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The Age photos of the week, November 29, 2020



The week in photos from our award winning staff photographers and regular contributing photographers at The Age.



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Quokka photos by Alex Cearns perfect for 2020


Quokkas are the happiest creatures on Earth, according to animal photographer Alex Cearns.

She should know — she spent months getting up close with the cuddly critters for her new book, The Quokka’s Guide To Happiness.
The former police officer and crime analyst has coupled cute, funny, and above all, superbly framed pics of the marsupials in their natural habitat with stirring quotes by great thinkers and writers from human history for a picture book that is unashamedly smile-inducing and mood-enhancing — perfect for the end of a year like this one.

SCROLL DOWN TO CHECK OUT SOME OF THE PHOTOS

It also contains plenty of facts about these appealing beasts, from the derivation of their unusual-sounding name (from the Aboriginal Nyungar language word “gwaga”), through the reasons for their facial expressions (the curve of their snout and the doglike way they “smile” by opening their mouths to cool off), to Alex’s tips on how to photograph them.

Perth-based Alex is a passionate campaigner for wildlife and abandoned animals. She has received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her charitable work and numerous photography awards.

“Quokkas are adorably cute, remarkably unique and very photogenic, with their cheeky grins and loveable personalities,” she said of her furry subjects on WA’s Rottnest Island.

“What an absolute joy it was to photograph quokkas while they (mostly) ate, played and interacted with each other. Some were very friendly and would run towards me at full speed, as if we were long-lost friends. Others were more cautious in their approach, but as soon as I sat still, their curious natures would get the better of them and they would slowly come closer and then act like I wasn’t even there – which generally meant they got on with eating.

“It was a great privilege to stop and sit quietly with hundreds of quokkas for hours on end and to get to know them better than I would have if I’d just taken a brief selfie with a mobile phone. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed taking the photographs for it.”

The Quokka’s Guide To Happiness by Alex Cearns, published by HarperCollins’ ABC Books, is available from Dec 2.

NOW FOR SOME OF ALEX’S PICTURES….

(And the quotes that accompany them in her book)



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Business

Markets Live, Thursday 26 November, 2020


“It’s a growth day, flipping back the other way away from value,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York. “It’s this ongoing struggle between the virus and the vaccine.”

“There’s a reality setting in that while the vaccine will start being distributed fairly quickly, the virus isn’t going away quickly and therefore the timeline for economic improvement is getting pushed out.”

A wide range of data released in advance of Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday was dominated by a second consecutive week of unexpected jobless claims increases, suggesting that new restrictions to combat spiking coronavirus cases could hobble the struggling labour market’s recovery.

“The economic data is not good, and we know it won’t be good for some time given this new wave of the virus,” Ghriskey added.

The market appeared to be replaying the previous two weeks, which began with rallies driven by promising vaccine news but pivoted back to stay-at-home plays on near-term pandemic realities and lack of new fiscal stimulus.

Still, the vaccine developments and removal of uncertainties surrounding the US presidential election have driven Wall Street indexes to record closing highs, and put the S&P 500 on course for its best November ever.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 173.77 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 29,872.47; the S&P 500 lost 5.76 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 3,629.65; and the Nasdaq Composite added 57.08 points, or 0.47 per cent, to 12,094.40.

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Local News - Victoria

Victoria’s 2020 budget papers show Aboriginal education targets were missed


Just 44.2 per cent of Aboriginal year 3 students finished above the bottom three bands, short of the government’s target of 46.7 per cent and down on the previous year’s result of 44.9 per cent.

Similarly for year 3 reading results, the proportion of Aboriginal students above the bottom three bands fell from 56.1 per cent in 2018 to 51.9 per cent last year, significantly below the Victorian government’s target of 58.2 per cent.

The NAPLAN test results for Aboriginal students in year 7 improved over the past year with the proportion above the bottom three bands growing from 25.5 per cent in 2018 to 28.9 per cent in the numeracy test. However, this was still short of the government’s target last year of 29.7 per cent. The results for students in year 9 declined year-on-year in numeracy, while improving slightly in literacy.

Principal Lois Peeler (in yellow) says Worawa College prepares personalised learning plans and emphasises cultural pride.

Principal Lois Peeler (in yellow) says Worawa College prepares personalised learning plans and emphasises cultural pride.Credit:David Callow

Lois Peeler, principal of Worawa Aboriginal College in Healesville, said she was unsurprised by the NAPLAN results because they were “not a good thing for measuring our Aboriginal cohort”.

“The results cannot be an accurate measure,” she said. “They do not factor in that many students do not have English as their first language and most of the topics and contexts are highly unfamiliar to many Aboriginal as well as non-Aboriginal students. Commitment to mainstream and Aboriginal society and values is rarely understood.”

Dr Peeler, who has family links to the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve on the NSW-Victorian border, said students often arrived at her girls’ boarding school in year 7 with a rich knowledge of their first language but limited English language and numeracy skills. Others arrive with highly interrupted schooling.

Worawa Aboriginal College combats these issues by devising personalised learning plans and dividing students into learning streams.

“Balancing the commitments of two very different cultures is complex and many students have cultural obligations that are vital,” Dr Peeler said.

“Aboriginal students are reflected in the curriculum and learning environment at Worawa, but there is a long way to go in mainstream education, including NAPLAN, in this regard.

“We focus a lot on being able to express and be proud of your cultural identity. Pride in your culture is important for anybody’s wellbeing, I think. It helps academic results but also in preparing the girls to navigate their way through the mainstream or return to their communities as leaders.”

John Guenther, an Aboriginal and remote education expert with Darwin’s Batchelor Institute, said despite Victoria’s 2019 results, Aboriginal education outcomes in the past 15 years had steadily improved, particularly through year 12 completion rates.

He echoed Dr Peeler’s statement that governments should not overemphasise NAPLAN results, and said concerning attendance rates should be viewed as a structural issue in schools, rather than a sole problem of students or families.

“We can ensure our teachers are culturally aware of the diversity in their classrooms, particularly our First Nations kids,” Dr Guenther said.

“There are systemic issues – we have to change the language we use, so we don’t call Aboriginal children “disadvantaged”, which labels them as something other than normal and discourages them from going to school. There’s no real rocket science: it’s partly about respect, raising awareness and putting structures in place to help students be their best.”

Dr Peeler suggested Aboriginal students’ poor attendance figures were a result of recurring pressures inside the school gates and at home.

Students at Worawa College come from communities across Australia.

Students at Worawa College come from communities across Australia.Credit:David Callow

“Some of the circumstances that Aboriginal families find themselves in can stem from intergenerational trauma, the socioeconomic position of families. The effect of that on students would have certainly been exacerbated this year as they spent more time at home and more technology was required,” she said.

“I have to say that racism continues to play a part in this in schools too, because we [Aboriginal people] are a minority. Our numbers in most cases in mainstream schools are very small, so kids being kids will point out the differences. Your desire to go to school drops when you feel you are targeted or exiled.”

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Tuesday’s $49 billion state budget included a relatively modest investment of $105.7 million this year specifically for Aboriginal initiatives, while a total of $1.2 billion will be plunged into educational improvements such as school upgrades across Victoria.

There are about 15,000 Aboriginal students in Victoria.

Education Minister James Merlino said $7.4 million had been committed to increasing Koori engagement support officers in schools and improving the Koori literacy and numeracy program for Aboriginal primary school students.

“While we have made significant improvements, we know there is a lot more that needs to be done,” he said.

“That is why specialised and targeted education supports will be provided throughout 2021 to ensure students that may have fallen behind are supported to catch-up.”

Mr Merlino added that figures for Aboriginal students achieving in the top two NAPLAN bands had grown since 2015, though this measure was not included in the budget figures.

The Victorian government’s targets for Indigenous education are separate from the national ‘Closing the Gap’ targets, which were first set in 2008 and just two of them — early childhood education and Year 12 attainment — were achieved by 2019.

The scheme was effectively dumped for a new a new national agreement between Indigenous organisations and governments around Australia. Efforts to meet targets for school attendance, child mortality, employment, life expectancy and literacy and numeracy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people failed.

Last month, the Productivity Commission found that, despite massive spending to address disadvantage, governments’ evidence of what works to improve outcomes was thin, with many programs developed without adequate consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

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ASX at new nine-month high, almost recoups 2020 losses


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The switch from COVID-19 losers to winners continued on Wednesday, with the information technology, healthcare and communication sectors underperforming, while the financial, material and energy sectors all outperformed.

“Markets are really just giving us a forward look at what the future is going to look like from here on in,” Bell Direct market analyst Jessica Amir said.

“It is a pretty good day and another nine-month high, there is not much to complain about.”

While some market watchers believe the ASX would end 2020 around current levels, Ms Amir said she thinks it could move even higher.

“The Santa rally traditionally starts this week and goes to the second week after New Year’s Eve. The reason that a lot of people think the rally will continue is because the dust has not even settled after the US election … Every single year after a US election the Australian market has rallied.”

Joe Biden’s appointment of former Federal Board chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary was also well-received by markets because she was likely to stimulate the US economy, Ms Amir added.

The energy sector outperformed after oil prices jumped 4 per cent and appeared on track to return to $US50 per barrel. This helped Woodside Petroleum leap 3 per cent to five-month highs of $23.31 and Santos jump 2.7 per cent to nine-month highs of $6.53.

BHP added 3 per cent to a three-month high of $39.46. Among the banks, National Australia Bank surged 3.1 per cent to $24.05, ANZ gained 3 per cent to $23.66, Westpac rose 2.2 per cent to $20.89, and Commonwealth Bank lifted 1.5 per cent to $82.37, its highest close since February 27.

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Chief economist at BetaShares ETFs, David Bassanese, agreed there was more money waiting to be deployed into equities, with investors who missed out this month now looking for a buying opportunity.

“The global economy is almost in the cyclical sweet spot,” he said

“[There is] a lot of spare capacity and low inflation. Things can recover without the fear of interest rates or inflation spoiling the party.”

The best performers on Wednesday were Whitehaven Coal, which shot up 10.7 per cent, and Omni Bidgeway, which surged 9.1 per cent.

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Flight Centre closed 8.9 per cent higher, Webjet was up 7.1 per cent and airport and shopping centre owner Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield gained 7.3 per cent. The biggest decline was a 7.2 per cent fall for Mesoblast.

Among the technology stocks, NextDC slid 5.9 per cent, Afterpay fell 5.6 per cent and Appen dropped 5.4 per cent.

The S&P/ASX 200 has gained 12.9 per cent so far in November, eclipsing the 8.8 per cent gains of April.

However, State Street Global Advisors’ head of portfolio management in Australia, Bruce Apted, warned the current “vaccine rally has many similarities to a classic junk rally”.

Companies with the highest performance so far this year have dropped, while companies with lower growth, lower earnings revisions or higher debt were suddenly outperforming.

“The junk rally describes the average characteristics of the companies as they have been this year,” he told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

“If the vaccine returns us to the old world, then many of these companies will likely enjoy real benefits and will likely see aspects of quality and risk improve. Of course, it is still unclear just what the ‘new normal’ will look like and precisely how much many of these businesses will actually benefit.”

He added there were two risks in the vaccine rotation – that high quality companies would underperform and that “beaten up and riskier parts of the market” would rally.

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Business

Tablet interactive: State budget 2020



The pandemic punched a massive hole in the economy and, subsequently, the budget.



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Markets Live, Monday 23 November, 2020


As the dust settled on last summer’s bushfires and the local coronavirus numbers started climbing, Crestone Wealth Management’s chief investment officer Scott Haslem and his team flipped the switch on customer outreach to overdrive.

Crestone manages money for some of the country’s wealthiest people, from high net worth to ultra-high net worth, and the stakes were pretty high as the pandemic knocked the wind out of global markets. Weekly online webinars were set up and attended by 900 clients at a time and individual advisers were told to check in with clients over the phone, sometimes daily.

Crestone chief investment officer Scott Haslem in his western Sydney home.

Crestone chief investment officer Scott Haslem in his western Sydney home. Credit:Nate Wildr

“It was about communicating with our clients, working with them to sort through the noise, that comes from the media, the panic, the crisis,” Haslem says. “When you engage an adviser, the most beneficial time you have with that adviser is not when markets are going up, it’s when markets are volatile and there is a crisis afoot.”

The main message from Crestone to its clients was to ignore the noise and stick to the plan. Be disciplined, trust the strategy and whatever happened – do not switch to cash. As global share prices started falling by double digits through March, Haslem says sticking to that script became paramount.

Read Charlotte Grieve’s full profile here



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The Age’s ‘excellent reporting’ recognised in 2020 Walkley awards


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The Age editor Gay Alcorn congratulated all the winners and nominees.

“It has been such a tough year in so many ways – The Age staff have worked from home since March – that to see our journalism honoured in this way is so pleasing,” she said.

“Congratulations too, to Ross Gittins for his Walkley for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism. Ross has the ability to make economics make sense to everyone, and his columns are among The Age’s most popular.”

The chair of the Walkley judging board, Lenore Taylor, praised the range and depth of this year’s winning entries.

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“During last summer’s fires, factual information at times made the difference between life and death,” she said. “Likewise, facts have been the most important tool for limiting the spread of the coronavirus and our audiences have had a seemingly insatiable thirst for information.

“Facts are what we do. I’m always heartened, if slightly overwhelmed, when I see the array of excellent reporting and writing in contention for a Walkley Award – and the journalistic skill and determination evident in every entry.”

The ABC’s investigative reporter Mark Willacy took home the night’s top gong, the Gold Walkley, for his work on Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Journalists, photographers, artists, designers, producers and editors at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald gathered 20 nominations across more than a dozen categories. Here is a list of the winners from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald:

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Big Bash League makes three rule changes for 2020, including substitute option and split power play



The Big Bash League will allow a substitute player as part of three rule changes made to enliven the looming competition.

Teams will be able to sub in a so-called X-factor player after 10 overs of the first innings while the six-over power play has been split.

The initial power play will now be four overs, with the batting team to call on the last two overs of the power play from the 11th over.

The points system has also been altered.

Four competitions points will be on offer in each match.

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Three points will be for the overall win, with one bonus point on offer to the chasing team if they are ahead of their opponent’s 10-over score.

If the chasing team is behind after 10 overs, the fielding team will receive the bonus point.

“The … [changes] prioritise scoring, exciting cricket, introduce new strategic angles and ensure there’s always something to play for throughout the entire match,” Cricket Australia’s head of Big Bash Leagues Alistair Dobson said in a statement on Monday.

“We’re confident our fans will love what these innovations bring to the game.”

Trent Woodhill, the BBL’s player acquisition and cricket consultant, who was involved in developing the new Hundred competition in England, said the change was important for leagues.

“The best T20 leagues across the globe are the ones that continue to innovate, push the boundaries and challenge the status quo,” he said in the statement.

“The introduction of these new playing conditions firmly puts the Big Bash League in that category.”

The BBL starts on December 10 with a group of games in Tasmania and the ACT before moving to Queensland and South Australia later in the month.

Organisers have announced a schedule until December 31 for the initial 21 games of the 56-match season.

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The Age photos of the week, November 15, 2020



The week in photos from our award winning photographers and regular contributing photographers at The Age.



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