Local News - Victoria

Mythical creatures land in city streets as Royal Children’s Hospital marks 150 years

One hundred UooUoos, an imaginary cross between a wombat and a dugong, have alighted on beaches, parks, laneways and landmarks across Melbourne and Geelong.

The colourful mythical creatures, each designed by a Victorian artist, have arrived in the two cities as part of an art trail to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Royal Children’s Hospital.

UooUoonicorn by Fiona Tweddle and Janie Fearon in Federation Square.

UooUoonicorn by Fiona Tweddle and Janie Fearon in Federation Square. Credit:Wayne Taylor

Melbourne artist Justine Millsom, also known as Juzpop, titled her rose- and dragonfly-adorned UooUoo (pronounced you-you), which has taken up residence at Royal Park’s nature play playground, Tammy’s Donor.

Her cousin Tammy Cipriano, who was born with cystic fibrosis, had her life saved seven years ago when a donor was found for her double lung transplant. The condition is often referred to as “65 roses”.

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Local News - Victoria

Three new COVID-19 cases linked to Australian Open as government insists it’s not footing quarantine bill

“I’m aware of these figures and I wanted to share them with you because there’s been a lot of debate about how many people we have in the Australian Open who are positive,” she said. “This morning we became aware of three more positives.”


The three additional cases will be included in Thursday’s official figures.

Ms Neville said two cases are players, including one who is strongly suspected of shedding the virus and is already in lockdown because they arrived on a flight with another positive case.

The second player and their support person who returned positive swabs will not be allowed outside their hotel rooms while the Department of Health and Human Services reviews their test results to determine whether they are also shedding the virus.

“In the meantime though, the player and the support person … will not be training until we have final confirmation they are either shedding [the virus] or that they are positive,” Ms Neville said.

“If they are positive those two will go into the health hotel and the two bubble people will be considered close contacts and will be in lockdown for the 14 days.”

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday morning the bill for the quarantine program is expected to top $40 million and will be partially paid by the Victorian government.

That was strongly disputed by Ms Neville.

“I want to be really clear about this,” she said, “hotel quarantine for the Australian Open is fully funded by Tennis Australia, I’ve triple confirmed that again today.

“I think you know we are asking, for example, Australians returning [home] to contribute to their hotel quarantining costs … so it is appropriate that Tennis Australia similarly do that.”


Premier Daniel Andrews has also been forced to defend the outsourcing of testing and health checks of players and staff to a private contractor involved in the St Basil’s nursing home outbreak, which led to the deaths of 45 residents.

Mr Andrews said Aspen Medical was more than capable of doing the work and it would prevent a drain of public hospital staff.

On Tuesday, Mr Tiley contradicted Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s report that two players were among cases of COVID-19 connected to the tournament.

In a health department update just before 5pm, Professor Sutton specified that the new cases “involve two players”.

But Mr Tiley appeared to dispute this, stating “none of them are players”. He suggested some players had cases of viral shedding, as opposed to being actively infectious.

Players including Roberto Bautista Agut and Yulia Putintseva compared life in lockdown to prison, with the latter saying: “In jail, at least you can breathe fresh air two times a day.” Bautista Agut later issued an apology, labelling Australia’s efforts to limit the spread of the virus as “admirable”.

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Local News - Victoria

Man dies after tinnie capsizes as Victoria breaks drowning records

Victoria’s horror year for drownings continues with the body of a man retrieved by police after his tinnie capsized in waters off Gippsland overnight.

The man, a woman and a teenage boy were all thrown overboard in waters off Darriman, in Victoria’s east, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The woman and teen were able to make it to shore but the 42-year-old man did not. He was found by the police Air Wing in waters off McLoughlins Beach, about 60 kilometres from Traralgon but was unable to be revived.

The state’s latest drowning comes after a four-year-old Doveton girl, who was pulled unconscious from a lake on January 13, died.

The girl is now one of four people who died as a result of water incidents on January 13 after drownings at Rye front beach, Bushrangers Bay and Venus Bay.

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Local News - Victoria

Development Victoria knew Central Pier was close to collapse for years before it moved

The Federal Court documents are part of a statement of claim filed by the businesses who are now suing Development Victoria. The agency says they do not represent an agreed chronology, are not complete, and concern matters that are in dispute.

The records show Development Victoria had been warned as early as 2011 that the pier was considered a “high” risk. The cost to keep it operational to 2026 was estimated to be at least $25 million.

Then, in 2017 and 2018, engineers and construction experts updated their advice, telling the agency that past repairs had been “grossly incomplete” and it was likely only a “complete rebuild” could bring the pier up to safety standards. This put the cost at about $50 million.

In October 2018, 10 months before access to the structure was suddenly closed down, Development Victoria general manager Simon Wilson told his agency’s senior management and board that, “The previous ‘high’ risk has been increased to extreme”.

“The impact of failure is now in the extreme category as the structure continues to deteriorate despite rectification works,” he wrote in an email.

A month later, engineering firm KBR — which had been responsible for monitoring the structure since at least 2013 — sent an explicit warning to Development Victoria about the immediacy of the threat.

“We take the unusual step of writing to you to express our serious concerns in relation to the continued use of parts of Central Pier despite our engineering advice that those parts of the Pier should have restricted access pending remedial works,” the firm wrote in November 2018.

“Due to the deterioration of the structural integrity of the pier, there is a significantly heightened risk to users including the general public from a catastrophic failure.”

“Although no structural failure has occurred to this point, the condition is such that a structural failure is likely to be sudden, without warning and catastrophic. The risk of injuries or fatalities in such an event is high.”

The letter warned that Central Pier’s condition was comparable to a jetty in Western Australia, which “experienced a failure exactly of this nature” in a collapse that injured an 11-year-old boy and two others just a month earlier.

For nine months after that warning, the hospitality businesses, including venues that could hold up to 3400 patrons, were allowed to continue operating on the pier. They say they were not alerted to the danger.

Central Pier this week.

Central Pier this week.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Development Victoria’s response was to commission minor repair works on parts of the pier and to instruct contractor KBR to inspect it every two months beginning in November 2018.

KBR ultimately forced Development Victoria to order the evacuation on August 28, 2019 when it said it was “an unacceptable risk to life” and refused to send its own staff to conduct further inspections.

“Based on the condition of the sub-structure and the rapid deterioration that we have witnessed to date, our view is that occupation of Central Pier is no longer sustainable,” a letter from KBR said.

Development Victoria ordered the evacuation and closure that night, acting on what it said was urgent new information. The public and businesses were told the future of the precinct would depend on the outcome of a comprehensive 15-week engineering assessment.

“The impact that the emergency closure has had on the hundreds of Victorians who worked on Central Pier has been devastating.”

Atlantic Group chief executive Hatem Saleh

The pier has never reopened. In January 2020, the agency announced the damage was so extensive it would be demolished.

Former tenants Alumbra, Austage Events, the Atlantic Group and the head tenant, Central Pier Pty Ltd, have now taken the matter to court, where each of them is seeking compensation for the shutdown and losses for the six years remaining on their lease.

Material tendered to the court also show Development Victoria chose to repeatedly veto or downgrade repair works because they were deemed too expensive but chose to keep secret the fact that the pier’s lifespan was limited.


“[T]o further reduce the repair and maintenance costs it is proposed to amend the design life scope of remedial works from 2026 to 2020. The rationale being that any maintenance works undertaken that maintains the structure beyond 2020 is unnecessary and are arguably abortive costs that need not be incurred,” an internal memo from December 2015 said.

“If the work is not undertaken, the structure is at risk of collapse with resultant potential injury or death,” Development Victoria informed the Department of Economic Development in a 2018 email.

A proposal to demolish and rebuild the pier, at a cost of $180 million, would mean it could accommodate a four-storey commercial development where “value creation and capture opportunities” would offset the pier replacement costs. It was apparently considering launching a “market proposal” in conjunction with the AFL and City of Melbourne.

However, the existing tenants made that difficult, the documents show.

“A lease is in place with an organisation that has indicated it may resist termination and/or seek compensation. Negotiations with the lessee may be accompanied by significant publicity and political pressure,” the email said.

Development Victoria had the option of terminating Atlantic Group’s lease without paying compensation provided it offered 24 months notice, but it did not act. Instead, the agency claimed, just before shutting down the pier, that Atlantic Group had technically breached a number of minor provisions in its lease agreement. This meant it was not eligible for compensation after the closure.

“The impact that the emergency closure has had on the hundreds of Victorians who worked on Central Pier has been devastating,” Atlantic Group chief executive Hatem Saleh said.

“The entire hospitality industry is doing it tough and my heart goes out to my friends and colleagues who are struggling, we’re just hopeful that we can find a fair and reasonable resolution and get our people back to work.”

The Group Head of Precincts at Development Victoria, Geoff Ward, said his organisation had undertaken inspections, investigations and monitoring across the pier since 2013, which had led to some areas of the pier being subject to restricted access.


“Since 2017, we have invested more than $7 million on rectification works on the Pier, and engineers have inspected the structure every two months since 2018.”

The engineering reports in late 2019 had “indicated a level of deterioration that occurred rapidly” and they made the decision to close it in the interests of public safety, he said. “As this matter is subject to proceedings in the Federal Court, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Mr Ward said.

The circumstances of the decline and closure of Central Pier – and what Development Victoria and the state government knew about the risk – could also become the subject of a parliamentary inquiry proposed by Reason Party’s Fiona Patten.

“I’m concerned which is why I put up a motion to undertake a short and sharp inquiry to really get to the bottom of it,” Ms Patten told The Age.

“In a COVID year when businesses have been doing it so tough, we want to see the government has got small businesses’ backs. This is not how I would show that.”

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Local News - Victoria

Victorian private schools record lowest fee rises in Australia

The analysis of 400 non-government schools across the country, including more than 100 in Victoria, was conducted by Edstart, which finances school fees for families.

Of the Victorian schools, 35 charged more than $30,000 a year for year 12 local students while 67 charged below that.

Edstart chief executive Jack Stevens said: “Across Australia many schools kept their fees steady to assist families economically impacted by the pandemic.

“We found that nearly 40 per cent of schools did not increase their 2021 fees, which is a massive jump from 7 per cent of schools in 2020.”

Schools that charge at least $30,000 a year for year 12 local students were more likely to freeze their fees, with more than half holding fees steady this year.

“This is a stark contrast to previous years where these schools had maintained a relatively consistent trend of fee increases of between 3 per cent to 4 per cent,” Mr Stevens said.

The Knox School principal Allan Shaw.

The Knox School principal Allan Shaw.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Thirty-six per cent of Victorian students attend a non-government school, the highest rate of any state in Australia and well above the OECD average.

Victorian schools were forced to teach online for much of 2020 and many cut fees for families whose finances came under pressure. Some schools also experienced industrial conflict for standing down staff during the state’s lockdowns.


While the school fee freezes are welcome news for parents, the Independent Education Union has complained they have been subsidised by freezes in teacher pay.

Schools to freeze fees for 2021 include The Geelong College, St Leonard’s College and The Knox School.

The Knox School principal Allan Shaw said: “Because we didn’t charge any of the co-curricular fee levies for most of last year, some families decided to give us that money and transfer it to other families in need.

“I was impressed, that was real community support.”

The Geelong College principal Peter Miller said while COVID-19 had not affected this year’s scholarship intake, it was reasonable to expect the downturn would lead to more demand in the future.

St Leonard’s College principal Stuart Davis said the inability of parents to attend school open days during most of 2020 would have “greater implications” in years to come.

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Coronavirus Victoria: Extra car trips, more congestion, slower speeds

But Infrastructure Victoria said the answer was not to push commuters back onto trains and trams, which did not properly cater for social distancing.

On Monday, when 50 per cent of private sector workers and 25 per cent of public servants were allowed to return to the office, public transport levels returned to 36 per cent of normal.

The road traffic, meanwhile, was 92 per cent of what it was prior to the pandemic.

Infrastructure Victoria deputy chief Jonathan Spear said the point was not to discourage the use of public transport, but to spread journeys on different days of the week and different times of day.

“It is to everybody’s benefit for us to be continuing to use public transport,” he said. “Because if we don’t get back on public transport, we’re going to have greater [road] congestion, greater delays and not as many people are going to be coming into the city to work and play and do the things that we love about Melbourne. So we do want to engender confidence.”

The greatest challenges were in inner Melbourne – particularly in the city council, Yarra and Port Phillip areas – where residents who were once reliant on public transport have turned to cars.

Short car trips below five kilometres were expected to drive up car dependency the most, particularly in the inner suburbs, with Infrastructure Victoria believing that 123,400 walks and 14,204 cycling trips could easily be taken off roads and public transport.

The analysis is based on the assumption that between 10 and 20 per cent of people will continue working from home on any given day, that the international student population will decrease and that public transport will be 37 to 55 per cent less popular than it was.

The biggest impact was remote working, wiping out 220,000 work trips.


The report suggests permanently cutting fares for off-peak travel on public transport and offering discounts on the underutilised bus network; removing the free tram zone in the CBD to reduce crowding and encourage walking; widening footpaths and activating the streets with outdoor dining to encourage walking; improving cycling infrastructure; and potentially even offering financial incentives for cycling.

If 25 per cent of people keep working from home and flexible working hours allow for off-peak travel, then congestion could plateau in the inner suburbs to pre-COVID levels.

Mr Spear said reforms were needed immediately to avoid locking in inefficient and high-risk behaviours.

“We think that there are things that can be done really pretty quickly. And in fact there’s an imperative to do it quickly, so that we don’t set in train patterns of behaviour that are a worse new normal rather than a better new normal,” he said.

“Even if people don’t have the opportunity to change their time or mode of travel, if other people are, then that also gives a real benefit to those who don’t have a choice.”

The Department of Transport has already discounted off-peak public transport fares by 30 per cent for three months from January 31. At the same time, Metro Trains will also roll out an extra 280 services a week. The department is trialling technology to inform passengers in real time about congestion on their train or bus or at stations.

Masks remain mandatory on public transport, extra cleaning is taking place and hand sanitiser has been provided across the network. A spokesperson for the department said Melburnians should be confident using public transport.

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Local News - Victoria

We have become used to these absurd demands

One would have expected more empathy
Shame on you, Novak Djokovic. You came to Australia to play tennis for your own reasons – namely to make a lot of money.

You do not have the right to make demands of our government for special treatment because things don’t suit you. You knew the conditions before you applied to come here. Even that hard quarantine was a possibility. One would have thought that you would have been more empathetic after your own experience with COVID-19 last year. You and others tested positive after you hosted a tournament in the Balkans. You even admitted you were wrong to do that.

As a Melburnian who spent half of last year in lockdown I strongly support the measures being taken to prevent another breakout. Show yourself to be a more thoughtful and unselfish person rather than a prima donna and gracefully accept your time under these restrictions in a first-class hotel.
Rhonda Ward, Mont Albert

This bubble is different
What the overseas players need to understand is that the Australian Open bubble is different from the other ones, like the US Open. They were done to protect the players from everyone else, our bubble is to protect all of us from the players and their entourages.

I’m sure they cannot comprehend how hard we worked for zero cases.
Kirsty Page, Ivanhoe

Stick to what you know
Novak Djokovic – a top tennis player? Yes. An epidemiologist? No.
Stick to what you know, Novak, and leave the control of the pandemic to the experts.
Margaret Smith, Point Lonsdale

Anxious, resentful and disappointed
Why do I feel so anxious, resentful and disappointed that the 2021 Australian Open tennis has been brought to Melbourne?

In 2020, our young people were subject to compromised education, loss of opportunities for social growth and treasured rites of passage. They were deprived of all community sports and recreation.

Yet here we are, risking a return to such measures for the stated aim of not wanting to lose our grand slam status. Where is our ‘‘proportionate’’ response? Where is leadership that puts the true needs of people first?
Terry Harrison, Mount Waverley

Weighing up the risks
It is somewhat simplistic to assert that, in justifying the Australian Open, we should be confident that there is no greater risk in the quarantine of tennis players and their entourages than the risks related to the return of overseas Australians (Letters, 19/1).

In either case there are potentially significant adverse consequences if quarantine is breached. On the one hand there is the imperative of safely and expeditiously returning overseas Australians in the context of protecting the Australian community as a whole. On the other merely an economic benefit of holding a sporting event in the same context. Hardly a balancing exercise of equal merit.
Edward Combes, Wheelers Hill


A distressing about-face
An article in The Age on Monday (18/1) gave hope to many Victorians that Victoria Police would let people off COVID fines with a warning in less serious cases after police had changed their internal guidelines to issue cautions and diversions for most people with COVID fines. Police then issued a statement in response to the article saying the guidelines were ‘‘poorly worded’’ and that this was not the case.

The about-face was a distressing blow for members of the community who have been fined unfairly.

Fitzroy Legal Service has been running an advice line for COVID fines – almost everyone we’ve spoken to has tried to comply with Victoria’s restrictions and been fined anyway. Reviews of fines are almost always refused without reasons. There is no way of getting your situation properly reviewed without going in front of a magistrate and risking a criminal conviction.

We are urging police to ensure people who have been fined unfairly aren’t forced to go to court to have their fine withdrawn. There are already significant delays in Victoria’s courts. Forcing people to use the court system to sort out fines is a huge extra burden for the Victorian community to bear.
Adrian Snodgrass, Principal Lawyer, Fitzroy Legal Service

Vote these people out
The lawyer and writer Josh Bornstein could not have been more succinct when he wrote ‘‘Unlike many other politicians across the world, the members of the Morrison government refuse to condemn Trump for his incitement of a fascist coup and the terrorist acts that he inspired precisely because the Coalition is now riddled with Trumpists’’ (‘‘Voltaire would applaud Trump ban’’, Comment, The Age, 19/1).

The Australian voters should remember that at the next elections. We can’t have these sorts of supporters in our system of democratic governance. We must get rid of them with our vote just as the American voters did by getting rid of Trump in America.
Rajend Naidu, Glenfield, NSW

It’s not a free-for-all
Josh Bornstein provides a sensible recalibration of the emotive debate on free speech in Australia precipitated by the titanic force of outgoing US President Donald Trump’s ‘‘hate speech’’ and the ubiquitous spread of ‘‘digital disinformation’’ by ‘‘digital behemoths’’.

Indeed, the salient point missed by a lot of us is that ‘‘speech has never been free’’ under the law, because there are legal boundaries to what you can say or write: It’s not a free-speech free-for-all.

It goes without saying that untruthful and unfettered words cause ‘‘immense [reputational] harm’’ that once toxically spread (and facilitated by digital platforms), can not be readily reversed.

So, as Bornstein incisively discerns ‘‘The fastest way to arrest the enormous damage done’’ by digital platforms is to repeal their ‘‘statutory immunity’’, so that they are rendered liable for any spurious fiction that they spread with impunity.

And for all of us to quietly pause for thought that freedom of speech is not a given and not without consequence.
Jelena Rosic, Mornington

Players knew the deal
Bernard Tomic and co could educate themselves a little by reading a newspaper or watching the ABC rather than playing video games for hours on end. They would see what the real world is experiencing rather than the eternal bubble they exist in.

Stop complaining or leave. You were all informed about the requirements before you decided to play this Australian Open, it was your choice.
Ron Reynolds, Templestowe

They’re keeping us safe
Roberto Bautista-Agut, the Victorian government may not have a clue about tennis and practice courts (‘‘‘These people have no idea’: Spanish star Bautista-Agut says lockdown like prison’’, online 19/1) – why would they? But they do know about how to keep their citizens safe, which is why you and others are all in quarantine. Tennis Australia also supported this.

We did 112 days hard lockdown last year and none of us want to go back to that. That’s frankly more important than allowing you all just to breeze in and get on with playing a tennis tournament.

Everyone else needs to quarantine – why are you any different?
Alison McLeod, Cremorne

Donation reform a must …
Your editorial is so timely (‘‘Laxity on donations reeks of self-interest’’, The Age, 19/1). Yes, transparency, vigilance and integrity are keys to preserving democracy. Recent events elsewhere show its fragility.

Clearly votes can be bought by vested interests at all levels of government. The lazy view that ‘‘it couldn’t happen here’’ is unconvincing.

We here in Australia have led the world with arm’s length voting and electoral matters but in financing political parties we are far from prudent. We are lazy and complacent.

My suggestion is that only individuals be permitted to make donations with a ceiling of $1500 a year for all three levels of government. Of the balance required to promote policies at elections, this should be publicly funded through the Electoral Commission.

This would clean up our system – reducing the present undue influence of the donor organisations, whether business or unions – giving us the level playing field inherent in a true democracy .
John Miller, Toorak

… as I have seen
The High Court finding that ‘‘the basic human tendency towards reciprocity means that payments all too readily tend to result in favours’’, is consistent with the pattern in my street (‘‘Laxity on donations reeks of self-interest’’, The Age, 19/1)

My very productive apricot tree has allowed me to happily give bundles of fruit to neighbours. In return, despite expecting nothing, I have recently received biscuits, plums, fresh garlic and zucchinis, all clearly as a direct consequence of the apricots.

This strong human tendency has made for a more varied and healthy diet (maybe excluding the delicious biscuits), but is cause for worry when the most generous donors to our governments are mining companies that rely on federal government approvals.
Lesley Walker, Northcote

It didn’t cross my mind
When Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, I naively thought that when he found out what the job entailed, he would quickly become bored and leave to go off on his next glorious conquest.

We had all seen the images of Barack Obama working late into the night, reading and responding to correspondence and working through briefing papers, and I, quite rightly, thought that there was no way that Mr Trump was going to be up for this.

It didn’t cross my mind that he would completely reshape and redefine what it meant to be the US president.

Gone from the job description were being well informed, holding sound values and any form of strategic planning. New KPIs seemed to go little beyond ensuring a plethora of activities designed to generate frequent large-scale personal adulation opportunities.

The last four years have at best been a circus; at worst, a dangerous rollercoaster that the world appears to have survived.

Thank goodness that from January 20 the US will have an actual president; one who will have dusted off and breathed life into the previous position description.
Claire Merry, Wantirna

The failure is ours
The laws aren’t failing our wildlife at all (‘‘Laws failing our wildlife’’, The Age, 18/1), we have been failing our wildlife for 200 years.

All Australians are guilty of ignoring and putting their heads in the sand to the fact that Australia has the dubious distinction of the highest rate of vertebrate mammal distinction in the world.
We are all guilty, no excuses.
Judy Martin, McCrae

We need this watchdog
The Centre for Public Integrity highlights the desperate need for an effective anti-corruption body in Australia (‘‘Miners splash $136m on political donations’’, The Age, 18/2) and yet again the Coalition, is found wanting.

Only fools or the naive would believe donations do not buy access or influence. Just consider the detrimental influence of the gambling, food, alcohol, coal and petroleum industries, or the unions, on government legislation in recent times.

Australia trails nearly all Western nations in regulating political donations and, sadly, we are not one of the of the 114 countries that totally ban them from foreign interests.
When politicians are open to exploitation, voters become cynical, democracy is undermined and society is degraded.

It is arguable that the lack of a strong anti-corruption body is the greatest inhibitor of representative democracy in Australia. The creation of a federal anti-corruption body, the banning of political donations and the public funding of elections would be a small price to pay to regain democracy and the electorate’s trust.
Bryan Long, Balwyn

Thanks for the story
Thank you Bernadette Florence (‘‘My happy story’’, Letters, 19/1), for your beautiful little story about your grandson and Matilda the duck.

It reminds us all of the innocence of the very young, and the importance of having these moments brought to our attention, so we can go about our day with a smile and a chuckle.
Wendy Poulier, Ferntree Gully

Why has it taken so long?
Please don’t tell me that I have been carefully sorting waste into landfill, recycle and organics bins for the majority of the material to end up in landfill. The article ‘‘Victoria doubles capacity to recycle glass into jars’’ (The Age, 19/1) is most disheartening.

Responsible citizens are diligently sorting their waste, municipal councils are sending around three different trucks to collect the material and the best we can do is recycle 61,000 tonnes of the 606,000 tonnes of plastic, leaving the rest to go to landfill. For glass, the figures quoted are 181,000 tonnes recycled against 205,000 tonnes to landfill.

It is heartening to find that there are moves afoot to increase Victoria’s recycling facilities, and therefore reduce landfill, but why has it taken so long?
Ralph Lewis, Canterbury


The Australian Open
I must say, the antics of some entitled tennis stars and their companions are more entertaining than the actual tennis.
Marlene Lee, Mount Eliza


Novak Djokovic, you chose to come here for the AO, you knew the rules, you knew no favours would be given, so if you don’t like it then go home. Let those who obey, stay and play.
Margaret Sullivan, Caulfield North

Early release? Give Novak Djokovic the tennis elbow.
Malcolm Cameron, Camberwell

Spot on articles, Chip Le Grand and Tony Wright (The Age, 19/1). Novak Djokovic is a great tennis player and players’ advocate, but seems to lack perspective: pandemic, what pandemic?
Mary Cole, Richmond

Memo to Novak Djokovic: We call the shots.
Margaret Skeen, Point Lonsdale

What a wonderful ambassador for tennis is Russian-born NZ doubles player Artem Sitak.
Susan Munday, Bentleigh East

Simple maths. The amount of government interest in climate change policy is inversely proportional to the resource industry’s donations to the Coalition.
Bryan Fraser, St Kilda

Scott Morrison will be pleased. After evading any responsibility or blame for robo-debt by his ministers and himself he has found that ‘‘the buck stops’’ with the Dutch government. That’s a miracle.
Adrian Tabor, Point Lonsdale

Americans had the chance to get rid of a megalomaniac leader after four years. Russians and Chinese have no such luxury.
John Walsh, Watsonia

I think Vladimir Putin is an exceptional person. I wouldn’t have the nerve to say otherwise.
John Rawson, Mernda

I have no problem wearing a mask. It protects me, the people I love and the people I don’t even know. If nothing else it is a statement of solidarity.
Gerry Danckert, Armstrong Creek

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Farmers accuse Premier of ignoring ‘letter after letter’ on worker shortage


On December 11 Mr Andrews used a press conference after a national cabinet meeting to outline the seasonal worker shortfall as an urgent priority and flagged tapping into a resource of 22,000 pre-approved workers from Pacific Island nations to work on farms.

NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory brought in about 1000 workers on charter flights who worked on farms while completing their 14-day quarantine last year, a system that federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has implored Victoria to replicate.

However, Mr Andrews ruled out using that model for the first time on Tuesday, saying Victoria did not have as many remote locations as other states.

“I think that the tyranny of distance in some parts of the country works really well, and you can have, perhaps, greater confidence that on-farm quarantine is in fact a quarantine away from people,” he said.

“We don’t think that necessarily works here. We think hotel quarantine is what has to happen.”

Beyond allowing 1120 Australians per week to fly into the state since early December, Victoria has been sluggish on quarantine arrangements since hotel quarantine lapses sparked the state’s second wave of coronavirus.

Unimpressed with Victoria: federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

Unimpressed with Victoria: federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The state’s lack of a plan to support the agriculture sector has frustrated industry and the federal government. On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said this year Victoria would not be able to fly in a significant number of international students, a sector that contributes $8 billion to the state.

The state government has sought to attract local students, migrants and grey nomads to help fill some of the shortages left by the absence of foreign workers, though labour shortages remain.

Mr Littleproud, who has repeatedly criticised Mr Andrews in the media in recent weeks, again lambasted the Premier for flagging an announcement on seasonal workers “soon”.

“He has ignored industry attempts to engage on this issue and now Victorian farmers are paying the price for Dan Andrews’ inaction,” the Agriculture Minister said.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said her group had sent 'letter after letter' to the state government.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano said her group had sent ‘letter after letter’ to the state government.Credit:Simon Schluter

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano also lashed out at Mr Andrews, saying the government had overseen quarantine for tennis players while local growers were unable to hire migrant workers.

“Clearly he was able to work up a quarantine arrangement for the Australian Open,” she said.


Ms Germano said the federation had sent “letter after letter” to the state government with proposals and requesting the worker shortfall be addressed.

She said farmers were willing to pay up to $2500 per worker for their quarantine costs. The sector fears the absence of a foreign worker quarantine scheme in Victoria could have long-term consequences for the state’s farming sector.

“The problem is not going to go away any time soon because we know the international borders are not going to be reopening.”

Last year, the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance and Aspen Medical put forward a proposal for a quarantine facility in Mildura to host Pacific Island workers.

But on Tuesday, the alliance’s chief executive, Michael Rogers, said the sector was willing to discuss any “quarantine pathway” that would allow Pacific Island workers to return to Victorian farms.

“We don’t understand what the blockage is in Victoria,” he said. “What will it take for the Victorian government to support industry and work out a quarantine pathway?”

Mr Andrews said he was liaising with other state and territory leaders on the possibility of sharing quarantine arrangements for overseas workers, but it was “quite a complex matter”.

“And whomever you bring in, in whatever numbers, it has to be done safely,” he said.

He added that the federal government could tweak JobSeeker payments to better incentivise unemployed Australians to work on farms.

Independent Mildura MP Ali Cupper, whose electorate contains a number of horticultural industries dependent on seasonal workers, urged the state and federal governments to find common ground to resolve the issue.

She warned farmers faced a “huge economic hit” if foreign workers were barred from Victoria.

“One thing the federal government could do is provide healthcare professionals to travel to Vanuatu to conduct COVID-19 tests on potential travellers to Australia,” Ms Cupper said.

“This would give the Victorian government more safety assurances around the seasonal workers coming into the state, given the rate of testing in Vanuatu is relatively low.”

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Local News - Victoria

Girl dies, bringing Victoria’s horror drowning day toll to four

Confirmation of the fourth death comes as families and friends have paid tribute to others who lost their lives last week.


Lisa Mandeltort, a teacher at Nossal High School in Berwick, was described by her family and colleagues as an inspiring mentor. She died helping to rescue a 14-year-old girl at Venus Bay on the South Gippsland Coast.

Ms Mandeltort was able to help the teen and another man make it safely back to shore but ended up in distress herself and was pulled from the water unable to be resuscitated.

In another dramatic rescue attempt on the Mornington Peninsula, 45-year-old postal worker Aida Hamed lost her life after being swept off rocks by a wave at Bushrangers Bay.

Several helicopters were deployed to the scene at Bushrangers Bay where two men had jumped into the water to rescue Ms Hamed, her friend and two teenage girls after they were swept into the sea.


A man in his 80s, who has not been identified publicly, was pulled unconscious from Rye front beach and was unable to be saved.

The horror day on Victorian waters prompted urgent pleas from Life Saving Victoria and the state government for swimmers to take care.

Reports for all four deaths will be prepared for the coroner.

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Local News - Victoria

These decisions belong with government bodies

As for the reported 20 noise complaints a month, that it is a huge number, because once a resident has registered a noise complaint, their next complaint is not counted again, so this translates to at least 240 new complainants each year.
Lyndi Chapman, Keilor

The area is already densely populated
Land around Melbourne Airport is already densely populated. The state government and local councils have allowed this to occur, and a curfew must be introduced.

Residents in the municipalities of Hume, Brimbank, Moonee Valley and Maribyrnong already put up with horrendous aircraft noise day and night. If the proposed additional north south runway is to go ahead, living under these flight paths will be unbearable.
Alana Bacon, Keilor

Safeguarding communities a challenge
It seems a little unfair of Professor Michael Buxton to blame state and local governments for increasing residential development around Melbourne Airport.

The National Airport Safeguarding Framework, the agreement between the federal government and the states that outlines the need to safeguard airport operations, recognises that state and local governments must provide housing for a growing population and specifically states that ‘‘noise-sensitive development proposed in zoning where it is currently permitted may be treated differently to such development in an area currently zoned for non-noise-sensitive purposes’’.

In other words, in areas already zoned for residential development, states and councils may continue to approve applications for sensitive uses such as homes and schools. To do otherwise would starve established communities of necessary services.

Oddly, although the safeguarding framework pays lip service to protecting communities from airport operations, the substance of it only contains measures to safeguard airports from communities. Given that the noise contours used to guide planning decisions extend well beyond the six-kilometre buffer originally planned for the airport, safeguarding communities without constraining airport operations poses a significant challenge and will require something more than the motherhood statements that have so far been rolled out.
Hannah Robertson, Melbourne Airport Community Action Group, Keilor

Thin edge of the wedge
The intended takeover of 35 hectares of “green wedge”-zoned land in Heatherton is only the start of it (‘‘Suburban Rail Loop to knock out section of decades-old parks plan’’, The Age, 16/1). There are another six parks and gardens that are listed for destruction, including Sir William Fry Reserve in Highett. The Victorian government does not care a jot for community gardens and the public that love them and so intends to sacrifice them.

Independent experts say the real cost of the “loop” will be between $150 billion and $200 billion, not the $50 billion in government literature, and the cost cannot be justified. No official business case has been published to justify the expenditure but if it had, it would have meant nothing as this Victorian government is famous for underestimating and over-forecasting. As a result of COVID, more people will be working at home and less will be employed, therefore there will be fewer train passengers.

I have written to the rail authority with questions but had no response. They say they have consulted widely with residents but I live on Sir William Fry Reserve and there has been no contact at all.
Colin Thomson, Highett


We might be in trouble
Australia’s relationship with America is a subject of regular debate and discussion. Scott Morrison and other Australian leaders continue to assert that our close bonds are based largely on shared values.

If they are fair dinkum, and socioeconomic outcomes reflect values, then we are in serious trouble. In a recent Rolling Stone essay, Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis observed that: ‘‘What every prosperous and successful democracy deems to be fundamental rights – universal health care, equal access to quality education, a social safety net for the weak, elderly and infirmed – America dismisses as socialist indulgences …’’

The three richest Americans have more money than the poorest 160 million. One-fifth of American households have zero or negative net worth. The Trump presidency, COVID disaster and criminal neglect of the climate crisis are symptoms of a deep malaise.

Some values – some exemplar.
Norman Huon, Port Melbourne

A different moral compass
The Dutch government has resigned following a scandal that labelled more than 20,00 parents as child welfare fraudsters (‘‘The wheels of justice’’, The Sunday Age,17/1).

More than a year ago, the Australian government was informed that the tax office’s robo-debt scheme, created following what was later described as ‘‘policy fiasco’’, unlawfully targeted about 400,000 people for alleged Centrelink overpayments over many years.

Both governments have established refund schemes but it appears, considering the mental trauma and financial hardship this caused many Australian victims, our political moral compass on accountability is way different.
Dave Tasker, Lilydale

Shut it down now
How is it fair that at the Australian Open, a player whose training has been limited because of exposure to COVID-19 and has been quarantined may have to compete against a player who has been in full training? Every international planeload that flies in will bring more COVID and consequent inequities.

The AO is quickly becoming a farce. Shut it down, Mr Premier. Shut it down now.
Geoff Phillips, Wonga Park

We should be confident …
The system is safely returning Australians from overseas to their communities via hotel quarantine and testing. The same system can safely bring tennis players and their retinues from overseas to our community. The only significant differences are the daily five-hour practice sessions for tennis players and their support people, and these sessions are conducted under strict conditions.

Like Australians who have returned from overseas, tennis players and their retinues will only be let loose in the community once they have completed their 14 days of quarantine and received negative COVID-19 test results.

A quarantine breach is no more likely to occur with tennis quarantine than with standard hotel quarantine.

Victorians should be confident that the Victorian government and the DHHS have taken all precautions for the protection and safety of our population in relation to the Australian Open.
Good luck to the players, and let’s enjoy a COVID-safe Australian Open.
Andrew Baird, Elwood

… or worried
No, Alize Cornet (“Players serve up verdict on quarantine: ‘this is insane’”, The Age, 18/1), what is “insane” is Tennis Australia and the state government risking the health of 25 million people so you and your pals can have a few sets of tennis.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal let’s see what happens if this new strain of COVID hits the streets of Victoria.

The citizens of this state are right to be worried.
Angus McLeod, Cremorne

If only science ranked No.1
The decision to hold the Australian Open this year is a stark reminder of how powerful sport is in our society. It transcends everything else. The elite players are put on a pedestal. Not even a pandemic can stop this level of sport.

Imagine a world where our scientists were given the same kudos, money and recognition.
That would be a world where the Australian Open could be played without any restrictions!
Liz Danenberg, Mildura

What’s the alternative?
Tim Soutphommasane makes some interesting points about the effects of meritocracy on egalitarianism (‘‘Virus wipes out the myth of equality’’, Comment, 18/1). But he does not provide an alternative to a ‘‘natural order’’ in which the strongest and smartest are rewarded.

The fact that some people rise to positions of wealth and power through little more than ‘‘dumb luck’’ does not seem sufficient to challenge ascendancy of the principle of merit. Few successful people admit to being lucky, or favoured by factors other than their skills and abilities.

It seems unlikely that Professor Soutphommasane would declare that other people could do his job better than him and that he should stand aside and let them do it while he slides into obscurity.
Rod Wise, Surrey Hills

Land of divisions
Tim Soutphommasane’s assertion that “Crises have the power to reveal who we are” – in the context of COVID-19 – is apt.

First and foremost, the pandemic revealed that ‘‘inequality’’ is deeply rooted in Australia and that the worst off (ie. homeless people) were promptly assisted into hotel accommodation not because it was a high-order priority by government (that is, beforehand), but as a virus containment strategy (that is, after the fact).

Moreover, Australian’s growing complacency about ‘‘inequality’’ is (not least of which) fuelled by continual messaging by the federal government of ‘‘lifters’’, ‘‘leaners’’ and welfare ‘‘rorters’’ and its meritocratic notion that all you have to do is “have a go to get a go”.

So, the ideological nonsense of ‘‘meritocracy’’ has progressively “shifted our culture” over time, whereby many among us have become inured to the plight of others lest they’re tainted with the same ‘‘unlucky’’ brush.
John Fitzsimmons, Mornington

A life half lived
I am an old man. In my youth we lived in fear of communism. Now we live in fear of China, Islam, COVID-19 and the Greens climate emergency.

I have just watched again the Australian classic movie Strictly Ballroom, and it reminded me, because I’d forgotten it, that a life lived in fear is a life half lived.
Brian Sanaghan, West Preston

Putting real issue first
The recent Ipsos online poll reported in The Age (‘‘Worries on economy surge over health fear’’, 11/1) provided the surprising result, at least initially, that the environment was the least of the top five concerns for responders. It rated behind the economy, unemployment, healthcare and the cost of living.

How could the existential threat to the future of our planet be rated so lowly? It is human nature to focus on immediate threats, so anxiety about being able to earn an income, put food on the table, provide a roof over the family etc will always rate higher than more nebulous and distant threats – no matter how serious.

We elect our politicians to address these longer term issues. Most governments, with the United States now back in the fold, have acknowledged the issue and are taking enormous steps to overcome the problem.

We need leaders who will ignore the simplistic conclusions from the Ipsos poll and instead develop the transitional action needed to save the planet while allowing individuals to focus on those other immediate concerns.
Peter Thomson, Brunswick

My happy story
Thank you, Charles Purcell, for your lovely story (‘‘Pigeon might give us a happy ending’’, Comment, 18/1). Here’s mine.

Our three-year-old grandson loves our six chooks (two red, two black, two white) and, especially the one white Peking duck, Matilda. He’s learnt how to call them into the shed at night, feed them, collect the eggs, etc.

Six weeks before Christmas, a fox got Matilda. I told him foxes have to eat and feed their babies just like we do, that we were sad, but we’d be OK. He said he was OK, too. This week he’s holidaying in Tassie with his family. First morning, I get a Facetime call from our grandson – his eyes like saucers and hands flapping with excitement. “Nanna, Nanna, we’ve found Matilda!” (He’d spotted a group of Peking ducks swimming at the park they were at.)

“She’s in Tasmania. The fox didn’t eat her, he just ‘bringed’ her here to find some friends that look like her!”
Bernadette Florence, Allans Flat

The dawn of a new concept?
One of the few certainties in life is change. Language and attitudes evolve.

Following the reported use of the words by Wayne Gatt, the Victorian Police Association secretary, in commenting on a reported order to police from above, we will almost certainly see and hear more of the formerly oxymoronic ‘‘wilful compliance’’.
Ross Drynan, Lindfield, NSW

There are other truths
If truth is only found in mathematics why should our education system also promote ethics, kindness and tolerance (‘‘Be careful what we censor’’, Letters, 18/1)? Have scientific studies proven that this is necessary for a flourishing society?

Wisdom based on experience and often religion, however, does favour ethics, kindness and tolerance. The fact that humanity in the main has, and continues to practise religion, points to the likelihood that it is needed for a fulfilling, ethical life.

I look forward to scientists investigating why this is so.
Marguerite Marshall, Eltham

Compulsory reading
Such an excellent article from Roger Rasheed (‘‘Don’t shoot arrows, get creative in lockdown’’, The Age, 18/1) describing how those Australian Open participants who unfortunately are in hard lockdown for 14 days can make it a positive experience.

It should be compulsory reading.
Anne Fitzpatrick, Abbotsford


The Australian Open
As much as I love the tennis, I really wish the players would stop and have a think about everyone else instead of complaining when they are forced to follow our strict protocols, it just makes them look like a bunch of over-entitled, privileged kids. This is COVID normal.
Michael Carver, Hawthorn East


I quite like tennis, but is it cricket to bring the whole shebang here at the height of a global pandemic? Will it be a case of ‘‘tennis the menace’’?
Myra Fisher, Brighton East

Dan Andrews is likely to find international tennis stars far less tolerant and forgiving than his endlessly patient and co-operative fellow Victorians.
Geoff Green, Jolimont

In my day, Mother’s torment was the hitting of tennis balls against exterior walls.
Max Horton, Adelaide, SA

The Australian Open tennis – opens Australia to more than tennis.
Simon Gould, Arawata

Clearly the Australian Open is compromised by the COVID-19 cases. The risk to Victorians is too great – send the players home. Aren’t lives more important than a game of tennis?
Bronwyn Brown, Templestowe

It’s becoming clear what the federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack’s resolution for 2021 was: If he can make enough bizarre, unclear and nonsensical statements for this year he may sound similar enough to Barnaby Joyce to stop any leadership challenge.
Kevin Ward, Preston

Melbourne begins a return to work in the city. Petrol leaps from 112.9 to 155.9.
Brian Kidd, Mount Waverley

The imminent change of occupancy of the White House makes pertinent Oscar Wilde’s observation that some people bring happiness wherever they go … others, whenever they go.
Barry Lamb, Heidelberg West

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The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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