What we learned today, Monday 20 December
And with that, we are going to put the blog to bed for the evening. Thank you everyone for going through the evening’s news with me – as always a total pleasure.
Let’s quickly recap the big moments from today:
Clean-up continued on Sydney’s northern beaches after ‘mini-cyclone’. Later, emergency services said a microburst was to blame for northern beaches wild weather.
Strike announced that will stop Sydney trains overnight.
NSW recorded 2,501 new local Covid-19 cases, Victoria 1,302, ACT 13, Queensland 59, SA 105 and Tasmania recorded three.
NT recorded three new Covid cases and the lockdown was extended in Tennant Creek
At least 10 Melbourne Covid testing sites shut after reaching capacity – wait times we’re long in Victoria, NSW and SA.
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet said public health is a “personal” decision and he would not mandate masks.
The PM announced he would discuss Omicron outbreak with premiers at snap national cabinet meeting on Friday.
Refugee activist Shane Bazzi lodged an appeal against Dutton defamation decision.
And NSW approved the construction of a gas-powered station in Hunter.
And that’s it! I will be back with you tomorrow – we can do it all again.
at 3.11am EST
A monolithic steel cask designed to withstand an earthquake and a jet strike will arrive in Sydney next year, carrying two tonnes of radioactive waste.
For security reasons authorities won’t say when the hulking capsule – containing four 500kg canisters of ‘intermediate-level material’ – will arrive from the UK.
But it will hardly be an inconspicuous affair: the cask itself weighs 100 tonnes and resembles something from NASA’s space program.
Its forged steel walls are 20cm thick, it’s 6.5m long and three metres wide.
Back in 2015, when the first cask of its type arrived, it was carrying 20 tonnes of Australian nuclear waste that had been reprocessed in France.
About 600 police and security officers were involved in the mission to truck it from Port Kembla, near Wollongong, to Lucas Heights, the southern Sydney suburb that serves as the country’s nuclear technology hub.
It is safe to assume that next year’s arrival will involve an equally elaborate, high-security operation.
Mining giant Glencore has defended its plans to dig a $1.5bn coalmine in Queensland after telling the federal government more than a dozen threatened species could be on the site, Graham Readfearn writes.
at 2.38am EST
An internet outage left residents of a Top End remote community unable to buy food for four days, with critics arguing the situation was worsened by forced welfare income management policies.
Maningrida, an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory home to about 3,000 people, suffered through an outage of 3G and 4G internet services from 11am Thursday until Monday afternoon.
NSW approves construction of gas-powered station in Hunter
The NSW government has approved the construction of a $600m gas-fired power station backed by the Morrison government in the state’s Hunter region.
Snowy Hydro has received its planning approval to build the 660 megawatt power station in Kurri Kurri from Rob Stokes in one of his final decisions as the state’s planning minister and after a fast-tracked environmental assessment.
The Morrison government announced in May it would spend up to $600m on the project after warning it would step in if the private sector did not commit to building at least 1000MW to replace the Liddel coal-fired generator in 2023.
Labor had called for the government to release its business case for the taxpayer-funded project. The project’s environmental impact statement showed the Kurri Kurri plant would be rarely used.
“This project will improve energy reliability and security in the National Energy Market as it brings on renewable energy from wind and solar farms, and transitions away from coal-fired power generation over the next 10-15 years,” a spokesperson for the NSW department of planning, industry and environment said this evening.
at 2.08am EST
A severe storm on Sydney’s northern beaches on Sunday that left one woman dead and three injured, tore the roof off buildings and felled trees, was a microburst event, according to New South Wales emergency services.
On Monday, NSW State Emergency Service superintendent Stuart Fisher said: “At approximately 3.45pm yesterday, a microburst appeared out of nowhere, situated over the northern beaches, resulting in over 550 requests for assistance and 150,000 phone calls.”
A yoga instructor heading home from a neighbourhood Christmas gathering has been identified as the woman killed in a brief but ferocious storm in Sydney.
The storm, which ripped roofs off apartment buildings and took out power for 35,000 homes, struck as 68-year-old Susan Cobham was heading home from a party near Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club on Sunday afternoon.
“Lightning hit a massive Norfolk pine which subsequently fell, crushing her and hitting two other women,” her son Ben Porter posted to her Facebook page.
“It was an unlucky freak accident and she has left us far too early and will be sorely missed.”
Cobham, who was educated in Uruguay and previously worked as a scientist for AstraZeneca, was “a terrific person, a real bright spark and will be much missed”, friend Penny Auburn posted.
Former AstraZeneca colleague Karishma Pai said Cobham was “a great colleague and even better a friend to many of us who worked in the lab alongside her”.
at 1.56am EST
Surging demand at Covid testing clinics across Australia has led to waiting times of up to five days for results, with travellers now worried they won’t get a negative result in time to cross state borders for Christmas.
Waiting times in Victoria have averaged between 40 minutes and an hour during the past week, while a busy ACT site reached capacity by 9.30am on Monday.
at 1.55am EST
Conservation groups have reached the Supreme Court to challenge key environmental approvals granted to Woodside’s Scarborough Gas project off northwest Western Australia, in order to prevent what they call “staggering amounts of pollution”.
Woodside reached a final investment decision in November for the joint $16 billion LNG development.
Part of the proposal is to pipe gas from the field, approximately 375km west of the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha, to its existing onshore Pluto LNG plant.
At the heart of the challenge are amendments to the project’s environmental approvals, which the EPA agreed to in August. The changes were then approved by WA Environment Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson.
Lawyers for the Environmental Defenders Office, acting on behalf of the Conservation Council of WA, told the court in Perth the changes would allow for “significant” extra greenhouse gas emissions, which EPA chairman Matthew Tonts had not properly assessed in deciding on the approvals.
“The inference to be drawn is that the chairman didn’t reach his own decision,” Henry Jackson SC, representing the EDO, told the court on Monday.
We mentioned earlier that the PM is holding a previously unscheduled meeting with national cabinet, here Katharine Murphy has the full run down.
at 1.20am EST
Tanya Plibersek asks auditor general to audit Australian Research Council grants
The shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek has written to the auditor general about an “unacceptable delay” in the Australian Research Council announcing 2022 grant funding round outcomes. There have been significant delays to announcements of grants awarded in the ARC’s Discovery Projects, Linkage and LIEF schemes.
“With only seven working days left this year, researchers across the nation are yet to receive a decision about their 2022 Australian Research Grant applications.
We understand this is the longest delay in announcing these grants in thirty years.
This is causing significant uncertainty for around five thousand Australian researchers who don’t know whether they’ll have a job next year or whether their projects will have funding.
In our view, the Government’s unacceptable delay in announcing Australian Research Grants is a serious failure of public administration – a matter of national interest that bears further scrutiny.
The delays come after months of controversy for the ARC. In August, the council was widely criticised for deeming grant proposals ineligible due to a rule banning applicants from citing preprint materials. The rule was later scrapped and affected applicants had an appeal upheld.
The ARC’s chief executive Sue Thomas said this month that she would step down in January.
at 1.05am EST
Epidemiologist Prof Mary-Louise McLaws has spent the past week dialling in to meetings of the World Health Organization’s [WHO] infection prevention and control group, and said: “I don’t know of any outbreak manager who would not support wearing masks at the very minimum” in cities where Covid-19 cases are rising.
“WHO keeps reminding the world that vaccines are not the only answer because this virus keeps changing,” McLaws said. “Vaccines certainly reduce the risk of death and severe infection. But you do need other measures, like physical distancing, and masks.”
The New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, continued to resist additional measures to mitigate the spread of Omicron on Monday, saying, “The pandemic is not going away. We need to learn to live alongside it,” while ruling out mask mandates and further restrictions for now.
“The government can’t do everything,” he said. Like Perrottet, Scott Morrison said booster vaccines are key to living with the virus, a view echoed by Dr Nick Coatsworth, one of Australia’s deputy chief medical officers, on Twitter.
at 1.07am EST
Australian Vaccine Tracker
🟢 5.4% 💉💉💉
🟩 71.3% 💉💉
🟪 3% 💉
90.5% of 12+
December 20, 2021
A Labor-led committee will scrutinise the problem-plagued light rail system in Sydney’s inner west, reports AAP.
The parliamentary inquiry comes after cracks were found in all 12 vehicles used on the L1 line, forcing commuters onto replacement buses and ferries.
“With light rail services suspended from Central to Dulwich Hill for up to 18 months, thousands of individuals and businesses have been significantly impacted,” committee chair Daniel Mookhey said.
“The committee seeks to shed light on how and why this has happened, its impact on the community, and importantly, how those impacts can be mitigated until the line is reinstated.”
The inquiry will also examine services in Sydney’s southeast and Newcastle as well as the procurement, operation and maintenance of the systems. Hearings will be heard in the new year, with submissions and a questionnaire closing on 31 March.
Outgoing Transport Minister Rob Stokes announced last month that all 12 trams on the city’s inner west line would be decommissioned for up to 18 months to fix major cracks – up to 30cm long – on the rolling stock.
But last week he revealed the seven-year-old light rail cars would be back up and running in less than a year.
Former police minister David Elliot will take over the transport portfolio from Tuesday after Premier Dominic Perrottet’s first major cabinet reshuffle.
Looks like it could be a scorcher in Perth this Christmas.
Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia
The updated #ChristmasDay 🎅 forecast has been released – a top of 42°C in #Perth 🥵
The hottest Christmas Day on record is 42.0°C back in 1968, so there is a chance we will break this record. The hottest December day is 44.2°C on Boxing Day in 2007. https://t.co/OmYKfhQEwF pic.twitter.com/OPR8cYbOrC
December 20, 2021
Sydney train commuters have been warned of major disruptions to the network overnight as union members plan on further strike action.
The work stoppage will disrupt the Sydney Trains-operated network as Rail, Tram, and Bus Union members plan to strike from 8pm on Monday to 4am on Tuesday.
Transport for NSW has warned train frequency will slow from 6pm and people could be left stranded.
Buses will replace train services on all lines between 8pm and 4am, but Sydney commuters are being encouraged to avoid travelling on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
Intercity and regional services will also be affected, with some of the services suspended from 3.30pm on Monday before resuming at 5.30am on Tuesday.
The union says it remains at loggerheads with Transport for NSW as they negotiate a new enterprise agreement covering more than 10,000 staff.
Federal parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have pleaded with the Western Australian government to strengthen new state laws designed to protect Aboriginal heritage, amid concerns the McGowan government has not taken into consideration lessons learned from the destruction of a sacred site at Juukan Gorge in 2020.
Members of the joint standing committee on northern Australia wrote to Stephen Dawson, WA Aboriginal affairs minister, on 10 December, to express their concern about the WA Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, days before it was passed into law.
The committee previously conducted a review into Rio Tinto’s destruction of a 46,000-year-old cultural site at Juukan Gorge. The committee’s chair, federal LNP MP Warren Entsch, said the new WA bill “falls far short of the reforms advocated” advocated in his committee’s final report.
Entsch noted the committee’s recommendations called for “consistency with the principles of free, prior and informed consent by Indigenous people”, and said the WA bill “conflicts with these principles by giving the Minister the ultimate power to decide whether mining or other activities can go ahead if traditional owners do not agree”.
Entsch also criticised the consultation process behind the WA bill, saying it “was not centred on culturally based protocols, was not undertaken in language and was not linked to elements of Aboriginal culture”.
Last week, after the bill passed, Labor senator Pat Dodson, who co-wrote the letter to Dawson, blasted the Western Australian government for failing its one opportunity to protect Aboriginal heritage and stop the “tyranny of cultural genocide”.
Read more about the WA bill here, from Lorena Allam, Guardian Australia’s Indigenous affairs editor:
at 11.55pm EST