Morrison remains very popular in Newspoll as the Coalition easily retains Groom in byelection



James Ross/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll will presumably be the final one for 2020. It gives the Coalition a 51-49% two-party-preferred lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 2% One Nation (down one).

This is One Nation’s worst result in a federal Newspoll since before the 2019 federal election. It comes after the party slumped by 6.6 percentage points at the recent Queensland state election.

Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger. This poll was conducted November 25-28 from a sample of 1,511 people.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up two points) and 30% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +36. Morrison’s approval rating has consistently been over 60% since April, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recorded a net approval of +3, down one point. Morrison led as better PM by 60-28% (58-29% previously).




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Coronavirus may be the only important issue for many voters at the moment, and Morrison is perceived to have handled that well. In normal times, issues less favourable to the Coalition would likely have gained traction, undermining Morrison’s ratings, but these times are not normal.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has enjoyed a similar polling boost in her state as well, due to her handling of the pandemic.

In a NSW YouGov poll taken after revelations of her affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, she still had a 68-26% approval rating.

LNP easily retains Groom at federal byelection

There was very little media attention on Saturday’s byelection for the safe Coalition seat of Groom in Queensland.

Only four candidates ran, representing the Coalition, Labor, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrats.

The LNP won by 66.6-33.4%, a 3.9% swing to Labor since the 2019 federal election.




Read more:
Final 2019 election results: education divide explains the Coalition’s upset victory


Primary votes were 59.0% for the LNP (up 5.6%), 27.8% for Labor (up 9.1%), 8.0% for Sustainable Australia and 5.3% for the Liberal Democrats. The major parties benefited from the absence of One Nation and the Greens, which respectively won 13.1% and 8.0% in 2019.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says the average swing against a government at byelections in its own seats is 6%, so this is not a great result for Labor.

Furthermore, there was a 5.2% swing to the Coalition in Groom in the 2019 election, as it romped to a 58.4-41.6% drubbing of Labor in Queensland.

If federal Labor had recovered support in Queensland since then, a much bigger swing would have been expected.

While Labor easily won the recent Queensland state election, state and federal voting can be very different.

Biden’s popular vote lead stretches

In the Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote in the US presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden leads incumbent Donald Trump by 51.1-47.1%.

Biden’s four-point lead is up from 3.1 percentage points on November 8 when the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada were called for him, making him the presumptive winner. Many mail votes are still be counted in New York, which will heavily favour Biden as well.

Biden came out on top in the Electoral College vote count, 306-232.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden’s popular vote margin now exceeds Barack Obama’s margin of 3.9 percentage points in 2012. But Obama won the “tipping-point” state that put him over the magic 270 electoral college votes by 5.4 points, while Biden won his tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by just 0.6 percentage points.

Trump performed 3.4 percentage points better in the tipping-point state in 2020 than in the national popular vote and this difference will increase further as more New York votes are counted. In the 2016 election, the difference was 2.9 points.




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What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate


In the House of Representatives, the Democrats lead the Republicans 222-206 in seats, with seven races uncalled.

Republicans lead in all seven of these uncalled races. If they hold their leads, Democrats will win the House by just 222-213. That’s a net gain of 13 seats for Republicans from the 2018 midterm election.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The NSW-Vic border will reopen this month, and ironically the risk is greatest for Victoria


Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian today announced the border with Victoria will reopen on November 23.

It will be the first time people can freely cross the border since early July.

My preference would be to wait until both states have an extended period of time with zero community transmission of COVID. But I think the risk of a substantial outbreak from opening the border is low.

Victoria has done exceptionally well in squashing its second wave, and has now recorded five consecutive days of zero new cases. Even more pleasingly, the number of mystery cases — those with an unknown source — has dropped to just two in the past fortnight. In saying that, we’ll have to wait another week or so to see the effects of the latest round of eased restrictions.

For the first time in months, it looks as if the COVID situation is worse in NSW than Victoria. Arguably the risk of opening the border is greater for Victoria right now than it is for NSW. Indeed, Berejiklian said today that Victoria “may have, because of the lockdown, actually gone down a path of having eliminated it at this point in time”.

Today NSW recorded nine new cases, six of them among people already in hotel quarantine and three locally acquired. However, those three were already in isolation having previously been identified as close contacts of an existing case.

Elimination is on the cards

I’m concerned NSW is not going for elimination. It leaves the state as an outlier in Australia, with Victoria now joining all other states and territories by having zero community transmission (although Victoria’s official strategy is “aggressive suppression” rather than outright elimination).

I’d like to see NSW tighten restrictions in a few areas, because I think Australia now has a real shot at eliminating COVID. For example, NSW residents are currently allowed up to 20 visitors at a time, despite the Chief Health Officer recommending no more than ten. As homes are one of the greatest risk areas, why not follow this advice?

In saying that, NSW has shown it’s capable of controlling outbreaks with rapid contact tracing. And Victoria has substantially improved its contact-tracing system over the past few months.




Read more:
Border closures, identity and political tensions: how Australia’s past pandemics shape our COVID-19 response


Time for a national approach

Unfortunately, border reopening is likely to make contact tracing more difficult. Many people will cross state borders during summer, particularly over Christmas and New Year.

Contact tracing is currently done on a state-by-state basis, by local teams using their own data sets. It’s not clear whether and how these data will be shared as borders reopen.

For example, if someone is infectious while on a road trip holiday and visits a restaurant in regional Victoria, before driving to towns in NSW and then Queensland, how will contact tracing be organised and shared?

I’d like to see a coordinated national effort to centralise these data. Ideally, there should be a centralised body, such as an independent federal Centre for Disease Control, which could handle national contract tracing, with regional hubs in each state and territory. This would ensure all states and territories would use the same contact-tracing software, using staff trained to the same level.

A national contact tracing database would then enable the tracking of people travelling interstate. Perhaps a QR code system could be implemented on a national level, so visiting a pub in South Australia means it is recorded in a centralised national database.

A federal disease control agency could also ensure consistency of hotel quarantining, and training of security staff.




Read more:
Where did Victoria go so wrong with contact tracing and have they fixed it?


Rapid testing could help

In late September, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved four rapid antigen tests for COVID.

These tests work by detecting proteins on the outside of the virus, called antigens, from nasal swabs. And they can deliver results in 15 minutes or even quicker.

Yes, their accuracy is not quite as good as the standard COVID tests in that they tend to have a higher rate of false negatives. But I think there’s potential for these to be used as interstate travel increases.

For example, interstate travellers could get one of these tests while waiting for their flights in airports, while crossing land borders by car, or when leaving or arriving by sea.




Read more:
The new 15-minute test has potential, but standard tests are still the best way to track COVID-19


Australia has done a fantastic job at controlling COVID, and is the envy of much of the world. Ideally, it would be good to have New South Wales take the extra step to eliminate COVID before borders are completely open, though this might be politically hard. Introducing additional measures like rapid antigen tests, and a hub and spokes contact-tracing system, would go a long way to ameliorating the small risks to other jurisdictions from New South Wales retaining its current suppression approach.The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The long history of political corruption in NSW — and the downfall of MPs, ministers and premiers



Dean Lewins/AAP

David Clune, University of Sydney

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has become ensnared this week in the sensational ICAC hearings into alleged corruption by former MP Daryl Maguire — and suddenly finds her future very much in doubt.

In yesterday’s hearing, Maguire admitted to using his parliamentary office and resources to conduct private business dealings, including receiving thousands of dollars in cash as part of a visa scam.

Meanwhile, Berejiklian, who has denied any wrongdoing by maintaining a personal relationship with Maguire even after he was forced to resign as MP, has faced calls from the Opposition for her to resign.




Read more:
Brand Gladys: how ICAC revelations hurt Berejiklian’s ‘school captain’ image


Whether Berejiklian will be forced to step down remains to be seen. But it’s becoming clearer by the day that, at the very least, her reputation will be seriously tarnished by the explosive revelations.

Berejiklian is hardly the first NSW politician to become enmeshed in scandal.

Corruption has been ingrained in the political culture of NSW, from the days of its founding in the 19th century. This is the very reason the Independent Commission Against Corruption was formed in 1988 — and why it remains a vital watchdog over the inner workings of state government.

Maguire told ICAC he accepted ‘thousands of dollars’ as part of a cash-for-visa scheme.
ICAC

A corrupt old town

Before NSW began governing itself in 1856, the colony was run for many years by the upright, dedicated and incorruptible Colonial Secretary Edward Deas Thomson.

With a fully elected parliament and premier, however, things changed. And democratic politics attracted corruption from the beginning.

Historian John Hirst said that after 1856,

to conservatives it appeared as if the government had been debased into a giant system of corruption with needy ministers and members bound together by their joint interest in plunder.

Politics then (and now) was a honey pot: needy, greedy ministers and MPs were always looking to benefit from public works, jobs, development and government contracts, as well as through the manipulation of the criminal justice system.

NSW has also always had a sleazy subterranean network of fixers and door-openers who could influence decisions for the right price.

Sydney has traditionally been thought of as a corrupt old town. Whether this was because of its buccaneering origins in the convict era or because it was where all the action took place has long been an open question.

A few of NSW’s not-so-finer moments

The colony’s early days set the stage for a long history of political and public corruption. Among the more notable episodes:

ICAC is formed — and then brings down its founder

In response to the storm of corruption allegations in the Wran years, Liberal Premier Nick Greiner created the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The new body had wide powers, a broad anti-corruption brief and iron-clad independence.

Ironically, Greiner was an early victim of the new body. In 1992, it found him guilty of corruption for appointing renegade Liberal MP Terry Metherell to a senior public service position to allow the government to regain his safe seat.

The finding was overturned by the courts on appeal and most today would agree that Greiner had acted corruptly in only a technical sense. (He had not benefited personally and in the pre-ICAC era, this would have been seen as an astute bit of politics.)

Greiner’s political career ended in 1992 after ICAC expressed concerns over his integrity.
DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

Greiner’s downfall was a vivid indication of the seismic shift that had taken place in NSW politics to try and rid the state of corruption.

The previous “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” era of political favours was gone. A problem could no longer be fixed with the right contacts and right sum of money, and turning a blind eye to improper behaviour by “mates” was no longer acceptable.

Everyone in the public sector was on notice that corrupt dealings would be investigated and punished and offenders publicly shamed.




Read more:
History repeats: how O’Farrell and Greiner fell foul of ICAC


ICAC itself comes under scrutiny

In 2012-13, ICAC investigations exposed former minister and power-broker Eddie Obeid’s extraordinary influence on the Labor governments of Morris Iemma and Kristina Keneally and the insidious tentacles of the Obeid family’s covert business empire.

Then, in 2014, Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned after falsely denying to ICAC he had received a bottle of expensive wine from an associate of Obeid’s, who was lobbying for a valuable government contract.

Barry O’Farrell resigned over his inability to remember being gifted a $3,000 bottle of wine.
DAN HIMBRECHTS/AAP

O’Farrell admitted to a massive failure of memory but was cleared of any wrongdoing by ICAC. Nonetheless, he took the honourable course and resigned.

In recent years, ICAC itself has come under scrutiny. In 2015, it was accused of overreach, particularly in its pursuit of Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.

David Levine, ICAC’s inspector and a former judge, harshly criticised the commission’s investigation of Cunneen, calling it “unjust, unreasonable and oppressive”.

Levine called the inquiry into Cunneen a ‘low point’ in ICAC’s history.
JOEL CARRETT/AAP

Reforms are brought in, but are they enough?

As a result, ICAC was restructured in 2016. The existing single commissioner was replaced by a panel of three — a full-time chief commissioner and two part-time ones.

A decision to proceed to a compulsory examination or public inquiry needed majority approval of the three commissioners. More emphasis was placed on procedural fairness in inquiries.

And the highly respected Supreme Court judge Peter Hall replaced Megan Latham as chief commissioner in August 2017.




Read more:
The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth


Levine had also proposed abolishing public inquiries, which he said had resulted in the undeserved trashing of reputations.

He recommended an exoneration protocol for those who had a finding of corrupt conduct made against them but were acquitted in court, and judicial review of ICAC decisions.

These recommendations were rejected at the time, but they may be worth reconsidering — particularly if the inquiry into Maguire’s actions unfairly jeopardises Berejiklian’s premiership.The Conversation

David Clune, Honorary Associate, Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Gladys Berejiklian determined to tough out scandal of secret relationship with disgraced former MP



Dean Lewins/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has admitted having a secret intimate relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, which she only ended recently, despite his being forced to quit state parliament in 2018.

Berejiklian’s explosive appearance on Monday at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption saw her personal life embarrassingly exposed, her political reputation thrown under a cloud, and her future put on the line.

ICAC, which is investigating whether Maguire sought to monetise his position as an MP between 2012 and 2018, heard damaging tapped phones conversations between him and Berejiklian in which he spoke extensively of his lobbying on behalf of developers. He also talked about his concerns over his huge debts, which he said amounted to $1.5 million.

Maguire, who was a parliamentary secretary and member for Wagga Wagga, was forced to quit in 2018 after an earlier ICAC inquiry, which heard recordings of him seeking payment to help broker a deal with a Chinese property developer. This prompted a byelection that the Berejiklian government lost to an independent.

The premier’s colleagues and observers of NSW politics are gobsmacked at the revelation of Berejiklian’s “close personal relationship” with Maguire. There had been no whisper until her disclosure of it on Monday morning.

The relationship began in 2015 and lasted until after she gave evidence privately to ICAC in August.

After her Monday evidence, running for several hours, Berejiklian told a news conference: “I stuffed up in my personal life”. But she said she wouldn’t consider resigning from her position because she had done nothing wrong.

She said she had trusted Maguire, whom she had known for 15 years, but she had not told her family or friends of their relationship because it didn’t have “sufficient status”.

Berejiklian said she had sacked Maguire from the Liberal party and engaged others to press him to leave parliament. But she hadn’t broken with him earlier because he was “in a very dark place”. “I didn’t feel that I could stop being his friend during that time, rightly or wrongly, on compassionate grounds.”

She told reporters she always applied the “highest level of integrity” in doing her public job.

The phone taps indicated Maguire was considering whether to resign at the 2019 election if he was in a financial position to do so. Berejiklian admitted to the hearing she had thought if that happened, they could be in a position to make their relationship public.

In one of their phone conversations, Berejiklian said to Maguire: “You will always be my numero uno.” She told the hearing this showed “in my personal life I placed importance on how I felt about him”.

Berejiklian repeatedly stressed to the hearing she had taken no interest in Maguire’s financial affairs or his business activities, although he constantly referred to them in the phone conversations.

She said he was always talking about deals, but they then fell through. She always thought Maguire had made the appropriate disclosures.

On one occasion, she flagged to him that her chief of staff planned to call him to tell him a minister visiting China would raise a business matter Maguire was involved in.

In some calls she sounded anxious to distance herself from the details.

In one phone conversation, Maguire referred to “my little friend” and said, “you know my little friend?” Berejiklian replied, “Not really. I don’t need to know.”

In another conversation, Berejiklian said, “I don’t need to know about that bit.”

In relation to a deal involving land owned by Louise Waterhouse, from the racing family, near Badgerys Creek, Maguire asked if she had received an email from Waterhouse. When she said no, he said, “You will, she’ll send you an email. She’s really pissed off now, you know, about the airport. They’re all passing the buck.”

In September 2017 he told her, “It looks like we finally got the Badgerys Creek stuff done … I’ll make enough money to pay off my debts, which will be good.” He added, “Can you believe it, in one sale?”

The hearing went into closed session twice to listen to tapes which were considered too private to be played publicly.

Berejiklian stressed to ICAC she would never compromise her public position: “I would never turn a blind eye to any responsibility that I had to any wrongdoing that I saw.”

She emphasised she was an independent woman with her own finances. “Anybody else’s finances would be completely immaterial to me,” she said.

Her colleagues are standing by her, at least at the moment. The NSW Opposition said she should resign. Maguire gives evidence on Wednesday and Thursday.

Head of Daniel Andrews’ department resigns

The secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, has resigned, in the latest dramatic development in the hotel quarantine affair.

But his resignation has not clarified the central mystery of who decided private security should be used, a fateful move in what ended up as the Victorian second wave of COVID.

Eccles quit after his phone records showed he called then police commissioner Graham Ashton as the quarantine arrangements were being set up.

Ashton had told the board of inquiry investigating the quarantine debacle he had received information that private security would be used but could not remember who told him – although he had sent a text to Eccles asking about arrangements. Eccles told the inquiry he did not recall phoning Ashton, but he didn’t rule out doing so.

The inquiry at the weekend called for the phone records.

On Monday Eccles said in a statement the records showed he had called Ashton at 1.17 pm on March 27 and spoke with him for just over two minutes.

But Eccles stuck to his evidence to the inquiry about not passing on a decision about private security guards.

“I am absolutely certain I did not convey to Mr Ashton any decision regarding the use of private security as I was unaware any such decision had been made, and I most certainly had not made such a decision myself.

“The totality of my evidence to the Board was that I may have contacted Mr Ashton following Mr Ashton’s 1.16 pm text message.”

Eccles said to continue in his position would be “a significant distraction … as we enter a critical phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Barilaro keeps Nationals in the tent; koalas stay in limbo


Dean Lewins/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Several premiers presently find themselves at war with the federal government. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, by contrast, suddenly found herself locked in battle with her deputy premier, John Barilaro, and his bolshie band of Nationals.

The junior partner in the NSW coalition chose this week to pull on a stoush over a new regime the state government launched months ago to protect koalas, which have been devastated and displaced by fires and drought.

That a row over koalas could shake the Berejiklian government to its core during a pandemic is startling, at the least. The Nationals justify this by saying they’d long been told their concerns would be considered, and they hadn’t been.

They insist they’re not anti-koala — they’d like to see the population doubled, they say — but claim the new regime is too burdensome, including by extending the definition of core koala habitat and increasing the number of koala tree species.




Read more:
The NSW koala wars showed one thing: the Nationals appear ill-equipped to help rural Australia


The Nationals are under pressure from farmers and, at a political level, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, which is always nipping at their heels.

Within the Nationals, pressure built with first one, then two, and several more MPs in revolt — and quickly the whole party. Efforts to get a special meeting to deal with the koala issue were unsuccessful – the premier had other things on her plate.

By Thursday, the Nationals had resolved that until the koala row was addressed they’d no longer attend joint party room or parliamentary leadership meetings and would abstain from voting on government bills. (They reserved the right to support bills and motions important to regional areas.)

“This effectively puts the entire party on the crossbench,” the party said in a statement.

Barilaro insisted the Nationals could take this stand while their ministers remained in cabinet.

This would have made them sort of “virtual” crossbenchers – a very strange notion indeed under the Westminster system.

A frustrated Berejiklian issued an ultimatum. “It is not possible to be the deputy premier or a minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench,” she said in a statement.

She said she’d told Barilaro that he and his Nationals cabinet colleagues had until 9am Friday “to indicate to me whether they wish to remain in my Cabinet or else sit on the crossbench”.

By Friday morning, Barilaro had stepped his party back from the brink. After a meeting with Berejiklian, the two leaders said in the briefest of statements the coalition remained “in place”, as did “cabinet conventions and processes”.




Read more:
Nationals have long valued stable leadership and being strong Coalition partners – this shouldn’t change now


Meanwhile, koalas were to be dealt with at a coming cabinet meeting. The extraordinary upheaval may be over for now, but it leaves scars, questions, uncertainty and tension.

Most obviously, the substantive issue is still unresolved. If the Nationals don’t get their way on changes to the koala regime, there could easily be another explosion. If they do, many Liberals will be angry.

The Nationals’ constituency will be behind the party’s stand. But for numerous Liberal supporters, compromise on as emotive an issue as koalas will be an electoral no-no.

This week’s events have again brought into question Barilaro’s judgement.

He was caught between the strong feelings within his party and the need to maintain the coalition. He laid himself open to criticism of firstly overreaching and then failing to carry through his threat.

This is against the background of his behaviour before the Eden-Monaro byelection, when he as good as said he would run for the seat and then said he wouldn’t.




Read more:
Eden-Monaro opens wounds in Nationals, with Barilaro attack on McCormack


Even some Nationals shake their heads, while the Liberals resent what Berejiklian has to put up with.

At one stage on Thursday, Barilaro asked his parliamentary party if they thought someone else would be better to lead them. The idea was dismissed. Nevertheless, the past few days have fanned doubts about his style of leadership.

Most serious in the immediate term, the trust between Berejiklian and Barilaro has been further eroded, after taking a knock from his conduct over Eden-Monaro. The NSW coalition remains intact, but no one can miss the crack that has been repaired by superglue. It is not as robust as it once was.

And Berejiklian has less patience with her volatile partner than she used to have.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The NSW koala wars showed one thing: the Nationals appear ill-equipped to help rural Australia



JoelCarrett/AAP

Tanya M Howard, University of New England

This morning, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro capitulated on a threat to tear apart the state government over new koala protections. For now, the government remains intact. However the Nats’ campaign to loosen environmental protections that affect farmers will continue to destabilise the Coalition in the longer term.

The dramatic events of the past 24 hours have cast doubt on whether such a blustering, short-sighted political party has what it takes to lead rural Australia. The NSW Nationals have been entrusted with seven ministerial portfolios – from agriculture to trade and early childhood. But they were willing to throw it away over the fine print of a single planning policy.

There’s no doubt many people in the bush, including farmers, are doing it tough. And many farmers feel environmental protections are hurting their livelihood.

But it’s in everyone’s interests – including farmers’ – to ensure our environment stays healthy. And the extreme summer bushfires shone new light on how close we are to losing vulnerable species such as koalas. It’s hard to understand what the National Party thought it had to gain from this damaging display of brinkmanship.

A koala in a tree
The Nationals objected to changes to koala protections that curtail their land management.
Joel Carrett/AAP

A long history of tension

Nationals MPs had been demanding the government change a state environmental planning policy that aims to make it easier to identify and protect koala habitat. The policy changed the way koala habitat is identified by increasing the number of protected tree species from ten to 65.

Barilaro branded the change a “land lockup policy”. He described the number of protected tree species as “excessive” and said farmers would be forced to conduct time-consuming and expensive surveys before any new development or farming on their land.




Read more:
Farmers, murder and the media: getting to the bottom of the city-country divide


NSW Liberal Planning Minister Rob Stokes rejected Barilaro’s claims that farmers can’t build a feed shed or a driveway without a koala study, and that noxious weeds are listed as core koala habitat.

Development pressures on the NSW north coast have likely fuelled this latest stoush. There, a move to different, more lucrative crops such as blueberries and the demand by “sea-changers” for residential real estate is prompting agricultural land to be sub-divided and sold. The new koala rules might slow this down.

Murdered compliance officer Glen Turner.
Supplied by family

Land clearing policy has always been a flashpoint for conflict in regional and rural NSW. Tensions tragically came to a head in 2014 when environment compliance officer Glen Turner was murdered by a disgruntled landholder found guilty of breaking native vegetation laws. In the days afterwards, rural politicians said Turner’s death was “brought about by bad legislation” on land clearing.

Since then the NSW government has relaxed native vegetation laws. As a result, land clearing in the state has risen almost 60%, according to government data.

And in August last year the government announced it would no longer investigate or prosecute those who cleared land illegally under the old laws.

A chain used for land clearing is dragged over a pile of burning wood on a rural property.
Dan Peled/AAP

The city-bush divide

The issue of environmental protection plays into a historical city-country divide that has long been an easy wedge for rural politicians.

This tension came to the fore over the koalas issue. Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said this week:

I was elected to Parliament to represent my community and I get really annoyed when city-centric people preach to us, especially when people in Sydney have done nothing for their koalas.

But it’s worth remembering northwest NSW has some of the highest land clearing rates in the world. It has been identified as a deforestation hotspot, on par with Brazil and the palm oil plantations of Indonesia.

And environmental degradation is not just a concern for city people. Biodiversity underpins our agricultural systems; insects, birds and soil microbes all contribute to food security and regional prosperity.

Separately and just as importantly, in all this talk of what regional communities want, the National Party is virtually silent on the views of Indigenous Australians.

A tractor plowing a field.
Biodiversity underpins farming systems.
Shutterstock

Farmers have bigger problems than koalas

Barilaro and his MPs suggested the amendment was the final “nail in the coffin” of rural and regional Australia. But the fact is, the rapidly dwindling NSW koala population already has one foot in the grave.

A recent NSW inquiry predicted the extinction of the species by 2050 unless protections and rehabilitation efforts were radically ramped up. And a World Wildlife Fund report this week found a 71% decline in koala numbers across bushfire-affected areas of northern NSW.

Koala protections are far from being the biggest threats to rural prosperity. Escalating tensions with China have led to recent bans on barley and beef. The rural community has been hit hard by the extreme drought, and there is growing discontent with the mismanagement of water in the Murray Darling Basin.




Read more:
Australia’s farmers want more climate action – and they’re starting in their own (huge) backyards


What’s more, recent expansion of gas exploration and development in the state’s northwest has left locals worried about water contamination and over-extraction.

There is no doubt life in regional and rural Australia is different to the life lived in the city. In some areas there are poor internet connections, worse roads and great distances to travel for basic health services.

But these problems, like land clearing, are complex. And it seems the NSW Nationals are ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. This week’s display suggests the party only deals in wedge politics and blunt solutions – and with that approach, we all stand to lose.The Conversation

Tanya M Howard, Senior Research Fellow, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria now has a good roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions. New South Wales should emulate it


Stephen Duckett, Grattan Institute

The COVID-19 roadmap for Victoria announced by Premier Daniel Andrews sets the state on the right path. Something like it should be emulated by New South Wales, which has not yet achieved zero new cases.

Victoria’s roadmap towards what Andrews calls “COVID-normal” makes a clear distinction between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. Restrictions are marginally less severe in regional Victoria, where the incidence of infections is lower.




Read more:
Victoria’s path out of COVID-19 lockdown – quick reference guides


For metropolitan Melbourne there are five steps; regional Victoria has four. For each step, the roadmap outlines which restrictions will be lifted on our road towards the cherished status of COVID-normal – or zero active cases of COVID-19. The roadmap also provisionally outlines when restrictions will be lifted, although this depends on case numbers.

For metropolitan Melbourne, the curfew will be eased from next week to start at 9pm instead of 8pm. It will remain in place until new cases average fewer than five per day over the course of a fortnight – the criterion to move to the third step of the roadmap.

The first two steps will still entail significant restrictions on public gatherings and visitors, plus the creation of a “single social bubble” allowance, under which people living alone can designate a person who can visit their home. Staged school returns will begin once there are fewer than 50 cases a day on a fortnightly average.

Step three sees the partial resumption of Melbourne’s café culture, as well as hairdressing.

A new traffic light system will also be introduced to allow a phased reopening for businesses and workplaces.

Is the roadmap heading in the right direction?

Grattan Institute’s four-point plan, detailed in our report last week titled Go for zero, argues that states should reaffirm the National Cabinet’s target of zero transmissions and set clear criteria for easing restrictions.

The Victorian roadmap keeps appropriate restrictions until zero active cases – the Grattan criterion for defining zero – before the final step on the roadmap, COVID-normal.

Grattan’s second criterion – clear and explicit staging of the easing of restrictions – is also met in the Victorian roadmap, but in a confusing way. The thresholds adopted in the Victorian plan are a mishmash of epidemiological criteria, case numbers and dates.

It is entirely appropriate that the roadmap’s dates are purely provisional, and subject to epidemiological criteria such as average case numbers. But this raises the question of why the roadmap has dates at all.




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Victorians may read the epidemiological criteria as reasons to bring forward the provisional dates for easing restrictions, when in reality they are more likely to put the provisional dates back. The public might end up frustrated if the promised date passes with no reward for good behaviour.

The epidemiological criteria are expressed in an extremely complex way: a 14-day threshold average, plus further criteria based on the source of infection. Until now, the public’s attention has been focused simply on the number of new cases each day.

Introducing this more complex measure is a step backward. Expressing the criterion as an average also runs the risk of the threshold being met but the final few days of the 14-day averaging period revealing an upward trend. A simple and clear criterion, based on number of new cases, would have been better.

Politics as well as science?

The Victorian government has trumpeted the use of epidemiological modelling to support its decisions. However the first two steps seem to be driven by a mix of politics and science.

Step one will occur on September 13, regardless of the number of new cases detected between now and then. The new case threshold for step two is expressed as an average of 30-50 cases a day over the previous 14 days. It is unclear why there is a lower bound; why not just say “fewer than 50 cases”? If it is designed to give political flexibility, it defeats the purpose of clear criteria.

Knowledge of the coronavirus and how it works – both in terms of clinical treatment and public health science – is advancing rapidly. We now know more about which restrictions work best than we did when Melbourne first entered its Stage 4 lockdown.

Some restrictions included in the roadmap – such as night curfews – now have a weak evidence base. The evidence is also stronger now in allowing primary schools to return before secondary schools, but the roadmap takes no account of this distinction. It is a pity the roadmap doesn’t align more closely with the latest science.




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Lockdowns are necessary, but they have big downsides which need to be weighed against the undoubted benefits. One main downside is that they hit the most disadvantaged people hardest. The cost of social isolation has been somewhat ameliorated in the roadmap, with its provision for “social bubbles”, but this could perhaps have been more generous.

Overall, Victoria’s roadmap is good. It identifies the right goal (zero active cases), it provides explicit criteria for when restrictions might be lifted (but unfortunately not as clear and simple as they could be), and each of the steps involves mostly appropriate restrictions.

Victorians have every reason to share in Andrews’ hopefulness for a COVID-normal Christmas to cap off a very difficult year.The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.