Zia Dredge, 9, has a clear message for Hearing Awareness Week: Deafness doesn’t have to hold you back


Ahead of Hearing Awareness Week, the bubbly Brisbane girl’s mother, Heidi Dredge, wants families to know they need not despair if a child has hearing loss, that technology and support have outpaced perceptions of hearing loss.

It comes as new data from First Voice reveals 94 per cent of Australians are unaware it’s possible for children born deaf to learn to listen and speak as well as children with typical hearing.

Not-for-profit Hear and Say chief executive Chris McCarthy said it was sobering that most Australians did not realise potential outcomes if their children got the right diagnosis, technology and specialised speech therapy.

“We’re seeing amazing outcomes for children with hearing loss,” he said.

“Children that are going through our program have got clear, natural spoken language and I would challenge people that didn’t know they have a hearing loss to pick it up.”

Ms Dredge said there were no signs in her pregnancy and no family history of hearing loss, but Zia’s hearing loss was identified in the Healthy Hearing screening for all newborn babies in Queensland.

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ASX down for third week, bonds hold sway



Australia’s share market had its heaviest percentage fall since early September after investors opted for rising yields in the bond market.

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There is ‘no excuse’ for governments not to hold ANZAC Day commemorations



Sky News host Paul Murray says Australia must have an ANZAC Day this year identical to the one in 2019 and hopes state governments follow Queensland’s example to keep the commemoration.

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Oscar-shortlisted documentary 76 Days captures the Wuhan view as COVID took hold


The film is, he says, “apolitical”. There’s no voiceover narration, no interviews, no attempt to point the finger of blame for cover-ups or systemic failures in the way the epidemic was handled in those early days. Instead, the camera is a seemingly dispassionate observer of what happened in four hospitals during the lockdown of the city of 11 million people from January 23 to April 8 last year.

“I’ve done films in the past that got me into bigger trouble,” says Wu. “My past film, People’s Republic of Desire, was about live-streaming internet celebrities but I couldn’t get it approved by the censors because they disliked the lifestyle and values they represent.”

Hao Wu, left, and Weixi Chen, two of the film’s three directors. 

Yet reading the Chinese Communist Party’s collective mind is no straightforward matter, he concedes. “I have no idea how they’re going to respond to the really authentic portrayal of the early chaos and panic in 76 Days, or the way it ends with a sense of collective grief. I don’t know where the line is, and some people cross that line and get detained or arrested. But I think, for now, what we did with this film is fine.”

Initially, the three directors didn’t know each other. The two in China were operating separately until mutual contacts introduced them to Wu, and to each other, and a collaboration was born.

More than 320 hours of footage has been rendered into a 90-minute film. But it wasn’t until Wu’s first cut last July that the shape of the film began to emerge.

At first, speaking to the whistleblower doctors and political dissenters in the community had seemed essential. “At the very beginning, the whole narrative was about freedom of speech versus pandemic control,” says Wu. But then the epidemic became a pandemic, and America and Italy and the UK all fumbled their responses, too, and Wu and his colleagues had to rethink what their film would be about.

At any rate, there were many other filmmakers pursuing the bigger picture, both in China and abroad. Their view from inside the hospital wards was unique – and inherently risky.

“For them to go inside a contamination zone, not knowing how dangerous the virus was in those early days, was nerve-wracking,” Wu says of his co-directors. Later it would be the mental anguish of watching people die that became most gruelling, and the sheer exhaustion of filming for so long.

Throughout the shoot, they had to wear full PPE. Even so, one of them contracted a fever within a week of arriving.

“He was just married. He said, ‘I don’t want to die yet’,” says Wu. He isolated in his hotel room until it passed and when he was finally able to get tested it came back negative. “But we don’t know if that was true because the early tests weren’t so accurate.”

Anyone expecting an excoriating takedown of the Party for its handling of the outbreak will perhaps be disappointed by 76 Days; what it offers instead is a story in which co-operation, dedication, care and family are the abiding attributes. Characters emerge – some difficult, some heroic, some amusing – and there’s hope as well as tragedy in the paths the filmmakers follow.

“If you disregard some of the politics, it’s the same human story everywhere,” says Wu. “So we decided to just focus on the Wuhan story – the universal Wuhan story.”

76 Days screens at 6.30pm on Sunday as part of the Australian International Documentary Conference. The AIDC is at ACMI in Melbourne and online from February 28 to March 3. Details: aidc.com.au

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ALEX BRUMMER: Chancellor must hold his fire


The latest data for public borrowing tells us why Rishi Sunak can afford to sit on his hands and hold back on tax rises when he delivers his March 3 Budget. 

Since Covid arrived a year ago, the Chancellor has delivered a record breaking 15 financial statements. 

Almost all of these appearances have been to unveil support measures or giveaways. It is as if traditional Tory values of budget discipline no longer count. 

Planning ahead: Rishi Sunak needs to put some zip behind recovery and resist efforts to make early repairs to the tax base

One government appointee, departing Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, took to the airwaves this week to suggest an extra £10billion be allocated to kids to help with Covid stresses. No one batted an eyelid. 

Much will be made of the fact that borrowing in January at £8.8billion is a record for the first month of the year, when there is normally a surplus as self-assessment tax payments roll in. 

The actual number is a shade under one-third of the £24billion which most analysts had projected. Most of the deficit is down to spending decisions with last month’s outlays 31.7 per cent up at £81.9billion. The furlough scheme cost £4.2billion in January. 

It is now looking as if the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) may have overdone the gloom. Borrowing at £270.6billion in the first ten months of 2020-21 points to an undershoot of the £394billion projected by the OBR. The monthly data takes no account of the guarantee made for the Covid-loan schemes, with estimated losses of up to £30billion. 

As the Treasury makes its final budget decisions, it should be buoyed by the fact that, for all the damage Covid has done to the High Street, education, hospitality and business confidence, tax receipts are holding up. 

At £80.3billion in January, revenues are just 1 per cent down on last year. Income and wealth tax receipts were up and, unsurprisingly, VAT took a big hit. 

The latest purchasing managers index shows a mild rebound in February, suggesting that the economy, particularly manufacturing, has learned to live with lockdowns much better than last year. 

What Sunak needs to do is to put some zip behind recovery and resist efforts to make early repairs to the tax base. Rather than ‘eat out to help out’ trendiness, he should go for VAT cuts, support for the young unemployed, R&D tax breaks and hold off on the restoration of business rates. 

The country cannot go on borrowing unchecked forever. 

Oil and commodity prices on the rise and unprecedented monetary creation are sending global bond yields higher. 

The risks to highly-borrowed Western governments of a surge in interest rate service charges is very real. But now is not the time to slam on the brakes.

Free Natwest 

Alison Rose at Natwest has brought back the dividend, repositioned the bank for the Covid era and made a tough decision about a withdrawal of Ulster Bank from Ireland. 

 The bank has more capital than it knows what to do with and has seen a vast jump of £62.5billion in ready-to-spend customer deposits. 

Rose has reshaped the bank, including its trading operations. It is high time that the Government sold down its 62 per cent stake.

Time to offload: It is high time that the Government sold down its 62 per cent stake in NatWest

Time to offload: It is high time that the Government sold down its 62 per cent stake in NatWest

Returning the share price to a level where politicians can declare a profits victory will be tricky in the current low interest rate environment. 

The spectre of part-government ownership may well have contributed to Natwest becoming a better corporate citizen with its focus on green bonds, lending to entrepreneurs and moderating executive pay packages. 

But it is time, for the sake of minority investors, that this behemoth was returned fully to the public markets where it belongs. 

Texas whiteout 

As someone with a son and daughter-in-law working and living in Austin, Texas, it has been hard not to become fixated on snow storms and their impact on utilities in America’s most important energy state. 

Early reports blamed frozen wind farms and impotent solar energy facilities for the loss of power. Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has declared this to be Republican false news. 

It has since emerged that the weather closed down West Texas’s biggest oil refineries and some natural gas pipelines. 

As a consequence, almost 40 of US oil production has been interrupted. 

The family has discovered the magic of candlelight, gas fires and hobs. Home working on laptops with flat batteries is trickier. 

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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WA Charter of Rights would protect the freedoms we hold dear


The Greens have come to this election with a clear and unequivocal commitment to work towards establishing a Charter of Rights here in Western Australia.

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Having our own Charter of Rights is neither a radical nor a new proposal. In 2007, Attorney General Jim McGinty proposed that WA introduce human rights protections. A Consultation Committee chaired by Fred Chaney found clear majority support.

But the process stalled and consideration moved to providing these protections at federal level.

Federal laws would be great. Ideally, all Australians would be covered under a national Charter of Rights.

But although there is an ongoing discussion, championed unsurprisingly by the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is unlikely this will happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Queensland, the ACT and Victoria have acted at state level, adopting their own state-based charters.

West Australians must be afforded similar protections.

A charter would not guarantee rights, but it would provide an important check. It would also ensure human rights are taken into account by Parliament when new laws are made.

A Charter of Rights would serve as an important tool in having essential needs met, as is currently the case in jurisdictions like Victoria, the ACT and the UK.

It could help ensure all West Australian children have access to a quality education, no matter where they live. And that all people have access to healthcare, no matter their income. It would ensure that our personal privacies are protected from infringement by governments, individuals or corporations.

The charter could be used specifically to address rights-based issues like the mistreatment of children and young people in our prison system; elder abuse; modern slavery; access to education for children with disability, or that vexed issue of people with intellectual disability facing indefinite imprisonment.

The last few days I have again witnessed the horrific failings of our mental health system.

Another First Nations child, just 14 years old, is far from home in Banksia Hill Detention Centre. His family have been fighting for years to have his mental health needs met.

While not a panacea, a charter recognising the right to essential services like mental healthcare could have served as a powerful tool in their fight.

In developing a charter, West Australians should be given the opportunity to list the basic rights we all believe are important enough to deserve legal protection.

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Our charter, as is the case for Queensland’s Human Rights Act, would likely acknowledge that human rights are not absolute, sometimes they conflict with each other, and they may be subject to reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

With the myriad of challenges we are currently facing – COVID-19, climate change, homelessness, Aboriginal deaths in custody, infringements on press freedoms – it is more important than ever that power is transferred back to the people; that we have a mechanism to hold Government to account and which sets clear obligations as to how we expect the state, organisations and individuals to treat people.

Elections are only one part of a free and democratic society.

Democracy’s success rests on a foundation of shared values, rights and freedoms.

As West Australians, we share values like fairness, respect and compassion. By codifying and legislating these we strengthen our democracy. Given the challenges our society is currently facing, surely this can only be a good thing.

Alison Xamon is the leader of the WA Greens.

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Why COVID-19 Deniers Hold So Much Power


“That’s exactly what he wanted. It’s not like people say he responded in a great way, but all he needed was for people to say, ‘That’s just the way it is’ and ‘Some will die, but at least we won’t lose our jobs,’” Stuenkel told me.

Trump, meanwhile, dug his heels in every step of the way when it came to the American response to COVID-19, minimizing the threat and mocking the fearful. He tested positive after returning from one of his many campaign rallies (which themselves flew in the face of his own government’s recommendations), and went for a joyride after being admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, near Washington, D.C. His show of strength at the White House after returning from the hospital—marching up to a balcony facing the South Lawn and ripping off a medical mask—and his message to Americans not to let the virus “dominate you” were his declaration to the world that he was not a changed man, fitting neatly in this trajectory of how coronavirus-infected strongmen react.

Both Stuenkel and Ximénez-Fyvie told me that in their countries, there had been hope that illness would humble their leaders, encouraging them to show more empathy and exhibit a deeper understanding of the coronavirus threat.

That great humbling never happened. Part of this likely comes down to self-belief: These leaders, like most who ascend to the highest position in their country, are certain in their course of action and trust their instincts, which is how they have succeeded thus far.

There is, however, a narrower political calculus. Bolsonaro is up for reelection next year, and his handling of the pandemic may well be a major issue in the campaign. But because of how divided domestic politics in Brazil are, he faces no serious opposition at the moment and has managed to consolidate alliances with right-wing parties in the country’s congress. The most likely scenario, Stuenkel told me, is that Bolsonaro will be reelected with a plurality of the vote yet again.

In Mexico, presidents are constitutionally barred from seeking reelection, and López Obrador’s term won’t expire for another four years. His party’s control of congress will be up for grabs in midterm elections this year, though because the pandemic hasn’t dealt a blow to López Obrador’s popularity, his alliance is a favorite to win the most seats and expand its control of governorships. “There’s something very, very dangerous happening in Mexico,” Ximénez-Fyvie said. “People adore him. It’s like a portion of Mexicans had been taken into a cult.”

For Trump, too, the political reasoning to not admit error had a certain logic: His handling of the pandemic was on the ballot and he was facing a united, organized Democratic Party. A sudden about-face would have offered ammunition for his critics and perhaps weakened his base of support. In the end, he lost his bid for reelection in November, but nevertheless came within 43,000 votes of winning—hardly a resounding defeat.

Together, these leaders’ paths—from infection to empowerment—point to the durability of their brand of politics. That even a brush with COVID-19, albeit one in which they had access to better medical care than most, was not enough to force a change in tactics indicates that little will cause them to shift their stance on the coronavirus. In fact, if the cases of Trump, Bolsonaro, and López Obrador are any evidence, it may lead to a greater emboldening.

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The Gold Coast’s Southport croquet club is expanding to hold international tournaments


Beryl plays gateball — the Japanese version of croquet —at the club that boasts million-dollar views over the ocean.

Gateball is a short, fast, 30-minute game that the 92-year-old plays twice a week.

“I first joined when I retired. I was hassled into it but I thoroughly enjoy it,” she said.

“I love the friendship. I only play gateball because I can’t handle the heavy mallets.”

All four disciplines of mallet sports are played at Southport: traditional croquet, ricochet, golf and, Beryl’s favourite, gateball.

Donna Jones has only been a member for five weeks and deliberately chose croquet over bowls or other sports.

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Lamb marketing continues to push mutton aside on Australian plates, but mutton exports hold strong


Historically mutton was one of the staple diets of Australia but not anymore if you look at the amount processed in Australia and the amount that ends up on Aussie plates.

In 2020, the year of COVID-19, 97 per cent of mutton processed in the country left for overseas markets, meaning there was only 3 per cent left for Australian palates.

Of course, there are farms across the country which regularly serve up mutton on the dinner table, but it’s a secret meal for the rest of Australia.

Lamb meat is from sheep that are less than one year old, giving it a mild flavour. Mutton is from sheep that are older than one year, but usually around three years old. Mutton is dark red in colour and is fattier than lamb.

‘A great option’

Meat and Livestock Australia analyst Alex Dalzell grew up on a farm in the Canterbury area of New Zealand where mutton was a regular meal for the family.

“I quite enjoyed eating mutton, and you really do get a taste for the Sunday roast, and cooking mutton was ingrained into our culture,” Mr Dalzell said

“China takes 40 per cent of Australian mutton, while the United States, Singapore and Malaysia are all good markets for our mutton,” Mr Dalzell said.

Mutton quality not recognised

Dry aged mutton frying in a pan at the William Angliss Institute in Melbourne(ABC Regional: Marty McCarthy)

Sydney butcher Grant Hilliard said it was a recent phenomenon to see mutton take a back seat to lamb as a few years back it was always mutton or hogget on the table.

He said his shop sold mutton when it was available and was one of a few butcher shops that did, but the high prices of recent years had stopped the sale of mutton.

“If the market doesn’t value that product, there’s not much incentive for farmers to grow their lambs on to older ages to produce mutton or hogget.” Mr Hilliard said.

“The export figures clearly show mutton is a highly sought-after commodity in many countries, and older Australians hanker after the meat which they find extremely hard to get.”

“If you want something for slow cooking, the forequarter of mutton is going to be far superior to lamb as it will hold its flavour and shape much better,” Mr Hilliard said.

The lamb advertisement this year was a play-on bringing the states back together by sharing a lamb chop on the barbecue after a year of various state lockdowns.

Meat and Livestock Australia is behind the lamb campaign, but there is very little push to consumers to try the aged cuts of meat like mutton and hogget.

“Consumers can change the way things are marketed, and a classic example is the way the free-range egg market became important, especially in supermarkets,” Mr Hilliard said.

“Restaurants also have a role to play in shaping demand and seeing what’s desirable, but the young upcoming chefs have grown up not being exposed to mutton.”

Tasmanian farmer Doug Dickenson
Sheep farmer Doug Dickenson says prices for mutton are still good.(ABC News)

Mutton producers get good prices

Veteran Tasmanian sheep farmer Doug Dickinson said when he was jackarooing in the outback in the 1950s, mutton was always on the menu.

“I still think the best meal I’ve ever had was old merino sheep which was fattened on a paddock of new oats, and the meat just fell off the bone,” Mr Dickinson said.

Huge yardings, high prices and strong demand for mutton.
Saleyards across the country are being flooded with older sheep, but the silver lining to the sell-off is there’s plenty of money in mutton.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)

The ironic aspect of the battle between lamb and mutton is that the sheep meat was selling for almost the same price as lamb in November 2020.

Producers are still getting good prices for mutton at the livestock markets compared to years gone by, and the demand from overseas is still very strong.

“I think people could embrace mutton, but it will need a big marketing campaign to do it, and some very high-quality mutton to come forward,” Mr Dickinson said.

Sheep farmers are not too concerned as they are getting good prices for the older sheep, and the export market is taking almost as much as Australia can process.

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