Victorian Budget 2021/22 includes vital funds to support people and pets impacted by family violence

Pets will no longer be silent victims of family violence, with the Victorian Government’s announcement today that $1.3 million in funding is included in the Victorian Budget 2021/22 to support victim survivors and their pets.

RSPCA Victoria welcomes the announcement of $1.3 million allocated in the Budget to help people fleeing family violence keep their pets safe by linking refuge and accommodation services with vets, animal shelters and boarding facilities, and to provide financial assistance to help victims access basic pet care items such as kennels and cat baskets.

RSPCA Victoria CEO, Dr Liz Walker, says the increased funding recognises the strong link between family violence and animal cruelty, along with the need to support people fleeing violence to keep and care for their pets.

“Pets bring great companionship and comfort – they truly are part of the family and essential that we treat them as such when managing family violence situations,” says Dr Walker.

“Numerous studies show that in households experiencing domestic and family violence, where there is a pet present, there is also a high probability of animal abuse. Not only are animals in these households at risk of experiencing abuse, but we also know that many victims of family violence will delay or avoid leaving unsafe situations for fear of leaving their pets behind.

“Fearing for the welfare of pets or being separated from them when fleeing family violence situations can be an incredibly traumatic experience. For victims, knowing that their animals are safe is one less stressor for them to deal with when seeking refuge for themselves or their children.

“This funding will help bridge the gap between animal and human support services, giving victims of family violence an avenue to both protect themselves and their pets from abuse and by leaving their situation knowing their pet will be well cared for.”

In the 2019-20 financial year, RSPCA Victoria provided emergency boarding for 148 animals, including those belonging to people affected by family violence.

As a result of the Victorian Government’s announcement of funding to support people and pets in family violence situations, RSPCA Victoria looks forward to working more closely with refuge, support and accommodation organisations to provide support to pets and people impacted by family violence.

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DOJ Budget Includes $85M Increase to Fight Domestic Terrorism

Attorney General Merrick Garland told House lawmakers Tuesday that the Biden Administration’s 2022 budget request for the Department of Justice (DOJ) would seek an $85 million increase from last year’s budget for domestic terrorism investigations and cases.

“Our budget supports my commitment to protecting our national security, including addressing both international and domestic terrorism while respecting civil liberties.” Garland testified to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science. “It includes increases of $45 million for the FBI domestic terrorism investigations and $40 million for the U.S. attorneys to manage increasing domestic terrorism caseloads.”

The increase from last year’s budget for domestic terrorism cases comes as Democrats have sought to label Trump supporters who protested on January 6 at the Capitol as domestic terrorists, domestic violent extremists, and white supremacists. Committee Chairman Matt Cartwright (D-PA) said at the hearing the “attack on the Capitol” was an “unprecedented” threat from domestic violent extremism.

Garland testified during his confirmation hearing that his first priority as attorney general would be the investigation into January 6. So far, the DOJ has charged more than 400 people as part of that investigation.

Garland also said at Tuesday’s hearing the threat of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism keeps him up at night.

“My oath is to protect the Constitution and Americans from all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” he said. “And so both forms of terrorism are extraordinary concern to me. We never want to take our eyes off of what happened on 9/11 and that the risks that the country continues to face from foreign terrorist attacks on the homeland.”

“Likewise, we have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism and both of those keep me up at night…virtually every morning, I get a briefing from the FBI in one of the other or both areas,” he told the committee.

Committee Ranking Member Robert Aderholt (R-AL) pressed Garland on why the FBI classified the 2017 congressional baseball game shooting that targeted Republican members of Congress as a case of “suicide by cop” instead of domestic terrorism, despite the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence doing so, as previously reported by Breitbart News.

The attorney general said he had not yet had a chance to speak to the FBI about it and promised he would do so.

Garland also said the total budget request seeks to increase the DOJ’s civil rights funding by $33 million, for a total of $209 million for the civil rights division, the community relations service, and related civil rights work. The budget will also include a “historic investment of $1 billion” to support the department’s Office of Violence Against Women.

The DOJ budget request includes an increase of $304 million, for a total of $1.2 billion, for programs that support “community-oriented policing and addressing systemic inequities,” he said.

He also said funding to combat gun violence would increase by $232 million, for community violence intervention programs, to improve background checks, and for more comprehensive red flag laws.

Garland promised the DOJ would step up its work on environmental justice, asserting that “communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal communities often suffer the most harm from environmental crimes and pollution.”

Garland also requested a 21% budget increase for the Executive Office for Immigration Review that will pay for 100 new immigration judges, improved technology, and other “efficiency mechanisms” to reduce a backlog of nearly 1.3 million cases pending before immigration courts.

“I have mentioned only a few of the department’s important programs this morning. I ask your support for our budget as the entire department works to ensure adherence to the rule of law, protection and public safety, and equal justice for all Americans,” he testified.

Follow Breitbart News’s Kristina Wong on Twitter or on Facebook. 

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Sixty five-study analysis includes research published in English and Chinese — ScienceDaily

A new systematic review of 65 studies from around the world involves a total of 97,333 health care workers and finds that 1 in 5 have experienced depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yufei Li, Nathaniel Scherer, and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, U.K., present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on March 10.

The pandemic has posed significant challenges for health care workers, with many fearing for their own safety while facing a high workload and limited psychological support. Previous analyses of data from multiple studies have revealed high rates of depression, anxiety, and PTSD among health care workers during the pandemic. However, those reviews did not adequately address the many relevant studies conducted in China, where the first COVID-19 outbreak occurred.

To address that gap, Li, Scherer, and colleagues carried out a systematic search of studies in both English and Chinese that were conducted from December 2019 to August 2020 and addressed prevalence of mental disorders in health care workers. They identified 65 suitable studies from 21 countries, involving a total of 97,333 health care workers.

By pooling and statistically analyzing data from all 65 studies, the researchers estimated that 21.7 percent of the health care workers involved in the studies have experienced depression during the pandemic, 22.1 percent anxiety, and 21.5 percent PTSD. Studies conducted in the Middle East showed the highest pooled rates of depression (34.6 percent) and anxiety (28.9 percent).

These findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the mental health of health care workers. For comparison, the World Health Organization estimates that 4.4 percent of the entire world population experience depression, and 3.6 percent experience anxiety disorders, including PTSD. However, those estimates were determined through different methods and prior to the pandemic.

Nonetheless, the authors note, the new findings could help inform policy and initiatives to provide urgently needed psychological support to health care workers.

The authors add: “This systematic review and meta-analysis provides, to date, the most comprehensive synthesis of depression, anxiety and PTSD prevalence amongst health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the unique inclusion of publications in both English and Chinese.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by PLOS. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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J&J vaccine adds to COVID-19 armoury, includes South African variant

FILE PHOTO: A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed Johnson&Johnson logo in this illustration taken January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

January 29, 2021

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson said on Friday that its single-dose vaccine was 66% effective in preventing COVID-19 in a large global trial against multiple variants, giving health officials another weapon to tackle the pandemic.

In the trial of nearly 44,000 volunteers, the level of protection against moderate and severe COVID-19 varied from 72% in the United States, to 66% in Latin America and just 57% in South Africa, from where a worrying variant has spread.

The data showed that the vaccine’s effect on the South Africa variant was diminished compared to the unaltered virus, but infectious disease and public health experts said it can still help contain the virus spread and prevent deaths.

Midstage trial data from Novavax on Thursday also documented lower effectiveness in South Africa.

Rival shots from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were both around 95% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in pivotal trials when given in two doses.

Those trials were conducted mainly in the United States and before the emergence of new variants. These mean that the world is racing against time and with limited supplies to vaccinate as many people as possible, and quickly, to prevent virus surges.

COVID-19 is rising in 37 countries and infections have surpassed 101 million globally.

Top U.S. infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci said the world needs to vaccinate quickly to try to get ahead of these changes in the virus.

“It’s really a wake up call for us to be nimble and to be able to adjust as this virus will continue for certain to evolve,” Fauci said.

J&J’s main goal was the prevention of moderate to severe COVID-19, and the vaccine was 85% effective in stopping severe disease and preventing hospitalization across all geographies and against multiple variants 28 days after immunization.

That “will potentially protect hundreds of millions of people from serious and fatal outcomes of COVID-19,” Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, said.

J&J shares were down 4% at $162.7 at 1700 GMT, with some Wall Street analysts saying its vaccine’s effectiveness was below those of rivals. Moderna’s stock gained 8% to $172.80.


J&J plans to seek emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration next week and will soon follow up with the European Union and the rest of the world.

It has said it plans to deliver 1 billion doses of the vaccine, which it will make in the United States, Europe, South Africa and India, in 2021.

Public health officials are counting on it to increase much-needed supply and simplify immunization in the United States, which has a deal to buy 100 million doses of J&J’s vaccine and an option for an additional 200 million.

J&J said the vaccine would be ready immediately upon emergency approval, but Stoffels declined to say how many doses.

“The key is not only overall efficacy but specifically efficacy against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” said Walid Gellad, a health policy associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

J&J’s vaccine uses a common cold virus to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells and trigger an immune response, whereas the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines employ a new technology called messenger RNA.

Unlike these vaccines, J&J’s does not require a second shot weeks after the first or need to be kept frozen, making it a strong candidate for use in parts of the world where transportation and cold storage present problems.

“Most countries are still desperate to get their hands on doses, regardless of whether or not the vaccine is considered highly effective. Moderately effective will do just fine for now,” Michael Breen, Director of Infectious Diseases and Ophthalmology at research firm GlobalData, said.


Several studies have emerged this month showing that a South African variant has mutated in areas of the virus that are key targets of vaccines, reducing their efficacy.

“What we are learning is there is different efficacy in different parts of the world,” Stoffels told Reuters.

In a sub-study of 6,000 volunteers in South Africa, Stoffels said, the J&J vaccine was 89% effective at preventing severe disease. In the South Africa portion of the trial, 95% of cases were infections with the South African variant.

“I am overwhelmed by the fact that this vaccine protected against severe disease even in South Africa,” said Glenda Gray, the joint lead investigator of the South African vaccine trial.

In the J&J trial, which was conducted in eight countries, 44% of participants were from the United States, 41% from Central and South America and 15% from South Africa. Just over a third of the volunteers were over 60.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Additional reporting by Manas Mishra, Dania Nadeem and Manojna Maddipatla in Bengalaru, Rebecca Spalding and Michael Erman in New York and Promit Mukherjee in Johannesburg; Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Peter Henderson, Edwina Gibbs, Keith Weir and Caroline Humer)

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Tesla service now includes collision repairs

US electric car maker Tesla Vice President Jerome Guillen poses at the Paris Auto Show on the last press day on October 3, 2014. The Paris Auto show opens to the public on Saturday. 

Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

Elon Musk’s electric car company notified customers on Friday that Tesla Service Centers now offer collision repairs, something the company has been talking about since 2018. 

In a message to customers entitled “Collision Repair is Here,” the company touted its ability to fix everything from dents and scratches to “suspension and axle damage” in its own service centers as an “alternative option to a body shop.”

Services, including collision repairs, should represent a bigger revenue segment for Tesla over time as its cars age out of warranty and the company delivers more of them around the world. While Tesla reported $678 million from a combined Services and Other segment during the fourth quarter of 2020, the company does not break out services revenue separately. Overall, that segment grew 17% from $580 million in the year-ago quarter.

Tesla operates 140 service centers in North America. The company is aiming to open more, including 46 in the first half of 2021, Tesla President of Automotive Jerome Guillen revealed on Wednesday.

Service has been a sore point for many Tesla customers in recent months, to the point where investors asked executives on the Q4 2020 earnings call, “What is Tesla doing to improve service experience? Tesla had a reputation for outstanding customer service. Now it’s impossible to even call a service center and appointments are scheduled weeks out.”  

Guillen answered, “For us best service is no service. So we spent a lot of efforts trying to improve the quality and the reliability of our cars. In the last two years the frequency of service visits are reduced by one-third, so customers have to come less frequently into service, which is really the goal, no service.”

He emphasized that Tesla also offers “mobile service,” during which a Tesla service vehicle and auto mechanic go to a customer’s car to fix it. Mobile visits now represent 40% of all service visits in North America and Tesla wants that number to increase to 50% in 2021, according to Guillen. 

But not all repairs can be done on a mobile visit. For example, replacing the panoramic glass roof on a Tesla vehicle must be done in a shop.

Guillen also said Tesla is pushing all customer communications about service through the Tesla app— meaning Tesla Service Centers now prefer not to or simply won’t take phone calls. 

“The app is much better than the phone,” Guillen explained. “It can spot alerts directly from the car and schedule a service appointment. There is a written record of all communication between the customer and the service team. You can have pictures in there. You can take care of your payment without entering the credit card and doing all that stuff. You get updates on the service.”

Guillen predicted most other car companies will follow suit. 

Here’s the full communication to customers:

Collision Repair is Here

January 28, 2021 

Fix minor dents, scuffs, scratches and more now at your local Tesla Service Center as an alternative option to a body shop. Our optimized repair flow enables a fast and seamless experience when you need it most. 

Collision repair services may include: suspension and axle damage, front and rear bumpers, hoods, liftgates and side mirror caps, along with doors, wheels and all glass repairs.

To schedule an appointment select “Collision & Glass Repair” from the Service menu in your Tesla app and track your service experience with step-by-step notifications. 

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Victorian Government’s $465 million tourism package includes $200 vouchers for tourists to regional Victoria

The Victorian Government will hand out $200 vouchers for visitors to regional Victoria in a bid to boost tourism in bushfire and COVID-affected towns.

Premier Daniel Andrews has promised $465 million in this year’s budget, to encourage more visitors to regional Victoria as part of the Victorian Tourism Recovery Package.

Victorians who have booked and spent at least $400 dollars on accommodation or tickets to attractions and tours can apply for a $200 voucher for spending money.

120,000 vouchers will be made available from December.

“There’ll be quite a simple process to make sure that you can validate that you had an experience and then you will receive the $200 from us,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the $465 million package was the ‘biggest regional tourism announcement in the history of our state’.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Mikaela Ortolan)

Voucher system still being worked out

Regional Victorians will also be eligible for vouchers for region to region travel but Tourism Minister Martin Pakula said the details of the voucher system were still being worked out.

“Whether it is upfront or by reimbursement is part of the design,” Mr Pakula said.

“I make the point that similar schemes are already in place in South Australia and Tasmania

Another $149 million has been allocated in the budget to building new tourism infrastructure in regional towns.

The bulk of the funding will go towards upgrades along the Great Ocean Road.

A new coastal walking trail with up to five new suspension bridges will be built along the Great Ocean Road, providing spectacular views from Fairhaven Skenes Creek.

Another $2 million is being set aside to build more campsites will also be built along the Surf Coast.

Tourism boost for bushfire towns

New board walk at Cape Conran
Salmon Beach at Cape Conran with a new boardwalk replaced since the summer’s fires.(Supplied: Lisa Pompei)

In East Gippsland, $18.5 million will be spent on improving tourist infrastructure as part of a Gippsland Tourism Recovery Package.

Ten eco-pods will be built at Cape Conran Coastal Park costing $3.5 million to entice visitors to stop along the Melbourne to Sydney coastal route.

Cabins, camp grounds and boardwalks at the park were destroyed in the summer bushfires.

The proposed Metung Hot Springs and Nunduk Spa and Eco-Resort has been promised $2.5 million but it is not known if that will be enough to kick-start the project.

Australia’s largest mainland lighthouse at Point Hicks in a far south-eastern corner of the state will undergo a $3.85 million upgrade.

Visitor facilities at Mallacoota inlet will also be upgraded to allow for the development of a new Coastal Wilderness walk through the rugged Croajingolong National Park.

On Raymond Island, accessible only by ferry from Paynesville in East Gippsland, $350,000 will be spent on a koala trail.

Keeping predators off the Prom

One of the jewels of Victoria’s nature-based tourism sites, Wilsons Promontory will undergo a $23 million upgrade.

A $6 million predator-proof fence will be built at the Prom, stretching 10 kilometres from coast to coast to block access by foxes, cats, deer and rabbits.

Wilsons Promontory
A new visitor centre will be built at the northern entrance to Wilsons Promontory as part of a $23 million upgrade at the national park.(ABC News: Elise Kinsella)

“These improvements at some of our most iconic tourist destinations will bring more visitors to Gippsland and that means a stronger economy and more jobs,” Tourism Minister Martin Pakula said.

Funding has also been allocated to the Mallee Silo Art Trail, the Ballarat Centre for Photography, the Murray River Adventure Trail, and the Brambuk Cultural Centre at Halls Gap.

In the state’s north east, $4.3 million will be spent on growing the Prosecco Road winery district by establishing accommodation at Dal Zotto Wines.

Another $15 million will go towards upgrades to the hiking trail between Falls Creek and Mount Hotham.

The Victorian Government has also allocated $3.5 million to upgrade the 104-year-old Snowy River Rail bridge at Orbost.

The upgrade will make the bridge suitable for pedestrians and cyclists, linking it to the popular East Gippsland Rail Trail.

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Fantasy pub quiz team includes David Attenborough, Stephen Fry and Gary Lineker

The ideal fantasy pub quiz team to cover all bases would include Professor Brian Cox, David Attenborough and Stephen Fry – with Gary Lineker for the sports round.

Dame Judi Dench was the top pick for the TV and movies round, while Stephen Fry was good for a double – topping the list in both history and general knowledge.

Radio DJ Tony Blackburn is the man for a music round, while current events would see Jon Snow take his seat at the table.

The study of 2,000 adults found 57 per cent enjoy settling in to enjoy a pub quiz – either in real life or done virtually.

Stephen Fry would make any pub quiz team a clear winner

A spokesman for Lottoland, which commissioned the study in conjunction with the launch of its new ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’ game, said: “From pub quizzes down the local to watching gameshows with your family – quizzes are a cornerstone of British life.

“Add to that the fact that hosting your own virtual quiz had, for a long while, become the most exciting part of anyone’s week this year and it just goes to show that we’re all quiz-mad here in the UK.

“One of our all time favourite quizzes has to be ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’, so we are very excited to be bringing such a British staple to our quiz-mad players this year.

Dame Judi Dench would be an asset for questions on the arts

“Quizzes are brilliant examples of teamwork and having faith in other people that they know what they’re talking about.

“It’s very interesting to see which celebrities the nation holds in highest esteem when it comes to their specialist subjects.”

The study found that one in five adults think their strongest quiz round is general knowledge, while 16 per cent are hottest on music.

However, only five per cent know the most about nature – which is where, in an ideal world, David Attenborough would come in.

People want Gary Lineker on the team for sport

Six in 10 have felt the glory of winning a pub quiz, although another 45 per cent have suffered the embarrassment of finishing rock bottom.

A fifth have also been the last person standing in a tiebreaker situation and managed to get the win.

Brits also believe the maximum that should be allowed into a pub quiz team is five, although 37 per cent would cap it at four.

It also emerged that 41 per cent like to think of themselves as someone others would be happy to have on a pub quiz team, although 24 per cent don’t see themselves that way.

Sir David Attenborough would ace all the natural history questions

Meanwhile, one in four have argued with a quiz host over an answer, according to the data.

The survey also asked Brits to list some of the more memorable quiz team names they’ve encountered, with Agatha Quiztie, Furlough the Leader and I Am Smarticus, all featuring.

Lottoland’s spokesman added: “Our results showed Brits love a quiz, not only to show off their knowledge but also to hopefully make a few quid with a win.

“If they had these celebrities in their team, they’d no doubt scoop the winnings every week. But even without the help of Mr Fry and Professor Cox, we’re hoping to see a few lucky prize winners of our own.”


HISTORY – Stephen Fry

SCIENCE – Professor Brian Cox

NATURE – David Attenborough

SPORTS – Gary Lineker

MUSIC – Tony Blackburn



TV AND FILM – Dame Judi Dench

  • Lottoland UK’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ is now live on the Lottoland App and offers the chance to win up to £1Million on its daily draw.

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Bureau of Meteorology calendar includes hail, dust, double rainbows in 2021 selection

David Foote was with the former Prime Minister John Howard in Washington DC the morning of September 11, 2001.

The official photographer for Parliament House was walking with Mr Howard around the White House moments before a plane flew into the Twin Towers. It was one of Mr Foote’s 70 overseas trips with seven different prime ministers in 28 years.

Not just politicians and their guests, Mr Foote was responsible for capturing Parliament House’s iconic building throughout the year.

He captured the world’s attention earlier this year with a photo of giant hailstones on the hill out the front of Parliament House.

It is one of 12 photos selected from 1,400 entries to feature in next year’s 2021 Bureau of Meteorology Calendar — all depicting Australia’s diverse weather events.

Putting your body on the line for the perfect shot

Mr Foote was in his office when he heard the roof rocked by turbulent rain. He grabbed his cameras and headed outside to face the following dilemma.

“I didn’t have a raincoat, I didn’t have protection for the cameras, and I didn’t even have a hat to protect my head from the hail that was falling at the time,” Mr Foote said.

He is not the only photographer featured in the calendar to put himself in weather’s harm’s way for an epic shot.

Robert Klarich has vague recollections of seeing a dust storm this big as a child but doubts he will see anything like it again.(Supplied: Robert Klarich)

Despite growing up with dust storms in Mildura, Robert Klarich had never seen anything like one in November 2019.

The photographer was on the phone to his mum at the time when she suggested he look out the window.

“There wasn’t much of a breeze around but there was this sort of silent, eerie cloud coming in and it gave this kind of false sense of security,” Mr Klarich said.

When the phone photos failed to do it justice, he grabbed the drone.

“By the time I got … flying it was about five minutes away, so I had to work pretty fast,” Mr Klarich said.

Green array of light over dark night sky of Hobart
Who says purple and green should never be seen together? The aurora australis from Cassidys Bay, Tasmania, is breathtaking.(Supplied: Robert Cassidy, Cassidy Photography)

Crazy clouds, circular rainbows, and the aurora australis

In a year of big weather events across Australia, dust storms were not the only storms to feature in the calendar.

Port Macquarie’s Ivan Sajko set up camp at one of his favourite vantage points — Tacking Point Lighthouse — to capture this thunderstorm.

Dark clouds over a beach, Port Macquarie
Thunderstorm over Port Macquarie, New South Wales taken by Ivan Sajko.(Supplied: Ivan Sajko, Ocean Drive Images)

The local photographer had been following storms since 2013 and said this was by far the biggest one he had seen.

“There was a crowd building at the lighthouse, and I decided to try and get a different shot … Luckily I chose the perfect location to get the whole structure of the cloud. If I’d been in town the storm would have passed overhead and it would have told a completely different story.”

This year’s theme, ‘Weather, climate, water and ocean services’ — attracted many photographs of wonderful cloud formations.

A winning entry of a mammatus cloud at Oberne Creek, New South Wales, reflected a deep connection with the land for local cattle farmer Robert Ellis.

Round balls of clouds droop out of the sky over the mountain range, Oberne Creek NSW
Mammatus clouds are just one weather wonder at Oberne Creek in New South Wales.(Supplied: Robert Ellis)

“My father bought this property just after the Second World War in 1949, and this is the only life I’ve ever known,” Mr Ellis told the Bureau of Meteorology.

Aerial view of circular rainbow over the Lake and mountain range in Kununurra Western Australia
Not everyone gets to see a circular rainbow like this one over Lake Argyle, Kununurra, Western Australia.(Supplied: Col Leonhardt, Birdseyeview Photography)

Photos as educational as they are stunning

Senior BOM forecaster Paul Lainio said the calendar was as much about education as entertainment.

“We’re after trying to save lives and property largely,” Mr Lainio said.

“We now have ways to get that information out … to help people understand the weather better and the changes that are happening and the way it affects them.”

Streaks of Grey fog through high rise buildings against a bright orange morning sky
The one urban shot for the 2021 calendar, fog over Brisbane at sunrise.(Supplied: Michael Coombes)

For Helen Commens from Queensland’s Ourdel Station, her aerial photo of the local catchment system represented a deep appreciation for the ecosystem there.

“You can drive through Windorah and the Barcoo Shire and lots of places out here and think it’s really hard country,” Ms Commens said.

“It’s not until you see from the aerial perspective how amazing the country is.”

Having a husband as a chopper pilot allowed her to capture the Channel Country from the air.

Aerial view of a dark web of rivulets between green and islands of red sand, Channel Country of Queensland
Helen Commens’ photo of floodwaters and new growth in the Channel Country near Windorah, Queensland.(Supplied: Helen Commens)

“Our cattle put on so much weight — equal to a feedlot — when the rivers come.”

Big achievement to be featured

It was third time lucky for Ms Commens, who had entered the calendar competition twice before.

“It’s bloody hard to get on it,” Ms Commens said.

Not just for Australian audiences, the calendar has sold 1.4 million copies in 80 countries since its inception in 1985.

A little boy sits in a full cattle trough after rain in the Channel Country
Helen Commens’ son in a full cattle trough, after rain in the Channel Country.(Supplied: Helen Commens)

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Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions roadmap includes ‘social bubbles’ for people living alone, single parents and households

Premier Daniel Andrews says one of the first lockdown restrictions to be eased up is the isolation of single-person and single-parents households.

Under Victoria’s roadmap out of current restrictions, single-person and single-parent households throughout the state will be allowed to create a “social bubble” with one other person from September 14.

And from October 26, if daily cases continue to decline enough, all Melbourne households will be able to nominate one other household to visit or have visit them.

Regional Victorians may be able to create household bubbles in about a month.

What is the single social bubble?

From Monday September 14, people living alone and single-parent households will be able to nominate one other person as a visitor.

Mr Andrews said creating a social bubble for singles was a measure taken “in direct response to feedback we have received from those have been isolated away from anyone else a long period of time”.

He said the bubbles would be similar to the intimate partner arrangements in place now.

“Those who live alone will be able to partner up with somebody else and they will be able to visit each other,” he said.

The nominated person can be outside the single person’s or single parent’s 5-kilometre radius.

Only one person in the bubble needs to be living alone or in a single-parent household.

But the nightly curfew, which is being pushed later to 9:00pm, will apply.

The allowance does not apply to single parents living with a child aged 18 or older.

Mother breastfeeds baby as toddler looks on
Single-parent households can only have a bubble if their children are under 18.(Supplied: Amy Rushbrook)

Can my nominated person be in regional Victoria if I am in Melbourne?

Unlike the intimate partner rule, the bubbles are restricted to metropolitan Melbourne or regional Victoria.

So, for example, you cannot travel to regional Victoria to visit someone there if you live in Melbourne.

Can I visit my nominated person if they live with others?

The Government hasn’t been very clear on this yet.

Mr Andrews said someone living alone could link up with someone else who is “not in the same circumstances”.

In other words, the nominated person doesn’t have to be another single person and can live in a house with others, 

But it is not clear whether the person or single-parent can visit the home of their nominated person if that person lives with others.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said they could not clarify this yet, but details on the bubble rules would soon be published on a website dedicated to the new roadmap.

Three police officers at a coronavirus checkpoint on a highway.
Unlike the intimate partner rule, the single social bubble has to remain in either Melbourne or the regions.(ABC News: Simon Winter)

What about the ‘household bubbles’?

From October 26, up to five people from two households can visit each other in their homes in metropolitan Melbourne.

Regional Victorians are likely to have this option before October 26. It’ll be allowed when there’s an average of five or fewer new cases in country Victoria (over a 14-day period), and no mystery cases.

Mr Andrews said that was likely to be in four weeks’ time.

“It is highly likely, not certain, but highly likely we will meet that case threshold,” he said.

By the time Melburnians can create their household bubbles, the restrictions around travel will no longer apply so the two households do not need to be within 5 kilometres of each other and can be in either regional Victoria or metropolitan Melbourne.

The curfew will also no longer be in force.

You can only have five people to visit regardless of how many people live in your nominated household. Babies under 12 months do not count.

How will the rules be enforced?

Mr Andrews admitted the rules would be difficult to police.

There will be no official record of the bubbles.

“What I am doing is I am asking people, in recognition of the challenge and the difficulty and the great sacrifice that people who live alone, the great contribution that they have made to this point, I am asking them to follow these rules,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is this, short of having a police officer knock on every door in the state, we can’t be absolutely certain [they will].”

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Victoria’s roadmap for eased coronavirus restrictions includes details on childcare and schools. What’s in store for term 4?

The plan for reopening early childhood education and schools makes up a major part of the Victorian Government’s roadmap for reopening the state.

Like everything else, the education sector will be taking a staged approach to reopening, with each stage dependent on hitting specific thresholds that apply to each step on the statewide plan.

So, what’s the plan for schools and childcare as we head into term 4 in Victoria?

Are the rules different for Melbourne and regional areas?


In regional Victoria, childcare and early educators will stay closed until the morning of Monday, September 14 to everyone except permitted essential workers.

The same goes for schools, with remote learning the norm unless you have a specific exemption.

From September 14, regional childcare and early educators will reopen.

Meanwhile, VCE and VCAL students across the state will return for the start of term 4 on Monday, October 5 for their General Achievement Test (GAT) that Wednesday.

But it will only be school-based assessments and exams taking place on-site this week, not regular classes.

In regional Victoria, all year levels can start their staged return to on-site learning the following week, starting on October 12, with all the relevant safety measures in place, including things like enhanced cleaning and rules around face masks.

Those safety measures will have to remain until the threshold is met for a return to “COVID normal” as specified on the roadmap (no new Victorian cases for 28 days, no active cases in Victoria and no outbreaks of concern in others states or territories), at which point school days will return to normal.

As Premier Daniel Andrews said, it means term 4 in regional Victoria will “pretty well … unfold as it normally would”.

For Metro Melbourne, things are a little more complex, so the rest of these questions will address issues in the capital.

When can kids go back to school in Melbourne?

A staged return for some year levels will start during the second step of the roadmap, getting them back to school for term 4. Until then, remote learning has to remain for everyone unless an exemption applies.

VCE/VCAL students will return to school for term 4 from October 5 so they can sit the GAT on October 7.

As with regional schools, it will only be school-based assessments and exams taking place on-site this week, not regular classes.

Students from prep to grade 2 and those attending specialist schools will return to classrooms from October 12.

Things are murkier for the remaining students.

Grades 3 to 10 may start returning from October 26 as part of the third step on the plan, but this is only listed as a “potential staged return” depending on public health advice at the time. And the same goes for the final step of restrictions on November 23.

“In terms of grade 3 to year 10 … we aim to try to get kids back [in the classroom this year], but that has got to be done safely and it can’t be done in a way that would ultimately put at risk all the other goals, all the other goals of getting the place open by the time we get to Christmas,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Only once all the “COVID normal” thresholds are reached can there be a complete return to on-site learning.

Until the Government is satisfied that the “COVID normal” threshold has been reached, every step of the staged reopening includes some degree of remote learning.

How will students complete their VCE, VCAL and other end-of-year exams?

James Merlino, dressed in a white shirt and blue jacket, delivers a press conference outdoors.
Education Minister James Merlino stressed that the VCE/VCAL students, particularly those in year 12, were a priority.(AAP: Erik Anderson)

Kids finishing or trying to finish school are the top priority as far as school goes, according to the Education Minister, which is why they are the first to return.

“For prep to year 11, we have time to address health, wellbeing, mental health, to address catch-up learning. And we will do that in 2021,” James Merlino said.

“Our engagement with the public health team has been what can we do to make sure this is a year of meaning and that their results are a fair reflection of their ability and their performance.”

The GAT will be held on Wednesday, October 7, while VCE exams will finish on December 2.

“Students will get their VCE scores and ATAR at no disadvantage whatsoever with students right across the country [before the end of the year],” Mr Merlino said.

“That has been our absolute focus.”

What about childcare, kindergarten and other early educators?

These places will stay closed until September 28 to everyone except permitted essential workers.

Once the second step threshold has been met after September 28, childcare and early educators can reopen and operate as normal.

From October 5, session kindergartens are open.

With so much disruption, will students have to repeat a year?

Only as a last resort, according to the Education Minister.

Mr Merlino said repeating a grade should only be done in “exceptional circumstances” because they want the vast majority of kids to stay within their age group.

“This year, our teachers have done a brilliant job. Kids are still learning the curriculum,” he said.

“Some students have thrived and some students have struggled and that is why we made a significant investment into mental health and wellbeing.

“The Premier and I and others are giving a lot of thought about what 2021 looks like in terms of additional catch-up support, and we will make those announcements down the track.”

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