Tuesday, March 23, 2021

10 million Aussies caught in storm

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a weather warning to 10 million Australians, as two weather systems collide and floods prompt the evacuation of more than 18,000 people in NSW. The warnings cover parts of every mainland state except Western Australia, with an area the size of Alaska facing heavy rain, damaging winds and big waves. The wild weather, likely exacerbated by climate change, has submerged areas of Western Sydney and regional NSW. Around 15,000 people were evacuated on the Mid North Coast and a further 3000 in Western Sydney. As the rain continues, further flooding is expected from the Hawkesbury, Nepean and Colo rivers, with Sackville and Windsor facing the gravest threat. The NSW South Coast is expected to cop up to 300mm of rain, while South East Queensland faces up to 150mm today. The Australian Defence Force will send two search and rescue helicopters to flooded areas today after NSW requested support.

A Parliament House security guard on duty the night of the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins has provided her account of the incident to Four Corners. Security guard Nikola Anderson provided a detailed account of how she screened Higgins and the alleged perpetrator as they entered the building, and her shock at the discovery of Higgins naked in a ministerial office later in the evening. Anderson claimed all security procedures were followed correctly, throwing into question Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that the alleged perpetrator was sacked over a security breach, not because it was believed that the man had raped Higgins. Morrison meanwhile on Monday denied he had misled Parliament after revelations the head of his department put a review on hold two weeks ago of who in the Prime Minister’s staff knew about allegations of rape in a ministerial office. Morrison subsequently told Parliament he was awaiting the result of the inquiry. National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732.

The House of Representatives on Monday passed a motion demanding the establishment of a royal commission into veteran suicides after former Liberal MP turned independent Craig Kelly signalled his intention to back the move. Faced with possible defeat on the floor of Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed down from his opposition to the idea, which he had resisted for months. The motion does not bind the government to act, however, and Morrison said he would continue to pursue his preferred option of establishing a permanent national commissioner for veteran suicides. A petition calling for the royal commission has garnered more than 400,000 signatures. One veteran on average dies by suicide every two weeks, with more veterans having lost their lives by suicide than killed on active duty since ADF personnel were first deployed to Afghanistan in 2001. Lifeline: 13 11 14

A booking website contracted by the federal government for the Covid vaccine rollout is erroneously allowing Australians to book in for their second dose within days of their first shot, reports Guardian Australia. Phase 1b of the rollout officially started on Monday, allowing six million higher-risk Australians to begin receiving their vaccinations at about 1000 GP clinics or 100 Commonwealth-run respiratory clinics. Richard Nguyen, a GP in Kareela in Sydney’s south, said the HealthEngine system was allowing patients to book in for their second dose one month after their first, rather than the three months that is recommended for most people,  compounding extreme demand on vaccine clinics.

The catastrophe unfolding on our doorstep
Australia’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is on the verge of a Covid-19 crisis. Thousands of people in the country are now infected, pushing the local health system to the brink. Today, Jonathan Pearlman on the danger facing Papua New Guinea and whether it can be avoided.

“On any single day, in any given hour, I swing between two poles. One is defiant optimism, the other abject hopelessness. There is compelling evidence for each condition. Tides and winds are turning, converging; maybe when we marched on Monday we really were taking part in a shift. But then there’s the comedown: the re-examination of the simplicity of the four demands of the March 4 Justice and the realisation they’ve been met by silence from the government.” 

“In the centre of Courtroom 1, a yellow stringybark table holds a possum-skin cloak and a coolamon packed with gum leaves in preparation for a Marram-Ngala Ganbu hearing. On Tuesdays, when these cases are usually heard, the shield-shaped table is ringed by family members, advocates, lawyers ... Before hearings start, Marie Sehgal, a Yorta Yorta woman and the court’s Koori family support officer, will usually lead those in attendance around the room, showing the court’s artworks to the brooding teenagers or parents clasping unsettled babies, and explaining their stories and the symbolism.”

EDITORIAL

“In the end, it wasn’t the family flights paid for by Helloworld Travel, just after his department gave the company a $21 million contract. Nor was it the image of him smoking a cigar with the then-treasurer, his eyes closed in ecstasy or satisfaction, just before they delivered one of the country’s most punitive budgets. The moment that has really followed Mathias Cormann into his role as secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development happened while he was still in opposition.”

“In 2020, after years of fighting a disabled woman, the Government was told firmly by the Federal Court that they had to allow the NDIS to fund sex work services for disabled people who could prove that it was reasonable and necessary. In response, the Minister has said that he wants to change the NDIS legislation so that he can decide what is reasonable and necessary.”

“The reports also alleged MPs and staff regularly engage in sex in a prayer room inside Parliament House – a well-known rumour for years inside Canberra circles – and claims that male sex workers had been brought to the building ‘for the pleasure of Coalition MPs’.”

“Flood expert Professor Jamie Pittock says raising the dam wall will only mitigate small-to-medium sized floods that originate upstream. If an extremely large flood occurs, as is increasingly likely due to climate change and altered rainfall patterns, there is still a high chance the dam will rapidly reach capacity and need to be spilled … Pittock fears the plan to raise the Warragamba Dam wall will be ‘used as an excuse for more suburban development’ in low-lying, high-risk areas of the Hawkesbury–Nepean Valley.”

“A NSW bride who sent out a plea for help when she became trapped by rising floodwaters on her wedding day has shared an iconic photo from her big day … With no way to get to her venue at the local showgrounds in Wingham, she made a plea for help on social media. Affinity Helicopters answered the call and arrived at the property to chopper her out. Minutes later the bride-to-be was across the swollen creek and ready to wed.”

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