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Local News - Victoria

Tears of joy in the rush to reopen, but not everyone is happy


Frank Ciccone, owner of Hair By Ciccone in Macleod in Melbourne’s north-east, has more than 35 customers booked for Monday and is sifting through 300 phone messages.

He expects to be heavily booked until December 31, but is not fazed.

“It’s amazing. The pressure is off us,” he said.

However, Marnie Browne, owner of Fem Skin Therapy beauty salon in Lower Plenty, was “very upset” that beauticians must wait until November 2 to reopen.

She feels beauty salons are discriminated against despite strict social distancing and sanitising practices. From November 2 they can offer manicures, pedicures, body waxing, eyebrow waxing and tinting, but cannot do lip or chin waxing, facials or skin treatments, due to having to wear masks.

With the distance Melburnians can travel increasing from five kilometres to 25 kilometres, Harry and Letitia Tseng of Reservoir can now visit Harry’s father Frederick, 65, who lives in Box Hill, and his mother Monica, 66, who does not speak much English, in South Yarra.

Harry and Letitia Tseng and their children will soon see Harry's father Frederick in person, rather than via video calls.

Harry and Letitia Tseng and their children will soon see Harry’s father Frederick in person, rather than via video calls.Credit:Chris Hopkins

And the Tsengs’ two children, Lok, five, and Edith, two, can once again watch MasterChef with their “Mama” Monica, who cooks for them.

Letitia said Edith had started showing signs of being wary of other people, adding: “I’d hate for her to be that way with her grandparents.”

Tennis-mad Fitzroy North children Florian and Aurelie Kostov, aged 13 and 10, have spent months having to whack balls against a wall. They are thrilled that from Monday they can play on a court, with tennis courts, golf courses and skateboard parks reopening.

“I’m very excited,” said Florian, who is also happy he can now see friends who live more than five kilometres away.

Aurelie Kostov and brother Florian will be hitting the courts at Princes Hill tennis club.

Aurelie Kostov and brother Florian will be hitting the courts at Princes Hill tennis club.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Kew plastering business owner Brad Harrison is disappointed the state government did not lift restrictions on the number of workers – six – allowed on small-scale construction sites.

And he said the restrictions still ruled out clients who want non-essential work indoors.

“I’ve still got people who’ve texted me saying, ‘Can you come and replace the ceiling from 10 weeks ago,’ and I’ve said, ‘Look, we can’t come into your home.’ “

Single mother Ashlee Kelly, owner of Listen To Your Body fitness studio in Brunswick, was pleased at the increase in the maximum class size from two clients to 10 from November 2.

But she says not being able to open indoors is “not sustainable” due to weather fluctuations, equipment being damaged and working in the dark being unsafe for female trainers.

“The other morning we turned up in the park and there’d been a stabbing overnight,” she said.

She said people were getting sick of outdoor classes, as with online sessions.

“We need to open indoors, not just for ourselves and business but for the mental health of our members.”

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Business

Christmas in November as retailers prepare for e-commerce rush


While events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday have increased the number of Australians shopping online for presents in recent years, physical retailers still capture much of the spending in the weeks leading up to December 25. But not this year, says Mr Kogan.

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“With social distancing and all the precautions, people aren’t going to want to go into a crowded football stadium-like environment at their local shopping centre,” he said.

“So they’re going to be doing more and more purchasing online and Christmas sales are going to be shifting earlier and earlier into the year.”

This will mean October and November will be bigger than ever for retailers selling goods online, especially as lengthy shipping delays stoke fears of goods arriving on time. On Monday, Australia Post warned it this holiday season would be its busiest ever, and told shoppers to plan ahead.

Logistics operators, responsible for the distribution of goods ordered online, are also gearing up for a major pre-Christmas rush. Leigh Williams, managing director of third-party fulfilment company eStore Logistics, said he was forecasting demand to be as much as triple the usual.

“Typically each year we see an uptick of about 80 to 90 per cent leading into Black Friday and the festive period, but due to COVID and consumers shifting online, we’ve already seen that level of increase,” Mr Williams said.

Kogan.com CEO Ruslan Kogan is ready for the 'e-commerce Christmas'.

Kogan.com CEO Ruslan Kogan is ready for the ‘e-commerce Christmas’.

“We’re expecting another 50 to 100 per cent increase on what we’re already seeing for Christmas.”

In September, e-commerce orders grew by 51 per cent in New South Wales and 173 per cent in Victoria, Mr Williams said. Both he and Mr Kogan are expecting November will be a bigger month for sales than December due to this eye-watering increase in online demand.

However, while the online boom will be welcomed by retailers with well-established online presences, those more reliant on physical stores are concerned lockdowns and social distancing measures could diminish their sales.

Mark Rubbo, the managing director of Victorian bookstore chain Readings, usually sees 4000 people flow through his stores a day in the peak Christmas rush. This year, he’s calculated that number could be down to at most 1200 due to social distancing restrictions.

Readings books owner Mark Rubbo says it is imperative for Victorian lockdown measures to be relaxed by the end of October.

Readings books owner Mark Rubbo says it is imperative for Victorian lockdown measures to be relaxed by the end of October.Credit:Eddie Jim

Online will partially make up for the decline, but Mr Rubbo warned the profits were far lower, leaving the bookseller pessimistic about his outlook for the Christmas period. He too is pushing shoppers to start buying in November.

“We’re trying to encourage people to shop early because if we can shift the shopping and spread it out over November and early December, we might be able to get to somewhere similar [to last year],” he said.

However, these plans may be stymied by the continuing lockdown in Victoria, with Mr Rubbo calling on the state government to “be creative” and make sure plans were in place to allow retailers to reopen safely by the end of October.

“If they can’t let retail reopen by the end of October, it’s going to be a total disaster for the economy and for everyone’s wellbeing,” he said.

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Local News - Victoria

Childcare centres in chaos on first day of lockdown as parents rush to obtain permitted worker forms


Permitted workers can work from home and put their children in care, as long as there is no adult available to supervise the child at home. Babysitting and nannying arrangements can be maintained, but new arrangements cannot be put in place.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos tweeted out a final list of permitted industries shortly after midnight on Thursday.

CHILDCARE: WHAT IS ALLOWED

  • Only children of permitted workers, who cannot be supervised at home, and those who are vulnerable can access childcare in Melbourne for the next six weeks.
  • Permitted workers include nurses, emergency services, some retail staff, meat workers, media and construction workers. Full list here.
  • Permitted workers can only put their children in care if no other adult is present in the home who can supervise them.
  • Babysitting – paid or unpaid – is allowed for permitted workers, if it’s a continuation of an existing arrangement.
  • Grandparents are discouraged from babysitting because they are in a vulnerable category, although this is not prohibited.
  • Permitted workers can drop their child at a family member’s home for care.

Parents scrambled to organise paperwork on Wednesday evening.

At Dawson Street Childrens’ Co-operative, three other parents, all medical workers, could not produce their forms in time to get their children into the centre on Thursday morning.

“It’s just been diabolical,” Ms Lawton said.

“Three emergency services families haven’t been able to bring their children in today, because … their workplaces haven’t been able to get the letter signed.”

Ms Lawton said she was still unsure of how many families will use the not-for-profit service during lockdown and how many staff she would need.

Those staff who are not needed on site will lose income.

“We won’t be standing staff down but the intention is to pay staff half wages if they’re not on premises,” she said. “We don’t want to be doing that but as a not-for-profit organisation we don’t have any option.”

The stage four restrictions are an attempt to drive down stubbornly high numbers of new COVID-19 infections in Victoria and include extensive limits on which industries can operate.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the government was “trying to be as flexible as we possibly can”.

“But the challenge here is that if … every industry leader or every employer or every family that put to me a well-argued, impassioned, logical case, if I said yes to all of them we would have more people working today than we had under stage three,” he said.

The federal government injected an extra $33 million into the Victorian childcare sector on Wednesday, to cover the cost of lost fees as parents are forced to keep their children home.

Families in Melbourne’s lockdown areas have been given 30 more days of “allowable absences” over the next six weeks, meaning they will not have to pay to keep their children enrolled, conditional upon each centre agreeing to waive the gap fees they ordinarily charge.

Centres will receive a top-up on transitional payments they currently receive from the Commonwealth to pay staff.

The size of the top-up payments will depend on how many children are absent, with centres that have an attendance rate below 30 per cent to get top-up payments of up to 25 per cent.

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Those with an attendance rate of more than 30 per cent will get a 5 per cent top-up.

Daniela Kavoukas, policy and advocacy co-ordinator at the Community Child Care Association, said the government’s 11th-hour release of information meant services did not know how many parents would be able to send their children in the next six weeks and therefore how much financial support they would receive.

“We’ve had some centres say we’ll be OK, others have said it’ll be a nightmare,” Ms Kavoukas said. “But it is going to be a loss for a service over six weeks.”

Cardinia Lakes Early Learning Centre director Tamika Hicks said attendance numbers had already dropped dramatically.

“Today we had 107 children booked in and we’ve currently got 12 children,” she said.

“We’ve sent quite a few staff home early, some are doing program planning, we’re doing a spring clean. We’ve got no choice but to make it work,” she said.

Ms Hicks said she would not have to stand any employees down but only because staff were working together to share absences, using annual leave and taking brief periods of leave without pay.

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Will the rush for gold continue?


In this week’s podcast, The Age’s Alex Druce is joined by IG market analyst Kyle Rodda to discuss the spectre of wider lockdowns in Australia, what US reporting season might offer up, what is driving the upward price of both gold and iron ore and what this week’s Australian jobs data might point to.

You can find past episodes of the weekly podcast, which is produced in conjunction with IG, here. Each episode is goes for about 10 minutes and is also available through Spotify and Google Podcasts.



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Australian News

Nearly a million Australians rush to file their tax returns and claim tax offset of up to $2160


Nearly a million Australians have rushed to file their tax returns early and claim a tax offset worth up to $1,080 for singles and $2,160 for couples.

As thousands of workers are forced to rely on welfare and raid their super accounts as the economy is battered by a COVID-19 recession, new figures reveal they have also moved swiftly to claim tax refunds that should start hitting bank accounts this week.

The cash splash is set to provide a much-needed boost to the economy with hopes that workers will spend the money and help support jobs as the economy reopens outside of Victoria.

Ten million Australians on low and middle incomes are set to secure a tax cut under the changes, but only when they file a return this year.

Nearly half of those workers – around 4.5 million Australians – will secure the maximum $1,080.

RELATED: How to get your tax refund faster

RELATED: More tax benefits for small business

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the early bird refunds will hit bank accounts over the course of this week.

“A record number of Australians have already lodged their tax return with refunds to land in bank accounts over the course of the week,” he said.

“As part of last year’s budget we increased the low and middle income tax offset to $1,080 for individuals and $2,160 for couples.

“It means people can keep more of what they earn providing a much-needed boost to the household budgets.

“Millions of Australians across the country are set to benefit again this tax time from the Government’s tax cuts,” he said.

Nearly 991,000 year-to-date 2020 individual lodgements have been received, an 11 per cent increase compared with the same time last year.

The tax cuts, worth $8 billion this year alone, include a change in the top threshold of the 32.5 cent tax rate and the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset (LMITO) worth up to $1,080 for workers earning less than $126,000 a year.

But not all workers secure the maximum of LMITO amount. Workers with a taxable income of up to $37,000 only secure $255.

The maximum offset of $1,080 will apply to anyone earning between $48,000 and $90,000.

Workers earning over $90,000 but less than $126,000 start securing less from the offset until it gradually reduces to zero to ensure high income earners don’t secure the benefits.

The top five electorates to benefit from the LMITO include Wright in Queensland, Bob Katter’s electorate of Kennedy in Queensland, Stirling and Cowan in Western Australia and Tanya Plibersek’s electorate of Sydney in NSW.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s electorate of Lalor in Victoria is also in the Top 10 as is Melbourne and Capricornia in Queensland.

Last week, Mr Frydenberg flagged the prospect of bringing forward legislated tax cuts to help stimulate the economy in the October budget.

Personal income tax cuts for middle income earners worth up to $2,565-a-year are likely to be brought forward to help boost spending.

Mr Frydenberg confirmed that the fast-tracking of the tax cuts was a live option in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are three stages to those legislated income tax cuts and, you know, the benefit was very clear. We’re creating one big tax bracket between $45,000 and $200,000 where people pay a marginal rate of no more than 30 cents in the dollar,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“So we are looking at that issue and the timing of those tax cuts because we want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money into people’s pockets and that is one way to do it.”



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Australian News

Gold Coast Suns won’t rush decision on treatment for Matt Rowell’s AFL shoulder injury



The Gold Coast Suns are taking a cautious approach to treating Matt Rowell’s shoulder injury, as concerns grow the teenager is facing season-ending reconstructive surgery.

Scans today confirmed Rowell dislocated his right shoulder during Saturday’s 37-point defeat to Geelong at Kardinia Park.

The 2019 number one draft pick, who had been on fire for the Suns in their three matches prior to the Cats fixture, sustained the damage in a tackle by Geelong’s Brandan Parfitt during the opening quarter.

The midfielder has since flown with the squad to Wollongong, where the Suns will spend the next two weeks.

Amid reports the club is debating whether or not to put Rowell under the knife, Suns football manager Jon Haines said there was no hurry on finalising the 19-year-old’s treatment plan.

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“What we’ll do now is take a little bit of time to assess those options, assess the views and have a good chat about it,” Haines said.

“We don’t feel like we have to rush the decision. We understand there is a high level of interest in it, but we also want to make sure we make the right decision for Matt and that will be done in consultation with Matt and his family.

Haines said Rowell would remain with the Suns squad for the time being during their New South Wales stay.

“He’s frustrated and disappointed obviously, but that’s the type of person he is,” he said.

“Depending on what path we take with our decision, we’ll make a decision on whether he stays here or not.”

Former Suns captain and Cats great Gary Ablett sustained a similar injury while playing for Gold Coast in 2014 and missed the rest of the season after opting for reconstruction surgery.

Ablett, who played for the Cats against the Suns on Saturday, has offered to provide advice to Rowell.

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Australian News

Rush for early access to super causes ATO website to crash


Australians desperately trying to prise open their super as part of the government’s stimulus response for the coronavirus crisis has caused the Australia Taxation Office’s website to crash.

Within an hour into the new financial year which triggered the next round to grab another $10,000 from their own retirement as part of the early access scheme, the website froze due to high demand.

By 10am today, those seeking online services remained locked out after 2.4 million applied for the first instalment last financial year.

“We’re currently experiencing a high volume of traffic,” is currently displayed on the site.

“We understand significant numbers of people need to access our online services.

RELATED: Big problems with accessing superannuation early

RELATED: Aussies dipping into super could miss out on $200K

“We are proactively managing our online traffic so that systems continue to be available.

“We apologise for the inconvenience.”

The Federal Government made retirement funds available to those who have had their income plunged into doubt as a result of the coronavirus-induced shutdown and ensuing economic crisis.

Under the controversial scheme, those impacted by the outbreak were able to grab $10,000 from their super last financial year and another $10,000 from today until September 24, 2020.

The initiative was rushed into existence to assist the tens of thousands of Australians who had their income plunged into doubt as the lockdown created economic chaos and mass job losses.

But data released over the last few months indicate this emergency dip into vital retirement savings has been spent on online gambling, alcohol and takeaway food, not the essential household items it was intended for.

Real-time banking activity from Alpha Beta and Illion shows many of those who took advantage of the access increased spending on lifestyle items.

A sample of 13,000 people revealed 64 per cent of the scheme was spent on discretionary items such as clothing, furniture, restaurant food, gambling and alcohol.

“That tells us that much of this money was used for lifestyle reasons rather than necessity reasons,” Alpha Beta director and economist Andrew Charlton told the ABC last month.

“Superannuation is there for retirement, not for crises.”

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Coronavirus Australia live news: Thousands rush to access $25,000 HomeBuilder grants – The Australian



Coronavirus Australia live news: Thousands rush to access $25,000 HomeBuilder grants  The AustralianView Full coverage on Google News



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Rush for flu vaccine to avoid ‘double dose’ infection


Pharmacies across Australia are reporting long waits for the flu shot as families rush to follow official advice to get vaccinated to avoid a dangerous “double-dose” infection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the flu vaccine offers no protection against COVID-19, doctors say it’s one of the best things you can do to reduce pressure on the health system as it grapples with coronavirus crisis.

Experts have been urging everyone over the age of six months to get vaccinated for the flu in April to provide the best protection against the peak flu season, which starts in June.

But many pharmacists offering the jab with nurse practitioners to adults for around $30, including Chemist Warehouse and Priceline, are now booked out for the entire month of April, prompting concerns some will miss out or not be immunised in time for the flu season.

RELATED: Follow the latest coronavirus updates

RELATED: Do I have a cold, flu or coronavirus?

Despite the Morrison Government moving to secure the largest supply of seasonal influenza vaccines, the CSL group, which has been producing influenza vaccines in Melbourne, since the 1940s is now working to boost production.

Seqirus – owned by CSL – is the only local manufacturer of flu vaccines in the country.

“There’s been extremely strong early demand for flu vaccines across all channels – GPs, pharmacies and other immunisation providers,’’ Seqirus executive director Danielle Dowel told news.com.au.

“This is a good thing overall for important vaccine programs, especially this year as our health system deals with the concurrent COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve already distributed five million vaccines with more to come. There will be more flu vaccines being distributed across the country after Easter and into May, and we encourage people to phone their clinic or pharmacy ahead of time to ensure the vaccines have arrived and are available.”

Hundreds of Australians die from the flu every year and it also results in thousands of hospitalisations and hundreds of thousands of GP consultations.

The symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 can also be similar and is likely to result in more tests for the coronavirus for people who simply have the flu.

Lockdown measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and even simply washing your hands more often may actually reduce the number of flu cases this year, but experts are urging people to still get vaccinated.

Under new COVID-19 measures, all visitors to aged care facilities and childcare facilities need to have flu vaccinations from May 1 to enter the premises, increasing demand.

For the first time, a world-first 4-shot flu vaccine offering greater protection against more strains is also being offered this year in Australia and the publicity around the new vaccine has also increased bookings.

In a letter to doctors in March, the chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy stressed getting the flu jabs at the right time to ensure immunity was important.

“Vaccinating from mid-April provides protection before the peak season takes place,’’ he said. “While protection is generally expected to last for the whole season, the best protection against influenza occurs within the first 3 to 4 months following vaccination.”

Another reason why pharmacies are running low is that orders of flu season doses orders are finalised 6 months in advance of each flu season.

This allows manufacturers time to produce the vaccine. However, no one predicted the emergence of COVID-19 when this year’s orders were placed.

Only adults can get vaccinated by private providers at pharmacies. The official advice is that everyone over the age of six months should get vaccinated.

But children still need to book in with a GP to get the flu shot.

There should be no shortage of jabs for over-65s which now receive the vaccine for free.

It’s also offered for free to pregnant women and all children under the age of 5.

Families can access the flu vaccine through private providers including GPs and pharmacists and state and territory programs.

People who do not have COVID-19, or who are not a suspected case of COVID-19, are allowed to leave their home for a flu vaccination.

But Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone has urged people to phone ahead and make sure their health care professional has vaccine available and made an appointment.

“Influenza is a serious illness. It is preventable, and there is a very safe way to prevent that, and it’s the influenza vaccine,’’ he said.

To find a provider of the flu-shot you can call the National Immunisation Hotline on 1800 671 811.



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Local News - Victoria

Landlords rush to throw out tenants in eviction ban confusion


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“Surely you’re better off having a tenant in there to be able to pay something rather than having nobody in there – a guaranteed income of zero.”

Ms Beveridge said hundreds of tenants were contacting the union each week saying they were struggling to pay the rent. About a quarter of those had been issued with eviction notices.

“Thirty per cent of the Victorian population lives in rental housing. That’s a lot of people who are potentially feeling insecure,” she said.

“The Prime Minister’s telling us to stay at home. But how can people stay at home when they’ve got an eviction notice?”

Like many tenants contacting Tenants Victoria, 43-year-old chef Miguel Bernardo has lost his job in the pandemic and he has no prospects of finding a new one, with restaurants, pubs and cafes shut.

Despite the Prime Minister’s promise that no one will be “thrown out of their homes”, his landlord is threatening to evict him and his eight-year-old son from their Ivanhoe unit.

“I’ve never paid my rent late. I’ve never had trouble finding a job or a house,” Mr Bernardo said.

“But, now, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It leaves me anxious and stressed.”

The states have been scrambling to draft legislation to realise the Prime Minister’s promise.

NSW has passed legislation paving the way for the housing minister to ban evictions.

In Victoria, legislation is expected to be part of an omnibus bill dealing with a vast array of coronavirus emergency responses. However, it is not clear when the parliament will next sit.

Without a clear policy base and process for the moratorium, senior Victorian government figures have conceded the drafting of legislation is messy.

A myriad of departments, agencies and lobbies are seeking to influence the contents of the Victorian bill, including Treasury and the real estate industry.

Senior sources have confirmed that a freeze on rents is also being considered.

“We know this is an incredibly difficult time for renters and landlords and we’re working hard to get an effective resolution for everyone as quickly as possible,” Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz said in a statement to The Age.

Unlike other renters who are refusing to pay at all, Mr Bernardo calculated he could afford to pay 50 per cent of his rent using JobSeeker payments.

He attempted to negotiate a temporary reduction with his landlord through real estate agency Love & Co Thornbury, but his request was ignored.

Instead, he was informed if he didn’t pay the full amount in 14 days, he would be ordered to vacate.

“You would think this would be reasonable in times like this,” Mr Bernardo said.

The agency sent him a generic letter suggesting he contact his bank, Centrelink and superannuation fund, the latter of which the corporate regulator has since warned is illegal.

It also recommended he contact homeless support service Launch Housing, who have paid half his rent for this month only.

Launch chief executive Bevan Warner said the organisation had seen a sharp increase in calls from renters experiencing hardship for the first time in their lives.

He said referrals from real estate agencies refusing to negotiate with tenants were overwhelming the already stretched service.

“We’re … wanting to respond in a constructive and helpful way to meet demand that wouldn’t be there if the government just was absolutely clear,” he said.

“It’s just adding to our overburden and stopping us from doing [other] really important work.”

Leah Calnan is president of the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, and an agent whose company oversees 2200 rental properties.

She said that while tenants faced great uncertainty, many landlords also faced challenging circumstances.

“Many are trying to provide support to their tenant when financially they might not be able to; it is emotionally heartbreaking for both parties,” she said.

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