Questions over whether Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will return in 10 days after injury


It’s unclear if Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will return to work in 10 days, although his deputy insists he’s making steady progress after a serious back injury.

Andrews suffered broken ribs and a fractured T7 vertebra after slipping on wet stairs at a holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula on March 9.

The 48-year-old was released from hospital on March 15 and has been recovering at home since.

At the time he said he would require at least six weeks off to recover.

Deputy Premier James Merlino has been acting premier in his absence.

“This was a nasty, nasty injury. Fractured ribs, fractured vertebrae. He’s very, very lucky and that was the message from his doctors when he got discharged (from hospital),” Merlino told reporters on Thursday.

“But Dan’s doctors are pleased he’s making good progress.”

Asked if the premier would return to work as planned in 10 days, Merlino replied: “He’ll come back when his doctors say he’s able to come back”.

“Over the next couple of weeks, he’ll get advice from his doctors in terms of when it’s appropriate to return, but they’re pleased with his recovery.

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Victorian building industry takes $370 million hit from international student crisis


Victoria’s building industry took a $370 million hit last year as the COVID-19 crisis locked international students out of Australia, causing cash-strapped universities to stop building, and apartment projects to stall.

The Property Council of Australia said the knock-on effects from the absence of overseas students had cost the state’s economy more than $1 billion and kept 13,000 Victorians out of work.

Raymond Mah of DKO Architects says the student accommodation building business has dried up.Credit:Jason South

The Master Builders Association of Victoria has added its voice to calls from business, the education sector and local government for the state and Commonwealth to find a way to get Victoria’s $13 billion international education trade moving again, saying its absence is hurting the economy.

Monash University cut $100 million from its capital works program in 2020 across its four campuses, and private developers across the city walked away from the previously lucrative business of building student accommodation.

Data published this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show how some of those decisions hit the construction industry, with the value of building commencements in the private education sector falling from more than $466 million in the first three months of 2020, to about $94 million in the last three months of the year, a plunge of nearly 80 per cent.

The Property Council’s Victorian executive director, Danni Hunter, said it was vital to the property industry and the entire state economy that governments came up with a plan to “fast-track the return of international students, and for putting Melbourne’s education sector back on the map.”

“This will have positive flow-on effects for the Victorian economy, and will help drive a property-led economic recovery,” Ms Hunter said.

But the state and federal governments cannot agree on the best way to get international students back into the country, with Victoria wanting to make space for a limited number of them within the existing arrivals cap, while Canberra wants caps increased to accommodate students.

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Lifelong learning at this Victorian community university gets stuff done


In the absence of a formal university this far from Melbourne,  the residents of Lake Tyers are sharing their expertise and skills through a “Communiversity.”

Lake Tyers, East Gippsland is 327 kilometres from Melbourne and the locals started their Communiversity after conversations were held around a table at a pub, a breakfast cart and at local festivals.

“We’ve just made it up ourselves,” co-founder Andrea Lane said.

“It came about because of an arts project — we started gathering around a very long table at the local pub and it just kept evolving and growing.

“It became apparent there are experts among us and that this knowledge could be shared and could become a forum for learning.”

Communiversity was loosely structured and used the whole of the Lake Tyers Beach township and wider East Gippsland network.

Different groups with different interests have worked on projects at the community garden, the town hall, walking tracks, the pub and around the Lake Tyers estuary and beach.

“We are all developing new skills and reclaiming the buildings of the Lake Tyers town.”

So far the Communiversity has had workshops, discussions, exhibitions and festivals about the environment, weather, fine arts, dancing, first aid, bird watching, big ideas, food, literature, philosophy, astronomy, citizen science and more.

The Communiversity has supported the development of FLOAT, a floating art space that gives residency to artists, both local and from far and wide.

The people in residency at FLOAT, as well as getting time to work on their practice, have given back to the community and shared their skills with the town. FLOAT brought to Lake Tyers musicians, artists, writers, scientists and thinkers.

“Communiversity is an ephemeral concept that’s a work in process,” says Andrea Lane.

“It’s not a formal thing, it’s not a built thing, it responds to what we know and what we contribute.”

Caroline Crunden was part of Communiversity and said listening to locals was a key part.

“There’s plenty of culture here already, we just really have to find it and allow it to bubble up to the surface,” Ms Crunden said.

“Culture is everywhere, it’s not in museums only, it’s not in big populations only, it’s everywhere.

“We all bring something and it’s not until you sit with people from your community and listen you realise you all have something to share”.

“Lots of young people come along. Every community should have a Communiversity I think,” said a participant Karen Murdoch.

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Victorian opposition renews East West Link push ahead of next state election


The Victorian opposition has renewed its pledge to build the contentious East West Link and will again take the policy a state election, despite the project being scrapped six years ago.

The East West Link is a proposed tunnel from the end of the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill to CityLink in Parkville.

On the sixth anniversary of the project being dumped by the freshly-elected Andrews Labor government in 2015, the Victorian Liberal Party has renewed its push for the road to be part of its election platform.

It took a tweaked route, with the tunnel starting further east of Clifton Hill, to the 2018 election under leader Matthew Guy, but the party was soundly beaten on election day by Labor.

Mr Guy’s replacement as Opposition Leader, Michael O’Brien, has already put the road on his party’s policy platform.

Opposition Roads Spokesman Tim Smith said the pledge by the Commonwealth to allocate $4 billion to the East-West Link still stands.

“We can build this road immediately with that money,” he said.

But any East West Link project would likely cost more than $4 billion, meaning private investment would also be needed.

The project remains on Infrastructure Australia’s list of high priority projects.

An Infrastructure Australia audit in 2019 found the east-west corridor to the north of Melbourne’s CBD had the highest road congestion delay cost in Melbourne.

“It’s a vital piece of infrastructure that Infrastructure Australia rates as a very high priority, so the Andrews Labor government should get out of the way and let the Commonwealth fund this road,” Mr Smith said.

Daniel Andrews promised during the 2014 election campaign to cancel the contracts for the East West Link, and duly did so after defeating Denis Napthine to win government.

In 2014, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott dubbed the year’s state election a referendum on the East West Link.

The road has been taken to the last three state elections.

In 2010, by the Labor Brumby government; the Coalition Napthine government in 2014; and Matthew Guy’s Coalition opposition in 2018.

All three suffered defeat.

In 2016, Treasurer Tim Pallas ruled out the road, dubbing it a “zombie road project”.

Roads Minister Ben Carroll said the government would not revive the plan.

“Twice this issue has been to the people of Victoria and twice they’ve rejected it,” he said, referring to Labor’s election victories in 2015 and 2019.

Mr Carroll said the Victorian government was focused on other road and public transport projects.

“We are doing the West Gate Tunnel, but we are also doing enormous investment in our Airport rail link, which is going to be a real boon for the western suburbs.”

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A year after Black Summer fires there’s progress on pasture recovery for eastern Victorian farmers


Farmers in eastern Victoria are still working to restore lost pastures more than a year on from the Black Summer bushfires.

More than 1.5 million hectares were burnt in the fires, including 6,300 kilometres of fencing. Farmers in East Gippsland and the state’s north-east lost 7,500 head of livestock.

Farmers must now replace the lost stock, but also grow the grass needed to feed them.

Remediating pasture is something Agriculture Victoria Livestock Extension Officer, John Bowman, said could take years.

Mr Bowman talked through pasture management and recovery strategies with farmers at Butchers Ridge, between Buchan and Gelantipy, yesterday as part of a TopSoils farm walk.

The Rogers family hosted the farm walk at their property, where they showed the difference between pastures which were burnt in the bushfires and those left untouched.

Amy Rogers said quick thinking was needed to help alleviate the pressure on the farm.

“One of the first things we did was pretty much quit any (stock) we didn’t need to have here so we sold all our lambs in the first three weeks after the fires,” Ms Rogers said.

“We sent about 160 cows to South Gippsland on agistment as soon as we could, weaned the calves and put them in a feedlot compound and sacrificed one paddock.

“We tried to get as much stock off the paddocks as we could.”

Ms Rogers said getting rid of the stock so quickly “was a big winner”, however even the unburnt paddocks suffered because they were stocked at a higher rate which has slowed recovery.

Mr Bowman toured the property and said it highlighted the absence of some of the normal pasture species in the burnt paddocks.

“There was quite a bit of flat weed and different weeds in there … basically the opportunistic weeds had occupied the bare patches left by the fire and started to infiltrate the pasture,” he said.

Although a higher proportion of weeds set seed after a fire, Mr Bowman said it’s not all detrimental.

“Even some of the weeds are quite nutritious and delicious for stock to eat and they will eat them, but you want the clovers, cocksfoots, phalaris and ryegrasses back in the pasture because they produce all year round.”

The Rogers have also been heartened by the success of a lucerne crop which is helping reduce the need for them to purchase silage.

“We had barley crops in before the fire … but the ryegrass and lucerne is just new,” Julie Rogers said.

“It’s a trial but I think it will become permanent.”

Similar farm walks will be held across other fire affected parts of East Gippsland in coming weeks.

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Victorian duck hunters allowed to bag more birds each day, prompting anger


Hunters will be able to shoot up to five ducks a day in Victoria when the restricted season begins on May 26. 

The Game Management Authority of Victoria (GMA) has upped the limit from two to five ducks a day, just six weeks before the season begins, after a new and “more accurate” survey of Victoria’s duck population found there were fewer than two-and-a-half million ducks around the state, which was more than previous estimates. 

But the new population data does not change the reduced length of the season, which is down to 20 days from the usual 80. 

The GMA said it brought in experienced wildlife consultants last November to conduct the count. 

Chief executive of the GMA Graeme Ford said helicopter surveys of 650 water bodies in Victoria provided data for the new figure. 

Mr Ford said this method was more accurate because it estimated actual duck numbers, rather than an abundance index based on trends over time. 

“We’ve had it reviewed by an expert who’s experienced in his field as well and they’ve come back and told us it’s a gold standard in biological research,” Mr Ford said. 

Birdlife Australia member Jack Winterbottom said questions remain about whether the new survey is more accurate. 

Previous restrictions on duck hunting, including the 2021 season, have been based on the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey. 

President of the Victorian Duck Hunting Association Dan Straube said the new method was a more realistic picture of duck populations.

“The waterfowl survey is over three states over eastern Australia, and in the Victorian situation they only do two out of the 10 passes,” he said. 

Mr Straube says all the rules for the season should be based on the new data, not just bag limits. 

“We applaud them for their study, but we still have questions about why it took so long to present this document and shows that the considerations process back in February really wasn’t based on [the best] data,” he said. 

He says that would involve lengthening the season, and upping the bag limit to 10. 

Despite higher duck numbers, Mr Winterbottom said Birdlife Australia wants the practice banned, like in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. 

“A bird is a bird, end of story,” Mr Winterbottom said.

“In terms of things like socioeconomic impacts and tradition and culture, it’s only a white man’s tradition to shoot ducks, it’s certainly not a longstanding one.”

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Business group says dumping stamp duty could help Victorian first home buyers


Victoria’s leading business group wants the state government to abolish stamp duty, in what would amount to major tax reform.

The suggestion is made in the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (VCCI) submission for the upcoming state budget.

VCCI is calling for stamp duty to be replaced by a broad-based land tax for all property purchases, removing what it calls “a market-distorting tax.”

VCCI chief executive, Paul Guerra, said the fee was making it difficult for younger people in particular to enter the housing market.

“We know stamp duty is an impediment for people selling houses and obviously it’s an impediment for people buying houses as well, because effectively there’s another charge on top of the purchase charge,” he said.

VCCI is proposing that existing arrangements be grandfathered so people who have already paid stamp duty do not have to pay land tax until they sell the property and buy a new dwelling.

“It’s making sure that it’s protecting those who’ve paid stamp duty already, they’ve paid it, they shouldn’t pay any more,” Mr Guerra said.

The New South Wales Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet,  proposed a similar move in that state last year, describing such a change as “the Netflix of property tax” due to the extent of the reform.

Instead of a one-off upfront payment on the purchase of a property, buyers instead would pay an annual tax based on the value of their land.

The ACT is also phasing out stamp duty.

Mr Guerra said Victoria should pay close attention to how the move plays out interstate.

Chief economist for BIS Oxford Economics, Sarah Hunter, said replacing stamp duty with land tax was a “long run” solution that could create short-term challenges.

“Stamp duty revenues are a significant source of revenue for all of the states and Victoria is no exception to that and so the challenge in removing that is how does that flow through to the state budget,” she said.

Mr Guerra said Victoria was well placed to fill that gap over time.

“That hole, whilst immediately would be evident, we think now is the time given interest rates are so low the government can fill that, and then over a period of six to eight years as the new land tax comes in, that would remedy whatever the short-term hole is,” he said.

Ms Hunter said the benefit for a state government in such a move would be having a more stable revenue stream, rather than the fluctuating income that comes from stamp duty.

The ACT is removing stamp duty over a 20-year period, while NSW was proposing to keep stamp duty for the top 20 percent of properties by value, while giving buyers the choice to pay stamp duty or land tax.

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Victorian police start searching Mount Hotham for two campers missing for more than a year


Police will forensically analyse two shovels that have been found in their search for two campers who went missing in the Victorian High Country.

Russell Hill and Carol Clay went missing from their campsite in the remote Wonnangatta Valley last March.

Police have long suspected that the pair met with foul play, but have been unable to find any trace of them.

“I think the most likely scenario … is that there are other parties involved in this,” Detective Acting Inspector Tony Combridge said.

Detectives have shifted their search for the pair to Mount Hotham, a few hours north-east of the campsite, after receiving new information in their investigation.

Inspector Combridge said the search was now focussing on a “small radius” near the Great Alpine Road.

“It’s not a large area, not like we’ve been searching previously,”  he said.

He said the search was likely to continue into Thursday.

Members of the Missing Person Squad and Search and Rescue officers have been scouring rugged terrain and dense bushland in the new location.

A number of items have been found, including two shovels, but their relevance to the investigation was still being determined, he said.

Earlier this month, Search and Rescue officers and NSW cadaver dogs searched the Wonnangatta Valley for the pair.

Last month, police received what they called an “item of interest”, but would not reveal what that was.

Inspector Combridge told ABC Radio Melbourne that police were optimistic about solving the case.

“Every day we open this case and start to work on it we hope for answers,” he said.

“It’s a high-value search area. As people may be aware, that part of the world is spectacular scenery, but from a search point of view it’s uniquely challenging.”

Mr Hill and Ms Clay were last heard from on the night of March 20, when Mr Hill made contact with friends who were part of an amateur radio club.

At 2:00pm the next day, other campers found Mr Hill and Ms Clay’s camp site burnt out, with their car still there.

Mr Hill and Ms Clay were missing from the camp site, along with Mr Hill’s drone and mobile phone.

Last month, police put out a public appeal for help identifying a white dual cab ute that was in the Wonnangatta Valley at the time Mr Hill and Ms Clay were camping there.

The ute was seen near a nearby suspension bridge and long-drop toilet on March 19, and was the only car in the area at the time police have not been able to identify.

Inspector Combridge said that appeal had led to an enormous amount of information and police had to enlist more staff to go through it all.

The area being searched is incredibly remote, he said.

“There are parts of that bush that have probably never have actually been walked on by humans,” he said.

Inspector Combridge played down any suggestion that the disappearance of Mr Hill and Ms Clay was connected to other disappearances in the area.

“If you’re looking for the common link, it’s quite likely the remoteness and the nature of the terrain of the area itself,” he said.

“This investigation sits separate to the other investigations.

“We review all missing persons investigations, obviously, but this investigation is the one that we are focused on.”

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Belated bag limit rise for Victorian duck season | Queensland Country Life


Bag limits for Victoria’s duck season have risen just months out from the season.

It will go some way to easing the outrage felt by hunters when daily bag limits were set at just two when the season was announced in February.

The hunting lobby said a season over 20 days with two birds per day was effectively a cancelled season.

They claimed the decision, made by the state’s Game Management Authority, flew in the face of the wet season enjoyed by the state and the promising state of the wetlands.

A new aerial survey has now found the state’s duck population was “much higher” than estimated.

The GMA today increased daily bag limits from two to five and removed shooting bans on the smaller teal ducks for the 2021 duck season.

The duck shooting season will still run for 20 days – from May 26 through to June 14.

Normally the season is held over 12 weeks.

The authority said a new aerial survey conducted in November found Victoria’s estimated game duck population was almost 2.5 million.

“This number is much higher than previous methodologies have indicated and means that the sustainable harvest level can be increased,” the GMA said.

Experienced wildlife consultants counted the number of game ducks in more than 650 waterbodies from a helicopter and used satellite imagery to access the amount of water in the landscape to reach the estimate.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Jeff Bourman has been calling for the release of all the documentation used for decisions about the season.

“This announcement proves all along that the season should have been a full season with a full bag,” he said.

Duck hunting is also popular in South Australia and Tasmania as is the magpie goose season in the Northern Territory.

Last year’s season was curtailed by pandemic restrictions.

Good rain over the past two years had filled many wetlands and aerial duck counts had buoyed hopes of hunters for a return to a normal 12 week season.

South Australia had already announced a reduced duck hunting season from March 20 until June 27 with a bag limit of four per day.

Start times in Victoria have also been delayed to 8am for the first five days.

All licensed hunters must pass a Waterfowl Identification Test before being permitted to hunt ducks.

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Victorian Nationals MP used fake documents to earn commission from farm sales, court told


Victorian Nationals MP Tim McCurdy used false documents to facilitate the sale of two dairy farms that landed him more than a quarter of million dollars in commissions, a court has heard.

Mr McCurdy has been charged with five fraud offences, including use of a false document and obtaining property by deception.

If he is found guilty, he will be ineligible to sit in the Victorian Parliament.

The alleged offending occurred in 2009, before Mr McCurdy was first elected in 2010.

He is fighting the charges.

In her opening remarks, prosecutor Susan Borg said that in 2009 Mr McCurdy facilitated the sale of two properties in northern Victoria using the letterhead of a business he did not work for.

Mr McCurdy had been involved in the attempted sale of the properties before the real estate business ceased operation in Victoria.

But the County Court of Victoria heard Mr McCurdy continued to facilitate the sale of the properties at Katamatite and Boosey using letterheads from Andrew Gilmour Real Estate.

Man walks past building
The court heard Mr McCurdy used the letterhead of Andrew Gilmour’s real estate business.(

ABC News, file photo

)

The prosecution alleges that Mr Gilmour was unaware of the use of the letterheads, and that Mr McCurdy was not employed by his business.

Mr McCurdy’s defence, Ian Hill QC, argued that Mr Gilmour was aware of Mr McCurdy’s use of the letterheads but did not dispute Mr McCurdy had helped sell the farms.

“There was no dishonesty, there was no attempt at deception,” Mr Hill told the court.

The sale of Pinegrove Park in Katamatite included a $105,105 commission to Mr McCurdy, while the sale of the Malmo family farm included a $163,900 commission.

The trial is expected to last more than a week.

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