Thursday, April 01, 2021

Easter on hold for lockdown call

Brisbanites will this morning find out if their snap lockdown will be lifted in time for Easter, as Queensland’s Covid-19 outbreak spreads into New South Wales and prompts the cancellation of Byron Bay’s Bluesfest. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is set to announce whether the three-day lockdown will be lifted today, after she welcomed the “fantastic” news that the state only recorded two Covid-19 cases transmitted within the community on Wednesday. In NSW, the future of Byron Bay’s Bluesfest has been thrown into doubt after it was cancelled for the second year running due to a local man testing positive. He had sat near an infectious Queensland bachelorette party at the Byron Beach Hotel on Friday. The case prompted new restrictions for Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore shires, including masks mandated in public indoor settings and on public transport. Millions of Australians’ Easter plans have been upended by the outbreak, though a survey indicates almost two thirds of people decided against holidaying anywhere for the long weekend amid uncertainty over border closures.  

The war of words between federal and state governments over the vaccine rollout has continued, with federal ministers Dan Tehan and David Littleproud hitting out at the states for not distributing vaccines Commonwealth authorities had sent them. Littleproud said they needed to “pull their finger out”. The criticism sparked a furious response from the NSW and Queensland governments, which both said federal authorities had failed to provide advance notice of when doses would be arriving and weren’t doing their bit. “Let’s get this really, really clear: the New South Wales Government was asked to roll out 300,000 vaccinations to the groups in 1A and 1B. Of that we have done 100,000," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. “The federal government was asked and is responsible for 5.5 million people and they have rolled out 50,000. I think the figures speak for themselves.” The federal government has also faced criticism over only one-third of residential aged and disability care facilities having received Covid-19 vaccinations to date.

The public service union is set to ask that the Department of Finance crack down on sexual harassment and bullying in Parliament House, requesting training for MPs and staff and a better reporting regimen as part of a new enterprise agreement. The department will be asked to develop an action plan within six months that includes mandatory training on sexual harassment for MPs, senators and their senior staff, and proper induction training. Better communication on how staff can report incidents will also be requested, including for posters to be displayed around Parliament House. It’s the second bargaining round since staffers rejected a low pay offer in a vote held the week before Christmas.

Fifteen places in Tasmania will either be dual-named, renamed or given a name for the first time following requests from a trio of regional Aboriginal groups. Places given a second name include the Tasman Peninsula, which will now also be known as Turrakana, and Eaglehawk Neck, which will also be known as Teralina. Suicide Bay, the site of the 1828 Cape Grim massacre of 30 Aboriginal men, would be completely renamed as Taneneryouer. “We remember those events but we don't want to relive them each day, and that's why the name had to be changed,” said Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation representative Dianne Baldock. 

The story behind Australia's mouse plague
After suffering through record-breaking bushfires, a pandemic and floods, big parts of Australia now have a new problem: a plague of mice. Today, the CSIRO’s Steve Henry on the origins of the mouse plague, the impact it’s having, and when it might finally end.

“In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of asylum seekers living in the community who were eligible for Medicare went without government health support, due to a bureaucratic quagmire that remains unresolved. The Saturday Paper has established that these people, most of whom arrived by boat, were entitled to Medicare but have had their access repeatedly revoked because of processing delays, visa ‘issues’ and conditions that have been incorrectly applied to them. For many asylum seekers, the consequences have been diabolical.”

“Australian law knows only two standards of evidence: in criminal cases, the Crown must prove guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’; in civil cases, a plaintiff must convince a judge or jury ‘on the balance of probabilities’. This binary simplicity belies a more complex reality. It is commonplace for extremely serious allegations, including of criminal conduct, to be levelled in civil proceedings. That poses a dilemma: in such cases, which standard should apply?”

“mine and refine this float of molten
landscape              raw silica-sand and
limestone sites          sliced and stirred
and hot-shop forged               we
witness excavations of targets and
melts       a redaction of origins      of
lives  of lands                   
         see what a breath can do”

“Back to the Labor conference, the most contentious issue leading into the platform conversation, in terms of energy and environment, was the position on gas. Here is where they landed … ‘Labor’s policies will support Australian workers in the gas extraction industry, building on Labor’s legacy of supporting sufficient and affordable gas supply for Australian industry and consumers. This includes support for new gas projects and associated infrastructure, subject to independent approval processes to ensure legitimate community concerns are heard and addressed.’”

“Dutch giant Shell forecasts it will never pay Australia for oil and gas extracted for the Gorgon and Prelude LNG projects that it can sell for up to almost $4 billion a year. Shell owns 25 per cent of the Chevron-operated US$54 billion Gorgon LNG project and 67.5 per cent of its Prelude floating LNG project that are both liable to pay Petroleum Resources Rent Tax. Shell’s outlook of no PRRT payments is recorded in notes to the 2020 financial accounts for the global group released last week.”

“There have been some concessions. The government has announced the waiting period will continue to be waived until June 30, while the income-free area – the amount of income someone can receive before it affects their payment – will be increased to $150, a ‘greater incentive’, according to Social Services Minister Anne Ruston, for people to ‘put their toe in the water and test their opportunity in the jobs market’. However, mutual obligations will be increased, with jobseekers required to attend face-to-face job service appointments and to apply for a minimum of 15 jobs a month, increasing from July 1 to the pre-pandemic level of 20 jobs a month.”

“There, under the polar skies, he witnessed an otherworldly spectacle on Earth — our planet’s most intimate and dramatic contact with its home star, a chromatic swirl of the ephemeral and the eternal unloosed as solar winds blow millions of charged particles from the Sun across the orrery of the Solar System and into Earth’s atmosphere, where our magnetic fields carry them toward the poles. As they collide with the particles of different atmospheric gases, they ionise and discharge energy as photons of different colours — red, blue, green, and violent — painting the nocturne with the waking dream of a pastel-technicolour dawn.”

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