Local News - Victoria

Lockdowns stopped Finn working rurally. Next month, he’ll be deported

“In July I was offered two jobs in construction in regional Victoria. A week later, the second wave restrictions hit and the bosses said they couldn’t host anyone from Melbourne. I was pretty much trapped in the city.”

Months of nationwide border closures and 235 days of Victorian restrictions later, Finn hasn’t completed the 88 days of rural work needed to extend his visa.

Indeed, Victoria hasn’t had 88 consecutive days without lockdown since March. Just 57 days separated the post-first wave reopening and start of the second wave’s restrictions.

On December 23, Finn’s visa will expire and he will be forced back to the United Kingdom, giving up his only shot at a working holiday maker visa.

The federal government has offered working holiday makers who left Australia or could not enter due to the pandemic a chance to re-apply and start a new visa at minimal cost.

But for internationals like Finn, who has spent $17,000 of his $20,000 savings in Australia since Christmas, there is so far no second chance. Melbourne’s “four reasons to leave home” lifted on October 26, just 58 days before his visa expires.

“It seems kind of unfair,” says Finn, who started work in concrete production in Benalla last month.

“There’s so much uncertainty at the moment but I’m preparing to have to try and find flights to leave back to Scotland before Christmas.”

At the same time, Australia’s normally international-dependent rural workforce is, as National Farmers Federation Victoria president David Jochinke says, in flux.

Working holiday makers comprise up to 60 per cent of some farms' workforces in a regular year.

Working holiday makers comprise up to 60 per cent of some farms’ workforces in a regular year.Credit:Brian Cassey

An Ernst and Young report last month found 26,000 workers were urgently needed nationwide to support this summer’s harvest season for our everyday essentials: fruit, vegetables, grains, livestock production.

“Harvest season is now. It’s a now problem – like, now now. Not later,” says Jochinke.

A federal government Senate committee is currently investigating the working holiday program and stated in its interim report in September that between 20 and 60 per cent of Australian farms’ workforces are usually made up of working holiday makers. About 140,000 working holiday makers were in Australia in March. By June it had halved to 70,000.

Migration lawyer Sam Fitzsimons, who gave evidence to the committee in September, says she has heard of other cases like Finn’s – backpackers previously trapped in Victoria whose only chance to extend their working holiday visa has been stifled this year.

“I think it is a really good example of where it’s absolutely unfair, with the unprecedented nature of COVID,” says Ms Fitzsimons, co-chair of the Victorian Law Institute’s Migration Law Committee.

“Unfortunately the Immigration Department can’t just ‘extend’ a visa without introducing legislative change to allow exemptions for people like Finn. If we need regional workers, why aren’t we doing everything to keep the ones already here, including adapting the law to these COVID times?”

Recognising the shortfall in workers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has set about luring unemployed and young Australians to farms – including telling gap-year students the love of their lives could be awaiting them among the pastures. About 22,000 Pacific Island workers are also waiting to enter Australia, pending states’ approval and quarantine arrangements.

'We must do everything to hold on to people we have here already': Nationals MP Damian Drum.

‘We must do everything to hold on to people we have here already’: Nationals MP Damian Drum.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Yet federal Nationals MP Damian Drum, who sits on the Senate committee into working holiday makers, says it hasn’t been enough so far.

“I think it’s totally ridiculous if we kick out workers who are happy to work in the country, even if just for the summer,” says Mr Drum, who represents Victoria’s Goulburn Valley where fruit harvesting is urgently under way.

“The need is so extreme, it is so intense, that we absolutely must do everything to hold on to people we have here already.”

A Home Affairs spokesman said Finn could be eligible for a “COVID-19 pandemic event visa”, which requires sponsorship from an employer in a key industry such as agriculture, healthcare and aged care.

Finn says as well as gladly committing to 88 days of rural work he still holds out hope of travelling Australia, with working holiday makers contributing $3.1 billion to the economy in a normal year according to Tourism Australia.

“Back home in Scotland they’re in lockdown at the minute, getting 20,000 cases a day. It would be going back to a pretty grim situation,” Finn says.

“If my visa got renewed and I could start from scratch, or even if it was extended for a few months, I would go and do my 88 days straight away. It hasn’t been through a lack of trying this year.”

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Australian News

Dwayne The Rock Johnson TV show stopped by Queensland ambulance

The only thing that can stop Hollywood legend ‘The Rock’ in his tracks is a Queensland ambulance.

Filming for the Queensland-based TV series based on the life of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was in motion in a side street in Strathpine, in northern Brisbane, on Tuesday.

The NBC production Young Rock is based on the formative years of Hollywood’s highest paid actor and is being filmed across southeast Queensland.

A Moreton Bay Regional Council representative doorknocked every house in the area to warn them that access to the area may be restricted when the cameras were rolling.

Only one concern was raised, when a woman said she had an ambulance booked on Wednesday afternoon for a hospital appointment.

“They agreed to stop production when the ambulance picked her up and again when it was to drop her off,” the MBCC representative told NCA NewsWire.

Aussie actor Uli Latukefu will play Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson from the ages of 18 to 20, when he’s recruited to play American football at the University of Miami.

The 11-part comedy will track Johnson’s life from childhood and his formative years growing up and his run for presidency.

New Zealand actor Stacey Leilua has been cast as Johnson’s mother Ata Johnson and has posted a photo on Instagram of a gift sent to all cast members to mark the start of production.

She wrote: “Blessings from the top as we begin the next phase of our #youngrock journey this week” with a photo of a bottle of Teremana tequila and a note from ‘The Rock’.

“Stacey, Congratulations on our start of production for Young Rock,” the note read.

“ Enjoy your Teremana and many positive and grateful vibes sent your way.

Cheers, DJ.”

Filming was to have taken place along Bells Pocket Rd, Strathpine, between Dobson Drive and Fox St between 2pm and 6pm although that has been extended to 9pm because of inclement weather.

The production is expected to move to Coorparoo on Wednesday.

Moreton Bay Mayor Peter Flannery said the region was becoming quite popular with production houses because it was considerably cheaper than the Gold Coast with a number of TV commercials being made in recent times.

“We’ve rolled out the red carpet for this production – turning around their application at lightning fast speed, waiving their filming fees, and even getting staff to help doorknock residents in Strathpine to let them know what’s going on,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“With our shimmering coastlines and stunning hinterland region, why wouldn’t we be able to lure some A-listers away from the Gold Coast and Sydney?

“We’re already the first choice for a lot of national and international brands to film advertisements, but we want a slice of that Hollywood razzle dazzle.

“I hope today’s filming puts us in the box-office seat for future filming success.”

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Australian News

In 1985, a third of the UK’s population stopped to watch the World Snooker Championship Final

Picture the scene.

It’s just gone midnight on a Sunday night. There’s work tomorrow. School. You should be in bed.

Instead, you — along with 18.5 million other people around the country — cannot drag yourself away from your TV.

On the box is playing the 1985 World Championships Snooker final between reigning champion Steve Davis and outside-shot Dennis Taylor, a match that has gone down as being one of Britain’s greatest sporting moments.

Snooker’s appeal

At its best, snooker is an addictive, geometric dance of balletic precision, featuring expert cueing and tactical nous.

The sport’s flagship event, the World Championships, got underway in Sheffield this weekend and in doing so became one of the first events to welcome back crowds in England since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Snooker has been a bastion of British sporting television since the championships moved to the Crucible Theatre in 1977.

In 1985 though, the sport was the hottest ticket in town, so much so the World Championships final became one of the most watched sporting events in British television history — with millions tuning in to the closing stages after midnight.

Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor smile and pose next to a silver trophy
Steve Davis (left) is frequently made to relive his dramatic defeat in exhibition rematches.(Reuters/Action Images: Andrew Boyers)

Snooker was big business throughout the 80s, pulling massive TV audiences and making genuine stars of the top players.

In an interview with the BBC, Taylor remembers snooker being “bigger than any other sport, even football and golf” in the mid-80s, with the players becoming household names — even featuring in pop songs of dubious provenance.

The reason for this was circumstance and visibility.

“There was only four channels, something like that, to watch,” Taylor said, “so everyone seemed to watch [snooker].”

Davis went even further, describing snooker’s popularity during that era as “stupid”.

“[There was] a trapped audience, nobody had anything to do on a Sunday evening, Sunday afternoon, [so] they sat and watched the snooker.

What was the 1985 final so enthralling?

The enduring appeal of the 1985 final comes from the myriad of storylines that developed during its playing.

The 11th seed and clear underdog, Taylor — complete with a unique set of glasses that left you in no doubt which decade you were in — found himself 8-0 down in the blink of an eye as Davis, who would win six World Championships in nine years during the 80s, dominated.

Dennis Taylor stands and looks at the table
Dennis Taylor peers at the table through his so-very 80s glasses.(Supplied: BBC Sport)

However, a missed green in the ninth frame handed Taylor an opening and, buoyed by the fervent support of a crowd desperate for more action, fought back strongly.

Over two gruelling days’ play, the pair traded blows, sending the match into a deciding, 35th frame.

That final frame took over an hour to complete — 68 minutes of the most gruelling, high-pressure sporting action you can imagine — the enthralled audience at home and in the room seemingly oblivious to the fact that Sunday had turned into Monday.

Later, Davis described the final frame as “a trauma” — and not just because of how it ended for him, but for how much pressure the players were under.

“Nerves have now taken over,” said BBC commentator Ted Lowe when Davis missed a regulation blue mid-way through that marathon final frame, a miss typical of the contest in the closing stages.

Steve Davis leans back in his chair and looks up at the ceiling.
The final frame took a toll on both players.(Supplied: BBC Sport)

Incredibly, after 14 hours and 50 minutes of game time, the match came down to the final ball of the final frame — the only time this has happened in World Snooker history.

After potting the pink, Taylor, now trailing in the final frame by just three points, went over to the World Championship trophy and prayed in an attempt to summon some last-minute divine inspiration.

The final ball created drama though, with both players missing their mark amidst the suffocating tension.

An attempted double in off the cushion from Taylor missed the centre pocket by millimetres, Lowe muttering, “I have never known an atmosphere like this,” as the crowd struggled to contain themselves.

Taylor appeared to throw caution to the wind, attempting outlandish shots as playing safely was put on the backburner.

Leaving a tough, but gettable pot to win, Taylor’s chance appeared to have gone, only for Davis to fluff his lines.

“No,” a surprised Lowe said, the crowd roaring for the penultimate time as Taylor was left with a straight-forward pot to finish the match.

Taylor did sink the black, prompting an eruption of unbridled joy from the enraptured crowd.

The then-36-year-old brandished his cue above his head, before wagging a knowing finger at his supporters and kissing the most coveted trophy in the sport.

Will there ever be a communal viewing experience like that again?

The Black Ball Final is still the most watched post-midnight program of any show in UK television history.

That 18.5 million was a third of the United Kingdom’s population at the time.

To put those viewing figures into some perspective, the 1985 Live Aid concert — a once-in-a-lifetime event that took place throughout an afternoon — earned the BBC a TV audience of 24.5 million.

Admittedly a similar percentage of the population watched England’s 2016 World Cup defeat to Croatia, which was the highest rating British TV program in 2018 — but that happened in prime time, not after midnight.

In contrast, the highest rating Australian sporting event on TV in 2018, game one of State of Origin, was watched by just 13 per cent of the population.

Both players said that it was unlikely anything like that would ever happen again.

Steve Davis sits and looks to his left with a bemused look on his face
Steve Davis won a record 81 professional titles, including six World Championships, but the one he lost is what he is most famous for.(Supplied: BBC Sport)

“I think it’s because of the choice nowadays.” Taylor told the BBC.

“When you think of the viewing figures they used to get … nowadays you get four or five million people tuning in for any sporting event it’s big numbers because of the choice that people have.”

Davis argued the same, saying that there is too much choice now.

“That can’t necessarily happen again anywhere now that there are multiple television channels.”

An unmatched viewing experience

That people are still talking about that match in such reverent tones 35 years on speaks volumes of snooker’s enduring, albeit slightly nostalgic appeal.

Dennis Taylor smiles and waves his right hand above his head as Steve Davis stands in the background
Snooker has not hit the heights of the 1985 final since, with rematch exhibitions still popular.(Action Images: Andrew Boyers)

In an era where you can watch everything from wood chopping to competitive pizza tossing on ESPN (yes, really), it’s perhaps not surprising that the game’s grip on the public consciousness has slipped ever so slightly.

“[Snooker] was ideally placed as great theatre,” Davis said.

Ideal lockdown-viewing, perhaps.

That the World Championships is being used as a guinea pig for fans to attend the UK’s sporting COVID-19 recovery is perhaps incongruous considering its history as a television product.

Five-time World Champion, the enigmatic Ronnie O’Sullivan, is not a fan of fans being allowed in.

“I just think it’s an unnecessary risk [to have spectators].

Ronnie O'Sullivan uses the rest to play a shot, leaning over a green snooker table
Ronnie O’Sullivan has been one of the most exciting players on the tour in recent years.(Action Images: Rebecca Naden)

“I just don’t think you want to be putting people’s lives at risk. You look at the NHS and you think ‘this is like a war at the moment … anything to take the stress off them is paramount’.”

But with attendances capped at a third of capacity, just 300 fans, the vast majority will, once again, be glued to their screens instead.

And, in the chastened circumstances the world finds itself in at the present time, that may be no bad thing, although the likelihood of any match this year matching the interest of that 1985 final is remote.

Davis, who would go on to win the next two World Championship titles and become known as one of the greatest of all time, said the contest helped define him.

“The fact that I was involved in something where so many people remember what they were doing and where they were when they were watching it, you know, wow.”

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Australian News

People in COVID-19 hot spots could be stopped from travel

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had some sobering words for those pinning their hopes on interstate travel, saying he would not rule out a potential travel ban for virus “hot spots”.

His comments come after Victoria was forced to impose new restrictions after another 25 COVID-19 cases were recorded in the state.

“We would probably get to a point where we advised against travel,” Mr Andrews said.

“If you felt you needed to travel, you may well be subject to quarantine for a two-week period which I think would mean most travel would not happen,” he said during press briefing on Saturday.

“In terms of the border that remains open with New South Wales, I’ll be having a conversation with Premier Gladys Berejiklian and I think that conversation will focus on potentially limiting the opportunity for people to travel from Victoria if they live in one of those hot spots. I think that’s a fair and proportionate response.”

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While the Premier assured people he had no intention of closing the border “more formally”, these conversations are being had internally in light of significant community transmission.

“These are low numbers. We are acting quickly and early to get back on top of it,” he assured listeners.

Mr Andrews also encouraged people to notify police and report any breaches of the COVID restrictions.

“After midnight tomorrow night, I would urge anybody who thinks that their neighbour or someone down the road from them or whomever it might be is having a gathering that is more than their household plus a maximum of five guests, they’d absolutely be doing the right thing to call the police assistance line,” he said.

“A COVID-19 breach report would be made and police won’t hesitate to act. If you are doing something that is against the rules, the rules aren’t there just to protect you, they’re there to protect everyone, and the way each individual and family behaves has a direct bearing on the safety of all Victorians.”

Victoria is now considered one of those virus hot spots after reporting 13 new cases on Friday alone.

It’s the third day in a row the state has recorded double-digit infections.

Victoria is set to reimpose restrictions after recording another 25 new coronavirus cases today.

From midnight tomorrow household gatherings will be restricted to a maximum of five guests, and public gatherings will have a limit of 10 people.

And the planned easing of restrictions for pubs and restaurants has also been deferred.

The new rules will come into place from midnight tomorrow and stay in place until midnight on July 12.

– with wires

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Have Australia and New Zealand stopped Covid-19 in its tracks? | World news

Its more than 35,000km (21,750 miles) of coastline was always going to be Australia’s strongest advantage in keeping coronavirus at bay, but even so, the speed with which it was used was breathtaking.

Without warning on Thursday 19 March, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced: “Australia is closing its borders to all-non citizens”. The ban was effective from 9pm the next day.

That left visitors and visa holders stranded mid-journey, or turned around at the border and packed back on to planes, and left hundreds of thousands of Australians scrambling to get home, many of whom remain stuck in countries similarly locked down or without flights home.

Australia and neighbouring New Zealand, almost unique among anglophone countries, have so far been successful in largely suppressing the spread of Covid-19 within their countries, and in particular, keeping deaths low.

Australia, with a population of 25 million, has had just over 6,000 infections, and 50 deaths. New Zealand, a country of 5 million people, which closed its borders the day before Australia, has had 1,200 infections and so far only one death from Covid-19.

Both countries have enacted strict physical distancing regimes, enforced by police. Planes have been grounded, workers have been told to stay home, schools have been closed in some places, and entire industries put into hibernation.

Across most of both countries, it is unlawful to be outside without the “reasonable excuse” of essential shopping, medical care, exercise, or compassionate grounds. In both countries, the majority of confirmed cases have originated overseas. Community transmission remains, by international comparison, low– less than 10% of all confirmed cases.

And in both countries, the early decision, and the capability, to enforce a total lockdown of borders has proven crucial, buying valuable time to prepare, and allowing both nations to flatten the trajectory of their Covid-19 infection curves.

“We have so far avoided the horror scenarios that we have seen overseas, whether it be initially in China in Wuhan, or in New York in the United States, or Italy, or Spain, or even the United Kingdom,” Morrison said this week. “But we must hold the course. We must lock in these gains.”

Australia has inherent advantages. If a country were to be designed to withstand a viral pandemic such as Covid-19, it would look very much like Australia: geographically distant, a large island nation with borders than can be locked down, inhabited by a comparatively small population that lives, in the main, in low-density cities.

Australia is wealthy, too, with a highly developed public health system, and a government sufficiently solvent to be able to turn on the tap of public monies to get its population through the months of lockdown. Legislation for $130bn (£65bn) in wage subsidies for those who have lost jobs because of the pandemic was passed by parliament this week, on top of $84bn in economic stimulus promised earlier.

Why are coronavirus mortality rates so different? – video explainer

Australia also has had the advantage of watching the Covid-19 pandemic unfold in other countries. The delay has given it time to prepare its public health system – additional beds and staff have been readied for the coming peak– as well as its public. Internal restrictions have also been put in place. Australia’s states have closed their borders to each other for the first time since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.

There have been significant and severe missteps, the most egregious being the decision in March to allow the Ruby Princess cruise ship to dock at Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour, allowing more than 2,700 passengers to disembark without testing, despite there being people with Covid-19 infections onboard.

That ship is now responsible for more than 660 infections – 10% of Australia’s total – and at least 15 deaths. The New South Wales (NSW) and federal governments have since spent weeks blaming each other and the cruise ship company for the debacle: the decision is now the subject of a criminal investigation by police.

Another misstep was at Sydney airport. Just as physical distancing laws were being imposed across the country, social media videos showed border force officials corralling arriving passengers from all over the world to wait in cramped halls and tight queues.

Apart from the impact of these failures on infection rates, they have damaged public confidence in the government’s measures. Just as the country, state by state, was being put into lockdown, governments were undermining their own messages to self-isolate to save lives.

There has been, too, overreaction. In NSW, a man was fined by police for sitting on a park bench and eating a kebab. In Victoria, a learner driver practising with her mother was given a $1,600 fine, later rescinded after a backlash.

But Australians have, by and large, tolerated the imposition of lockdowns.

After thousands gathered at Bondi Beach on a warm autumnal Friday evening in March, it was summarily shut down and put under police guard. With occasional defiance, it has remained eerily deserted since.

Ten days after New Zealand’s centre-left government closed its borders to foreign nationals it introduced some of the toughest lockdown measures in the world. No one had yet died and cases had just passed 100.

“Stay home, save lives,” the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, urged her citizens, ordering them to remain in their homes for a month. “The situation here is moving at pace, and so must we. The trajectory is very clear, act now or risk the virus taking hold as it has elsewhere.”

Ardern said the worst-case scenario was “simply intolerable” – up to 80,000 dead, modelling predicted – representing the greatest loss of life in New Zealand’s history. “I will not take that chance,” Ardern said. “We’re going hard and we’re going early.”

The nation was given two days to prepare, panic buying was widespread. But when the moment came – effective house arrest for the majority of the population – there was absolute quiet on the streets.

Despite their reputation for having an independent streak and a benign disdain for authority, New Zealanders have been overwhelmingly compliant with the restrictive measures, with a total of 367 breaches recorded by police. Eager surfers and mountain bikers have caused the most persistent headaches, according to the police commissioner.

New Zealand is one of the few countries worldwide to pursue an “elimination” strategy, and the plan has the backing of the scientific community, many of whom want the country to stay in a version of lockdown until a vaccine can be deployed.

David Skegg, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Otago, said: “We could effectively eliminate the virus over the next few weeks … we still have a window of opportunity but only if we lift our game quickly.”

Fellow Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker is one of the key architects behind New Zealand’s coronavirus defence plan. He says an elimination strategy is well suited to an island state, where borders can be swiftly and effectively closed.

Writing in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Baker said the strategy would save lives, but at huge social and economic cost, particularly “for those with the fewest resources”. “New Zealand society has made a large ‘upfront’ sacrifice in pursuing an elimination strategy,” he said.

For the first 12 days of lockdown, the numbers of cases rose steadily, as predicted by health officials. But cases have been steadily declining, and the prime minister has said she is “cautiously optimistic” that the strategy is working.

On Wednesday, New Zealand recorded its lowest number of new cases in a fortnight, one day after testing a record number of people. More people are now recovering from the disease than being infected by it, an “encouraging milestone”, the country’s director general of health said.

Attention and anticipation is turning to a gradual exit from lockdown in late April. Ardern has said it is likely some regions of the country will remain in total lockdown, while regions with few or no cases will ease into more freedoms. The borders remain closed to foreign nationals, and mandatory quarantining of arrivals is to be introduced today.

“We have positive signs, not least the fact that we could have had 4,000 cases now, instead of 1,000,” Ardern said.

“But I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

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‘Expect to be stopped’: NSW Police set to be ‘out in force’ over Easter period

NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys has warned the state’s residents “police will be out in force” over the Easter period and people can “expect to be issued a ticket” if they are engaging in non-essential travel.

Commissioner Worboys said “police will stop you” and if there’s “evidence there that you shouldn’t be travelling. (that) it’s non-essential travel, expect to be issued a ticket”.

It comes as residents in the state have been urged to not travel over the Easter period by authorities and to observe strict social distancing restrictions in a bid to stem the potential spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Image: Getty

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