Most Australians believe there’s a lot of racism these days, but experts say recognising discrimination is just the beginning


Mohammad Al-Khafaji came to Australia as a refugee when he was 13 after his family fled Iraq seeking political asylum.

He has spent the majority of his life in this country, so was left frustrated and outraged when a complete stranger followed him out of the terminal at Adelaide airport recently, and yelled: “Go back to where you came from.”

“For someone to tell me to go back to where I come from, it’s very insulting but it also puts into question my existence in Australia — it might seem something very basic but it hits hard, it hits to you core.”

The Australia Talks National Survey 2021 found around three in four Australians with non-European ancestry say they have been discriminated against because of their ethnicity.

It has also revealed the majority of us — across all demographics and political persuasions — believe there is a lot of racism these days, with the only exception being One Nation voters.

For Mr Al-Khafaji, who is also the chief executive of the nation’s peak multicultural body, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, the statistics are consistent with his experience.

“It doesn’t surprise me, it’s really important for us to talk about these issues and talk about what racism looks like, it doesn’t have to be physical violence on the streets, it can be a throwaway comment,” he said.

Racism has also affected Sydney bakery owner Mohammad Makki.

When civil war erupted in Lebanon in the 1970s, his parents escaped to Sydney for a better life.

But being born in Australia has not been enough to shield him from the vilification that comes with being a Muslim man of Middle Eastern descent.

“We grew up in the St George area — if you spend a day in the Shire, people look at you a little different,” he said.

Mr Makki said that experience got worse after September 11.

“It’s nearly 20 years ago, September 11 — Muslims all around the world got persecuted and picked on,” he said.

“Any box of fruit can have one bad apple, doesn’t mean the whole box is bad. “

The Australia Talks survey also found 64 per cent of us believe most Australians are prejudiced against Indigenous peoples, whether or not they realise it.

Munanjahli woman and University of Queensland academic Chelsea Watego said she was surprised to see recognition of racism is prevalent.

But she said recognising racism was only the first move in the journey to equality.

“The next step is to work out what are we going to do about it, and unfortunately there’s a resistance to tending to racism explicitly in this country still.”

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already serious racism problem in Australia, according to former race discrimination commissioner and academic Tim Soutphommasane.

He said while members of Australia’s Asian community bore the brunt of the vilification, other groups have also been targeted.

“We know there can be spill-over effects whenever racial hostility is directed at one particular group,” he said.

“When racism and xenophobia are unleashed they can be directed from one group to another very quickly and very easily, because once it’s out there people feel they have the licence and permission to vent hostility and intolerance towards others.”

Professor Soutphommasane wants the federal government to do more to combat racism.

There has not been a national anti-racism strategy since 2015, and he said Australia was lagging behind other countries in adopting one.

The Human Rights Commission put forward a proposal for a new national anti-racism framework in March, which includes improving data collection on racism, and reviewing the country’s laws to ensure they are properly protecting people.

In a statement, the Attorney-General’s department said the government welcomed the proposal and was working closely with the race discrimination commissioner on developing a strategy.

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A sombre Eid for Uyghur Australians with families detained in Xinjiang


As many Australian Muslims gathered with families and friends during the holy month of Ramadan, Rayhangul Abliz was feeling guilty about celebrating the Islamic holy month.

The Uyghur mother of three, who moved to Melbourne 11 years ago, has fond memories of spending Ramadan with her parents in Atush, a city in China’s north-western Xinjiang region.

But Ramadan has been a fraught time for Ms Abliz since 2017, when she lost contact with many of her loved ones.

Ms Abliz said she later learned from her friends in Atush that her parents and several family members were detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, which China refers to as vocational training centres.

“This celebration is meant to be [about] happiness, [but it’s] just unbelievable sadness and disappointment,” she said.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch stated the Chinese government has committed and is continuing to commit to “crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic communities in Xinjiang. 

Alleged abuses include mass surveillance, mass arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, sexual violence and forced labour.

Although the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Australia this year enabled Ms Abliz to visit friends during Ramadan, she found it hard to be joyful knowing her parents were unable to do the same.

The ABC has contacted the Chinese foreign ministry and its embassy in Australia to ask about the fate of Ms Abliz’s parents. 

Adila Yarmuhammad, a 20-year-old Adelaide-born Uyghur, has been teaching her younger siblings about Ramadan customs this month.  

She said it was important to pass on cultural traditions, especially as many in the Adelaide community have lost contact with their families and friends in Xinjiang since 2017.

“Some people even don’t have access to talk to their own children,” she said.

Ms Yarmuhammad said the loss of connections made Ramadan a sad time for her and the community, as it was meant to be about “connecting with God and people around you”.

“And it makes a lot of people even feel guilty for being able to celebrate Ramadan the way that we are in Australia, because plenty of [Uyghur] people in Xinjiang are quite religious, or even much more religious than [us who] are here in Australia,” she said.

Fasting from sunrise to sunset is a core tenet of Islam, but Chinese authorities have characterised the practice  — along with other displays of religious affiliation, including beards, headscarves, regular prayers and avoidance of alcohol — as indicative of extremism.

Before 2017, Ms Yarmuhammad said her family in Adelaide could still regularly have video chats with other family members in Xinjiang during Ramadan.

But they would avoid talking about Ramadan explicitly, only in vague terms.

“They would tell us that they woke up very early in the morning today. And to us, we understand that as, yes, they are fasting today because they wake up early,” she said. 

Beijing has pushed back against widespread accusations it is suppressing religious freedom for Muslims.

On the second day of Ramadan this year, China’s state news agency Xinhua published an English-language article about Uyghur Muslims observing the holy month at the Ak Mosque in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital.

It said “approximately 300 Muslims” attended the Ak Mosque to pray on the first day of Ramadan. Another Xinhua report quoted local imams as saying Muslims in Xinjiang were celebrating Ramadan “normally and freely”.

But media reports, rights watchdogs and experts on ethnic minorities in China say Muslims living in China are facing mounting limitations on the ability to practise their religion.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated in 2020 that some 16,000 mosques in Xinjiang have been destroyed or damaged, mostly since 2017.

Muslim minorities outside Xinjiang such as the Hui and Utsuls have also reported state-imposed restrictions on their religious practice and places of worship.

In 2019, authorities told businesses in Beijing to remove Arabic script and Muslim symbols, including signs indicating halal certification.

“Under Xi Jinping, this new era of kind of autocratic authoritarianism, it’s increasingly difficult for Chinese Muslims to practise their religion, particularly during sensitive times, like Ramadan,” said James Leibold, an associate professor at La Trobe University and an expert on ethnic minorities in China.

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New initiatives to support Australians with disability – 16 News


The Morrison Government is guaranteeing the essential services Australians rely on in Budget 2021-22.

As part of the Budget, we are delivering two tailored programs designed and delivered by people with disability. These programs will promote accessible and inclusive healthcare practises, and boost community participation in sport for Australians with disability.

A new pilot program for health professionals will be rolled out across five hospitals to develop the most effective way to increase disability inclusion across the hospital sector. The program will provide a range of online resources, face-to-face seminars and training programs that will be designed and delivered by people with disability.

The Government will also launch a program across more than 500 schools and local clubs to increase sporting participation among people with disability from remote communities and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The Sport4All program is targeted at both schools and sporting clubs to ensure people with disability are welcome and have the same opportunities to participate.

These programs will be delivered by Get Skilled Access, a disability-run organisation with years of experience providing awareness training to organisations across Australia.

Almost one in five Australians has a disability. The findings from these programs will be considered in the new National Disability Strategy to support people with disability over the next ten years.

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First repatriation flight for stranded Australians since travel ban arrives in Darwin


The government’s first repatriation flight out of India since the controversial flight ban has touched down in Darwin, with dozens of Australians on board.

The Qantas flight departed New Delhi just after 12am AEST on Saturday and was due to touch down in the Northern Territory at 9.50am AEST.

QF112 arrived ahead of schedule, landing at 9.21am.

Passengers will spend two weeks quarantining at Howard Springs.

Nearly half of the 150 Australians booked on the flight were not able to board due to their COVID-19 results.

It’s understood a total of 72 were turned around after 48 people tested positive and a further 24 were deemed close contacts.

Australians wanting to return home must be tested 72 hours or less prior to their scheduled flight, which needs to come back negative in order to fly.

It’s understood the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade worked to fill the flight with more passengers, but the pre-flight testing window proved an obstacle.

The next government repatriation flight from India is expected to arrive in Darwin on May 23.

On the way to India the Qantas plane was loaded with vital supplies, including ventilators and oxygen, which Australia has donated to the subcontinent as it battles a deadly second wave of the coronavirus.

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Australians ‘deserve to know’ the truth behind governments’ handling of pandemic: Credlin


Australians “deserve” to know the truth behind governments’ handling of COVID-19 and there are enough reasons to “justify” a full public investigation with a royal commission into the pandemic, according to Sky News host Peta Credlin.

“We’ve just had federal royal commissions into aged care, disability care, banking, and bushfires … We’re about to have a royal commission into veterans suicides. So why not into this pandemic,” Ms Credlin said.

“We deserve the truth.

“If the British government, that has done so much worse than our own, is still prepared to have its actions scrutinised, what is Scott Morrison scared of? What is Daniel Andrews scared of, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Mark McGowan – all of them?

“All of this matters now, and it matters for the future because while we don’t know when the next pandemic will come, we know that it will come, that’s for certain.”

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Australians do not benefit from a war with China


Recent rhetoric on war is more about supporting the highly lucrative defence industry as it is about countering the rise of China, writes Dr Rashad Seedeen.

The COALITION GOVERNMENT is increasingly acting like its loud-mouthed, redneck cousin in the U.S.; full of bluster with little follow-through.

It all began when Secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, informed his staff in an ANZAC Day speech that once again the “drums of war” were beating. Newly minted Defence Minister but always thin-skinned, Peter Dutton, affirmed such sentiment, openly musing that the prospect of war with China over Taiwan “should not be discounted”.

Others, like Senator Jim Molan, joined the chorus and it was recently revealed that Major-General Adam Findlay briefed special forces soldiers last year on the “high likelihood” of war.

The Murdoch press quickly fell into line with cringe-inducing headlines like ‘Let the war games begin’ and ‘China arms for war as QUAD fights back’.

Voices of reason did rise to confront such war mongering. Dr David Brophy, a lecturer in Modern Chinese History from the University of Sydney, argued for a mass movement that would reject Australia’s path to war.

Taiwan could be the trigger for a catastrophic war

It is becoming a case of when, not if, there will be a war between the U.S. and China.

Professor Hugh White, an expert in international security, warned against the devastating consequences of war with China, a nuclear power and a potential regional hegemon.

China has nuclear arsenal. Australia does not. The Chinese fleet is more than double that of Australia’s. China holds armed personnel of over two million while Australia’s active personnel barely surpasses 60,000.

Australia’s big-mouthed government cannot back up any of their delusional flexes.

But that’s the point really: Morrison, Dutton and so on are really angling to be the junior partner in a war between the U.S. and China, a potentially devastating scenario involving the two leading military powers with vast nuclear capabilities that could be system-ending.

That’s why governments from around the world are so cautious in their language and diplomacy in areas of contention, especially when it comes to China.

Taiwan, the Phillipines, Vietnam and Japan, who all hold histories directly dealing with the provocations of the Chinese military, have employed a diverse range of diplomatic tools and mechanisms to deal with the rising threat of China.

Most notably, all of these states have played a careful balancing act of engagement with the United States whilst continuing to maintain vital trade and diplomatic relations with China.

No wonder CNN was completely baffled by Australia’s sabre-rattling, observing that:

But it does make sense when we consider two factors: distracting a disgruntled public and the lucrative defence industry.

Indeed, this Government has botched the vaccine rollout, left citizens stranded in India, mishandled rape allegations and a toxic culture of sexism, has a Minister accused of a historical rape, a back-bencher accused of online harassment and sexual harassment and all the while also having a laundry list of corruption scandals too numerous to mention.

Talking up war definitely has a Wag the Dog element to it.

But let’s look at the less discussed factor: the defence industry.

Not sleepwalking but marching with eyes wide open to war

While the USA moves towards war, anti-China rhetoric grows on a daily basis and the idea of war is being sold as the ‘right’ thing.

Military spending is big business and it can only operate if there is a credible threat to justify its existence. Fear over expansionist China has become the perfect bogeyman.

Last year, the Government announced a $270 billion “update to Defence spending over the next ten years, an extra $70 billion to the previous allocation and justified based on China’s rise.

Whilst in Howard Springs, Morrison announced $747 million upgrade to Northern Territory military training bases where funding had been “significantly upgraded” in the “hundreds of millions” since first projected. The Northern Territory bases is the site where the U.S. and other allies conduct war game training operations.

Defence Industry Minister, Melissa Price, noted the defence industry employs over 70,000 people and that 70 per cent of Defence spending is invested in local contracts.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a hawkish think-tank funded by the Government and defence contractors, has also advocated for the expansion and development of the capabilities of medium-sized defence firms. Price agrees and has advocated for increased capability from the defence industry.

As Price enthusiastically concurs:

The Coalition Government values the expansion of the defence industry, which is unsurprising when we look at the Liberal Party’s ties to defence contractors.

For instance, within 18 months of leaving parliament, former Defence Minister, Christopher Pyne, received the plum job of defence consultant for the transnational consulting firm, EY.

Pyne’s lobbying firm has been hired by two defence contractors, DroneShield, an anti-drone tech firm and Elbit Systems of Australia, a manufacturer of military technology that is a major contractor for the Australian Defence Force.

No conflict of interest here.

War crimes trial may be useful in relieving political tensions with China

An understanding of an important World War 2 war crimes trial might guide us in handling one aspect of our current contentious China relationship.

According to a report by Crikey, West Australian ship-builder, Austal, led by long-time Liberal donor John Rothwell has received preferential treatment by the Federal Government. Austal is also under investigation in both the U.S. and Australia due to issues with corruption and poor ship-building.

Another donor to the Liberal Party, Thales, has been involved in submarine building through the French Naval Group in Adelaide and most recently a $23.7 million contract was secured for enhanced sonars to be added to the Collins Class submarines.

Naval Group, a company mired in corruption scandals in three continents, was surprisingly awarded the $50 billion deal to build a fleet of 12 submarines in 2016. However, Naval Group hired Sean Costello, a Liberal ex-chief of staff to former Defence Minister, David Johnston, as their new Chief Executive to run the bid.

The deal has increased to a $90 billion spend on the Future Submarine program and only last year the Coalition Government secured that Naval Group would invest 60 per cent of the contract value in Australia for the local defence industry. However, in February it was reported by the ABC that Naval Group has not formally signed off on this pledge and there are concerns that the building process itself has been plagued by delays and increased costs.

It would appear the defence industry is highly profitable, even if the contractors aren’t very good at what they do.

Despite the lack of competence, increased spending can continue while the Government presents a credible necessity for enhanced defence.

Talking up war with China, presented as an evil empire on the rise, can only bring about a flood of funding for the defence industry.

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman described this as ‘manufacturing consent’ in their seminal text of the same name. The essence of their argument is that within liberal-democratic societies the mass media functions through a filtering process that creates a platform to ‘allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public’ with the intent of shaping perceptions.

What does not feature in the lexicon of politicians, public servants and commentariat is that the prospect of war can be avoided and that the over-sized militaries of the United States and China have a direct interest in avoiding full-frontal war purely from a self-preservation standpoint.

Even a proxy war in the South China Sea or Taiwan would be disastrous for all involved, including Australia. We shouldn’t be talking up such prospects but instead looking at ways to avoid such a scenario.

The Federal Government only sees the next election. Picking fights with China through sound-bites primarily serves the interests of the defence industry and the Liberal Party.

Dr Rashad Seedeen holds a PhD in international relations and works as a high school teacher. You can follow Rashad on Twitter @rash_seedeen.

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Australians with loved ones overseas dismayed by forecast extension of travel ban until next year



The federal budget has forecast international borders will remain closed until next year, leaving some Australians distressed they will have to wait even longer to reunite with family overseas.

Australians with family and loved ones overseas have expressed dismay after the federal budget revealed international borders could remain shut until the middle of next year.  

The projection means the many Australians with personal connections abroad face the prospect of up to 12 months further separation, after more than a year of the travel ban already being in place. 

In March of last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced international borders would be shut to everyone except Australians citizens and permanent residents to guard against the spread of the coronavirus. 

The federal budget reveals Treasury’s forecast that the nation’s borders are expected to reopen “gradually” over 2022 – with temporary and permanent migration expected to resume from the middle of next year.  

But for Valeria Greenfield, the prospect of further time separated from her parents in Peru during the coronavirus pandemic is agonising. 

“I have depression thinking of the fear that my parents are going to die at anytime [and] they never meet their grandchild,” she told SBS News.  

Valeria hoped her parents in Peru could come and help her raise her daughter.

Valeria hoped her parents in Peru could come and help her raise her daughter.
Catalina Florez/SBS News

Ms Greenfield has lived in Australia for almost 12 years and became an Australian citizen five years ago. Since the arrival of her fist child in March last year, she has looked forward to the support her parents could provide.  

She says the time separated from her family has exacted a mental toll – only made worse by the likelihood of this extending into next year.

“I feel so helpless. We don’t have a time – we don’t have a month – we don’t have six months – a year is just too much,” she said.

“The government needs to think about all the migrants – They need to think about us and how this affects every part of our lives. We need some type of solution – any type of solution.”    

Under Australia’s COVID-19 travel ban, only the “immediate family” of an Australian citizen or permanent resident is allowed to enter the country – but parents aren’t considered immediate family.

This means Ms Greenfield’s parents Emma and Julio Vega have been unable to meet their granddaughter in person. 

Border forecast an ‘assumption’ not ‘policy decision’

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says a decision on reopening borders remains under consideration and will be made based on medical advice. 

“That is an assumption in the budget – it is not a policy decision,” he told SBS News on budget night. 

“We will open the borders when it is safe to do so. We are rolling out the coronavirus vaccine as quickly as possible but we also have to be mindful of the international circumstances with respect to the virus.”  

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
AAP

In relation to the coronavirus vaccine rollout, the federal budget also makes the assumption in the budget that a population-wide program will be in place by the end of 2021. 

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has likewise stressed this assumption is not a policy commitment.  

“That is not a policy statement nor is it a policy commitment of the government,” Mr Morrison told parliament on Wednesday.

Labor has accused the government of incompetence over the pace of the vaccine rollout and its management of quarantine.  

The federal budget outlined no new funds for open-air quarantine facilities beyond an already announced expansion at Howard Springs to increase the capacity of the system to return arrivals. 

“This has been a shambles from the beginning. All of this over promising and underdelivering,” Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers told reporters on Wednesday. 

Mother says she dreams of reuniting with son 

Rajshree Patel has been separated from her three-year-old son for almost 20 months, since the toddler travelled to India to be with his grandparents while she finished her Bachelor of Nursing.  

Ms Patel, 31, who came to Australia eight years ago, became a citizen in 2018 and has worked at a COVID-19 testing clinic in Sydney during the pandemic. 

Ms Patel and her son

Ms Patel and her son are both Australian citizens but remain apart.
Supplied/Rajshree Patel

Her son Nevaan was born in Australia and is an Australian citizen but is not old enough to fly alone.

Ms Patel says the Australian government has previously granted her mother an exemption to travel to Australia but the family is concerned about splitting up the family.

She said the possibility of the family’s reunification being further delayed is distressing. 

“I feel like it is a dream to see my son and hold him,” she told SBS News. 

“I’m anxious right now – very anxious – I don’t have words to explain.”

Ms Patel also expressed frustration that foreign celebrities and sports players had been granted exemptions to get into the country, while she remains separated from her parents. 

Last year, Australia’s net overseas migration plunged into negative levels for the first time since World War II due to widespread COVID-19 travel bans and border closures.

Treasury estimates suggest it will take at least another two years for it to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

This assumed delay in reopening international borders means net overseas migration will remain lower than previously expected, with a net loss of more than 77,000 forecast for the 2021-22 financial year.   

Gordon Chan and his fiancee Svetlana.

Gordon Chan and his fiancee Svetlana.
Supplied

Gordon Chan has been separated from his fiancee Svetlana Chernych in Russia for around 14 months, with the pair unable to reunite using a prospective marriage visa during the pandemic. 

“It has been completely heartbreaking,” he told SBS News.   

Mr Chan has now received an exemption from the government to travel to Russia, but his partner does not have a similar exemption to come to Australia.  

“I have got no other option than to go overseas in an unknown COVID environment with just my life savings in hand and try to live with my fiancée,” he said.

“My other option is to not go overseas – let my exemption expire – and not see my fiancée until next year sometime – how is that right?”

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Australians react to prediction that border will stay shut until mid-2022


Australians stranded apart from their loved ones have reacted with despair to the news, contained in the federal budget papers, that our international border is likely to remain shut until mid-2022.

And the hard-hit tourism and higher education sectors have warned they will struggle to survive for another year without travel resuming.

The budget’s economic forecasts rely on an optimistic assumption that the whole Australian population will be vaccinated by the end of 2021. Even if that does happen, however, the border is expected to stay closed for another six months.

“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur,” the budget documents say.

RELATED: Shock border reveal hidden in the budget

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was asked about that prediction during his appearance on the ABC’s 7.30 program last night.

“With respect to international borders, it’s quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year,” he said.

The issue also came up during his brief interview on 3AW radio.

“We’re being pretty cautious and conservative in saying the assumption is that the border will gradually reopen from mid next year,” Mr Frydenberg told host Brooke Corte.

“The confusion around the international border opening or remaining closed, it’s crippling industries like tourism and education. So is the international border going to open by the middle of next year?” she asked, pushing for some certainty.

“Well it’s not a policy decision, it’s an assumption,” said the Treasurer.

“When you’re making budgets, you make assumptions which then feed into the economic forecasts. Our policy decision around the borders will be determined by the medical advice, and you can’t say that this far out from that point in time.

“I don’t think anyone really knows until we get closer to that time.”

The prospect of the international border staying closed for another year is tough for the thousands of Australians stranded overseas, though the budget does include $176 million for repatriation flights and increased consular services.

It’s also hard to swallow for Australians who have been unable to see their loved ones since the pandemic began.

RELATED: The federal budget’s biggest losers revealed

There are economic consequences as well, particularly for the tourism and education sectors.

Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said the sector “cannot sustain” its losses with the border remaining shut. Universities have suffered from the lack of international students.

“Governments across all jurisdictions need to come together with universities to develop a robust plan for the safe return of international students. The plan would mean the safe quarantine of students from low-risk countries,” she said.

“The sector took a $1.8 billion revenue hit last year. Universities Australia estimates another $2 billion will be lost this year, against 2019 actual operating revenue.

“With borders shut until mid-2022, the picture for universities will get worse, with significant flow-on effects for the nation’s research capacity and jobs, inside and outside universities.

“Australia’s university sector cannot sustain these losses without serious damage to national productivity and the country’s knowledge base.”

The budget does include plans to allow a small number of international students back into the country with special quarantine arrangements.

It also lays out $1.2 billion to aid the tourism sector by subsidising the cost of domestic airfares and helping airlines to retain flight ready crews and aircraft, among other things.

Industry insiders say that won’t be enough.

And the government is introducing a Global Talent visa and a Temporary Activity visa to allow “highly skilled individuals” to enter the country.

“Australia’s effective management of COVID-19 makes us an even more attractive place for the best and brightest from around the world,” Mr Frydenberg said last night.

“To take advantage of this, we are streamlining visas to target highly skilled individuals when circumstances allow.”

“This is a budget that leaves the tourism industry high and dry with nowhere to go,” said Margy Osmond, chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum.

She added that many tourism-based businesses would have “no option but to send up the white flag and surrender”.

Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said businesses need the border to be open “sooner rather than later”.

“It’s impacting them in a range of ways. They’re finding it difficult to get staff into the country. They’re having difficulty to get people in to repair and replace equipment. They’re just finding it difficult to move around,” he said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce said it was “vital” for the government to begin a “staged reopening as soon as possible”.

“Businesses need certainty,” said the chamber’s tourism chair John Hart.

“The sector hinges on a firm commitment to international restart, from generating demand to accessing skills.”

While Mr Hart welcomed several budget measures, including the funding being provided to Tourism Australia, he said the support would “fall short without a plan to open Australia”.

The opposition is blaming the situation on a delayed vaccine rollout and the continued lack of federal quarantine facilities.

“International borders not reopening until mid-2022. Did I miss the part of the budget where the government was going to build quarantine facilities to manage international arrivals, or where they were going to speed up the vaccine delivery?” said Senator Nita Green.

Speaking to Channel 9 last night, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers blamed the Prime Minister for the slow vaccine rollout.

“What about keeping the borders closed until the middle of next year? That seems extraordinary. Would you do that differently?” asked interviewer Chris Uhlmann.

“Well it all comes back to the vaccinations and to quarantine, the things that Scott Morrison refuses to take responsibility for,” said Mr Chalmers.

“The budget tonight had some weasel words about when that might be possible, to reopen. But it all comes back to the vaccinations.

“You can’t have a first-rate economic recovery with a third-rate vaccine rollout, but that’s what the Prime Minister has given us.”

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Brendan Murphy ‘pretty confident’ most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October


Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday.

However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April.

Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks.

“The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor,” he said

“In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That’s been 700,000.”

Australia’s vaccination figures as of March 12.(

Supplied: Australian Government

)

Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a “herculean effort” to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues.

Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could “churn out” more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned.

Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was “not counting on that in our vaccination strategy”.

Vaccination time line could change

Professor Murphy said he was “pretty confident” most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year.

However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward.

Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met.

The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change.

“Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal,” he said.

“Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we’re talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules.”

Extra money for COVID-19 support

Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response.

It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks.

The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services.

The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service.

Stopping the spread of misinformation

Blue graphic with words 'Is it true?' and 'Questions answered'
More than a dozen questions and answers about the vaccine are on the Department of Health website.(

Supplied: Australian Government

)

In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.

There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, “Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?”. However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation.

Additional questions will be continually added to the website.

Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia.

“Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia,” he said.

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Debate continues about the efficacy rate of the different types of vaccine(Samantha Hawley)

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Prime Minister criticised on Q+A over abandoning Australians of Indian heritage during COVID-19 crisis


Australia may be set to resume flights from India next week to get stranded citizens home, but the Morrison government received a lashing on Q+A from guest Mannie Kaur Varma, who said Australians of Indian heritage are not being seen as equals by the Prime Minister.

Ms Varma said those in the Indian community felt abandoned by Mr Morrison, as she took aim in a show opening that mocked the PM’s love of curries, suggesting he thinks they are India’s major contribution to Australian society.

“First you grant us exemption to go to India to look after our loved ones who are fighting for their lives, then you abandon us and leave us in a country that is gasping for air,” Ms Varma said.

“In 2019 the Prime Minister said Australia is like a fragrant garam masala…for the Prime Minister, is the value of Indians reduced to just our food or does he see us as equals?”

Asked by host Hamish Macdonald how the flight ban and the threat of jail time for those returning from India made her feel, Ms Varma said the government ruling, under the Biosecurity Act, made it feel like Indian-Australians were not equal.

“What is going on in India is horrible and to know we are not treated the same as everyone else is just appalling,” she said.

Coalition Member for Reid in NSW, Fiona Martin, said the ruling was simply a case of following the health advice available to the government due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in returned travellers from India.

“Last month we saw over 40 per cent of people travelling home from India testing positive to COVID-19,” Ms Martin said, before adding other countries such as the United States (6 per cent) had a much lower rate.

Asked if those of Indian descent in her electorate had expressed similar feelings to Ms Varma, Ms Martin said that was not the case, but they did feel the threat of jail was overly aggressive.

“The penalty is what has been of concern by constituents, not the ban itself,” she said.

“As I mentioned, earlier in the week, I thought the penalty was a little heavy-handed and that part of it was problematic.”

Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney, who herself has a sizeable Indian population in her Barton electorate in NSW, said she had heard similar gripes to Ms Varma’s.

She said constituents felt “abandoned” and pointed out that to become Australian citizens, those who hail from India had to renounce their India citizenship, making the government’s flight ban an even more egregious move.

“We’re not talking about people who are not Australian citizens,” Ms Burney said of the Australians stranded in India.

“They are Australian citizens and Australian governments are responsible for keeping their citizens safe and providing them with as much support as possible in difficult circumstances.

Ms Martin was quick to refute the notion of it being a political response.

“This is not a political response. This is a health response. This decision has been based on health advice,” she said.

While India and coronavirus opened the show, a large part was devoted to the discussion of coercive control and how Australia can tackle the issue moving forward, including making it illegal.

In a powerful opening to the topic, audience member Suzette Sutton said she endured abuse for 25 years during which she tried to take her own life twice. She asked how the issue could be solved in relationships that involve domestic violence.

SBS journalist Jess Hill said that criminalising coercive control would make the entire gamut of domestic violence visible — not just physical or sexual assaults — and that it would ultimately help victims.

“What we’re proposing with criminalising coercive control is to make the entire arc of what you were subjected to visible,” Hill said.

“Not just the physical incidents, not just the things that our criminal justice system recognises now, but everything from the start to the finish so that we understand what the risks are, what the damage has been and how dangerous the offender is.”

Ms Burney, herself a survivor of domestic violence, said she wanted Australians to understand just how crippling coercive control could be, adding that it should be criminalised.

“Something that I want people to understand is this often the basis to destroying a person,” Ms Burney said.

“It takes away who you are.

“I agree that coercive control should be criminalised. 

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