Wednesday, April 14, 2021

PM turns to states to save rollout

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has turned to state and territory leaders to help resurrect Australia’s shambolic vaccine program, asking the National Cabinet to hold two meetings a week to get distribution back on track. In a statement, Morrison said the meetings with premiers would ramp up from next Monday. He blamed his decision to abandon all vaccine rollout targets on “patchy international vaccine supplies” and “changing medical advice”, such as recommending under-50s seek alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine due to rare blood clots. The biweekly meetings plan is also hoped to defuse blame-shifting between the federal and state governments over the rollout delays. It comes as Australia’s agreement for 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, originally slated for “mid-2021”, has been thrown into doubt, with the company pushing back the timeline for hitting its production target of 150 million doses a month until the third quarter due to supply shortages. Bupa, Australia’s biggest private aged care provider, meanwhile has revealed that it is yet to receive any plan for vaccinating aged care workers, who are in the highest priority category for the rollout. 

Military veteran Ben Roberts-Smith has been accused of keeping more than a dozen Department of Defence drone videos of Afghanistan military operations buried in his backyard, including classified material. The buried pink lunchbox contained drone videos watermarked as “secret” as well as copies of classified operational reports from an SAS mission in southern Afghanistan, claims The Age. The metadata on the files reportedly suggests Roberts-Smith obtained, altered or transmitted the military material years after he left the military, while some files relate to a 2009 mission in which Mr Roberts-Smith is accused of unlawfully executing an Afghan man. 

Former parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins is set to write a book detailing her account of her alleged rape in the office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019. Higgins signed the non-fiction book deal worth an estimated $250,000 with publishers Penguin Random House Australia. “I’m proud to commit half of the royalties for each book sold to the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre who were a lifeline for me in the wake of my sexual assault,” she said. The book will also detail her role in the subsequent movement for greater protection for women in workplaces. News.com.au’s political editor Samantha Maiden, who reported the story of Higgins’ alleged rape earlier this year, is meanwhile working on a broader book about sexual misconduct in Canberra.

Egyptian authorities have impounded the cargo ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week, as they pursue a $916 million compensation claim against the Ever Given’s Japanese owner. A court order had been issued for the ship to be held in a lake separating two sections of the canal since it was dislodged on March 29. UK Club, the protection & indemnity (P&I) insurer for the Ever Given, said the canal’s claim included US$300 million for a “salvage bonus” and US$300 million for “loss of reputation”.

Big government is back, but not in Australia.
Both the United States and the UK have recently announced policies to increase their tax rates, and spend the revenue on new social policies, as part of their economic response to the pandemic. But Australia is bucking the trend.

“The National Disability Insurance Scheme has set up a secretive ‘sustainability action taskforce’, which is instructed to ‘avoid’ a forecast budget overrun by cutting access to the scheme and the level of funding to participants, leaked documents reveal … The memo provides the clearest evidence yet that a suite of proposed legislative reforms to the NDIS, key among them the introduction of mandatory ‘independent’ assessments, are smokescreens for severe cuts to the scheme’s budget.”

“Sometimes, finding a job requires overcoming biases you didn’t even know stood in the way of your gainful employment. Having a non-Anglo name has been shown in repeated studies to hurt one’s chances. Sometimes it can be as simple as being the wrong skin colour. But nothing is more damning, it seems, than being a former prime minister.”

SPORT

“The man who walked into Team Ellis boxing gym, in Melbourne’s Keilor East, didn’t look like your usual pugilist. He’d spent his hermetically sealed working life in a laboratory, winding up with a midlife crisis shaped around wondering what challenges his body might have risen to. As he told trainer Tai Tuiniua, he’d never been in a scrap in his life, had never watched boxing on television. ‘He said, “I feel like my body’s fading away and I’ve never once used it,”’ says Tuiniua. ”

“The former Australia Post boss has told a Senate committee she was ‘humiliated’ and pushed out of her job as chief executive officer unwillingly by the company's chair over a decision to give Cartier watches to staff … Ms Holgate was also asked whether she thought the way she was treated had anything to do with her being a woman. ‘So do I believe it's partially a gender issue? You're absolutely right I do,’ she said. ‘But do I believe the real problem here is bullying and harassment and abuse of power? You're absolutely right I do.’ The former CEO, as well as two other senior women supporting her and also giving evidence at the inquiry, wore white at the hearing as a nod to the suffragette movement.”

“Let’s just recall for a minute the story behind the Hanson-Holgate alliance. One Nation had posted 100 stubby holders to a North Melbourne public house tower just days after Senator Hanson had referred to the 3000 locked-down tower residents as ‘alcoholics’ and ‘drug addicts’ .... Government and health officials refused to distribute them for fear it would inflame an already dangerous situation within the building, but the AusPost CEO reportedly personally intervened and even threatened to get police involved if they were not delivered … Just because Scott Morrison threw a female under the bus while protecting even more controversial and incompetent males in his own ranks does not mean she should be portrayed as a victim. It simply means the blokes should have gone first.”

“Two sisters, giving evidence on condition that their names not be published, recount the experiences of their elderly mother who lives with dementia, and is a resident at Anglicare’s Brian King Gardens in the north-western suburb of Castle Hill ... Mrs CO’s toenails were allowed to grow for months without being trimmed, eventually cutting into the flesh of her toes. Her partial denture, which was meant to be removed and cleaned every night, was left in her mouth for weeks, causing several of her remaining teeth to rot. Her daughters once found her trapped between a brick wall and some wrought-iron fencing at the perimeter of the facility. On at least one occasion, she was accidentally given someone else’s medication.”

“Spiders use the minute vibrations in their webs to perceive their environment, so what might it sound like if we could actually hear their mysterious music?  This was the goal of a data sonification project that puts humans in spiders’ shoes to experience spiderwebs. Researchers say the project could eventually be used to reverse engineer spiders’ reality and communicate with the arachnids.”

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