Concerns about slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout to vulnerable Aussies


Fewer than 1000 disability care residents have received a COVID-19 vaccine, new figures show.

The disability royal commission on Monday heard from senior counsel assisting Kate Eastman that the vaccine rollout was an “abject failure”.

But she said she understood the commission would need to hear the federal government’s explanation about the low inoculation rates.

“These are people who represent some of our most vulnerable members of the population,” Ms Eastman said.

“The Australian government rollout of vaccines to people with disability in residential care – and these are people who represent some of the most vulnerable people in our population – has been an abject failure.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said 999 disability residents had been vaccinated as of midday on Monday.

A further 1526 support workers had also received a jab.

Under the government’s vaccine rollout plan, they were among the first priority group.

Mr Hunt said now that 60 per cent of residential aged care facilities had received a second visit, they were moving into the next stage of the disability rollout.

“Those teams are being redeployed into disability (care facilities),” he said.

“It’s an intended sequential process and it’s based on risk, and we’re following that advice.”

He said people could also get vaccinated through providers, primary health networks and GPs.

The royal commission heard that at May 6, government figures for people with a disability in residential care showed:

– In South Australia, just six people had received a vaccine, with only two receiving two doses

– In Tasmania, just eight people had received a vaccine, with only two receiving two doses

Ms Eastman said the figures did not include people with a disability in residential care or support workers who had made their own arrangements to get vaccinated.

Royal Australasian College of Physicians president John Wilson called for greater vaccine data among the disability sector amid concerns about the slow pace.

“The government’s daily vaccination updates do not provide comprehensive data about the progress of vaccination of people with disabilities,” Professor Wilson said.

“This may be masking the very low numbers of vaccinations that have been delivered in disability care settings.”

Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said priority groups were supposed to be vaccinated by Easter – six weeks ago.

“Not even 1 per cent of Australians living in disability care have been fully vaccinated,” Mr Butler said.

“Barely 4 per cent have even received a single dose.”

In total, more than 3.1 million vaccine doses have now been administered across Australia, including a big jump of more than 436,000 last week.

Australia’s drug regulator is expected to clear a further 352,170 doses of Pfizer vaccine, which arrived in Australia on Monday, and another million doses of AstraZeneca in coming days.

Zero cases of community transmission were recorded on Monday.

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Victor Harbor causeway demolition approved amid concerns about noise impacts on whale nursery


Approval has been granted to demolish and replace Victor Harbor’s heritage causeway despite concerns that construction works will drive the region’s whales away.

The South Australian Government has started investigative works to build the $31.1 million concrete and steel structure adjacent the existing 150-year-old timber causeway, which links the coastal town south of Adelaide with Granite Island.

SA Planning Minister Vickie Chapman on Monday gave a green light to the project after it was assessed favourably by the State Commission Assessment Panel.

Construction works will include mitigation measures to prevent marine life, particularly the southern right whales that visit the region during nursing season, from being harmed by pile-driving works.

But Conservation Council SA chief executive Craig Wilkins said the measures, which include an exclusion zone and marine observers halting works if a whale comes within a kilometre of construction, do not go far enough.

“It is actually unprecedented to have this type of pile driving construction noise in the middle of a whale nursery,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

Exploratory drilling took place at the site last week while the project was being considered.(

ABC Radio Adelaide: Caroline Horn

)

Mother ‘driven away’

Encounter Bay, which includes Victor Harbor, is a key breeding and nursing ground for the endangered species and generates significant tourism revenue each autumn and winter.

The Government wants the works completed by the end of the year, meaning pile driving will be taking place during whale season.

Mr Wilkins said whales had incredibly sensitive hearing within 10 kilometres and, while the mitigation measures would prevent physical injury to whales, the noise could drive them to a different location, “which would be a disaster”.

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“Even last whale season, there was an incident where a whale mother came into Encounter Bay but was driven away by human noise from boats,” he said.

“Weeks later, it was seen at the top of the Great Australian Bight where it was with a baby.

The same concerns were earlier this year raised by Encounter Bay Right Whale Study chief investigator Claire Charlton, from Curtin University, who said construction should be moved so that it did not occur within May to November.

Works to begin soon

Department for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Corey Wingard said he “appreciated” the concern about whales being driven away, but major works would begin later this month or early April.

Mr Wingard said his department had worked closely on the project with the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which he described as “the highest authority in the land”.

“With the exclusion zones, the observation zones, the employment of observers to make sure we have eyes on the water and eyes on the situation while we’re doing this, we’ve very confident we’ve got everything in place to deliver the right outcomes for the environment and also the community.”

Old image of a causeway leading back to the mainland with pier abutting from it.
A 1911 image of the causeway taken from Granite Island.(

Supplied: State Library of SA [B 8425]

)

Approved despite controversy

The project was also approved despite a petition launched last year to save and refurbish the existing causeway amassing more than 10,000 signatures.

Freedom of Information documents have also been sourced by the National Trust of SA, which revealed the same engineering firm, GHD, that in 2019 recommended the causeway be demolished, just nine years earlier outlined how it could and should be preserved as one of the town’s “central and special attractions”.

The horse tram crosses the Victor Harbor causeway.
The new causeway will include tram tracks for the existing horse tram at Victor Harbor.(

Brian Walker

)

The State Government, however, claimed that GHD’s initial report was a heritage assessment that included a statement of significance, and was not an engineering assessment.

Mr Wingard said the causeway had “run its race and was well and truly worn out”.

He said two short sections at either end of the new causeway would be retained that “jut out” from Victor Harbor and Granite Island as a tribute.

“I think it will be a really nice project when it’s finished, and still give people access to Granite Island, which we’ve known and loved for years, which is great for tourism and great for that local community,” Mr Wingard said.

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Victoria moves to single QR code COVID-19 check-in system amid concerns about compliance


It wasn’t until Rachelle Connor left Victoria and returned that she started to become worried about how QR codes were used in her home state.

At the first restaurant they visited after arriving in Western Australia, Ms Connor and her family were asked to download the SafeWA app before scanning into the venue.

“That’s how diligent they are,” she said.

It was one of the first times she had been told she would not be allowed into a venue without showing proof of her checking in.

“It’s just everywhere, people are doing it and people are complying,” she said.

“And it just struck us that after being in Victoria, where we’ve had so many cases, to go to a state that has had barely any cases, and everyone is still scanning to go into any sort of shop or any outlet was just extraordinary.”

Ms Connor, a council worker, said she had written to businesses since returning home “and I was told that it’s not mandatory in Victoria”.

Most venues, including hospitality, sport facilities, gyms, religious sites, community venues, entertainment venues, real estate inspections, museums, nightclubs, gaming, accommodation and beauty services, are all required to use a QR code system.

Supermarkets, retail and shopping centres are “highly recommended” to use the service.

The results of a recent survey released by the government found only 41 per cent of visitors to hospitality venues checked in every time.

Authorised officers visited a range of venues between April 30 and May 2 and issued warnings or notices about a lack of compliance with the system.

Health Minister Martin Foley said there had been “declining levels of compliance with the kind of measures we need to stay safe and stay open”.

The use of QR codes for contact tracing is in the spotlight after New South Wales authorities praised a couple at the centre of the outbreak for using the state’s system.

Nancy Baxter, head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, said the QR codes were “really helpful” if everyone was using them.

The data collected through the QR codes can work faster than the “deep detective work” of contact tracers, meaning potentially infected people isolate sooner.

But Professor Baxter said their usefulness depended on their uptake.

“Even myself, I try to be vigilant about it, but just recently, I couldn’t seem to get the system to work. Did I persist? No, honestly … and I don’t think I’m unique,” she said.

The government has today announced small-to-medium-sized businesses will have patron caps lifted from May 28.

Venues that are 400 square metres or below will be able to have up to 200 patrons per space — such as a dining room or band room — with the previous rule of one person per 2 square metres removed.

They must use the government’s Service Victoria app and have COVID marshals in place to ensure people are checking in to each space.

Mr Foley said the move to the single system was made on public health advice and after looking around the rest of the nation.

After allowing venues to use their own check-in system for months, Victoria recently mandated the use of the Service Victoria app, or for third-party systems to link back to the government’s interface.

Venues were given an amnesty until April 23 to comply.

There had been some pushback over fears small businesses would be forced to bear the cost of the move to a single program.

The new rules announced today mean all venues must use the government’s app instead, despite many going through the process of having their systems approved over recent weeks.

“Business welcomes the announcement of the easing of restrictions today,” chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Paul Guerra said.

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Concerns over government’s ‘fast track’ interview process for people seeking asylum



There are concerns asylum seekers won’t have enough time to prepare for interviews that will determine the fate of their applications to stay in the country.

Advocates are concerned hundreds of asylum seekers who’ve been waiting years for their refugee applications to be processed have been given just two weeks to prepare for “the most important interview of their lives”.

Several asylum seekers who arrived by boat before 2014 have been invited for interviews with the Department of Home Affairs to assess their protection applications. They have been given just two weeks’ notice.

There are concerns many of them face language and financial barriers, and some don’t know where to go for help as they prepare for interviews that may determine whether or not they can stay in the country.

A mother of two children told the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) she had been waiting for eight years for her case to be assessed and only now has been granted an interview.

“Just now they send me this letter, only in English. I’m told it says I have to go for an interview in a few days,” she said, according to the ASRC.

“I have no lawyer and no money to pay. I need help to get ready. I’ve been really sick for a long time and this has made me so stressed I can’t even think or look after my girls now.”

Community legal centres have sounded the alarm, saying the department’s flagged intention to clear 1200 first interviews for asylum seekers by 30 June “sacrifices procedural fairness to meet a deadline”.

Sarah Dale from the Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS) said legal centres in NSW and Victoria are being inundated with requests for help.

She said while it was important for the refugee applications to be processed in a timely manner, the surge has left the community and support services “completely overwhelmed”.

“Of course we support the fact that people are starting to be processed, but we want that process to be a fair one, and we want that process to be one whereby people can access assistance when they need it,” Ms Dale told SBS News.

“It’s stressful for people because they know that it’s an incredibly important step and it’s ultimately the deciding step as to whether or not they’re going to be accepted here in Australia.”

Ms Dale said RACS has been “smashed” with the recent amount of interviews. 

“Our lawyers are working insane hours, and they’re going above and beyond for the community that would otherwise be left by themselves.”

Carolyn Graydon from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said these interviews were the main chance people had to make their case for protection in Australia.

“We are really worried that this rushed interview process will come at the expense of careful, thorough decision making and this will result in wrong decisions,” she said in a statement.

“People owed protection and the right to remain safely in Australia will slip between the cracks and then face forced return to situations of persecution.”

The Department of Home Affairs and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s office have been contacted for comment.

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Australian Education Union hears concerns from ‘exhausted’ Victorian teachers


Central Victorian public school teachers have voiced concern over excessive workloads and crowded classrooms at a meeting with the education union.

The Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) visited Epsom Primary School today to discuss its push for a better workplace agreement.

The previous agreement expired on Friday despite four months of negotiations with the union and the state government is yet to agree on a new one.

“They’re saying to us they’re tired, they’re exhausted and it’s impacting on the quality when they’re with their students during the week,” president Meredith Peace said.

“Our principals are overburdened with administration and compliance and can’t focus on the education leadership they want to provide to their school communities.

“It must be addressed.”

The union surveyed more than 10,000 Victorian teachers and support staff last month.

“Teachers are working, on average, 15 hours of unpaid overtime a week,” Ms Peace said.

Epsom Primary School principal Lyn Coulter said many teachers were feeling overworked.

“There is much work around compliance and the demands on schools have also changed around what our role is in supporting parents and families,” she said.

“We need our teachers to have the time to be able to play and work and be in front of their classes doing the job that they’re paid to be doing, which is educating our young people.”

Ms Coulter said many young teachers were getting burnt out.

“At certain times of year, around reports and end of the year, then it’s certainly obvious to me that some of those things teachers would be otherwise doing, they don’t have the time or energy.”

Ms Peace said negotiations were ongoing and there was no talk of strikes.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino responded with a statement.

“We are continuing to have productive conversations with workforce representatives regarding a new enterprise bargaining agreement,” he said.

“We are unable to provide any further comment whilst these negotiations are taking place.”

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Apple AirTags suspended by Officeworks due to child safety concerns


Officeworks has paused the sale of Apple’s new AirTags just two weeks after they were released due to concerns children could easily remove the button cell battery.

In late April, Apple unveiled its own version of Tile technology, a device that uses Bluetooth to track personal belongings to your smartphone.

However, reports surfaced online of customers being told at Officeworks stores that the AirTag was temporarily unavailable, while the company also removed the product from its website.

“Eventually someone came downstairs from the office and explained that the AirTags have been recalled due to safety concerns of how easily the button-cell battery can be removed by a child,” a user posted on Reddit.

Officeworks confirmed the product suspension.

“The Apple AirTag range will temporarily be unavailable from purchase from Officeworks,” a spokesman told NCA NewsWire in a statement.

“The product will not be stocked by Officeworks until further guidance is provided from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Officeworks continues to work with Apple to address any safety concerns.”

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) urged all commercial retailers to suspend and report product they thought could have dangerous button cell battery components.

“The ACCC is aware of reports raising concerns about the accessibility of button batteries in the Apple AirTag product,” an ACCC statement read.

“If a supplier finds a product they supply is unsafe, the ACCC expects the supplier to conduct a voluntary recall to advise consumers of the risk, address the safety issue, or remove the product from the market.

“If a supplier becomes aware of a serious injury, illness or death caused by a product they supply, the supplier must make a mandatory injury report through the Product Safety Australia website.”

AirTags are sleek and come in a leather casing, costing $45 each or four for $149.

They can be attached to keys, backpacks, luggage and other objects as you would a Tile.

The product uses an iPhone’s camera, accelerometer and gyroscope, along with visual and haptic feedback, to help locate the device.

They can be monitored in the Find My app.

In December 2020, the Federal Government announced new mandatory safety and information standards for button batteries and products that contain them.

There are requirements for secure battery compartments, child resistant packaging and warnings and information.

The standards include an 18-month transition period and will come into force on 22 July 2022, but are not mandatory now.

However the ACCC has urged manufacturers to comply with the standards before the deadline.

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US Republicans seek to empower poll watchers, raising concerns voters of colour will be intimidated



Republicans in several US states are pushing bills to give poll watchers more autonomy. Alarmed election officials and voting rights activists say it’s a new attempt to target voters of colour.

The red dot of a laser pointer circled downtown Houston on a map during a virtual training of poll watchers by the Harris County Republican Party. It highlighted densely populated, largely black, Latino and Asian neighbourhoods.

“This is where the fraud is occurring,” a county Republican official said falsely in a leaked video of the training, which was held in March. A precinct chair in the northeastern, largely white suburbs of Houston, he said he was trying to recruit people from his area “to have the confidence and courage” to act as poll watchers in the circled areas in upcoming elections.

A question at the bottom corner of the slide indicated just how many poll watchers the party wanted to mobilise: “Can we build a 10K Election Integrity Brigade?”

As Republican lawmakers in major battleground states seek to make voting harder and more confusing through a web of new election laws, they are simultaneously making a concerted legislative push to grant more autonomy and access to partisan poll watchers – citizens trained by a campaign or a party and authorised by local election officials to observe the electoral process.

This effort has alarmed election officials and voting rights activists alike. There is a long history of poll watchers being used to intimidate voters and harass election workers, often in ways that target Democratic-leaning communities of colour and stoke fears that have the overall effect of voter suppression. During the 2020 election, President Donald Trump’s campaign repeatedly promoted its “army” of poll watchers as he publicly implored supporters to venture into heavily black and Latino cities and hunt for voter fraud.

Republicans have offered little evidence to justify a need for poll watchers to have expanded access and autonomy. As they have done for other election changes – including reduced early voting, stricter absentee ballot requirements and limits on drop boxes – they have grounded their reasoning in arguments that their voters want more secure elections. That desire was born in large part out of Mr Trump’s repeated lies about last year’s presidential contest, which included complaints about insufficient poll watcher access.

Now, with disputes over the rules governing voting at a fever pitch, the rush to empower poll watchers threatens to inject further tension into elections.

Both partisan and nonpartisan poll watching have been a key component of US elections for years, and Republicans and Democrats alike have routinely sent trained observers to the polls to monitor the process and report back on any worries. In recent decades, laws have often helped keep aggressive behaviour at bay, preventing poll watchers from getting too close to voters or election officials and maintaining a relatively low threshold for expelling anyone who misbehaves.

But now Republican state lawmakers in 20 states have introduced at least 40 bills that would expand the powers of poll watchers, and 12 of those bills in six states are currently progressing through legislatures, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

In Texas, the Republican-controlled Legislature is advancing legislation that would allow them to photograph and video-record voters receiving assistance, as well as make it extremely difficult for election officials to order the removal of poll watchers.

The video-recording measure has particularly alarmed voting rights groups, which argue that it could result in the unwanted identification of a voter in a video posted on social media or allow isolated incidents to be used by partisan news outlets to craft a widespread narrative.

“If you have a situation, for example, where people who are poll workers do not have the ability to throw out anybody at the polls who is being disruptive or anyone at the polls who is intimidating voters, that’s essentially authorising voter intimidation,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the nonpartisan Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Republicans have been increasingly open in recent years about their intent to line up legions of supporters to monitor the polls. Following the lead of Mr Trump, they have often framed the observational role in militaristic tones, amplifying their arguments of its necessity with false claims of widespread fraud. Just three years ago, the courts lifted a consent decree that for more than three decades had barred the Republican National Committee from taking an active role in poll watching; in 2020, the committee jumped back into the practice.

In Florida, Republicans in the state Legislature passed a new election bill Thursday that includes a provision allowing one partisan poll watcher per candidate on the ballot during the inspection of votes. The measure carries the potential to significantly overcrowd election officials. The bill also does not stipulate any distance that poll watchers must keep from election workers.

In Michigan, a GOP bill would allow challengers to sit close enough to read poll books, tabulators and other election records and would let them challenge a voter’s eligibility if they had “a good reason”.

The Republican drive to empower poll watchers adds to the mounting evidence that much of the party continues to view the 2020 election through the same lens as Mr Trump, who has repeatedly argued that his losses in key states must have been because of fraud.

President Donald J. Trump on the morning after the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump’s campaign promoted an “army” of poll watchers.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

“It seems like the No. 1 goal of these laws is to perpetuate the Big Lie,” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “So when you get these unfounded charges that there was fraud or cheating in the election and people say, ‘Well, that’s not detected,’ the purveyors of these lies say, ‘That’s because we weren’t able to observe’”.

After the election last year, complaints that poll watchers had not been given enough access or that their accusations of improperly cast ballots had been ignored fuelled numerous lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and its Republican allies, nearly all of which failed.

In Texas, the leaked video of the Harris County Republican Party’s training, which was published by the voting rights group Common Cause, recalled a similar episode from the 2010 midterm elections.

That year, a Tea Party-affiliated group in Houston known as the King Street Patriots sent poll watchers to downtown polling locations. The flood of the mostly white observers into black neighbourhoods caused friction and resurfaced not-too-distant memories when racial intimidation at the polls was commonplace in the South.

The King Street Patriots would eventually evolve into True the Vote, one of the major national organisations now seeking more voting restrictions. Last year, True the Vote joined several lawsuits alleging fraud in the election (all failed) and led countrywide drives to try to recruit more poll watchers.

Access for poll watchers is considered sacred by Texas Republicans; in the Legislature, they cited the difficulty in finding observers for drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting as one of their reasons for proposing to ban such balloting methods.

“Both parties want to have poll watchers, need to have poll watchers present,” state Senator Bryan Hughes, a Republican who sponsored the chamber’s version of the bill, said in an interview last month. “That protects everyone.”

While the antagonistic language from the Trump campaign about its poll watchers was already a flash point in November, Democrats and voting rights groups are worried that relaxed rules will lead to more reports of aggressive behaviour.

In 2020, there were at least 44 reports of inappropriate behaviour by poll watchers in Harris County, according to county records obtained by The New York Times.

At one polling site on the outskirts of Houston, Cindy Wilson, the nonpartisan election official in charge, reported two aggressive poll watchers who she said had bothered voters and repeatedly challenged the staff.

“Two Poll watchers stood close to the black voters and engaged in what I describe as intimidating behaviour,” Ms Wilson wrote in an email to the Harris County clerk that was obtained by the Times through an open records request.

Ms Wilson said she was not sure which campaign or party the observers were representing.

Of course, plenty of interactions with poll workers went smoothly. Merrilee Peterson, a poll watcher for a local Republican candidate, worked at a different site, the NRG Arena, and reported no tensions of note.

“We still had some of the problems of not thinking we were allowed to get close enough to see,” she said. “But once the little kinks were worked out, quite frankly, we worked very well with the poll workers.”

In Florida, crowding was the chief concern of election officials.

Testifying before state senators, Mark Earley, vice president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, said that “as an association, we are very concerned” about the number of poll watchers who would now be allowed to observe the process of duplicating a voter’s damaged or erroneously marked ballot. He said it presented “very grave security risks.”

Mr Earley was backed by at least one Republican, state Senator Jeff Brandes, who found the provision for poll watchers unnecessary and dangerous.

“I don’t think we should have to install risers in the supervisor of elections offices or bars by which they can hang upside down in order to ensure that there is a transparent process,” Mr Brandes said.

A crowd watches as workers counted absentee ballots in Detroit in November 2020.

A crowd that included many Michigan Republicans banged on the windows as workers counted absentee ballots in Detroit in November 2020.
Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

But perhaps no other state had a conflict involving poll watchers erupt onto cable news as Michigan did. On Election Day and the day after in November, Republican poll watchers grew increasingly obstructive at the TCF Center in Detroit, where absentee ballots were counted as it became clear that Trump was losing in the state.

It began with a huddle of Republican observers around midday on 4 November, according to affidavits from Democratic poll watchers, nonpartisan observers and election officials.

Soon after, the Republicans “began to fan out around the room”, wrote Dan McKernan, an election worker.

Then they ramped up their objections, accusing workers of entering incorrect birth years or backdating ballots. In some cases, the poll watchers lodged blanket claims of wrongdoing.

“The behaviour in the room changed dramatically in the afternoon: The rage in the room from Republican challengers was nothing like I had ever experienced in my life,” wrote Anjanette Davenport Hatter, another election worker.

Mr McKernan wrote, “Republicans were challenging everything at the two tables I could see. When the ballot envelope was opened, they would say they couldn’t see it clearly. When the next envelope was opened, they made the same complaint. They were objecting to every single step down the line for no good reason.”

The chaos provided some of the basis for Michigan officials to debate whether to certify the results, but a state board did so that month.

Now the Republican-controlled Legislature in Michigan is proposing to bar nonpartisan observers from acting as poll watchers, allowing only partisan challengers to do so.

While widespread reports of intimidation never materialised last year, voting rights groups say the atmosphere after the election represents a dangerous shift in US elections.

“It really hasn’t been like this for decades, generally speaking, even though there’s a long and storied history of it,” said Michael Waldman, a legal expert at the Brennan Center. Aggressive partisan poll watchers, he said, were “a long-standing barrier to voting in the United States, and it was also largely solved. And this risks bringing it back.”

By Nick Corasaniti at The New York Times

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Fines, jail threats concerns Human Rights Commission


The Human Rights Commission has revealed it has “serious concerns” about threats to jail or fine Australian citizens returning from India under a federal government travel ban.

From Monday, people who have been in India within the previous fortnight before their intended arrival in Australia will face a $66,600 fine, as well as five years imprisonment for entering the country.

The government has staunchly defended the tough move saying it was necessary to protect Australia’s public health and the quarantine systems, as India records more than 300,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

The subcontinent nation reported more than 400,000 new cases on Saturday, the highest ever daily count globally, after 10 straight days of more than 300,000 new daily cases.

But the human rights watchdog said the shock move “raises serious human rights concerns”.

“The commission holds deep concerns about these extraordinary new restrictions on Australians returning to Australia from India,” it said in a statement.

“The need for such restrictions must be publicly justified.

“The government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health.

“The commission is approaching the Australian government directly with its concerns.”

The watchdog has urged a Senate COVID-19 committee to immediately review the restrictions.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Saturday rejected the suggestion the government was abandoning around 9000 Australians in India.

“We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“This is a temporary measure … The situation in India is dire and very serious, and we need to take and act on the medical advice that was provided to us.”

The government will reconsider the travel ban on May 15 following advice from Australia’s chief medical officer.

Australia has agreed to provide emergency medical supplies, including more than 1000 non-invasive ventilators, and has offered to supply personal protective equipment.

Labor treasury spokesman, Jim Chalmers, said on Sunday the closure of the international border was doing a lot of damage to businesses and workers.

“That international border will be closed for longer than it needs to be because Scott Morrison has bungled his two key responsibilities – to get the vaccination rolled out safely and quickly and effectively, and to manage the quarantine system,” Dr Chalmers told Sky News.

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Co-op to ditch plastic ‘bags for life’ over pollution concerns


Campaigners fear that bags are often used just once despite their name, creating more plastic waste

The Co-operative Group is to stop selling plastic “bags for life” because, with many shoppers using them only once, they have become as big a problem as the single-use carriers they replaced.

With more than 1.5 billion “bags for life” sold each year Jo Whitfield, the chief executive of Co-op Food, said plastic pollution was a “massive issue” for retailers. “Many shoppers are regularly buying so called “bags for life” to use just once and it’s leading to a major hike in the amount of plastic being produced,” she explained.

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NRL continues push for splitting into two conferences despite concerns


Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo have been meeting with clubs to set out their vision for the sport.

That includes splitting the competition into two conferences, with one being made up of only Sydney teams.

“We’ll look at what’s in the interest of the game,” he said on Monday at the launch of State of Origin for 2021 in Melbourne.

“That’s what Peter’s doing, and Andrew, they’re consulting with the clubs to see what their views are.”

He says the conference idea is early in its conception and the commission is still to review the overseas experience, as well as full implications for broadcasters, clubs and travel.

However, he confirmed a conference split was one of several proposals under consideration, alongside a team in Perth.

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