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Anxiety and depression symptoms ‘fairly common’ early in long Covid
Dr Ruth Vine, deputy chief medical officer for mental health, is asked what needs to be implemented to deal with rises in mental health issues for people living with long Covid. She says:
Symptoms of anxiety and depression, some symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder, are fairly common in the early part of long Covid.
Most of the research would tend to suggest that they do return to baseline over time and that one of the most important things actually is to give people hope of that recovery.
The committee’s co-chair, Melissa McIntosh, responds:
That’s interesting, because a lot of the evidence that’s come through [the inquiry] – they’re not displaying hope. They’re really saying that they’re suffering and no one’s listening.
In a later session, the question is put to associate prof Nada Hamad, a clinician who testifies powerfully about her own experiences of long Covid. She says:
I don’t think it’s about hope. I think it’s knowledge, it’s empowerment, it is protection … I want to be able to continue living despite the disabilities I’ve accumulated … I want to be comfortable in wearing a mask because everybody knows that some people must wear a mask and that you should help them and wear a mask around them.
Long Covid data collection ‘very complicated’, chief medical officer Paul Kelly says
At the public hearing into the impacts of long Covid, data collection on the condition in Australia is emerging as a problem. Labor MP Anne Stanley asks:
Data collection has been the biggest issue across jurisdictions … whose responsibility do you think it should be to define what data needs to be collected?
And later again:
I am struggling to understand given the amount of evidence we have about the lack of data, three years after this started, how we can’t – with all the brainy people around who can do algorithms and all that – that we can’t have some sort of collection …
The chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, responds:
The biggest issue we have in infectious diseases is that we do not have notifiable, identifiable disease data at the national level – there’s legal impediments to that.
… The second thing is tasking us with having a clearer definition that can be useful to diagnose long Covid. The ones we’re using at the moment – the WHO definition, the NICE definition from the UK, they’re great for research purposes, because they’re so broad. But in terms of trying to actually understand this thing, we have to get beyond it and if no one else is going to do it, then we should do it here.
… What data do you actually collect when you’ve got a new disease characterised by 200 different symptoms, with a range of tests that are being done in different ways in different places, looking at different elements of long Covid. It’s very complicated.
The deputy chief medical office, Prof Michael Kidd, adds:
One of the challenges is that some people presenting with symptoms of long Covid, it’ll be recorded around the symptoms and what’s done to address those symptoms – of depression or anxiety or fatigue or breathlessness – and there may not actually be a record of this person having been diagnosed with long Covid as such … It may be that we miss out in the data on actually capturing a lot of people.
RBA says labour market still ‘tight’ despite jobless rate climbing to 3.7%
RBA governor Philip Lowe and senior economist Luci Ellis have downplayed those January labour market numbers, including 15,500 jobs being lost and the jobless rate climbing to 3.7% from 3.5% in December (both seasonally adjusted).
There were some caveats with those numbers (as we noted here), not least that many people reporting they had lost jobs had actually signed up for new ones. As the survey was taken only up to 14 January, it’s reasonable to think many firms were yet to restart full operations and welcome those shiny new hires.
Ellis said the usual seasonal shifts “have gone awry” as a result of the Covid pandemic. One of those changes was that many people had built up holiday leave (“revenge vacations” you might say), and more of them took time off than was typical in January.
In January, there is normally a spike in those figures and these people are counted as unemployed in the numbers.
Ellis noted that by February, 70% of those people could be expected to be working.
But there was an additional 100,000 people waiting to start a new job is January than there were in pre-pandemic Januarys,” Ellis said. “So you can think that is probably made a 50- to 70,000-person difference to employment, which we think will come through in the next month or so.
In other words:
The labour market is a bit less tight than it was a few months ago but we would still regarded as being tight and this is an area we are watching closely.
Or as Lowe chimed in a bit later, those January jobs numbers were “just one piece of information”.
We know from other sources that businesses still want to hire workers. The job ads are high, job vacancies are high, so things have tailed off a bit late last year.
So, those “other indicators we have suggest the labour market is still very tight and yesterday’s data didn’t affect that assessment”, Lowe said
Icac discontinues investigation into NSW rail corporation TAHE
An investigation by the New South Wales corruption watchdog into the formation and running of the state’s controversial rail corporation has been discontinued after it could not find any evidence of corrupt conduct.
The independent commission against corruption had been investigating Transport Asset Holding Entity, or TAHE, since October 2021.
Icac was looking into whether people involved in setting it up and running it had engaged in corrupt conduct, including in the commissioning of a number of reports from KPMG, and in the termination of the NSW transport secretary’s employment in late 2020.
On Friday, a spokesperson for the commission said:
The investigation did not identify any evidence of corrupt conduct. As a result, the commission has discontinued its investigation and does not propose taking any further action with respect to the matter.
A January report from the state’s auditor general concluded the corporation’s formation was ineffective, incohesive and opaque and the corporation was designed to meet the government’s immediate budgetary goals.
TAHE was established in 2020 after seven years of planning to transfer the state’s $40bn rail assets out of the hands of the transport department and into a state-owned corporation.
Related: ‘Ineffective’ rail corporation was designed to meet NSW budget goals, auditor general says
Australian Tax Office raids tackle biggest GST fraud in Australian history
The Australian Tax Office-led Serious Financial Crimes Taskforce (SFCT) has this week tackled the biggest GST fraud in Australia’s history in Operation Protego.
The law enforcement activity saw warrants executed in three states against 10 individuals suspected of promoting the fraud, including on social media.
Stephen Jones, the assistant treasurer, has welcomed the “swift action” of the major operation begun in early 2022.
In a statement, Jones described that people invent fake businesses and lodge false Australian business number (ABN) applications, then attempt to submit fictitious Business Activity Statements to gain a dishonest GST refund.
Jones stressed that these raids “sends a strong signal that tax fraud will not be tolerated.”
He said it was alleged that this is “not accidental over-claiming” but rather people “took deliberate steps to engage in tax crime and encouraged others to do the same”.
Tax crime is not victimless. It takes money out of the hip pockets of all Australians.
The SFCT has advised that Operation Protego has entered the compliance phase, with more charges expected to be laid over coming months.
Explosion in number of high-paid NSW public servants costs extra $800m a year
NSW taxpayers are spending nearly $800m a year more on executive wages after a five-fold increase in senior government executive positions, AAP reports.
The number of senior executives grew from 708 in 2010 to 3,680 in 2021.
With the average executive receiving $256,000 a year, the bill has risen nearly $800 million, shadow treasurer Daniel Mookhey said today.
It’s obscene that [the premier is] happy to pay this but won’t even think about giving a fair pay rise to our teachers, nurses and paramedics and healthcare workers, let alone negotiate.
Twelve years of this government has created a surplus of top bureaucrats and a deficit of essential workers.
In the final years of the last Labor government, senior executive positions were slashed by 171, leaving one executive for every 400 public servants.
Multiple remuneration tribunal members noted this was a “very small” proportion.
In 2021, one executive oversaw an average of 115 employees.
Over the same 11-year period, NSW teacher numbers grew 7.1% – the slowest of any mainland state, according to ABS figures.
Taking in all specialist support staff and admin staff such as teachers aides, numbers grew 14.6%.
Labor education spokeswoman Prue Car said:
The minister for education continues to insist the teacher shortage is a nationwide problem, but this data shows that NSW is recording the largest declines and the slowest recruitment across the nation.
Lowe: RBA expects to see lower costs being paid by firms on global markets reflected locally soon
Unlike his appearance before Senate estimates, RBA governor Philip Lowe provided an opening statement to the House of Representatives economics committee.
In doing so, he provided this line of reasoning behind the record run of interest rate rises, and indeed, why more are needed.
Inflation was running at the highest since the 1990s, and is “too high, way too high”. That’s not really new of course, but one element of particular surprise was that – unlike elsewhere – Australia at the end of 2022 did not see a slowdown in the rate of goods price increases.
In follow-up questions from Daniel Mulino, a Labor MP, Lowe implied companies had been slow in passing on lower prices. “We know firms are paying less on global markets” for these goods, and the RBA expects to see those lower costs reflected locally soon. Something for the ACCC to look at too, it would seem.
And Lowe echoed precisely the wording in the statement accompanying the RBA’s rate rise on 7 February, namely: “the board expects that further increases will be needed over the months ahead to ensure that inflation returns to target and this period of high inflation is only temporary”.
Fears avian botulism could be spreading among birds in Victoria
Wildlife Victoria fears the toxin that is most likely the cause of more than 350 bird deaths at a nature reserve south-west of Bendigo could be spreading.
Wildlife Victoria has recorded close to 450 animals at Bells Swamp, including 55 requiring euthanasia and 20 being determined well enough to be transported to Melbourne for specialist treatment.
Wildlife Victoria said while testing is ongoing, it understands that avian botulism is the most likely cause.
Avian botulism presents as paralysis with infected birds showing lethargy, an inability to walk or fly, or to hold their head up. Impacted birds often drown when they can no longer hold their heads above water.
A statement from Wildlife Victoria said there was the potential to spread the toxin to other waterways and regions:
As flying species, ducks and waterbirds have the potential to spread the toxin to other waterways and regions.
Wildlife Victoria are aware of two other reports of waterbirds displaying similar symptoms outside of Bells Swamp, suggesting this may become a wider issue.
Duck species represent the majority of those animals impacted, with chestnut teals, grey teals, pacific black and wood ducks all impacted. Other impacted birds include spoonbills, moorhens, coots, White-faced herons, and magpie larks.
National long Covid strategy in development
Representatives from the Department of Health and Aged Care are answering questions at a parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of long Covid and repeated Covid infections.
The chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, is asked by Labor MP Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah whether there is a national long Covid strategy being developed – something encompassing data collection, prevention, immunisation, treatment and research.
The short answer is yes, absolutely … we as a department have an effect – me personally, [I] have been charged by the [health] minister to develop such a strategy, and that is well under way.
Do you have a timeline, Professor Kelly, on when you’re going to land this strategy?
It depends very much on your timeline, because I think to develop such a strategy whilst this committee is continuing to meet and to deliberate is fine, but to finalise it – we can’t do that until we receive your advice.
Ananda-Rajah adds that more funding into long Covid research is needed, with an emphasis on culturally diverse communities:
Long Covid clinical trials absolutely I believe need to be funded. But I would urge the department to strongly consider mandating inreach into communities, that funders are actually forced to … stipulate a certain number of culturally diverse people be recruited into these trials, otherwise we will continue to … have these people underrepresented going forward.
Central Victoria experiencing first extreme fire danger day of summer
It is also its first day under the new fire danger rating system that was introduced last year.
Victoria has also declared a total fire ban for the central and north central fire weather districts, which stretch from Port Phillip Bay all the way up to Bendigo.
CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan said fire conditions could make it difficult to control any fires that may start.
Tomorrow’s conditions could make it difficult for firefighters to suppress a fire should one start; therefore, we are asking people to take heed of the Total Fire Ban conditions.
People need to be aware of the increased fire danger and ensure your fire plan covers all possible contingencies.
The new national fire danger rating system has been in place since 1 September, 2022, and is intended to simplify the previous six-tier rating system for ease of public communication and planning.
It replaces a model that used the McArthur fire danger index, developed in the 1960s, with rating based on the fire behaviour index (FBI), a scale from 0 to 100 that draws on models of fire behaviour for different fuel types.
Lowe on new $5 note
Lowe is speaking about the new design of the $5 banknote, which was announced a couple of weeks ago, with a design honouring Australia’s First Nations to replace Queen Elizabeth II.
The other side of the note will continue to feature this building and its forecourt. Given the national significance of the issue, the board decided to consult the Australian government before it made a decision. In response, the government indicated its support for a design that honoured the first Australians.
The new note will continue the RBA’s proud tradition of having First Australian imagery on our banknote. Some of you might recall the $1 paper banknote issued in 1966 and you might recall the $10 polymer banknote issued in 1998, both of which feature the art and culture of First Nations peoples, and our new $5 note will continue that tradition.
Australia’s coins are produced by the Royal Australian Mint and will continue to have the image of the monarch on one side. The RBA is now embarking on a process of consultation with First Australians on the new design, we anticipate it will be at least a couple of years before the new banknote is ready for circulation. Until then the current $5 banknote will continue to be issued and it will still be able to be used once the new banknote enters circulation in a few years’ time.
Lowe wraps up his speech with those comments on the $5 note and is now taking questions from the committee.
Household spending is ‘complicated’ picture at the moment, Lowe says
Lowe is speaking about households, which he says is a “complicated” picture, and he is unsure of whether households will continue to spend following the holiday period:
It is not clear whether households will want to spend the savings in coming months or whether they really see them as part of their long-term wealth to be spent gradually over a long period of time.
It is also possible that the resilience evident in household spending on services recently is simply because this was the first holiday period for three years that Covid restrictions were not in place. If what we have been seen recently is extra spending, as people enjoy their usual freedom for the first time in three years, a period of belt tightening could now follow.
But it is also possible that the extra savings and jobs are giving part of the population sufficient confidence to keep spending just at the same time that other people are finding things very difficult at the moment. So it is a really complicated picture at the moment on the household side.
Lowe says inflation expected to be ‘around 3%’ by mid 2025
Lowe says the central bank’s assessment is that inflation is likely to have peaked at the end of last year and will now start declining.
The central forecast is for CPI inflation to decline to 4.75% this year and around 3% by mid 2025.
We have not yet seen evidence of a moderation in goods price inflation in Australia but we have seen evidence of that elsewhere around the world and we expect the same to take place here over the months ahead.
Supply chain problems are being resolved, shipping costs are normalising and oil prices are off their peak. The lower prices and lower rates of inflation in global markets should flow through into Australia.
While this will help in the return of inflation to target, it is unlikely to be enough without also observing some ongoing moderation of demand.
In broad terms, the RBA and many other central bank are managing two risks.
One is the risk of not doing enough, which would result in high inflation persisting, as I said earlier it would then be costly to bring it down later on.
So what is the risk of not doing enough? The other is the risk that we move too fast or too far and the economy slows by more than is necessary to bring inflation down in a timely way.
The path here is a narrow one. It is still possible for us here in Australia to navigate this narrow path, especially with inflation and wage expectations remaining contained and issues on the supply side continuing to be resolved.
Also possible that we get knocked off this narrow path. Not surprisingly, given the various uncertainties, there are a range of views in the community where the main danger lies.
Lowe acknowledges the ‘uneven’ effect of interest rate rises
The instrument we have to achieve this is interest rates which are acknowledged can be a very blunt instrument. We are very conscious that the impact is being felt quite unevenly across the community, around one third of households have a home loan and many are finding managing the higher interest rates are very difficult at the moment.
But the mortgage market is only one channel through which monetary policy works. Changes in interest rates also affect asset prices, including housing prices and the exchange rate, and they also affect the incentive for all households to save and to spend.
Changes in interest rates also affect expectations of the future, which can affect spending plans and price and wage setting behaviour. These various transmission mechanisms take time to work and their effects are felt unevenly across the community.
As difficult as this unevenness is, our job as Australia’s central bank is to deliver low inflation for all Australians and to do so in a way that best contributes to the collective economic welfare of the Australian people, that is our job and that is what we are attempting to do.
Philip Lowe: ‘once inflation becomes ingrained, the end result is even higher interest rates’
High inflation is damaging and it is corrosive. It hurts people. It puts serious pressure on household budgets and it erodes the value of people’s savings, and it increases inequality and it hurts most those on low incomes.
High inflation also damages longer-term economic performance, making the environment for business and households more uncertain. It makes it harder for firms to invest and if inflation does become ingrained in people’s expectations, bringing it back down is very costly.
History teaches us that once inflation becomes ingrained, the end result is even higher interest rates and greater unemployment to bring inflation back down, so it would be dangerous indeed do not contain and to reverse this period of high inflation.
Philip Lowe: interest rate rises ‘required’ to fight highest inflation rate in decades
Lowe is now speaking, saying he will begin by discussing why this increase in interest rates has been necessary and to discuss the outlook for the next couple of years.
At its core the rise in interest rates has been required to make sure that the current period of high inflation in Australia is only temporary. That is the job for the Reserve Bank of Australia as the country’s central bank. In the December quarter the inflation rate reached 7.8%.
That is the highest since 1990 and it’s too high, way too high. The inflation pressures were broadly based with the prices of almost three-quarters of the items in the CPI basket increasing by more than 4% last year, in underlying terms the inflation rate reached 6.9% in the December quarter.
Again, this is the highest rate in decades. It’s too high and it’s higher than we were expecting just a few months ago.
RBA’s Philip Lowe about to front his political overlords (of sorts)
Just two days after fronting a Senate estimates panel, Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe gets a redux this morning with several fun hours before the House of Representatives’ economics committee.
Among the certain topics will be what he thought of yesterday’s jobs numbers for January, which saw losses in workers for two consecutive months.
The rise in the jobless rate to 3.7% was a bit of a surprise, but actually markets didn’t budge much in their hawkish view of rate rises to come:
And ANZ joined NAB in predicting the RBA’s cash rate would max out at 4.1%, another sign that economists weren’t convinced those weaker jobs figures pointed to a turn.
Anyway, stay tuned for Lowe’s appearance.
Lack of data on First Nations long Covid impacts
A public hearing is being held today for a parliamentary inquiry into the impacts of long Covid and repeated Covid infections.
First up was Dr Jason Agostino, a senior medical adviser at the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (Naacho), who expressed concern about a lack of coordinated data on how long Covid has affected First Nations communities.
It is clear that a high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at higher risk of long Covid. Covid-19 infections are higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than non-Indigenous Australians and the immunisation coverage is lower, particularly among younger people.
The impacts of long Covid are also potentially more severe due to the high percentage living in poverty or with significant financial stress, the high percentage with high psychological distress and the high burden of chronic disease.
However, we have no clear evidence on long Covid cases amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – most jurisdictions have not shared data on presentations to their long Covid clinics by Indigenous status. Our primary care data systems cannot provide reliable or timely data, and no researchers have approached Naacho to partner with them on research into long Covid.
NSW records 51 Covid deaths in week and 844 people in hospital
There were 6,033 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and 23 people are in intensive care.
That’s down from 6,440 cases and 62 deaths last week, as the summer spike continues to ebb.
Victoria records 56 Covid deaths in week and 106 people in hospital
There were 3,344 new cases in the weekly reporting period, and nine people are in intensive care.
Going against the trend which has seen figures going down in Victoria, these figures show a rise from last week’s 2,941 cases and 52 deaths.
PM reveals $3.4bn federal investment in Brisbane Olympics
Anthony Albanese has revealed on 4BC Radio that $7bn will be invested into the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, including $3.4bn from the federal government.
It’s going to be a fantastic event for Queensland that will cement Brisbane as a global city. All of the focus will be on the Olympics and Paralympics, but it will leave a lasting legacy of better infrastructure and better facilities.
Albanese cited upgrades to Sunshine Coast stadium, Barlow park Cairns, Brisbane aquatic centre, Toowoomba sports ground and a new venue, the Sunshine Coast indoor sports centre.
For Queensland, it’s an investment that will produce a return, with increased economic activity and increased visitors … It’s such a fantastic tourist destination and this will really showcase the state.
Australia and PNG on track to sign security deal
More from AAP on the meeting between Papua New Guinea and Australian ministers today in Canberra:
Australia and Papua New Guinea are on track to increase defence co-operation and sign a new security agreement by April.
The foreign ministers are co-chairing the 29th ministerial forum in Canberra on Friday, bringing together nine Australian ministers and 16 from PNG to discuss security, development and economic potential.
Defence minister Richard Marles lauded PNG as an important neighbour and security partner after an informal dinner between ministers on Thursday night.
“PNG is a profoundly important country for Australia, in so many ways, but security is definitely one of them. It’s a critical part of our national security landscape,” he told reporters in Canberra this morning:
A lot of the conversations I’ve had with my counterpart Win Bakri Daki is about thickening what is already a very strong relationship between our two militaries.
The negotiations in respect of this are very much on track.
Hot weather to continue
Heatwave conditions are forecast to continue today for parts of South Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria. Some areas have already recorded more than 40C and Victoria has declared a total fire ban in the central and north central districts.
You can read more about those soaring temperatures here:
Related: Melbourne to hit 38C and western Sydney 35C as heatwave sweeps parts of Australia
PhD stipends questioned at Senate estimates
The Department of Education has suggested universities should “prioritise” how they allocate their funding, when questioned over punishing PhD stipend rates which languish below the minimum wage.
At Senate estimates on Thursday evening, Greens senator and spokesperson for higher education Mehreen Faruqi questioned a panel over how it was fair for students to be relying on the incomes of their partners or extensive savings to complete their PhDs.
PhD students are increasingly struggling to make ends meet with stipends falling well below the minimum wage … one of these PhD students was recently quoted in the Guardian saying the stipend is so low, if it weren’t for her partner her PhD in nuclear radiation simply wouldn’t have happened, and I know many researchers relate to this … what is the department doing, if anything, about this?
Secretary of higher education Tony Cook said it was part of the higher education accord process – which is due to submit its findings this year, with implementations to come into effect in 2024.
We have had a number of individual students who wrote … submissions. I can assure you the university accord panel is aware of the issue and will consider it in the next stage of consultation … that conversation is being discussed.
He said universities may not be “aware” of the funding they could provide under current arrangements, on top of the federal government stipend.
First assistant secretary of research at the Department of Education Dom English said the funding was “designed as a scholarship, not a wage” and as such wasn’t benchmarked to wages and was tax free – provided students didn’t earn too much additional income.
He said the range of stipend rates available to universities had been “substantially expanded” and some universities had moved to increase the wage.
Since 2017, universities have been able to top up the stipend to a maximum amount which rises with inflation.
There is an opportunity for universities to prioritise the support they offer to students. We are concerned to ensure the PhD pathway remains viable … we think there’s scope for the sector to take greater opportunity and flexibility as they’ve had for six years.
The minimum PhD stipend rate is currently $29,863 – just over two thirds of the minimum wage, and capped at a maximum of $46,653.
Related: Instant noodles and extra jobs: PhD candidates ‘barely scraping by’ on stipends below minimum wage
PM spruiks Labor’s Aston candidate Mary Doyle
Albanese also talked up Labor’s candidate in the Aston byelection, Mary Doyle, who contested the seat at the 2022 election.
She’s a great candidate. She ran less than a year ago, since the people of Aston voted, and she received almost an 8% swing, so it’s now sitting around about 53% whereas it was above 60, I think, before the election. So she’s a great candidate, she works in the finance sector. She has lived in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne for a long period of time. She studied performing at Tafe.
She is someone who’s also had real-world experience with the health system. Mary got breast cancer when she was just 25. And going through that treatment and recovery has meant that she is a passionate advocate of Medicare.
And she’s got a couple of kids, she’s a single mum. And she’s someone who I think would make an outstanding member of parliament.
Albanese said it would be “a pretty tough ask to win a position from government during a byelection”, noting this had not been done for 100 years.
We think that it’s the right thing to do to contest the byelection. So of course the Liberal party will be hot favourites if they get around to selecting a candidate. There’s a bit of chaos on the other side at the moment, in the Vic branch, I think.
But we are very early on selecting our candidate. Mary was preselected unopposed because the locals really wanted her to run again. Alan Tudge announced his resignation last week but he hasn’t actually resigned yet. So the byelection date hasn’t been established, I’m not quite sure what’s going on there. But when it is called, Mary Doyle will be the candidate.
Flood victims given marching orders from Victorian site
Victoria’s purpose-build quarantine centre will close its doors as a flood recovery site, with residents given a little over a month’s notice to vacate, AAP reports.
The Mickleham centre in Melbourne’s outer north was set up as temporary emergency accommodation in mid-October after widespread flooding hit central and northern Victoria.
It has housed 255 residents so far and 44 from five local government areas remain on site.
They have been told to pack up and leave by the end of March, when the federal government-owned centre is handed back to the Commonwealth.
Remaining residents will be helped to return to their own homes or into alternative accommodation closer to home, such as private rental, social housing, hotels and caravan parks.
Emergency Recovery Victoria is working on a pilot program, allowing people to stay in caravans and modular homes placed on their own properties while repair and rebuilding work continues.
In addition, residents will be connected with a recovery support worker.
Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes said people living on site are keen to get back to their home towns as quickly as possible.
Now the flood waters have receded and it’s safe to return, we’re helping everyone who’s staying at the centre to return to their communities – and we’ll keep providing support to everyone who needs it once they’re back in their communities.
We will continue to stand with flood-impacted communities for as long as it takes to recover from this extraordinarily tough event.
NSW Labor pledges bike paths in western Sydney
A New South Wales Labor government would pour $60m into footpaths and bike paths across western Sydney and the regions if elected in March.
The state opposition leader, Chris Minns, will today promise to boost the state’s active transport budget with an extra $15m a year over the next four years.
The money would be focused on new development areas lacking in walking and cycling infrastructure, as well as existing areas where options are poor.
We all want our communities to be more walkable and more cycle friendly. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re living in Leppington or Lilyfield. Everyone should have access to quality walking and cycling infrastructure.
Summit to focus on First Nations children
Social services minister Amanda Rishworth says First Nations children, as well as children with a disability and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds will be a priority at the early years summit today.
She told ABC Radio:
There is a significant focus as we have discussion on those children that are most at risk of falling behind and not getting support.
First Nations children are absolutely one of those groups of people that we don’t see the outcomes we need to see. And so there is a significant focus today at the summit and how we can best lift those that are most at risk of falling behind.
And so there will be a focus, particularly on First Nations children, as well as for example, children for culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and children with disability.
Albanese expresses confidence in RBA governor Phil Lowe
Anthony Albanese has expressed the government’s confidence in Reserve Bank governor Phil Lowe, who has been copping scrutiny this week for interest rate decisions, first in Senate estimates and today in the house economics committee.
The PM told ABC Melbourne:
He’s doing his job now and we have, we have confidence … the decision, has has not [been made about his reappointment] but he has the government’s confidence and the Reserve Bank, of course, makes these decisions independently and it’s very important that they be allowed to do that … But as for future appointments that decision will come down the track.
I’ll let the RBA do its own job. We have made it very clear that the government hasn’t come to a view on a reappointment in the future. We will have that discussion down the track that will be a decision for the treasurer. But our job we’re focused on our job which is making sure that we do what we can to do with the inflation challenge, which is out there.
Marles says Australia able to track balloons
The defence minister, Richard Marles, says government would have capability to track a balloon if one was to appear over Australia as it did in the US a couple weeks ago.
Marles is speaking to ABC News Breakfast after the speech from US President Joe Biden saying nothing suggests China’s spy balloon program is related to three unidentified objects downed over North America. Biden says the balloons are most likely related to private companies.
Well, I think it’s important that this statement’s been made by the president to clarify the circumstances. There’s obviously been a particular fascination about balloons over the last month given the original spy balloon that we saw over the United States. I think from an Australian point of view, what’s important to say is that we’ve had no advice of any balloon of that kind being over Australia but we very much do have the capability to track such an object if there was one-to-and to deal with it.
Marles was also asked about the calls from former prime minister Scott Morrison for the government to impose human rights sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of Uyghur minorities and other minorities in China.
Look, human rights matter and need to be central in the way we engage with the world. For this government, we will always call out human rights concerns where we have them and we’ve done that in respect of Xinjiang and the Uyghur population. I’ve done it publicly in China.
It forms part of the way in which we speak with China in our relationship. I think it’s also important, though, that in doing that, you know, be we raise those issues in a respectful way with China and in the context of the broader relationship and in the context of seeking to take steps which actually make a difference and it is important that we are stabilising our relationship with China.
You know, we value a productive relationship with China and so pursuing that has been an objective of the government. But we can do that and in the same context raise our concerns about human rights, which we do.
Perrottet backs ban on gay conversion practices
New South Wales is a step closer to banning so-called gay conversion therapy after the premier, Dominic Perrottet, said he would support legislation to end the damaging practices.
There is no room for any harmful practices in NSW, particularly if they affect our young and vulnerable.
When the parliament returns, my government will provide in principle support for legislation that brings an end to any harmful practices. This is a complex matter and in working through it with parliamentary colleagues we will carefully consider the legal expression and effect of such laws.
Earlier in the week he had refused to give the reform his support.
The backing from Perrottet is a win for independent Alex Greenwich, who this month said he would introduce a bill to ban the practice.
The opposition has already agreed to support it.
Condolences over mine deaths
The two men trapped 125 metres underground at a north-west Queensland mine were found dead yesterday.
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, as well as resources minister, Madeleine King, and opposition leader, Peter Dutton, have expressed their condolences to the families of the two men, Dylan Langridge and Trevor Davis.
You can read more about the tragedy here:
Related: Two men trapped underground at outback Queensland mine site found dead
Ann Aly speaks about son
The early childhood minister, Anne Aly, who is co-chairing the early years summit, spoke to ABC News about her own child’s battle with a hearing loss that she didn’t pick up until he went to daycare.
Because we picked it up at two and because we picked it up early enough that there was no long-term hearing damage.
He was able to get surgery. As soon as he got that surgery, he started to talk and he hasn’t shut up since.
He went on to become dux of his school. That is an example of how we can get it right in the first five years.
PNG delegation in Australia to discuss defence pact
Good morning! Natasha May reporting for blog duty.
A high-level delegation from Papua New Guinea will meet with their Australian counterparts in Canberra today for the 29th ministerial forum to discuss security, development and economic potential.
Both nations are locked in negotiations over a new defence pact, which leaders are hoping to have completed by April, AAP reports.
Pacific minister Pat Conroy said the forum would help Australia implement what it has promised to its Pacific neighbour, including bringing in more labour scheme workers, tackling security challenges and promoting a PNG rugby league team.
Australia sends aircraft to enforce North Korea sanctions
Australia has deployed a Poseidon patrol aircraft on Operation Argos as part of its commitment to enforcing UN security council sanctions on North Korea, the defence department said last night.
Australia is supporting UN sanctions through the deployment of maritime patrol aircraft and Royal Australian Navy vessels.
The P-8A Poseidon will operate from Kadena airbase in Japan, conducting airborne surveillance to monitor and deter illegal ship-to-ship transfers of sanctioned goods in the region.
Since 2018 Australia has deployed RAAF maritime patrol aircraft on eleven occasions and navy vessels eight times in support of the operation.
Early years summit to address education shortfall
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, says Australia has “an enormous amount of work to do” in boosting results for the youngest children as the federal government convenes a major summit on early education this morning.
Parliament House will host the early years summit today, at which 100 delegates from parenting, education, family and social organisations will have input into the federal early years strategy for the first five years of a child’s life.
The social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, said the summit was about “the big ideas to get the policy and support settings right for Australia’s little children.”
We know that the early years are where the building blocks are stacked for life-long physical, emotional, social and cognitive health and wellbeing.
There is strong evidence that when we identify and intervene early for issues arising in the early years, this significantly alters the trajectory for children. It’s time we better coordinate federal spending across health, welfare and education, to close gaps in services and better address intergenerational disadvantage.
After a fortnight of parliament sitting, the summit will hear from Albanese, treasurer Jim Chalmers, Rishworth and early childhood minister Anne Aly.
Chalmers will say that “good early years policy is good economic policy as well”; Rishworth is expected to say: “There is strong evidence that when we identify and intervene early for issues arising in the early years, this significantly alters the trajectory for children.”
Delegates include the Parenthood’s Georgie Dent, Muslim Women Australia’s Maha Abdo, NDIS expert Bruce Bonyhady, Thrive By Five’s Jay Weatherill, Nicola Forrest of the Minderoo Foundation, Sam Mostyn of the women’s economic equality taskforce, and representatives of PWC, Uniting Care, Carers Australia and union groups.
Albanese will say:
This summit is a chance to be clear about our aspirations for the wellbeing, education and development of all of our children.
Ultimately, your discussions will help shape the commonwealth early years strategy, a new approach by our government to ensuring our kids have the best possible start in life.
We know we have an enormous amount of work to do to ensure the best results, but I am absolutely confident that together, we can deliver on our commitment to improve the lives of all Australian young people.
Education visa processing delays
The Department of Education has acknowledged lengthy visa processing delays for international students are an “area of concern” for the government after students told Guardian Australia they had faced wait times of more than three years for outcomes.
At Senate estimates last night, Greens senator and higher education spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi asked the panel if the Department of Education had been in contact with home affairs to improve the significant backlog.
Students from deemed high-risk countries including Iran, Pakistan, India and China have told Guardian Australia they are turning to countries with streamlined visa processing times due to frustration with the Australian system.
Is the department talking to home affairs?
The department’s secretary, Tony Cook, said it was under “regular contact” with home affairs regarding the delays.
There are some issues around security particularly around the courses some of these students might be studying that home affairs takes under consideration.
The department’s first assistant secretary, Karen Sandercock, said it was an issue that had been brought to the attention of the department through a “number of sources”.
I think it’s of shared interest to us and the Department of Home Affairs as to how we can improve visa processing in these areas.
She said there were a “range of considerations” that were taken into account by government agencies. Students from a wide range of Stem and technology fields face lengthy security clearances and delays – even after their respective universities clear them for studying banned subjects.
The department’s group manager, Dom English, said officials were aware of the complaints, which were under “active discussion”.
We’re not aware of the specific timeframes [of wait times] but we are aware of broad concerns. Universities do raise this with us and raise it with home affairs directly … we are joined in those discussions. Visa processing has been an area of concern and focus for the government.
Anthony Chisholm, the assistant minister for education and regional development, added the federal government inherited a “significant backlog” from the Coalition when it came into office.
We have thrown significant extra resources at processing. The backlog has been cut, but there is obviously more work to do and we all get feedback from the university sector about that.
Related: Iranian PhD students remain in limbo due to Australian visa delays despite securing scholarships
Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the day’s news. I’m Martin Farrer, here to get things rolling before my colleague Natasha May takes over.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison is making a splash back on the world stage with a speech in Tokyo today in which he accuses western leaders of appeasing China, saying that accommodating China was the worst assumption since the infamous Munich agreement with Hitler. He is expected to urge the Albanese government to consider targeting Chinese officials with Magnitsky-style human rights sanctions (which his government didn’t do).
After news yesterday that Domain had seen profits plunge because of a lack of new home sales listings, there are more signs today that there is trouble ahead for the housing market with warnings of an “avalanche” of people in mortgage stress this year when they are obliged to switch from fixed to variable rates. One householder in Wagga Wagga said repayments had gone up $300 a fortnight. Against this background, the head of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe, will today face his second parliamentary grilling of the week, at the House of Representatives’ economics committee.
The Queensland resources minister, Scott Stewart, said he expects a thorough investigation into the deaths of two miners near Cloncurry on Wednesday. As the community mourned the loss of Dylan Langridge, 33, and Trevor Davis, 36, Stewart said: “The loss of a life in any workplace at any time is not acceptable. Families should be able to expect that when their loved ones depart for work that they return safely.”