More people left Sydney than any other capital last year


Sydneysiders fled the city in greater numbers than any other Australian capital last year, latest figures reveal.

A net 31,600 Sydneysiders farewelled the Harbour City for other parts of the country in 2020, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics internal migration statistics.

Melbourne wasn’t far behind, losing a net 26,100 people – the capital’s biggest annual net loss on record during a year which included months of COVID lockdown.

Overall, Victoria lost 12,700 people last year in what was the southern state’s first net interstate loss for a calendar year since 2008.

The only capitals to record net gains over 2020 were Brisbane, which gained 13,000 people, Perth, which added 3500, and Canberra, with 300.

South Australia recorded a boost in interstate migrants for the first time in almost 30 years, with a net gain of 100 people.

Meanwhile, 1400 opted for a move out west to Western Australia, the mining state’s first annual net gain since 2013.

Queensland had its highest net gain since 2004, with 30,000 people deciding to call the Sunshine State home.

Australia’s regional areas experienced the largest net inflows of capital city residents since records began 20 years ago.

In recent decades, more people moved from Australia’s capital cities to the regions than from the regions to the capitals, resulting in a net internal migration gain for regional areas, ABS demography director Phil Browning said.

During the pandemic, many people were still opting to make a move to other parts of the country, he said.

Last year, a net 43,000 Australians upped stumps in capital cities to try regional life, up from 18,900 in 2019.

It was the largest net inflow to the regions since records began 20 years ago.

Regional Queensland had the biggest net inflow of all the states last year, with 17,000 people moving in.

The regional areas of Victoria and NSW had the next largest net gains, with 13,400 and 12,700 newcomers, respectively.

The ABS figures do not reflect overall population change because internal migration is only one measure alongside overseas migration, births and deaths.

melissa.iaria1@news.com.au



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NAB reveals changes in Aussies wanting to buy a house


More flexible working from home arrangements amid the COVID-19 pandemic are sparking huge changes in the preferences of Aussie house hunters, new NAB data reveals.

A lengthy lockdown of Melbourne’s metropolitan areas last year prompted a surge of people wanting to buy regional properties.

NAB executive, home ownership Andy Kerr said the 2020 pandemic had driven massive change in preferences.

“For many, the great Australian dream is a spacious home with a nice backyard for entertaining, and it’s more affordable in outer suburbs and regional towns than the inner city,” Mr Kerr said.

“As a result, it’s been no surprise to see price growth in regional areas outpacing capital cities.”

The research, which surveyed 330 property professionals – including investors, real estate agents and developers – revealed about nine in 10 saw a study or work area as more important to homebuyers now than it was pre-pandemic.

About 75 per cent of respondents placed great value on good local shopping, restaurants and amenities, while 65 per cent were particular about the size of a property and 63 per cent preferred to buy a house instead of an apartment.

Just more than 50 per cent of people wanted easy access to public transport.

“Lockdowns have reshaped how we live, and with many at home for longer periods, the desire for a little more space has grown,” Mr Kerr said.

“This may mean a larger living room for the kids to play, a dedicated study to separate work from home life or a bigger backyard for the new puppy to run around.”

REGIONAL VS METRO

A need to buy a property in a metropolitan area has dramatically decreased, with 57 per cent saying this was now less important.

In a similar vein, consideration of a move to regional areas swelled, with 85 per cent listing this as a more important factor when choosing a new home.

Buyers in NSW, home to Australia’s most expensive capital, were seen to be keenest in considering a regional move.

“The idea of a sea change or tree change is exciting to many Australians, and a large number of customers have made the move in recent months as hybrid working models become more common,” Mr Kerr said.

“Our data shows more than one in 10 Australians expect to buy a home this year*, and more and more will be looking further out than we have seen historically.”

DIGITAL SHIFTS

Australians are also changing how they are purchasing a home, according to the data.

One-third of home lending appointments are now conducted via video, with more than 15,000 appointments booked online since NAB’s home loan appointment booking tool launched in September.

“We know purchasing a home can be a daunting experience, and the rise of video has enabled face-to-face support with a quicker turnaround and greater convenience,” Mr Kerr said.

“We’re seeing some banks overseas report 80 per cent of their appointments via video, so it’s a trend we expect to endure.”

STATE INSIGHTS

A push to move regional was more prevalent in NSW than any other state, according to Mr Kerr.

“Given Sydney prices remain the highest in the country, it’s probably little surprise moving further out to secure more space has proven popular,” he said.

“Proximity to the Blue Mountains and Central Coast beaches, in particular, has proven fashionable over the past year.

“And while the home office is a strong trend across all states, the greatest increase in demand is in NSW.”

Victoria’s lengthy lockdown in 2020 dramatically impacted homebuying preferences in the state.

“At the same time, the size of the property, buying a house over an apartment and having a dedicated work area have all increased significantly in importance over the past 12 months,” Mr Kerr said.

In Queensland the “standout result” from the NAB data was also a “growing interest in regional locations”.

“Coastal areas are particularly popular, including the Sunshine Coast, Townsville and Cairns, while Ipswich has drawn strong demand for those wanting to stay closer to the state capital,” Mr Kerr said.

Out in the west, buyers were “extremely keen” for a dedicated study or work area and not as interested as people in other states in moving to a regional area.

“We put this down to the comparative affordability of Perth as against the eastern capitals,” Mr Kerr said.

“The data in South Australia stands out for several reasons.

“Firstly, it is the state where the importance of good local shopping, restaurants and amenities has risen the most. Access to good public transport has also become much more important.

“In contrast, the regional push and move away from metro areas is least prominent in SA. This may be linked to affordability, as Adelaide prices remain comfortably below the eastern state capitals.”



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City living shunned as nationwide campaign urges Australians to move to the regions


LIVING mortgage-free, without traffic lights and crowds are among the incentives being slung in a nationwide campaign to entice metropolitan residents to move to regional Australia.

The launch of the multimillion-dollar advertising blitz comes as hundreds of government and business heads unite at this week’s Regional Australia summit in Canberra to map out an action-plan for growing our regions.

Two-thirds of Australians live in capital cities, and last year the ABS recorded the biggest internal migration to regional areas on record, with a net loss of 11,200 people from Australia’s capitals to the regions. The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) is now examining the potential for up to 40 per cent of the population to live regionally, on the back of research showing that one in five city dwellers are keen to relocate.

“We want to rebalance the population across the nation,” said RAI CEO Liz Ritchie.

A concern about limited job opportunities is one of the biggest barriers to people making the move, despite the latest job figures topping 54,000 regional vacancies.

With the COVID-19 pandemic prompting a dramatic shift in workplace flexibility, governments are being pushed to co-fund co-work spaces to further remove barriers to regional employment.

“This is not a technology issue, it’s a leadership issue,” Ms Ritchie said, adding that the pandemic catapulted businesses at least 10 years ahead in terms of progress towards flexible workplaces.

But it isn’t just about accessing city jobs from the country, with the digitisation of agriculture seeing a rise in white collar roles in rural and regional areas.

Agricultural service provider, Nutrien Ag Solutions is crying out for data analysts, technology experts and other skilled professionals across its 400 sites to keep up with the increasing sophistication of agricultural practices.

“15 years ago we were looking for wool guys and livestock agents, but now it’s all about the tech jobs,” said managing director Rob Clayton.

“Skilled workers from the city can make the same kind of money, in towns where the cost of living is halved. You don’t have to sit in traffic all day and spend your whole life paying off your house.”

Coca-Cola Amatil is among the big corporates backing the regional shift. “Our population is projected to get to 45 million by 2050, and we can’t concentrate all that growth in a small number of capital cities that are already crowded,” said group managing director, Alison Watkins.

“With the way Australia has handled the COVID situation, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the next 20-30 years. We can either resume the trajectory that we were on, which included quite low levels of investment, crowded cities becoming more crowded and declining regional populations, or can use it as a step-change in the way we do things. We need to be ahead of the curve and make sure we have the infrastructure, connectivity, digital enablement, health and education to attract business investment to these areas.”

The RAI’s Liz Ritchie said COVID also played a part in swaying hearts and minds towards regional life, raising the desire to move to regional Australia for 22 per cent of survey respondents.

“People have had the opportunity to sit back and reflect on their quality of life, and many have realised that there’s more to life than the way they’re living in the city,” she said.



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Residential prices show strongest quarterly growth in a year: ABS


Residential property prices increased in December in what has been the strongest quarterly growth for a year.

Prices rose 3 per cent in the December quarter, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released on Tuesday.

It’s also the first time in six years all capital cities have experienced an annual price rise.

Melbourne led the way (3.4 per cent), followed by Sydney (3 per cent) and Brisbane (2.7 per cent).

Price hikes were also recorded in Perth (2.9 per cent), Adelaide (2.6 per cent), Canberra (3.4 per cent), Hobart (3.1 per cent) and Darwin (2.2 per cent).

ABS statistics head of prices Michelle Marquardt said the rise in property prices was consistent with a range of housing market indicators.

“New lending commitments to households, auction clearance rates and days on market all improved during the December quarter,” Ms Marquardt said.

Prices for houses rose 3.9 per cent in Sydney and 3.7 per cent in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, prices for attached dwellings – including flats, units, apartments and semi-detached, row and terrace houses – jumped 1.4 per cent in Sydney and 2.5 per cent in Melbourne.

Annually, residential property prices rose 3.6 per cent.

“This is the first time that all capital cities have seen an annual rise since the December quarter 2014,” Ms Marquardt said.

The largest rise in property prices annually was in Hobart (6.4 per cent), followed by Canberra (5.2 per cent) and Perth (4.2 per cent).

The numbers of residential property sales also increased in all capital cities during 2020 except Hobart and Melbourne, which has endured months of COVID-19 lockdown.

“The strongest increases were observed in Perth, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane,” Ms Marquardt said.

The total value of Australia’s 10.6 million residential dwellings rose by $257.9bn to $7.7bn in the December quarter.

The average price of residential dwellings in Australia rose $21,300 and is now $728,500.

NSW is still the most expensive place in the country to live, with the average price of residential dwellings at $939,700.

Victoria trails with an average price of $785,000, followed by the Australian Capital Territory ($757,000).

The Northern Territory is the cheapest state or territory to live, with an average price of $429,400.



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Australia suburbs suffer higher temperatures due to lack of vegetation


Certain suburbs in Australia’s major cities are being left to swelter under higher temperatures – which could be reduced through one simple measure.

Monash University researchers have released a report today commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation that says Australia’s major cities need more trees and vegetation to reduce serious heatwave impacts.

The report notes there can be a “heat gap” or large differences in temperature between suburbs due to the amount of vegetation and built infrastructure.

For example, temperatures in the Sydney council area of Blacktown, which only has 22 per cent vegetation cover, are 5.8C higher due to extra heat from its built infrastructure.

This compares to Mosman, which has a moderately high level of vegetation (43 per cent) and which only experiences an extra 2.2C in temperature from its built environment.

The report says the variation between different areas of Sydney, is much higher than in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Experts say temperatures are forecast to soar during summer thanks to climate change, with hot summer days in Melbourne and Brisbane expected to regularly top 40C by 2060-2080, and up to 50C in Sydney.

Cities in particular will feel the brunt of increasing heatwaves thanks to a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect (UHI).

The microclimate around cities is generally warmer due to a number of factors, including that high rise buildings and narrow streets create canyons where heat gets trapped. Materials such as concrete, asphalt, steel and glass also retain more heat than natural materials, and a lower proportion of tree cover or vegetation means there is less moisture to cool the air or to create shade.

RELATED: What 2C of warming actually looks like

Areas where there are more people also tend to be warmer because of heat waste from the increased use of things like cars, factories and cooling systems.

“When temperatures go up, we strive to make ourselves more comfortable and rely on more airconditioning and refrigeration. This increases electricity usage and creates more waste heat, further contributing to the UHI effect,” the report states.

There are several ways to reduce the UHI effect including the use of reflective or super-cool materials, devices for solar control and shading, natural temperature sinks, or cooling systems that involve evaporation and transpiration.

However, one simple and cost-effective method is increasing the amount of trees, shrubs and even grass. These plants will help absorb sunlight, release water vapour that evaporates and cools the air, and provide shading.

This could be achieved through creating more open space, parks, wetlands, vertical greenery on building facades and vegetated roofs.

Sadly, the amount of vegetation has declined in all major cities except for Hobart, which is the only capital city to have more tree cover in 2020 than it did in 2013.

In Sydney, there was a 0.8 per cent decline in vegetation cover during this period, and while this may seem small, it is equal to 12.2sq km – or about 570 AFL football fields.

RELATED: Troubling detail in Aussie weather data

“Heatwaves kill more Australians than any other natural disaster and these will get more severe as our climate continues to change,” report co-author Dr Lucy Richardson of Monash University said.

“Our research shows increasing urban vegetation will become essential for our three largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – to reduce serious heatwave impacts by 2060-2080.

“Natural infrastructure takes time to establish to its maximum effectiveness, so acting early is critical for meeting future needs.”

ACF campaigns director Paul Sinclair said Australia’s national environmental law had not been effective in preventing the destruction of native trees.

“In the first 17 years that Australia had a national environment law, 20,212 hectares of urban threatened species habitat – that’s 11,400 MCG footy grounds – was destroyed,” he said.

“Decisions made by Australian governments in the coming months will either lock in permanent and escalating damage to the ecological systems that sustain human health and livelihoods, or they will promote a healthier, fairer and greener world.”

The Monash research is the first study to examine the cumulative effects of future climate change and the UHI effect at local government level across Australia’s three largest cities.

SYDNEY

It may come as a surprise but this city, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, is one of Australia’s least green capitals.

It has an overall 34 per cent vegetation cover and experiences an extra 5.5C in hotter temperatures due to heat trapped by the city’s infrastructure.

The extra heat in some areas can reach as high as 13.5C.

RELATED: The climate detail worrying scientists

Improving the city’s vegetation cover is especially important as the hottest summer days are expected to increase to between 41.7C and 50C for 2060-2080 under a business-as-usual scenario.

In comparison, the summer’s hottest days over the last 50 years at Sydney’s Observatory Hill station averaged 39.1°C.

Sydney can expect around 56 of its average days to reach over 30C each year by 2060–2080, with around 15 average days over 35C and two average days over 40C.

Mosman and North Sydney are expected to have the highest predicted temperature peak, at 50C. The lowest peak was expected to be Burwood at 47.9C.

However, when looking at average temperatures, Blacktown was expected to have the highest mean summer temperature of 31.3C.

BRISBANE

Brisbane is one of Australia’s greenest capital cities with 54 per cent overall vegetation cover.

On average the city experiences an extra 1C temperature due to heat being trapped by the city’s built infrastructure.

However, this can be as high as 6.1C extra in some areas.

Predictions suggest the city’s hottest summer days will sit between 38.3C and 41.8C by 2060–2080, under a business-as-usual scenario.

In comparison, summer’s hottest days over the last 50 years at the Brisbane Airport station averaged 35°C.

There will be around 137 average days over 30C each year and around 14 average days over 35C each year.

This is considerably hotter than the long-term average of 30C and the average for the 2019–2020 summer, which was 30.9C.

MELBOURNE

Melbourne is one of Australia’s least green capital cities with 23 per cent overall vegetation cover.

The city’s temperatures are typically 5.5C higher due to heat being trapped by the city’s built infrastructure.

This can climb to as much as 13.5C of extra heat in some areas.

Predictions suggest the city’s hottest summer days will sit between 42.9C and 49.4C by 2060-2080, under a business-as-usual scenario.

Casey would have the coolest maximum hottest summer days at 47C, compared with the highest hottest days predicted for Maribyrnong and Brimbank, both reaching 49.4C.

At the moment, summer’s hottest days over the last 50 years at Melbourne’s Olympic Park station averaged 41.9C.

Melbourne should expect around 48 average days to reach over 30C each year, with 17 average days over 35C and three average days over 40C.

charis.chang@news.com.au | @charischang2





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Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes in Tourism Australia campaign


From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australians have been enjoying our new-found travel freedom since border restrictions relaxed, but there’s one area we’re criminally overlooking – our big cities.

So travel-loving couple Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a city escape to bring some love back to the big smoke.

In their new ad campaign, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the popular couple showcases what our cities have to offer for your next domestic getaway.

Speaking to news.com.au about the City Escapes campaign and their upcoming travel plans, the pair explained how Australia’s excellent cities leave us spoiled for choice.

“No offence to other countries, but let’s say if you go to America, you’ve got some good capital cities in America but you’ve got some duds. In Australia, we’ve got no duds. If it was up to me, the campaign would be called Australia: No Dud Cities,” Blake said.

“Every capital city is awesome in its own unique way. I do love that so much about Australia. Cities that are smaller, population-wise, are kind of even cooler because they’ve got their own art, culture, food, geography, cool hotels. The cities have boomed.”

“And also whether you’re going with children, or just your partner, or you’re going for nature, or you’re going for shopping – you’ve got all of it,” Foster Blake added. “Art galleries, museums – they’re smashing it.”

The couple said they already had a hit list of cities they planned to go to next with kids Sonny, 6, and Rudy, 3.

“We were just saying we feel embarrassed we haven’t been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart,” Foster Blake said.

“Our kids like to be a bit free-range and barefooted and feral, so we’ll definitely head to somewhere that affords that sort of environment as well. That might be Perth, or Brissie.”

Blake agreed he was “dying to get back to Perth”.

“I haven’t been for a couple of years and again, I think one of my favourite things about Perth is that it’s that perfect mix between big and small,” he said.

“It’s obviously a big city but it’s spacious, there’s lots of little great pockets and there are amazing beaches.”

Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns.

Spending on overnight trips across Australia fell by $27.1 billion, or 34 per cent, in the year ending September 2020, compared to the previous year.

It has especially been felt in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Hotel occupancy has also taken a dive, with Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart the hardest hit – their occupancy rates have plunged to 33 per cent, 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said tourism operators in Australia’s cities were still struggling almost a year after the country’s international borders snapped shut and lockdown restrictions inhibited domestic travel.

“Our cities are the key international gateways to Australia and transit hubs for travellers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been hit the hardest in terms of tourism spend, hotel occupancy and aviation capacity over the past year,” Ms Harrison said.

“While our international borders remain closed and travel restrictions continue to fluctuate around the country, our cities run the risk of continuing to bear the brunt of this pandemic despite offering so many incredible, safe experiences and being more affordable than ever.

“As part of this campaign we are calling on Australians to help support their fellow Australians by booking a city escape, which in turn will help to support the thousands of city-based hotels, restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and experiences that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.”

As Hamish and Zoe look forward to their next city escape, they admitted there was one thing they’d have to contend with – their very opposing approaches to packing.

“He doesn’t pack until the night before, which gives me hives the morning of,” Foster Blake told news.com.au.

“I pack a week out, constantly curating, editing … and I do the kids’ suitcases as well. That will be our point of tension the night before.”

Blake admitted his packing habits were somewhat chaotic.

“For some reason, even though I know where we’re going and I know the temperature, as soon as I open my wardrobe my brain is filled with wild, 1 per cent contingencies,” he said.

“I’m packing wet weather gear on a whim, maybe three woolly jumpers for a beach holiday.

“Then when I get to the destination … it’s like a theatre sports game where I open up a bag and have no idea what’s in there.”

“But he’ll live in the same pair of shorts for seven days,” Foster Blake laughed.



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Qantas, Virgin competitor Rex Airlines is finally flying Melbourne to Sydney


Up, up and away – there’s a new contender in town serving Australia’s busiest route.

From today, Rex airlines has started flying between Sydney and Melbourne in an attempt to shake up the playing field by competing with Virgin and Qantas on metropolitan routes.

Rex, who typically service regional ports such as Orange, Dubbo and Longreach, is the first independent airline to fly between the two cities for nearly 15 years.

The airline made waves last month when, ahead of Valentine’s Day, they slashed fares from $79 to $49 between Sydney and Melbourne.

Virgin hit right back at the time, matching the $49 fares and vowing to find “new ways to push the envelope”. And not to be outdone, Jetstar dropped its Sydney-Melbourne fares to $39 for flights during March, before announcing even cheaper sale deals from $29.

RELATED: Which flights offer the best bang for your buck?

In response to the uptake of the Sydney to Melbourne route, Rex announced several new destinations from other capital cities, unveiling flights from Melbourne to the Gold Coast and even to Adelaide with prices starting at $69.

“South Australia and Queensland have always benefited from Rex’s regional services which are renowned for reliability and great country hospitality, at affordable fares,” Rex’s deputy chairman, the Hon John Sharp said in a statement.

“I am pleased to announced these two states will, for the first time be able to enjoy the same benefits for their domestic services.”

The airline said that while they had previously planned to launch a Sydney to Brisbane route, the airline executives made the decision to pivot to a more leisure-orientated destination (like the Gold Coast and Adelaide) in time for the Easter long weekend in early April. The fares go on sale from today.

Prior to the pandemic, Qantas’ Sydney-Melbourne route was the second-biggest revenue generator for any airline globally. So it’s no surprise the regional airline wants in on the action given domestic border controls are beginning to ease between both cities.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Rex said they didn’t expect the route to be profitable in the financial year ending June 30, however appeared a little more optimistic for the following year.

The regional airline currently operates 1500 flights a week between 59 destinations.



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Set to be miserable until May


The defining feature of summer, particularly on the east coast, has been the rain, with La Nina lashing the continent.

Autumn begins on Monday, so you might be hoping for a change. Well, that’s not going to happen.

There could be glimpses of summer like weather in the upcoming season, but what’s more likely is more miserable and soggy conditions. That’s according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) autumn weather outlook that’s just been released.

The La Nina climate driver has seen moisture pushed on to east coast states from the Pacific. That situation might not last for all that much longer though.

“La Nina is past its peak with the tropical Pacific likely to return to ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) conditions during the autumn,” said BOM senior meteorologist Dr Andrew Watkins.

But it could take until May for La Nina to finally bid Australia adieu.

The upshot is above average rainfall across New South Wales, Queensland, parts of South Australia and eastern Tasmania in March and April and that lessening in May.

Most of Victoria, as well as Western Australia and the Northern Territory should see average rain.

RELATED: The weather forecast where you live

A HOTTER AUTUMN

It could be hotter this autumn with the mercury rising across Australia’s north, Tasmania, south west Western Australia around Perth and southern Victoria including Melbourne. That’s no change for WA which has seen runs of scorching temperatures this summer.

But parts of NSW close to Sydney and the ACT could actually see a slightly cooler than average autumn.

RELATED: UN calls out Aussie suburb for dire heat record

“La Nina can turn Australian climate on its head,” said Associate Professor David Holmes from the Monash University Climate Change Communications Hub.

“Of all the capital cities, Canberra has shown the strongest autumn daytime warming trend over the past 50 years and Hobart the weakest. However, the autumn outlook suggests Hobart is the capital city with the highest chance of warmer than normal days while Canberra has the highest odds of below average temperatures.

“Compared to averages for the past few decades, we’re seeing temperatures much closer to average in early 2021 because of La Nina – but this is a brief reprieve, and we can expect warming trends to continue into the future.

“Sixteen of the last 20 autumns have been warmer than average over Australia and this is largely a consequence of increasing greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.”

RELATED: Australia’s weird weather baffling scientists

Autumn minimum temperatures are likely to be higher than average across most of Australia except for parts of southern WA and western and central SA.

Chances of warmer nights are greater than 80 per cent for the northern tropics, eastern Queensland, southern Victoria, and Tasmania.

The wet summer may not have led to many beach days but it’s been blessing in other ways.

The seasonal bushfire risk is below normal for northern Queensland and southern and eastern Victoria.

The only place where the bushfire risk has increased above the average is in some areas of central coastal Queensland.

All that water has also helped top up Australia’s water shortages. Most are in a healthier condition than this time last year with big increases in NSW.



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What we misunderstand about anti-vaxxers


The anti-vaccine community has been misunderstood and “underestimated” in Australia, and those involved are becoming harder to reach.

Dr Kaz Ross, an independent academic who researches online racism, conspiracies and neo-Nazis, told news.com.au she thinks the weekend’s anti-COVID vaccine protests were likely a positive, and unifying experience for those who attended.

The Millions March Against Mandatory Covid Vaccinations rallies were attended by hundreds in Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane. Prominent anti-vaxxer Pete Evans spoke at the rally in Sydney, where hundreds also marched through the city.

The Sydney rally felt at times more like a community festival than a fight against injustice, with heartfelt speeches, and lots of children and dogs present.

During one speech, from a father, who blamed his son’s non-verbal autism on vaccines, a woman standing next to me was moved to tears, as other mothers cheered on.

Dr Ross said she believes anti-vaccine communities in Australia have “definitely been underestimated”.

“If you look online it’s quite a few thousand people online, commenting and getting involved, but a lot of people don’t say much, and don’t get involved (online).”

She said looking at the online engagement is not a true indicator of the size or passion of the movement.

RELATED: Scott Morrison’s warning before vaccine rollout

RELATED: Australia’s ‘NASA-like’ COVID-19 vaccine plan

She said the pandemic has destroyed many community events, including going to the footy or music festivals. It means rallies now serve as way for the community to come together.

“That’s the one thing those people have in common — they’re marching for ‘freedom’,” Dr Ross explained. “Turning up to these various rallies throughout the pandemic is like saying no to ‘fear’ about COVID and it’s like saying ‘no’ to a pandemic.

“Coming out in big groups is to say, we are resilient, we do support each other and we’re about love.”

Dr Ross pointed out that anti-lockdown protests in Queensland have often taken on a “Bluesfest-vibe” and have been integrated with issues about Aboriginal sovereignty.

She said in Melbourne protesters have faced “disproportionate police responses”.

‘EVERYBODY HAS GOT THEIR OWN TRUTH’

“If you listen to someone like Pete Evans and what he said, he didn’t actually say anything. He said, ‘Everybody has got their own truth, and I’m going to speak my truth.’

“Well, what is the truth Pete?

“(They say they’re) standing up for freedom and we’re standing up for truth, but what are they actually standing up for?”

Dr Ross said she believes the majority of the group are fearful of mandatory vaccinations.

In Australia, nobody is required to have a “mandatory” vaccine — including frontline workers and people who work in aged care.

Vaccinating against COVID-19 is the easiest way for Australians to get their normal lives back, but millions are hesitant to get the jab.

News.com.au’s Our Best Shot campaign answers your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine roll out.

We’ll debunk myths about vaccines, answer your concerns about the jab and tell you when you can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

ANTI-VAX COMMUNITY HAS DIVERSE VIEWPOINTS

Dr Ross also pointed out that not everyone involved in the rallies would be happy to be described as being “anti-vax” — despite protesting against the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Not everyone there believes COVID is a hoax,” she said. “Some people believe (it is). And many people are concerned and cautious about new vaccines.

“And some people are very anti-vaccine.”

ANTI-VAX INFORMATION IS A ‘WELL-OILED MACHINE’

“The anti-vaccine movement in America is a well-funded, well-established, well-oiled machine,” Dr Ross said. But she added these groups aren’t the only source of misinformation circulating in Australia.

She said the Telegram app is “flooded” with anti-vax misinformation, about tests being inaccurate, big pharmaceutical companies being out to “kill you”, and coronavirus being fake.

“Underneath it all is a message of ‘we need to go back to natural health’.

She said people consuming these messages ultimately see this as a “good” thing.

Dr Ross added the social media landscape has helped feed misinformation, and social media platforms took action “way, way too late”.

“Now that feeds into the narrative of, oh they’re trying to shut down alternative views,” she said.

“Most of the crowds are having a cheery day out, and they’re cheering for love and openness.

“Perhaps that’s where the government strategy has gone a bit wrong.”

She added the government’s messaging can only break through to people “who trust and believe in the government”.



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Qantas launches new flights to Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay


With holidays in our own backyard being more sought after than ever before, Qantas has added three new routes to its domestic flight schedule as the major airline seeks to set up new travel corridors while the international flight market remains frozen.

The airline hopes to capitalise on pent-up demand for domestic travel while overseas destinations remain off-limits due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian airline announced on Friday that from next month, the three new routes will be between Melbourne and Coffs Harbour, Brisbane and Coffs Harbour, and Canberra to the ever popular Byron Bay.

The announcement comes just two months after the airline announced seven new routes in December including Melbourne to Wagga Wagga, Merimbula, Mount Gambier, Albury and Newcastle.

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According to QantasLink CEO John Gissing, the new routes will go on sale from $129 one way, and provide Australians with more options to explore more of Australia’s own backyard.

“With international borders closed, we want to make it even easier for travellers to holiday around Australia,” said Mr Gissing.

“The beautiful coastal hubs of Byron Bay and Coffs Harbour continue to be incredibly popular with travellers, so it makes sense to provide direct connections from other capital cities to make them even more accessible.

“These new flights are good news for local businesses, hospitality and tour operators, helping drive tourism and reviving the industry that has been hurting from COVID-19.”

Currently, Qantas operates up to 20 return flights per week between Sydney and Ballina Byron Bay and 28 weekly return flights between Sydney and Coffs Harbour.

The newly announced routes will have the following schedule in 2021:

– Melbourne to Coffs Harbour – flights will operate daily with Qantas’ Boeing 717 aircraft.

– Brisbane to Coffs Harbour – flights will operate four days per week with the turboprop Q400 aircraft.

– Canberra to Byron Bay – Qantas’ first ever direct service connecting the two destinations, offering two flights per week with the turboprop Q400 aircraft. Flights will initially operate in April and Qantas will look to continue the service from July in line with demand.



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