Monday, March 22, 2021

NSW reckons with historic flood

Large swathes of New South Wales face another day of pounding rain, as thousands flee their homes in Western Sydney and other parts of the state to escape a historic flood event. Heavy rain will hit the north of the state, Central Australia and South East Queensland, with the rain forecast to continue across NSW until at least Wednesday. Residents of North Richmond and surrounding centres west of Sydney were among those ordered to evacuate as the Hawkesbury River flooded, while Kempsey on the Mid North Coast was evacuated with the Macleay River expected to burst its banks. Around 140 schools are shut and prison inmates are being evacuated, as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned that up to 4000 people could be displaced in the coming days. The disaster has prompted infighting in the NSW state cabinet over whether water should have been released from Warragamba Dam, while Australian National University climate adaptation expert Professor Jamie Pittock criticised continued housing expansions in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley floodplain.

More than six million Australians today become eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, as Phase 1B of the rollout begins. Newly eligible groups include anyone over 70, Indigenous Australians over 55, critical workers including police, and people with some underlying medical conditions. Late on Sunday, the national medical regulator approved domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as criticism grows over the federal government’s handling of the rollout. Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said GPs across the country are frustrated with the speed of distribution, with some clinics receiving as few as 40 doses in a week. The rollout in NSW is being further disrupted by the floods.

The former housemate of the ex-Liberal staffer accused of raping Brittany Higgins in Parliament House has claimed the man sexually harassed her. Kriti Gupta last week gave a statement to the Australian Federal Police, who are investigating the Higgins case. During the four months they lived together, Gupta ­alleges he sexually harassed her about once a fortnight or so. “It was never when he was sober,” she said. “It made me feel unsafe in my own home. He sat close to me on the couch, rubbing my knee, barging into my room demanding we go out and take drugs.” National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732.

The Australian Federal Police is looking into whether Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has had his phone compromised, after the senator appeared to send unsolicited messages to his contact book, reports The Australian. In the messages Birminham appears to make inquiries about “a Chinese person living here” to ask them “about the situation in China or Hong Kong”. They were sent using the Telegram platform, which Birmingham does not use, according to a spokesperson. The investigation comes as the Australian National Audit Office warns that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is among nine top government entities to have failed cyber resilience checks. 

"The system isn't broken. It was never set up for women."
Last week’s march for justice highlighted how the justice system stacked against women, from the law, to the police, to the courts. Today, Bri Lee on the barriers to justice, and the steps being taken to reform the system.

“In the United States, in England and Wales, in New Zealand and Canada – the main English-speaking nations with an adversarial litigation system – Porter’s defamation case would not get very far. It would be knocked out in the US because he is a public figure. In Britain, the journalism would attract the defence of public interest, with the defendant reasonably believing the report was in the public interest ... This leaves Australia as a public interest backwater.”

“A ‘moral panic’ battle by the federal government to ban National Disability Insurance Scheme participants from hiring sex workers, which could reshape the foundation of the $25 billion program, has been given a significant boost … For the first time in the eight-year history of the NDIS, Humphries interpreted the scheme’s legislation as providing a way for the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Commonwealth to reject support, even if it is considered ‘reasonable and necessary’.” 

“We are now two years on from the massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, a terrorist attack perpetrated by an Australian man. And once again the responsibility has fallen on members of the community who were targeted to remind Australia that this horrific incident occurred and is still to be reckoned with. The erasure of the Christchurch attack from the political and media landscape in Australia has been staggering.”

“New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller suggested technology should be part of the solution to growing concerns around sexual assault. He encouraged serious discussion about using a digital app to record positive sexual consent. In our research, we have studied a wide range of mobile applications and artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots used in attempts to counter sexual violence over the past decade. We found these apps have many limitations and unexpected consequences.”

“The Victorian government will make consent education mandatory in public schools, describing it as an ‘important step’ students have been calling for ... Employment Minister Jaala Pulford said young people had told the government some areas of the current respectful relationships program could be improved — especially around the teaching of and understanding of consent.”

“Invertebrates are in trouble in this country, not just because of recent fires but because of intensive agriculture, land clearing, pesticides and climate change. This is a serious issue. Without these animals, ecosystems and economies will collapse.”

“Natalie Harvey is ready for the party with a cake, balloons, guests and a photoshoot, but it’s not for her birthday. Nope. She’s wishing a happy birthday to the road work on her street … ‘Happy first birthday to our street construction!’ she said in the post. ‘To celebrate, I created a replica of the street scene in cake form: two layers of chocolate sponge with peanut butter frosting.’”

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