Monthly Archives: September 2020

Australian Politics 2020-09-30 15:44:00


A controversial gas project in northern NSW has been given the green light to go ahead

A controversial gas project in northern NSW has been given the green light by the state’s independent planning authority.

The NSW Independent Planning Commission has given “phased approval” for Santos’ $3.6 billion Narrabri gas project in the north east of the state.

The decision allowing the coal seam gas project comes more than six months after the state’s planning minister referred it to the regulatory body.

Phased approval has been granted for the project with 134 attached conditions.

Santos has said the project will create up to 1300 construction and 200 operational jobs.

“Following its detailed deliberations, the commission concludes the project is in the public interest and that any negative impacts can be effectively mitigated with strict conditions,” the commission’s statement said.

“The commission has granted a phased approval that is subject to stringent conditions, which means that the applicant must meet specific requirements before the project can progress to the next phase of development.”

During the hearing process communities and scientists raised concerns the project would put the area’s water resources at risk.

In its consultation phase, the project attracted approximately 23,000 submission, with opposing views that it would hinder the quality of the groundwater and concerns surrounding greenhouse gas emissions.

Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Daniel Walton said the Narrabri project would ensure NSW was provided with lower gas prices, which would mean cheaper electricity for households.

“Our union has never accepted the false choice between gas and renewables – you need the reliability of the former to allow the latter to flourish,” he said.

“New South Wales should be a thriving global heavy manufacturing hub, and that’s exactly what we can become if we better harness our gas wealth. This approval is an excellent step.”


State Government funds research into ‘game changer’ in fight against COVID-19

Aussie scientists are on the verge of a major breakthrough in the fight to track and control coronavirus that could see a return to normal life.

A leading coronavirus expert in the UK has pointed to research showing children display a different set of COVID-19 symptoms to adults.

Researchers at Xing Technologies are developing an ultra-rapid coronavirus test that can detect whether a person is infected and contagious within moments.

The State Government has already invested $1.5 million into the project and the company has also received $1 million from the US Government.

The Courier Mail reports that trials for the test are already underway in the US.

Brisbane-based Xing Technologies CEO Tom Esplin told the newspaper that a rapid test could pave the way for a return to normal pre-COVID activities, including travel.

“People are saying we need a rapid point-of-care test to let people get on aeroplanes,” Mr Esplin said.

“We’d like to be able to offer it. The highest viral loads occur in the three days before you develop symptoms. This test is perfectly suited for those who’ve got the highest risk of spreading it.”

The test has been designed to use a nasal swab that those who have taken COVID-19 tests are familiar with.

A solution would then be applied to the swab to produce a rapid result.

The Today show reports the test “could be used to test people before they go into high risk areas” like “aged care facilities, shopping centres, planes and hospitals”.

Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones told the Courier Mail that funding the project through the Palaszczuk Government’s Industry Tech Fund was an important step in moving forward with the lingering threat of COVID-19.

“It could be a real game changer in the fight against this pandemic,” Ms Jones said.

The test could cost as little as a cup of coffee, 9 News reports.

There are hopes that it could be used in a spray to be applied to personal protective equipment like face shields and face masks.


Why ‘micro’ courses are catching on

When Michael Elwan’s commute disappeared when Covid-19 prompted him to work-from-home in March, he decided to invest his freed-up time in a 10-week “micro-masters” in leadership at the University of Queensland (UQ). The contracts manager at the not-for-profit Uniting WA was already completing a Masters in Social Work but wanted to focus on leadership for more immediate career progression plans.

Despite the entire course being online, he was “amazed” by the networking opportunities he had with fellow students from all over the world.

“The course taught me how to lead teams from different backgrounds in turbulent times, which was especially relevant,” he says.

Elwan isn’t alone.

UQ’s leadership course saw a jump of almost 300 per cent in enrolments this year compared to the first half of last year. A total of 40,000 people have enrolled in the university’s top three micro-masters courses in 2020.

It comes as hundreds of thousands of Australians stare into one of the grimmest consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic: higher unemployment and underemployment, and greater anxiety about job security.

Like in previous recessions, demand for higher education and skills training is tipped to rise – in part because there aren’t many well-paying alternatives, but also due to necessity in a more competitive and changing jobs market.

However, not everyone has the financial means or appetite to tackle an entire degree. And with many industries undergoing profound upheavals, it’s difficult to know whether the skills learnt will be relevant by the time they are acquired.

Micro-credentials, by contrast, offer a short, sharp and cost-effective opportunity for learning. Course length varies from a couple of hours to several months and anything from email etiquette to data analytics can be learned.

“Micro-credentials offer a way to rapidly refresh your professional profile. It could help you scale some kind of career hurdle, get a pay rise, change jobs or move into an adjacent area,” says Dr Robert Kay, Executive Director of Incept Labs.

In April, Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that the government would subsidise six-month micro-credentials in nursing, teaching, health, information technology, with fifty-four universities responded by creating micro-credential courses. The government is now creating a nationally consistent digital platform to compare micro-credential course outcomes and credit point value, among other things.

This is important, because a current lack of standardisation means that outcomes and even quality can vary, says Kay.

“Ultimately, the value of a micro-credential is determined by who recognises it and for what. The risks relate to their currency at present, because micro-credentials aren’t mapped to the Australian Qualifications Framework. It’s therefore difficult to find an equivalence with other forms of qualifications,” Kay says.

Nonetheless, many employers already recognise the value of micro-credentials as a form of professional development. For example, Westpac in 2018 rolled out The Business Institute, an internal “school” for business bankers developed in consultation with leading business schools that delivers educational content, access to world-class teachers and credits towards external qualifications.

Laura Tien, digital content and partnerships associate at co-working hub Workit, says micro-credentials can help differentiate businesses from competitors, “especially during tough times like now”. She recently completed a six-hour micro-credentials course in Google Analytics, using her newfound skills to help Workit leverage data to make better decisions on ad spending. She also has a digital badge to add to her Linkedin profile.

“It was really interactive – I had to click through the actual application before being able to move onto the next part, which helped me retain the information,” she says. “My university degree taught me theories of marketing, but it wasn’t useful in terms of technical skills, which are so important these days,” she says.

UQ Associate Professor Tim Kastelle, who runs the corporate innovation micro-masters course, believes that micro-credentials will be a disruptive force in Australia’s education system and much needed add-ons for professionals.

“The idea that an undergraduate degree gives you the skills you need for the rest of your career is obsolete – if it was ever really true. The nature of work is changing and there is an almost constant need to be learning new things: and shorter forms of learning can accommodate that,” he says.

“Someone might say to themselves, ‘I’ve just been promoted to team leader, so I’ll do a course on leading high performing teams.’ It’s about figuring out how to do a specific thing, rather than wanting to develop an integrated body of knowledge as you get from a degree.”


Why your health fund premium is rising

Health fund premiums will rise by as much as $400 a year from tomorrow with many fund members slugged more than twice the promised average 2.9 per cent increase.

The nation’s largest health fund Medibank is raising the price of some of its Gold policies by 6.7 per cent and many Silver Plus policies by 5.9 per cent.

Bupa, Australia’s second largest insurer is raising the cost of one Silver policy by 5.6 per cent.

Some HCF members are facing premium rises of 3.2 per cent on their family cover, while

NIB’s Silver and Basic plus policies will increase an average of 4.3 and 3.9 per cent respectively.

It comes as News Corp can reveal the so called “average” 2.9 per cent premium rise figure – used by the government — is not an average of the premium rises of the policies offered but instead the percentage rise in premium income health funds receive.

“The percentage change in forecast contribution income is considered to be the most appropriate way of reflecting the price change in premiums that will be received by an insurer,” the Department of Health said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and the insurance industry used the 2.9 per cent figure to boast that this year’s average annual premium rise was the lowest in two decades.

“From 1 April 2020, a single person will pay an average of $0.68 extra per week ($2.72 month $35.36 a year) family on average will pay $1.99 ($7.76 month $103 a year) more a week,” Mr Hunt claimed when he announced the premium rises.

But consumer group Choice said the five to six per cent rises most fund members face from tomorrow will hurt far more than advertised.

“That figure is almost, I guess, misleading it’s definitely not how people will interpret that figure,” Choice health spokesman Dean Price told News Corp.

“And it helps explain some of the shock that people feel when they get that notice from a health insurer notifying them of the increase, which is above the publicly stated average increase that there fund is passing on,” he said.

Health funds delayed their annual April 1 premium rises for six months after the government imposed surgery bands due to COVID-19 so now their members face two rises in six months.

Insurers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns and surgery bans.

Professor of Health Economics, University of Melbourne Yuting Zhang has calculated payouts for hospital treatment fell 7.9 per cent in dollar terms between December and March and a further 12.9 per cent between March and June.

Payouts for extras cover plunged 32.9 per cent between March and June this year.

Private Healthcare Australia chief Dr Rachel David said since the surgery bans were lifted in states outside Victoria surgery rates lifted to up to 124 per cent above normal as doctors sought to catch up on their treatment lists.

Health funds have offered their members hundreds of millions of dollars worth of rebates for telehealth consultations, automatic coverage for COVID-19 illnesses and discounts if members lost their job and could not pay premiums.

Medibank’s said across its hospital products, the lowest premium increase is 0 per cent and the highest is 7 per cent.

Seventy one per cent of Medibank customers on a singles policy will get an average increase on their premium of $3 or less per week ($12 per month), while 77 per cent of family policies will get an increase of $6 or less per week ($24 per month), the fund said.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here

How Pooling COVID-19 Test Samples Is Super Beneficial

Getting the results of coronavirus tests has been a chronic problem throughout much of the 2020 pandemic.

Mufid Majnun: Laboratory worker takes a swab test, via Unsplash at

Early on, simply getting things like an adequate supply of nasal swabs to collect samples for all those seeking COVID tests was a huge problem. Later, testing labs entrusted with determining whether a person either tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection or not became a problem when many couldn't keep up with the demand for tests.

The answer to the first challenge was to increase the supply of the test kit components that were in short supply. Engineers deployed 3-D printing technology to make the nasopharyngeal swabs used in COVID test kits. Earlier this month, a study found that one of the more widely used 3-D printed swabs that was developed to cope with the shortage "work as well, and safely, as the standard synthetic flocked nasal swabs".

The answer to the second challenge has been more difficult. The standard answer for the testing labs has been to add more testing equipment to process test results. Unlike nasal swabs however, this equipment cannot be easily produced using 3-D printers, and the supply of qualified equipment and related testing supplies has also come to be in short supply.

That shortage can be seen in the experience of testing labs in states coping with surges in coronavirus infections. Many have had to wait weeks to get new equipment they ordered, only to then face further delays as they needed more time to clear the huge backlogs of past test results after it arrived.

These delays have made it difficult for testing labs to get caught up enough to make testing an effective way to monitor and control the rate of spread of coronavirus infections as envisioned by public health officials. In the absense of sufficient testing capacity, many politicians have stepped in to impose restrictions on commerce and other activities in a bid to slow the spread of infections, but their reactionary policies have wrought considerable damage.

Damage that might be avoided if only COVID-19 testing can be done in a much more timely manner.

That's where the idea of pooling test samples makes a lot of sense. Take a portion of the individual test samples that have been collected and combine them together to perform a single test. If the test on the combined sample comes back negative, then all the individuals whose samples were pooled together this way can be cleared in the time it takes to perform a single test. If the combined test samples comes back positive, then individual tests might be performed to identify the individuals who are infected.

The following diagram provides an example of how pooled testing works in the case of testing for HIV infections in multiple individuals using collected blood samples.

Horemheb-Rubio et al (September 2017). Figure 1. Diagram of pooling method for serum samples from blood donors

In this example, we can see how pooling test samples can reduce the number of required tests from 20, one for each individual sample, down to as few as 9 tests, a 55% reduction. Applied to COVID-19, pooled testing could greatly amplify the capacity of testing labs while reducing their immediate needs to add expensive equipment.

That's the promise of pooled testing, but the reality hinges on a number of factors. How prevalent are coronavirus infections among the population being tested? How many people's tests can be batched and usefully processed and tracked together using this testing method? What's the optimal size of a testing subgroup?

Fortunately, if you have an idea of what the answer for the first two of these questions might be, there's math to answer the third question! Math that we've deployed in the following tool. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to access a working version.

Testing Parameters
Input Data Values
Total Number of Individual Samples in Testing Pool
Probability of a Positive Sample in the Tested Population

Optimal Subgroup Size for Pooled Testing
Calculated Results Values
Optimal Size of Pooled Testing Subgroup
Benefits of Using Pooled Testing
Expected Number of Tests with Pooled Testing
Percentage of Tests Saved Using Pooled Testing

Without pooled testing, the number of tests that would otherwise need to be performed would be equal to the total number of individual samples.

For the default scenario in the tool, that would be 20 tests. With pooled testing, and assuming that 10% of the population would test positive, the required number of tests to identify all those with positive results would drop to 9, a 55% reduction. That was to be expected, seeing as the default scenario presented in the tool matched the example in the diagram.

But how might the results change if you increased the number of individual samples? What would happen if the expected test positivity rate was 5% instead of 10%? Being able to answer questions like those is why we built this tool!

For what it's worth, the Food and Drug Administration first approved pooled testing for a COVID-19 test developed by Quest Diagnostics that would group four individuals at a time back on 19 July 2020. On Monday, 28 September 2020, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization to Hologic for a new COVID-19 test that would increase the number of individuals in a pooled test group to five.

That's the size of pooled COVID-19 saliva testing now being conducted at the University of Tennessee. Starting with 574 individual samples, divided into 115 pools for testing (114 pools made from 5 individual samples and 1 pool made from the remainder), university researchers found 21 pooled samples with positive results, with individual tests to be conducted on 105 to identify students actually testing positive. Adding 115 tests to the 105 tests to be conducted, pooled testing will have reduced the amount of needed testing to find students testing positve by over 61% from what would have been needed if each student had to have their samples tested individually.

Pooled testing for COVID-19 is looking to be super beneficial indeed.


Horemheb-Rubio, Gibran & Ramos-Cervantes, Pilar & Arroyo Figueroa, Hugo & Ávila-Ríos, Santiago & García Morales, Claudia & Reyes-Teran, Gustavo & Escobedo, Galileo & Estrada, Gloria & García-Iglesias, Trinidad & Muñoz-Saucedo, Claudia & Kershenobich, David & Ostrosky-Wegman, Patricia & Ruiz-Palacios, Guillermo. (2017). High HPgV replication is associated with improved surrogate markers of HIV progression. PLoS ONE. 12. e0184494. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184494.

Summer J Decker et al, 3D Printed Alternative to the Standard Synthetic Flocked Nasopharyngeal Swabs Used for COVID-19 testing, Clinical Infectious Diseases (2020). DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciaa1366.

Image Credit: Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Australian Politics 2020-09-29 16:09:00


UQ physics student works out ‘paradox-free’ time travel

A young University of Queensland student says he has found a way to “square the numbers” and prove that “paradox-free” time travel is theoretically possible in our universe.

From Back To The Future to Terminator to 12 Monkeys, stories dealing with time travel invariably have had to grapple with an age-old head-scratcher.

The so-called “grandfather paradox” – that a time traveller could kill their grandparent, preventing their own birth – broadly describes the logical inconsistency that arises from any action that would change the past.

But Germain Tobar, a fourth-year Bachelor of Advanced Science student, believes he has solved the riddle.

“Classical dynamics says if you know the state of a system at a particular time, this can tell us the entire history of the system,” he said in a statement.

“This has a wide range of applications, from allowing us to send rockets to other planets and modelling how fluids flow. For example, if I know the current position and velocity of an object falling under the force of gravity, I can calculate where it will be at any time.”

Einstein’s theory of general relativity, however, predicts the existence of time loops or time travel, “where an event can be both in the past and future of itself – theoretically turning the study of dynamics on its head”.

Mr Tobar said a unified theory that could reconcile both traditional dynamics and Einstein’s theory of relativity was the holy grail of physics. “But the current science says both theories cannot both be true,” he said.

“As physicists, we want to understand the universe’s most basic, underlying laws and for years I’ve puzzled on how the science of dynamics can square with Einstein’s predictions. I wondered, ‘Is time travel mathematically possible?’”

Mr Tobar and his supervisor, UQ physicist Dr Fabio Costa, say they have found a way to “square the numbers” – and that the findings have fascinating consequences for science. “The maths checks out – and the results are the stuff of science fiction,” Dr Costa said.

Dr Costa gives the example of travelling in time in an attempt to stop COVID-19’s “patient zero” being exposed to the virus.

As the grandfather paradox shows, if you stopped that individual getting infected, “that would eliminate the motivation for you to go back and stop the pandemic in the first place”.

“This is a paradox – an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe,” he said.

“Some physicists say it is possible, but logically it’s hard to accept because that would affect our freedom to make any arbitrary action. It would mean you can time travel, but you cannot do anything that would cause a paradox to occur.”

But the researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, say their mathematical modelling shows that neither of these conditions have to be the case.

Instead, they show it is possible for events to adjust themselves to be logically consistent with any action that the time traveller makes.

“In the coronavirus patient zero example, you might try and stop patient zero from becoming infected, but in doing so you would catch the virus and become patient zero, or someone else would,” Mr Tobar said.

“No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you. This would mean that – no matter your actions – the pandemic would occur, giving your younger self the motivation to go back and stop it.”

He added, “Try as you might to create a paradox, the events will always adjust themselves, to avoid any inconsistency. The range of mathematical processes we discovered show that time travel with free will is logically possible in our universe without any paradox.”


Cardinal George Pell returns to Rome for first time since child sex abuse convictions quashed

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Sydney confirmed Cardinal Pell will fly out of Sydney today, but the purpose and duration of the visit is not known.

Cardinal Pell was leading the Secretariat of State, set up to reform the Vatican’s finances, when he took a leave of absence in 2017 to face charges of child sexual abuse.

The 79-year-old was convicted of sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s and was sentenced to six years in prison.

He had served 13 months of his sentence when his conviction was overturned by the High Court in April. He has been living in Sydney since his release.

Christopher Lamb is the Rome correspondent for Catholic news publication The Tablet and said all eyes would be on Cardinal Pell as he arrived in Rome. “The Cardinal has a number of supporters in Rome and some very loyal followers,” Lamb said.

“There will be a number of them who will be delighted to see him return — they always were very sceptical of the charges that were brought against him.

“However there will be others who will be concerned about the optics of a return by Cardinal Pell to Rome and the Vatican … particularly if the cardinal has a meeting, an audience, with Pope Francis.”

Vatican correspondent Joshua McElwee, from US newspaper the National Catholic Reporter, said Cardinal Pell was no longer employed by the Vatican and the reason for his visit was not clear. “At the moment he has no official role here,” McElwee said.

“Very likely he’s coming to put his affairs in order. I imagine he still has personal items here, things to bring home, perhaps an apartment to clean up. “I don’t know what else he would be doing other than those kind of things.”

Cardinal Pell’s return to Rome comes just days after the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu who has been implicated in allegations of financial misconduct at the Vatican.

Cardinal Becciu previously worked in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State where he reportedly clashed with Cardinal Pell over reform of the Vatican’s finances.

But McElwee said it was not clear whether Cardinal Pell’s visit was connected to Cardinal Becciu’s resignation on Saturday.

“It’s known that Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Becciu butted horns when Cardinal Pell was in Rome,” McElwee said. “Becciu apparently was involved in some kind of alleged financial misdeeds and Pell has said that he raised issues about those at the time.

“It could be that Cardinal Pell is taking a victory lap here in Rome, but I don’t think it’s going to be more than a short visit.”

Lamb said Cardinal Pell’s visit coincided with a period of uncertainty in Pope Francis’s pontificate, with many speculating Cardinal Pell could be seeking to influence the outcome of a future conclave to decide the next Pope.

“Cardinal Pell is not someone who is openly disloyal to Pope Francis and has worked for Pope Francis,” Lamb said.

“But it is no secret that he has a different vision of the Church to the Pope and I suppose some people will be looking to see whether the Cardinal is involved in any pre-conclave manoeuvres, given we are almost eight years into Pope Francis’s pontificate. “There is a battle going on and the Cardinal is certainly seen by those who don’t like Francis as someone who is an ally.”


“One Nation” party gets academic freedom change in return for vote

A legal definition of academic freedom that some universities say will make it harder for them to discipline racist or sexist academics will be included in the Morrison government’s proposed university funding laws in exchange for One Nation’s support for the bill.

The measure is one of several commitments One Nation say they have extracted from the government, which will need three crossbench votes to get its reforms through the Senate as early as next week.

Senator Pauline Hanson said One Nation’s two Senate votes were also contingent upon the government reinstating a 10 per cent discount for students who pay their fees upfront, and reinstating a seven-year limit for full-time students to receive HECS-HELP before they have to pay full fees.

One Nation has fostered a close relationship with academic Peter Ridd, who was sacked by James Cook University in 2018 following his public criticism of colleagues’ research on the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef.

“[Education] Minister [Dan] Tehan has shown a strong willingness to listen to the recommendations of [Senator] Malcolm Roberts and myself, and he’s proving to have the courage to take a tough stand with the inclusion of our amendments,” Senator Hanson said.

One Nation wants the definition of academic freedom inserted into the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to be in line with the wording recommended by former High Court Chief Justice Robert French in his government-commissioned review of free speech at Australian universities.

There has been an ongoing debate about free speech at universities, and the review was ordered following concerns among coalition MPs about the influence of left wing activists on campus after protesters targeted author Bettina Arndt at Sydney University.

In his 2019 report, Mr French proposed inserting a lengthy definition into the Act that included “the freedom of academic staff to teach, discuss, and research and to disseminate and publish the results of their research” and to “make lawful public comment on any issue in their personal capacities”.

Mr Tehan declined to comment on the specifics of his negotiations with One Nation, but said he would continue to work with the crossbench to secure passage of the legislation.

“The Job-Ready Graduates legislation will provide more university places for Australian students, make it cheaper to study in areas of expected job growth and provide more funding and support to regional students and universities,” Mr Tehan said.

The government was already examining whether it should proceed with legislating the French definition of academic freedom, and called for public submissions in January, but ultimately did not include the measure as part of its current reforms.

In its submission to the government, the Innovative Research Universities, a grouping of seven institutions including La Trobe University, Western Sydney University and James Cook University, opposed the move. It said legislating the freedom for academics to provide public commentary in a personal capacity had the “potential to create highly undesirable employment disputes.”

“As the wording stands, for example, it would seem that a university academic would be within her or his rights to publicly declare they hold a racial, sexuality or gender prejudice against one or more of the students they are teaching,” the submission said.

“If challenged about holding such a view, they would seem to be able to defend themselves by claiming to have spoken in a personal capacity, not an academic one.”

Senator Hanson said her motivation was to address concerns among university lecturers who were worried about “pressures they faced over ‘how’ and ‘what’ they could teach.

“My interest is in putting a stop to this Marxist, left-leaning approach to teaching in our universities and instead, protect educators who teach using methods based on science and facts rather than ideology,” Senator Hanson said.

In his review, Mr French, chancellor of the University of Western Australia, concluded that “claims of a freedom of speech crisis on Australian campuses are not substantiated”, but outlined a model code for protecting free speech and academic freedom, which all universities agreed to adopt by the end of 2020.

In September, Dr Ridd accompanied Senator Roberts on week-long tour along the Queensland coast, holding press conferences to question the scientific consensus on the poor health of Great Barrier Reef’s and threat posed by farmers. Dr Ridd said he was meeting with National Senator Matt Canavan and local LNP candidate Ron Harding to discuss the same issues on Tuesday.

Dr Ridd is now seeking leave to appeal his wrongful dismissal claim in the High Court, after his initial victory was overturned by the Federal Court in July. The university has maintained that he was not dismissed for his views, but for “serious misconduct” and breaches of the university’s code in how he expressed them.

The government’s bill proposes a major restructuring of university funding by hiking fees for some courses, including by 113 per cent for humanities, in order to pay for cuts to STEM, nursing and teaching courses.

The government says the reforms will fund an extra 100,000 university places for domestic students by 2030, but universities have complained that total funding per student will decrease by six per cent on average.

In addition to securing One Nation’s two votes, the government will need to secure the support of either Tasmania Senator Jacqui Lambie or Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff, who are yet to public reveal how they intend to vote.


Queensland Government grants approval for state’s third-largest coal mine with 1,000 jobs promised

Construction will soon get underway on what will become Queensland’s third-largest coal mine, 40 kilometres south of Moranbah in the Bowen Basin.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the State Government had signed off on a mining lease for the Olive Downs Coking Coal Project, run by Pembroke Resources.

The central Queensland mine will have a production life of 80 years and the Government says it will create 1,000 jobs.

The Government did not provide forecasts for how much it would collect in mining royalties, but the number is expected to be in the billions.

“Let me say very clearly that not only do I support the coal industry here, but I’ve also been over to the steel mill in Japan,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Nearly every single household utilises steel in some form or another, and steel is going to be part of our lives for many years to come.”

Pembroke said it would produce up to 15 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year.

It will be exported to international markets in Japan and China.

Pembroke CEO Barry Tudor said the mining lease approvals were the final hurdle to beginning stage one of the project.

“We are extremely pleased to have been granted the mining leases, having consulted extensively with the local community over the past four years,” he said.

“In addition to our commitment to the environment, we have focused on creating local jobs and proactively engaged with all stakeholders.”

Mr Tudor said the company had established a relationship with the traditional owners of the land, the Barada Barna.

“We have an Indigenous Land Use Agreement and Cultural Heritage Management Plan in place,” Mr Tudor said.

Ms Palaszczuk said she expected construction would start within months. “There’s no legal action with Olive Downs — Olive Downs is good to go,” she said.

Opposition leader Deb Frecklington criticised Ms Palaszczuk for her record on advancing resources projects, but said she supported the mining lease for Olive Downs.

Once complete, Olive Downs will be around the same size as the proposed Adani project.

Ms Palaszczuk said her Government had approved $21 billion in resource projects in the current parliamentary term.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here

U.S. New Home Market Cap Highest Since August 2006

The market for new homes in the U.S. is continuing its recent torrid pace. Based on the latest sales data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, the preliminary nominal estimate of the market capitalization for new homes was $30.6 billion in August 2020.

Taking the trailing twelve month average of the market cap for new homes to factor out seasonality in the data while factoring in data revisions in previous months, we estimate August 2020's adjusted market cap to be $25.76 billion. In nominal terms, this is the highest this figure has been since August 2006, which can be seen in a chart showing the historical market cap data going back to January 1976.

Trailing Twelve Month Average New Home Sales Market Capitalization, January 1976 - August 2020

Perhaps more remarkably, the median sale price of new homes sold in the U.S. fell to an initial estimate of $312,700 in August 2020. The initial estimate of the average sale price of a new home sold in the U.S. in August 2020 is $369,000. Overall, new home sale price data have been slowly trending downward since peaking in January 2018, as shown in the following chart presenting median and average new home sale prices since Janaury 2000.

Median and Average New Home Sale Prices, January 2000 - August 2020

With the trend for the sale prices of new homes generally flat to slightly falling over the last two years, the only way the market cap of new homes could increase is because of rising sales volumes. That fact may be confirmed in the next chart showing the trailing twelve month average of the annualized number of new home sales in the U.S. from January 1976 through August 2020.

The preliminary data for the months from April 2020 through August 2020 suggest the number of new home sales is rising at one of the fastest paces on record. Since the data for the last few months of this period may be subject to revision during the next several months ahead, we won't be able to confirm if its the fastest until later this year.

Australian Politics 2020-09-28 15:32:00


Australian firm says its nasal spray reduced coronavirus growth in animal study

Australian biotech company Ena Respiratory said on Monday that a nasal spray it is developing to improve the human immune system to fight common cold and flu significantly reduced the growth of the coronavirus in a recent study on animals.

A study on ferrets showed the product dubbed INNA-051, which could be used complementary to vaccines, lowered the levels of the virus that causes COVID-19 by up to 96%, the company said. The study was led by British government agency Public Health England.

Ena Respiratory said it would be ready to test INNA-051 in human trials in less than four months, subject to successful toxicity studies and regulatory approval.

The company has raised A$11.7 million ($8.24 million) for the development of the spray. Investors include venture capital firm Brandon Capital Ltd, the Australian federal government, pension funds and biotech giant CSL Ltd .

Several companies across the world are in the pursuit of developing a coronavirus vaccine. Australia has entered into agreements with some drug companies investing billions to secure potential vaccines for COVID-19, which has killed over 992,000 people worldwide.

Australia has so far reported 875 deaths and just over 27,000 coronavirus cases, far less than the numbers reported in other developed countries.


The despicable Punchard is still not out of the woods

The Queensland Police Service is appealing a court judgment relating to the sentencing of a police officer who leaked the home address of a domestic violence victim to her ex-partner. A court had previously heard Senior Constable Neil Punchard had called the victim a “b*tch”.

The court this month overturned the suspended jail sentence and conviction handed to Senior Constable Neil Punchard for computer hacking after he searched the police computer system and leaked an address of a domestic violence victim to her former partner.

“This has taken some time due to the seriousness of this matter and the need to give it thorough consideration in the context of a complex legal framework.

“Once the appeal process has been finalised, the Commissioner will then consider the effect of the decision on the assessment of the suitability of the officer to remain employed by the QPS. The officer remains suspended from duty.”

In September, his conviction and sentence were overturned on appeal, leaving the furious victim demanding his dismissal.

Punchard has been stood down on full pay for more than two years.

In a hearing in July, barrister Angus Edwards, who appeared for the QPS, said Punchard inflamed an acrimonious situation by sending messages to his friend, calling the victim a “b*tch”.

“The complainant didn’t provide her address subject to those court orders for reasons that she is the subject of domestic violence orders,” Mr Edwards said.

“Now he (Punchard) didn’t know that but he didn’t bother to inquire.

“All he did was take one side of the story as a serving police officer and unilaterally decided he was going to breach the trust that he had been given and provide information …

“He called her a b*tch, he said to f**k … her over, he said ‘the b*tch needs to fall on her own sword for the battle she started’, and he’d say things to (the man) like ‘I know you’re screaming inside, let loose on her’.

“So he knew there were issues there. He might not have known there was domestic violence but he took that risk.

“And his job was rather to protect members of the community from those risks and he behaved in the exact opposite way of what was expected of him.”


Muslim gang accused of stabbing teen in Queen St Mall face court on attempted murder charge

A Brisbane high school student accused of a brazen stabbing of a teenager in the CBD has been granted bail on an attempted murder charge after a court heard he is set to sit his final year exams in the coming weeks.

The Brisbane Magistrates Court heard on Monday Somali-born Sade Mohamed, 18, is alleged to have been the main offender in the brazen attack at Queen St Mall on Friday night, during which a 16-year-old boy was stabbed in the chest and back.

Four charged with attempted murder after CBD stabbing

Mohamed is one of four men — aged between 18 and 19 — who have been charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm and going armed so as to cause fear after the 16-year-old suffered a collapsed lung after being stabbed on the corner of Albert and Queen streets.

The court heard police claim the attack on the boy was “retribution” after he allegedly hit another person with a stick at a nearby Brisbane hotel.

Mohamed was granted bail by Magistrate Anne Thacker on strict conditions, including that he live with his aunt across the road from Logan Central Police Station and report daily.

The other three men – Said Mohamud Abdi, 18, Aden Abdirahan Warsame, 19, and Mohamed Kenneh, 19 – were also granted bail on Monday.

Mohamed was described by police prosecutor Matt Kahler as the alleged main offender in the attack, saying he was the “the doer of the stabbing”.

But defence barrister Sam Di Carlo claimed this allegation was “conjecture and wishful thinking”.

Mr Di Carlo told the court his client trained in basketball before and after school and was set to sit his final Year 12 exams in the coming weeks.

He said Mohamed attended St James College at Spring Hill on a basketball scholarship and downplayed any allegations the alleged brazen weekend attack was gang-related.

“This can be distinguished from the case of two gangs at war,” Mr Di Carlo said. “This arises over an incident and is immediate retribution. “This is a one-off event and it’s not related in any way to the event that happened in Zillmere.”

Magistrate Anne Thacker said she was concerned there could be retaliation against Mohamed, after the court heard the alleged victim had made a number of threats on social media since being stabbed.

“What is a bail consideration is the risk of reoffending and that being driven by ongoing fighting between these two groups by way of ongoing retribution behaviours,” she said.

“That’s the sticking point in my view.”

Mohamed must abide by a curfew, have no contact directly or via social media with his co-accused and report to police daily as a condition of his bail.

The court heard Kenneh worked in the CBD raising money for charity and studies at university.

He was not alleged to have had a knife during the fight.

Abdi is alleged also to have used a knife on the 16-year-old victim, the court heard.

Meanwhile, Warsame, who is studying accounting, can attend university at QUT by the Goodwill Bridge from Southbank but is not allowed to enter Queen St Mall.

All men will return to court on October 26.


Travel within Australia opening up

Travelling overseas has been an Australian rite of passage since the 1960s when London’s Earl’s Court was known as Kangaroo Valley. These days touring Australians are just as likely to be found in Bali or Los Angeles or a Mediterranean cruise.

There was a time when overseas travel was the preserve of the rich but cheap airfares opened overseas destinations to middle Australia.

Deep down, Australians are conscious of their distance from the rest of the world and equate exotic travel with success and sophistication. Aussies love nothing better than planning for, talking about and sharing photos of their most recent overseas trip.

But the coming of the coronavirus has changed this core element of the Australian way of life. Savings otherwise allocated to “a big trip OS” are now parked and some siphoned for home improvements.

And while such projects certainly fill a lockdown vacuum, they don’t fulfil the brief for time out, a change of scenery, the delivery of carefully curated Instagram moments projecting fun, success and worldliness.

What is required is a reimagination of an Australian holiday that is coronavirus safe and offers something new and unexpected.

But where to go? Some are doing a bit of a try-before-you-buy by hiring an Airbnb to experience the lifestyle, even to feel the serenity.

And if Airbnb listings are any guide there’s no shortage of destinations.

Between the end of July and the end of August the number of Airbnb properties listed in postcode 4870 (Cairns) jumped by 33, according to data accessed by Ripehouse Advisory. Excluding ski and university postcodes, this makes Cairns the number one destination for a local holiday.

These listings show Australians are as fixated as ever on traditional tropical, seaside and treechange destinations.

During August, Airbnb listings jumped by 30 properties in the Victorian goldfields town of Castlemaine (postcode 3461), by 27 in Western Australia’s lifestyle town of Busselton (6281), by six in South Australia’s Yankalilla, by eight on Tasmania’s St Helen’s (7216), and by seven in Alice Springs (0870). In the ACT the greatest increase was in the suburb of Phillip (postcode 2606).

Australia’s holiday idylls have existed in our hearts and minds since our childhood.

But now it’s time to rediscover, to see anew a place, a destination, a piece of pure Australiana that hasn’t stood still but which has evolved into something that has the capacity to engage the worldliest of travellers.

Why, I have heard that in many of these places they offer smashed avocado with crumbled feta at knockdown prices.

Who wouldn’t be up for a bit of rest and recuperation, for a bit of a reprieve from the lockdown madness, to support a local business, to help our fellow (small-business) Australians, doing it tough in the regions and in the heartland of this blessed spot, this Australia.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don’t forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here