View from The Hill: Morrison government accepts Victorian closure but won’t budge on High Court border challenges


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has repeatedly and vociferously championed keeping state borders open.

But on Monday, Morrison was forced to change course, agreeing, in a hook up with premiers Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian that the Victorian-NSW border should be closed.

In a somewhat Jesuitical distinction, Morrison said they had agreed “now is the time for Victoria to isolate itself from the rest of the country. What’s different here [is] this isn’t other states closing their borders to Victoria”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said later “the Commonwealth accepts the need for this action in response to containing spread of the virus”.

But, Kidd said, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the federal-state health advisory body so often invoked by Morrison – “was not involved in that decision”.

“The AHPCC does not provide advice on border closures,” Kidd added.

Borders have always been a strictly state matter.




Read more:
Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected


Even during the high stage of the pandemic, NSW and Victoria kept their border open, unlike Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Monday’s decision to close the border from Tuesday night underlines that we are staring at a dangerous new phase in the evolution of the COVID crisis.

The latest Victorian tally of 127 new cases was a record for the state. Kidd said: “The situation in Melbourne has come as a jolt, not just for the people of Melbourne but people right across Australia who may have thought that this was all behind us. It is not.

“The outbreak in Victoria is a national issue. We are all at risk from a resurgence of COVID-19.”

If the Victorian situation can’t be brought under control quickly – and conditions in Melbourne are complicated, even chaotic – the country could face a new bleak outlook on the health front, with a substantial risk of the virus ticking up elsewhere, regardless of other states keeping out Victorians, and an even deeper than anticipated recession.

Borders have been a source of division among governments from early on.

In particular Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – now reopening her state’s borders from this Friday though excluding Victorians – found herself under attack from the federal government and also from NSW.




Read more:
Victoria is undeniably in a second wave of COVID-19. It’s time to plan for another statewide lockdown


As well, both Queensland and WA face challenges from Clive Palmer in the High Court over the constitutionality of their border closures. There’s also another case being brought by Queensland tourism operators.

The High Court has sent the three cases to the federal court to look at certain aspects. The WA matter will be before that court on July 13 and 14.

The constitution provides for free trade and intercourse between the states. The key issue is “proportionality” – whether keeping a border closed is reasonable on health grounds at a particular point of time.

The Morrison government, consistent with the Prime Minister’s argument from the get go, is intervening in the cases to argue the borders should have been opened.

WA premier Mark McGowan on Monday was quick to use the Victorian development to call on Morrison to pull out, saying that in light of the Victoria-NSW closure “I’ve asked the Prime Minister to formally withdraw [federal government] support from Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge.

“It does not make sense for the federal government to be supporting a border closure between NSW and Victoria but on the other hand challenging Western Australia’s border in the High Court.

“Quite frankly, the legal challenge, and especially the Commonwealth involvement in it, has now become completely ridiculous.”

But the federal government is refusing to take a step back.




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Attorney-General Christian Porter noted the challenges were not being brought by the Commonwealth, and said it was the right of any citizen to take legal action if they believed “their basic rights of freedom of interstate movement are being disproportionately taken from them”.

“The Commonwealth has intervened to put evidence and views on the situation … the Court would normally expect the Commonwealth to be involved, given the importance of the issues raised.”

Porter said the Commonwealth’s intervention was to provide its view on whether, constitutionally, border closures were permitted in certain circumstances and not others.

“Clearly the courts will be required to consider whether, in determining these specific cases, border restrictions were proportionate to the health crisis at specific points in time as Australia dealt with the immediate and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Court would expect to hear from the Commonwealth on those types of significant constitutional questions.”

Whatever the legal logic, to be endorsing the Victorian closure but arguing against other states’ abundant caution may be a complicated proposition to defend in the court of public opinion.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.

Victoria is undeniably in a second wave of COVID-19. It’s time to plan for another statewide lockdown


Adrian Esterman, University of South Australia

Victoria recorded its largest daily increase of 127 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, 16 more than the previous peak of 111 cases on March 28.

As I recently wrote, there’s no formal definition of what constitutes a second wave, but a reasonable one might be the return of an outbreak where the numbers of new daily cases reach a peak as high or higher than the original one.

By that definition, a second wave has arrived in Victoria. So why isn’t the state back in lockdown?

What can be done to bring the outbreak under control?

The current strategy of mass testing and information campaigns in hotspot areas, and quarantining whole tower blocks, may not be working. Regardless, cases are now appearing outside the hotspot areas, among people who were most likely infected before the latest measures were put in place.

The Victorian government must now seriously consider going back into statewide Stage 3 lockdown restrictions. Under these rules, there are only four reasons to leave your home: shopping for food and supplies, care and caregiving, exercise, and study and work if it can’t be done from home. And exemptions to quarantine rules should not be granted.

Testing should no longer be a choice. People in 14-day quarantine should be tested on day 11, and if they refuse, made to go into another 14 days of quarantine. Breaking quarantine should be a serious offence.

Far better communication is needed to explain why these measures are essential, and health authorities should ensure their messaging also reaches those who do not speak English as a first language.




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Multilingual Australia is missing out on vital COVID-19 information. No wonder local councils and businesses are stepping in


People should be encouraged to wear face masks whenever outside. There is increasing evidence they are effective in areas of high transmission.

Much more must be done to educate the public about panic buying. If necessary, Australian Defence Force personnel could be used to deliver food and essential supplies to those at high risk, and assist with logistics.

The newly announced closure of the New South Wales and Victoria border is welcome, and probably overdue. It comes after a returned traveller who quarantined in Melbourne tested positive to the virus after working at a Woolworths in Sydney.

Some people living in border communities will be granted an exemption from this closure, including those whose nearest health provider or place of work is just across the border. Hopefully they will be closely monitored and regularly tested.

Finally, all other states and territories should rally to assist Victoria. It is in everyone’s interest to defeat this outbreak.

Where to from here?

At this stage, the situation is unclear. Daily cases could still rapidly increase, or we could have reached the peak and we might start seeing cases subside. However, the number of new cases each day isn’t necessarily the critical factor. More important is the daily number of new community-acquired infections. Because we have no idea where these people got infected, it makes controlling the situation very difficult.

Other cases are not a major threat as it’s possible to contain them with quarantine and contact tracing. If necessary, additional staff experienced at contact tracing can easily be brought in from other states.

The first epidemic wave was controlled by imposing severe restrictions. Unfortunately, history might have to repeat itself.


This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.The Conversation

Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics, University of South Australia

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

Can I cross the NSW-Victoria border? There are exemptions, but you’ll need a very good reason


Jon Iredell, University of Sydney

The NSW-Victorian border will be closed as of midnight Tuesday this week, the NSW and Victorian premiers have announced, in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement comes amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Victoria, which has returned several postcodes to Stage 3 Stay-At-Home restrictions and instituted a “hard lockdown” in at least nine Melbourne tower blocks.

In a press conference on Monday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people seeking an exemption to the temporary border closure will be able to apply through the Service NSW portal.

It’s good exemptions are available – but it’s crucial these options are not abused. The exemption option is there for people who really need it but please don’t treat it as a challenge.

We all have a shared responsibility to do all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19. That means staying home if unwell, practising physical distancing where warranted, washing hands diligently and getting tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

What we know about exemptions to the border closure

In her press conference, Berejiklian said

Tomorrow midnight is when all Victorians will be prevented from coming across the border unless they have a permit […] The next 72 hours will be difficult, for some people who normally travel across the border for their daily lives will be restrained until we get the permit system in place and we hope that will happen in the next two days.

When asked about people who already had flights or train trips booked, Berejiklian said

There will always be exemptions due to hardship cases, people can apply for permits or exemptions. And so, for those reasons, we anticipate there will still be some flights and trains services available. There will also be NSW residents returning home […] we will be relying on them to self-isolate.

In the same press conference, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said:

it will be difficult, not impossible, but difficult to make that crossing. There will be delays whilst we work through who are essential workers.

Victorians in NSW would be allowed to return to Victoria, the ABC reports. A NSW government press release said “NSW residents returning from a Melbourne hotspot are already required to go into 14 days of self-isolation. This requirement will be extended to anyone returning from Victoria. This will be backed by heavy penalties and fines.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said:

There will be a facility for people who live on those border communities to be able to travel to and from for the purposes of work, the purposes of the essential health services they might need… [but holidays would] not be an acceptable reason.

Infectious diseases clinicians and researchers in my field realise this will be frustrating for many people, especially as it comes during school holidays. But the risk of cross border transmission is very real.

Please don’t treat the border closure as a challenge, or seek exemption unless you have a very good reason to do so. Many of us will miss out on much-anticipated family catch-ups and events; it is sad but necessary, unfortunately. Any cross-border movement increases risk and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to minimise it. It’s not even a law enforcement issue; it’s about doing what’s right.

Everyone feels frustrated but moving across the border right now really does magnify risk and we risk losing control.

It’s possible to have trivial or even no symptoms but still be capable of spreading COVID-19.

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Don’t dismiss it as ‘just a cough’

Australians have a culture of soldiering on when sick and dismissing symptoms as “just a cough” or “just a runny nose”. We really need to change that mindset and make sure we get tested if we have any symptoms at all, and physically distance from others.

The key messages are to wash hands and if you’re at all unwell, cover your cough and face, stay home, self-isolate and get tested.

Testing in Australia is phenomenally available. We are so lucky to have such great testing facilities so easily accessible and we should avail ourselves of them.

The risk is if we don’t observe the border closures sensibly, minimise spread and test appropriately we will do excessive damage to the economy or lose control of the outbreak – or both.




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Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


The Conversation


Jon Iredell, Professor, Medicine and Microbiology (conjoint), University of Sydney

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

Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected



Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Burridge, Macquarie University

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the border between his state and NSW will close after 11:59pm on Tuesday to prevent the coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne from spreading further.

It will be the first border shutdown between the two states since 1919, when the Spanish flu epidemic prompted the NSW government to close its borders with Victoria, Queensland and South Australia to slow the spread of the virus.

What will this new shutdown mean for residents on both sides of the border and what are the potential longer-term consequences of the closure, as well as those between other states?

How will residents be affected?

There are more than 50 land crossings between NSW and Victoria, peppered between the coast and South Australia. Last year, NSW welcomed more than 4.7 million overnight visitors from Victoria.

There are also a number of interconnected communities along the length of the border, most notably Albury-Wodonga along the Murray River. There are some 89,000 people living in those towns, according to the 2016 census. Other large border towns include Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura.




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


Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many states have announced similar border “closures”. It should be noted, however, that borders rarely, if ever, close completely. They are designed to act as filters, allowing officials to decide who, or what, crosses.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the border closure after talks with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Daniel Pockett/AAP

In other states with closed borders, residents in border communities have been given permits or exemptions to cross for specific reasons, such as specialist work or to care for sick relatives.

Permits for the NSW-Victoria border will likely be made available for residents of border communities like Albury-Wodonga and for those who believe they must cross for “exceptional circumstances.”

The permit system will also likely allow people to cross the border for health care. The Albury and Wodonga health system is unique in that it straddles the state line, providing service to 250,000 people in the region. The state of Victoria runs the Albury Hospital, even though it is located in NSW.

Trade is also unlikely to be highly affected. The NSW-Queensland border has been closed since March, but freight trucks have generally been allowed to continue to cross unfettered, though perhaps more slowly than usual.

Constitutionality of border closures

Even though there have been few disruptions, this has not stopped challenges to the High Court over whether such closures are constitutional.

Section 92 of Australia’s constitution says

trade, commerce, and intercourse among the states, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.

There are some exceptions to this freedom, though, particularly when it is necessary to protect the people of a state from the risk of injury from inbound goods, animals and people.

COVID-19 has generally been accepted as a reason for imposing border closures.

This has happened in Australia before. In January 1919, during the Spanish flu outbreak, a case of influenza arrived in NSW from Victoria.

NSW unilaterally closed the border between the states, followed by other closures (notably between NSW and Queensland). Some people tried to circumvent the border restrictions by taking to the sea.

The NSW-Queensland border was closed in March, causing traffic back-ups and headaches for residents who live there.
Jason O’Brien/AAP

Have there been border disputes before?

Victoria officially became an independent colony on July 1, 1851, with the border defined under the Australian Constitutions Act as

a straight line drawn from Cape How (sic) to the nearest source of the River Murray and thence the course of that river to the eastern boundary of the province of South Australia.

A boundary survey was conducted in the 1870s by Alexander Black and Alexander Allan to demarcate the straight line portion of border through the often mountainous terrain between the two colonies.

Disputes over the boundary have persisted since then, with reports noting that fishermen blew up the original cairn at Cape Howe to avoid license fees.

These disputes eventually found their way to the High Court in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in regards to the boundary along the Murray River. The entirety of the river was found to sit within NSW in the 1980 ruling of a case involving bizarre circumstances – the jurisdiction of a murder that took place on the shoreline.

In 1984, the straight-line border between the states was resurveyed by the Department of Surveying, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and renamed the Black-Allan line in honour of the first surveyors. The border was not officially recognised in name until 1998 by the Geographic Place Names Act.




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Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


What do border closures mean long-term?

One point of concern in the states’ response to the pandemic is the way it has changed the way we talk and think about borders. We have begun to separate ourselves from our neighbours.

And while the political rhetoric that goes back and forth between states has been mostly trivial in nature (think of Andrews’ comment about who would want to travel to SA), there is a risk of longer-term damage to relations between states.

Perhaps more importantly, some cross-border residents have been subjected to abuse for legitimately crossing state lines, often identified by their license plates.

Health experts have also disagreed over the need for border closures, with some saying there is a lack of evidence for their effectiveness in curbing disease transmission. However, even these messages have been mixed, and some have been politicised.

How NSW and Victoria proceed in managing their highly crossed and integrated border will throw up previously unforeseen challenges that Black and Allan were unlikely to have considered while navigating the alpine terrain between the colonies 150 years ago.

The boundary marker monument on the NSW-Victoria border in Genoa, an area affected by this summer’s bushfires, reminds us of the need for cross-state cooperation on issues that are not confined neatly within borders.




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Lockdowns, second waves and burn outs. Spanish flu’s clues about how coronavirus might play out in Australia


The Conversation


Andrew Burridge, Lecturer in Human Geography, Macquarie University

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

Is another huge and costly road project really Sydney’s best option right now?


Philip Laird, University of Wollongong

The New South Wales government has focused on delivering more motorways and rail links for Sydney, along with main roads in regional NSW, since the Coalition won office in 2011. The biggest of these, WestConnex, is still being built. Plans for yet another major motorway, the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link, are well advanced.

A hefty environmental impact statement (EIS), but incredibly no business case for a project costing about A$15 billion, was recently put on public exhibition. When submissions closed at the end of March, the vast majority of 1,455 submissions from public agencies, individuals and organisations were objections to the Western Harbour Tunnel project.

The NSW government has promoted the Western Harbour Tunnel since announcing it in 2014, but hasn’t convinced the many objectors.
YouTube/NSW government

The proposal follows three stages of WestConnex and the F6 Extension south of Sydney. Thousands of objections in the planning process did not stop the government going ahead with each stage.

This led to a state parliamentary inquiry in 2018. Its first finding was: “That the WestConnex project is, notwithstanding issues of implementation raised in this report, a vital and long-overdue addition to the road infrastructure of New South Wales.”




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However, the committee also found “the NSW Government failed to adequately consider alternative options at the commencement of the WestConnex project” and that “the transparency arrangements pertaining to the WestConnex business case have been unsatisfactory”.

These two findings apply to the Western Harbour Tunnel process too.

In the run-up to the 2019 state election, the government promoted the project and placed on public exhibition an environmental impact statement for the A$2.6 billion F6 extension between Arncliffe and Kogarah.

The proposed Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link.
Transport for NSW

The state opposition promised to scrap the Western Harbour Tunnel and F6 projects. Instead, it would give priority to rail and public transport upgrades.

Some have suggested time-of-day road congestion charges as a much better option than more motorways.




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Local government objections

Four councils made detailed objections to the Western Harbour Tunnel proposal.

The City of Sydney, noting “it has been a long-time critic of WestConnex”, said:

This is primarily because this costly motorway project will fail in its primary objective of easing congestion. Urban motorways do not solve congestion; they induce demand for motor vehicle trips and any additional capacity created is quickly filled. This phenomenon applies equally to the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Project, a component of the WestConnex expansion.

The City of Sydney recommended the government provide alternative public transport options.

The Inner West Council, whose suburb of Rozelle will be adversely impacted by the project, has also long opposed inner-urban motorways. It prefers “traffic-reduction solutions to addressing congestion, including public and active transport, travel demand management and transit-oriented development, with some modest/targeted road improvement”.

North Sydney Council noted significant concerns with the EIS, including “inadequate justification and need, loss of open space, construction and operational road network impacts, air quality and human health concerns, environmental, visual, social, amenity and heritage impacts, as well as numerous strategic projects having the potential to be compromised”.

Willoughby City Council noted the limited time given for considering a very large EIS, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. It questioned why a public transport alternative was not assessed. “Known alternative solutions with lower climate impacts need to be considered to be consistent with action on climate change and improved resilience.”

Ignoring the alternatives

In 2017, it was revealed the NSW government was instructing transport officials to ignore public transport alternatives to motorways such as the F6 extension and Western Harbour Tunnel. Wollongong-Sydney train travel times could be cut by half an hour for A$10 billion less, according to a Transport for NSW internal memo.




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This is at a time when Sydney train ridership has been increasing faster than the distance driven by Sydney motorists. Rail showed 39% growth over ten years to 2018-19 and road just 12% in a time of rapid population growth.

Over many objections, the F6 extension is proceeding. Many aspects of the Western Harbour Tunnel need further attention. The NSW Ports Authority is concerned about the amount of highly contaminated sludge that will be dredged up from the harbour. The shadow minister for roads, John Graham, notes dredging will be close to residential areas.

Heritage NSW has noted the project will have direct impacts on six sites, including the approaches to Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Action for Public Transport (NSW) group questions the influence of the Transurban company on transport planning at a time when NSW’s long-term integrated transport and land use plans aim for net zero emissions by 2050. Its submission says:

The funding for the project should be reallocated to more worthwhile projects such as filling in missing links in urban public transport systems, disentangling the passenger rail network from the rail freight network, and providing faster rail links to regional centres.




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What are these other priorities?

NSW has a shortage of “fit for purpose” rail infrastructure to serve a growing population. This includes the Sydney Metro West (an EIS is on exhibition) and ensuring the new Western Sydney Airport has a rail service. More funding is also needed to upgrade the existing rail system and to cover a A$4.3 billion cost blowout on the Sydney City and Southwest Metro project.

The government has acknowledged a need for better rail services to the South Coast, Newcastle, Canberra and Orange. In 2018, it commissioned an independent report on fast rail options for NSW by British fast rail expert Andrew McNaughton. The completed report is yet to be released.

The question now is should the Western Highway Tunnel be abandoned or, at the very least, deferred until major rail projects have been completed.The Conversation

Philip Laird, Honorary Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong

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

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


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Eden-Monaro byelection has triggered an extraordinarily bitter attack by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro on fellow National, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

In a text message to McCormack, a furious Barilaro said, “You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be”. He accused McCormack of feeling threatened by his (short-lived) bid to switch to federal politics.

After giving every indication last week he wanted to contest the byelection, Barilaro on Monday announced he would not be seeking nomination.

This followed his failure to get the Liberals to make way, allowing him to be the only Coalition candidate. But he is also blaming McCormack for undermining him.

McCormack was known to be unenthusiastic about the prospect – in the event of a win – of having the volatile Barilaro in his federal party.

This would have put more pressure on McCormack’s leadership, which pre-COVID was under strain after a failed bid to overthrow him by Barnaby Joyce.

Publicly McCormack, while careful with his words, noted that if Barilaro decided “to put his hand up, he’s got to go through the pre-selection process. That is always the case with every National Party member.”

On Tuesday NSW Liberal Transport minister, Andrew Constance, from the state seat of Bega, which takes in a substantial part of Eden-Monaro in the south, announced his bid and is certain to be the party’s candidate, although the Liberals still have a preselection open.

Constance will come to the byelection with the memory of his prominent role during the bushfires still fresh in the voters’ minds. At that time, he was sharply critical of Scott Morrison’s performance. But Morrison will be now be happy to have him as Liberal candidate, giving his local popularity.

In his vitriolic message, which was leaked to Sky, Barilaro said: “Michael. Please do not contact me. Your lack of public enthusiasm or support for my candidacy went a long way to my final decision.

“Don’t hide behind the ‘members will choose the candidate’ rubbish, as you were the only one saying such lines. Don’t you think my branches would have backed me in?

“To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader.

“You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be.

“The Nats had a chance to create history, to change momentum, and you had a candidate that was prepared to risk everything to make it happen.

“What did you risk? Nothing.

“Hope you are proud of yourself.”

In his Monday announcement Barilaro said: “The polling showed I could win but sometimes in this game, you let ego get in the way of good decisions and I’ve got to make the best decision for me, my family, for the people of NSW – more importantly for the people of Eden-Monaro”.

The Liberals argued Constance would have a better chance of taking the Labor seat than Balilaro, despite the fact the regional centre of Queanbeyan is in Barilaro’s state seat of Monaro, and he won every booth in his electorate at the NSW election last year.

Eden-Monaro became vacant because of the resignation of Labor’s Mike Kelly due to ill health. Labor has chosen Bega mayor Kristy McBain, who is considered a strong candidate.

The contest is seen as an important test for opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

Labor has history on its side – it is a century since a federal government took an opposition seat at a byelection.

In response to Barilaro’s attack, McCormack said he respected his “personal decision not to contest the Eden-Monaro by-election due to family reasons.

“I have always supported the democratic election processes of the National Party of Australia. I wholeheartedly endorse the right of branches to select their local candidates first and foremost.

“My support of Mr Barilaro has been long standing and I respect his position as Deputy Premier and New South Wales Nationals’ Leader.”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.

While towns run dry, cotton extracts 5 Sydney Harbours’ worth of Murray Darling water a year. It’s time to reset the balance



Shutterstock

Quentin Grafton, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The rains have finally arrived in the Northern Murray Darling Basin. Hopefully, this drought-easing water will flow all the way down to the parched communities and degraded habitats of the lower Darling.

How much water goes downstream, however, does not just depend on how much it has rained.

It also greatly depends on how much is extracted and consumed upstream, and the rules and enforcement around these water extractions.

Simplistic or knee-jerk responses to water insecurity, such as banning irrigation for “thirsty crops” such as cotton, will not fix the water woes of the basin.

The harder and longer path is to deliver real water reform as was agreed to by all governments in the 2004 National Water Initiative and that includes transparent water planning enshrined in law.




Read more:
The sweet relief of rain after bushfires threatens disaster for our rivers


Basin cotton irrigators extract about five Sydney Harbours’ worth a year

Irrigation accounts for about 70% of all surface water extracted in the basin.

Australia’s water accounts tell us that in 2017-18, basin cotton irrigators extracted some 2,500 billion litres (about five Sydney Harbours’ worth) or equivalent to about 35% of all the water extracted for irrigation.

Most of this water was extracted in the Northern Basin (covering southern Queensland and northern New South Wales). But increasingly cotton is becoming a preferred crop in the Southern Basin (southern NSW to South Australia).

Overall, the area of land in cotton and the water extracted for cotton increased by 4% in 2017-18 relative to 2016-17.

Cotton is a thirsty crop. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics cotton uses, on average, more than 7 million litres (or about three Olympic-sized swimming pools) per hectare.

At a global scale, the volume of water extracted by cotton irrigators to produce one kilogram of cotton fabric averages more than 3,000 litres.

Cotton is a thirsty crop.
Shutterstock

Increased water efficiency: good news for some, bad news for others

Concerns over how much water cotton uses, and the high price of water in the basin, has incentivised cotton farmers to increase their cotton yield (in tonnes) per million litres of water extracted.

This has been achieved with improved genetics, management and more high-tech irrigation methods. According to Cotton Australia, much less water (only 19%) is flowing back into streams and groundwater from water applied to cotton fields than two decades ago, when the return flows were 43% of the water applied.

Increased irrigation efficiency is good news for cotton irrigators, especially those that received some of the A$4 billion in public money already spent to increase irrigation efficiency in the basin. But it is bad news for downstream irrigators, communities and the environment.

This is because a much greater proportion of the water extracted by cotton farmers now gets consumed as evapo-transpiration, and thus is unavailable for anyone or anything else.

We need to change the rules of the game

Given these cotton facts, would banning the growing of cotton in Australia increase the water available? No – because the problem is not cotton irrigation per se, but rather the “rules of the game” of the who, how, and when water is extracted. These water sharing rules are determined at a state level in what are called Water Sharing Plans.

Proper water planning is the only way to ensure a fair deal, deliver on the intent of the 2012 Basin Plan and keep levels of water extraction at sustainable levels.

Water sharing plans are supposed to be consistent with the 2012 Basin Plan. But NSW has, so far, failed to provide its plans for auditing by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, missing the key July 1, 2019 deadline.

Following an expose of alleged water theft in July 2017, the NSW government created a specialised agency, the Natural Resources Access Regulator, that has greatly helped water monitoring and compliance in NSW. Despite its best efforts, there is still inadequate metering in the Northern Basin. And across the basin as a whole, most groundwater extractions are not properly monitored.

The actual rules about how much water can be extracted are substantially influenced by some irrigators in the consultation process before plans are implemented.

Such influence has resulted in some water sharing plans favouring upstream irrigators at the expense of downstream communities, such as Walgett and Wilcannia. These towns have been left high and dry despite the fact NSW law gives priority to town water supplies over other water uses.

According to the NSW Natural Resources Commission, the current Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan “effectively prioritises upstream water users” and also does not provide protection for environmental water from extraction.

The Natural Resources Commission also observed that extraction permitted under the plan:

has affected those communities and landholders reliant on the river for domestic and stock water supplies, town water supply, community and social needs.

A consultant’s report from 2019, written for the NSW government, also found no evidence in the Barwon-Darling water planning processes of reporting on performance indicators such as changes in stream flow regimes, ecological values of key water sources or water utility (for town supply) access requirements.

Sadly, the problem of poor water planning is not exclusive to the Barwon-Darling, but exists in other basin catchments in NSW, and beyond.

Holding governments responsible

Any effective solution to the water emergency in the basin must, therefore, hold governments responsible for their water plans and decisions. This requires that a “who, what, how and when” of water be made transparent through an independent water auditing, monitoring and compliance process.

Simplistic responses to water insecurity, such as banning irrigation for cotton, will not fix the water woes of the basin. The harder and longer path is to deliver real water reform as was agreed to by all governments in the 2004 National Water Initiative and that included transparent water planning enshrined in law.




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Three things that would make a difference

As a nation we must hold decisionmakers accountable so the rules of the game do not favour the big end of town at the expense, and even the existence, of towns.

We also need to:

  1. stop wasting billions on irrigation subsidies that reduce flows to streams and rivers
  2. monitor, measure and audit what is happening to the water extracted and in streams
  3. actually deliver on the key objects of the federal Water Act and state water acts.

Enforcing the law of the land would ensure those who have the legal right to get the water first (such as town water supplies) are prioritised in the implementation of water sharing plans. It would mean state water plans are audited and actually deliver environmentally sustainable levels of water extraction.The Conversation

Quentin Grafton, Director of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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

NSW ‘staggered’ return to school: some students may need in-class time more than others


Andrew J. Martin, UNSW

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday announced school students would return to face-to-face classrooms in a staggered fashion from May 11, the third week of term. She said students would initially return for one day a week, and their time at school would be increased as the term progressed.

She said by term three, she hoped all students would be back at school full time.

But schools were given flexibility on how this return may look. NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell said

We want them [schools] to make sure they are having about a quarter of students [from each grade] on campus each day […] But how they break that group up will be a matter for them.

The NSW government said students would complete the same coursework whether they were at home or on campus during the staggered return.

This announcement is a quick turnaround from only a few weeks ago, when the NSW government said parents must keep their children at home if they could. In the latest press conference, the government said 95% of students were working from home during the final weeks of term one.

There are a few possible reasons for NSW to have made this decision. It allows children to re-connect with teachers and peers; it is one way to have fewer students on campus at any one time; it helps parents observe physical distancing during drop-off and pick-up times; and it allows a systematic escalation to two days, then three days and so on.

A staggered return to school starts moving the wheels of school campuses and infrastructure out of hibernation, at the same time helping some parents and carers return to work.

But as an educational psychologist, I am also considering this difficult decision from the perspective of the students who may be most at need of returning to class. These include those in year 12 and students in kindergarten.

Specific year groups should take precedence

It’s worth schools considering staggering the return to school from a “whole-cohort perspective” (such as all of year 12). This tries to take into account what specific cohorts of students need, developmentally and educationally.

Schools will differ in how they implement these ideas and will need to balance educational with physical distancing concerns – and their capacity to manage groups of students in the context of their physical and staffing environment.

Year 12s

The cohort that has the least amount of time to acquire time-sensitive learning would be all of year 12. There are university-bound year 12 students who would benefit from being well on top of the syllabus knowledge that is assumed in their target university course.




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There are also students bound for TAFE and apprenticeships who need to get practical experience, key competencies or work placement hours.

So if the health advice allows for the staggered approach the NSW government is proposing, it is worth considering that all year 12s return to school five days per week.

Kindergarten

Moving into “big school” is a massive developmental transition which has been disrupted for the 2020 kindergarten cohort.

These children need a solid early foundation of core social, emotional, literacy and numeracy competencies.




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Years six and seven

Year six is the final year of primary school. It is where social, emotional and academic competencies are being honed and rounded ready for high school. And for year sevens, the transition to high school is a major psychological and academic adjustment, laying important foundations for their high school journey.

Year 11

Some universities are considering last year’s year 11 results for application for 2021 course entry. While the hope is everything will be back to normal come next year, there is the brutal reality that some nations have experienced second waves of COVID-19.

There is no vaccine yet, and we are only very gingerly taking baby-steps in easing restrictions.

This means we may need to take actions this year to insure year 11s against the possibility of school and assessment disruptions when they are in year 12 next year.

Disadvantaged students

We need to do our best to avoid widening any existing learning gaps during the remote learning period. Schools could encourage academically at-risk students – such as those with learning disorders, or executive function disorders such as ADHD – to start attending targeted in-class learning. This could allow for some bridging instruction so these students can make a strong start when the rest of their year group returns to in-class instruction.

Managing the numbers

An approach where initially only some year levels go to school while others remain learning remotely may make it easier for teachers.

It is not straightforward to develop both an in-class and a remote learning instructional program to accommodate a one day return, then two days and the like. Teachers are concerned at the extra workload this approach may mean for them.

There may also be significant between-school and between-teacher differences in how this is done – potentially leading to an uneven playing field for a given year group.

Teachers know how to teach a whole year group in class for five days of the week – and students know very well how to learn in this mode.

As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, there will be no perfect approach. Whatever the decision and however it is implemented, we must continue to be guided by our health experts, and we must hasten slowly.The Conversation

Andrew J. Martin, Scientia Professor and Professor of Educational Psychology, UNSW

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

How many COVID-19 cases are in each NSW suburb? Search by postcode here



The University of Sydney, Author provided

Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

University of Sydney researchers have developed a new searchable database that allows people, for the first time, to compare how many COVID-19 cases there are in every NSW postcode with each suburb’s socioeconomic status and age profile.

The database, which draws on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and NSW Health, could help inform decisions about how and when social distancing measures are relaxed.

“We created this database to provide some further transparency to the public, who may be feeling anxious about seeing the number of cases rising and want a postcode breakdown so they can see exactly what’s happening in their area,” said the University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, who has research expertise on Australia’s pandemic preparedness.

“We also wanted to provide further evidence to support NSW Health making decisions and giving advice to government.”

The researchers are keen to collaborate with other jurisdictions to develop the database for other states and territories.
The University of Sydney, Author provided



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Dr Kamradt-Scott said overlaying the case numbers with data on which suburbs have the highest proportion of people over 60 was important, as this cohort is at greatest risk.

“But socioeconomic status is also important,” he said.

“We know from previous public health research that people with lower socioeconomic status can have poorer health outcomes: they may struggle to access care, diet and nutrition may be a factor, these areas tend to have higher levels of smokers. These factors can have an influence on the prognosis if they get infected with the SARS-COV-2 virus.”

“So if there appears to be a new cluster of cases where there’s a lower socioeconomic status combined with a higher proportion of people over 60, it could mean, for example, that NSW Health could prioritise services and testing to that community.”

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Dr Kamradt-Scott said his team began with NSW because that data was most readily available but they were keen to collaborate with other jurisdictions to provide the same detailed breakdown for other states and territories.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian this week said there would be increased testing in the Sydney suburbs of Penrith, Inner west, Liverpool, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra, Blacktown, Cumberland, Westmead, Ryde, Manning and Lake Macquarie.

“We’re urging anybody in those high risk categories, anybody who specifically lives in those suburbs that were identified, if you have any symptoms, please come forward and get tested,” she said.




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The Conversation


Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation

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

Explainer: how will the emergency release of NSW prisoners due to coronavirus work?



AAP/Jono Searle

Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney

The New South Wales government has passed emergency legislation providing the Corrections Commissioner with powers to release some of the state’s 14,034 prisoners.

This legislation was introduced in the wake of the global release of prisoners to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, the United States has begun to release thousands of prisoners across four states.




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Legislation to release prisoners in NSW was drafted amid the growing number of cases of COVID-19 infections in prison populations, including staff. The overcrowding and poor sanitation and health conditions in prisons make them ripe for the rapid spread of disease.

Long Bay jail in Sydney was locked down this week when two prison staff tested positive for COVID-19 and several inmates displayed symptoms. The higher incidence of chronic health conditions among inmates predisposes them to suffer serious and critical outcomes from the virus.

Why is legislation needed?

The NSW government has introduced the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW) to address the escalation of COVID-19 cases in the state.

NSW has the highest per capita rate in Australia, with more than 1,000 cases as of March 25. The emergency legislation provides for the release of prisoners. The provision will apply for a minimum of six months and may apply for up to 12 months under regulations.

This emergency provision is concerned with protecting vulnerable inmates and releasing prisoners who pose a low risk to the community. Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the legislation was designed to protect the health of inmates and frontline prison workers as well as the “good order and security” of prisons.

Freeing up prison space through the early release of prisoners will enable the remaining prisoners to be isolated, to prevent or control an outbreak. It also allows the health needs of remaining inmates to be better addressed.

We have seen what happens without this action in prisons overseas: infection spreads rapidly and foments unrest among prisoners. In Italy, prisoner fears that they faced a death sentence because of COVID-19 resulted in riots in 23 Italian prisons and the deaths of 12 prisoners.

Who can be released under the legislation?

The COVID-19 legislation allows for the release of prisoners who belong to a prescribed “class of inmates”. They may be defined according to their health, vulnerability, age, offence, period before the end of the prison term and any other matter as set down in regulations.

Serious offenders are excluded. This not only rules out those specifically mentioned, including prisoners convicted of murder, serious sex offences and terrorism, but also high-level drug and property offenders.

The Corrections Commissioner will determine an individual’s release where it is “reasonably necessary” due to “the risk to public health or to the good order and security of correctional premises”. Community safety and the prisoner’s access to suitable accommodation outside prison are necessary aspects of the decision-making. Other consideration are whether the offender has previously committed a domestic violence offence and the impact of the release on the victims.

Prisoners will be released on parole and subject to standard parole conditions. They will, for example, have to be of good behaviour and not reoffend, as well as any additional conditions determined by the commissioner, including home detention and electronic monitoring.

Does this cover all prisoners?

There are some concerning omissions from this legislation if it is to achieve its objectives of protecting inmates, prison staff and the community.

First, it is not clear whether it will apply to youth detention centres. This vulnerable group requires special protection in this period when they are denied visits from their parents, family and lawyers, have fears about COVID-19 infection and most likely are unaware of their rights to health care.

The legislation also does not refer to remand prisoners, who constitute over one-third of prisoners in NSW. The legislation explicitly refers to parole, rather than determinations on bail.

Administrators must set down regulations to include this group in the prescribed “class of inmates” for release. Otherwise, those most entitled to liberty – who have not been convicted or sentenced – will be left in prison to suffer through the pandemic. The suspension of new jury trials will mean they spend further time in prisons until well after the COVID-19 crisis.

Critically, the legislation is silent on people who are facing a prison sentence or remand order, but not yet in prisons. For those people, there is no legislation urging the courts to consider the coronavirus pandemic in promoting non-prison sentences or allowing bail applications.




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Over the past week, lawyers have rushed to collect evidence on the effect of the pandemic on prisoners to support their clients’ pleas not to be imprisoned. Supreme Courts in Victoria and the ACT have accepted the relevance of COVID-19 in bail applications. But there is a lack of guidance elsewhere on bail and sentencing, increasing the risk of more people being sent into the prison system.

Schedule 1 of the emergency legislation granted controversial powers to the attorney-general to alter the bail laws by regulation during the crisis. The NSW government has indicated it intends to use these powers to deliver changes on bail to prevent more prisoners entering jail on remand. The timing and scope of these changes have not been detailed, but are certainly critical to preventing the pandemic entering our prisons.

Not only would the entry of new inmates add to the burden on prisons, it could also create a devastating situation where unknown carriers of the coronavirus enter the system.

While there are no laws to limit courts ordering imprisonment during the pandemic, Corrections Commissioner Peter Severin could use his discretion to review the release of prisoners at the point of reception. In other words, the process between the court order and physical entry into a prison cell. Regulations should clarify the use of the commissioner’s power at this point to prevent unnecessary entry of new prisoners.

Does it strike the right balance in community protection?

The immediate release of NSW prisoners will protect prisoners from greater exposure to COVID-19, limit the outbreak of the virus in prisons and minimise the spread between prison and the community.

But there is more to be done. The release of less serious offenders should not be based on the pre-pandemic criteria of the risk of the individual. These criteria often discriminate against Indigenous people, those with mental health issues and socio-economically deprived. Rather, it should be based on the health needs of prisoners and the interests of community safety in managing the health risk.

Given that many prisoners have poor health and are serving short prison terms, the broad use of the commissioner’s discretion could result in thousands of prisoners being released from NSW prisons.

Ultimately, the legislation will only work to minimise the worst effects of COVID-19 in prisons if the commissioner exercises his discretion widely to prevent overcrowding and take the load off already scarce health services in prisons.The Conversation

Thalia Anthony, Professor in Law, University of Technology Sydney

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