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.”




Read more:
Health impacts and murky decision-making feed public distrust of projects like WestConnex


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.




Read more:
How the NSW election promises on transport add up


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.




Read more:
We can halve train travel times between our cities by moving to faster rail


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.




Read more:
Infrastructure splurge ignores smarter ways to keep growing cities moving


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.




Read more:
Fish kills and undrinkable water: here’s what to expect for the Murray Darling this summer


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.




Read more:
COVID-19 has thrown year 12 students’ lives into chaos. So what can we do?


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.




Read more:
Children learn through play – it shouldn’t stop at preschool


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



Read more:
Eradicating the COVID-19 coronavirus is also the best economic strategy


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.”

Sign up to The Conversation

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.




Read more:
The coronavirus contact tracing app won’t log your location, but it will reveal who you hang out with


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.




Read more:
Why releasing some prisoners is essential to stop the spread of coronavirus


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.




Read more:
Homelessness and overcrowding expose us all to coronavirus. Here’s what we can do to stop the spread


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.

NSW and Victoria announce ‘shutdowns’, as federal government widens and ramps up income support


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

NSW and Victoria are shutting down non-essential services and activities over the next 48 hours, and the federal government has announced it will widen eligibility and increase income support as the coronavirus crisis escalates.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the NSW shutdown would leave supermarkets, petrol stations , pharmacies, convenience stores, freight and logistics, and home deliveries among many services remaining open.

Schools would be open Monday but Berejiklian flagged she would have more to say about this on Monday morning.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced a similar shutdown and is bringing forward school holidays to start Tuesday, with a decision on whether schools will reopen to be taken on medical advice.

Andrews said the shutdown decision was not taken lightly but “it’s clear that if we don’t take this step, more Victorians will contract coronavirus, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and more Victorians will die”.

Scott Morrison told Australians not to undertake unnecessary domestic travel, including in the coming school holidays.




Read more:
The case for Endgame C: stop almost everything, restart when coronavirus is gone


“All non-essential travel should be cancelled,” he said bluntly at a Sunday news conference where he unveiled a $66.1 billion second federal package.

South Australia is closing its border from 4 pm Tuesday, establishing 12 border crossings, and requiring travellers to sign a declaration to self-isolate for a fortnight.

Western Australia also announced a closure with Premier Mark McGowan saying the controls “will apply to all access points, roads, air, rail and sea. Unless exempted, arrivals from interstate will be ordered to self isolate for 14 days”. “Western Australia is now in a war,” he said.

Tasmania and the Northern Territory have already acted on their borders.

The federal-state national cabinet’s meeting has been brought forward from Tuesday night to Sunday night, to discuss ever-toughening measures to handle the fast spread of the virus. But NSW and Victoria came out with their announcements ahead of that meeting.

The federal government’s second economic package, which has ten separate measures, will provide support for households – including those on income support, casual workers, sole traders, and retirees – and will also seek to prop up businesses with cash, loans and regulatory protection.

The government will temporarily widen eligibility for income support and give a new short term “coronavirus supplement” of $550 a fortnight.

The new supplement will go to both existing and new recipients of the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. It available to sole traders and casual workers who meet the income test.

The supplement means a doubling of money received by someone on a JobSeeker payment for a single person with no dependants, which is $565.70 a fortnight.

It will be paid for six months and people will receive the full $550 on top of their ordinary payment. The cost will be $14.1 billion and up to 5000 extra staff will be employed to help deliver it.

Among other measures are a second one-off $750 payment to low income households and increased access to superannuation, as the government attempts to cushion people and businesses in a collapsing economy, which will go into a further tailspin with the shutdowns.

Even before the previously-announced $750 payment – to go out at the end of this month – is dispatched, the government has decided on the second payment, made from July 13.

It will go to those on social security and veteran income support and eligible concession card holders – except for those receiving an income support payment that is eligible for the “coronavirus supplement”.

About five million people will get this payment, half of them pensioners, at a cost of $4 billion.

The relaxation of superannuation arrangements will mean people in financial stress as a result of coronavirus will be able to access up to $10,000 of their super in each of this financial year and 2020-21. This will cost $1.2 billion. Minimum drawdown requirements are also being reduced.

The deeming rate used to assess income from financial assets for the pension income test is being reduced to reflect last week’s Reserve Bank interest rate cuts. This will benefit about 900,000 on income support and cost $876 million.

On the business side, the package also includes cash payments of up to $100,000 to small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profit enterprises, with turnovers of less than $50 million, as well as a loan guarantee scheme for SMEs.

Among regulatory protections will be changes to bankruptcy rules. There will be a temporary increase in the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond.

The government’s aim in its business support is to keep as many enterprises as possible afloat, with as many workers as possible still linked to them, so they can restart operations and reassemble their workforces after the crisis has passed.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann talked about businesses going into “hibernation” .

Morrison said the government’s package focused on those “in the front line”, feeling “the first blows” of the economic impact of the virus. “We will be supercharging our safety net and supporting the most vulnerable to the impacts of the crisis, those who will feel those first blows.”

Federal and state governments are alarmed that many citizens are not taking warnings and advice seriously enough. After people swarmed to Bondi beach on Friday, a crackdown on numbers was imposed on Saturday.

Morrison was stern in his messaging, saying social distancing “is one of our most, if not our most, important weapon against the spread of the coronavirus”.

He said what had happened at Bondi “was not OK, and served as a message to federal and state leaders that too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough.

“So the measures that we will be considering tonight means that state premiers and chief ministers may have to take far more draconian measures to enforce social distancing, particularly in areas of outbreaks, than might otherwise be the case”.

He said what might be needed in a part of Sydney might not be necessary in rural NSW or Perth.

Parliament, with restricted numbers, meets on Monday to pass the stimulus legislation.

The AFL announced late Sunday it was suspending its season. It will review the situation at the end of May. It said it was facing the biggest financial crisis in its history.

As at 6.30am Sunday, there had been 1,098 COVID-19 cases in Australia, with 224 new cases since 6.30am Saturday.




Read more:
Scalable without limit: how the government plans to get coronavirus support into our hands quickly


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.