Local News - Victoria

Impossible Christmas suddenly possible as restrictions ease

“Each of us playing our part to make sure that we protect public health, that we value and protect this precious thing that we have built … It’s incredibly valuable, but it is fragile. And even though these rules are important changes, this virus is not gone.”

Restrictions could ease further before the end of the year, with the Premier flagging ongoing reviews of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, which also include offices returning to 25 per cent capacity, more patrons in cafes and restaurants, universities and TAFE resuming classes and up to 150 people at weddings and funerals.

It’s definitely really exciting not to have to wear a mask. It feels like you are one step closer to freedom.

Zahra Abbass

Some epidemiologists told The Age the state government should consider bringing more people back to offices and increasing gathering size and venue limits ahead of its next review of restrictions on December 6.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton declared on Sunday he was confident community transmission of coronavirus in the state had now ceased, with no COVID-19 deaths or infections for 23 days.

“That will be an ongoing risk until there is a substantial rollout of vaccines across the world, and that is some months away, at least six months,” Professor Sutton said.

“And we’re not going to get full coverage of vaccinations for all of our international arrivals for an even longer period of time, so we just have to be mindful of these things that we’re going to have in place: distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, cough etiquette. They are our insurance policy for any incursion that may happen into the future.”

Premier Daniel Andrews thanked Victorians for their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Daniel Andrews thanked Victorians for their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Credit:Chris Hopkins

The reversal of the state’s fortunes follows a second wave of coronavirus that claimed the lives of almost 800 people, infected more than 20,000 and cost the economy billions of dollars after the virus was transmitted into the community by guards working on the state’s hotel quarantine scheme for international travellers.

Quarantine settings were again the subject of intense national debate on Sunday, with one of the federal government’s top infection control advisers joining growing calls for the federal government to consider a system where quarantine facilities are placed away from heavily populated areas.

Earlier on Sunday, South Australia’s Opposition Leader urged the state government to put an end to its “medi-hotel” program after an outbreak that began at a quarantine hotel forced the state into a strict six-day lockdown.

Under the new changes to restrictions announced in Victoria on Sunday, indoor religious gatherings have been capped at 150, while up to 300 people will be allowed at outdoor religious ceremonies. And 150 guests will be permitted at weddings and funerals, with a maximum density of one person per four square metres.

Workers will be allowed to return to their offices in limited numbers, although public servants will continue working from home to reduce the number of people travelling to the city. Patron limits on hospitality venues will be increased and higher education students and staff can return to campus.

Zahra Abbass, 25, has spent a lot of time wearing a mask throughout the pandemic, due to her work as a receptionist. She said it would be a relief to know she could go outside for a walk and take it off.

“It’s definitely really exciting not to have to wear a mask. It feels like you are one step closer to freedom in a way, even though the pandemic is not going to end any time soon. There is that sense of relief that you are one step closer,” she said.

The state’s powerful business lobby group, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the government’s announcements.

“It’s beginning to feel a lot like Victoria again and what a fantastic announcement for businesses today, and effectively with the announcements today, every business can get on with doing what they love best,” said chief executive Paul Guerra.

“We look forward to [caps on venues] being scrapped, but for now it’s appropriate. While we’ve done a great job at suppressing this virus, we’re seeing in other states how easily it can come back. So, you know, the limit of 150 is more than what everyone thought we were going to get, so fabulous on the government for bringing that forward.”

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien welcomed the latest easing of restrictions, but said more rules could have been safely rolled back. He queried the government’s “arbitrary” cap on venues and the decision to prevent public servants from returning to the office.

“It’s been such a long road, it’s been a tough winter, it’s been a tough spring,” he said. “Victorians deserve the announcements that were made today.”


The Islamic Council of Victoria and Anglican Diocese of Melbourne broadly welcomed the changes to religious gatherings and ceremonies, but urged the government to consider scrapping the cap on venues, arguing places of worship were generally big buildings where people wear masks and can social distance.

ICV vice-president Adel Salman said: “We’re happy about the lifting of restrictions, but we see there’s opportunity to improve things. We definitely appreciate that we’re now allowed 150 indoors, and I think that’s great.”

Bishop Paul Barker said: “You can go to a restaurant to eat without a mask, people often talking a bit loudly, droplets going across the tables. In places of worship, we wear masks and we observe social distancing. We still think the government is not treating people with the utmost fairness.”

Some epidemiologists also suggested limits on venues could be reviewed.


Professor Catherine Bennett said she would like the focus to shift to increasing the number of workers who can return to the office, and she is advocating for the scrapping of venue caps in favour of density limits when the government reviews restrictions on December 6.

“We know with this virus, the cycle is essentially between workplaces and homes … so that’s where most of the spread happens,” Professor Bennett said. “We want to get people back to work. Holding back on further home visits helps contain this idea of potential outbreaks because you’re just breaking some of those cycles where the virus transmits.”

La Trobe University’s Hassan Vally said: “I guess once we have satisfied the epidemiological criteria for elimination of the virus, the next lot of relaxation of restrictions should see us move to what COVID-normal will be until we have the vaccine.

“For example, this would involve moving towards allowing gathering sizes that we are happy balances risks with benefits, and allowing other ‘high-risk’ places like pubs and gyms to operate in a more viable way. I think mask-wearing where social distancing is not able to occur is here to stay for some time.”


Professor Tony Blakely said the more Victoria reopened its economy and increased social gatherings, “the more we are a tinder box like Western Australia, where if the virus got in, it would just go boom”.

“I doubt we’ll be opening up the MCG – I think 25 per cent is about as much as we’ll get. With restaurants, I suspect the easing – two square metres per person – I think that’s as far as it will go. This is how we’re going to be functioning going forward,” he said.

The Burnet Institute’s Mike Toole said the changes were “sensible”, but he remained “nervous” about increasing the number of visitors allowed in homes to 15, and then 30 from mid-December.

“My principle is gradual, gradual, gradual … I’ve no way of being able to differentiate on the effects 25 per cent of workers returning to the office versus 40 per cent, it’s impossible to model at this stage, but keeping public servants out of the office is a good idea.”

Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, said he found it unusual the Premier had decided to relax mask-wearing rules.

“[It] is a bit strange because they are one of the low-hanging fruit that is easy to use and does not cost the economy,” Professor Esterman said.

“They are cheap. I’m not quite sure why they would suggest people don’t wear them at least for another week.”

With Simone Fox Koob

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Splitting Max Gawn and Brodie Grundy as the AFL’s best ruckman is almost impossible

Who would you prefer: Max Gawn or Brodie Grundy? It is one of footy’s most asked yet perhaps most unanswerable questions.

Do you opt for the aerial force?

Or the big man who moves like a little man?

Gawn is Melbourne’s most important player. Grundy is Collingwood’s.

Both are dominant ruckmen, but they dominate in very different ways.

Traditional ruckwork, evolved

For much of Australian football history, a ruckman’s job description was simple: compete in the ruck and cover the space one kick behind play.

Gawn is the modern exemplar. Not only is his beard a throwback, but so too is his style of play.

His clearest strength is his ruck work. He can tap to nearly any angle at nearly any distance.

Despite his stature, a lot of Gawn’s taps come from shoulder or waist height after he’s out-bodied his opponent. But he’s no one-trick pony.

Gawn can tap it forward:

Drop it at his feet:

Smash it into the horizon:

And execute his specialty — the blindside tap:

The last requires both chemistry and practice. Trust and communication are crucial.

Gawn usually has a target window of half a metre or less in which to direct his tap. If his timing or positioning is slightly off, the ball can be quickly cleared the other way, exposing Melbourne’s defenders.

That happened a little too often last season, and this year the Demons have used a slightly more defensive structure at stoppages. Their chemistry remains a work in progress.

Away from the ruck, Gawn’s style could be drawn from an old coaching manual. He generally drifts back to cover space in front of opposing forwards.

His defensive impact can be seen in the numbers.

Gawn feasts on rushed kicks forward from the opposition.

And even if he doesn’t take an intercept mark, he’ll often force a stoppage — where his superior ruck work will give his side an edge.

The current “third man up” rule has made it difficult to curb Gawn’s influence in the ruck. Some sides have tried to exhaust him by double-teaming him. Others have tried matching faster opponents on him to make him more defensively accountable. Few have had much success.

The new school

While Gawn has been reminding us how effective a ruckman can be as a spare in defence, Grundy has been showing the value they can provide in general play.

Grundy leads all rucks in groundball gets and effective disposals — two statistics that are usually more associated with midfielders.

He’s remarkably agile at ground level for a man of his height. At stoppages, he rarely smashes the ball away with a strong fist like Gawn. He prefers finesse over force.

But if his midfielders can’t capitalise on his deft taps, Grundy is unafraid of following them up himself. He drives the Magpies’ attacking movements.

Away from the stoppages, Grundy helps Collingwood’s spread and spacing by presenting as a mobile target.

His movement can force opposition switches and create confusion and mismatches. Opposing rucks struggle to keep up with him across the ground, much like they struggle to contain Gawn in the air.

The concept of putting an extra midfielder in as ruck is not new, but unlike sacrificial ruck options like Jackson Trengove or Shaun Grigg, Grundy also happens to be one of the best tap ruckmen in the league. The combination of his ruck work and excellent ball use make him one of the AFL’s most impactful onballers.

However, when Grundy fails to assert himself physically, it can hurt his side. For example, in Collingwood’s losses during the last three years, Grundy has only averaged 0.8 contested marks per game, while in wins he has racked up 1.4 contested grabs.

The followers

Grundy and Gawn aren’t alone in their differing styles of ruckwork.

Like Grundy, undersized Brisbane ruck Stefan Martin has long been valued for his ground-level work. The early draft picks used on Tim English and Luke Jackson in recent years highlight the appeal of finding “the next Grundy”.

Brodie Grundy (left) and Stefan Martin make contact as they try to catch the ball in the air.
Stefan Martin (right), like Grundy, has been lauded for his ground work.(AAP: Darren England)

The success of Gawn, meanwhile, has helped bolster the case for having patience with young talls. Sides are also taking risks on taller options at draft time, understanding that you can’t teach size.

Raw two-metre-plus prospects like Sam Alabakis (St Kilda), Ned Reeves (Hawthorn) and Michael Knoll (Sydney) may not end up emulating Gawn, but the template for success is there.

There are other rucks with different archetypes, including the ruck-forward, dual rucks and the all-around prowess of Nic Naitanui — who arguably stands alongside Gawn and Grundy when fully fit.

But right now he’s a step below two men who — despite their many differences — are almost impossible to separate.

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Mission impossible? Westpac panel highlights directors’ dilemma

The review by Colin Carter, Kerry Schott and Ziggy Switkowski into the Westpac board’s handling of the anti-money laundering issues also provides an understanding of the complexities confronting directors faced with the evolving and more demanding expectations from communities with little understanding of the limitations of their role.

Anti-money laundering legislation is relatively new, flowing from the aftermath of 9/11 and the global attempt to prevent financing of terrorism.

As the advisory panel noted, global banks were affected most by the new rules, but the largely-domestic Australian banks — maybe comforted by AUSTRAC’s focus at the time on tax evasion, welfare fraud, terrorism and organised crime — perhaps didn’t prioritise other money-laundering issues as much as their overseas peers.

When a board is not getting correct information or matters are being omitted, its task is made impossible.

Panel reviewing Westpac’s governance processes

Having said that, it should be noted that almost all the major banks around the world (including Commonwealth Bank here) have had issues and paid substantial fines for non-compliance with anti-money laundering laws. And given the nature of modern banks – completely technology-dependent, even though no large technology platform is perfect – perfect compliance might be impossible.

Westpac’s issues with AUSTRAC relate to inadequate reporting of millions of international funds transfers; failing to carry out adequate risk assessments of is correspondent banks and, most damagingly, to the failure to conduct enhanced customer due diligence that led to the regulator’s allegation that the bank had facilitated payments by 12 customers that might be linked to paedophilia.

The most telling conclusion of the review was that Westpac’s management didn’t know of the shortcomings in its processes and reporting of financial crime, and therefore the board didn’t know of them.

“When a board is not getting correct information or matters are being omitted, its task is made impossible,” the panel said.

‘Fit for purpose’

“The simple fact is that management did not know and hence could not inform the board until they did know,” it found. There was “absolutely no evidence” that management’s errors were intentional or motivated to mislead the board. Nor was there any evidence that greed or financial incentives were a factor. The bank’s “sins” were ones of omission, not commission, the review concluded.

Westpac appears to have had strong governance structures or, as the panel described them, the way it organised its governance responsibilities were “mainstream” and “fit for purpose”.

In a comment that will have a lot of non-executive heads nodding, the panel said the main challenge for the board was not the governance structure but “the huge scope of a board’s work relative to the board capacity that is available”.

Westpac is a very large organisation, with more than 14 million customers and more than 36,000 employees.

Within the board’s risk and compliance committee, financial crime was a relatively small item – until 2017, when the board became aware of the scale and systemic nature of the problem – within what the panel described as a very crowded agenda of 35 to 40 items and about 40 participants at each meeting.

There seems to have been an intensifying interest at board level in financial crime reporting risks from about 2015, when Brian Hartzer became chief executive, but it stepped up from 2017, when there was an institutional bank investigation of the financial crime risk in its operations that led to Westpac self-reporting the major breaches to AUSTRAC.

The review concluded that from 2017 the board’s responses to financial crime reporting appeared to have been appropriate, albeit reaction times remained slow.

The panel wasn’t asked to look at management shortcomings, although it did note problems with IT projects (at a time of rapid change in financial sector technology), turnover in the IT team, rapid changes in laws and regulation and changes in community expectations.

Pressured part-timers

Westpac had been a successful business, the panel said. Important processes, like oversight of financial risk, were mostly fit for purpose, well-documented and well-managed.

However, the purposes of institutions had been redefined and companies were now responsible to a broader set of stakeholders to maintain their social licences.

The “elephant in the room” issue, the review found, was that assessments of whether a board has done well or poorly are substantially determined by views about what boards can and cannot do. “And here we see society’s steadily increasing expectations, which are not necessarily well-founded, on what boards are set up to achieve.”

Directors aren’t executives – they aren’t management. They are part-timers. The panel said that if each of Westpac’s nine non-executives spent a day or two a week on the job, they’d be the full-time equivalent of only three directors.

“The statement of the duties of a company director are large and growing, but with such limited capacity boards will always have to decide which issues are to have priority. They cannot do everything,” it said.

That’s a very pragmatic statement from three very experienced non-executive directors, albeit one that isn’t likely to find popular support among those more interested in blame than understanding.

There’s no doubt that, after CBA’s $700 million fine and a likely Westpac fine that could be more than $1 billion, financial crimes reporting is and will remain an issue high on boardroom agendas.

Those agendas aren’t, however, narrow.


Apart from their core responsibility — overseeing the normal running of the bank’s commercial operations, ensuring its financial stability, profitability and growth and the myriad of issues associated with its day-to-day activities – boards have an enormous amount of issues on their plate in the post-financial crisis and post-royal commission environment, and now at the epi-centre of the financial implications of the coronavirus. Issues that place enormous stress on the capability of their people and their IT platforms.

The panel queried the extent to which boards could be expected to pick up major mistakes deep inside their company. They might equally have asked the same question of the capacity of senior managers to know and understand what is happening deep within the bowels of very large and complex organisations.

It is clear from the panel’s comments that the three board veterans believe it is impossible for non-executives to meet the expectations of those who don’t understand the limitations of their role.

That’s a worthy contribution to the discussions about directors’ duties but, unfortunately, one unlikely to be accepted by many of those without boardroom experience.

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