Australian Politics 2021-12-23 08:27:00


Australia's calmest Covid expert Dr Nick Coatsworth SLAMS doomsday predictions as he delivers a Christmas message to Aussies on how we can beat Omicron

One of Australia's leading doctors has reiterated calls for calm and is urging everyone to learn to live with Covid-19 amid surging case numbers.

Former chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth has come out firing in recent days to slam doomsayers' predictions fearing the worst after new modelling revealed Australia could have up to 200,000 new daily infections within weeks.

He supports plans by several state governments to reinstate some restrictions as Omicron cases surge but says social responsibility also needs to play a part.

Dr Coatsworth says it's now time to live with the disease, despite Sydney recording 5,715 new cases on Thursday - a jump of nearly 2,000 more than the day before, and Melbourne reporting 2,005 cases - 502 more than Wednesday.

'Moving beyond the outrage, I think the modelling released without context creates a lot of fear and fear leads to people not doing things they would normally do,' Dr Coatsworth told the Today show on Thursday. 'It's a counter productive way to manage Covid-19.

'I think there was a wide range of possibilities and we now accept as a community that 200,000, that upper limit, will not happen and we can move forward from that.'

He supports moves to extend mask mandates in Victoria and QR codes reintroduced in all NSW venues but stressed to viewers that early studies show Omicron is a milder strain and that vaccination is the best defence.

'A disease that is being increasingly milder, for which, if we'll get a booster, we'll be more protected than the primary course, for which we have the best treatments we've got available for any respiratory virus,' he said.

'We're now asking the police to enforce mask mandates for retailers, not to allow people into their shops unless they've got a mask on. I think that's the question, that's the framing we have to put around this.

'It is not so much the indoor mask mandates and the QR codes, it's that we need to stop ourselves from asking for more.

'We need to hold the line and remember all those things I just said about how much better our situation is than it was in 2020.'

On Wednesday night, Dr Coatsworth clashed with The Project co-host Lisa Wilkinson over whether enough is being done to combat surging Covid cases by rejecting demands for mask mandates and ridiculing cautious doctors.

The Project host claimed it was a 'no-brainer' to reintroduce indoor face mask mandates given new modelling predicted Australia could have 200,000 new infections a day by the end of January.

But Dr Coatsworth argued the grim forecast was 'extraordinarily unlikely' and it should be up to Australians to make their own decisions about how they protected themselves.

The Canberra physician's position was buoyed hours later by a major report from South Africa, where Omicron originated, that found the new variant was 80 per cent less likely to cause hospital admission than Delta.

He doubled down on his stance the next morning.

'Do we continue along the path of government intervention or continue along the path of social responsibility?' Dr Coatsworth said.

'Maybe Omicron is not the time, maybe we need to get back into mandates but very soon we need to move into living with Covid and the social responsibility that comes with that.'

He echoed calls by Australian chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly for travel PCR tests for interstate arrivals in states such as Queensland to be abandoned to relieve the overwhelming demand on NSW testing clinic which are under enormous strain.

'They're putting people in queues who don't need to be there and stopping us from finding there and stopping us from finding the cases,' Dr Coatsworth said.

'If we can't find people who have COVID-19, they can't be isolated and it will continue to spread within the community.'

Despite being the face of Australia's vaccine rollout, Dr Coatsworth slammed a controversial proposal considered by the NSW government to force unvaccinated patients fork out for their own medical expenses during Covid-related hospital admissions.

He then issued a impassioned plea for everyone to get vaccinated and the third booster shot as soon as they can.

'I think that we have a principle in Australia of universal medical care regardless of your life choices, be they ones we would take or ones we wouldn't,' he said.

'I will, as a practising doctor, continue to provide care to any patient with COVID-19 that comes in the door.

'What I would say to the unvaccinated is keep an open mind. This is a severe disease for the unvaccinated. You don't want to be that person who asks for the vaccine just before they get the tube down their throat in intensive care.'

But he did have some praise for the 'outstanding leadership of NSW government, which is looking at a proposal to mail out free at-home rapid antigen tests.


The reef is thriving -- despite all the Greenie gloom

Peter Ridd:

The Australian Institute of Marine Science recently released its annual survey of coral on the Great Barrier Reef. It shows spectacularly good results. For all three major regions of the reef, once data uncertainties are considered, there has never been more coral since records began in the mid-1980s.

This despite three supposedly catastrophic and unprecedented hot water bleaching events in the past five years.

This great news about the reef poses only a minor problem for those science and management institutions that have convinced the world that the reef is on its last legs. They use three strategies: first, ignore the data and hope nobody points out the great news; second, discredit the good news with “fact checks”; and finally, contrive a spurious but apparently plausible reason that the good news is actually bad news.

Ignoring the good news was on display last month in the latest reef-doom story when the ABC, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian all quoted an eminent reef scientist who stated that only 2 per cent of the reef had not bleached in the past few decades.

The implication was that bleaching was unprecedented and had destroyed almost the entire reef. The fabulous coral statistics this year were not men­tioned by any of those articles.

Bleaching, cyclones and starfish plagues, which all occasionally kill parts of the reef, are akin to bushfires on land. They are completely natural and reset the ecosystem, which rapidly recovers, and are a necessary and import­ant feature of many Australian ecosystems. I could guess that roughly 2 per cent of western Queensland was not affected by a bushfire in the past half century. That would be a good thing, certainly not worthy of concern. Neither should it be for the reef.

To counter the latest good news about the reef, as reported in The Australian, the fact-check gods of Facebook also swung into action. They deemed that the coral has actually declined in the past decade. So what does the AIMS data, which was cited in the fact check, actually show about the change in coral since 2011?

For the northern region, the amount of coral this year is excellent and about the same today as in 2011; for the central region, it has roughly doubled; and for the southern region it has almost tripled. There is a significant uncertainty in the data because of the difficulty of measuring such a vast system, and the measurements are partly subjective in nature, but there is absolutely no doubt that the fact-checkers are extraordinarily wrong.

They appear to be incapable of reading simple graphs.

The final strategy is to turn good news into bad. AIMS and other reef science institutions such as James Cook University Coral Reef Centre dismiss the obviously fabulous coral statistics by arguing that it is only the fast-growing corals that have regrown.

But they ignore that it is the fast-growing corals, the delicate staghorn and plate corals, that were killed in the first place by cyclones, bleaching and starfish plagues. So of course it is the fast-growing corals that have recover­ed.

In 2012, when the reef hit record lows of coral after a couple of very destructive cyclones, these institutions did not say: “Don’t worry, it is only the fast-growing corals – they will be back.” Instead, AIMS published a paper stating that, without intervention, the reef would likely crash much further by 2022. This is yet another failed prediction of the imminent death of the reef in the past 50 years.

Back in the early ’70s, scientists were claiming that plagues of crown-of-thorns starfish, a native Australian species, not an introduced pest, would totally destroy the reef. The plagues came and went, and we now know from geological evidence that the plagues have occurred across millennia.

The amount of coral on the reef fluctuates dramatically with time. The one thing that remains the same are the dire predictions of the loss of the reef. The other thing that remains the same is the reality that the reef is one of the most pristine, best protected, and brilliant ecosystems on Earth.

Early next year Environment Minister Sussan Ley must prepare an updated report on why UNESCO should not declare the Great Barrier Reef as endangered. She will be up against activist scientists, environmental groups and public servants. And in the background the false gods of big tech turn a huge increase in the amount of coral into a decline. Institutions such as AIMS and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that downplay the excellent condition of the reef will be a further problem.

After 50 years of doomsaying about the reef, and its stubborn refusal to die, how much longer will we have to wait before a government will audit the science institutions that have been scaring our children?


Glencore’s proposed $1.5bn coalmine site home to over a dozen threatened species, government told

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.

Environmentalists said the Valeria mine would destroy habitat for threatened species and threaten farmland, and put a question mark over the company’s climate goals.

But Glencore said it was yet to decide if it would commit financially to the project, which would have to fit within its commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

That goal, the company has said, also includes the burning of the coal the company sells. In 2019, the company said it would not increase its coal production after pressure from investors.

Company documents say the mine would produce between 14m and 16m tonnes of coal a year from six open-cut pits in the Bowen Basin with an expected lifespan of 35 years.

According to documents sent to the federal government this month, there are four plants and nine animals that are considered threatened but that could be present at the mine site.

There are also three threatened ecological communities that would be affected, with some of those areas needing to be cleared.

Surveys carried out between 2019 and 2021 recorded hundreds of species, including 334 plants, 132 birds, 34 mammals, 37 reptiles, 16 fish, 10 frogs and 10 introduced species.

Koalas, greater gliders and squatter pigeons that are all considered to be vulnerable to extinction were recorded at the site.

Koalas and greater gliders were also seen in areas the company would use to build a 67km rail line.

The company said the project covered 29,501 hectares with about 10,364 hectares that would need to be cleared for the mine, workers’ camp, and access road.

The company has sent five documents to the federal government – covering the mine and other infrastructure including roads and rail – that will now be considered by the environment minister under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


‘Considerable concern’: Karen Andrews warns of rising threat of Muslim extremism

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says the threat of extremism in Australia will rise as international borders reopen following the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Andrews is in Indonesia to meet with Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Mahfud MD and to enhance counter-terrorism ties with Australia’s near neighbour.

Andrews believes there is a need to deepen the countries’ level of collaboration and information sharing in the current regional security landscape.

“The ability for people to travel more freely over the coming months is going to be significant,” she said.

“The more we are able to do with neighbours … specifically Indonesia … the better prospects that we have and being able to deal with the travel and counter-terrorism and manage the threat.”

She told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Wednesday that two things in particular “have caused us considerable concern”.

“One is the fact that during COVID, people have had more time at home online, and are becoming radicalised. And there is evidence in Australia that the age at which these people are becoming radicalised is getting younger and younger.

“The second issue is the changes in Afghanistan. People are trying to leave Afghanistan. Potentially, they will come via Indonesia and may well look to come to Australia.

“But also there are people in Indonesia, and in Australia, who we are very much aware of, who are very interested in travelling to Afghanistan to take up arms there. That threat to us has been made more potent as those travel restrictions ease and our borders reopened.”

Andrews is being flanked by Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan in Jakarta, on the final leg of an overseas tour that also took in the United States and Sri Lanka.

Jakarta and Canberra renewed a joint commitment to fight terrorism during a visit by Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton in September.

Both Australia and Indonesia have urged the Taliban, which reclaimed power in August, not to allow Afghanistan to once again become a breeding ground for terrorism.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim majority nation, has undertaken a major crackdown on suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-linked terror organisation behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Police there have arrested dozens of members of the militant network in recent months. They have said they foiled plans for a fresh attack on Independence Day last August.

The arrests by the counter-terrorism squad Detachment 88 include that of Ahmad Zain An-Najah, a senior member of the Ulema Council, Indonesia’s top body of Islamic scholars. He and two associates were last month charged with establishing a charity organisation that diverted cash to JI.

A report in September by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, however, said Islamic State cells in Indonesia posed a greater threat than JI, which no longer has active links with al-Qaeda.

Andrews, meanwhile, said the government was treating seriously reports of further illegal fishing by Indonesian vessels off the north-west coast of Western Australia.

Indonesia last month briefly suspended a joint maritime operation with Australia over the Australian Border Force’s burning of three Indonesian fishing boats.

Andrews would not say whether ABF reserved the right to torch more boats it they were found fishing illegally but added: “We need to send a strong message that we take this seriously”.

“We are aware that in [that] particular part of the ocean there are a large number of illegal fishers working in that area,” she said. “Our position is we don’t want illegal fishing to take place in the first instance.

“We will provide warnings. We have provided warnings in the past to illegal fishing to make sure that they remove themselves from the area. In most instances, that actually takes place.”