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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Caitlin Cassidy and Matilda Boseley (earlier)

No decision on ‘fully vaccinated’ definition as at least 72 Covid deaths recorded – as it happened

What we learned: Thursday, 27 January

With that, we will wrap up the blog for the night. If you’re stationed amidst one of the nation’s many storms, stay safe and dry.

Here were today’s major developments:

  • No decision on the definition of “fully vaccinated” to mean three booster shots was made at today’s national cabinet meeting, with ATAGI advice ongoing. No decision has been made, too, on the retail sector, after the industry urged national cabinet for isolation exemptions to be extended to staff in the sector.
  • A number of severe thunderstorm warnings are in place across SA, NSW and Victoria tonight as parts of SA are hit by flooding and storm damage. Short bursts of snow are possible in some areas alongside hail, torrential rain and flash flooding.
  • Nurses and midwives at Sydney’s Liverpool hospital went on strike this morning, demanding the government take action to address the staffing crisis impacting health care across the state.
  • Seven Network television host Andrew O’Keefe has been arrested in Sydney, accused of grabbing a woman by the throat, punching, kicking and pushing her to the ground.
  • On a trip to Moruya, opposition leader Anthony Albanese pledged Labor would spend $200m a year on disaster preparedness. The south coast of NSW was heavily hit by the 2019/2020 bushfires. It’s beginning to feel a lot like an election year.
  • Victoria recorded 15 Covid deaths and 13,755 cases, NSW recorded 29 Covid deaths and 17,316 new cases and SA recorded 13 deaths, bringing the state’s total to 100 deaths since the pandemic began. Queensland recorded 15 Covid deaths and 11,600 new cases.


There has been a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Fiji.


Mask mandates have been extended to a number of regions in Western Australia after 10 local cases were detected in the state today.

South Australia’s education union will no longer hold strike action despite a majority of its members voting for industrial intervention.

The school year is set to begin for most students on 2 February.

Half of the targets set by the New South Wales state government to enhance residents’ quality of life are not on track to be met, despite assurances from the premier, Dominic Perrottet, that the goals “remain core” to his agenda.

Education, disability representation and domestic violence are among those falling short in targets set by then premier Gladys Berejiklian following the 2019 state election. These form part of 14 “premier’s priorities” setting benchmarks for progress in key areas.

For more on this story, read on:


The only surviving member of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb, has been appointed as an honorary companion in the Order of Australia.

The governor-general, David Hurley, announced this afternoon that he had approved six honorary awards in the Order of Australia to individuals who are not Australian citizens or permanent residents. Hurley said:

The Order of Australia is our nation’s pre-eminent means of recognising service and achievement. Through Honorary Awards, the system also affords our nation the ability to recognise individuals from other nations where their service has benefited Australia and Australians. I congratulate the six individuals honoured today and thank them for their endeavours and contribution to our nation.

The gazette notice says Gibb, a music legend, was recognised “on the basis of his longstanding support and development of the Australian music industry which he helped bring to an international audience and for philanthropy”. The notice says the Bee Gees had “influenced, and made significant contributions to, the Australian music industry and its emerging artists and producers, particularly during the formative years of Australian popular music”.

Gibb was recognised with an appointment as an Honorary Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC).

The other five individuals named today were awarded an honorary medal (OAM):

  • Mr Barry Keith Barnes, United Kingdom: For service to commemorating the service of Australian Flying Corps in Tetbury, England, and surrounding areas, during World War One.
  • Mr Gilbert Arthur Brogden, Narrabeen NSW: For service to the community, particularly through volunteering and fundraising for local and national charity organisations.
  • Mrs Shirley Joan Connolly, Grasmere NSW: For service to netball, particularly in the Macarthur region of New South Wales.
  • Mrs Christine Robin Forsyth, Laguna NSW: For service to the Wollombi Valley region, particularly through sporting, arts and community organisations.
  • Mr Wayne Jude Lindsay, Boronia Heights QLD: a veteran of the New Zealand Defence Forces, for service to the Australian and New Zealand veterans community.

The governor-general’s office says this process is different from the one used to honour Australian citizens, because these recipients are considered by government rather than by the Council of the Order of Australia. That means the individuals were recommended to the governor-general by the prime minister.


No decision has been made about whether to change the definition of full vaccination to require three doses of a Covid-19 jab, AAP reports.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is still considering whether to change its advice. If it does, it would be up to states and territories to amend their respective public health orders.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews earlier suggested national cabinet could agree to update the definition of full vaccination to cover three doses:

This is not a two-dose thing (or) two doses and a bonus – it is absolutely critical and essential. International evidence, our own experience, the views of experts … will mean everyone knows and understands this is a three-dose project.

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutewin said the ATAGI advice had not been provided to leaders.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was critical the health advice from experts be followed:

What is clear is that the booster shot makes a major difference in terms of the Omicron variant in particular. Over a period of time it will be considered you would have to have had a booster in order to be fully vaccinated . we know the protection (of a second dose) reduces over a period of time.

Premiers and chief ministers told a meeting of national cabinet today they expected a jump in daily infections when schools returned for the year.

They also reported decreased pressure on hospital systems in terms of admissions and intensive care numbers. The definition of who is considered an essential worker remains the same for now.

Premiers and chief ministers agreed to consider any recommendations provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

Australia’s retail sector had urged leaders to extend isolation exemptions to staff in the industry. States and territories did agree to trucking licence changes to be based on competency and skills tests as opposed to only time. New Zealand trucking licences will also be recognised.

Ongoing difficulties in lifting Indigenous vaccination rates and problems posed by misinformation were also discussed. The double-dose rate for Indigenous people aged 16 and older is sitting around 75%, compared with more than 93% for Australia’s overall 16-plus population.


There are a number of minor flood warnings in place across NSW, as well as a marine wind warning and a severe thunderstorm warning for the Lower Western, Upper Western and parts of North West Slopes and Plains, Central West Slopes and Plains and Riverina Forecast Districts.

Following that riotous Australian Open doubles match, Dylan Alcott has just entered Rod Laver Arena for his last ever tennis match.

A huge moment for the Australian of the Year.


Sad news coming out of Samoa.

There have been 27 Covid cases detected after a Brisbane flight arrived on 19 January.

Six of the cases have been confirmed to be the Omicron variant.


Here is some more detail on those new cases in Western Australia, as per premier Mark McGowan’s Facebook page.

Of the 10 new local cases detected, all are linked to the current outbreak. There have also been two travel-related cases up until 8pm last night:

Three cases are close contacts linked to the Willagee IGA sub-cluster, five are linked as close contacts of a previously reported case in Rockingham and two other cases are close contacts linked to the Southwest sub-cluster.

All cases are now in quarantine and public health continue to investigate and monitor them.

Two cases have also been recorded related to travel. All cases are now in quarantine and public health will continue to monitor them.


Absolute scenes at Rod Laver Arena. Nick Kyrgrios and Thanasi Kokkinakis have just made it into the Australian Open doubles final to take place on Saturday.

Kyrgios says:

I’ve played a lot of singles matches around the globe with amazing atmosphere ... but nothing beats this; this is insane.

Read our story here:


Western Australia records 10 new Covid cases


Fallout from the South Australian floods:


Across Queensland, some 795 medical interns and graduate nurses will join the frontline to strengthen the state’s public health system in response to the Omicron variant.

The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, announced the move today, which will roll out from this month:

These junior doctors represent the next generation of frontline health workers. I’m grateful they are joining our health system at a time when Covid-19 is placing immense pressure on our hospitals and workforce.

The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of health care workers. It’s a challenging but rewarding job and I have no doubt our newest recruits will thrive under the guidance of our respected clinicians.

The junior doctors have been recruited across 20 Queensland hospitals and will compete rotations through three core terms including medicine, surgery and emergency medicine, plus elective terms in other specialised areas.


Late to the party but this story from the Townsville Bulletin’s Katie Hall is well worth a read.

This bloke is absolutely not messing around:

Wielding a thong, an elderly man has fought off a wallaby just days after he was seriously injured from a run-in with the aggressive marsupial.

Residents of Carlyle Gardens in Condon are walking on eggshells following the attacks, but George Church, 85, took matters into his own hands on Tuesday after his head was split open from a fall during a wallaby attack last Thursday.

“I thought what do I do, I can’t get any (help), and I thought ‘I’ll have to fight my way out of it’, which I did,” Mr Church said.


The Bureau of Meteorology has this thunderstorm warning for south-western Victoria:

For people in south-west and parts of central and Wimmera forecast districts.

Severe thunderstorms with damaging winds, large hail and heavy rainfall [are] becoming more numerous over south-western Victoria.

A very moist and unstable airmass is in place across Victoria, ahead of a trough moving eastwards into the state. Winds in the upper atmosphere will strengthen during the day, further assisting in the development of severe thunderstorms.

Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging winds, large hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in the warning area over the next several hours. Locations which may be affected include Edenhope, Nhill, Kaniva, Hamilton, Warrnambool, Portland, Colac, Apollo Bay, Casterton and Lake Bolac.


We are still waiting to hear from the prime minister following today’s national cabinet meeting.

The federal government has announced an additional $44m in funding towards headspace services, to reduce wait times and increase access for young people.

The health minister, Greg Hunt, said one in four young Australians were affected by mental illness:

As we continue to battle Covid-19 it’s more important than ever that we prioritise mental health. The disruption to normal life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on young Australians and we are ensuring that they can access the mental health supports they may need to help them get back on track and minimise longer-term impacts.

Australia’s headspace centres target young people aged between 12 and 25, as a single-entry point for holistic mental health care.

Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or Head to Health.


South Australia reaches 100 Covid deaths

In sporting news, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis have just kicked off their semi-final match against Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers at Rod Laver Arena.

Mere moments into the first game there have already been multiple rounds of “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” followed by “siuuu”.


Back in South Australia, and two homes were demolished by storm cells yesterday.


Australian pharmacists are calling on the commonwealth to provide more rapid antigen tests and adequate PPE for pharmacy staff as they struggle with “crippling shortages”.

Professional Pharmacists Australia say the federal government failed to ensure there was adequate supply of RATs when the became freely available for pensioners and concession holders.

The Professional Pharmacists Australia CEO, Jill McCabe, said many were at “breaking point” due to the shortages:

Australia’s community pharmacists can’t do their job properly or safely without sufficient supplies of rapid antigen tests and personal protective clothing.

Pharmacists urgently require supplies of adequate PPE for the safe administration of vaccines. However, 25% of respondents to our survey indicated they were having to provide their own PPE.

Yet again the federal government has failed to adequately plan and organise the supply of essential equipment to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19.

A sign indicating sold out rapid antigen tests in a Sydney pharmacy
A sign indicating sold out rapid antigen tests in a Sydney pharmacy. Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images


Meanwhile, on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia:


Here is more on the $25m commitment to an emergency operations precinct in Moruya, which would be jointly funded by federal and NSW Labor.

The precinct would include a single, purpose-built emergency operations centre to prepare the community for future bushfire and flood events.

Currently, disaster response in the region is coordinated from separate sites, including a temporary facility in the local RSL hall.

It comes in the wake of reviews into the black summer bushfires which recommended a purpose-built precinct.

Albanese says:

Thousands of Australians who face bushfires, floods and cyclones every year deserve to be protected by a federal government who plans ahead and invests to keep them safe.

These investments will literally save lives, not to mention the taxpayers’ funds that have to be spent on recovery and repairs when disasters hit.

The marginal seat of Gilmore, which contains Moruya, is currently held by the Labor MP Fiona Phillips. She’s facing a showdown from the NSW Liberal MP for Bega, Andrew Constance, who gained wide popularity over the bushfires and is now running for a seat in federal parliament.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese and Labor MP for Gilmore Fiona Phillips at the Moruya Rural Fire Service headquarters
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese and Labor MP for Gilmore Fiona Phillips at the Moruya Rural Fire Service headquarters. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP


Meanwhile, the federal opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, is continuing his tour de Moruya this afternoon, and is touting a $25m commitment to an emergency operations precinct in the regional NSW town if he were to be elected.

Moruya was heavily hit by the 2019-20 bushfires, as was much of the state’s south coast.


Australia’s resources minister, Keith Pitt, says he’d “like to see the situation de-escalate” between Russia and Ukraine. I’m sure he’s not alone on that one.

No formal announcements were made in the press conference, but there will be “continuing dialogue with Russia” over the coming fortnight:

As the minister for foreign affairs has said in recent days, as the prime minister has said, and we saw some very encouraging signs this morning, there will be continuing dialogue with Russia over the next couple of weeks.

So we’d encourage them to continue that dialogue, to look for a diplomatic solution, to de-escalate tensions. Because simply, destabilisation around the world has a significant impact, particularly on prices like the price of oil, and we’ve seen that impact right here now.


Did someone say gas?


No formal request for additional gas exports has been made from Europe, but Australia is “ready to support our friends” if the situation in Ukraine escalates and heavy sanctions on Russia come to pass that restrict the nation’s supply of gas to the rest of the region.

Taylor says:

Australia pioneered the development of LNG shipping facilities to the world. We’ve led the world on this. We’re leading the world on shipping hydrogen, too, we’re sending the first shipment of liquid hydrogen up into Asia, too. We know how to do this.

This is a great area of Australian expertise. We’ve got the gas. Australia has the gas and that puts us in extremely strong position to support customers and allies as they need it.


The energy minister, Angus Taylor, is fronting the media in Sydney, chatting all things natural gas.

“We will always stand ready to provide natural gas support,” he says. We have a lot of gas, enough gas to go around:

Australia’s resource sector has performed at an extraordinary level throughout the pandemic and our gas sector in particular has performed extremely well. We’ve seen record levels of ... natural gas, which is helping to supply customers throughout Asia and the world, reducing their emissions, complementing investment in renewables and ensuring affordable and reliable energy there for the customers.

But at the same time, it’s been able to provide the gas we need in Australia to complement our record level of investment in renewables ... we stand ready always to support customers and countries around the world, as well as our own domestic customer, provide them with the gas that they need to provide that affordable and reliable energy as they bring down their emissions.

We will always stand ready beside our allies and our customers to provide that support ... we’ve seen prices here in Australia domestically running at a quarter what they’re running elsewhere in the world. And that’s a great tribute to the extraordinary work being done to get supply up – to provide the export customers with what they need and at the same time have the affordable, reliable gas that we need here in Australia for industry, for households and for small businesses.


Mildura records wettest January day on record

Let’s chat weather, why don’t we!

In Melbourne, authorities from the SES and the Bureau of Meteorology are providing an update ahead of predicted thunderstorms to come this afternoon.

A BoM spokesperson says 69mm of rain was recorded in Mildura yesterday, making it the wettest January day for the regional city on record:

It’s not over yet, though, with the risk of heavy falls continuing, with showers and storms today. The focus for today is on the west of the state, where we could see heavy falls to potentially intense rainfall rates, large hail and also the risk of damaging winds.

Thunderstorm warnings have already been issued around the Port Campbell area. As we move into the evening and into tomorrow, that focus really becomes the central area, including Melbourne.

For the Melbourne area, the greatest risk of those thunderstorms develops from around midday and continues through the afternoon and evening. There’s a risk of central parts of the state tomorrow for those locally to intense rainfall rates, large hail and damaging winds.

Moving into the weekend, we’ll start to see cooler conditions, but that risk of heavy falls will continue in the east of the state. Unfortunately, that humidity is here to stay though, with the very muggy conditions continuing until at least the middle part of next week.


The hospitality workers union has issued a statement detailing concerns Covid-19 is spreading unabated across venues.

The union is calling for free rapid antigen tests and proper income support following eligibility changes to paid pandemic leave.


More storms are on the way for my south-west Victorian friends.

The BoM says there are “isolated severe thunderstorms with damaging winds, large hail and heavy rainfall developing over south-western Victoria”:

A very moist and unstable airmass is in place across Victoria, ahead of a trough moving eastwards into the state. Winds in the upper atmosphere will strengthen during the day, further assisting in the development of severe thunderstorms.

Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging winds, large hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in the warning area over the next several hours. Locations which may be affected include Colac, Port Campbell, Apollo Bay and Lake Bolac.


Australian petroleum exploration and production company Woodside is pulling out of Myanmar after nearly a decade, citing the “deteriorating human rights situation” in the country.

Shoutout to any Canberran blog readers who are aged between five and 11 and form part of this good looking statistic (and their parents):

If you missed it, the former Seven Network television host Andrew O’Keefe has been arrested in Sydney, accused of grabbing a woman by the throat, punching, kicking and pushing her to the ground.

The 50-year-old presenter was arrested early today after getting into an argument with the 38-year-old woman on Tuesday in a Sydney CBD unit, which led to O’Keefe assaulting her, police alleged.


The United Australia party MP Craig Kelly has told Guardian Australia when parliament returns he will propose a private member’s bill to limit the ministerial discretion to deport sports stars, citing the need to prevent another Novak Djokovic-style deportation.

Djokovic was deported after the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, exercised a personal power to cancel his visa due to his concern the world No 1 tennis player’s presence in Australia might risk “civil unrest” as he was a “talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment”.

Kelly said Australia competed to attract international sporting events and its competitors now had “a great attack against our nation – they can say if a sports person has some political views Australia doesn’t like, they risk being thrown out for views they expressed even outside Australia”.

He said:

Novak Djokovic wasn’t here to attend rallies, or to give speeches. He was here to play tennis. It’s not what the discretion was put there for.

Kelly said political views should not be used to exclude people conducting private travel in Australia, citing medical experts with contrarian views holidaying on the Gold Coast as another example where ministerial discretion would be inappropriate.

Kelly noted that Liberal MPs including John Alexander had backed Djokovic’s right to stay and play after the first cancellation decision was overturned by the federal circuit court.


A quarter of Australians don’t know about the Holocaust, and even less know about Australia’s connections to it, new data has found.

Two-thirds of people, however, support compulsory Holocaust education in schools.

The largest national survey of its kind – commissioned by the Gandel Foundation in partnership with Deakin University – found 24% of the population aged 18 or older had little to no knowledge of the Holocaust, increasing to 30% among millennials.

Prof Steven Cooke, from the Deakin University research team, said there were important lessons to be learned from the Gandel Holocaust Survey:

Not many people know about Australia’s hard-line attitude towards Jewish refugees before the second world war. How does knowing that history help us to, for instance, reflect on our attitudes towards asylum seekers today?

People tend to see the Holocaust as a tragic European event that happened far away. If we can illuminate Australia’s connections to the Holocaust, both good and bad, it will help enhance our knowledge and understanding of genocide more generally.


Ahead of today’s national cabinet meeting, the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss) has been calling for the commonwealth to address 51 recommendations provided to the government in a letter on 12 January.

It is also urging the government to create a Covid Rapid Response Group made up of Acoss, unions, business groups and public health experts to address the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Acoss CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said Australia was “still not ready” to deal with Omicron:

People with concession cards can’t find RATs on pharmacy shelves even after the government program has commenced. Parents are confused and stressed about what the return to school looks like for their children. People in regional, rural and remote communities remain extremely exposed to the ravages of Covid-19. It’s still a mess, and only decisive and swift government action will remedy it.

This pandemic continues to hit people on low incomes, people from diverse backgrounds and with pre-existing vulnerabilities the hardest. It’s been a long, hard slog for people facing the greatest risks of this pandemic, and one month into the new year, nothing has gotten safer for them.

There is an urgent need for better forward planning, crisis management and prioritisation of resources to support those most at risk and with the least means to stay safe. The approach to this emergency is totally inadequate.


Play is back under way at Canberra’s Manuka Oval after a spot of lunch in the standalone Women’s Ashes Test.

Australia, who headed into this match 4-2 up in the multi-format series, were in trouble after England took the early wickets of Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney to leave them reeling at 4-2. But, despite the further loss of Ellyse Perry – back in the side after being dropped last time out – the experienced heads of Rachael Haynes and captain Meg Lanning have managed to steady the ship and the hosts went in at the lunch break on 79-3.

You can follow every ball of the match with the incomparable Geoff Lemon and our liveblog here:


Dialling back a bit, and there has been some justified confusion over NSW premier Dominic Perrottet’s assertion today that “from the outset” the health advice was that rapid antigen tests didn’t need to be taken prior to the first day of school.

He said instead they were to be used twice a week at the “discretion” of parents.

On Sunday, however, the education minister, Sarah Mitchell, said:

We’re asking all of our students and staff to test before they come back to school for that first day. And then of course to do those twice weekly surveillance tests for the first four weeks of term.

And, a day later, she told Ben Fordham on 2GB:

We’re asking everyone to do a test, you know, the morning or the evening before (day one of term) just so that we get all those negative results before the students and staff start coming back on site.


If I’m not mistaken, I think I can spot the Guardian’s own Mike Bowers in these pictures.


Pulch says Nato is more relevant in the current political climate than it’s been since the fall of the Berlin Wall – more than three decades ago. If conflict were to arise in Ukraine, Pulch says Australia will not be immune from the fallout:

Nato is a defence arrangement, not a cold war instrument. It’s guaranteed security for its members for over 70 years, but it’s now probably more relevant than ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

We very often hear the concept of a ‘sphere of influence’ evoked in Moscow. That’s not a concept for the 21st century. It harks back to dark times of European history, when small countries were at the mercy of their big neighbours. And I think this is not the way forward and we’ve been very clear about that ...

A country like Australia will also be affected in some ways if there’s a conflict – even far away as in Ukraine – because it affects the international norms and rules about the territorial integrity of a country. And we’ve seen with the tragedy of loss of Australian lives, with the shooting down of MH17 over separatist forces-held territory in Ukraine, how fast this can go back and have an impact at home.


Pulch says Europe is currently looking at the most “biting and efficient sanctions” that could be taken against Russia if it was to invade Ukraine:

Our strategy is three-fold. First of all, we are talking to Russia to make it clear we won’t tolerate any violation of international rules and norms.

Secondly, we’re supporting Ukraine, to make them more resilient, both by delivering defensive armaments but also to help it secure its cyber-space and critical infrastructure. And we’ve donated also as the European Union financial support to Kyiv to do that.

And thirdly, there is an offer on the table. We are offering Russia serious conversations about a reduction of armed forces, an arms control debate, arms export controls, and confidence building measures.

So, it is for Russia to choose which way to go. And I think that’s a decision that has to be taken in Moscow, but we have presented a very principled response to that.


The EU ambassador to Australia, Michael Pulch, is speaking on ABC News now. He says he is “deeply concerned” about aggressive behaviour and blackmailing he says Russia is displaying:

Russia ... has amassed over 100,000 troops and heavy weaponry across the Ukrainian border. And we call on Russia to de-escalate the situation and to return to consultation, diplomatic consultations, to address the crisis.

We’ve been very clear at the European level and together with our partners, the US, Nato, other Nato partners, and in fact like-minded international community, that we have to take strong and biting sanctions if Russia in fact would cross the border and would inflict casualties on Ukraine.


Thanks as ever to the unparalleled Matilda Boseley. I’ll be with you for the rest of the day, including all that comes from this afternoon’s national cabinet meeting.

With that, I shall leave you for the day (and the week) and hand you over to forever fantastic Caitlin Cassidy.

See you next week!

Anthony Albanese pledges Labor would spend $200m a year on disaster preparedness

OK, the federal opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, is speaking now from Moruya in NSW.

He says the federal government has not invested enough in disaster preparedness (and I assume will go on to say that Labor would do it better):

The federal government established an emergency response fund some three years ago. The emergency response fund took money that was allocated for infrastructure by the former Labor government in the building Australia fund and the education investment fund, and they put it in, $4bn into the emergency response fund.

And he said that of the fund, there would be $200m each year, $150m on recovery and $50m on mitigation and disaster preparedness. Of that, no money has been expended on disaster preparedness. Not a single project has been funded and delivered.

Indeed, that fund of $4bn is now worth over $4.7bn because it has $750m of interest and just $17m expended.

It is just extraordinary and says everything about the failure of this government to be competent, the failure for it to match up its promises with delivery when it comes to this funding.

The idea that we don’t need to prepare in this nation of ours for fires, floods, cyclone readiness, it’s just extraordinary. And that’s why we would, with our disaster-ready fund, commit up to $200m each and every year for projects that will make a difference in terms of mitigation, that will prepare for disasters, be they fires or floods or cyclones or other natural disasters, in this country of ours which unfortunately does have this occur from time to time.

Anthony Albanese speaks to the media at the Moruya Rural Fire Service headquarters on the NSW south coast
Anthony Albanese speaks to the media at the Moruya Rural Fire Service headquarters on the NSW south coast. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP


National Covid update

Here are the latest Covid-19 numbers from around Australia today, as the country records at least 72 deaths from the virus:


  • Deaths: 15
  • Cases: 13,755
  • Hospitalisations: 1,057 (with 117 in ICU)


  • Deaths: 29
  • Cases: 17,316
  • Hospitalisations: 2,722 (with 181 in ICU)


  • Deaths: 15
  • Cases: 11,600
  • Hospitalisations: 829 (with 48 in ICU)


  • Deaths: 0
  • Cases: 726
  • Hospitalisations: 24 (with no patients ICU)


  • Deaths: 0
  • Cases: 884
  • Hospitalisations: 73 (with four in ICU)


  • Deaths: 13
  • Cases: 1,953
  • Hospitalisations: 288 (with 27 in ICU)


  • Deaths: 0
  • Cases: 12
  • Hospitalisations: 2


A look at some of that flooding in South Australia.

The ACT records 884 new Covid cases

The ACT has recorded another 884 new Covid-19 infections with 73 people now in hospital and four in the ICU.


Just on that issue arising from the Victorian press conference on if being “fully vaccinated” should be defined as three doses, it seems that the federal government is still somewhat undecided on the issue.

The thunder is gone for now in Melbourne, but apparently, it’s likely to come back. Stay safe everyone.

NSW Labor has responded to Victoria’s move to turn schools into vaccination hubs, saying they have been urging the government to bring this to their state for weeks.

The wonderful Benita Kolovos is at the Victorian press conference today and will be bringing us updates.

National cabinet set to discuss whether ‘fully vaccinated’ means three doses

Coming out of the Victorian Covid-19 update, the premier Daniel Andrews says defining “fully vaccinated” as three doses should be resolved at national cabinet this afternoon.


Queensland records 15 Covid deaths and 11,600 new cases

ASX climbs after US signals interest rate rise

The Australian sharemarket has so far shrugged off turmoil on overseas markets, with the benchmark ASX 200 index jumping 0.9% this morning.

Markets in the US and UK seesawed overnight after the US central bank indicated it would raise interest rates soon because inflation is rising.

Banks, energy companies and utilities are up this morning while healthcare and retailers are down.

Online travel agency Webjet, which has been punished in recent days due to travel restrictions imposed by governments in response to the Omicron variant, rose 4.21% by 11am.

Accounting software firm Xero, which has been in a slump all month, lost 4.08%.


In New Zealand’s biggest city, the streets were calm. At an Auckland supermarket, shelves of toilet paper, wine, chocolate and flour – metrics of a population hunkering down for a marathon of self-soothing and banana bread – had been quietly restocked from any panic-buying flurries.

In an uptown cafe, a barista said things had been a little quieter since the announcement. Then again, she shrugged: “It might just be a Tuesday.” At Unity Books, a bookstore at the heart of the city, people were quietly browsing. “There’s always an element of eerie calm before the storm,” said bookseller Briary Lawry.

Read the full report below:

One man has been found dead at a property and a second man’s body discovered in a toilet block in an Australia Day shooting in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.

You can read the full report below:

FYI: Victorian Covid update coming up in about 30 minutes.

Tasmania records 726 new Covid cases

Tasmania has recorded 726 new Covid infections in the latest reporting period, continuing the state’s downward trend.

There are 24 people with Covid in hospital, with 12 of those being treated specifically for the virus – a slight increase from Wednesday’s figure of 11.

There are no patients in intensive care, a fall from two reported on Wednesday.


All the blog’s non-Victorian readers this morning:

Here is the NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant with the Covid update.

We have currently had 2,722 people in hospital including 181 people in ICU of whom 72 are ventilated...

Sadly, we are reporting the death of 29 people with Covid, 19 men and 10 women.

I passed my condolences to the families for the loss of their loved ones.

Of the 29 people who died, two people were aged in their 60s, eight people were aged in their 70s, 13 were aged in their 80s, six people aged in their 90s.

And four people had received three doses of the Covid vaccine, 16 people had received two doses, two people had received one dose and seven people were reported as not vaccinated.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant speaks to the media during a press conference at Royal North Shore hospital in Sydney on Thursday.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant speaks to the media during a press conference at Royal North Shore hospital in Sydney on Thursday. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP



As Dr Kerry Chant outlined earlier in the week, if you have had Covid, you can receive your booster shot within four to six weeks. Again, please make that booking ... boosters are key to keeping you, your friends and family safe.


Perrottet speaks at NSW Covid press conference

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet is speaking now from Syndey, where he says there is some stability in Covid-19 hospital capacity.

Tomorrow we will release the modelling as we do every Friday in relation to where we set in respect of those scenarios that we have put out. Currently operating within capacity and hospitalisations and ICUs remain stable and that’s incredibly ... reassuring.

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet.
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet. Photograph: Damian Shaw/AAP


South Australia records 1,953 new Covid cases

The SA premier has released some preliminary Covid-19 numbers for the day, stating there have been 1,953 new infections in the latest reporting period, with 288 now in hospital.


In terms of the damage the storm in Victoria have done so far, the State Emergency Service says they have received over 300 calls in the last day.


We should be hearing from the NSW premier with a Covid-19 and return-to-school update in the next couple of minutes.


Covid isolation exemption push for retail workers

Australia’s retail sector is urging national cabinet for isolation exemptions to be extended to staff in the industry, as the prime minister meets with state and territory leaders, reports AAP.

National cabinet will on Thursday discuss the state of the health system, following one of the deadliest days of the pandemic with 87 fatalities on Wednesday.

Isolation rules for workers in a number of essential sectors were expanded earlier this month, and now there is a growing push for retail staff to be added to the list.

The exemptions would allow workers to go back to their jobs after being at a Covid-exposure site, provided they test negative to the virus on a rapid antigen test.

Chief executive of the Australian Retail Association Paul Zahra told ABC Radio businesses in the sector were yet to pass supply chain issues that had been exacerbated by Omicron.

We all have to learn to live with Covid ...

If you can expand isolation exemptions for certain groups, it makes sense to expand it further to other categories of retail.

Partly empty shelves at a Woolworths in Strathfield, Sydney.
Partly empty shelves at a Woolworths in Strathfield, Sydney. Photograph: Richard Milnes/Rex/Shutterstock

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has stepped up its push for international tourists to return to the country.

The chamber’s chief executive Andrew McKellar said such a move would be a way to boost the post-pandemic economy.

We are urging government to get ahead of the curve, start talking to the industry about how quickly it can happen ...

We do think in the weeks ahead, as the pressure comes off the health system, then the rationale for keeping these international border restrictions in place can be revisited.


And if flooding were enough for the state, at least one SA vaccination hub has been forced to close due to the scorching heat.

“I think it’s real,” Curtin University student Tyrone O’Doherty told his supervisors when he spotted the anomaly.

And it was real, as it turns out. The object beaming out from space was also “spooky”, and “in our galactic backyard”.

An Australian team studying the universe’s radio waves has discovered a new type of beam that comes and goes, one of the brightest radio sources in the sky. The details of the discovery were published in Nature on Thursday.

When something in space switches on and off it’s called a “transient”. It might come from a pulsar, which flashes on and off in milliseconds or seconds. Or a supernova that might appear for a few days before disappearing again.

You can read the full story below:


These warnings from the BoM in Victoria keep getting just a bit more dramatic and scary every 15 minutes.


The Morrison government has tipped an extra $2bn into the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Naif) with critics concerned the funds could be spent supporting fossil fuel projects.

The northern Australia minister, David Littleproud, when announcing the $2bn cash injection on Tuesday did not rule out Naif using it for the development of the Beetaloo gas basin.

The Greens and the Australia Institute have called for rule changes to prevent the Naif being used for fossil fuel projects. Labor has criticised the fund’s track record of having spent less than 10% of its initial $5bn but has not supported changing the rules.

Littleproud said $3.2bn had already been committed to projects and the extra $2bn would continue investment “across all sectors, from mining and agriculture to renewable energy, education and tourism”.

You can read the full report below:


NSW records 29 Covid deaths and 17,316 new cases

New South Wales has 17,316 new Covid cases and sadly 29 deaths.


Victoria records 15 Covid deaths and 13,755 cases

Victoria has recorded 15 more Covid deaths 13,755 new infections.


Pharmacies are losing up to $7.50 on each rapid antigen test under the federal government’s concession card scheme due to a shortage of stock.

Under the program 6.6m concession card holders in Australia can access up to 10 free RATs over a three month period, but the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has told the Guardian the scheme leads to a loss for individual chemists.

The shortage of tests across the country has driven up wholesale prices. The tests currently cost the pharmacies up to $17.50 each but the government is providing only a $10 reimbursement, the guild said.

Prof Trent Twomey, the national president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said while wholesale prices have increased, there hasn’t been a subsequent adjustment to the reimbursement.

You can read the full report below:

Rapid antigen tests are in short supply across the country.
Rapid antigen tests are in short supply across the country. Photograph: Richard Milnes/REX/Shutterstock


OK, I promise this blog isn’t ONLY going to be lightning footage for the rest of the morning, but trust me this is a good one.


Some pretty dramatic lightning footage from Geelong in Victoria this morning.

Labor senator Kristina Keneally has been asked about the need for travel industry leaders to kickstart talks to plan for the return of tourism. She told the ABC:

You know, it’s extraordinary that three years into this pandemic ... while the borders have been closed since 2020, there has been no planning apparently done.

I meet regularly with stakeholders, tourism, airports ... and they really don’t know what the plan is. And if we are going to see an economic recovery, we are going to need planning and we are going to need a healthy population. That means we need free rapid antigen tests. It means we need sensible plans.

Mr Morrison has failed to do all of this. He waits until something becomes a crisis and then he acts too little, too late. I think what we might see and I fear again today from national cabinet is Mr Morrison saying this is not his problem, this is not his responsibility.

Labor senator Kristina Keneally says the Morrison government lacks a plan for tourism’s revival.
Labor senator Kristina Keneally says the Morrison government lacks a plan for tourism’s revival. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP


Here’s a cracking story of an unfortunate kind.

NSW’s Resource Regulator and national parks officials will sit down with coal miner Centennial today to discuss remediation for cracks caused by its mine in the spectacular Capertee Valley region to Sydney’s north-west.

The Mugii Murum-Ban area is a designated “State Conservation Area” for its remarkable rock formations and rare biodiversity.

Such attributes, though, don’t guarantee protection when you have an underground coalmine below.

Conservationists are worried same cracking of giant boulders and sandstone cliffs will extend beyond Mt Airly to the Genowlan mesa next door when mining starts there.

And of course, the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area to the south, declared at the end of last year, has the same level of protection.


Back to the EU ambassador, and he has confirmed the European Union would respond if Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border.

'Our nurses are not OK': Liverpool hospital nurses and midwives strike

Nurses and midwives at Sydney’s Liverpool hospital are striking today, demanding the government take action to address the staffing crisis impacting health care across the state.

Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally is out on the picket line this morning, and told ABC News Breakfast that nurses are “sick” and “tired” after two long years of the pandemic.

Some of them are in tears here this morning, just come off a night shift. They are caring for, sometimes, one nurse for eight to 10 people and Covid has made their situation so harrowing.

Our hospital system really is at a breaking point and they are asking for ... fair, safe staffing levels here in our hospitals. Here in south-western Sydney, these nurses saw the brunt of the Delta outbreak, a failure of national quarantine, a failure of the vaccine rollout, and now they are seeing with Omicron the failure of the rapid antigen testing.

They don’t have enough staff here and really, to see our nurses who are on the frontline suffering because of a failure to plan by a state and a federal Liberal governments, to see them in tears, to see our hospitals at crisis point, it’s clear our nurses are not OK.

Liverpool hospital in Sydney’s west.
Liverpool hospital in Sydney’s west. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP


Speaking of Russia, the EU ambassador to Australia, Michael Pulch, has told ABC radio that the continent is “very concerned about the aggressive stance that the [Russian] government has taken” in relation to Ukraine.

We call on the Russian government to de-escalate the current situation and return to diplomatic consultations.


New Chinese ambassador arrives with conciliatory message

China’s new ambassador to Australia has vowed to push to get the troubled relationship “back to the right track”, insisting he will work with the Australian government to “eliminate misunderstanding and suspicion”.

Xiao Qian, who landed in Australia yesterday after years of increasing tensions between the two countries, said the relationship was “at a critical juncture” and faced “many difficulties and challenges”.

But Xiao, the former Chinese ambassador to Indonesia, was relatively upbeat in his first comments in Sydney, saying the relationship also had “enormous opportunities and potential” and he saw his new diplomatic role “as a noble mission”.

Australia and China have been increasingly at odds over the past few years, with Beijing objecting to a range of Australian government policy positions including laws against foreign interference that were seen as targeting China and the ban on Chinese telco Huawei from the 5G network. The Australian government has raised concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, and Beijing’s ratcheting up of military pressure against Taiwan.

Beijing rolled out trade actions against a range of Australian export sectors and froze high-level talks in 2020, moves that the Australian government branded as “economic coercion”. The Chinese embassy’s release of a so-called “list of grievances” against Australia also triggered a diplomatic storm.

Xiao’s predecessor as ambassador, Cheng Jingye, warned in April 2021 that Beijing would respond “in kind” if Australia followed other countries in imposing sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights.

In remarks distributed to media by the Chinese embassy last night, Xiao pushed a conciliatory message, saying Beijing believed “a sound and steady China-Australia relationship serves the fundamental interests of the two countries and the two peoples”.

Xiao said the relationship would improve “as long as both sides adhere to the principles of mutual respect, equality, inclusiveness and mutual learning”. He said:

I look forward to working with the Australian government and friends in all sectors to increase engagement and communication, enhance mutual understanding and trust, eliminate misunderstanding and suspicion, promote mutually beneficial exchanges and cooperation in all areas between the two sides, and jointly push the China-Australia relations back to the right track.


'Dangerous' thunderstorms threaten Melbourne

Victorians are being warned “very dangerous thunderstorms” that could lead to “life-threatening flash flooding” will lash parts of the state, after an evening of wild weather, AAP’s Emily Woods reports.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a red warning for severe thunderstorms across northern and western Melbourne and the southern Macedon Ranges just before 7am on Thursday.

Heavy rainfall is expected to affect people living in the city’s inner-eastern, central, northern, southeastern, outer-eastern, northern and western suburbs.

A Watch and Act alert has been issued by the state’s emergency services, warning people in Greater Melbourne to prepare to take shelter and watch for hazards including floodwater, debris, damaged building, trees down and fallen power lines.

Very dangerous thunderstorms were detected on the weather radar near Gisborne and Woodend. These thunderstorms are moving from the north of Melbourne towards the south to southeast.

Severe weather causing intense rainfall that may lead to dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding is likely.

Malmsbury Headwall recorded 56.2mm of rain in the hour to 5:15am, while Trentham Reservoir recorded 38.6mm in the hour to 6am.

The Bureau of Meteorology warns that, at 7:05am, severe thunderstorms were detected on the weather radar near Craigieburn, Footscray, Greensborough, Melton, Preston, St Albans and Sunbury.

These thunderstorms are moving towards the southeast. They are forecast to affect Caulfield, Glen Waverley, Melbourne City, Ringwood and Werribee by 7:35am and Dandenong, Frankston and Pakenham by 8:05am.


Central Land Council calls for regional NT lockdown

We spoke about this a little bit yesterday, but a spike in Covid infections in the Northern Territory has caused some health experts to calls for a region-wide lockdown to protect remote Indigenous communities.

This has so far been ruled out by NT health minister Natasha Fyles, but the chief executive of the Central Land Council, Les Turner has told ABC radio this is urgent.

The Central Land Council has called for urgent lockdown of remote communities and we believe this will save lives. We need a circuit breaker because the coronavirus is out of control in central Australia.

At the moment, there are 80 people in hospital, 90% of those are Aboriginal people.

The Northern Territory government has failed central Australia. In terms of addressing the issues that Aboriginal people and key organisations are calling for, we’re talking to a brick wall in some cases.

Turner said the council was now considering going over the NT government’s head and asking the commonwealth for assistance.

If the Northern Territory was to ask the commonwealth for assistance and have the army or defence to assist with evacuations ... I think that’s a viable alternative for us.

I think it’ll save lives.


Speaking of wild weather, flooding in central South Australia continues to wreak havoc, cutting off major roads and even creating whirlpools alongside the Stuart highway.

Oh! So that’s why I keep hearing thunder!

Good morning

Good morning everyone, it’s Matilda Boseley here with you. Todays is Thursday, which means the state and territory leaders are preparing to meet with the prime minister for national cabinet. Top of the agenda: Australia’s health system capacity.

This comes after Australia recorded 87 Covid deaths on Wednesday and more than 50,000 cumulative new infections.

The leaders will also receive an update on the vaccine rollout and discuss supply chain issues. We will likely get an update on how that has gone in the afternoon, so stay tuned.

Looking internationally, Australia is considering supplying extra liquefied natural gas to Europe if Russia decided to shut off their pipeline due to growing tensions with the west over the Russian military presence on the Ukraine border.

The US and the UK have already raised fears the continent’s reliance on Russia makes it vulnerable in a growing standoff with present Vladimir Putin.

The US said it was working with allies and partners to prepare financial sanctions “with massive consequence” if the Russian president decided to invade.

A senior Biden administration official said the US was also “looking at the global flow” of LNG.

Whether it’s from the United States or from Australia or from other places.

The conversation is really broad with a lot of companies and countries around the world.

The official said Russia had already restricted the flow of gas through the pipeline running through Ukraine from about 100m cubic metres a day to 50m.

You can read more of that below, by the way.

With that, let’s not delay any further and dive straight into the day.

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