Health alert issued after two international travellers board domestic flight without quarantine


The international travellers who managed to fly to Melbourne rather than being sent to quarantine at a Sydney hotel could have got escaped from a queue for a bus – as it was confirmed both have tested negative for coronavirus.

The pair, who are thought to have been returning citizens or permanent residents from Germany, have forced hundreds of other people on the Virgin Australia flight into isolation.
A file picture of passengers being taken to hotel quarantine at Sydney Airport. (Edwina Pickles / SMH)

Mystery surrounds how the pair got away from police, who usher arriving international arrivals through the airport and straight onto buses to head to hotels for 14-day $3000 quarantine.

Aussies returning from overseas must quarantine in the city where they land.

NSW police are investigating, but Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the breach could have happened in the line for the bus.

“These people, it seems they are in a queue, waiting to get on a bus to go to hotel quarantine,” he said.

The passengers landed at Sydney International Airport terminal. (Brook Mitchell / SMH)

“Next minute they’re not in that queue. They are instead making quite – if you know Sydney Airport – quite an overland journey to get to the other terminal.

“Tickets have been purchased en route, then they’ve got on the plane and made their way here.”

He said a staff member they spoke to at Melbourne Airport realised something was wrong.

However he said he didn’t want to criticise NSW Health.

“We picked it up, we are very grateful that we were able to do that, but there should be no sense of criticism by anybody in our state,” he said.

Virgin Australia planes are parked at terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP)

The pair are now the first guests of Melbourne’s resurrected quarantine hotels, with flights due to resume this week following the earlier bungles.

Andrews said they are in a hotel near the airport.

Meanwhile, everybody on Virgin flight VA 838 yesterday should remain in isolation until the couple are tested again to ensure the pair are not incubating COVID-19.

NSW Police at Sydney Domestic Airport earlier this year. (Steven Siewert)

They have both returned an initial negative result for coronavirus, Minister for Health Martin Foley confirmed at this morning’s press conference.

“If in fact tomorrow the international travellers return a further negative test, the incubation period and the chain of transmission will have been broken and we will release those close contacts from isolation,” he said.

NSW Health say the incident is a matter for police, who told 9News they are investigating the matter.

The 130 people who flew on VA 838 departing Sydney at midday yesterday and arriving in Melbourne at 1.25pm should immediately quarantine at home and contact DHHS on 1300 651 160 for further information.

In addition, authorities are advising anyone was at Melbourne Airport’s domestic terminal 3 yesterday afternoon to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and seek testing if symptoms develop.

Melbourne Airport is not considered a current risk to the public and people can continue to visit the airport, in line with current restrictions, DHHS says.

It is not the first time NSW has let unwanted visitors slip into Victoria.

Victoria again reported zero new coronavirus cases today, as well as zero deaths and zero active cases from 8,377 test results, marking 37 days since its last case was diagnosed.



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Young elected officials urge Joe Biden to take climate action


Current and former elected officials with a focus on saving our planet have urged Joe Biden to join their cause in prioritising climate action, writes Jessica Corbett.

ON THE EVE of the global Youth Climate Action Day 2020, more than 125 young elected officials from throughout the United States signed on to an open letter urging President-elect Joe Biden to take bold, necessary action to protect communities across the country and beyond from the human-caused climate emergency.

Organised by Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA), the letter explains that the signatories:

‘…believe it is imperative we take action on the climate crisis because it is a threat multiplier for water security, deadly disease and environmental racism. It is time to enact a national Climate Emergency Plan that protects all our communities.’

The letter comes as Biden is assembling his administration following an election that occurred in the midst of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and related economic fallout as well as a national uprising demanding racial justice — in addition to the ongoing climate emergency illuminated by a summer of devastating wildfires across the West Coast and a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season.

Although Biden won last month and Democrats held on to their majority in the House, party control of the Senate will be determined by a pair of runoff races in Georgia scheduled for 5 January. In a statement on Friday, EOPA president Alex Cornell du Houx said that “no matter how the Senate roll call turns out, President-elect Biden will need support for his clean energy economy agenda from elected officials across the country”.

The former Maine state representative added:

“That’s why our letter is so important. Young elected officials help shape the public discourse and the policy agenda. They don’t shy away from politically charged topics — they confront them with positive change like the young elected officials that are speaking today.”

Though some of Biden’s selections and possible future picks for his incoming administration have alarmed climate activists in recent weeks, the former Vice President won progressive support ahead of his election in November by embracing a bolder vision for climate policy, including with a green energy plan unveiled in July.

EOPA executive director Dominic Frongillo, a former Caroline, New York council member, said:

“With President-elect Biden, we have the chance to attack the climate crisis, invest in green 21st-Century jobs and embrace the clean energy revolution our country, our young people, are crying out for.”

Democratic Maine representative Chloe Maxmin last month won her challenge to state Senate Republican leader Dana Dow after running a campaign that promised residents of a conservative, rural district a Green New Deal and “politics as public service”.

A Biden Presidency could be the final push for Australian energy policy

As Maxmin told Common Dreams after her victory:

“When I talk to folks, I mostly listen, I don’t show up and talk about myself… I really try and listen and make sure that the voices that I hear are reflected in our campaign.”

Maxmin, who signed EOPA’s letter, reiterated on Friday that her approach to politics involves engaging with and working for the people who elected her, explaining:

“I fight for my rural community and values, regardless of party or background. Our work is built on listening and mutual respect.”

“We’re at a moment where we can either let our divisions tear us apart or bring us together,” noted the state Senator-elect, who is currently the youngest woman serving in the Maine House. “With the climate spiralling out of control, we have to work together for all our futures.”

The EOPA letter urges both Biden and the next Congress ‘to develop a federal Climate Emergency Plan that includes, but is not limited to, the following objectives:’

  • transition to 100 per cent clean energy;
  • ensure everyone has access to clean and safe water;
  • investment in communities on the frontlines of environmental injustice, including Indigenous, communities of colour and economically vulnerable;
  • investment in clean, accessible and affordable transportation systems;
  • investment in a smart renewable energy grid;
  • transition to regenerative agriculture;
  • phase-out of plastics and toxins that threaten our global oxygen supply;
  • prevent foreign entities from unsustainably extracting U.S. water;
  • improve building energy efficiency; and
  • divest, phase out fossil fuels and invest in new technologies.

Biden's victory in the U.S. gives the world hope on climate

‘America must lead the world in protecting everyone from the climate emergency,’ the letter says, echoing a message from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this week.

In an interview that preceded the release of two alarming U.N. climate reports, Guterres warned that “the way we are moving is a suicide” and humanity’s survival hinges on the United States returning to the Paris Agreement and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Though President Donald Trump officially ditched the global climate deal the day after this year’s election, Biden has vowed to rejoin it — though experts and advocates have advised that’s merely a starting point.

Wisconsin state Democrat representative Greta Neubauer said:

Young climate activists continue to push and support us to take steps towards a clean energy economy at the state level, but states can only do so much on our own. Having a president who understands the existential threat of climate change is critical, but he’ll need the support of young climate activists and elected officials from every state in order to make the changes we need.

Neubauer joined fellow EOPA letter signatories Maxmin, Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair Jenna Wadsworth and Ithaca, New York Mayor Svante Myrick for a Friday event to discuss the joint message to Biden.

Myrick, who in 2011 was elected mayor at age 24, said:

Young elected officials from all over the country are proposing legislation, passing laws, and standing up to fight [for] environmental justice so we can create an inclusive clean energy economy.


 


I’m also encouraged by the wave of young activists demanding climate action. There is no doubt that their momentum helped New York pass the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, putting us on a path to the future.

This article by Jessica Corbett was originally published on Common Dreams, under the title, ‘Ahead of Youth-Led Day of Action, Young Elected Officials Push Biden to Enact National Emergency Climate Plan’. It has been republished under a Creative Commons licence.

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How her role in Wonder Woman 1984 changed Kristen Wiig


“I have to give most of the credit to Patty because in talking about the character she’s very conscious of all of those things and how they’re portrayed, and what the tone is, and what the message is, and what it says about being a woman, and being a bad villain and being a woman,” Kristen tells Sunday Life.

“Also, going from this sort of frumpy, invisible, ignored character to this woman who is sexier and who is more confident and what that says,” she adds.

On the big screen, opposite Wonder Woman’s alter-ego, the Amazon princess Diana (Gal Gadot), Kristen’s transformation into the Cheetah is genuinely thrilling. “She goes through a lot of different stages,” Kristen says. “I feel like I essentially play four different people and we wanted to make each one different.”

As a little girl, Kristen’s family moved frequently, from Canandaigua, New York, where she was born, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and then to Rochester, New York. At the time, she says, she had no interest in performing either on stage or in front of the camera. In fact, she only took acting as a course to fill a subject requirement for an art degree at the University of Arizona.

After she moved to Los Angeles, she found her footing at The Groundlings, the city’s now famous improvisational comedy group. Among its alumni are Jennifer Coolidge, Kathy Griffin, Lisa Kudrow, Maya Rudolph and Edie McClurg.

These days, the 47-year-old New York-born actor is best-known in the US as one of the stars of Saturday Night Live, a sketch comedy talent factory which has been cranking out superstars such as Michael McKean, Eddie Murphy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for decades.

Since her mid-2000s tenure on the show, Kristen has notched up a handful of film hits including Bridesmaids (2011), Ghostbusters (2016) and now the highly anticipated follow-up to Wonder Woman (2017). The sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, shifts the action from wartime America to the 1980s and delves into the comic book canon, lining up Kristen as Wonder Woman’s feline nemesis, Cheetah. (Think of her as a blonde Catwoman.)

“It was very sexualised,” she says, reflecting on the 1980s. “The hair was big, the make-up was strong, shoulder pads, heels, tight, high-waisted things. It’s hard to talk about the evolution of fashion and where it ended up [and] how to explain that.

“To me, I was very young in the 1980s, so I would look at my friends’ older sisters and what they were doing, and it was more colour, more fabric, more layers of socks, more pegs in your jeans, it was just adding on,” she says. “There was no rule of, ‘Take an accessory off before you walk out the door.’ ”

Growing up in the 1980s also meant that Kristen had posters on her wall of women we now see as the first generation of female action heroes: Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah Connor in the Terminator film series, and Sigourney Weaver, who played Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise.

“I am sure subconsciously I was watching all of those movies, taking all of that in,” Kristen says. “Seeing women in those kinds of roles, that was the time, and starting to see more women have those physical roles, [such as] Sigourney Weaver. That was a big one. I mean, Alien.”

Those performances informed many that have come since. They inform the physicality of a superhero generally – the hands-on-hips stance and the arch of the spine – but for actors such as Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and now Kristen, the devil is in the detail.

“My hair’s different, I’ve got the runny make-up and the ripped skirt – and there’s something about being in that costume and incorporating the beginning of Cheetah’s new walk and stance. It was a very cool moment for me.”

“When [Cheetah] is first revealed to the audience, the first part of her transformation, you do feel like everyone in the room, even though they’re actors, they’re looking at you like, ‘Oh my god, what happened to you?’ ” Kristen says.

“My hair’s different, I’ve got the runny make-up and the ripped skirt – and there’s something about being in that costume and incorporating the beginning of Cheetah’s new walk and stance. It was a very cool moment for me.”

Under the direction of Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman 1984 dials up the action, setting the noble and ancient Diana of Themyscira on a collision course with Kristen’s Cheetah, who is, in contrast,
a jangled mess of violent emotion.

“When I am in full Cheetah and Gal is in full Wonder Woman and it’s the fight, it’s exhilarating,” she says of the film’s elaborate action sequences. “Then of course they yell ‘Cut’ and start laughing and we’re like, ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Did I hurt you?’

“But the physical part of it was a really important thing for me as an actress, to even just be comfortable in doing this part, because I’ve never done a role like this, I’ve never been in a movie like this. Cheetah is a strong, powerful person and I wanted to feel that way.

“They wanted us to train for many months. We had an amazing stunt team and of course I wanted to be like, ‘No, I want to do it, I want to do it.’ But there were definitely stunts that I couldn’t do, or it was too risky for me to get hurt.”

As a villainess cast in the comic book mould, there is a tendency to see Cheetah only in the way she relates to Wonder Woman. The iconic heroine encapsulates everything good and, therefore, the fast-unravelling Cheetah is laden with everything bad.

“I think the want to have more things and to be different than who we are, is greater because of all of these images and all of these people who seem to have it all, which is a shame.”Credit:Jason Bell

“[This is] where we find Barbara and playing her was actually kind of hard, because it’s so sad,” says Kristen. “She knows that when she walks into a room, no one’s going to even notice her. And she’s always wanted to be the cool girl, or noticed, or popular, or anything other than who she is.

“And it’s doubly sad because Diana even brings out the fact that Barbara is really loving and open and funny and free and honest. [But] she just doesn’t see that, she’s so focused on what she’s not and seeing all these other beautiful, amazing women who can have conversations with men and have female friends, and [knowing] she’s just not that person.”

For one flickering moment, might they be friends? “To have these two people who are just the opposite connect with each other and see something good in themselves and in the other person is such a beautiful relationship,” she says.

In that sense, Barbara Ann Minerva serves as a metaphor for most of us: longing to be seen and grappling with the existential challenge of being largely ignored while a louder, faster, more socially connected world passes us by.

“That’s why it’s so interesting,” Kristen says. “To have that sense of humanity, it does make it harder for the audience. That’s why someone like Tony Soprano was, like, so compelling to watch because in some scenes you’re like, ‘I feel so bad for him. I’m on his side.’

“I don’t know if it’s because of social media, I don’t want to blame it on that, but it’s easier to see things that you don’t have and see people that have them and that they look really happy with them,” she says. “And so I think the want to have more things and to be different than who we are, is greater because of all of these images and all of these people who seem to have it all, which is a shame.”

And at its heart? A story of female power, she says.

“People have different definitions of feminism and what a feminist is, but in the first Wonder Woman movie it was really refreshing for people to see a superhero who believed so much in the power of love.

“And I guess some people can equate that to more of a feminine trait, because she was so nurturing and she is feminine and strong.

“She’s a strong woman who believes in humanity and she’s not about kicking people’s asses and it’s not really women versus men,” Kristen adds.

“She’s very inclusive … even Gal said, it’s not just women or young girls who are affected by this movie, it’s everybody. It’s sort of a universal message.”

Wonder Woman 1984 is in cinemas December 26.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale December 6. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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Donald Trump heads to Georgia for two Republican senators while continuing to press vote fraud claims



US President Donald Trump will campaign on Saturday for two Republican senators in Georgia facing January runoffs, but some in his party worry he may do more harm than good if he focuses on personal grievances over his loss in the 3 November election.

Mr Trump has repeatedly and without evidence asserted widespread fraud in the November election, a claim rejected by state and federal officials, including in Georgia, which President-Elect Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry in a generation.

The outgoing president has also attacked Republicans who have refused to endorse his claims, such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Statewide recounts, including a painstaking review by hand of some five million ballots, turned up no significant irregularities.

Mr Trump’s penchant for making his political rallies all about him – and now, about his claims the US electoral system is rigged – has raised concerns among some Republicans that his appearance in southern Georgia could end up turning voters away.

Mr Trump, who a source said has privately referred to Mr Kemp as “a moron” over his handling of voting issues in Georgia, pressured the governor in a Twitter post and a phone call on Saturday to take steps to benefit his candidacy.

“I will easily & quickly win Georgia if Governor @BrianKempGA or the Secretary of State permit a simple signature verification. Has not been done and will show large scale discrepancies. Why are these two ‘Republicans’ saying no?” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr Kemp responded on Twitter that he had spoken to Mr Trump about the president’s concerns. “As I told the President this morning, I’ve publicly called for a signature audit three times,” he said.

The Washington Post said Trump urged Kemp to call a special session of the state legislature to get lawmakers to override the vote results in Georgia and appoint electors who would back him. The White House declined to comment.

Matt Towery, a former Georgia Republican legislator who is now a political analyst and pollster, said Mr Trump could help Republicans if he talks about the candidates. But he warned:

“If he talks about them for 10 minutes and spends the rest of the time telling everyone how terrible Brian Kemp is, then it will only exacerbate things.”

Mr Kemp will not attend Mr Trump’s rally scheduled for 7 pm local time in the southern city of Valdosta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It comes one day after the death in a car crash of Harrison Deal, a close family friend of the governor and staffer for Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler.

The 5 January runoffs pit two Republican senators, David Perdue and Loeffler, against well-funded Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock seeking to capture a state that has not elected a Democratic senator in 20 years.

The races will determine which party controls the US Senate. Democrats need to gain both seats to seize a majority. If Republicans win one seat, they will retain control and be able to block much of Biden’s legislative agenda.

Two pro-Trump lawyers, L Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, have argued that Georgians should not vote in the runoff until issues from the 2020 election are resolved in the state, even after lawsuits they have filed to overturn the results have failed.

Mr Raffensperger criticised that strategy in a Fox News interview, saying, “It’s just total foolishness”. 

He added that he would be voting for the two Republican Senate candidates, although both had called on him to step down.

On Saturday, Mr Wood wrote on Twitter that wins for Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue would not be necessary for Republicans, as Mr Trump reversing the presidential election results would mean Vice President Mike Pence could break ties in the Senate.

Republicans in a bind

How Mr Trump will handle the situation in his first post-election rally is unclear.

One Trump adviser said the hope was he would argue Republicans should produce a huge turnout in the runoffs to erase any questions about voter fraud, but acknowledged that Mr Trump would probably talk more about his grievances than about the candidates.

Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican Party remains tight.

The Washington Post contacted all 249 Republicans in the House and the Senate. Two of them told the Post they consider Mr Trump the winner despite all evidence showing otherwise. And another 222 GOP members – nearly 90 per cent of all Republicans serving in Congress – would simply not say who won the election.

In another Twitter post, Mr Trump said he wanted the names of the 25 Republican members of Congress who conceded to the newspaper that Biden was president-elect.

Mr Trump’s refusal to concede has forced Ms Loeffler and Mr Perdue to walk a fine line. Even as they warn voters of the dangers of a Democratic Senate majority, they will not say Mr Biden won the White House and echo Mr Trump’s attacks on Mr Raffensperger.





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Concerns over increase in veteran suicides in wake of Brereton report and delays to DVA payments because of COVID-19


A recent spate of suicides among serving and ex-serving ADF personnel has veterans organisations shocked and fearful of ongoing mental health issues.

There were at least 10 suicides in the veteran community in October and November, as well as two in August.

Four of those happened in Townsville, home to Australia’s largest military base.

Three of those who died cannot be named for privacy reasons. The other nine are: Craig Earl, ex-member of 5 RAR (NT); Cody Langham and Hamish Gadd, 7 CSSB (Queensland); Braiden Russell, 3RAR (Queensland); Robert Phillips, RAAF Airfield Defence Guard (Queensland); Shane Holt, 8/9 RAR (Queensland); Josh Neumann who served with 4 Regt (Queensland); Leo Leppens, Military Police (Queensland) and Jules Gencarelli, ex-Navy.

It has led Tasmanian senator and veterans advocate Jacqui Lambie to say that veteran suicides should be treated as “one of Australia’s most pressing problems”.

Veterans organisations are struggling to understand why there has been a spike, and whether it’s going to get worse.

A message posted on social media paid tribute to Private Braiden Russell, who died by suicide at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville on October 30.(Supplied: The Pineapple Express)

“We’re all very very concerned,” said Townsville-based veterans advocate Chris Mills.

“We don’t know why and we don’t know what to do about it.”

A Defence spokesperson told the ABC that three full-time serving members “are suspected to have died by suicide” since August this year.

But that figure does not include ex-service members.

“There is often no single cause or event that leads someone to take their own life,” the Defence spokesperson said.

“Defence is committed to ensuring serving and ex-serving ADF members have access to the right support, at the right time, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk.”

War crime allegations an added stressor

This year has thrown up two significant challenges to the wellbeing of the veteran community.

The first is a blowout in processing times for Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) claims because of COVID-19.

The second is the impact of the Brereton report into alleged war crimes committed by troops in Afghanistan.

Chris Mills helps run Townsville’s Veterans Support Centre, a small group with about 75 serving and ex-serving members on the books.

Vietnam veteran Chris Mills sits in his office at Townsville's Veterans Support Centre with a handful of files and paperwork.
Veterans’ advocate Chris Mills says there are 75 clients on the books at Townsville’s Veterans Support Centre, but demand is growing.(ABC North Qld: Siobhan Heanue)

“We don’t know what the effect of the Brereton report is going to have on younger veterans,” Mr Mills said.

“Honestly, we’re scared.

“What we really get pissed off with is the removal of citations and things like that for people who are already dead.”

There have been at least 500 veteran suicides in Australia since the start of the Afghanistan war — a number that dwarfs the number of lives lost on the battlefield, at 41.

Lieutenant General John Caligari (retired) heads up a veterans’ community hub called The Oasis in Townsville, the city where he also once served as commander of the 3rd Combat Brigade.

The Oasis is designed to act as a starting point for veterans to connect with the specific services they need, which often include medical and mental health treatment, financial, housing and employment services.

General Caligari agrees the Brereton report is affecting how veterans’ groups are operating.

“They’re all concerned and they’re all taking much more of an interest in their people, it’s stepped up,” he said.

“There’s a lot more chatter going on.

“There’s annoyance at the way the whole thing’s been handled, in particular the fact that the Brereton report made a point of exonerating senior leaders and the issue over the honours and awards.”

An online message paying tribute to Australian soldier PTE Shane Holt who suicided in 2020.
A tribute shared on social media for Private Shane Holt, who died by suicide on November 16, leaving behind a partner and 3-year-old son.(Supplied: The Pineapple Express)

But General Caligari said it was difficult to say what’s caused the spike in suicides in recent weeks.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” he said.

“It makes [veterans] very worried about their mates, it makes them realise they do need to check on each other.

“I know of the personal circumstances of three of these [recent suicides] and I know they had very complex personal circumstances which are not [directly] attributed to their military service.

A popular social media group run for and by veterans and serving ADF members, The Pineapple Express, has been cataloguing the suicide deaths in recent weeks and sharing tribute posts with the permission of affected families.

The group is pressing its members to keep in contact with friends who may have become socially distant.

“It’s great to see that the community is clearly becoming more aware and passionate about [mental health and suicide]; it demonstrates the start of a cultural overhaul,” the group posted.

But veterans’ groups are concerned that they are filling that void while the Department of Defence should be taking more action to stem suicides in the ranks.

It’s not just about ‘war wounds’

The causes of mental health problems among veterans are complex, and so are the solutions.

“It starts off with: what’s the definition of a veteran?” General Caligari said.

Some soldiers and civilians believe only those who have seen combat qualify as a veteran.

But the DVA defines a veteran as anyone who has served a day or more in the ADF, regardless of whether they ever deployed overseas.

“Which leads to the next misconception — that veterans’ mental health has got anything to do with combat operations,” said General Caligari.

The idea that post-traumatic stress is caused by combat alone doesn’t tell the whole story.

One of the recent suicides in Townsville was of Private Braiden Russell, a serving soldier in his early twenties who joined the Army in 2018 and who friends described as “everyone’s mate”.

“Actually, it’s been demonstrated that there’s a higher suicide rate among those who’ve not served on combat operations than those who have,” General Caligari said.

“The real issue is the transition out of a very structured, orderly life into what I describe as the chaos of civilian street.”

The suicide rate in 18-24 year-old men who have been medically discharged from the military in Australia is four times the national average for the same age group in the general public.

“You’ve just taken all their Christmases away from them.

“We spend a lot of time training them to join the Army and we don’t teach them much about how to join civilian street.

“Some of them have never been there; they’ve left mum and dad at 18 and they didn’t know what living on their own in society was like.”

DVA delays worsen during pandemic, frustrating veterans

At Townsville’s Veterans Support Centre, Chris Mills spends a lot of time helping veterans gain access to compensation or entitlements from the DVA.

He said 2020 has seen a huge blowout in the amount of time those claims are taking.

“And delays upset the veterans, really upset them, when they think nothing’s happening, no-one cares.”

Veteran Chris Mills stands at the door to his office at the Townsville Veterans Support Centre.
Veterans organisations are bracing for more demand for support services in the wake of recent suicides, says Chris Mills from Townsville’s Veterans Support Centre.(ABC North Qld: Siobhan Heanue)

There has been a direct link drawn between DVA delays and veteran suicides.

Earlier this year, a Victorian coroner recommended DVA be audited over its handling of compensation claims, after former Townsville soldier and Afghanistan veteran Jesse Bird died by suicide just weeks after his impairment claim was rejected.

General Caligari tells the story of one young veteran to illustrate how hard it can be for military personnel to navigate bureaucracy after they discharge.

The woman, who was “as smart as they come”, had been sleeping in her car in central Townsville after struggling to find housing and employment.

It was only when another, older veteran walked past the car and saw Army-issue socks hanging out the window to dry that she was eventually connected to services that could help her.

General Caligari said long wait times for DVA compensation could be the last straw for many.

“It’s got worse [in 2020], absolutely,” he said.

“I don’t know what the problem is, but whatever the problem is, they need to fix it.”

Too many veterans organisations but not enough help

There’s disquiet in parts of the veteran community about the proliferation of groups and charities that have been set up to help serving and ex-serving personnel.

An Australian Army bushmaster with a red cross painted on the side in a military training field area near Adelaide in 2016.
Military veterans who have served in conflict zones are less likely to die by suicide than those who have never deployed on operations.(ABC News: Siobhan Heanue)

General Caligari says there are more than enough services available to veterans in areas like housing, health and employment, but the difficulty for many veterans is finding them.

“In Townsville there’s about 26 big ex-services organisations,” he said.

“But they all know that the diggers don’t know how to find them.

“Defence stopped letting them into the barracks [in Townsville] about 20 years ago because there were too many.”

He said the Oasis acts as a single front door to direct veterans to the dozens of services available that they might not find on their own.

General Caligari says many veterans’ mental health organisations are compelled by funding criteria to prove that they’re reducing suicides, but intervention needs to come a lot earlier than that.

Paraphrasing philosopher Immanuel Kant, he said it can boil down to three things.

“No-one to love, nothing to do and nothing to look forward to,” he said.



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What happened to the property price crash that was predicted but never came?


While Australia has been through the sharpest recession since the Great Depression, this bleak outlook for the property market has clearly not played out. CoreLogic data shows home prices jumped 0.8 per cent nationally in November with a rebound under way in every capital city.

NAB executive of home ownership Andy Kerr attributes the change in fortunes to “record low [interest] rates, growing confidence in the economic recovery and strong government support measures”.

This includes a substantial $25,000 HomeBuilder grant for those building a new residence and expanded first-home buyer incentives, as well as record levels of fiscal stimulus such as the JobKeeper wage subsidy program to keep unemployment down.

Home loan applications at NAB were stronger in November than any other month in the past two years and Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows home loans surged a record 30 per cent in the year to October.

“We expect strong interest to continue given the likelihood of low rates for several years and as more stimulus measures come into effect from state governments,” Kerr says.

“We’re currently forecasting property price growth upwards of 5 per cent in each of the next two years, with apartment prices likely to lag house price growth.”

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Great expectations

Property data house SQM Research managing director Louis Christopher is now expecting prices to jump by 7 to 11 per cent in Sydney and by 2 to 6 per cent in Melbourne in a “base case” scenario. National prices are expected to increase between 5 and 9 per cent.

The base case assumes a vaccine being rolled out and more fiscal and monetary support, but also factors in a third wave of the virus requiring more lockdowns.

At the peak of the crisis in June, 10.1 per cent of loans, including mortgages, were on payment deferral holidays but this dropped to 3.4 per cent by the end of October, Moody’s Investors Service data shows.

Independent economist Stephen Koukoulas points out that until two months ago, prices were “flat to down”. He says record low interest rates (which the Reserve Bank cut to 0.1 per cent in November), a relaxation of lending restrictions and a seasonal spring season were behind the revival. But he says it is “hardly a price boom”.

“The reason why I’m not as upbeat as others … is I remain a big fan of supply and demand, and demand is going to be pretty poor,” Koukoulas says.

“We might just be getting a release price spike of [up to] 5 per cent early in the new year but once we get well into 2021, the reality of not many people being here and … a pipeline of construction yet to be finished will bite.”

Simon Pressley, founder of buyer’s agency and research business Propertyology, was one of the few forecasters who did not expect a dramatic price slump at the highest point of the pandemic’s first outbreak.

“The history books will show it as a small moment in time at the front end of an Australian property boom that commenced in the third quarter of 2019 and continued for a few years,” he says.

He now believes coronavirus has changed peoples’ lifestyles, but not market fundamentals which have driven price booms on the back of high-demand and low supply. On this point, he will have his critics.

‘Good time to buy’

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said at a public hearing in Canberra last week it was a good time to buy but warned the fundamentals had shifted with far fewer migrants coming to Australia due to international travel restrictions and future reluctance to move.

However, both Lowe and Pressley are aware of the power of ongoing record low interest rates to boost the housing market, meaning the RBA will keep a close eye on prices. Pressley expects the majority of capital cities will experience double-digit price growth next year with houses in Canberra, Hobart and Perth to be particularly strong performers alongside many regional areas.

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But he warns Melbourne and Sydney “continue to be Australia’s two most vulnerable property markets” with exposure to overseas tourists and students, high vacancy rates and a trend for residents to move out of these major CBDs during the pandemic.

A “strong surge in prices” is also the expectation of REA Group chief economist Cameron Kusher who says the recent price growth could start “accelerating” over 2021. However, he acknowledges there has been a major shift in housing market dynamics in terms of demand for new developments from arriving migrants.

Real estate agency PRD chief economist Diaswati Mardiasmo warns the end of fiscal and broader financial support, including mortgage holidays and government schemes like JobKeeper, could derail price growth, but overall her outlook is upbeat. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a strong, almost unprecedented property market growth in the first quarter of 2021,” Mardiasmo says.

Property business Archistar chief economist Andrew Wilson also expects 2021 price growth to be “pushing towards double figure results” in capital cities.

He says demand from first-home buyers and down-sizers is likely to offset any sharp drops in price in inner city apartment markets where a lack of international students and major job losses for young people have seen rental vacancy rates surge.

‘FOMO is back’

In the lower north shore suburb of Lane Cove on Saturday, 16 house hunters registered to bid on a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house on Dorritt Street. It sold for $2,625,000 – $475,000 above the reserve.

The winning bidder and underbidder were bidding on behalf of their adult children, who were not at the auction. Auctioneer Tom Panos said the fear of missing out had returned for house hunters.

“You can see there’s FOMO out there. FOMO didn’t exist six months ago but FOMO is back,” he said. “There’s this fear that if you don’t buy this side of Christmas, you’ll come back after Christmas and you’ve got the good news of the vaccine, you add that to talk that there is going to be potentially negative [interest] rates and people have got a fear of missing out.

“The amount of buyers there is per property is the highest I’ve ever seen it, but it’s not the case for units, it’s just the case for houses.”

with Kate Burke

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Environment Agency launches urgent probe after farmer bulldozed Herefordshire riverside beauty spot


A farmer who used a 16-ton bulldozer to destroy a riverside beauty spot has said he acted to protect local homes from flooding.

John Price – a local potato and cattle farmer – dredged a section of the River Lugg near Leominster in Herefordshire and reportedly stripped a mile-long stretch of the bank of trees and bushes.

The farmer, 66, was widely criticised and the Environment Agency has launched an urgent investigation into the matter.

John Price – a local potato and cattle farmer – dredged a section of the River Lugg (pictured) near Leominster in Herefordshire and stripped a mile-long stretch of the bank of trees and bushes

Pictured is a general view of a stretch of the River Lugg in the area in 2018. This is how it would have looked before

Pictured is a general view of a stretch of the River Lugg in the area in 2018. This is how it would have looked before 

River dredging and managing floods

Dredging a river does reduce a flood risk, at one location, by allowing water to move downstream more quickly.

This would explain John Price’s actions with regard to removing trees that had already come down.

As he said: ‘I have not pushed any trees out and I haven’t knocked any trees down. I have only cleared what ones came down in the flood.’

However, the act of dredging can increase the risk of flooding elsewhere by disturbing the natural balance of the river.

It can also wreak havoc with river habitats, including salmon spawning areas.

Mr Price also said he was asked to carry out the work for free as he was fixing the erosion of the river bed and was helping solve issues caused by last year’s floods.

One way to protect river banks, however, is by using living (or dead) trees, roots and branches to cushion banks from the force of a river.

However last night Mr Price, who lives next to the river, said he had acted to protect locals in the nearby hamlet whose homes were devastated in last year’s floods. 

Local residents said they had asked the Environment Agency to clear the blocked river to prevent more flooding, but their appeals failed. 

Claiming he acted with permission, Mr Price said: ‘I’m a Herefordshire farmer and have lived at Hay Farm and was born here at home. I have never moved and have watched this river all my life and no one knows this river better than myself. 

‘I have always looked after the river. I was asked to stop the erosion because I’m the land owner so I’m responsible for the river.

‘It was up to the Environmental Agency to look after these rivers but they don’t do any work and haven’t got any money to do the work because they spend it all on clipboards.

‘I have not pushed any trees out and I haven’t knocked any trees down I have only cleared what ones came down in the flood.’ 

He added that the flooding had been getting worse over the last 10 years and that he had the support of the village and parish council in doing the work.    

The Environment Agency said it was taking the matter ‘very seriously’ and had launched an urgent investigation. 

Environmentalists – including BBC Gardener’s World host Monty Don – were yesterday in shock at the ‘complete obliteration’ of a site of Special Scientific Interest, home to otter, Atlantic salmon, brook lamprey, and water crowfoot. 

Don, whose Longmeadow cottage garden – the filming base for Gardener’s World -lies a few miles from the stretch of the river in Herefordshire, tweeted: ‘It breaks my heart but (it) is all too-typical of the ignorance, arrogance and sheer wanton destruction of those privileged to care for our countryside.’ 

The farmer, 66, was widely criticised and the Environment Agency launched an urgent investigation into the matter

The farmer, 66, was widely criticised and the Environment Agency launched an urgent investigation into the matter

Local residents said they had asked the Environment Agency to clear the blocked river (pictured) to prevent more flooding, but their appeals failed

Local residents said they had asked the Environment Agency to clear the blocked river (pictured) to prevent more flooding, but their appeals failed

One resident whose home was flooded last year told the publication that Mr Price took on the work because the EA refused to listen to their appeals.       

She said: ‘John has acted in the best interests of the local community.’ 

Another villager said: ‘During last year’s storms, all the cottages near the river flooded and some are still not ready for people to go back into.

‘The Environment Agency were asked again and again to sort the river out but it didn’t happen.

‘I think John just got sick and tired of waiting for another flood and just did what he had to do.’ 

Mr Price, who lives next to the river, said he had acted to protect locals in the nearby hamlet whose homes were devastated in last year's floods

Mr Price, who lives next to the river, said he had acted to protect locals in the nearby hamlet whose homes were devastated in last year’s floods

Yesterday, 14 officials from agencies including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, West Mercia Police and Herefordshire Council descended on the scene (pictured)

Yesterday, 14 officials from agencies including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, West Mercia Police and Herefordshire Council descended on the scene (pictured)

Helen Stace, of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (pictured), said: 'This is nothing short of a tragedy'

Dave Throup, the Environment Agency area manager, (pictured) said: 'We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status

Helen Stace, of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (pictured left), said: ‘This is nothing short of a tragedy’. Dave Throup, the Environment Agency area manager, (pictured right) said: ‘We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status

Yesterday, 14 officials from agencies including the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, West Mercia Police and Herefordshire Council descended on the scene.

Dave Throup, the Environment Agency area manager, said: ‘We are aware of reports of damage to the River Lugg, which due to its environmental importance is protected through Site of Special Scientific Interest status.

‘We are treating this very seriously along with Natural England and the Forestry Commission who have taken immediate action in an attempt to prevent any further works at the site.’

Helen Stace, of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: ‘This is nothing short of a tragedy that will have dire consequences for the wildlife and water quality downstream. This is not about protecting the local area fromfloods, in my opinion the work that has been done will actually have the opposite effect.’ 



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Environmental outlook for Blue Mountains downgraded due to fires, dam wall plans


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Climate change is considered as a “very high threat” for future fires, with the projected temperature increase over the 75-year period likely to be “beyond the adaptive capacity of most vertebrates”.

Among the IUCN’s list of potential “high threats” to the region’s so-called outstanding universal values are plans by the state government to raise the height of the Warragamba Dam by 17 metres to reduce the flood risks in the Hawkesbury-Nepean flood plain.

Lifting the height of the dam will increase the frequency, duration, depth and extent of temporary
inundation upstream of the wall, affecting as much as 550 hectares, the IUCN said. Wildlife, wilderness and Indigenous cultural values will be some of the key features hit.

Harry Burkitt from the Colong Foundation for Wilderness wades across part of the lower Kowmung River, an area facing inundation if the Warragamba Dam wall is raised.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Stuart Ayres, the minister in charge of the Warragamba project, was approached for comment. He has previously stated that the project’s environmental impact study (EIS) will be made public.

A report prepared from a draft EIS details the potential effects of the billion-dollar project on the region’s World Heritage values.

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Prepared by SMEC consultants before last summer’s bushfires, the report says: “There is a lack of knowledge about the impacts to Blue Mountains plant species and vegetation communities from temporary inundation, and also the presence of threatened species in the potentially
impacted area.”

But they conclude that “while there may be loss of some biodiversity, this would not significantly impact the [World Heritage Area] as a whole,” with only “minor” impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage.

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Harry Burkitt, a campaigner with the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, said the IUCN assessment underestimated the area likely to be affected by inundation by at least a factor of 10, putting the at-risk area at 6000 hectares.

“IUCN’s World Heritage Outlook is a strategic overview that has used preliminary data in determining its findings,” Mr Burkitt said.

He also said the government’s consultants, SMEC Engineering, were “being paid millions of dollars to systematically justify the destruction of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and its hundreds of threatened Australian species”.

“We know from botanical experts that combined with last summer’s devastating bushfires, raising Warragamba Dam would put the very species constituting the Blue Mountains’ Outstanding Universal Values at direct risk of extinction,” he said.

“These iconic species include the recent honeyeater, the Camden white gum, and Kowmung hakea.”

An aerial view of one of the rivers flowing into Lake Burragorang in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

An aerial view of one of the rivers flowing into Lake Burragorang in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.Credit:James Brickwood

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