for steel production each year. It comes as activists tell Guardian Australia that evidence suggesting the Narrabri coal seam gas development could have a greater impact on groundwater than previously believed has not been considered by authorities, due to a strict approval timeframe imposed by the New South Wales government. NSW’s independent planning commission is due today to announce its decision on the project.

Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services may have broken the state’s public health laws by not checking daily if returned travellers needed to remain under detention, reports The Age. Travellers who stayed in Victoria’s quarantine hotels between March and July were handed a detention notice at the start of their compulsory two-week isolation. The Public Health and Wellbeing Act requires that any person detained using the state's emergency powers have their detention reviewed daily to ensure it is necessary they remain in quarantine. But the state’s COVID-19 hotel quarantine inquiry, which finished hearings on Monday, heard evidence from counsel assisting the board of inquiry, Ben Ihle, that suggested it failed to complete daily checks. 

Cardinal George Pell flew out of Sydney airport on Tuesday evening on his return to the Vatican. NSW Police officers transported Pell, who was wearing a full face shield, into the airport through a different entrance to the one used by the public, reports 9News. It is unclear why he has secured a travel ban exemption, which could be granted for official Vatican business. A CNN source close to Pell said there was no official reason for his return beyond that he had always said he wanted to return to Rome.

The NSW Koala War
When the NSW National Party threatened to break up the state’s Coalition over the issue of koalas many were mystified. But behind the political fireworks lies a story about a party being squeezed from both the right and the left. Today, Mike Seccombe on the Nationals fight for survival.

“Almost four months after Victoria’s second wave of Covid-19 broke out, following failures in the state’s hotel quarantine system, there has been a string of further positive cases among staff at quarantine hotels – again involving private contractors. Government documents obtained by The Saturday Paper reveal that since August 1 there have been at least 12 reports made to the Victorian government of positive cases among staff ... None have been publicly disclosed by the state government.”

“When I first messaged Lin Jong on Twitter, I wasn’t sure I’d hear back. I was asking the Western Bulldogs’ midfielder to put his name to a letter calling on Attorney-General Christian Porter to take action on online racial vilification ... Jong replied to my message almost immediately.”

FICTION

“Sitting out the front of their small fibro house, Albert heard his wife open the door and walk towards him. The old man was engrossed in reattaching a spearhead to a long, narrow piece of wood that held the memory of his hands. He could sense that Vic had something to say.”

“Anthony Albanese says the Morrison government should use next week’s budget to launch new investments in social housing, skills and local heavy manufacturing. The opposition leader will use a speech to the McKell Institute on Wednesday to step up his political attack ... He says one of the fastest ways to get money into the economy and ‘tradies back on the tools’ would be to invest in social housing, either through maintenance and repair programs, or by bringing forward new projects.”

“In the absence of significant tax reform or debt-financing of social housing, prospects might seem bleak. But Stephen Anthony says there are still things governments could do. One would be to create an Australian version of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit that operates in the United States. The scheme allows not-for-profit organisations that build social and affordable housing to generate tax credits that they can then sell to private companies ... the tax credit was created by Ronald Reagan’s administration.”

“That Trump was guilty of the crimes for which he was impeached is beyond doubt. That he is guilty of many others is just as certain. He has used the office to enrich himself, his businesses and his family. He has replaced competent and dutiful civil servants with members of his family and business colleagues. He has surrounded himself with courtiers and lickspittles … Yet, menace though he is, and fervent as our hopes might be that he will soon be voted out, Donald Trump is not the most alarming thing in the present American debacle.”

“The British label has addressed associations with the far-right US extremists the Proud Boys, who have adopted Fred Perry’s iconic black and yellow polo-shirts as their uniform … Fred Perry’s signature polos are also associated with the Skinhead movement, which originally stood against fascism. By the time the 1970s rolled around, however, the group divided – as some members veered towards the far-right politics of the British National Front. In the time since, the shirt has been adopted by various right-wing movements around the world.”

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