Esports regulator says there’s been a ‘very significant upturn’ in match-fixing


Few esports teams have achieved the phenomenal success of Fnatic.

Established 16 years ago as a niche project by a Sydney mum-and-son team in Australia, it later spawned a vaunted global brand that boasts a global audience of 55 million fans.

With more than 200 esports championships in the trophy chest, it has become a PR behemoth headquartered out of a muraled alleyway in east London.

Fnatic’s social feeds are populated with a new genus of elite athlete — the hardcore gamers who comprise its teams — adorned in varsity Gucci ensembles and pictured fist-pumping around their custom-branded BMWs.

Esports teams like Fnatic receive lucrative sponsorship deals with luxury brands.(Supplied)

Esports teams like Fnatic rely on sponsorship. So when the team was offered a new lucrative sponsorship deal earlier this year, it might have seemed like a typical day at the Shoreditch office.

But this particular proposal came with strings attached. It required Fnatic to secretly agree to lose matches.

As it happens, this “investor” was a match-fixer.

The esports revolution

The competitive gaming industry has exploded over the last decade and is now worth more than a billion dollars.

But with success has come challenges.

Background Briefing has learned the global agency tasked with combating corruption is under-resourced and failing to keep up with the torrent of complaints.

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Esports viewership has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, while much of the traditional sporting world was put on hiatus.(Reuters: Aly Song)

While the coronavirus pandemic put much of the traditional sporting world on hiatus, esports viewership has skyrocketed.

Audience numbers have increased by an estimated 50 per cent since March.

In Australia, the industry is still in its infancy, but it’s worth millions and is growing.

Sydney investor David Harris sees a day when Australia’s sporting greats won’t be cricketers or footballers. They will be gamers.

“Part of the decline of traditional sports is that they are having trouble connecting with that younger generation where esports, you’ve got that wave of young fans coming through who are staying with it,” he said.

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David Harris has invested millions of dollars into the esports sector in Australia and abroad.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Mr Harris has invested millions in the industry at home and abroad. He’s a former NRL general manager who experienced his “light bulb moment” in 2015.

That was when he learned that a website run by one young esports enthusiast in Sydney was getting millions of viewers.

Individual matches have out-rated the Super Bowl and players can earn more than their traditional sporting counterparts.

One Australian player — Melbourne’s Ana Pham — won around the same prize money from a single tournament as Novak Djokovic did for winning the Australian Open.

Across the world, elite gaming houses have sprung up, where talented players can live and breathe video games, and chase the dream of making a high-paying career out of their childhood passions.

Local teams attracting lucrative sponsorship deals

On a suburban road in Kellyville is a rather ordinary-looking family home. But look closer and you’ll notice the lawn is overgrown, the lights are often on until the early morning and the curtains are always drawn.

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The inauspicious headquarters for one of Australia’s leading esports teams.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Inside this house might just be the future icons of Australian sport. It’s the home of the Chiefs, one of Australia’s most elite pro-gaming teams.

Team captain Tom Henry explained why the team needs to keep the house so dark.

“The important thing is not having glare on the monitors because that can really affect just how much you can see,” he said.

In the living area, where in most houses a couch might sit, there’s a row of expensive gaming computers.

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The Chiefs have attracted financial backing by corporate sponsors.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

They are illuminated by fluorescent lights and signs bearing corporate logos.

There is also a fully stocked glass-doored fridge filled with one brand of energy drink.

In the bathroom, more merchandise — beauty products provided by a major team sponsor.

Only a ‘negligible’ number of fixed matches are stopped

As esports’ profitability has increased, so too have allegations of match-fixing and fraud.

The Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) investigates and reports on corruption allegations across the world, and by its own admission, it’s swamped.

ESIC receives around 100 match-fixing, cheating and other corruption allegations every day. And while not all of these complaints are credible, it says it doesn’t have the resources to investigate them all.

“If you look at another sport like cricket, they probably have between four to six major match-fixing investigations annually. We have 14 and that was basically picked up in the span of three months and they are all fairly major,” Mr Hanna said.

He says only a “negligible” number of fixed matches are ever stopped.

In Fnatic’s case, the team immediately rejected the match-fixing approach and reported the incident to the regulator.

A spokeswoman told the ABC the team takes a zero tolerance approach to any form of cheating, and this policy is spelled out in its player contracts.

Australian player banned after he ‘didn’t read the rules’

Joshua Hough-Devine, 19, is a semi-professional Counter-Strike player known online by his gamer tag, JHD.

“I like winning, especially when it’s against someone that talks a lot of sh*t,” he said.

He had hopes of making it big, until last month, when he learned via Twitter that he had received a 12-month ban for gambling offences.

“I just laughed it off, it was just a shock,” he says.

JHD had been caught betting on his own matches — he says he only ever bet on himself to win and he never threw a match.

“When you do that sort of stuff, it’s basically just stealing money, it’s a scummy thing to do,” he said.

He says he takes responsibility for his actions and his only explanation is that he didn’t read the rules.

It’s young emerging players like this that are often the target of match-fixers. Josh says he’s been approached online to throw matches, but he refused.

“I’ve been offered like $2,000 a match to throw, but I just don’t take it because it’s just not what I’m about,” he says.

“Like why would I take $2,000 when you have a possibility of getting arrested.”

Esports’ governance issues compound risk

In Australia, players caught match-fixing can face serious penalties, including jail time.

Last May, five men from Melbourne’s outer suburbs were charged with match-fixing offences as part of the first Australian criminal investigation into esports.

The police unit responsible for the arrests was Victoria Police’s Sporting integrity intelligence unit.

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Detective Superintendent Stephen White says poor player education puts the industry at risk.(Supplied)

The head of the team, Detective Superintendent Steve White, says esports players are potentially more likely to be easily corrupted by criminals because of poor education amongst players.

“Due to lack of education by leagues, tournaments, or the game publishers, players will be potentially unaware of the rules governing betting on esports or even how to recognise the match-fixing approach or how to report it,” he said.

Detective Superintendent White told the ABC that the risk of match-fixing is compounded by the lack of a single esports governing body; there’s no videogame equivalent of the International Cricket Council.

In Australia, there are some associations which advocate for the sport.

One, the Australian Esports League conceded that the industry was fragmented, leaving individual players vulnerable.

Another, the Esports Games Association, told Background Briefing the Government should speak to video game publishers and tournament operators about integrity measures.

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The global audience for esports has grown by an estimated 50 per cent since March 2020.(Reuters: Aly Song)

Often the job of educating professional gamers and setting consistent standards is left to tournament organisers or the game publishers themselves.

The two biggest names in esports are game publishers Valve Corporation and Riot Games, which control the intellectual property of their games and often administer the esports leagues.

Background Briefing asked them whether the absence of a governing body was putting young players at risk. Neither responded.



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Significant pay cut gap “hasn’t escaped our notice”: AFLCA CEO


AFL Coaches Association CEO Mark Brayshaw has commented on the significant gap between the pay cut that is being taken by the players and the coaches.

The AFLPA confirmed last week that players would take a 3.5 per cent cut in 2021, while list sizes have come down by only one or two depending on the team.

By contrast, club soft caps will be cut by 37 per cent, down from $9.7 million to $6.1 million.

This will have a significant impact on club officials, including coaches, with teams making cuts across the board to get under the cap.

“It certainly hasn’t escaped our notice,” Brayshaw told SEN Afternoons when asked about the 3.5 per cent pay cut offered to players for 2021.”

Brayshaw wonders whether they will adjust the heavy soft cap cut given the better financial position the league now finds itself in, with Australia mostly ridding itself of COVID-19.

“I think it’s an interesting consideration because the league and all the chief executives were in lockstep that we were facing a financial wipe-out and so we have to concede that the mighty job the industry has done … the losses are nowhere near what they thought they were going to be,” he said.

“I think that’s in part because the league put in place draconian cost-cutting measures and I don’t think anybody can be critical of that.

“The question I’ve got now is, in light of the fact that money looks as though it’s going to be cheap for the next few years and the red ink isn’t as bad as we all thought, what does the future look like and how quickly can the clubs expect to bounce back?

“Because on balance I think there’s been about a third of the coaches that have left, those that have remained in the job have had to take significantly bigger pay cuts than the players.

“Having said that, there’s a certain sense that the players remain the star acts in the game and so three quarters of our coaches used to be players and they don’t need to be reminded that the game is about the players.

“I don’t begrudge the players and where they’ve got to, it’s going to be interesting to project the next few years in light of the fact that the losses aren’t anywhere near as bad as we all feared.”







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What interest groups want from ‘biggest and most significant’ state budget pledged by Andrews government


The Andrews government will hand down its budget on November 24, with debt expected to soar even further as the Treasurer seeks to steer Victoria out of the COVID-19 recession.

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Interest groups have put together wish lists designed to get more people back into jobs and stimulate the state’s economy. Here’s what they want.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The payroll tax threshold would be increased to $1 million (from $650,000), and its liabilities for employers with payrolls of up to $10 million in 2019-20 would be waived this financial year, under a bold plan put forward by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The powerful business lobby group wants the government to focus on protecting and growing local business and jobs, “reclaim” the state’s global reputation and define and implement the next big build when it hands down its budget later this month.

The chamber has made more than 50 recommendations to the Andrews government, including grants of up to $50,000 to offset business costs associated with becoming COVID-safe, and providing one-off grants of up to $20,000 to sole traders.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra lays out his wish list ahead of the November 24 budget.Credit:Wayne Taylor

“Victoria was the engine room of the national economy before COVID-19 hit, and, with the right incentives, levers and policies, we can be once again,” chamber chief executive Paul Guerra said.

“Victoria’s post-COVID-19 economy will be a different economy: we must be bold in our thinking and embrace innovation, collaboration, technology and business entrepreneurship.”

Victorian Farmers Federation

The VFF has its sights on the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project, $30 million to extend the Agriculture Energy Investment Plan and $10 million to match the Commonwealth’s commitment for the On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme.

The sector has been hit hard by bushfires, drought, floods and the escalating trade war between China and Australia over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Victorian farmers and rural communities need and deserve fit-for-purpose roads, freight rail, affordable telecommunications, health and education to ensure they have the means to be a viable, attractive proposition for those wishing to make the move to the country,” president David Jochinke said.

“At the very least, this must form part of a minimum standard that allows agriculture to be a major part of Australia’s economic recovery.”

Property Council of Australia

The Property Council is arguing for a planned return to the office, extending planning permits and fast-tracking new ones, stamp duty concessions for first home owners and off-the-plan investors, a build-to-rent package and extending the HomesVic program.

“There is no question that stimulus for the property sector will make a huge difference to the economy,” interim executive director Matthew Kandelaars said.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, thousands of people lost their jobs. Melburnians pictured here are lining up at Centrelink's South Melbourne office on March 25.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, thousands of people lost their jobs. Melburnians pictured here are lining up at Centrelink’s South Melbourne office on March 25.Credit:Jason South

“International experience has shown it takes time for people to return and every day they don’t return has an impact on jobs and workplaces. A back to office plan that works through the various issues for all of us is urgent.”

Public Transport Users Association

Boosting public transport services across the day, detailed planning for the Metro 2 rail tunnel and funding “relatively cheap but effective” infrastructure projects, such as short tram extensions, accessible tram upgrades and better pedestrian facilities, should be a priority for the government, the association’s Daniel Bowen says.

Mr Bowen also wants more funding for regional rail upgrades, including the Murray Basin Rail Project.

“Infrastructure is an effective way of boosting jobs and the economy, particularly if it is distributed around the state, and not confined to Melbourne,” Mr Bowen said.

“Aside from infrastructure, boosting public transport services provides direct relief for households affected by COVID-19 by helping them reduce the financial impact of driving when accessing education and employment opportunities.”

Australian Education Union

Victoria’s prolonged lockdown forced millions of students to learn from home.

The union is urging the government to invest further in public schools, hire and retain more than 6000 additional early childhood educators and secure TAFE funding based on the actual cost of education and training.

“High quality public education is the basis of a prosperous social and economic future for Victorians,” the union said.

“Funding our future by investing properly in public education must always be a fundamental focus of any government. It is not enough to just invest in roads and other infrastructure, we need to invest in our people and the future of our people.”

Council to Homeless Persons

The council’s key priorities are increasing Victoria’s social-housing stock to the national average of 4.5 per cent of all housing; expanding the Housing First teams to reduce recurring homelessness; implementing Housing First for people transitioning out of psychiatric care and fully funding Home Stretch, which allows 18-year-olds leaving out-of-home care to receive support until they turn 21.

Locals and tourists on the Mallacoota wharf as bushfires surrounded the Victorian summer holiday spot on New Years Eve.

Locals and tourists on the Mallacoota wharf as bushfires surrounded the Victorian summer holiday spot on New Years Eve. Credit:Siobhan Heanue

Environment Victoria

Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, this year began with some of the most destructive bushfires in the country’s history.

Environment Victoria is calling for large investments in energy efficiency and switching from gas to electricity, modernising the electricity grid with more energy storage, expanding the Latrobe Valley Authority to support the region’s transition from coal, funding that enables the Portland aluminium smelter to start running on clean energy and landscape management for bushfire-affected areas as well as protecting riverbanks.

“As we emerge from lockdown, Premier Andrews’ job isn’t just to build back the economy we had, but to build the economy we need to face the big challenges of the future, including climate change,” chief executive Jonathan La Nauze said.

“There are thousands of good local jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and restoring our devastated landscape after the bushfires. Smart governments are recognising a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment – they don’t have to be pitted against one another.”

Law Institute of Victoria

The institute’s top priority in this year’s budget is more funding for Legal Aid, saying vulnerable Victorians had been “suffering” from a lack of face-to-face access to independent legal advice.

It also wants court infrastructure updated and dedicated funding for legal practices to upgrade their phone systems, IT and offices.

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“Access to justice is a fundamental right. We have supported legislation to allow the courts to continue to operate during the pandemic, for example judge-alone trials,” president Sam Pandya said.

“But we want to ensure that, as we return to ‘COVID normal’, clients’ rights to access a lawyer and obtain independent legal advice is not compromised due to the urgency to cut back on court waiting lists. We welcome the return of jury trials and support further funding to support our courts return to some in person trials and hearings.”

Domestic Violence Victoria

Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown contributed to the highest rate of family violence in the state’s history as reports of abuse in the home rose 6.7 per cent in the 12 months to June, according to the latest Crime Statistics Agency figures.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Tania Farha said the pandemic exacerbated problems that existed prior to COVID-19.

The organisation is pleading with the Andrews government for increased funding to hire more case workers and give the workforce a pay rise, money to upgrade technology and equipment, ongoing funding to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and funds to build more social housing.

“We know that, across the board, emergencies like natural disasters increase the frequency and severity of family violence,” Ms Farha said.

“COVID-19 is no exception and the specialist family violence sector needs to be resourced to respond to demand during the COVID-19 recovery and any future outbreaks or other disasters.”

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Regional Cities Victoria

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released this week revealed Melburnians fled to regional Victoria as the coronavirus pandemic upended people’s lives.

Regional Cities Victoria wants Treasurer Tim Pallas to deliver on initiatives that will accelerate construction projects, improve digital and telecommunications infrastructure, build more affordable housing and developing recycling and resource recovery infrastructure.

“The issue of digital connectivity has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic, with the shortcomings of accessible and reliable digital connectivity in regional Victoria evident as more people have had to work and study from home,” spokesman Craig Niemann said.

“It is a disadvantage that must be addressed as a matter of priority to future proof regional communities.”

Volunteering Victoria

As the pandemic gripped the state, Volunteering Victoria recorded a sharp decline in the number of volunteers – there were 1.1 million fewer volunteers (down from 2.3 million).

Volunteering Victoria said volunteering was not “free” and it does not “just happen”.

“It requires a range of investments, including staff for volunteer co-ordination and management,” chief executive Scott Miller said.

The group wants grants programs that support volunteers directly and indirectly, funding for emergency volunteering and programs to help unemployed young people develop skills.

The State of Volunteering report has found there is a return on investment of $3.70 for every $1 spent on volunteering.

Municipal Association of Victoria

Local governments are best placed to understand the dire impact of COVID-19 on communities, the MAV says.

It is asking the Andrews government to provide councils with $60 million for walking and bike riding infrastructure, $16 million to support local creative industries, $8 million to build a network of youth support workers, $40 million over four years for local road black spot funding and $100 million over four years for coastal climate change adaptation.

Australian Medical Association

The peak medical body has asked the Victorian government to consider a dramatic overhaul of the state’s public health system to reflect a NSW-style model by establishing a number of smaller units across the state.

In NSW, locally focused public health units were established over three decades, with some concentrating solely on containing and preventing infectious diseases, while others tackle immunisation and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and obesity.

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What interest groups want from ‘biggest and most significant’ state budget pledged by Andrews government


The Andrews government will hand down its budget on November 24, with debt expected to soar even further as the Treasurer seeks to steer Victoria out of the COVID-19 recession.

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Interest groups have put together wish lists designed to get more people back into jobs and stimulate the state’s economy. Here’s what they want.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The payroll tax threshold would be increased to $1 million (from $650,000), and its liabilities for employers with payrolls of up to $10 million in 2019-20 would be waived this financial year, under a bold plan put forward by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The powerful business lobby group wants the government to focus on protecting and growing local business and jobs, “reclaim” the state’s global reputation and define and implement the next big build when it hands down its budget later this month.

The chamber has made more than 50 recommendations to the Andrews government, including grants of up to $50,000 to offset business costs associated with becoming COVID-safe, and providing one-off grants of up to $20,000 to sole traders.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra lays out his wish list ahead of the November 24 budget.Credit:Wayne Taylor

“Victoria was the engine room of the national economy before COVID-19 hit, and, with the right incentives, levers and policies, we can be once again,” chamber chief executive Paul Guerra said.

“Victoria’s post-COVID-19 economy will be a different economy: we must be bold in our thinking and embrace innovation, collaboration, technology and business entrepreneurship.”

Victorian Farmers Federation

The VFF has its sights on the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project, $30 million to extend the Agriculture Energy Investment Plan and $10 million to match the Commonwealth’s commitment for the On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme.

The sector has been hit hard by bushfires, drought, floods and the escalating trade war between China and Australia over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Victorian farmers and rural communities need and deserve fit-for-purpose roads, freight rail, affordable telecommunications, health and education to ensure they have the means to be a viable, attractive proposition for those wishing to make the move to the country,” president David Jochinke said.

“At the very least, this must form part of a minimum standard that allows agriculture to be a major part of Australia’s economic recovery.”

Property Council of Australia

The Property Council is arguing for a planned return to the office, extending planning permits and fast-tracking new ones, stamp duty concessions for first home owners and off-the-plan investors, a build-to-rent package and extending the HomesVic program.

“There is no question that stimulus for the property sector will make a huge difference to the economy,” interim executive director Matthew Kandelaars said.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, thousands of people lost their jobs. Melburnians pictured here are lining up at Centrelink's South Melbourne office on March 25.

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, thousands of people lost their jobs. Melburnians pictured here are lining up at Centrelink’s South Melbourne office on March 25.Credit:Jason South

“International experience has shown it takes time for people to return and every day they don’t return has an impact on jobs and workplaces. A back to office plan that works through the various issues for all of us is urgent.”

Public Transport Users Association

Boosting public transport services across the day, detailed planning for the Metro 2 rail tunnel and funding “relatively cheap but effective” infrastructure projects, such as short tram extensions, accessible tram upgrades and better pedestrian facilities, should be a priority for the government, the association’s Daniel Bowen says.

Mr Bowen also wants more funding for regional rail upgrades, including the Murray Basin Rail Project.

“Infrastructure is an effective way of boosting jobs and the economy, particularly if it is distributed around the state, and not confined to Melbourne,” Mr Bowen said.

“Aside from infrastructure, boosting public transport services provides direct relief for households affected by COVID-19 by helping them reduce the financial impact of driving when accessing education and employment opportunities.”

Australian Education Union

Victoria’s prolonged lockdown forced millions of students to learn from home.

The union is urging the government to invest further in public schools, hire and retain more than 6000 additional early childhood educators and secure TAFE funding based on the actual cost of education and training.

“High quality public education is the basis of a prosperous social and economic future for Victorians,” the union said.

“Funding our future by investing properly in public education must always be a fundamental focus of any government. It is not enough to just invest in roads and other infrastructure, we need to invest in our people and the future of our people.”

Council to Homeless Persons

The council’s key priorities are increasing Victoria’s social-housing stock to the national average of 4.5 per cent of all housing; expanding the Housing First teams to reduce recurring homelessness; implementing Housing First for people transitioning out of psychiatric care and fully funding Home Stretch, which allows 18-year-olds leaving out-of-home care to receive support until they turn 21.

Locals and tourists on the Mallacoota wharf as bushfires surrounded the Victorian summer holiday spot on New Years Eve.

Locals and tourists on the Mallacoota wharf as bushfires surrounded the Victorian summer holiday spot on New Years Eve. Credit:Siobhan Heanue

Environment Victoria

Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia, this year began with some of the most destructive bushfires in the country’s history.

Environment Victoria is calling for large investments in energy efficiency and switching from gas to electricity, modernising the electricity grid with more energy storage, expanding the Latrobe Valley Authority to support the region’s transition from coal, funding that enables the Portland aluminium smelter to start running on clean energy and landscape management for bushfire-affected areas as well as protecting riverbanks.

“As we emerge from lockdown, Premier Andrews’ job isn’t just to build back the economy we had, but to build the economy we need to face the big challenges of the future, including climate change,” chief executive Jonathan La Nauze said.

“There are thousands of good local jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and restoring our devastated landscape after the bushfires. Smart governments are recognising a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment – they don’t have to be pitted against one another.”

Law Institute of Victoria

The institute’s top priority in this year’s budget is more funding for Legal Aid, saying vulnerable Victorians had been “suffering” from a lack of face-to-face access to independent legal advice.

It also wants court infrastructure updated and dedicated funding for legal practices to upgrade their phone systems, IT and offices.

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“Access to justice is a fundamental right. We have supported legislation to allow the courts to continue to operate during the pandemic, for example judge-alone trials,” president Sam Pandya said.

“But we want to ensure that, as we return to ‘COVID normal’, clients’ rights to access a lawyer and obtain independent legal advice is not compromised due to the urgency to cut back on court waiting lists. We welcome the return of jury trials and support further funding to support our courts return to some in person trials and hearings.”

Domestic Violence Victoria

Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown contributed to the highest rate of family violence in the state’s history as reports of abuse in the home rose 6.7 per cent in the 12 months to June, according to the latest Crime Statistics Agency figures.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Tania Farha said the pandemic exacerbated problems that existed prior to COVID-19.

The organisation is pleading with the Andrews government for increased funding to hire more case workers and give the workforce a pay rise, money to upgrade technology and equipment, ongoing funding to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and funds to build more social housing.

“We know that, across the board, emergencies like natural disasters increase the frequency and severity of family violence,” Ms Farha said.

“COVID-19 is no exception and the specialist family violence sector needs to be resourced to respond to demand during the COVID-19 recovery and any future outbreaks or other disasters.”

Loading

Regional Cities Victoria

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released this week revealed Melburnians fled to regional Victoria as the coronavirus pandemic upended people’s lives.

Regional Cities Victoria wants Treasurer Tim Pallas to deliver on initiatives that will accelerate construction projects, improve digital and telecommunications infrastructure, build more affordable housing and developing recycling and resource recovery infrastructure.

“The issue of digital connectivity has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic, with the shortcomings of accessible and reliable digital connectivity in regional Victoria evident as more people have had to work and study from home,” spokesman Craig Niemann said.

“It is a disadvantage that must be addressed as a matter of priority to future proof regional communities.”

Volunteering Victoria

As the pandemic gripped the state, Volunteering Victoria recorded a sharp decline in the number of volunteers – there were 1.1 million fewer volunteers (down from 2.3 million).

Volunteering Victoria said volunteering was not “free” and it does not “just happen”.

“It requires a range of investments, including staff for volunteer co-ordination and management,” chief executive Scott Miller said.

The group wants grants programs that support volunteers directly and indirectly, funding for emergency volunteering and programs to help unemployed young people develop skills.

The State of Volunteering report has found there is a return on investment of $3.70 for every $1 spent on volunteering.

Municipal Association of Victoria

Local governments are best placed to understand the dire impact of COVID-19 on communities, the MAV says.

It is asking the Andrews government to provide councils with $60 million for walking and bike riding infrastructure, $16 million to support local creative industries, $8 million to build a network of youth support workers, $40 million over four years for local road black spot funding and $100 million over four years for coastal climate change adaptation.

Australian Medical Association

The peak medical body has asked the Victorian government to consider a dramatic overhaul of the state’s public health system to reflect a NSW-style model by establishing a number of smaller units across the state.

In NSW, locally focused public health units were established over three decades, with some concentrating solely on containing and preventing infectious diseases, while others tackle immunisation and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and obesity.

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‘Significant snowfall’ to hit Toronto Sunday ahead of Monday’s lockdown


Torontonians planning on enjoying a last pre-lockdown outing on Sunday may be disappointed as Environment Canada predicts “significant snowfall” of between five and 10 centimetres will hit the GTA starting Sunday morning.

The federal agency issued a special weather statement for Toronto on Saturday, warning that travel may be impacted due to moderate to heavy snowfall. “Motorists should be prepared for winter weather driving conditions,” the statement read.

Environment Canada explained this will be due to a Colorado Low system tracking northward from Ohio.

Areas near Lake Ontario may experience lower snowfall, as the snow is expected to be wet in these regions.

The day will see a maximum temperature of 2 C and low of minus-1 C. Snowfall is expected to taper off overnight.





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Scale of Queensland’s challenges during State of Origin series hid significant hurdles NSW had to face


Dynasties are nice, but have you ever tried winning a State of Origin series with a bunch of nobodies with busted bodies?

Before you start throwing rotten fruit at your own computer screen in protest, yes, the “worst ever” tag that was lumped on this year’s Queensland team was too much.

Considering they hadn’t played a game at the time it was effectively dished out, the comparison could only be based on the names in the team.

The contradiction of the tag’s timing is amplified by the fact the other team that could be said to be less impressive on paper was Paul Vautin’s fabled 1995 Maroons, but they won the series 3-0, so they can’t be the worst ever.

Of course, nor can this one, unless you’re willing to concede, by the transit of property, that the Blues too were at the lowest ebb in their history.

But that’s not how any of this works, as evidenced by the Origin mythology built on a myriad of Queensland sides that beat higher profile NSW teams, so making the claim as such an absolute can only be hyperbole.

The fact is, this was an incredibly diminished crop of Maroons that beat a less diminished bunch of Blues.

Both teams, largely by virtue of playing an end-of-season series, looked completely different at the 2020 trophy ceremony compared to 2019. And not just because a different team was celebrating.

The impact of James Tedesco’s concussion on Game III can’t be understated.(AAP: Darren England)

Queensland only had six carry-over players from the team that turned out for the 2019 decider, but the Blues had just eight. And once James Tedesco was knocked out in the first half, only seven. Hardly a measure of consistency for the reigning champions.

As always, though, the view from 30,000 feet doesn’t show all the intricacies.

It seems a lifetime ago, but the Maroons only had their coach confirmed during the finals, while he was still in charge of the Rabbitohs’ run to the preliminary finals.

The loss of Xavier Coates a day before the decider, replacing him with a feast-or-famine winger like Edrick Lee. That precipitated a centre reshuffle — trading recently injured utility forward Kurt Capewell for what turned out to be a still injured Brenko Lee — which is the sort of thing that can demolish a team’s structures on both sides of the ball.

Edrick Lee dives forward with his tongue out as two Blues players appeal in the background
Seeing number 19 on a jersey (Brenko Lee was number 21) is a sure sign of some late rejigging.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

But the Blues didn’t have a chance to exploit that because the Queensland forward pack — which blooded seven rookies in the series — somehow recovered from the shellacking it received in Sydney, and the halves — perfectly balanced with sturdy captain Daly Cherry-Evans and superstar Cameron Munster — executed with precision on the back of it.

Of course not every millimetre of the series was sprinkled with the Wayne Bennett pixie dust.

Corey Allan played like a fourth-choice fullback in his Origin debut; Jake Friend looked like he was already resigned to Harry Grant taking his spot; and Felise Kaufusi’s tendency to all too often pick the most foolish course of action in close games could cost him a Maroons jersey going forward.

A week earlier, Phillip Sami and Coates were pounded by Nathan Cleary’s sleight of foot and in both the games they won the Maroons were fortunate NSW didn’t get one last play at a 12-man line-up.

Daly Cherry-Evans holds up the State of Origin shield as columns of fire explode behind him.
Daly Cherry-Evans is a perfect foil to the herky-jerky brilliance of Cameron Munster.(AAP: Darren England)

Queensland also lucked out that the Blues shied away from changing their winning 17 to include Ryan Papenhuyzen on the bench, which would have been worth its weight in unobtainium when Tedesco went down.

Regardless, Games I and III went the way of the apparently broken-down team, and chalking it up to Queensland spirit does them a disservice.

Parallels with 2017 series

Like the last time Queensland won a series, in 2017, and did so with an injury-hit side, the 2020 team rose above their station and the selectors’ faith was repaid on the field.

That year, with a winner-takes-all decider looming, the powers that be took a punt on Munster, who had only recently been shifted to five-eighth from fullback and had played just a handful of games with the six on his back.

In response, he played the game of his life, in possibly his best Origin performance until Wednesday night’s masterful effort.

This year, as Munster was busy being the leader everyone three years ago was hoping he would become, Grant was playing the role of 2017 Munster.

Harry Grand kneels on the ground with both hands up above his head
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s wild that Harry Grant even waited this long for an Origin debut.(AAP: Darren England)

When Grant got on the park, with the hindsight goggles on, it became hilarious that he hadn’t been picked in the first two games.

Going forward it will just be another interesting wrinkle in his Origin story, as he and Munster lead the Maroons for the next decade.

Next year Kalyn Ponga should be back. And David Fifita too. Grant will start the series and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui will be another year advanced after his breakout season.

By the same token, consider how things could have changed this year and will next year with Tom Trbojevic in the NSW backline, Cameron Murray playing more than one hit-up, or with Boyd Cordner and Tedesco making it through the series without serious concussions.

Injuries shouldn’t play as big a part in the 2021 series, but as we learned this year, games can flip on inexplicable or inescapable dimes.

Anyone looking through the annals of history will absolutely see this as an upset, but looking deeper will give some indication of how it was possible.

And in a few years’ time, with a few more series under some of these Maroons rookies’ belts, maybe it won’t seem so crazy after all.

Calling it the greatest upset ever after the series would be as wrong as calling this the worst Maroons side ever before it.



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Volunteers rejuvenating culturally significant Aldinga Washpool Lagoon now want it protected


A community south of Adelaide is fighting to protect an environmentally and culturally significant wetland from urban growth.

The Aldinga Washpool Lagoon is one of the last wetlands of its type along the metropolitan coastline and is home to about 250 species of flora and fauna.

It has been the focus of a major re-wilding project, including the reintroduction of plants and wildlife once lost from the area.

“It’s an incredibly valuable locality for both us and nature, it’s an area that has great opportunity for the conservation of species,” University of South Australia biology professor Chris Daniels said.

“The ultimate aim is for us to be able to live really well with nature, to appreciate the quality of areas like the washpool, to engage with it, support it, and for it to become part of our sense of place.”

Kaurna project leader Allan Sumner (centre) with Matt Endacott (left) and Kerri Bartley (right) planting gahnia seedlings.(Supplied)

Volunteers have helped plant seedlings of gahnia, upon which the yellowish sedge skipper butterfly lives.

A group of the endangered butterflies were released by hand after the local population were eradicated through habitat destruction and pesticide use.

A butterfly on a plant.
The endangered Sedge Skipper butterfly live among the Gahnia plants.(Supplied)

“It’s a tiny little butterfly, many people wouldn’t notice it. But it’s a really beautiful little animal,” Professor Daniels said.

“There are other species that have now come up to use the area — the hooded plover is a great example. It’s able to nest, become established, and we hope to be able to keep this species increasing in number over the next few years.”

A group of people in grass and puddles with a range of hills behind
Volunteers at the Aldinga Washpool Lagoon site.(Supplied)

Land allows Indigenous to connect with history

The site also holds great significance for the Kaurna people, as the place of creation ancestor Tjilbruke.

“We have layered history here on Kaurna country … through our histories and the stories of our elders there have been a lot of stories passed on about why this place was so important to the Kaurna people,” Kaurna project leader Allan Sumner said.

“But not only that, the artefacts and the histories that lie beneath the surface. I think that’s important for Kaurna people today, that we preserve those natural areas.”

Water
The Aldinga wetlands is culturally significant to the Kaurna people.(Supplied)

He said it was rewarding to engage with young people on the project.

“Often our young people don’t get an opportunity to be on our country and learn about themselves. So I think that is very important. A cultural expression is certainly something that we don’t get to practise that much these days,” he said.

Volunteer Julie Burgher said she had been involved with the project for many years and the area was looking far better.

“You learn something new and you never know what you’re going to see,” she said.

Two birds on a rocky beach
Hooded plovers are among the many species of plants and wildlife reintroduced to the wetlands area.(Supplied)

She said the washpool was previously considered as a site for a marina development but she wanted it protected from urban growth.

“I really care about the environment, I really care that the plants are protected and this place is protected for the future,” she said.

Environment Minister David Speirs said he recognised the environmental and cultural significance of the site and was working to protect it.

The State Opposition wants it declared a conservation reserve.



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Queensland Rugby League vow to ‘take no risks’ with five-eighth Cameron Munster as he makes significant stride to be ready for series decider against NSW Blues after concussion


“That could change but that is my information from medical staff.”

After the NRL asked the NSW Rugby League for a please explain over their handling of Boyd Cordner’s head knock in Adelaide, there will be no such fallout from a one-sided affair at ANZ Stadium.

Cameron Munster is taken down by Tyson Frizell before his concussion.Credit:Getty

Munster was unsteady on his feet after a mid-air collision with Tyson Frizell as he fielded a Nathan Cleary kick. Queensland team doctor Matt Hislop confirmed Munster later passed his head injury assessment in the ANZ Stadium sheds.

He will be restricted in the amount of contact work he can do at training in the lead-up to the grudge match in Brisbane, with QRL boss Bruce Hatcher vowing to put Munster’s health first.

“It is absolutely vital the independent evidence of a medical professional or specialist is by far the most necessary intervention in this type of injury,” he said.

“It is a tough game, the people who play it are tough but there are times they need to be protected from themselves. There are times you need to have the independent assessment, which the NRL will enforce.

“It goes consistently for both teams and it’s not as if one is getting an advantage over the other. You can’t take any risks at all.”

The NRL is considering a report from the NSWRL over their handling of Cordner’s head knock, which triggered the Blues captain to withdraw from the rest of the series.

The Maroons’ left edge, which Munster usually mans, was torn apart by a rampant NSW, now trying to win their first series decider in Brisbane since 2005.

Queensland utility Ben Hunt was thrown into Munster’s position and will revert back to the bench if the 26-year-old is declared fit. And St George Illawarra’s million-dollar man admitted he was caught off guard being thrown into the fray so early.

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Asked whether he had spent any time training at five-eighth, Hunt said: “Not at all. I’ve had a few runs with the reserves against the starting side in the halves, but nothing in the starting side. I was caught by surprise going in there, I guess.

“I was put in there to do a job and I think I was a bit off the pace. I obviously wasn’t expecting to go in there and I was preparing for something else. I should have been better than I was, there’s no excuses for that. At the same time I wasn’t really preparing to play there.”

Bennett opted to rest Munster’s Melbourne teammate Christian Welch from the drubbing in Sydney after he suffered a head knock in Adelaide.

The Blues will be gunning to win a third straight series for the first time since 2005, when Andrew Johns starred in NSW’s convincing game three win north of the border.

But Hunt remained buoyant about Queensland’s chances of turning the tables.

“We know we were bad and we know we can be a lot better than that,” he said. “We just need to turn up like we did in Adelaide with the want and desire to win and go after them.”

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Over 500,000 UK firms are in ‘Significant distress’



More than half a million businesses are in “significant distress” because of the pandemic, according to research.

A resurgence in coronavirus cases has put more pressure on companies still recovering from the first lockdown. Begbies Traynor, the insolvency consultancy, said it had found that 557,000 companies are now in financial distress.

Julie Palmer, a partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “A combination of grim economic data and very poor trading conditions, particularly in the most vulnerable sectors such as hospitality, will take its toll and this is expected to feed through to next year’s first quarter, particularly when the government ends its corporate life-support measures.”

Debt levels have risen sharply in recent months as companies tapped the government’s emergency loan schemes to cope with a slump in trade. Repayments are due to begin in the second quarter of next year, but economists are warning that businesses will struggle to pay back the money.

According to a report by The City UK, the lobby group, and EY, the professional services firm, a quarter of a million companies are at risk of collapsing under £35 billion of unsustainable debt. Experts say that the country will need to prepare courts for a flood of bankruptcies.

Begbies Traynor concluded that ten out of the twenty-two sectors analysed had experienced double-digit percentage increases in financial distress this year. Food and drug retailers experienced a 14 per cent jump to 14,806.

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Over 500,000 UK firms are in ‘Significant distress’



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