Majority of Aussies would use a COVID vaccine passport: SkyScanner


Australians appear to overwhelmingly support the introduction of health passports to travel more freely, new research reveals.

Qantas is among the international airlines that are trialling digital health apps that verify a traveller has tested negative for COVID-19 and has been vaccinated against the virus.

The Travel Pass and CommonPass apps, developed by the International Airport Transport Association (IATA), are being tested by repatriated Australians on Qantas flights from overseas.

Air New Zealand will also begin trials of the Travel Pass app on services between Auckland and Sydney in April.

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The apps are among several health passports under development that have been touted as our golden tickets for resuming international travel and, potentially, bypassing quarantine.

And it seems Australians are on board with the concept, according to a survey of travellers by Skyscanner.

Some 86 per cent of the 1000 people surveyed said they would be happy to carry a digital health pass in order to travel, the travel booking platform said.

About 29 per cent of respondents said they would be happy to carry a health pass to avoid quarantine restrictions, and 35 per cent said they would feel more confident booking a flight on an airline with a health passport scheme that required passengers to be tested for COVID.

Only 9 per cent of people surveyed said they wouldn’t want to carry digital health information to travel.

The research also shed light on Australian travellers’ attitudes to the COVID vaccine: about 49 per cent said the vaccine was the key to resuming travel and 35 per cent said they’d feel more confident travelling if their destination allowed entry only to vaccinated visitors.

The findings of the research was released as the Federal Government extended Australia’s international travel ban, with the nation’s borders to remain closed until mid-June at least.

Skyscanner’s regional director, Paul Whiteway, said it appeared Australian travellers were willing to adapt to new technologies and protocols to get travelling again.

“While it’s too early to say whether digital health passes will become the global norm, some airlines and providers have already started to introduce apps which allow travellers to upload and store their COVID-19 test results,” he said.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, travellers have shown they are willing to react and adapt to changing travel requirements. Contactless technology, which promotes safety first, is clearly something travellers would be ready to embrace, like the willingness to adopt electronic boarding passes.

“We know from our data and speaking to our travellers that there’s a lot of pent-up wanderlust following a year spent exploring their own backyard and Australians are dreaming of getting out to explore international destinations again.

“We would expect to see travellers approach new health and safety measures much the same way as they have in the past, embracing any new technology and reasonable protocols that make easy, safe, seamless travel possible.”

The Travel Pass app developed by the IATA, which will be trialled by Qantas and Air New Zealand, allows travellers to create a digital health wallet linked to their passport.

It enables health professionals to upload test results and vaccination certificates, which can be checked against travel requirements and give the user a “green tick” showing they’re good to go.

As well as Qantas and Air New Zealand, British Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways have flagged upcoming trials of the IATA health check system.

But international travel will remain off the cards for Australians for another three months at least.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Wednesday the human biosecurity emergency period – under which the nation’s borders are closed – had been extended “by an additional three months,” from March 17 to June 17 due to the “unacceptable risk” of COVID outbreaks in other countries.

The overseas travel ban was set to expire in December but was extended for three months, before being extended again.

“The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has advised the Australian Government the COVID-19 situation overseas continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk to Australia, including the emergence of more highly transmissible variants,” Mr Hunt said.

“The extension of the emergency period for a further three months is about mitigating that risk for everyone’s health and safety.”

The emergency powers can be revoked when Mr Hunt feels it is appropriate, but until then, Australians won’t be able to leave the country unless they’re granted an exemption.

International arrivals into Australia will continue to be capped and will have pre-departure testing and mandatory masks on flights.



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Cruise industry pleads for COVID- safe plan approval


The cruise industry is pleading with the Australian and state governments to sign off on their COVID-safe plan to allow them to be ready sail again in Australia as the rest of the world takes to the seas.

The cruise industry has been dealing with both levels of government for six months and has submitted extensive COVID-safe plans with an aim for intrastate sailings.

Their proposal comes as Royal Caribbean announced it would resume sailing in Israel in May having already been traversing the waters off Singapore and Taiwan for several months.

The federal government’s announcement to ban international travel until mid-June caught the industry off guard, says Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasian spokesman Joel Katz.

Mr Katz said the industry had submitted detailed COVID-safe plans, which are already in practice across the world, that would allow Queenslanders, for instance, to safely tour the waters off the coast of the Sunshine State.

“We are naturally disappointed that the government has extended the ban without finalising a pathway for the return of cruising given the work that has taken place over many months, “ Mr Katz said.

“We were hopeful that by this time we would have had the steps towards a phased resumption finalised.

“With no community transmission in Australia, it does open up the opportunity for domestic cruising which does not impact the international borders.”

He said domestic cruising would not only provide local tourism-related jobs but be a boon for local farmers as the industry purchases Australian-grown produce.

“The ships based in Australia do their purchasing here … the meat and fruit and veg industry, so we need lead times because they are also keen to know the timelines to be able to meet the demand,” he said.

Since July last year, when the world was in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, almost 350,000 passengers have travelled on more than 400 sailings aboard 25 ocean-going cruise line ships, Mr Katz said.

That alone proves the cruise industry can be trusted to implement COVID-safe protocols and pave the way for Australian sailings to reopen sooner rather than later, he said.

“These successful sailings, combined with the growing confidence expressed by governments and experts in health and sciences, are clear indications that a responsible resumption of cruising is possible,” Mr Katz said.

“We have developed comprehensive protocols to show how crews can safely be brought back into Australia through the quarantine process.”

Overseas cruise liners are operating at 50 per cent capacity, with no casino, buffets nor spas open.

Other measures include reserved isolation cabins, social distancing for arrivals and departures, and extensive COVID testing for crew members in the lead-up to, and just before, a cruise.

Passengers must also return a negative test result before boarding.

All these measures would be implemented in Australia, and Mr Katz said passengers could sail with confidence despite the fallout from the Ruby Princess fiasco.

“Certainly the feedback from various agencies is that the industry protocols are comprehensive and they have acknowledged the amount of work the industry has done,” he said.

About 2700 passengers were allowed to disembark from the Ruby Princess on March 19, with many testing positive for the virus after having used public transport or commercial flights to return home.

All-up, more than 660 cases and 28 deaths were linked to the ship.

Health Minister Greg Hunt made specific reference to the cruise industry on Tuesday when he extended the international travel ban a further three months until June 17.

“The Australian government continues to work closely with the cruise industry to develop a framework for the staged resumption of cruise ships in a manner that is proportionate to the public health risk,” he said.

Mr Katz said if the government could just sign off on their COVID-safe plan then cruise lines could be ready to sail as soon as the international travel ban was lifted.

However, until that time, they remain in limbo as ships sit idle in international waters.

“We continue to advocate for domestic cruises … and we would like to be further along in this process,” he said.

More than 35,000 guests have sailed more than 26 sailings on their Singapore and Taiwan cruises with no positive COVID cases says Royal Caribbean International (Australia/NZ) managing director Gavin Smith.

He said their first ship was scheduled to arrive in Sydney on October 16 and they would need three months lead time to prepare for the cruise.

“We estimate that preparing and positioning a cruise ship to begin cruise operations in Australia is a complex undertaking and will take 60-90 days after receiving permission to return to service,” Mr Smith said.

While some protocols, like advanced HVAC filtration systems, will be here to stay, we’ll refine others based on needs specific to Australia.”



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Australia’s vaccine rollout must ‘dramatically improve’ to meet October deadline


Concerns are being raised about Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout after several hiccups in the first week.

The Federal Government has previously said it wanted all adults to be vaccinated by October, requiring a furious pace of about one million doses a week to be delivered.

It is already behind in the task, reaching just 33,000 doses of its 60,000 target last week.

Some of the states and territories, which are responsible for the rollout among quarantine and healthcare workers, have vaccinated less than 30 per cent of their targets (Queensland and Victoria), although other states are doing better and Tasmania has got through almost all of its quota, according to the ABC.

The Federal Government, which is responsible for the aged care and disability rollout, delivered 72 per cent of its share of vaccinations.

However, there’s been headaches for the Commonwealth rollout, with more than 120 doses of the Pfizer vaccine thrown out after a storage error at a Melbourne aged care centre. This emerged after a dosing error that saw two elderly Queensland aged care residents given four times the recommended dose.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters on Tuesday that October remained the government’s “objective and time frame”, adding that the program would “ramp up”.

“This is a progressive rollout, done that way for reasons of safety and security,” he said.

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So far Australia has received 422,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

This should be enough to provide everyone in the priority phase 1a group including quarantine and hospital workers, their first dose.

Grattan Institute health program director Stephen Duckett, a former secretary of the federal health department under Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, told news.com.au the rollout would need to “dramatically improve”.

“I haven’t seen the Commonwealth establish the logistics yet to ensure it will vaccinate the general population … at the pace that is required,” Mr Duckett said.

The Federal Government is overseeing the vaccination of the wider public through the GP network while state governments are overseeing vaccines for hospital and quarantine workers.

Mr Duckett said the Federal Government may have to ask state authorities to assist them but would probably have to pay them to do so.

“If they’re going to meet their target they may have to go, cap in hand, to ask the states and pay them about $35 a shot,” he said.

RELATED: Calculate when you’ll be in line for the jab

Asked why he was so sceptical about the federal rollout, Mr Duckett said he hadn’t seen evidence of large venues being organised as vaccination centres.

“When I had the flu vaccine last year I went to Melbourne Town Hall,” he said.

“If you are going to deliver the vaccine to a large number of people, you are going to have to have large venues — we are talking about a million (jabs) a week.”

The government has said it plans to roll out the vaccinations across 1000 locations in Australia but not all details have been revealed yet.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of any planning,” Mr Duckett said.

“If I’d heard any evidence at least of the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) or convention centre or town hall being lined up, I’d believe (the rollout will be ramped up).”

Mr Duckett is not the only expert who is sceptical the government can deliver on its plans to complete the rollout by October.

Dr Mark Hanly, an applied social statistician at the University of NSW’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health, described the target, which he also estimated would require about 200,000 doses a day (or 1 million per five-day week) as a “truly furious pace”.

“It’s possible, but will require dedicated large-scale vaccination sites capable of delivering thousands of doses a week in addition to the enthusiastic participation of general practices and community pharmacies countrywide,” he wrote in The Conversation.

Economist and modeller Professor Quentin Grafton of Australian National University also believes it’s possible, although it would become clearer in the next month or so whether Australia was on track.

RELATED: When WHO believes pandemic will end

“Obviously there’s some teething problems and clearly some things need to be fixed up, presumably they are being fixed,” Prof Grafton said.

“We know in other countries that it’s certainly possible to vaccinate many millions of people in a short period of time.

“But it’s got to be at a bigger scale than what’s happening at the moment.”

The Morrison Government has already flagged the timing may have to be extended due to the longer than expected gap between the two doses required for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On February 16, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Australia with a 12-week gap between the two doses required.

Health Minister Greg Hunt was asked whether long gap would delay the vaccination program.

Mr Hunt said Australia was “absolutely on track” for every Australian who wanted the vaccine, to at least get their first dose.

“We’ll look at what it means in regards to the second dose,” he said.

The government intends to ramp up the number of doses being delivered, although it’s unclear what their maximum number of weekly doses would be.

Mr Hunt has said around one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available each week from March.

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





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A million AstraZeneca doses in vials ‘ready to be packed’


Over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are already sitting in vials ahead of their rollout later this month.

Around 15 million vials of the vaccine were being stored in freezers at minus 80 degrees, representatives for drug manufacturer CSL told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday.

CSL has begun production of the AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of its rollout at the end of the month.

The company’s Christopher Larkins said it expected to “hit a run rate of well over” a million doses per week.

“I was just down at our freezers earlier today, and there are well over a million doses sitting there in vials ready to be packed,” he said.

RELATED: CSL rules out making AstraZeneca, Novavax at the same time

“Our expectation is we will hit a run rate of well over a million doses a week. We will start releasing the product around the end of March, and we hope to hit a million doses or more after that time.”

Rollout would be in rounds of 300,000 doses, he said.

It would be subject to an approval process between CSL, AstraZeneca, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), taking “a day or two, if not hours”.

The vaccine was one of two granted approval by the TGA, alongside the Pfizer vaccine, and the only to be manufactured in Australia.

The federal government has ordered more than 53 million doses of the jab, 50 million to be manufactured onshore.

It argued onshore production would incubate Australia from global supply chain issues.

But concerns have been raised over the efficacy of vaccines in the face of new COVID-19 variants, with the prospect of yearly vaccinations to combat mutations.

CSL’s Beverley Menner confirmed the company was “open to the possibility” of working with AstraZeneca as it adapted its vaccine to virus mutations.

“We work very closely with them on the current vaccine and the process there, but we’re also having broader conversations with them about what the world might need out of this vaccine down the track,” Dr Menner said.

Mr Larkins said CSL could be in a position to manufacture and release new variant vaccines by the end of the year.

The company said adapting to COVID-19 variants would require “fairly minor” changes to its set-up.

But Mr Larkins warned switching to a different vaccine would be a far more complex, cost-intensive task.

“That will take much more effort, probably completely new equipment and refitting out our clean rooms and processes differently,” he said.

The pair said CSL was open to producing other vaccines after it finished its manufacture of the AstraZeneca jab and if requested to do so by the government.

But they reiterated the company could not manufacture two vaccines concurrently.



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Royal Commission makes 65 recommendations


The state’s mental health system has “failed Victorians for decades” and is “woefully unprepared for current and future challenges”, the final Royal Commission report into Victoria’s mental health framework has found.

The five-volume and 3000 page document released on Tuesday recommended an urgent overhaul of the mental health system after two years of investigation.

Royal Commission chair Penny Armytage said the inquiry started its work in February 2019 because the mental health system was clearly failing Victorians.

“The system had indeed failed and had been failing for decades,” she told a special parliamentary sitting at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building on Tuesday morning.

“Personally I was shocked by what I heard and saw. The mental health system had catastrophically failed to live up to expectations and is woefully unprepared for current and future challenges.

“The 2019-20 severe bushfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic shone a further light on the system.”

KEY FINDINGS

“Demand has overtaken capacity”: The Royal Commission found the system was “overwhelmed” and “could not keep up with the number of people who seek treatment, care and support”. This was evident at all levels, from individual mental health professionals to acute and emergency services, the report stated.

“Over-reliance on medication”: Mental health services have come to rely on medication as the main, or sometimes only, treatment people can receive. This is due to major system-wide challenges, such as under-resourcing, the report states. “This has led to an imbalance, with a lack of focus on therapeutic interventions and recovery-centred treatment, care and support”.

“Getting help is difficult”: People cannot access suitable services, and those who do access the system find it “hard to navigate”. People living with mental illness or psychological distress wait long periods and become “sicker” before they can gain access to services. The Royal Commission also found that increasingly, a person must exhibit signs of major distress or crisis before treatment, care and support are provided.

“Access to services is not equitable”: Poverty and disadvantage make it particularly difficult for people to access services, the report states. A disproportionate number of people living with mental illness have low incomes and no private health insurance. The Royal Commission also found the location where people live dictates how difficult it is to gain access to services, with this situation worse for people in rural and regional areas.

“The system is driven by crisis”: Limited service availability means many people living with mental illness or experiencing psychological distress only receive treatment, care and support at times of crisis, the report states.

“Investment in the system is inadequate”: Victoria’s monetary investment in mental health has been low compared with many other parts of Australia. Investment in mental health per capita is also poor compared with physical health.

“The workforce is under-resourced”: There are serious shortages in mental health staff, particularly in rural and regional areas. Despite the commitment and competence displayed by workers, many have struggled to perform their best in a crisis-driven system. Teams feel overworked and under-resourced.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

  • All triple-0 calls concerning mental health crisis to be diverted to Ambulance Victoria rather than Victoria Police.
  • Establish a promotion officer and promotion adviser to help promote the importance of mental health in Victoria.
  • Ensuring people can access mental health services through a referral from a general practitioner or any other service provider in metropolitan and regional areas.
  • Recognise people who are living with mental illness as a priority population group and during the next decade, allocate people living with mental illness a substantial proportion of social and affordable housing.
  • Invest in a further 500 new medium-term (up to two years) supported housing places for young people aged between 18 to 25 who are living with mental illness and experiencing homelessness.
  • Act immediately to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in mental health and wellbeing services, with the aim to eliminate the practices within 10 years.
  • Collaborate with funded non-government helpline services to improve helplines’ connections with mental health and wellbeing services.
  • Invest in diverse and innovative ‘safe spaces’ and crisis respite facilities.
  • Ensure that mental health clinical assistance is available to ambulance and police via a 24-hours-a-day telehealth service for officers responding to mental health crises.
  • Deliver a broad range of bed-based services, including as a matter of immediate priority expanding hospital services which are delivered at home.
  • Ensure that all new mental health inpatient facilities are built with gender-based separation in all bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as separate communal spaces.
  • Ensure public health services and public hospitals receive adequate temporary funding to deliver in-hospital mental health services
  • Fund initiatives, including anti-stigma and anti-bullying programs, across Victorian schools.
  • Establish an infant, child and youth mental health and wellbeing system to provide care for newborns to 25-year-olds
  • By the end of 2022, establish a Statewide Trauma Service to deliver the best possible mental health and wellbeing outcomes for people of all ages with lived experience of trauma.
  • Establish a Suicide Prevention and Response Office which reports to the Chief Officer for Mental Health and Wellbeing.
  • Establish a new statewide specialist service to undertake dedicated research into mental illness and substance use or addiction.
  • As a matter of priority, increase the number of addiction specialists in Victoria.
  • Establish a program for people in prison living with mental illness to help their transition upon release.
  • Repeal the Mental Health Act 2014 (Vic) and enact a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act, preferably by the end of 2021 and no later than mid-2022.
  • Commission an independent review of Victoria’s mental health laws five to seven years after the enactment of the new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act.
  • Work with the Commonwealth Government and the national cabinet Reform.

COVID-19: A LONGER-LASTING IMPACT

The coronavirus pandemic – which overlapped the 2019-20 bushfire season – has had “longer-lasting impacts on us (Victoria) than on other parts of the country”, the Commission found.

These “large scale disruptions” changed the course of the Commission’s direction, finding the state’s mental health season crippled under the pressure during this time.

The then Health and Wellbeing deputy secretary Terry Symonds summarised the impact of these events on Victorians to the Commission.

“I think it is appropriate to acknowledge … how difficult 2020 has been for the Victorian community. The pandemic, which overlapped with the devastating bushfires over the 2019–2020 summer, has had longer‑lasting impacts on us than on other parts of the country,” he said.

“The toll this is taking on our collective mental health cannot be underestimated.”

There were more than 300 mental health – related presentations to emergency departments, among people aged 0–17 years, in Victoria every week during strict lockdown in late November last year – at least 100 less than the same time in 2017.

A NEW APPROACH TO MENTAL HEALTH IN VICTORIA

  • Two aligned service systems to be established — one for infants, children and young people up to their 26th birthday, and the other for adults and older adults.
  • Mental health and wellbeing services to consist of six levels spanning from informal supports through to the most intensive statewide services.
  • 50–60 new adult and older adult local mental health and wellbeing services, and dedicated local services for infants, children and young people.
  • Treatment, care and support of people with high-intensity needs should be provided through 22 adult and older adult area mental health and wellbeing services and 13 infant, child and youth area mental health services.
  • Each adult and older adult service would be co-ordinated with a 24/7 telephone or telehealth service for people in a mental health crisis.
  • The services would be organised around eight regions overseen by regional mental health and wellbeing boards.
  • A new agency would also be established, led by people with lived experience of mental illness or psychological distress.
  • A new independent and statutory mental health and wellbeing commission would be established to hold the Victorian Government to account for the performance and the implementation of all the Commission’s 65 recommendations.

‘WE’RE ALL PAYING THE COST’

Addressing the media following the release of the report Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it would take “years” to fix the broken system, and a significant amount of money.

Mr Andrews said the report’s recommendations would be addressed in future budgets and needed support from the Federal Government.

“This is a profound investment in a system that will be there when you need it,” he said on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re all paying the cost of failure now, and it is billions of dollars more than any levy.

“Doing this properly actually saves money, and it saves lives.”

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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Frydenberg hits back at Palaszczuk over JobKeeper


Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has hit back at Annastacia Palaszczuk, accusing the Queensland Premier of “grandstanding and petty politicking” over her call to extend JobKeeper.

Ms Palaszczuk branded Mr Frydenberg “completely out of touch” over issues affecting Queenslanders as the federal government stands firm on a plan to end its JobKeeper payment by the end of the month.

But Mr Frydenberg has hit back in an editorial for The Courier Mail, accusing the Queensland Premier of “grandstanding and petty politicking”.

“The reality is the Morrison government has already delivered to Queenslanders more than three times the amount of economic support than the Palaszczuk government has committed to,” he wrote.

RELATED: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg blasts Annastacia Palaszczuk’s calls to extend JobKeeper

“No amount of grandstanding and petty politicking by the Queensland Premier will detract from the indisputable fact that when it comes to the economic response in Queensland, the Morrison government has done the bulk of the heavy lifting.”

Ms Palaszczuk warned on Monday that one-in-20 Queenslanders would be cut off from support when JobKeeper ended, claiming “Queensland is not getting a fair go from Canberra”.

But Mr Frydenberg said Queensland had provided the lowest level of economic support of any state or territory since COVID-19 began.

He said the Palaszczuk government had spent just 2 per cent of gross state product on support compared with 9 per cent in Victoria and 7 per cent in NSW.

“Unfortunately for Queenslanders, when it comes to the level of state government support, this is one State of Origin contest their government doesn’t win,” he said.

Queensland’s tourism industry has been slow to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with no clear date for the reopening of international borders.

Ms Palaszczuk has consistently called for JobKeeper to be extended for the sector but said those demands “had fallen on deaf ears”.

But the federal government has said Queensland’s hardline border stance has prevented the industry filling the void with interstate travellers.

Mr Frydenberg said the next phase of Australia’s economic recovery would focus on hard-hit sectors but should not inhibit the broader rebound.

“Any further targeted support needs to be proportionate, temporary and accompanied by a clear exit strategy,” he said.

“These are the types of measures the Morrison government is currently considering.”

Mr Frydenberg stressed Queenslanders could still access a range of supports, including the JobMaker hiring credit, while Treasury modelling showed 2.3 million Queenslanders would receive income tax cuts in 2021.



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Penny Wong says she met with woman who accused minister of rape


Penny Wong has revealed she met the woman who made a rape allegation against a minister, saying she facilitated her referral to rape crisis support.

Ms Wong received an anonymous letter, also sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which included an attachment reportedly from the woman alleging she was raped in 1988 by a man, who is now a minister.

The woman committed suicide in June 2020, having made a report to NSW Police earlier that year.

The Labor senate leader revealed on Saturday she first became aware of the allegation in November 2019, when she “ran into” the woman in Adelaide.

“The complainant made an allegation that she had been raped many years earlier by a person who is now a senior member of the Federal Government. She indicated she intended to report the matter to NSW Police,” she said.

“I said that making a report to the appropriate authorities was the right thing to do. I facilitated her referral to rape support services and confirmed she was being supported in reporting the matter to NSW Police.

RELATED: Prime Minister receives letter detailing historical sexual assault claim against minister

“The death of the woman who made this allegation is a tragedy, and devastating for everyone who knew and loved her.

“The woman, and her family and friends, have been in my thoughts throughout.

“I issue this statement in the interests of transparency, and in the hope that appropriate action is taken to examine her allegation, the circumstances of her death and what can and should be done to help keep people safe and save lives in the future.”

Ms Wong confirmed she had contacted South Australia Police to offer her assistance to a coronial investigation into the woman’s death.

She said she had also written to Mr Morrison and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the other recipient of the letter, to “outline the steps I have taken following receipt of this anonymous letter”.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham on Saturday made the first public appearance by a government frontbencher since reports of the alleged rape were aired on Friday.

During the press conference Mr Birmingham was pressed on whether the person at the centre of the allegations should come forward.

“Everybody is entitled to natural justice and it’s important to back the police to do their job … That’s the right way to handle this,” he said.

In 2014, then-Labor leader Bill Shorten identified himself as the man at the centre of a different historical rape allegation which had been reported in the media.

Mr Shorten strenuously denied the claim and said he co-operated with Victoria Police, which declined to proceed with the investigation, to clear his name.

Mr Birmingham was asked whether speculation could unfairly malign other ministers in lieu of the current minister taking the same action.

“Well, I’m not sure how you think it would be resolved thereafter. I think we have to respect that we have justice systems in Australia,” he replied.

But with the case unprosecutable given the alleged victim died in 2020, the letter demanded the Morrison government establish an independent probe into the alleged rape.

Mr Birmingham said it was imperative for police to pursue the matter “free of any sense of political interference or direction”.

The AFP confirmed on Saturday it had received a complaint relating to an alleged historical sexual assault and would liaise with the relevant state authorities.



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Qantas trialling COVID-19 vaccine passports


It appears Qantas is following through on its promise to require international travellers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with the airline already trialling new vaccine passports.

This week, Qantas and Jetstar announced it was planning to resume international flights to “most destinations” from October 31, 2021.

The date coincides with the goal of the Federal government to have the majority of Australia’s adult population vaccinated against COVID-19 by October this year.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce sparked controversy in November last year when he said a coronavirus vaccination would be a condition of travel for those wishing to go overseas with the airline.

“For international travellers, we will ask people to have a vaccination before they get on the aircraft,’’ he said.

“Certainly, for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country we think that’s a necessity.”

RELATED: Travel boss says overseas travel by June

RELATED: Qantas launches new Aussie flights

Now the airline seems to be taking the next step in that plan by deciding how they will verify the vaccination status of passengers.

Passengers will likely be required to use a “vaccination passport” to prove they have receive the jab.

“Qantas is assessing the use of digital health pass apps to help support the resumption of COVID-safe international travel,” the airline said in a statement.

“The CommonPass and IATA Travel Pass smartphone apps are being trialled on the airline’s international repatriation flights.”

So far, these apps have only been tested in crew members but from next week they will be tested out on returning Aussies, according to 7 News.

Both the CommonPass and IATA apps would provide an easily accessible document of your COVID-19 status, including whether you have been vaccinated and any record of negative coronavirus tests if required to enter a country.

“CommonPass lets individuals access their lab results and vaccination records, and consent to have that information used to validate their COVID status without revealing any other underlying personal health information,” the CommonPass website states.

“Lab results and vaccination records can be accessed through existing health data systems, national or local registries or personal digital health records.”

The platform would also be able to assess whether a person’s test results or vaccination records come from a trusted source and satisfy the COVID-19 health requirements of the country they are travelling to.

Qantas Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Hudson said Qantas was still in the early ages of trialling the apps, adding they would likely be very similar to the Service NSW app used in NSW.

“It will be in an app on your phone, that you can present along with your travel documentation that shows proof of vaccination, and also if you had required to have a COVID test before travel, the results of that test,” she told reporters.

“I think our focus is making sure that it’s as seamless for customers as possible, but also, very easy and seamless for our frontline people to use as well. It creates just a fast process at that point of check-in.”

Most of Qantas’ international routes are expected to resume on October 31, including flights to London, Singapore and Los Angeles.

Three routes – New York, Santiago and Osaka – will return at a later date, with Qantas passengers able to fly to those cities with codeshare partners in the meantime.

Qantas said its current international flying capacity was around 8 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels, which currently consists of repatriation flights and services to New Zealand.

The company does not expect international flights to see much of an increase in the second half of 2021, and its international network is not expected to be fully restored until 2024 at least.

However, it is looking towards a “significant increase” in flights to New Zealand from July 1 as Australia maintains its travel bubble with its trans-Tasman neighbour.

Mr Joyce said Qantas was talking with the federal government about its plans to officially reopen Australia’s borders.

“The federal government wants to see a few things happening before they can make a firm date happen with international borders, like the transmission effectiveness of the vaccine,” he said.

“We are confident there should be a good case for reopening in October, (when) the population will be fully vaccinated.”



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JobKeeper ending, measly dole increase will hurt Scott Morrison at next election


In politics, as in war, battles are won and lost in the middle. You must take the citadel, claim the centre.

But the centre is not just a piece of space. It is not just a marginal seat or a margin of error. It is also a place in the human heart, a place where things feel balanced and right.

Australians have forever voted for reliability over recklessness. In the era since World War II it has taken little short of catastrophe or atrophy to cause a change in government.

Our entire compulsory and preferential voting system is designed to produce not the best outcome but the least worst. It is the core of our democratic stability. Mild frustration is its fuel and Australian voters have been nothing if not generous and patient with their political masters.

But it is nonetheless a fragile thing and many cracks have emerged in it this week.

It is easy to forget that Scott Morrison’s miracle victory was not a landslide but an eggshell. It was an astonishing political feat and a damning indictment on Labor’s undergraduate assumptions but the wash-up still left a lot of beached whales and one of them – the rogue MP Craig Kelly – has now gone back out to sea.

That puts Morrison back where Gillard was and where Turnbull almost was and where all of us have pretty much been for the last sorry decade.

Morrison went to the 2019 election with no policy platform that any average punter could name and then went AWOL in his baptism of literal fire. Had an election been held during the bushfires of 2019-20 Albo would have been ferried into the prime ministership even if he was dead on a stretcher.

At that point the only thing that could possibly have saved Morrison was an as yet unimaginable crisis. Amazingly, one came along, and his whatever-it-takes attitude to politics – he is, after all, a friend of Richo – saved his bacon and ours.

With nary a second thought the Liberal hardman embraced Keynesian economics and ploughed public money into people’s pockets. It might not have been his idea but who cares? The economy – the whole country – survived and thrived.

Morrison’s strength is that for all his Godliness he seems to believe in nothing in this temporal world. He is a political warrior who makes politically expedient choices and in his response to COVID-19 they have thankfully been for the greater good.

But his pragmatic instincts have failed him this week. Not in the problematic areas of Craig Kelly or Brittany Higgins but in the basic right of Australians to survive.

It has been common knowledge for years now that the current rate of the dole is unliveable, a position now held by everyone from John Howard to Barnaby Joyce to the Business Council of Australia. It has stagnated at absurdly low levels for decades to the point where even getting dressed for a job interview or buying a bus ticket to one is unaffordable. Rent is unthinkable.

The mass lay-offs caused by the COVID-19 shutdowns only underscore how precious and fleeting jobs can be. There may well be a handful of bludgers out there taking the piss but there are a hundred times more ordinary people desperately struggling to get by.

Some of them are older and know they will never work again, some still have hope. Either way an increase of $3.57 a day is hardly going to be the difference between survival and oblivion.

The current extra benefit is a modest $150 a fortnight. While few were expecting it to remain that high, I would have thought the sensible and fair thing to do would be split the difference, round it up and thus give an extra $80 a fortnight.

For the meagre $25 a week the Coalition is currently offering you’d almost say why bother? You’re going to look mean and miserable anyway so either save yourself the money or make it a decent amount and reap the reward.

It is astonishing to think that the government was handed a policy on a platter that was morally right, economically right and politically right and yet still somehow managed to stuff it up.

For both parties this is a battle that must be fought, one that taps into the heart of middle Australia and its innate sense of fairness and decency.

Up until this week I thought that the Coalition had seized Australia’s political centre. Now Labor has an opportunity to reclaim it.

And when you win the heart you win the fight.



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A quarter of Australians still unsure about coronavirus vaccine, study finds


A new survey has found that while around three-quarters of Australians plan to get the coronavirus jab once it is available, doubts remain for an alarming 24 per cent of us.

That’s according to new University of Melbourne research based on a January survey of more than 1000 Aussies regarding their attitudes to COVID-19 policies, including the vaccine rollout which is now under way.

The research revealed support for Australia’s coronavirus stance was high overall, as was trust in the Federal Government, the chief medical officer and medical scientists.

Meanwhile, 70 per cent of us said the rules “designed to reduce the spread of COVID” had been applied fairly, with 66 per cent saying they had been introduced effectively and 71 per cent claiming they had been carried out successfully.

And 76 per cent of us plan to get the jab as soon as possible, with 73 per cent supporting compulsory vaccination of the entire population and 51 per cent agreeing that government benefits should be dependent upon proof of vaccination.

However, the survey found almost a quarter of respondents still had doubts about the vaccine, which echoes the findings of an ANU study released earlier this month which found there had been a “substantial increase in vaccine resistance and hesitancy and a large decline in vaccine likeliness” between August 2020 and January 2021.

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The “Change in vaccine willingness in Australia: August 2020 to January 2021” report found that “combined, 21.7 per cent of Australians said they probably or definitely would not get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021, a significant and substantial increase from the 12.7 per cent of Australians who gave the same responses in August 2020”.

But co-director of the University of Melbourne’s Policy Lab, associate professor Aaron Martin, said there was greater support for COVID-19 policies among the Australian population than in other like nations.

“We also find that when it comes to COVID-19 information citizens trust information coming from government almost as much as they trust information coming from scientists. This is not always the case in other comparable democracies,” he said.

Prof Martin said studying trust in government was essential as it was often linked to social compliance, adherence to future policy decisions and overall effectiveness in responding to the pandemic.

“We had 84 per cent of respondents state that they trusted information coming from the Federal Government ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’,” he said.

“This figure was comparable to the trust respondents expressed in information coming from the chief medical officer (87 per cent), medical scientists (88 per cent) and their relevant state/territory (83 per cent) government.

“These findings suggest that trends toward lower levels of trust in government do not translate into distrust of COVID information.”



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