Friday, December 18, 2020

Covid returns to spoil Christmas

Christmas travel plans for thousands of Australians have been thrown into chaos by travel restrictions imposed on New South Wales, after a northern beaches Covid-19 cluster jumped to 17 cases. Following a late night meeting of federal and state chief medical officers, Western Australia imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for NSW visitors, while Queensland, Victoria, the Northern Territory and Tasmania targeted restrictions at people in the northern beaches hotspot. NSW Health has directed all residents in the area to stay at home, keep to their household group and avoid all unnecessary gatherings. People in other locations have been told to avoid travel into the northern beaches. NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said authorities believe the outbreak may have taken off at the Avalon RSL. That venue is included on a growing list of locations at which visitors are advised to self-isolate and get tested. Aged-care homes in the northern beaches would be locked down, after a woman who works at the Pittwater Palms Retirement Village at Avalon tested positive.

A robodebt victim has been refunded more than $56,000 in unlawful Centrelink debts, according to figures provided to Greens senator Rachel Siewert by Services Australia. The Senate Estimates figures also reveal the administration of the refunds alone will cost $20 million. A $9959.51 refund had also been paid to a deceased estate, one of 3300 estates eligible for a refund. In total, those debts are worth $5 million. Siewert said she wanted to know “what process the government is undertaking to ensure that the over $5 million that is owed to deceased estates is repaid”. The Morrison government last month reached a $1.2 billion settlement with victims of the robodebt program.

The category five storm Cyclone Yasa hit Fiji overnight, making landfall on the island of Vanua Levu with wind speeds of up to 240 kilometres per hour, and gusts of up to 345kph. Flash flooding and landslides are likely in some areas, with warnings that waves as large as 14 metres could hit the coast. Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama declared a “State of Natural Disaster” for the next 30 days to respond to the crisis.. “As the world is getting warmer, these storms are getting stronger,” he said. “Every one of us must treat these climate-fuelled catastrophes with deadly seriousness.”

Australia has finished the opening day of the first cricket Test on top against India at the Adelaide Oval, after the visitors fell to 6-233 on the back of a messy run out of captain Virat Kohli. Kohli came to the middle at 2-32 after the hosts removed both openers, only to establish control with a 74-run knock before teammate Ajinkya Rahane left him stranded in a mix-up that saw Kohli run out for just the second time in his career.

Today is the last edition of The Briefing for 2020. It is also the swansong for subeditor Glenn Mulcaster, who is moving on to other challenges. He has been up before dawn to edit your morning read since The Briefing first began: longtime readers may recall he once stayed up all night delivering a calf on his farm before heading straight to work. That calf has since grown up and had two of her own. Enjoy the sleep-ins, Glenn. 

For anyone keen to keep up to date during the break, sign up for the launch of Summer Schwartz. The Briefing will be back January 18. Thanks for reading.

The year that was (plus, Buon Natale from Paul Bongiorno)
Scott Morrison started the year bruised by his response to the bushfire crisis. But the pandemic has seen a big bounce in his approval ratings. With an election predicted for next year, will it be enough to secure another term? Today, Paul Bongiorno on how federal politics played out in 2020.

“One provider of supported independent living services has had dozens of residents with complex, dual disabilities reviewed since July. Ninety per cent of them have been moved from ‘high’ intensity support to standard care. Another provider manager confirmed that some NDIS participants previously on the ‘complex’ rate were dropped two levels to standard care … downgrading participants to standard care not only represents a dramatic reduction to the level of care they receive but also the cost of their care – the salary drop for carers is 10.5 per cent.”

“Replete with racist epithets, written as if such language was a regular part of his vocabulary, it is a striking instance of how an enlightened concern for the environment has not always been paired with an enlightened attitude to other peoples; in fact, the converse has sometimes been and remains the case. Streeton, who was the first Australian artist to exercise his aesthetic authority when opposing a major resource development, wrote of the hawkers: ‘An effective way of dealing with the unclean devils would be to shoot them down like dogs wherever they are sufficiently offensive.’”

“Outside their flat, hundreds of police officers have barricaded their street. Sagal is pointing frantically at the television when Samia bursts back into their apartment. ‘I just saw all these police officers downstairs,’ Samia says. ‘They wouldn’t let me go to the milk bar.’ Sagal is distressed. ‘May Allah protect us!’”

“China has expressed regret that Australia is appealing to the World Trade Organisation over the superpower’s barley tariffs, insisting they will cooperate with the international watchdog’s dispute resolution rules. While China’s ministerial spokespeople have come out swinging in previous briefings, attacking Australia directly, the response to the official complaint was cautious and neutral.”

“WTO litigation is no quick fix. There is a set process that moves through three phases – consultation, adjudication and compliance. The standard timetable would ideally have disputes move through consultation and adjudication within a year. In reality it often take several years, particularly if appeals or compliance actions are involved ... given the tensions between China and Australia, a quick resolution looks remote.”

“The Travel Corporation, with brands such as AAT Kings, Trafalgar and Insight Vacations, announced it will expand its portfolio of domestic guided holidays. Beating this behemoth out of the gate is Sydney-based Lisa Pagotto, founder of boutique tour operator Crooked Compass, which once focused entirely on exotic destinations such as Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, North Korea and the Central Asian ’Stans. Earlier this month, she swiftly added ‘Australia’ to the company’s name and announced her first domestic itineraries – soft adventures that also include Indigenous culture.”

“Guess how many stars they gave it?”

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