Monday, February 15, 2021

JobKeeper a lifeline for 1.5 million

The latest release of JobKeeper recipient numbers indicates an unequal recovery from the recession, with lockdown-hit Victoria and tourism regions continuing to rely on the wage subsidy. According to figures released by the Tax Office, 626,000 Victorians were receiving the payment in the October to December period, down 44 per cent from the April to September period. In NSW, there was a 60 per cent decline to 490,000 recipients between the two quarters. In Queensland, the drop was 64 per cent across the state, but in tourism-reliant Cairns numbers fell only 55 per cent. Nationally, more than 1.5 million workers were still on JobKeeper at the end of 2020, sparking calls from unions and industry lobby groups to extend the payment, which is due to conclude on March 28. It comes as The Australian reports that the expenditure review committee of cabinet is considering the streamlining of welfare payments into a single boosted payment for unemployed Australians, with a long list of other payments scrapped.

Australia has halted quarantine-free travel for people arriving from New Zealand after three Covid-19 cases were recorded in Auckland, plunging the city into lockdown. In a meeting late on Sunday night, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee of chief health officers determined New Zealand would be designated a red zone for an initial period of three days, starting today. Auckland has gone into a three-day lockdown, with a couple and their daughter in the city testing positive. It is not yet known how they caught the virus.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton charged taxpayers more than $36,000 to charter a Royal Australian Air Force jet for a one-night return trip to Tasmania, where he made a controversial grants announcement during the 2018 Braddon byelection campaign. The Sydney Morning Herald report on the VIP flight comes after an ABC story that revealed Dutton announced community safety grants for Burnie and Waratah-Wynyard councils, worth a combined $194,000 in July 2018, before the councils had even applied for the funding and against the advice of a Home Affairs department briefing. Dutton travelled from Brisbane to Wynyard in northern Tasmania on the RAAF jet on July 15, staying overnight before taking the plane back to Brisbane.

The Royal Society of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery will today apologise to Aboriginal communities for stealing and mistreating cultural heritage for more than a century. The apology comes partly due to a decades-long battle won by traditional owners to secure the return of 14,000-year-old ancient rock art from museum collections. Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, Michael Mansell, said the apology needed to be backed up by continuous action in engaging Aboriginal people in museum curatorship processes and returning materials when asked.

How Covid-19 keeps escaping hotel quarantine
Victoria has been plunged back into lockdown after a new strain of Covid-19 escaped from hotel quarantine into the community. Today, Rachel Withers on whether our key defence against the virus is working as well as it should.

“It began as the most Sydney of stories. James Packer, billionaire scion, lunching with Barry O’Farrell, then premier of New South Wales. The meeting was brokered by and held in the home of powerful radio shock jock Alan Jones, overlooking Sydney Harbour. It was February 2012 and the trio had met to discuss Packer’s vision for the steel and glass behemoth he wanted to build on a harbourfront wasteland at Barangaroo.”

“The junior party of the Coalition that keeps Morrison in power, the Nationals, has served notice that it will not readily accept the net zero target. The pace is being set by a trio of hitherto senior members of the Nats now relegated to its backbench. They are determined to set the agenda and preferably replace the current leader and deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack. Blitzing the media this week with their ultimatums were former party leader Barnaby Joyce, with ambitions for a comeback; former resources minister Matt Canavan; and former sports (rorts) minister Bridget McKenzie.”

“Maybe it’s got nothing to do with race. Maybe it is all about how he plays, his attitude. But that argument feels eerily similar to the people who said they didn’t boo Adam Goodes because he was Indigenous, only because ‘he staged for free kicks’. What’s more likely is that the criticism of Kyrgios is shaped by race, but in such a particularly insidious way it’s not even apparent to those lobbing it.”

“The federal government wants to ensure that people from multicultural communities get vaccinated against Covid-19, with the first doses of the Pfizer jab set to arrive in Australia by the end of the week. Health Minister Greg Hunt on Sunday released the government's $1.3 million culturally and linguistically diverse vaccination plan to ensure information is translated into 60 languages for these communities. ‘That means we will be doing advertisements in over 30 languages ... I want to thank everybody who has been involved with that,’ he told reporters.”

“The dubious practice reached a flashpoint this week after Health Minister Greg Hunt was caught branding an announcement for Pfizer vaccines with the LNP logo ... the Health Minister, however, is not the only MP who has misused ministerial announcements for free party advertising. For the Liberals, the Minister for Communication Paul Fletcher, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, Minister for Immigration David Coleman, Assistant Minister for Children and Families Michelle Landry and newcomer Fiona Martins have all been found branding their announcements over the past two years.”

“Britain, for example, will allow hybrid vehicle sales after 2030, but aims for zero emissions by 2050. Other countries are tougher. But these are minor differences. The big picture is that the internal combustion engine is on the way out ... Yet Australia is woefully unprepared for this shift. There are fewer than 800 charging stations for electric vehicles in the country and no co-ordinated plan under the current federal government to provide the necessary infrastructure.”

“I once worked for a few weeks at a big, busy company, and one day I asked, jokingly, ‘Where do I go to cry?’ An hour later, I was taken aside and told in seriousness about a specific stairwell. Another person there led me on a five-minute walk through the skyscraper to a tiny, hidden conference room, and then made me promise to keep the location a secret, a vow I have kept … I think of those as ‘weeping paths,’ part of the secret map of every office.”

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