Covid-19
(Image: AAP/James Gourley)

OPEN AND SHUT?

NSW is expected to reach 80% vaccination coverage (of the first dose, that is) tomorrow. But reopening could crash intensive care units, a new science lobby group warns. The SMH reports that, under the group’s modelling, ICU beds could be at capacity for five weeks over Christmas and almost 1000 people could die from COVID-19. The modelling comes from epidemiologist Tony Blakely, Burnet Institute head Brendan Crabb, the Grattan Institute’s Stephen Duckett, the Kirby Institute’s Raina MacIntyre, and ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt. The group says we should shoot for elimination, as we did with polio or measles, rather than suppression.

It comes as Victorian hospitals have basically stopped all elective surgeries, except for those who might die, as COVID places strain on state hospitals The Age reports.

But after 12 long weeks in lockdown in Greater Sydney, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. ABC reports that the curve is flattening — the reproduction rate has fallen to 1, an epidemiologist says, down from 1.3. It comes as pressure builds on Premier Gladys Berejiklian to lockdown suburbs, not local government areas, to better target areas of high transmission. Police Minister David Elliott says the targeted lockdowns are dividing the Harbour City, the SMH reports. Berejiklian is meeting with mayors of Sydney’s worst-affected areas today about divisions after initially rebuffing their requests for a virtual meeting, as news.com.au says.

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EMISSION IMPOSSIBLE

Australia must reduce its emissions by 75% or face an escalating conflict risk, a damning new report has found.

The Climate Council said Australia has fallen “well behind” the US, the UK, Japan, and New Zealand in our analysis of climate and security risks, and our failure to act has seen a “loss of geopolitical influence for Australia, particularly in the Pacific”. The report points to the escalating water crisis in Asia, where the resource is highly contested, and rising ocean levels which were already placing countries at risk.

ABC’s Emily Olsen spoke to a Miami man who was forced to vacate his home as the wealthy look for new places to live as they move to higher ground. US President Joe Biden has ordered a review of the security issues posed by climate change this year. But Australia by comparison is woefully underprepared, the council says. The Australian government’s 2020 defence strategic update only had a “passing reference” to climate change when mentioning threats to human security, as The Guardian reports.

The report concluded that “the science is clear… Australia should reduce its emissions by 75% (below 2005 levels) by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2035”. It comes as Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg — who is the new chair of the Senate standing committee on environment and communications — called on the government to publicly commit to net zero at the Glasgow climate talks, The Guardian reports. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he wants us to achieve net zero ASAP — preferably by 2050.

LABOR PAINS

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon will leave politics at the federal election, he has confirmed, and the question now is — who will replace him? The Australian ($) says this morning that the CFMEU is urging Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to intervene in the preselection decision. The Hunter seat is a mining stronghold and the union reckons Olympic shooter Daniel Repacholi would be a shoo-in. Fitzgibbon has backed Repacholi — a coal miner himself — as his successor, but the right-learning faction of the party is supposedly backing local nurse Emily Suvaal, the Oz says, while the left faction reportedly want a ballot.

It comes as the fallout continues from Kristina Keneally being parachuted into the safe seat of Fowler. The ABC says the optics were not good for the Labor Party — hours before Keneally confirmed her candidacy, Albo said the party had “enormous diversity in our ranks … Senator Penny Wong is our Senate leader … We have, in western Sydney, people like Ed Husic, the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives. And we have Anne Aly in the [West Australian] seat of Cowan”. The Oz’s Troy Bramston asked of Keneally, “has there ever been a more brazen carpetbagger?”. Yikes.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

Scientists are attempting to bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction, The Guardian reports. The woolly mammoth (in an early form) dates all the way back to around 5 million years ago, to an era known as the Pliocene Epoch. Most woolly mammoths disappeared about 10,000 years ago as our climate warmed and humans ruthlessly over-hunted the species, Reuters says, but incredibly, some still roamed the Earth at the same time as when the Pyramids of Giza were built (2550 to 2490 B.C.).

A bioscience and genetics company called Colossal has raised US$15m to bring the species back to life in the Arctic. They’re planning to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid by adding mammoth DNA to embryos in the lab. Where do they get the DNA? They’ve actually extracted it from frozen woolly mammoth specimens. Then, either a surrogate mother or an artificial womb will carry it to term — if all goes well, that is. But the team says it’s not for voyeurism or entertainment reasons. Their goal is to make a more hearty Asian elephant that can withstand the -40C cold in the far north. And maybe even restore some of the damaged habitats caused by the climate crisis. When elephants knock down trees it can help restore grasslands, Colossal’s co-founder, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, explains. Folks, I implore you — has Jurassic Park taught us nothing?

Hope you bring a little life to Tuesday.

SAY WHAT?

If you have a look at what I said, in Parliament [at the time] … I said that I wanted people to treat Islamic Australians decently, properly, and like everybody else. I completely reject the suggestion that I have any kind of hostility to Islamic people.

John Howard

ABC’s Avani Dias put a 2006 quote to the former PM where he said Muslims arriving in Australia should make a stronger attempt to learn English and treat women better to fit in. Howard appeared to not recall the quote and asked who said it, before denying he held any prejudice towards the Muslim community.

CRIKEY RECAP

Keneally’s lower house move highlights the white Australian Parliament policy

Keneally parachuting into one of the country’s most multicultural electorates ahead of [Tu] Le, a child of Vietnamese immigrants with deep ties to the community, has finally focused attention back on the shocking lack of cultural diversity in Australian politics — an area in which Australia lags stubbornly behind the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada.

“In Australia, people from a non-European and Indigenous background make up 24% of the population (21% non-European and 3% Indigenous). Human Rights Commission research in 2018 found just 4.1% of federal MPs came from a non-European background, with 1.5% Indigenous. In NSW and Victoria, 9% and 10% of MPs respectively have non-European, non-Indigenous heritage.”


Mixed messages as senior Catholics and other clerics rebel on COVID vaccine rules

“Australia’s most senior clerics have — to be charitable — muddied the waters when it comes to COVID vaccination. The question appeared to be settled last year by the Vatican which ruled that Catholics should be vaccinated. The reasoning was that the common good should override individual ethical concerns. Done and dusted. Or so it seemed.

“Yet In Tasmania, Hobart’s Archbishop Julian Porteous has begun a push for priests who have a ‘conscientious objection’ to COVID-19 vaccines to be allowed to work in aged care homes after a vaccine mandate comes into effect at the end of this week. His case is based on the fact that some vaccines have been developed using cell lines from aborted foetuses from 50 years ago.”


Frydenberg’s watchdog: is an ex-banker the best person to assess bank regulators?

“Who’s the best person to keep an eye on the financial regulators charged with monitoring the biggest and most powerful companies in Australia? The obvious answer would be a fiercely independent person with no history of being paid millions by the very companies the regulators are supposed to scrutinise.

“But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg thinks otherwise. He has appointed a man synonymous with the excesses of the financial sector, former Macquarie Group CEO Nicholas Moore, who helped turn Macquarie Bank into the millionaire’s factory it’s known as today. Moore will chair … a body that will ‘review and report on the effectiveness of the country’s two financial regulators’.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

NSW government’s lack of Indigenous coronavirus consultation ‘shocking’ (NITV)

North Korea says it has test-fired a new long-range cruise missile (SBS)

Elon Musk’s SpaceX seeks next space milestone with launch this week (The Wall Street Journal)

Golden year: Dylan Alcott completes holy grail (The Australian) ($)

New Zealand’s average house price hits $1m (NZ Herald)

Meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production, study finds (The Guardian)

PM Bennett on first Egypt visit by Israeli PM since 2011 (Al Jazeera)

Trump’s effort to reclaim presidency is turning into a sinister affair (CNN)

Macron’s ex-bodyguard goes on trial over May Day assaults (Al Jazeera)

Afghanistan crisis: Taliban kill civilians in resistance stronghold (BBC)

He died after he couldn’t get an ICU bed at 43 hospitals (CNN)

Can a green-economy boom town be built to last? (The New York Times)

THE COMMENTARIAT

Vaccine passport opens the door to ugly segregationCampbell Newman (The Australian) ($):”Our great-grandparents lived in a world where smallpox outbreaks occurred in Australia. If we had a smallpox-like outbreak now with 30% of infections resulting in a fatality (and younger people overly represented) there’d be little need for a debate about the worth of a vaccine passport; if government didn’t mandate one the people rightly would.

“At the other end of the spectrum is regular flu. It’s forgotten now but 2017 and 2019 were relatively bad flu seasons in Australia and there was zero discussion about the need for a flu vaccine passport. If we had introduced a flu vaccine passport then, yes, there would have been a small reduction in flu fatalities, but it’s also true there would be fewer fatalities if we banned motor vehicles. Both are absurd suggestions because it would have been self-evident that the collateral economic and societal damage was too high a price.”

No picnic: what to do when your one freedom is not your idea of funPaul Daley (The Guardian): “I have a thing about picnics … I’m great with alfresco dining (table, chair, cutlery optional) and, of course, drinking outdoors (I love a beer garden). I stress, I do like the social aspect of the picnic. And today I relish the idea that with this newfound recreational freedom I’ll be able to see family and friends again.

“But since I was a kid I’ve had an aversion to the bit about sitting on the rug and constructing a gritty sandwich, or shooing flies from the chicken drumsticks while trying not to knock over a plastic tumbler of warm soft drink (let’s face it, the uneven earth covered with the rug makes for a challenging, uneven surface and now, as an adult, balancing a wine glass on it is even more precarious).”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

The Latest Headlines

WHAT’S ON TODAY

Australia

  • United States Studies Centre’s Simon Jackman, Ashley Townshend, Susannah Patton and Stephen Kirchner will discuss the upcoming Australia-US Ministerial Consultations via webinar.

  • Monash University’s Alexa Gower will speak to local planners in Melbourne and regional Victoria on population shifts resulting from COVID-19 via webinar.

  • Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy and Essential Media’s Peter Lewis discuss the fortnight’s political news via webinar for the Australia Institute.

Whadjuk Noongar Country (also known as Perth)

  • Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services, and the Digital Economy and Minister for Women’s Economic Security Jane Hume will speak about the digital future at AICC(WA)’s Major Business Lunch Event at The Hyatt.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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