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NSW government releases plan to save koalas – as it happened
What we learned – Saturday 9 April
And that’s that. We’re going to wrap the blog for this evening. Enjoy your Saturday night and we’ll be back with you first thing tomorrow.
Here were today’s major developments:
- Sydney airport continues to be chaos with Qantas forced to apologise to one family who missed a flight to Santiago;
- Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says there will be a royal commission into robodebt if a Labor government is elected;
- The New South Wales government released a $193m plan to save koalas from extinction which has received mixed reviews with some conservation groups saying it doesn’t address the key problem of habitat loss;
- A 25-year-old police officer in an unmarked car and a 23-year-old man has died in a three-car collision near the New South Wales-Victorian border, with a second officer in a critical condition;
- The election still hasn’t been called by the prime minister – but he did release a glossy YouTube video taking credit for having saved 40,000 lives during the pandemic.
Updated at 08.58 BST
And as Guardian Australia’s political editor Katharine Murphy points out, there are a few people absent from Scott Morrison’s video.
Two things about that vid. Get the atmospherics, but PM sounds pretty tired in that vid. Borderline hoarse. Also, is the opening sortie of the campaign pick a fight with the premiers? No sign of the national cabinet in that staging. Blue all the way #auspol
— Katharine Murphy (@murpharoo) April 9, 2022
Updated at 08.12 BST
Scott Morrison takes credit for saving 40,000 lives from Covid in social media video
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, says his government’s handling of the pandemic saved 40,000 lives in a slick new pre-election video making his pitch to Australian voters.
The opening sequence begins with a shot of Parliament House at night, before showing the prime minister at work through its windows.
“You always have setbacks. You always have imperfect information,” Morrison says.
“Things are tough. And they’ve been really tough. There’s fire. There’s flood. There’s pandemic. There is now war.”
Music in the background builds as Morrison explains how he is thinking positively in the face of global challenges, telling an unseen interviewer how his management of the pandemic saved lives.
“Forty thousand people are alive today because of the way we managed the pandemic, 700,000 people still have jobs and countless numbers of business that would have been destroyed,” Morrison says.
The video closes with the prime minister telling a story about a visit to a Brisbane trade school where half the year 11 and 12 cohort said they wanted to start a business.
“How good is that?” He says. “That’s why I love Australia.”
So far, 6,521 Australians have died during the pandemic.
Updated at 08.11BST
Australia will provide a further $16m to support Tonga’s recovery following the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami earlier this year, AAP reports.
Three people were killed in the January 15 tsunami, while dozens of homes were destroyed, drinking water was tainted, and the country’s main internet connection was severed.
Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne on Saturday said the $16 million would help rebuild critical Tongan infrastructure, including telecommunications and government services.
Australia will also provide 54,990 Pfizer vaccines in partnership with Tongan health authorities to support the country’s COVID-19 response.
Payne said Australia would continue to coordinate assistance with New Zealand, Japan, the UK, and United States.
“Our collective approach has strengthened cooperation on humanitarian and disaster response in the region,” she said in a statement.
Australia initially provided $3m in humanitarian support, as well as the Australian defence force personnel to assist with the clean-up.
Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA
Updated at 07.44 BST
⚠️⛈️ A Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issued as severe storms are developing about the southern interior this afternoon. Locations affected may include Thargomindah, Cunnamulla, Quilpie, Hungerford, Barringun, Wyandra. ⚠️Latest Warnings at https://t.co/Ho3lfkXXo1 pic.twitter.com/ZxScpTbkj4
— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) April 9, 2022
Updated at 07.08 BST
North East Forest Alliance has criticised the New South Wales government’s $193m koala plan for not addressing “the main drivers” of the animals decline.
“The Strategy proposes nothing to redress the logging of Koala habitat on public lands where at best five to ten small potential Koala feed trees per hectare need to be protected in core Koala habitat, with the only other requirement being to wait for a Koala to leave before cutting down its tree,” Pugh said.
“We know that Koalas preferentially choose larger individuals of a limited variety of tree species for feeding, and losses of these trees will reduce populations. So protecting and restoring feed and roost trees is a prerequisite for allowing populations to grow on public lands.
“The most important and extensive Koala habitat we know of in NSW is in the proposed Great Koala National Park, encompassing 175,000 hectares of State Forests south of Grafton and west of Coffs Harbour.
“Similarly on the Richmond River lowlands the most important and extensive area known is the proposed Sandy Creek Koala Park, encompassing 7,000 ha of State Forests south of Casino.
“These are public lands that we know are important Koala habitat that need to be protected from further degradation if we want to recover Koala populations. There are many other areas of important Koala habitat on State forests in need of identification and protection from logging.”
Updated at 07.01 BST
Qantas has apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays saw them miss an international trip, AAP reports.
Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children aged 14, seven and eight were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.
But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am Latam Airlines flight to Santiago.
Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.
We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately, I got berated by the person at the counter, they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all.
It was a rude conversation, we have been mistreated badly I would say.
The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to re-take them as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago departing Sunday.
The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.
Updated at 06.14 BST
Free three-year passes to the Perth Zoo are on offer to West Australian children who receive a Covid-19 vaccine these school holidays, AAP reports.
Each child aged between five and 11 who visits the zoo’s pop-up clinic between 11 April and 13 April will be eligible to receive a free pass.
Health minister Amber-Jade Sanderson says the zoo will be one of 11 vaccination sites open during the school holidays in an effort to boost immunisation rates.
Other locations include the May Drive Parkland playground in King’s Park, Bibra Lake and the Mundaring Sculpture Park.
Updated at 05.52 BST
WWF-Australia has given a tick of approval to the New South Wales government’s koala strategy that was released late on Friday.
Conservation scientist Dr Stuart Blanch said the government’s decision to make $193.3m in funding available over five years showed it was serious but that strong legal protections to prevent habitat were still necessary.
“WWF welcomes the koala strategy and its ambitious goal of doubling koala numbers in NSW by 2050,” Blanch said.
“The $193.3 million, 5-year investment demonstrates the level of funding that governments need to provide for koalas and other threatened species. It should be a standard bearer for similar strategies.
“The strategy addresses many of the key funding and on-ground needs for koalas in NSW. It is a great improvement over the first koala strategy, as it includes goals and actions that are explicit and ambitious, major funding for habitat restoration, and a commitment to national parks.”
Blanch said the strategy contained some “very welcome innovations”, such as rewilding koalas into restored box gum woodlands.
“These landscape-scale interventions are needed to give koalas the chance to thrive, not just survive,” Blanch said.
“With koalas now listed as an endangered species on Australia’s east coast, we hope the strategy will be followed by additional funding for major new incentives for landholders and farmers to protect koala habitat.
“We’d also like to see the government implementing its commitment to provide robust protections for koala habitat on rural lands and stronger legal protections for native vegetation that is high quality koala habitat. Doubling koala numbers won’t be possible without strong laws to protect koala habitat.”
Updated at 05.15 BST
Australia’s second biggest schools chaplaincy provider imposes a code that discriminates against staff based on relationship status and sexual conduct, a whistleblower has alleged.
Caragh Larsen, a former Schools Ministry Group chaplain at two Adelaide public primary schools, said the code banning “cohabitation” and “sexually intrusive” behaviour left unmarried and LGBTQ+ staff vulnerable.
Larsen’s job at one school was funded through the federal chaplaincy program, which gives $60m a year for chaplains connected to religious groups to provide pastoral care services in schools. The other position was funded by the South Australian government.
Proselytising in public schools is banned, but Larsen said SMG chaplains were encouraged to speak about their faith with students, when asked, and praised for directing them to church youth groups.
The SMG code states that “it is unacceptable for a pastoral care worker to initiate or become involved in relationships of a sexual or inappropriate nature with any person to whom they are not married”. That includes relationships which “involve cohabitation or any behaviour which is considered to be sexually intrusive by another person”.
Larsen, a qualified counsellor, told Guardian Australia the clause meant “we had to be married, or living on our own”.
Read the exclusive here:
Updated at 04.33 BST
Vaccine boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds a step closer
Covid-19 vaccine boosters are a step closer for 12- to 15-year-olds, reports AAP.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has granted provisional go-ahead for a Pfizer booster for the age group, although final approval by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) is still pending.
The medical regulator on Friday recommended that 12- to 15-year-olds receive a third shot six months after their first two regardless of which approved vaccine they had received as their primary course.
A spokesman for the TGA said its review of overseas vaccine data was rigorous when deciding whether to push ahead with the booster.
“Regulatory approval of the booster dose for this age group has also been granted in Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States,” he said.
“The TGA continues to work very closely with international regulators to align regulatory approaches, share information and, where it speeds up evaluation, collaboratively review Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
“Australians can be confident that the TGA’s review process for this vaccine was rigorous and of the highest standard.”
Previously, only those 16 and over have been able to get their booster.
The final approval decision from Atagi is expected within days.
The TGA has granted provisional approval for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine booster for children aged 12 to 15. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP
Updated at 05.23 BST
And here is a little more detail on the targets in the new NSW koala strategy we reported earlier in the blog.
Additional targets include declaring one new area of outstanding biodiversity value for koalas and 20 new assets of intergenerational significance, which are special designations that would trigger additional legal protections for the chosen sites.
The strategy says precise koala numbers in NSW are unknown, with estimates ranging from 15,000 to 30,000. For the plan, the NSW government has adopted what it says is a conservative population estimate of 20,000.
The strategy identifies 50 koala populations in the state and divides them into two groups, with 19 populations to receive urgent conservation investment through the five-year plan and 31 that will be the target of surveys and research to fill gaps in understanding about those populations.
In the first group, the government has identified 10 stronghold areas of NSW that will be the focus of “intensive intervention”. Those places include the north east of the state, the northern rivers, Coffs Harbour, Armidale, the southern highlands and south-west Sydney.
The NSW government has released a long-awaited koala strategy in a bid to turn around the decline of the animal in the state. Photograph: Boy_Anupong/Getty Images
There is also a plan to work with Taronga Zoo to restore woodlands around the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range and translocate koalas to that restored habitat.
Of course, there are other overdue government policies that will be relevant to this strategy, including promised new codes for land management and private native forestry. And conservation groups will want to know how the government intends to address the massive increases land-clearing that have occurred since the state government relaxed native vegetation laws in 2017.
Updated at 04.03 BST
The northern rivers region of New South Wales has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
Lush, rolling hills in every gradient of green. There’s the ancient rainforests, mountain ranges, famous beaches. A subtropical climate. In the long golden afternoons, there is magic in those hills.
But on 28 February, everything changed. After six months of rain, the rivers overflowed and flooded.
Susan Chenery explores the possibility of land swaps, relocations and rebuilds in Lismore:
Updated at 03.26 BST