Australian Politics 2021-12-30 06:41:00


Queensland Covid cases surge to 1,589 with 80 per cent of them Omicron but NONE in ICU - as rapid antigen tests are allowed for visitors

Queensland has recorded 1,589 new cases of Covid but only eight patients are in hospital and none in the ICU.

Another 93 people in hospital who tested positive to the virus are hospitalised, but they being treated for unrelated health conditions.

Chief health officer John Gerrard said 80 per cent of the 6,368 active cases in the state were the Omicron variant, and it appeared to be more dominant in Queensland than other states.

'Case numbers are going to rise very rapidly in the next few weeks,' he said.

'It has a downside in that it's much more contagious than Delta but on the good side it does appear to be a milder disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated.'

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was notably absent from Wednesday's Covid update press conference as Police Minister Mark Ryan fronted the media alongside Dr Gerrard and Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.

She announced earlier that the state would drop its requirement of a PCR test for entry from January 1, in the face of pressure from other states.

Mr Ryan said that from today, those who wished to come into Queensland within the next 72 hours would therefore be able to use a rapid antigen test as a valid test to enter the state.

The move will immediately relieve pressure on testing queues in NSW and Victoria.

No test will be required after Queensland reaches 90 per cent of its 16 years and over population with two doses of a Covid vaccine. The state currently sits at 86.14 per cent of people doubled dosed.


Australian company that can make MILLIONS of rapid antigen tests a year is tied up in red tape while the country cries out for an alternative to hours-long PCR queues

An Australian company that can produce millions of Covid-19 rapid antigen tests can do nothing to help the country's testing crisis due to red tape.

Brisbane biotechnology company AnteoTech3 has developed its own 15-minute test that is already regularly used in the US and Europe.

But the Therapeutic Goods Administration is yet to give the company the green light to sell its kits in Australia.

With thousands of Australians queueing up all day to get a PCR test, only to then wait up to another five days for results, chief executive Derek Thomson said the red tape was adding to the delays.

'We've always said that rapid testing has a place to be used to control the pandemic and now we're seeing that play out,' he told the Courier Mail.

The nasal swabs tests are more than 97 per cent accurate, Mr Thomson said, and are done by a health professional and not at home.

'We believe governments should use rapid tests instead of PCR tests for screening of people who are wanting to travel as they do in Europe,' he added.

'There's too much stress on the PCR testing system in all Australian states and it's really not necessary to go to the full extent of doing a PCR test when you've got rapid tests readily available now.'

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk backflipped on her demand for PCR tests from interstate travellers on Wednesday morning.

Those entering the Sunshine State from hotspots can from January 1 provide a negative rapid antigen test instead of having to queue all day for a PCR result.

But rapid tests are hard to come by with the kits flying off pharmacy shelves.

Pharmacy Guild Australia President Professor Trent Twomey said there would be 'scattered supply shortages' of RATs until January 15, before stores would then be 'awash' with testing kits.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said she was 'sure' the federal government was speaking to the TGA about approving different rapid tests.

'We absolutely want to see Queensland businesses be able to produce and provide them in Queensland but it has to be approved - it has to meet our standards and that is up to the TGA whether it does that or not,' she said.


Is solar energy really green?

As the world continues to push towards net zero emissions, more large-scale solar farms will be built in Australia.

But why are they being built on productive agricultural land and are how credible are claims about toxic contamination?

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) is forecasting a massive increase in the number of solar panels in the short term.

The amount of solar power installed in Australia has doubled in the past three to four years, and the CEC is forecasting it will double again in the next couple of years.

Concern is global

Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, said solar panels were adding significantly to the world's non-recycled waste mountain.

"But it also poses a growing threat to human health and the environment due to the hazardous elements it contains," Mr Steiner said.

Australia is adding to that mountain by sending 40,000 old panels a year in containers to markets in developing countries.

While that trade provides cheap panels for poorer nations, the UN is concerned that many of them will end up in landfill overseas.

The vast majority of solar panels are made of thin silicon wafers using refined silicon dioxide.

It is the same chemical compound as sand, which is used in making glass, so it is harmless.

The solar cells are connected by thin strips of tin and copper which is sealed and protected under glass.

Almost all of the materials can be recycled and there are several new plants in development that will be able to turn old panels into reusable materials.

There are, however, a small number of panels that were made in the past using cadmium, which is highly toxic and associated with serious health problems.

Some panels are also made with nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), a gas that is associated with global warming.

A South Korean study from 2020 raised concerns about contamination from solar panels that are "released into the environment during their disposal or following damage, such as that from natural disasters."

The United States wants to address the problem as well, with a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory from March 2021 pointing to a lack of incentives for recycling companies and confusing and conflicting state regulations.

Are solar farms taking over productive farm land?

The NSW government has set up five renewable energy zones in regional areas where it is promoting the development of solar farms close to large populations and the existing electricity grid.

That means productive farming land is sometimes used to build large-scale solar plants, and farmer Bianca Schultz right is in the firing line.

She owns a property next door to the proposed Walla Walla site in the Riverina in south-west NSW, while the Culcairn project borders her other boundary.

"There's been talk of heat island effects and heavy metal leachate, [while] the visual impact is a large concern for us being directly across the road," she said.

Ms Schultz said the property was used in the past for grazing livestock, making hay, and cropping. She thinks that turning it into an industrial-scale solar plant with just a few employees for maintenance will negatively affect the local economy.

"The on-flow effect on the transport companies, the grain merchants, the rural merchants; it's taking away a lot from our community," she said.


A former Queensland councillor exonerated of fraud has spoken out against the Crime and Corruption Commission after being asked to act as a witness in a separate trial

Trevina Schwarz, a former Logan City councillor, was one of eight councillors to lose their jobs after fraud charges were laid in 2019.

Earlier this year, the councillors were cleared of all charges, prompting the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee, the governing watchdog of the CCC, to examine what went wrong.

Ms Schwarz said she was relieved the charges had been dropped, but the damage to her career and reputation had already been done. "My family and I were so excited for this Christmas, this was to be our first Christmas of many to have this cloud lifted from upon us," she said.

"I'm a person of high integrity and to be charged with the scandalous charge of fraud … I was extremely shameful of something I didn't do."

Last week, Ms Schwarz said she was contacted by the CCC and asked to act as witness in next year's trial of former Logan City Council mayor Luke Smith.

Mr Smith is being accused of corruption and perjury after allegedly accepting a power boat from a political donor to progress the development approval of a hotel.

Ms Schwartz was contacted by the CCC as a potential witness.

"I believe it's highly inappropriate and potentially a conflict for a staff member of the CCC, particularly one that was involved in our case and in the parliamentary inquiry, to be contacting us," Ms Schwarz said.

The Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee has called for a Royal Commission into the CCC and the resignation of chair Alan MacSporran.