Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Lockdown blamed on vaccine shortfall

Australia has fallen dramatically short of its vaccine targets for the end of March, as controversy grows over a failure to inoculate health workers connected to the Covid-19 Brisbane outbreak.  Australia has administered 597,000 doses, more than 3.4 million shots short of a 4 million dose target set for the end of March. The target, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in January, was later revised to the end of April, although Australia is not on track to hit that either. The Queensland government blamed inconsistent supply of vaccines from the Commonwealth for the failure to vaccinate two health workers in Covid-19 wards at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, who subsequently spread the virus as part of an outbreak that sparked a three-day lockdown of Greater Brisbane. Federal authorities have urged Queensland to stop stockpiling doses and distribute what it has on hand. From today, health workers in the state must have been vaccinated before treating Covid-positive patients. A further eight cases of community transmission were discovered on Tuesday and exposure sites recorded beyond Brisbane in Toowoomba, Gladstone, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. 

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will today announce a plan to cut import taxes on electric vehicles worth less than $77,565, and exempt them from fringe benefits tax. The plan, to be unveiled at the party’s national conference on Wednesday, marks a shift away from sales targets that the Coalition aggressively campaigned against during the 2019 election campaign. Albanese will also promise $200 million to build 400 community batteries to provide solar power to 100,000 households. The party is also wrestling over proposed amendments at the conference from the Australian Workers’ Union and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union that would strengthen support for new gas projects, despite their catastrophic impact on the climate.

Australian of the Year Grace Tame has criticised the appointment of Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker to a new role as Assistant Women’s Minister in the frontbench reshuffle. “The new Assistant Minister for Women is someone who previously endorsed a ‘fake rape crisis’ tour, aimed at falsifying instances of sexual abuse on school and university campuses across Australia,’’ Tame said at a Griffith University event. Transgender Victoria advocate Sally Goldner has also expressed concern at Stoker’s new role, over “derogatory and emotive comments about transgender people”. Stoker’s website includes a petition that outlines her belief that a “transgender agenda” is forcing “everyday Australians” to reject “objective truth”. 

Chinese leaders have finalised changes to Hong Kong's electoral system that will see the number of directly elected representatives fall and the number of China-approved officials rise in an expanded legislature. A new vetting committee will monitor candidates for public office and work with national security authorities to ensure they are loyal to China and abide by a controversial national security law. Since the security law was imposed, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it, or arrested for other reasons. Chinese authorities have said the shake-up is aimed at getting rid of “loopholes and deficiencies” that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and to ensure only “patriots” run the city.

How these billionaires doubled their wealth during a pandemic
For many Australians the pandemic has led to some kind of economic hardship, but while workers have suffered some of Australia’s billionaires doubled their wealth during one of the worst global recessions on record.

“First came the bushfires, then a global pandemic. Locust outbreaks and a once-in-a-hundred-year flood followed. And if that wasn’t biblical enough, there has been an escalating ‘mouse plague’ in regional New South Wales and southern Queensland. Since the end of 2020, swarms of mice have been destroying crops and feed, eating their way through pantries and supermarket shelves and soiling people’s homes. In startling videos posted to social media, hundreds of rodents can be seen scurrying across fields, hay bales and floors.”

“I’d really not wanted to describe the scandalous funk that constitutes our federal government this week. Not again. As an abuse victim, stories of sex crimes are faintly radioactive for me, and sustained exposure to them makes me sick. These past months, the Geiger counter has been clicking noisily.”

“Writing about mental illnesses such as hoarding ... is potentially fraught, but Maguire handles the topic deftly and with sensitivity … Nic is not an object of pity – she is a woman who is both strong and weak, who loves her family and is full of a fiery protectiveness for her niece and nephew. Readers experience the joy she feels when she rescues an object from the outside world, the care she takes in making sure it finds the exact right spot in her home. This means that when Lena messages her brother mocking the kinds of things that their aunt has kept, it hits you like a slap in the face.”

“Queensland police are looking into allegations against federal politician Andrew Laming, after a formal complaint was made. Dr Laming took a photo of a woman in 2019 as she bent over at a landscaping supply business and her underwear was exposed ... Scott Morrison is resisting pressure to expel the disgraced backbencher because it would plunge the Coalition into minority government.”

“The New South Wales deputy premier, John Barilaro, has called for Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen to immediately resign from parliament following reports alleging he sought to arrange for a sex worker to visit him in the state’s Parliament House. Barilaro, the leader of the NSW Nationals, said that he had exchanged messages with Johnsen on Tuesday morning and told the MP to ‘do the right thing’ and resign from parliament. If Johnsen were to resign from parliament it would effectively push the Berejiklian government into minority, pending the outcome of a byelection, but Barilaro said he could ‘live with that on my conscience’.”

“We are similarly reliant on imports even to maintain our limited manufacturing capacity. Take the surgical face mask, for example. Most have three layers of fabric, including an internal, electrostatically charged filter. Then there is the nose wire, and the ear loops or head ties. Currently, all these components are imported. According to the Stanford report, this is a typical story – more than half the materials, parts and supplies used by Australian manufacturers are made offshore.”

“In his latest endeavour,, Lil Nas X is freaking out the squares in two different mediums: first, with the riotously gay music video for his latest single ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name),’ which features the rapper giving a lap dance to, then snapping the neck of, Beelzebub himself; and, now, with a limited-edition drop of ‘Satan Shoes’, 666 pairs of pentagram-accessorised Nike Air Max ’97s that allegedly contain one drop of human blood. In case there was any doubt in your mind that they might be, Nike clarified on Sunday that the ‘Satan Shoes’ … have not been officially ‘endorsed’ by the brand.”

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