Here's what happened today, 15 February 2021
We’ll leave it there for today. Thanks for tuning in.
Here are today’s main developments:
- The first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine landed in Australia. It is expected about 60,000 doses will be administered by the end of February.
- Victoria, which is under lockdown, recorded one new case. The premier, Daniel Andrews, said it was too early to say if the lockdown would end on Wednesday as hoped.
- WA extended its hard border closure with Victoria to Wednesday, but relaxed restrictions on NSW.
- Moving away from Covid news, news.com.au reported that a young government staffer, Brittany Higgins, alleges she was raped by a colleague in the office of the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, in March 2019.
- Crown Resorts CEO, Ken Barton, quit his post, becoming the latest casualty following a scathing NSW report handed down in parliament last week.
- Josh Frydenberg said the government was close to reaching a deal over the media bargaining code.
- Federal parliament also marked the 13th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations
Prof Tony Blakely, a top epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, says the federal government should set up an independent agency to accredit and audit Covid quarantine hotels.
Blakely also says some federal politicians have politicised the most recent Victorian outbreak by talking about the state’s contact tracing regime in a “diversionary tactic to take the discussion off the federal government providing better quarantine facilities and support”.
He made the comments in an interview the ABC’s PM program.
Tasmania’s economy is on track for a quicker-than-expected recovery from coronavirus, according to the latest budget forecasts.
AAP reports that the island state’s net operating deficit this financial year has improved from $1.1bn, forecast in November’s budget, to $970.7m.
“The release of the Revised Estimates Report 2020-21 confirms our economic recovery is well underway,” premier Peter Gutwein said in a statement on Monday.
About 80 per cent of Tasmanians have returned to work since the height of the pandemic in May, while the participation rate has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
The state’s employment rate is expected to stay at 7% this year, down from the 8.5% predicted in the budget
Tasmania’s net debt was revised down by $151.9m from the budget figure of $1.8bn.
Growth of 0.75% is now expected in 2020/21, an improvement from the 1.5% forecast contraction.
WA extends hard border with Victoria
Western Australia has removed a requirement for NSW travellers to quarantine upon arrival but Victorians are set to remain locked out, AAP reports.
The premier, Mark McGowan, says WA will extend its hard border with Victoria until at least midnight on Wednesday.
It comes as Victoria continues its snap, five-day lockdown to combat a Covid-19 outbreak stemming from a cluster of cases in hotel quarantine.
“The chief health officer’s advice is that it’s the correct approach to, at least at this point in time, mirror that lockdown,” McGowan told reporters.
“We’ll make a further decision on Wednesday as to whether to extend it (further).”
Under the hard border, no one is allowed to enter WA unless they can secure an exemption.
McGowan confirmed NSW would move to the “very low risk” category, meaning its residents will no longer need to quarantine on arrival in WA.
NSW has now gone 29 consecutive days with no new locally acquired cases.
Travellers must still complete a G2G travel pass and undergo health screening and a temperature check on arrival.
WA returned to pre-lockdown life over the weekend with residents no longer required to wear face masks, and capacity limits removed from venues.
Metropolitan Perth and nearby regions went into a five-day lockdown on January 31, followed by an additional week of precautionary restrictions.
No community cases have been detected since a hotel quarantine worker inadvertently roamed the streets of Perth while infectious.
The premier, whose handling of the pandemic has earned him record approval ratings, on Monday insisted he hadn’t been briefed on polling his government commissioned last year on topics including support for the hard border.
He said the polling was conducted as part of a broad public information campaign at the height of the pandemic.
The opposition leader, Zak Kirkup, has accused the government of basing its decisions on polling rather than health advice.
The Australian union movement says it is extremely concerned about the detention of Dr Sean Turnell in Myanmar. The ACTU says Turnell is an active member of the National Tertiary Education Union and a well-respected academic at Macquarie University.
NTEU national president, Alison Barnes, says:
“Sean is a much-loved member of his university and union, and on behalf of his colleagues and fellow union members, the NTEU calls for his immediate and unconditional release.”
ACTU president, Michele O’Neil, says:
“The Australian union movement stands with Dr Sean Turnell in solidarity and our thoughts are with him and his family. We join his union, the NTEU, in calling for his immediate release.”
Another caller says to Albanese: “It’s nice to hear from you. Where have you been?”
Caller Anna says there are a range issues – tax cuts for the rich, “scandals in the government like Angus Taylor”, bushfire funding – that she hasn’t heard much about from Labor and Albanese.
The Labor leader says the fact the caller is aware of these issues shows Labor has been speaking out. He notes he was on the ground for the bushfires, and that Labor was the first to suggest wage subsidies (ie jobkeeper), along with the union movement, and that Scott Morrison initially called them “dangerous” before adopting the policy.
More broadly though, he says Labor has sought to be constructive, and avoided “outrageous statements”. Albanese agrees this has undoubtedly cost him air time in the media.
Albanese compares that to a certain state Liberal MP, who he doesn’t want to name (but who is presumably called Tim Smith). Albanese says this person says “over the top stuff all the time” and “he gets a bit of a run”.
Now I could have done that. I could have criticised everything. We voted for each of the stimulus packages in parliament. I make no apologies for that. This is a time when partisan politics needed to be put well behind the national interest, and I did that.”
Albanese is asked by a talkback caller if Labor would accept donations from Crown.
“That would be a matter for the organisational wing,” he says.
He notes Labor supports a “real national integrity commission with teeth” and declares all donations above $1,000, which is lower than the threshold required by current laws.
The federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, is also on ABC radio in Melbourne this afternoon.
Raf Epstein asks if NSW is doing a better job handling the pandemic than Victoria. Albanese says there is no use “trying to pit state against state”.
He says all state governments are handling the pandemic as best they can.
Though he says there is nothing wrong with making “best-practice” comparisons. He notes other states have also had issues, such as the Ruby Princess and hotel quarantine in NSW, and lockdowns in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.
Emirates has cancelled all international passenger flights to Melbourne until almost the end of March amid uncertainty about how long Victoria’s international arrivals pause will last.
All international flights to Melbourne were suspended as part of Victoria’s five-day circuit breaker lockdown. The Andrews government has not said when those services will resume.
As a result, Emirates has announced it will suspend all services to the city until 26 March.
A spokeswoman for the airline told Guardian Australia it would continue to operate its flights to Melbourne as cargo-only services.
“Given passenger allocation restrictions on flights to Australia, the suspension will remain in place until 26 March, 2021,” she said.
The suspension will make it more complicated for roughly 40,000 Australians stranded overseas to return home. Dubai has served as a major transit hub for those in Europe trying to negotiate routes to Australia.
Last week, as Melbourne’s Holiday Inn outbreak worsened, Victoria’s premier, Dan Andrews, announced the state would not be increasing its flight cap intake from the current rate of 1,120 each week.
International passenger arrivals into Melbourne are now paused.
Sutton was also asked if Victorians could expect to step back to the old laws if the state moves out of lockdown on Wednesday night. Or could some tougher restrictions, such as masks outdoors, remain?
Essentially, it’s too early to say:
It will all be assessed based on the data that we’ve got and are looking through tomorrow. We don’t know what that’s going to look like, but all of those things will come into consideration: our exposure sites, how we’re tracing down all our contacts. And we’ll make judgments about the settings we should go to after that.
Sutton extols benefits of 'open-air' hotel quarantine akin to Howard Springs
Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, has just been on ABC Melbourne with Raf Epstein.
Asked if hotel quarantine might transition to more “open-air” facilities, Sutton said:
I wish, we all wish, there was a Howard Springs equivalent in Victoria. They’ve got open-air cabins. They’re single rooms so they can’t hold families together as I understand it, but with an open-air space, which is great for welfare issues, and a real distance between cabins. If we had that, wouldn’t that be fantastic. But we’ve got the infrastructure we’ve got. That’s being investigated, that’s being improved, and all of the measures in place to minimise transmission. But there’s no question that an open-air setting with real distance between is infrastructurally what we’d all love to see.
AAP has this interesting story.
Leading institutions in Tasmania have formally apologised to the island’s Aboriginal community for the exploitation, misuse and theft of remains and significant artworks.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and Royal Society of Tasmania on Monday held a ceremony to acknowledge “200 years of morally wrong practices”.
“We acknowledge the Royal Society exhumed and purchased remains of Aboriginal people for scientific study, some of which were sent out of the country,” Royal Society president Mary Koolhof said.
“There was a lack of regard for (their) deep cultural and spiritual significance. For this we are sorry”.
The apology comes amid the museum’s impending return of 14,000-year-old Indigenous petroglyphs to their home at Preminghana in the state’s far northwest.
The rock carvings and artwork, which document major cultural events and great warriors, were cut from cliffs in the 1960s without consultation.
The state government late last year approved the return of the petroglyphs after a decades-long fight from members of the Indigenous community.
“Generations carved events that occurred. (They) were not intended to be cut away and taken to white peoples’ museums,” Aboriginal Land Council chairman Michael Mansell said.
Museum chair Brett Torossi said Aboriginal history had too often been “hidden, forgotten or denied”.
The remains of famous Indigenous woman Truganini were displayed at the museum from 1904-47 after being exhumed despite her wish to be buried in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
Her remains were returned to the Aboriginal community in 1976, one hundred years after she died.
“All of these actions have been damaging. We understand Tasmanian Aboriginal people may not wish to accept our apology,” Torossi said.
Hello everyone. Luke Henriques-Gomes here. Thanks to Amy for her efforts. I’ll be with you into the evening. If you want to get in touch, I’m at [email protected] or @lukehgomes on Twitter.
Well that has been quite the day – and it is not over yet.
Luke Henriques-Gomes will take you through the evening. A massive thank you to everyone who joined us today so far – we will be back tomorrow morning with more Politics Live and we hope you’ll be back.
It’s been a very tough day for a lot of people. Memories you’d rather forget can pounce when you’re least expecting it at the best of times.
If there has been anything today which has caused a flurry of anxiety or stirred events, I am sorry and I am thinking of you. You can access 24/7 counselling services at 1800 Respect, if needed.
But I hope all our readers take a moment to take a breath today. Take care of you – and those around you. You never know who might need some more kindness.