End of the blog
That is where we will leave the live blog for Wednesday. Here’s what you might have missed from today:
- Another worker and former guest of Melbourne Airport’s Holiday Inn quarantine hotel have tested positive for Covid-19, in addition to the two reported yesterday, bringing the total number of cases linked to the outbreak to eight.
- Chief health officer Prof Brett Sutton said a nebuliser medical device in the room of an infected family could be to blame for the cluster, and the Holiday Inn has been closed for cleaning.
- Plans to increase Victoria’s weekly cap on international arrivals from 1120 to 1310 from next week have been put on hold.
- South Australia will reimpose its hard border for Greater Melbourne residents from midnight tonight.
- The Northern Territory has listed four Melbourne areas as COVID-19 hotspots – Sunbury, Maidstone, Sunshine and Taylors Lakes.
- NSW will revert to the two-square-metre rule for venues from Friday and will remove the obligation to wear masks except on public transport or in taxi services. Only gyms will maintain the current four-square-metre rule.
- It could take six years for the world to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and more “sinister” variants could emerge, so the developed world must practice vaccine altruism and share with developing countries, infectious diseases physician Sanjaya Senanayake told the National Press Club.
Until tomorrow, stay safe.
Victoria’s health department has just announced two new exposure sites connected to one of the new cases out of the Holiday Inn:
- The Commonwealth Bank, Glen Waverley, between 1.30pm and 2.45pm on Tuesday 9 February
- HDBC Bank, Glen Waverley, between 2.15pm and 3.30pm on Tuesday 9 February.
There’s usually a bit of overlap with these things, particularly if memory is hazy on exact times.
Victorian quarantine hotels to be reassessed for ventilation risks
Victorian health officials plan to reassess every hotel used in the government’s quarantine program for ventilation risks, following an outbreak at the Holiday Inn.
Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, Melanie Van Twest, has told ABC Melbourne that previous assessments were “certainly adequate” but were conducted up to three months ago.
She said the new assessments would be carried out by an independent expert but the process could take as long as six weeks.
It comes after an outbreak at the Holiday Inn forced authorities to move quarantining guests out of the hotel at Melbourne Airport. The outbreak has been blamed on a nebuliser, an aerosol-based medical device.
Van Twest said there was not a problem with the “whole program”, but a “problem with exposure at one particular hotel”.
That exposure has been controlled and everybody involved with that exposure is now safely in quarantine.
Asked about the testing of workers in the program, Emma Cassar, the commissioner of Covid Quarantine Victoria, said rates were in the “high 90s”.
Asked if testing rates should be 100%, Cassar said authorities were aiming for 100% but said current rates were good. “We’re doing really well,” she said.
When asked if Victorians should be worried about hotel quarantine, Cassar replied: “We’ve got this.”
The dog days of Covid-19 have meant a litter of future guide dogs is being trained in Australia before starting working life in Canada, AAP reports.
Four labrador puppies are set to spend the entire year in Melbourne learning to become qualified dog guides on the other side of the world.
At Vision Australia’s Seeing Eye Dogs site in Kensington, Rex, Harley, Bridget and Oscar came together for the first time on Wednesday to be put through their puppy paces.
The cross-continent collaboration is the brainchild of CNIB Guide Dogs, which raise, train and match dogs with blind and visually-impaired Canadians and often acquire puppies from an Australian breeder.
With the coronavirus pandemic interrupting international transport links, the charity was forced to think outside the box to find a solution.
“Vision Australia and CNIB have had a longstanding relationship,” CNIB president Diane Bergeron said.
“We contacted them and asked if their puppy carers could raise our future CNIB Guide Dogs until travel restrictions are lifted and they said ‘absolutely’.”
Jane Bradley, Seeing Eye Dogs’ manager of puppy development, said the team was happy to help.
“There’s a strong tradition of collaboration in the international dog guide fraternity,” she said.
“We’re excited to work even closer with CNIB Guide Dogs and also create history.”
The Canada-bound puppies will remain in their carers’ homes until early 2022 or air travel allows them to make the journey abroad.
A man holding a mask has been fined $774 for refusing to put it on at an airport in northwest Tasmania, AAP reports.
The 51-year-old from Victoria disobeyed several requests from police officers to wear the face covering at Burnie airport on Monday morning.
It became mandatory in late January to wear masks on all flights to and from Tasmania.
The man did not have an exemption to not wear or remove the mask, police say.
“Our main priority is to educate the public, but on occasion it is necessary to take action against those individuals whose behaviour puts others at risk,” Inspector Gary Williams said.
“Now is not the time to become complacent and we continue to seek the support of the community to keep all of us safe.”
Mask compliance in the state’s northwest has been high overall, police say.
Australia’s highest court has rejected a constitutional challenge to the continued detention of a terrorist following the expiration of his jail sentence, AAP reports.
Victoria’s supreme court in December granted a continuing detention order allowing authorities to hold Abdul Nacer Benbrika behind bars for an extra three years.
Benbrika challenged the constitutional validity of this, specifically whether the commonwealth could give the supreme court the power to impose the detention order.
The high court of Australia on Wednesday upheld the ability of the supreme court to do so.
Benbrika is an Algerian-born self-proclaimed Islamic cleric who was jailed in 2009 for a maximum of 15 years.
He led a terror cell that spoke of attacking Melbourne’s Crown Casino and bombing the MCG and has been in custody since his 2005 arrest.
Supreme court justice Andrew Tinney last year ordered Benbrika remain in custody until November 2023.
The judge found it was highly unlikely someone with Benbrika’s narcissistic personality traits, and sense of religious and intellectual superiority and infallibility, would have changed his extremist views.
At the time of his arrest, Benbrika posed a very real danger to the community at the time of his arrest, Tinney said.
He added it was only the intervention of law enforcement that prevented potential mayhem and tragedy.
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton cancelled Benbrika’s Australian citizenship last year.
Labor MP Stephen Jones has added to calls for Crown chair Helen Coonan to leave the role as chair of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority after the damning report on Crown Resorts’ Sydney casino licence.
Jones told ABC’s Afternoon Briefing that it was “absolutely bewildering” she could still hold the role:
“Clearly her role at least is untenable, even if the shareholders of Crown decide that she can continue in her role in that body. Clearly there are further questions to be answered in relation to this whole messy affair.”
Liberal senator Andrew Bragg didn’t address whether Coonan should go, but said as a federal politician it was improper for him to make a call on what action should be taken against Crown given the states are dealing with it, but he said he would focus on any allegations of transgressions by Crown under federal law, which federal regulators would look at.
In the final Crown report, tabled in NSW parliament on Tuesday, here’s what Patricia Bergin SC had to say about Coonan:
“Ms Coonan accepted the serious corporate failings of Crown and notwithstanding those corporate failings is willing to, as she put it, stay the course. That commitment in the circumstances of the evidence that was exposed during the course of this Inquiry is no small matter. The burden of reformation will be great.
“The review of the Chairman’s evidence demonstrates that her character, honesty and integrity has not been and could not be called into question.”
There has been another death in custody in Victoria, with police reporting a 30-year-old Keilor Downs man died after being found unresponsive in the back of a police van on Friday afternoon.
Police say he was threatening self-harm at a hospital in Fitzroy at 12pm on Friday 5 February, and was taken in to custody over outstanding warrants.
He was later found unresponsive in the rear of a divisional van while the van was at the Victoria Police Centre on Spencer Street.
He died in hospital on Monday 8 February, and detectives from the homicide squad are now investigating, with oversight from officers from professional standard command.
Two more cases linked to Holiday Inn in Victoria
The Victorian health department has just advised there are now two more positive Covid-19 cases linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport outbreak. One is a worker, and another is a previous resident who left on 7 February.
They are currently determining exposure sites that might be linked to the former resident, but say there are no exposure sites linked to the worker.
There are now eight active cases linked to the Holiday Inn outbreak.
Stevens says it’s not lost on SA police that the Australian Open is on at the moment, and a lot of people might be in Melbourne for the tournament now. He said it’s up to those South Australians in Victoria at the moment to make a decision on whether they can quarantine for 14 days once they return to South Australia, or if they need to cut their trip short.
South Australia to close border to greater Melbourne
The South Australian police commissioner Grant Stevens has announced a hard border for people coming from greater Melbourne after a couple of cases out of the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel.
As of midnight there will be a lockout for greater Melbourne for people entering South Australia unless they are a permanent resident, are relocating, or have one of the limited exemptions.
“With any incident of positive cases in any other jurisdiction, we watch closely. We’re looking for the indicators those jurisdictions are getting on top of whatever issues they have and their contact tracing and quarantining processes are effective and the community testing for Covid-19 is also at the level we believe is satisfactory to identify any community transmission.
So it’s a very dynamic and moving situation. Our steps in South Australia are taken with an abundance of caution to make sure we’re minimising the risk.”
He said SA may change its policy again based on more advice from Victorian authorities but they are providing this much notice now to allow people to adjust plans.
So far there have been no additional cases in Victoria outside of those who are directly linked to the hotel quarantine environment.
Burke says gig economy workers can be paid around $10 per hour in their work, below the minimum wage. He says Labor would empower the Fair Work Commission to “deal with these circumstances where they’re not empowered contractors running their own business.”
“They’re workers in an employee-like situation and that gives the Fair Work Commission the same flexibility that the platforms have in trying to make sure that we can get some minimum standards there.
As you know and as you previously reported, it’s not only a wage issue, it’s a safety issue on the roads.”
On the Porter press conference, Burke says it was “was absolutely next level weird”:
He invented a policy that’s not ours, then got a cost about it, and then got really worked up about the cost of the policy he had invented. He’s describing something that’s not in the speech, that’s not in the announcement, that’s not our policy and he’s really angry about it.
Well, good on him, but I’ve got to say, that media conference, he either knew he was lying or the bloke’s just lost it. The policy he was describing in no way represents anything that we have decided on.
He says the $20bn costing claim wasn’t just wrong, but based on something that doesn’t exist. He says it would have a saving to the budget.
On portable entitlements, it is Labor policy to consult with the states and territories, unions and others to work out where portable entitlements could be extended.
He says Porter’s comments at the press conference were “loopy”.
It’s not our policy. He’s made up a big fat lie. It’s not that I’m quibbling with the costings. The basis of the policy is already wrong. It’s entirely an invention. And the attorney general has just occupied the attention of the whole Australian media with something that I hope he knows is not true and I hope he’s not that deluded, because it’s loopy.
Labor’s shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke is on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing to respond to what IR minister Christian Porter said earlier.
He said if the government got its IR changes on the definition of casual workers through the parliament, Labor would not let it stand if it formed government after the election.
The thing that would happen next is you’d see more casualisation than ever. You’d see a massive reduction in the rights of casuals. And you would see a situation where any employer who wanted to make sure someone never became permanent would simply make sure someone never became permanent. Those changes are a disaster for casual workers.
It gives all the power to the employer and if you ever wanted to fix it you can’t do a thing for the first 12 months and after that you can only do something if as a casual employee you can afford to go to the federal court of Australia. There’s no way we’d leave something like that in place. But we’re fighting it at the moment.
Crown director Packer connection severed
And just like that, the spectre of James Packer has been banished from the Crown boardroom… or not.
Crown’s just announced that Packer’s private company, Consolidated Press Holdings, has terminated a consultancy agreement with one of Crown’s directors, John Poynton – something CPH said it was going to do earlier in the day.
Two directors nominated by CPH, Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston, have also resigned from the Crown board today.
“Following the resignation of Guy Jalland and Michael Johnston as directors of Crown earlier today and the termination of the consultancy arrangement between CPH and John Poynton, CPH is no longer separately represented on the Crown board,” Crown said in a statement to the ASX this afternoon.
This is true, but investors may find it difficult to forget that Poynton came to be on the board in 2018 after being “nominated as a director by Consolidated Press Holdings Pty Limited to fill the vacancy created by Mr James Packer’s resignation from the Crown board” as Crown told the ASX at the time.
- An earlier version of this post heading said Poynton had resigned. That is not the case.
Here’s some more on the total fire ban in parts of western Victoria, via AAP.
A total fire ban has been declared for parts of Victoria’s west ahead of a forecast summer scorcher.
With temperatures tipped to climb near 40C in the state’s northwest, a total fire ban will come into effect for the Mallee and Wimmera fire districts on Thursday.
The fire danger rating has been accessed as severe in both regions due to the forecast heat and strong winds.
It follows a cooler and wetter than usual summer in Victoria, with a La Nina weather pattern active over southeast Australia.
“Overall we’ve had milder conditions,” Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan said in a statement on Wednesday.
“But what we’re seeing this summer is these hot day or days where the fire danger spikes so it’s important that we don’t get complacent.”
The CFA is warning grass fires remain a risk, courtesy of above-average rainfall in recent weeks and strong fuel growth.
“Grassfires are prevalent this season and can move at speeds of up to 25km per hour and jump highways,” Mr Heffernan said.
Thursday’s total fire ban outlaws any open-air fires being lit or remaining alight in the Mallee or Wimmera from 12.01am to 11.59pm.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, has had his department do some back-of-the-envelope calculations about what it would cost to extend sick leave, annual leave and long service leave to 3.5m casuals.
The answer? Anthony Albanese’s industrial relations policy amounts to a “$20bn tax” on business, Porter claims at a press conference in Sydney.
- Labor’s policy is to consider extending those entitlements industry by industry, not to give them to every casual overnight; and
- Even if that were the policy – that wouldn’t be a $20bn “tax” because it isn’t collected by the government, it would be a $20bn redistribution from employers to casual employees.
Porter said:”Everyone should be paid fairly but to propose up to $20 billion tax on business as business is struggling through the toughest times they have seen since world war two, is absolutely insane. … I mean, the scale of what’s being proposed and the danger of it to Australian business is almost unfathomable.”
Porter said if 3.5m casuals are required to give up their 25% casual loading on their base pay, it would cost the average casual worker $7,953 a year. That isn’t part of Labor’s policy.
Asked whether gig economy workers should be paid the minimum wage, Porter said: “No one in Australia should be paid under the minimum wage. That is contrary to the law of Australia that exists at the moment. That is an enforcement issue. That is not an issue about how you structure employment in Australia.”
That is incorrect. The minimum wage applies to employees – not independent contractors. So, if you are a gig economy worker like a ride-share driver or a food delivery bike courier you may not get paid the minimum wage – and it has everything to do with the structure of work.
Industrial relations minister and attorney general Christian Porter has been responding to news reports about Anthony Albanese’s speech tonight on Labor’s industrial relations plans.
He said his department had done the sums and he reckons proposals for portable leave and better entitlements and job security for people in insecure work would cost $20bn a year, which would be put on businesses.
(I have not seen this costing, and given it is based on public comments not a full outline of policy, take it with a grain of salt.)
Porter said casuals get up to 25% in loading for sacrificing other entitlements like sick leave and annual leave, and based on the Victorian trial – where the government is currently paying but has considered putting a tax on business for it – it would lead to businesses paying taxes to cover it for 3.5m workers.
“It’s one of the most unlimited, unqualified, quite outlandish promises that has ever been made in the history of industrial relations in Australia,” he said.
“I might also add that it would produce the completely bizarre and unfair result that a casual worker would actually have more pay and greater access to benefits than a permanent worker working the same hours.”
He said issues with people in casual work or in the gig economy being underpaid was about enforcement, not workforce structure.