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(Image: AAP/Darren England)

IN NEED OF A SHOT IN THE ARM

Less than half of all eligible people have received their booster, the AFR reports, despite the third shot potentially pushing our protection against Omicron up to about 85%, the BBC adds. Health officials are urging national cabinet to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to mean three shots, following suit with the US, Singapore and Israel. The ATAGI is considering it, the SMH adds. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called an emergency meeting of the state and territory leaders today (they aren’t supposed to meet ’til next year now) to discuss Omicron, ABC reports. It comes as SA recorded 105 new cases yesterday, while NSW set another new daily record of 2501 cases, Guardian Australia says. Chief medical officer Paul Kelly has urged national cabinet to bring back the mask mandate for indoor settings like retail, hospitality, and entertainment venues.

But Morrison says stay calm, The Age reports, and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet echoed this, saying we need to “move away from fear and move to hope and confidence”. The number under close watch is how many are going to hospital and into intensive care units (ICU), Guardian Australia says. Of NSW’s 2183 ICU beds, just 33 are occupied at the moment, and of Victoria’s 800+ ICU beds, just 118 are occupied, as ABC reports, so neither are near capacity. But the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has advised national cabinet that even if Omicron causes milder illness — as the government suspects — we need low to moderate restrictions to avoid straining our health system, the SMH reports.

Meanwhile, Tennis great Rafael Nadal has tested positive for COVID-19, The New Daily reports. Nadal — who made a comeback from injury in Abu Dhabi last week — says he is having “some unpleasant moments” but hopes to improve “little by little” from the infection. It throws into further doubt a trip down under for the Australian Open — it kicks off January 17. The 20-time grand slam champion was already forced to pull out of Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics, and the US Open.

HAVING A GAS

Outgoing NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has greenlit a $600 million gas-fired power station in the Hunter, Guardian Australia reports. It’s actually a Snowy Hydro project and came after the Morrison government said it’d throw $600 million at the project so it could fill the shoes of the soon-to-close Liddell coal-fired generator. The NSW Planning Department says the plant will also serve the gap as we transition from coal-fired stations to renewable energy sources — particularly during peak demand — but it’s only going to run at 2% of its full capacity for most of the year. So what’s the point, Victoria University’s Energy Policy Centre asks? Their analysis found there’s no way the gas-fired power station could generate enough revenue to make the cost worth it.

If this news is the sort of thing that makes you want to run away, might I suggest Antarctica? The Australian Antarctic Program is looking for 200 people to go work on their research stations in Mawson, Davis, and Casey, which are in the icy continent, as well as on Macquarie Island, which is about halfway to Antarctica. They’re looking to fill about 24 roles, The Lad Bible says, including plumbers, electricians, chefs, and engineering supervisors. “Each job carries a huge responsibility but where else can you visit a penguin colony on your day off?” the program’s Maree Riley asks via their recruitment ad. She says it’s a perfect opportunity to visit a place most never go “while making a very real and meaningful difference to the future of our planet”.

GRAVE CONCERNS ABOUT HONG KONG

Five Eyes — that’s us, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States — has issued a joint statement about “grave concerns” regarding Hong Kong’s first legislative elections since Beijing changed the rules, The Australian ($) reports. Cast your mind back and you may remember the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong a couple of years ago. In response, Beijing tightened the laws so only 20 elected politicians could sit in the 90-strong legislature. Then, pro-Beijing bodies put a whole lot of lawmakers in the rest of the seats. When it came to this election, those bodies also filtered the candidates before their nomination, as ABC explains.

In response, just 30% of Hongkongers voted — that’s about 1.3 million people, according to Hong Kong Free Press. The turnout is actually the lowest it’s been since the British handed it back to China in 1997, and it means more people showed up to a single 2019 protest — a figure of 1.7 million, The Guardian reports — than cast a vote. The Five Eyes statement was curt. “Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy are threatening our shared wish to see Hong Kong succeed,” it read.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

It’s a contested statement — and I do expect some hate mail — but there really are few better movies to watch in the holiday season than Love Actually. And yet, within the first page of script, Bill Nighy’s character rather memorably exclaims — and please pardon my language — “Oh! Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!”. It’s a perfect icebreaker for what opens into a fairly jaded film about the holiday season in all its inanity, which feels even more fitting this year — another Christmas during a pandemic.

Everyone has been actually cursing a whole lot more in the last 18 months, according to The Wall Street Journal. A study from Storyful found we’ve said “fuck”, “shit”, and “asshole” (or related variations, naturally) a whopping 41% more on Facebook, and 27% more on Twitter. It seems we are living in perfect conditions for profanity — and it’s down to a few things, Anne Marie Chaker writes. One: working from home had broken down professional boundaries, with video chats allowing us insight into other people’s home lives. Two: An overall pandemic lethargy has changed our table manners into a sort of reticent can’t-be-botheredness. And three: good old stress. But a casual curse word can actually help, according to a 2009 study. Students could leave their hands in icy water a whole 40 seconds longer if they swore. Cursing stimulates the nervous system and raises the heart rate, which can help reduce pain.

So — have a bloody good Tuesday folks.

SAY WHAT?

The term ‘celebrity’ is applied very loosely these days. So we thought it’d be funnier to say these are Has Beens, and be very upfront about it, and then they know where they stand before the show begins … There’s something exciting about paying out someone like Tim Rogers, who’s universally loved. And Rhonda Burchmore loves to take the piss out of herself. I barely have to do anything.

Tom Gleeson

The funnyman explained the title of this week’s Hard Quiz, a trivia show now into its seventh season, with the You Am I singer and showgirl appearing along with kids TV presenter Ann-Maree Biggar, and AFL player turned presenter Tony Armstrong as the eponymous Has Beens. Gleeson says he won’t reveal the celebrities who declined to appear on this edition, saying several heard the theme and said, no way.

CRIKEY RECAP

Three years of decline: how Australian democracy drifted lower and lower

“What are the signs of a declining democracy? Australia’s politicians have served up plenty of them in the last few years. 2018: Gambling interests pay the Tasmanian Liberals over half a million dollars in donations and run a $5 million advertising campaign to oppose a Tasmanian Labor plan to phase out poker machines. The Tasmanian Liberals are victorious …

March 2021: Scott Morrison misleads Parliament by claiming he has not been updated by his departmental secretary, veteran Liberal staffer Phil Gaetjens, on his inquiry into the handling of the Brittany Higgins matter by Morrison’s office. Gaetjens later reveals he told Morrison he had halted the inquiry more than a week before.”


Pauline Hanson’s cartoons got a lot of attention. But are they effective?

“In early November, it was announced that the party would launch a series of 20 cartoons depicting the Queensland senator as a schoolmistress in charge of a rabble of political caricatures.

“The cartoons, reportedly commissioned for a ‘six-figure sum’ by a Melbourne studio, were supposed to lure younger voters to vote for One Nation, with content designed to go viral on platforms like TikTok and YouTube. Naturally, the videos contain misinformation like references to a non-existent death tax and offensive portrayals such as homophobic jokes.”


Petroleum resource rent rort: fossil fuel companies continue to rip taxpayers off

“As Crikey pointed out last week when the Australian Tax Office published its annual tax transparency data for 2019-20, fossil fuel companies paid little or no tax on billions in revenue and profits. Santos — zero tax. Origin — no tax. Chevron — no tax. Shell — no tax. Woodside — just $176 million off nearly $2.2 billion in profit.

” … To make things worse, Treasury has a long-running problem of overestimating tax receipts from PRRT. Between 2012-20, Treasury overestimated PRRT receipts six times. In net terms, we’re $600 million worse off than forecast over that period despite the bumper year of 2014-15 when revenue came in $70 million over.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT

[Canadian] government deposited nearly $26m in the wrong bank accounts last year (CBC)

Egypt jails leading activist Alaa Abdel Fattah for five years (Al Jazeera)

Trump sues New York A.G. in attempt to stop inquiry into his business (The New York Times)

Himalayan glaciers are melting at furious rate, new study shows (The Wall Street Journal)

Quidditch leagues set to pick new name after JK Rowling trans row (BBC)

GOP plans to block any Biden Supreme Court pick (CNN)

‘We dealt a blow to fascism’: 35-year-old leftist becomes Chile’s youngest-ever president (SBS)

UK court allows appeal in Venezuela central bank gold case (Al Jazeera)

Turkey’s currency crisis slams the Nutella global supply chain (The Wall Street Journal)

Tortured to death: Myanmar mass killings revealed (BBC)

Millions sign petition to reduce 110-year sentence for trucker in deadly crash (The New York Times)

THE COMMENTARIAT

There’s one city that can show us our Omicron futureJay K. Varma (The New York Times): “If you want to know what the Omicron variant means for protecting you and your community in the next few months, look at New York City. The variant is causing a dramatic surge of cases in the unvaccinated and vaccinated alike and will almost certainly become the dominant strain in weeks — a process that took the Delta variant months.

“While Omicron means that having a large number of coronavirus infections is now inevitable, vaccines mean seeing a correspondingly large number of hospitalizations and deaths is optional. Adjusting COVID-19 policies and intensifying support for hospitals, nursing homes and schools can help reduce severe illness and promote public acceptance … The greatest challenge of this COVID-19 wave will be staffing. Across the country, health care workers and teachers are exhausted and demoralized. Many hospitals, nursing homes and schools were understaffed even before Omicron.”

Letting Omicron into Australia at high levels — a wise move or heresy?Tony Blakely (Guardian Australia): “The second general pathway out of this pandemic is a messier one — using both vaccines and natural infection to get to something like herd immunity. A study from Israel found that an infection with a pre-Delta variant was 13 times better than two doses of Pfizer at preventing a Delta infection. Other evidence finds that natural infection is better than vaccines at inducing the sort of immune response that is better at stopping upper airways infection – which is what matters for stopping transmission and getting (close) to herd immunity.

“Is allowing about 2 million people to be infected with Omicron heresy? There would be mortality and morbidity but the tradeoff is getting to a place in the second half of 2022 where we are more resilient to whatever the next variant is. We do not need to make this choice between keeping infection levels low to mid-2022, or letting them run high, until January or February. In the meantime, we need to boost everyone (especially elderly Australians).”

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Dja Dja Wurrung Country (also known as Maryborough)

  • Central Goldfields Shire Council will host a free workshop with Cathy Tobin to make Christmas cards and decorations.

Eora Nation Country (also known as Sydney)

  • There’ll be carols sung by The Song Country down at Church Hill Anglican, with classics as well as perennial audience favourites.