Friday, 26 June 2020

Clarence Valley Rural Fire Service boosts firefighting numbers ahead of 2020-21 bushfire season

Clarence Valley Independent, 19 June 2020:

The Clarence Valley Rural Fire Service (RFS) have been inundated with new members, with an increased number signing up since the start of last year’s horrendous fire season.
Since January 2019, approximately 303 volunteers have signed up (240 of those have joined since September 2019).
Clarence Valley Region RFS operations manager Ian Smith said that to get over 200 (new members) in a season, is unprecedented.
“Across the Clarence Valley we have a total of 1237 members. An increase of 240 is approx. 24 percent increase in numbers since September 2019,” Mr Smith said.
“In 2016 our total new members were 67, in 2017 it was 74 and in 2018 there were 86,” he said.
Mr Smith said that among the top numbers of brigades to receive new members were: Trenayr Brigade 32, Southhampton 27 and Woombah 26 and 23 new members in the Clarence Valley Catering.
“The breakdown of our new members consists of 206 male and 102 females. Our youngest new members are two 14-year-olds from Copmanhurst and Tyringham brigades and our oldest (new) member is 80 years old, in the Catering Brigade,” he said.....

Australian Prime Minister is urging states to push ahead with reopening despite COVID-19 outbreaks

We always said that we were not going for eradication of the virus. Other economies tried that and their economy was far more damaged than ours. And so we have to ensure that we can run our economy, run our lives, run our communities, alongside this virus.” [Australian Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison speaking on ABC radio program PM, 22 June 2020]

Financial Review, 22 June 2020:

A fresh outbreak of coronavirus in Victoria should not stop moves to reopen the economy, according to Scott Morrison, as one state delayed plans to reopen its borders and others contemplated new travel restrictions.

With Victoria recording a spike in cases because of what experts said was tardy adherence to safety protocols, thousands living within six local government jurisdictions were told not to leave their area unless essential.  

As the state introduced the toughest COVID-19 measures currently in Australia in an effort to contain the spike, the Prime Minister agreed it was a "wake-up call" but said setbacks were anticipated when he announced more than a month ago that the states were to reopen their economies by July. 

"This is part of living with COVID-19. And we will continue on with the process of opening up our economy and getting people back into work,'' Mr Morrison said.....

This was Scott Morrison at his uncaring, bullying best last Monday.

So what does "living with COVID-19" actually mean?

Well for 104 people it meant death, with 3 elderly victims dying at home and 30 in nursing homes.

It means there are still active COVID-19 cases in 4 Australian states and some people are still becoming sick enough to require an intensive care hospital bed.

Living with COVID-19 also means community transmission of the disease remains an issue in Australia, as well as people entering/exiting the country while infected.

The pandemic growth may have significanly slowed in Australia but it has not stopped, every day the average number of confirmed COVID-19 cases grow by around 12 people.

All this clearly indicates that the SARS-CoV-virus is not passively responding to successive state public health orders. What was happening is that collectively we had gone to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with this deadly virus thereby avoiding spreading COVID-19 disease.

When this collective action begins to fragment as more and more businesses, entertainment and sporting venues open, state borders are no longer closed and more international flights are allowed into the country, the virus which lives only to mindlessly replicate in as many human bodies as possible will quickly begin to infect larger numbers of people again.

It is highly likely that the resultant disease growth rate will not be able to be described as a "spike" or "setback". For Scott Morrison is stubborn. He will force the states and territories, along with communities and families, to keep exposure to the virus at a dangerously high level simply because he intends to open up the economy and go full bore ahead by July.

So why does the economy have to 'open' in July? 

Not because Morrison really cares about one of his favourite slogans, "jobs and growth". No, 'Emperor' Scott is afraid his own party and its financial backers will finally realise that he has no clothes and the economy is that scrap of cloth he is clutching to cover his nakedness.

It's all about hanging on to personal political power and his lucrative salary as prime minister - and he doesn't care how many people have to die or become chronically ill in order to achieve this.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

When a powerful 77 year-old legal figure is finally revealed as a serial sexual harasser in the workplace

The Sydney Morning Herald,  22 June 2020:

Justice Dyson Heydon arrives at the Royal Commission into trade unions in 2015 in Sydney,CREDIT: BEN RUSHTON

Former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon, one of the nation’s pre-eminent legal minds, sexually harassed six young female associates, an independent inquiry by the court has found.
Herald investigation has also uncovered further allegations from senior legal figures of predatory behaviour by Mr Heydon, including a judge who claims that he indecently assaulted her. The women claim that Mr Heydon’s status as one of the most powerful men in the country protected him from being held to account for his actions.
The High Court inquiry was prompted by two of the judge’s former associates notifying the Chief Justice Susan Kiefel in March 2019 that they had been sexually harassed by Mr Heydon.
“We are ashamed that this could have happened at the High Court of Australia,” said Chief Justice Kiefel in a statement. She confirmed that the lengthy investigation found that “the Honourable Dyson Heydon, AC, QC” harassed six former staff members.

“The findings are of extreme concern to me, my fellow justices, our chief executive and the staff of the court,” said the Chief Justice.
Chief Justice Kiefel has personally apologised to the six women, five of them Mr Heydon’s associates, saying “their accounts of their experiences at the time have been believed”.
Dyson Heydon was on the High Court bench from 2003-13 and in 2014 was appointed by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott to run the royal commission into trade union governance and corruption.
Mr Heydon denied the claims via his lawyers Speed and Stracey who issued a statement.....
“Dyson Heydon was one of the most powerful men in the country,” said Josh Bornstein, the women’s lawyer and a principal with law firm Maurice Blackburn in Melbourne. “As the independent investigation makes clear, he is also a sex pest. At the same time he was dispensing justice in the highest court in Australia’s legal system, he was [engaged in] sexual harassment.”
Vivienne Thom, the former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, interviewed a dozen witnesses, including five former associates. Dr Thom’s report found that the evidence “demonstrates a tendency by Mr Heydon to engage in a pattern of conduct of sexual harassment” which included unwelcome touching, attempting to kiss the women and taking them into his bedroom.
Herald investigation can reveal that Mr Heydon’s predatory behaviour was an “open secret” in legal and judicial circles. Not only did he prey on his young associates during his decade on the High Court until his mandatory retirement at 70 in 2013, other females in the profession suffered at his hands.....
Read the full article here.

The Guardian, 22 June 2020:

“At the time that this sexual harassment occurred, Dyson Heydon was in his 60s, a conservative judge, a prominent Catholic and a married man,” Bornstein said. 

“The women he employed were in their early 20s and often straight out of university. He was one of the most powerful men in the country, who could make or break their future careers in the law. 

Bornstein said there was an “extreme power imbalance” between Heydon and the young women. 

There was no clear avenue for women to complain about such conduct, he said. 

“The fear of his power and influence meant that the women did not feel able to come forward until recently,” he said.


The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 2020: 

The Herald and The Age can now reveal claims about his behaviour extend to Britain where he is the subject of allegations, including inappropriate touching. 

Following his mandatory retirement from the High Court in 2013 aged 70, Dyson Heydon sought out a teaching position at the prestigious English university, where he had studied on a Rhodes scholarship in 1964. 

His three-year appointment at the Faculty of Law was greeted with excitement within the university, according to documents released under freedom of information laws...... 

Mr Heydon's lectures were scheduled to occur early each year from 2014 to 2016 inclusive. 

However, allegations about his behaviour would cast a dark shadow over Mr Heydon’s tenure. 

"My first introduction to him was that all the Australian law students at Oxford called him 'Dirty Dyson', that seemed to be the moniker he had widely," one former student said. 

One of Mr Heydon’s postgraduate students, whom the Herald and The Age have chosen not to name, was so upset and angry about Mr Heydon’s harassment of her in the Bodleian Library, that she complained to the university. 

The university decided not to renew Mr Heydon’s visiting professorship. In heavily redacted documents released to the Herald and The Age under FOI, the reason for the university's decision was not apparent. 

"The Personnel Committee has already taken a decision that Dyson Heydon should not be renewed," stated Oxford Law Faculty Dean Anne Davies in an email dated June 1, 2016. "We have written to tell him this."

The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 2020:

The ACT's Director of Public Prosecutions has recommended the Australian Federal Police investigate former High Court justice Dyson Heydon over allegations of sexual harassment following a damning investigation commissioned by the court.....

The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 2020:

Ms Coutts told the investigator she was worried that Justice Heydon "who was then a large and strong man" may try to harass her friend again. 

Ms Coutts told the investigator called in to conduct the independent inquiry, Dr Vivienne Thom, that she informed Justice McHugh of his colleague's alleged behaviour. 

According to the report, Justice McHugh allegedly replied: "Well Sharona, it's not easy to shock me these days but you have just truly shocked me." 

Ms Coutts said the following day, after further discussions with Justice McHugh, that he left the chambers, returning later to tell her: "I've told the Chief. It's his court. He has to deal with this." 

It is not known what steps were taken by then Chief Justice Murray Gleeson about Justice Heydon's behaviour. Mr McHugh declined to participate in the investigation. When contacted by the Herald and The Age, Mr Gleeson, now retired from the bench, said: "I am unwilling to comment". Mr McHugh, also retired from the bench, did not respond to emails and phone messages..... 

A group of the most senior female barristers in NSW have lodged a complaint with the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner, following allegations of sexual harassment and indecent assault against Mr Heydon. The 14 silks took their action following the revelation in the Herald that a High Court investigation found Mr Heydon had sexually harassed six former associates of the court. None of the female barristers making the complaint allege they themselves were the subject of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Heydon. 

The statutory body, which acts as the professional watchdog, has powers to investigate Mr Heydon's alleged misconduct. It can determine whether Mr Heydon is a "fit and proper person" under the official admission rules for the legal profession. It can also take disciplinary action against a barrister, or commence disciplinary proceedings in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. In the most serious cases, a practitioner can be disbarred. 

Complaints to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner are confidential. 

The move came as the NSW Bar Association president Tim Game SC released a strongly-worded message warning "barristers who engage in sexual harassment can be investigated and disciplined for professional misconduct".

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Morrison Government's class warfare sees this hard right group closing the door to students from low income families and cutting funding to universities


SBS News, 20 June 2020:

Mr Tehan outlined the coalition's latest plan for rejigging university funding in a speech to the National Press Club on Friday afternoon. He is offering to increase the number of university places by 39,000 over the next three years, rising to 100,000 more by 2030. 

The coalition had effectively capped places over the past couple of years by freezing its funding at 2018 levels. 

The trade-off in the new deal is changing what students and taxpayers pay. 

A three-year humanities degree would more than double in cost for students, from about $20,000 now to $43,500. The government's contribution would drop to $3300. 

 Fees for law degrees, typically four years, would jump from $44,620 now to $58,000. 

Conversely, the government would contribute more and charge students less for courses it says are more likely to lead to jobs. 

Agriculture and maths fees would drop from nearly $28,600 over three years to $11,100. 

Fees would also be cut for teaching, nursing, clinical psychology, science, health, architecture, IT, engineering and English courses.....


From January 2021 students entering Humanities courses such as Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Arts & Business, Bachelor of International Studies, Bachelor of Politics Philosophy & Economics, Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Media and Communications), Bachelor of Education, Bachelor of Arts/
Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Languages), fees will more than double, putting them alongside law and commerce in the highest price band of $14,500 a year or est. $43,500 for a completed degree. Making these courses more expensive than studying medicine.

The Australian, 22 June 2020:

Universities will be paid less to teach courses such as maths and engineering under the Morrison government’s overhaul of higher education funding — despite those programs being promoted by Education Minister Dan Tehan as post-pandemic job creators. 

Education Department data shows the commonwealth will cut university funding for each enrolment in those courses while also cutting how much those students pay to study. 

The reforms are intended to push students towards high-­priority courses such as maths, teaching, science and engineering by lowering how much students, through the HECS-HELP loan scheme, pay. 

Universities currently receive $28,958 a year for each science course enrolment, made up of $19,260 paid by the student through the HECS-HELP loan scheme and $9698 from the commonwealth. 

Under the new system, however, students will contribute $7700 and the commonwealth will pay $16,500, leaving universities with $4758 less revenue for each science student enrolled. 

Universities will lose a similar amount for each student enrolled in an engineering course under the reforms announced by Mr Tehan on Friday, and lose $3444 per student in an agriculture subject, one of the key areas where the government is hoping to drive enrolment growth. 

That’s because while the commonwealth is increasing its payment per student from $24,446 to $27,000, that does not compensate for the fall in student contributions from $9698 to $3700. 

Frank Larkins, a researcher at Melbourne University’s Centre for Higher Education, said the fall in overall revenues per student in high-priority areas was likely to make it more difficult for universities to teach more students in those job-creating subjects. 

“It appears there are two mess­ages here. The government wants students to go into nursing, teaching and STEM subjects, but they also think those courses are overfunded,” Professor Larkins told The Australian on Sunday. 

“Agriculture — one of the areas they want more students — would retain its funding in the present scheme, but it’s cut by 17 per cent in this new one. It’s a curious situation. 

“The areas of study we are touting as the national interest are actually diminishing under these changes. 

Every university will have a different reaction, but these changes are almost disguising a cut in funding for some of these courses the government is promoting.”....


ABC News, 21 June 2020: 

If you were thinking about starting a university degree in the future, you've got a new fee structure to take into account. The Government has announced an overhaul of the university fee system, slashing the price of courses it says are more likely to get you a job and hiking up fees for courses in the humanities. 

The changes will mainly apply to future students, with no current student to pay increased fees for the duration of their degree. 

However, if you're a current student enrolled in a course that is getting cheaper, you'll pay less from next year. 

Many of you told us the changes will affect your choice of study, and for some it will deter you from going to university altogether.... 

Robert H: "My son is in grade 11 and he picked his subjects for grades 10 to 12 at the end of grade 9. So even if he wanted to pivot towards the cheaper STEM degrees, he would need to go back in time to the end of year 9 to reselect his subjects. So much for a fair go." 

Monika O: "This is terrible. We need to encourage a variety of careers as we all have different gifts and abilities. It's not justified to discriminate and "punish" people who choose to study arts and humanities. These topics encourage critical thinking skills and communications skills — all much needed abilities. 

David D: "This an appalling idea. Prejudicing young people because their ability and passion are in the humanities, and rewarding those whose ability and passion just happens to be what business thinks they require now for jobs … Many businesses are actually crying out for workers with critical thinking and creative skills.".... 

Emma J: "Doubling humanities degree costs is appalling. These are the only degrees where you are taught to think for yourselves and where ideas and innovation are encouraged. Without social and political sciences and history and Indigenous studies, we're going to have a workforce which can only follow rules and can't think for themselves." Shane H: "Two of the most valued skills employers want is the ability to think critically and emotional intelligence. How many STEM subjects teach that?" 

Carolyn J: "Humanities subjects are foundational and help to produce people who understand the history and nuances of our society. They teach people how to communicate ideas, how to analyse language, image and thought. The arts themselves provide beauty, expression, reflection, critique, examination. They are vocations — sometimes compulsions — not job choices." 

Johny M: "More than doubling the cost of humanities degrees is not only sad, but grossly unfair. They teach critical thinking, research skills, and broaden our worldview. It is easy to rip into them for not being 'job specific', but that ignores they are the scaffold to everything we know about our society." Stefan P: This is absolutely tragic. The choice of which course to pursue within higher education should be entirely dependent on a student's desires, not their financial situation and the whims of the economy. Besides which, if the Federal Government acknowledges the difficulty of finding work as an arts student, then saddling them with even more debt is simply counterintuitive." 

Matt B: "I'm a Medsci student progressing into medicine, arguably an 'in demand' degree. However … the arts/humanities allows scientists to put the research in perspective of humanity and thus allows us to better communicate to the public and (science-ignorant) governments why we do what we do. Arts isn't a second thought; it's a priority, more so than learning chemistry and biology is for a doctor, because without the arts, we cannot communicate and appreciate the meaning of cancer beyond it being a mutation of cells.".... 

Lili K: "I'm just about to finish my honours degree in politics, and it has been the most rewarding and interesting years of my life. I know if this price hike happened when I was at my poor public country high school, I would have had to take a different path."....

 Anna G: "I have an arts degree. I work for the Government in a relatively senior role. My degree gave me essential critical-thinking, analytical and writing skills that equip me to do my job daily. It's frustrating to know that the Government thinks that my degree isn't 'job focused' when I use it to support and deliver its policies and programs.".... 

 Lana G: I am a business/politics (humanities) student. I am the first in my family to attend university, and all this does is make university (for the most part) unattainable. My degree is now going to be on par with the cost of a medical degree … Poorer kids are going to move away from economics, humanities and law."..... 

The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 June 2020: 

 The government will fund an extra 39,000 places by 2023 – an increase of about 6 per cent – as the recession prompts more school leavers to stay on in education (and avoid taking a gap year), but will compensate for this by cutting the amount of its funding per student. 

 According to calculations by Professor David Peetz, of Griffith University (whose former job as a senior federal bureaucrat helps him find where the bodies are buried), the government will cut its funding by an annual $1883 per student, with the average increase in tuition fees of $675 per student reducing the net loss to universities to $1208 per student. (The fee changes won't apply to existing students, however.).... 

Professor Ian Jacobs, boss of UNSW, who points to the perverse incentives the changes will create (assuming the Senate is mad enough to pass them). Unis will be tempted to offer most places in those courses with the widest gap between the high government-set tuition fee and the cost of running the course. They'll be pushing BAs harder than ever. 

This, of course, is exactly the way you'd expect the vice-chancellors to behave when you've taken government-owned and regulated agencies, spent 30 years pursuing a bipartisan policy of cutting their federal funding (from 86 per cent to 28 per cent of total receipts, in the case of Sydney University) and pretending they've been privatised.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Grattan Institute report indicates that with 643 active COVID-19 cases remaining in Australia, everyone needs to keep social distancing to avoid a viral surge

The Grattan Institute, 21 June 2020:

Australia has not yet won the battle against COVID-19, and coming out of lockdown risks a second wave of infections. 

Grattan Institute modelling shows that reopening shops, schools, and workplaces heightens the risk of new infections, especially if people think the threat is over and ignore social distancing rules. 

Workplaces are particularly high risk and should be re-opened slowly, with as many people as possible continuing to work from home to minimise the potential for the virus to spread. 

Schools should enforce social distancing policies, and close if a COVID-19 case is detected. 

Mandatory quarantining of international arrivals must remain in place. 

And if a second wave of mass infections breaks out, governments will have to reimpose lockdowns. 

It’s dangerous for people to think this fight is over. 

The nature of the virus hasn’t changed – our behaviour has. 

If Australians go back to a pre-COVID normal, the virus could spread quickly and wildly, like it has elsewhere. 

Some of Australia’s states have effectively eliminated local transmission of COVID-19, and are keeping their borders closed to states where it persists. 

States should maintain different restrictions if they have different rates of local transmission. 

Restrictions are obviously needed much less in states which have effectively eliminated the virus from their local population. 

Australia should learn lessons from the way the health system responded to the pandemic. 

Telehealth has been embraced by doctors and patients; it should now be expanded to give more people quicker access to care. 

Mental health and hospital-in-the-home services should be bolstered. 

And the federal and state governments need to strengthen supply chains to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. 

If Australia gets this transition to a ‘new normal’ wrong, we won’t benefit from the overdue health system changes that the crisis forced on us. 

That would be another tragedy on top of the trauma caused by the pandemic itself.

On the morning of 21 June 2020 there were still 643 active COVID-19 cases in Australia with 25 of these new cases confirmed overnight.

Only South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory appear to have had no active COVID-19 cases on 21 June.

Australia's current COVID-19 infection growth rate was 1.12% which is 0.13% above the growth rate required to reduce infections towards zero.

Grattan Institute Report No. 2020-09 recommendations for coming out of lockdown:

1. Maintain social distancing efforts while there are active COVID-19 cases locally 

∙ Maintain high levels of testing, contact tracing, and isolation. 

∙ Workplaces should be re-opened slowly, with as many people as possible continuing to work from home. Minimise the number of people interacting in workplaces where possible. 

∙ Enforce social distancing in workplaces. 

∙ Workers who show symptoms linked to COVID-19 must not be allowed to go to work. Their employers must allow them to work from home where possible. Governments should provide support for workers who do not have sick leave entitlements. 

∙ Schools must be closed, and rigorous contact tracing implemented, whenever a COVID-19 case is detected at the school. 

∙ Policies limiting patrons in shops should be maintained if local transmission of COVID-19 continues in particular cities. 

∙ People in the community must continue to take social distancing precautions. Where there are active cases, the government should encourage people to wear masks in public. 

2. Ramp up local lockdowns when outbreaks occur 

∙ State governments must be prepared to reimpose lockdowns to control major outbreaks. 

∙ Local lockdowns should be enacted to control local outbreaks.

3. When there are no active COVID-19 cases in Australia 

∙ Capacity constraints on workplaces, shops, and hospitality can be removed. People can start to move freely within and between states. 

∙ Testing must remain a routine part of life. If local cases are identified, contact tracers must be at the ready, and widespread testing should restart in affected areas. 

∙ Current mandatory quarantining of people arriving from overseas must remain in place. 

∙ Quarantine exemptions could be made with other countries, such as New Zealand, that also have no active COVID-19 cases and that have effective international arrival protocols in place.

Horses pulling cats for rich white men - that's the poor and vulnerable in Australia